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Back in the early 1990’s, Diageo, or as it was known then, United Distillers and Vintners, set out to create a new series of bottlings that would sit alongside their Classic Malts range and showcase some of their lesser known distilleries. Though untitled, the set was dubbed Flora and Fauna by the late whisky writer Michael Jackson, a name that has stuck with it ever since.
The whiskies that make up the series have changed over the years with some, like Caol Ila and Mortlach becoming brands in their own right while others like Bladnoch, Aberfeldy or more recently Rosebank, have been sold on to other firms.
Today the range comprises of whiskies from Teaninich, Strathmill, Mannochmore, Linkwood, Inchgower, Glenlossie, Dailuaine, Benrinnes, Blair Athol and Auchroisk distilleries, three of which I will be reviewing below.
This tasting set was put together by Master of Malt as part of their Scotch & Sofa whisky festival. You can read more about the event here.
Benrinnes 15 year old
The original Benrinnes distillery was built near Whitehouse Farm in 1826, at the base of the mountain for which it was named. That enterprise lasted less than three years before it was almost completely destroyed in the Great Moray Floods of 1829. Six years later, a new location was found at a farmstead near Lower Lyne of Luthrie and Benrinnes was soon back in business.
John Dewar & Sons added Benrinnes to their growing portfolio in 1922 before they joined with Buchanan’s and Johnnie Walker in a move that began the series of mergers and takeovers that would eventually create the distilling powerhouse that is Diageo. The distillery remains under the same ownership today with official bottlings sadly limited to the 15 year old Flora & Fauna release and a recently added 21 year old limited edition.
The Benrinnes 15 year old is bottled at 43% abv and retails around £52.
Smell: A robust, meaty nose. There’s raisins and sultanas that you’d associate with sherry. Red berries. Also brown sugar, cinnamon and pepper. Heather honey. Caramel. Apple and pear. Gentle wisp of smoke.
Taste: Wow. What an arrival. There’s sherry, berry, oak, cinnamon, pepper, chocolate digestive biscuits. That same meaty backbone from the nose. Slight sulphury character. Decent length on the finish with a bit of iron.
Thoughts: A fantastic whisky at a reasonable price. 43% isn’t ideal but it’s better than 40, and I can’t fault it too much when the whisky tastes this good.
If I could pick one blend-fodder distillery that I’d like to see developed as a single malt brand, it would be Benrinnes. It is a malt of excellent character and depth and this 15 year old Flora & Fauna bottling showcases it at something close to its very best. Superb.
Buy from Master of Malt here*
*Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page.
Dailuaine 16 year old
Dailuaine was founded in 1853 by farmer William Mackenzie on a location halfway between the foot of Ben Rinnes and the River Spey. Just ten years after construction, Mackenzie was given a massive boost by the arrival of the Strathspey railway, a transport link that would give his distillery a speedy and reliable connection with the big blending houses of the central belt.
When Mackenzie passed away in 1865, the distillery was leased to one James Fleming of Aberlour, who oversaw operations until William’s son Thomas was able to take over. Taking command of the company in 1879, Thomas brought about extensive modernisation and expansion, a process that would see Dailuaine become the first ever distillery to be crowned with Charles Doig’s famous pagoda design.
When Thomas Mackenzie passed away in 1915, the distillery was purchased by the same Buchanan, Dewar and Walker consortium that acquired Benrinnes and like its neighbour, it remains part of Diageo today.
The Dailuaine 16 is bottled at 43% and retails around £59.
Smell: Big sherry nose with chocolate covered raisins, golden syrup, orange and peach. A touch of struck match. Charred oak. Caramel and vanilla. A touch of strawberry. Over time the sherry softens and green fruits come through. Even some gentle smoke.
Taste: Spicy arrival. Salted caramel. Cinnamon & clove. Almond. Oak and a touch of oily smoke. Dark chocolate. Brambles. Cereal. Dry woody finish.
Thoughts: Maybe seems a wee bit pricey at £60 but then 16 is a decent age for a single malt, another two years and you could add £20 or £30 to the price. At least. It is also a dram of excellent quality that could put many more expensive bottlings to shame.
A single malt full of character. It carries a pleasant warmth and there’s good length to the finish. The sherry influence is rich and sumptuous but occasionally it lifts to allow a lighter, fruitier side of the spirit to come through. It all makes for a fascinating experience. A whisky that is complex, rich and ultimately very rewarding. I’d go so far as to say you can’t get much better when bottled at 43%.
Buy from Master of Malt here.
Linkwood 12 year old
Linkwood stands on the banks of the River Lossie, surrounded by beautiful woodland and abundant wildlife. The distillery was founded in 1821 by one Peter Brown, a landowner who sought to make better use of his land. With a distillery he had a destination for the barley he grew and the resultant draff could be used to feed his cows.
When Peter passed away in 1869 the role of distillery manager went to his son William who set about modernising the site. Buildings were demolished to make way for new, modern replacements that would allow him to raise production capacity. With the death of William in 1893, Linkwood was put up for sale, swiftly acquired by Scottish Malt Distillers, yet another group that would go on to become part of Diageo.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, the distillery was run by Roderick Mackenzie, who believed the environment in which the whisky was made was crucial to its character. It is said that he forbade his staff from altering any part of the building, even down the clearing of cobwebs, in fear that it might have some detrimental effect on the spirit. When the distillery was once more redesigned in 1962, Mackenzie had the stills reproduced in the image of their predecessors. Dents and all.
The Linkwood 12 year old is bottled at 43% and retails for around £46.
Smell: Honey and agave syrup. Vanilla. Almond. Lemon. Apple & pear. Sawdust. Cereal.
Taste: Lots of fruit. Apple again. Honey and barley malt. Almond. Touch of oak.
Thoughts: Paying the best part of £50 for a 12 year old malt at 43% seems a little steep but the quality goes some way to justifying it. It perhaps lacks a little of the depth of the two previous drams but remains a good example of a light, yet still complex, single malt.
Buy from Master of Malt here
Alternatively you can pick up your own Flora & Fauna tasting pack here