Kirkwall is the largest town in Orkney, an archipelago to the north of mainland Scotland. Long the administrative centre and home to the Orkney Islands Council, the town dates from at least 1046, when it is first mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. The saga is the only medieval chronicle to place the far north of Scotland at the centre of events and tells of the Jarls who ruled the Earldom of Orkney between the 9th and 13th centuries.
Even the name ‘Kirkwall’ comes from the norse ‘Kirkjuvágr‘ or Church Bay. Which means Kirkwall Bay, a single malt from Morrison & MacKay rather awkwardly translates to er, Church Bay Bay. Still, best not to dwell on such things I find.
Kirkwall has long been home to two very unique distilleries… Highland Park, founded in 1798 has grown as a brand to become one of the most successful in the world, popular with collectors, investors and drinkers alike. Often described as ‘the great all-rounder’ it was in fact, a dram of 12 year old Highland Park that first turned me on to the charms of single malt whisky many moons ago.
A short distance away, on the shore of Scapa Flow, site of the infamous Scuttling of the German Fleet in 1919 stands another distillery… Scapa is smaller in capacity (and in reputation) when compared to Highland Park with only two regular single malt expressions currently on the market and the rest of the liquid offloaded to blenders.
Kirkwall Bay meanwhile is a single malt, bottled by Perthshire-based independent bottler and blender Morrison & MacKay. Despite becoming distillers in their own right when they opened Aberargie in 2017, the company has continued to release limited edition and single cask spirits under their Carn Mor range, whilst also providing budget-friendly drams in the shape of Riverflow, The Big Strand and now, Kirkwall Bay. Though the malt’s origins are left undisclosed, the shortage of potential options doesn’t make it the most complex of mysteries to solve, especially since only one of them is known to use peat in the drying of their barley.
Kirkwall Bay is bottled at 46%, un-chill-filtered and retails at around £35.
Smell: Malty. Biscuit, lemon and pepper. Heather honey. Vanilla. Charcoal. No more than a hint of smoke.
Taste: Vanilla and lemon curd. Honey. Apple. Burnt toast. Woody – like licking firewood (in the best possible way). Lots of pepper and a subtly smoky finish.
Value for Money: I’m really enjoying this, probably more than I would a similarly priced ‘official’ bottling from this particular distillery. Amazing what can be done with higher strength and no chill-filtering.
Score: 41.5 / 50
I used to really enjoy the malt of this distillery before drifting away from it somewhat in recent years. One little sip however and some very pleasant memories came flooding back. It was at once familiar and gave me a real blast of the eager excitement I felt when I first “discovered” whisky.
To make it a really worthwhile purchase however it has to offer up a little more than a nostalgia trip but fortunately it does just fine in that regard too. It’s fully flavoured, pleasantly textured and carries just enough warming heat to make it all the more welcome in this particularly dreich Glasgow winter. Best of all, it’s within the price range of all but the most skint of whisky drinkers.
Visit Morrison & MacKay here.
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