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Lady of the Glen is the independent bottling arm of Hannah Whisky Merchants Ltd. Company founder Gregor Hannah came from a long line of Pipers and was taught all about scotch by his Father who had himself built up quite the collection of malts over the years. This upbringing surrounded by the national spirit left him fascinated by the subject and determined to learn as much about it as he possibly could.
Lady of the Glen launched in 2012 and has since amassed more than 1000 releases. Casks are sourced from all over Scotland, targeted for rarity or unique flavour characteristics and rigorously taste-tested before bottling.
I’ve encountered Lady of the Glen a few times over the years, most notably at various whisky festivals where their stall has often stood out as one of the highlights of the event. Excellent Glenturret and Lochindaal drams linger in my memory from both the National Whisky Festival in Glasgow and the Fife Whisky Festival earlier this year, just before lockdown kicked in. It was also a pleasure to meet Gregor in person when we were placed at the same table during the Whisky Magazine Awards last December in Edinburgh.
Last week I was invited to take part in their virtual tasting and was sent a lovely package that carried some cute little pouches filled with very interesting whisky.
*You will note that I haven’t scored the drams listed below. That’s because I tasted them all together in one sitting, a scenario that didn’t really allow for full analysis in my opinion. I decided however that it would still be worth writing up my experiences, since I haven’t yet been able to cover this bottler in any great detail.
**I was sent these samples free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Isle of Jura 28 Years Old
The Jura distillery was designed by William Delme-Evans on the site of a previous distillery that ceased to operate in 1901 and had long since fallen to ruin. The new plant was created in 1963, bankrolled by local landowners Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith who were desperate to halt a population decline that saw the island with fewer than 200 residents. Today the distillery is owned by Whyte & Mackay and in 2018 the single malt got a bit of a facelift, with a complete new range that received a rather mixed reception. For my part, I think the new drams are an improvement on what had come before but sadly still some way short of greatness.
Over the years I’ve heard many claim that Jura can be excellent when allowed to reach significant maturity but for one reason or another I’ve never been able to test the theory. Certainly I’ve never been willing to spend big on an older version when the distillery hasn’t seemed able to get it right at 10 years old. This first Lady of the Glen dram presented an opportunity therefore! Aged for 28 years in a bourbon barrel and bottled at 41.2%, a cask strength that suggests some rather greedy angels have been at work over the three decades. Retails at £170.
Smell: I’ve had a few drams like this – late 20’s in age and low 40’s in strength – but I’m always surprised just how fresh and young they come across. Straw and lots of fruit… pineapple, apple, lemon… vanilla, caramel and danish pastries. Wee touch of oak but you’d never guess the age from the nose.
Taste: Honey, vanilla and dark chocolate. Buttery shortbread, lemon cake, toffee and a wee touch of pepper. Only the depth of flavour and some subtle wood hints at the age.
Thoughts: I’ve always struggled with Jura and the few independent bottlings I’ve come across haven’t really changed my opinion. This is arguably the best one I’ve tried but unfortunately I don’t love it enough to justify paying £170 for the pleasure of owning one. That is not to imply that the price is unreasonable by the way, do a quick search for whisky in that age range and you’ll find that it compares pretty well (a search for “28 year old” on The Whisky Exchange brought up 2 pages of results, the cheapest of which was £180, and that was a blend). In any case, those who are tempted into buying a bottle will at least be rewarded with a whisky of poise and balance that manages to show its age in subtle ways whilst still presenting a remarkably vibrant flavour profile. The price is no doubt aided by the low abv but the whisky should not be disregarded as a result of it.
Caperdonich 22 Year Old
Caperdonich was built in 1898 by J & J Grant, founders of the Glen Grant distillery. Originally known as Glen Grant 2, it lasted just four years before closing down. The site remained dormant until 1965 when it was reconstructed by Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd, who gave it the Caperdonich name. The distillery was sold in 1977 to Seagram and again in 2001 to Pernod Ricard who decided the following year to close it down and later, in the autumn of 2010, to demolish it entirely.
At 22 years old the spirit used in this Lady of the Glen bottling was distilled a few years before Caperdonich ceased production. Aged in a bourbon barrel it is bottled at 60.5% abv and retails at £400.
Smell: Toffee apples and lots of honey. Vanilla. Malty biscuits and marmalade. Cereal and baking spices. Touch of coconut. Almost a single grain character.
Taste: Toffee. Honey. Bourbon. Wee touch of heat. Woody spices and pepper. Vanilla fudge and butterscotch. Almond. Something that reminds me of Deep Heat, which is a bit odd because as far as I know, I’ve never eaten Deep Heat.
Thoughts: It’s unusual to find a dram of this age that retains a strength over 60%. Indeed, I found that I needed to add a bit of water before I found the sweet spot, something I rarely do with whisky of this age, but I soon began to really enjoy the combination of butterscotch and gentle, warming spice. Sadly, I find the price to be a bit of a sticking point – obviously I don’t expect to snap up a 22 year old whisky from a closed distillery for a pittance, but I always like to have a look around to see what else is out there and there were certainly a few… Chivas have a 21 year old that sells for £220, though it’s diluted to 48%. That Boutique-y Whisky Company have a 23 year old at 47.8% for £239 (though it comes in those annoying 50cl bottles). Morrison and MacKay’s Carn Mor have a 22 year old bottled at 54.9% currently available for £250, whilst the closest in price that I could find was a Signatory 23 year old bottling, released for their 30th anniversary at 58.4%, packaged in a wooden presentation box with two glasses for £425. Having obviously never tried any of these, I can’t compare their quality with the Lady of the Glen offering, which is without a doubt an excellent malt and has a distinct advantage in strength and likely comes in much smaller number, it just requires pockets far deeper than mine unfortunately.
Tullibardine 14 Year Old
There was a brewery in the village of Blackford as early as 1488. King James IV stopped there to collect a barrel of ale on the way back from his coronation at Scone. The same James IV would supply eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor in 1494, the earliest written record of whisky production in Scotland. The brewery was converted into a distillery in 1949 by William Delme-Evans, a Welshman who would go on to work on the Jura, Glenallachie and Macduff distilleries. Today it is owned by French wine-maker Maison Michel Picard and their core range includes an array of interesting wine finishes as a result.
Aged for a total of 14 years and given a lengthy 7 year finish in a rum barrel, this Tullibardine is bottled at 55.7% abv and retails at £85.
Smell: The rum character is immediately apparent and dominates at first but it lifts a little over time to let some of the spirit character through. Butter pastries. Vanilla. Orange zest. Dark honey. Apple juice. Caramel. Some gentle spice.
Taste: Fantastic arrival and a wonderful oily texture. Rum leads the way again, followed by honey, agave syrup, chewy caramel. Pepper and oak.
Thoughts: The pick of the bunch for me. It’s weighty, warm, beautifully buttery and ultimately very satisfying with a pleasant dryness on the finish. Coincidentally it is also the most affordable, though not exactly a bargain at £85. It carries a decent age statement though and you’ll struggle to find a longer rum “finish” than 7 years. I think the biggest compliment I can give is to say that I would be happy to buy a bottle at that price because I think the quality of experience is there to justify it. Lovely stuff.
Dailuaine 12 Year Old
Dailuaine is a Diageo-owned Speyside distillery that was founded in 1853 by one William MacKenzie. Official bottlings are rare, though the 16 year old Flora and Fauna edition is a fine dram. Despite its scarcity, the spirit does pop up from time to time in the portfolio of independent bottlers and that is exactly what we have on our hands here.
Aged for 12 years and finished in a first fill Pedro Ximenez hogshead, it is bottled at a cask strength of 56.7% and retails at £90.
Smell: The nose confirms what the colour suggests – this is no sherry bomb. The PX is certainly there but not in the OTT, sticky sweet way you’d maybe expect. Comes across young and fruity. Orchard fruits. Floral honey. Agave Syrup. Apple and pear. Lemon. Wee bit of oak and a tiny touch of struck match sulphur.
Taste: Full of youthful vigour. Hard boiled sweets. Fiery peppers. Vanilla and caramel. Responded well to water, mellowing the heat a little. Good length on the finish.
Thoughts: Clearly Lady of the Glen are investing heavily in their spirit, securing interesting casks to use for finishing periods that are longer than most distilleries age their spirit these days, but what no doubt comes at a cost to them also costs the consumer. I think that is acceptable up to a point but only the individual can decide how far they want to justify it and whilst I enjoyed this Dailuaine, I didn’t love it enough to pay £90 for it. I find myself once again looking for comparison and keep coming back to a 13 year old SMWS bottling I picked up last year. Bottled from a 1st fill red wine barrique at 57.7% it cost me £50 – almost half the price of this Lady of the Glen bottling and whilst I realise that you can’t really compare such single cask bottlings, I can’t help but view it as a reference point.
Tomintoul 15 Years Old
Tomintoul was among a spate of new distilleries that arrived in the 1960’s under the encouragement of the UK Government who saw whisky as a crucial export that would help tackle lingering post-war debts. The distillery came under the ownership of Whyte & MacKay in the 1980’s but they sold to Angus Dundee Distillers in 2000. The new owners began to experiment with peated barley, eventually leading to the creation of their Old Ballantruan brand.
The packaging states 14 years of age but apparently that was an error and the spirit is in fact 15. Finished in a first-fill Amontillado cask, it is bottled at 55.8% and will retail for £140.
Smell: The sherry is to the fore this time. You’d almost think they got the casks mixed up between this and the last dram. Raisins, currants, orange peel, walnut. Maple syrup. Salted caramel. Red grapes. Underneath the sherry there’s some fresh fruit and a wee touch of malt.
Taste: Caramel, raisins and sultanas. Some dry woody spice. Vanilla pods. Ginger cake. All wrapped up in rich sherry. Lovely.
Thoughts: Sherry impact is much more dramatic than you’d expect. Balance is key however, and the finish stops short of dominating. Official bottlings of Tomintoul are rather lightweight and delicate in their flavour profile so this is a pleasant alternative take on the spirit, a surefire sign that you’re dealing with a fine independent bottler. As much as I’m loathe to do so however, I must once again talk about price comparison. Carn Mor and Signatory have 23 year old versions on the market for less than this 15 year old. That Boutique-y Whisky Company have a 21 year old, albeit in 50cl, for half the price. I think the quality of the Lady of the Glen dram, along with the interesting and no doubt expensive cask used to finish the spirit off can account for a higher cost but £140 for a 15 year old seems excessive.
I apologise if this article reads like one long moan about pricing but value for money has been central to what I do since I started this site five years ago and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to neglect to mention it here. Having said that, Lady of the Glen is a small operation – of good people too – and the quality of the spirit they are releasing is up there with the best of independent bottlers. For that reason they will always be worth your consideration, just expect to pay a bit more than you would from some of their competitors.