There are many distilleries that have spent most of their lives under the radar, quietly producing quality single malt for filling into blends, but scarcely ever being championed in their own right. Of course, as whisky has grown in popularity and more enterprising, highly knowledgeable independent bottlers develop their businesses, whisky fans get a chance to experience malts that only ten years ago were rarely available. Some of these have rapidly built a reputation for quality, Dailuaine whisky (pronounced Dall-Yoo-Ain) is a worthy case in point.
There have been plenty of decent examples of the distillery issued by a whole raft of bottlers but, for this taster at least, the older examples have regularly offered the greater consistence of quality. Dailuaine produces a make of fair weight and pungency it seems but the bottlings often vary in character, some being surprisingly delicate and restrained, while the occasional official releases (Dailuaine 16 year old Flora and Fauna, Rare Malts etc) have focussed on refill sherry maturation which fuses with the weighty spirit to offer a richer take on the spirit character. I have spoken of Asta Morris with much affection in the past; this could well be a nice example of a distillery that continues to grow a league of admirers.
Bowmore whisky is arguably one of the most interesting and varied of all Scotches, and not always for the reasons one might hope. On one hand this beautiful distillery on the shores of Loch Indaal has given us some of the most spectacular “malt moments” in history with, among others, its gloriously fruity 1964 Trilogy (‘Black’ Bowmore, ‘White’ and ‘Gold’) releases, and yet on the other hand we see the now all but infamous production of the 1980s with its seemingly inexplicable perfumed, soapy notes that many (myself fully included) find anything but desirable. The reason for this stark change of character during the 80s is hard to tie down to one specific factor, though we can be reasonably certain that it did not make itself so apparent in the new make at the time.
There is no question that many things have changed in the industry over the last 40 or so years and this is probably the greatest barrier to pinpointing the reasons behind Bowmore’s split personality. Centralised malting and maturation, new barley varieties, changes in fermentation time in response to demand and radically revised wood policy are just some of the many changes that may have played a part in what is clearly a complex picture. Had Bowmore remained draped in parma violets and lavender soap in its current production, I doubt we would find the situation fascinating so much as a tragedy. Gladly however the 90/00 spirit is as much a departure from that distilled in the 80s, as the 80s spirit was from its 60s and 70s forbears. As a result of this the current spirit is winning people over once more, with releases like the widely acclaimed Bowmore 10 year old Tempest and an array of quality bottlings from the Independents.
BenRiach whiskies from the mid 70′s is deservedly held is high regard within whisky circles. The official single casks from 1976 first attracted people’s attention in 2004 and subsequent bottlings have only gone on to solidify their reputation. They regularly show delicious tropical fruit driven profiles but, on the whole, those released have managed to avoid intrusive oakiness.
This 1975 example was bottled for Bert Bruyneel’s label “Asta Morris” in 2011 and was, unsurprisingly, greeted with considerable praise on release. You will struggle to find a bottle of this one, but the quality is indicative of similar casks that are continuing to hit the market, not least Bert’s own releases from the late 70s.