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Murray McDavid are an independent bottler originally founded by Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin, two men responsible for the resurrection of Bruichladdich distillery on the isle of Islay. Today however, the company is owned by Aceo Ltd but despite this change it has managed to retain its identity as one of the more interesting bottlers in the whisky scene. Releasing everything from grain whiskies to single malts as well as a selection of interesting blends, they specialise in small batch and single cask spirits that often showcase an array of finishes.
On Friday 23rd of October, Murray McDavid hosted an online whisky tasting that featured a selection of their blends… Air Leth, a 29 year old blended scotch bottled at 50%, Young & Old, aged 7 years and bottled at 46% and Righ Seumas II, a 10 year old blend at 50%. The tasting also included a pair of blended malts, Peatside, at 50% and The Speysiders at 46%.
Full disclosure: I was sent these samples free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
The Speysiders 10 Year Old “The Vatting” @ 46%
A 10 year old blended (or vatted) malt, made with spirit from Craigellachie, Miltonduff and Linkwood. Matured in two casks – one bourbon, one sherry – then finished in a sherry butt. Bottled 2019 at 46%, it retails for £45.
Smell: Lots of fruit… apple, lemon, pineapple, melon.. Also toffee, a bit of coconut, vanilla and rich honey. Nice cereal notes too.
Taste: Those tropical fruits again, particularly pineapple. More honey. Subtle sherry contribution. Lovely texture – nice oily quality. Malty. Shortbread and tablet!
Thoughts: It’s fairly common for a whisky tasting to start with a relatively simple dram in order to ease people in. It wakes up the senses and prepares the participant for what’s to come later. I have to say, however, The Speysiders is much more than an inoffensive breakfast whisky. At 46% there’s a depth to the flavour profile that you don’t often find at this stage of proceedings. A no-brainer at £45.
I’ve always tried to champion the drams that I think offer good value for money and with The Speysiders, Murray McDavid has produced exactly that, a dram where the quality is high and the price relatively low. Great start. Proof that crowd-pleasing Speyside whisky doesn’t have to be bland or watered down to 40%.
Rìgh Seumas II 10 Year Old “Crafted Blend” @ 50%
A blended scotch that marries malts from Islay, Speyside and Highland distilleries with grain whisky from the Lowlands. Matured in bourbon hogsheads before finishing in sherry and wine casks. Bottled at 50%, it retails for £49.
I’ve already reviewed this dram (here) but since it was included in the tasting I thought it would be interesting to try it again and see how my notes compared this time around.
Smell: Dried fruits and red berries. Grilled pineapple. Tablet. Malt. Honey. Vanilla. Caramel. Orange. A wee bit of smoke – from charred oak maybe.
Taste: Fruity! Raspberry, apple and orange… Honey… vanilla… caramel. Butterscotch. Good weight again. Wee bit of woody spice. Pepper and a bit of coastal brine and bluster.
Thoughts: Another one that nails it in this category. Delicious, rewardingly complex and immensely satisfying… and at a budget that most people can afford.
Everything I want from a blended Scotch. Balance, complexity and affordability. The ultimate winner of the Battle of the Blends… but more on that later.
Interestingly I seem to have enjoyed it much more than I did when I reviewed it a few months ago. It just goes to show how subjective and fluid the whole whisky drinking experience is. The same dram can deliver very different results depending on the occasion, the mood, the setting… On the night Rìgh Seumas II stood shoulder to shoulder with older, more expensive drams, and it has earned a new level of appreciation from me as a result.
Air Leth 29 Year Old “Crafted Blend” @ 50%
This blended scotch is a 50 / 50 split between Islay malt and grain whisky. Spirit from Bowmore, Caol Ila and Laphroaig is blended with Lowland grain whisky from the North British distillery. All spirits were distilled in 1988. Bottled at 50%, it retailed for around £150.
Smell: Crème brûlée. Coconut. Pencil shavings. Old smoke and charcoal – the Islay malts have retained their unique identity but lost some of the intensity. Lots of tropical fruits. Not much in the way of oak – maybe a little surprising for such an old whisky. Wee bit of brine.
Taste: Salty with honey and vanilla. Lemon and pineapple. Now there’s oak and pepper with that mellow smoke on the finish. I’m always a bit nervous to add water to such an old dram but at 50% I figured it could take it and definitely opened up, with the smoke in particular coming to life. It actually felt like it could have taken a bit more but I was worried I would ruin it and held back.
Thoughts: Not a cheap dram… but try finding affordable 30 year old whisky! In any case, £150 seems fairly reasonable in the current market for a dram of that age, especially one of such quality.
A lovely dram and great to taste that balance between malt and grain, especially when the component parts are full of character and age. Cask influence is fairly slight and what we’re tasting is a spirit that has mellowed and evolved over three decades – and the results are an absolute delight.
Young & Old 7 Year Old “Crafted Blend” @ 50%
Another blend featuring 50% malt and 50% grain whisky. Murray McDavid have taken their Peatside blended malt, matured in a Pedro Ximenez cask and blended it with Caol Ila from an Oloroso hogshead before adding grain from the North British distillery. Bottled at 50% it retails at £90.
Smell: Bit of a challenging nose this one. It’s got a bit of that struck match / burnt toast thing going on at first, something which many find really off-putting. Interestingly I’ve picked that up from peated Benriach before, a spirit that happens to contribute to Young & Old. Personally I don’t mind that note but it was very strong here, at least at first. Soon enough I was also getting heather honey, toffee, raisins, vanilla, apple and lemon pastries along with the peat smoke and ash.
Taste: A big arrival. Thick smoke and pepper. Salted caramel. Raisins and prunes. Currants. Hobnob biscuits. There’s a lot going on and a bit of water helped to settle it down a bit and bring a little cohesion to proceedings.
Thoughts: An age statement of 7 years on a £90 bottle might seem jaw-dropping but the whisky is far more complicated than it may at first appear. Young & Old is a combination of feisty young malts and the same 29 year old grain whisky that was used in Air Leth. It’s an interesting idea and one that for the most part, works well. It takes a while to get used to the aroma but once you get past the initial shock it’s a rewarding sip.
A chaotic nose but the various components were better integrated on the palate with those rowdy young malts kept in check by the mature grain. With time they came together to create something quite unique and endlessly fascinating.
Peatside 7 Year Old “The Vatting” @ 50%
A blend of smoky single malts matured first in a bourbon hogshead before finishing in a port barrique. Bottled at 50% it retails for £60.
Smell: Comprising of the same malts used in the previous dram, Peatside surprisingly lacks the fire and brimstone on the nose. The youthful exuberance has been blanketed by the port finish with lots of red berry fruits, caramel and cinnamon. The smoke is present but well-mannered as opposed to the big acrid blast of Young & Old.
Taste: Lots of stewed fruits. Raspberry jam. Toffee. Caramel. Pepper, oak and smoke – in that order. I’ve been known to enjoy a port finish and this is delicious but perhaps the cask was a little too dominant?
Thoughts: No major issues. The label carries a young statement but this is a big characterful clash of fruit and smoke, bottled at a good strength and retailing at a reasonable enough price.
A big old mouthful of flavour to close out the tasting and a satisfying end to a great evening. I thoroughly enjoyed this dram but felt that the “Battle of the Blends” should be won by a whisky that showcased a whole range of flavours as opposed to one that brought a big old port cask to the party.
With that in mind, my choice for the winner came down to a contest between Rìgh Seumas II and Air Leth. In the end I opted for the former and surprisingly, so did just about everyone else. I can’t speak for the other attendants but my own thinking was that Air Leth may well have been a better whisky, all things considered, but the Seumas simply offered so much quality for such a reasonable price, that it was the most deserving. A blend should always offer something greater than the sum of its parts and the Rìgh Seumas seems to do exactly that, a beautiful and unique dram that most whisky drinkers can afford to enjoy. Perfect.
My thanks to everyone at Murray McDavid, particularly Izzy, Dean and JP. It was a lovely evening and I’m grateful for the invite.
Buy The Speysiders from Master of Malt here
Buy Rìgh Seumas II from Master of Malt here
Buy Young & Old from Master of Malt here
Buy Peatside 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 clicking the above link.
**This whisky is also available from several other retailers.
For more on Murray McDavid visit here