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This may come as a shock to some of you, so brace yourselves… Christmas is coming. For us whisky lovers that means it’s almost time to begin stocking up the cellar so that we won’t run dry over the festive period. One intriguing option, for those of us who like to hone the palate by trying a wide range of different drams, is a whisky-themed advent calendar. These have always interested me but I had never quite got round to getting a hold of one… until now.
The lovely people at Atom Brands, the company behind Master of Malt and The Character of Islay, were kind enough to send me a calendar packed full of 24 drams from That Boutique-y Whisky Company. I’m not going to review all of them, I don’t think my liver could take that! Instead I thought it might be nice to choose a few doors at random and tell you about the whiskies inside. That way you get an idea what to expect, without me spoiling the whole calendar for you.
Obviously I have been sent this calendar in the hopes that I can drive some sales and in the interest of full disclosure I would like to add that I can be paid a small commission if you buy anything from the link I will provide at the end of the article. Regardless of this, however, I will always strive to give an honest opinion on my experiences of the drams. Making a wee bit of money from these reviews is nice but it is not the intended purpose of them.
In order to choose the doors, I used google’s random number generator and got number 1, number 5, number 19 and number 16. I will review them in that order.
Door 1: Speyside No. 2 – Batch 1 – 25 Year Old Single Malt
A well-aged malt from an undisclosed Speyside distillery. A little more than 2000 bottles were available at a price of £116.95. Bottled at 51.6%.
Smell: Pear, peach and apricots. Honey. Vanilla and custard creams. Malty backbone with a touch of oak. Cinnamon and clove.
Taste: Honey and tinned fruit cocktail before turning more towards oak and woody spice. Caramel and orange zest throughout. Spice builds over time to leave a warming finish with more orange and peach.
Thoughts: You always have to bear in mind that Boutique-y Whisky releases come in 50cl bottles but even at that, £116 seems fairly reasonable for a 25 year old malt.
An enjoyable dram that seems fresh and vibrant at first but gradually reveals its true age and depth as it settles on the palate. You have to be careful when adding water to whisky of this age but at 51.6% I felt this Speysider benefited from a wee splash. It settled that woody spice down a little and brought a little more harmony to proceedings. A promising start to the calendar.
Door 5: Speyside No. 3 – Batch 2 – 6 Year Old Single Malt
At the other end of the age scale is this 6 year old Speyside, also from an undisclosed distillery, though presumably not the same one as before. With roughly 4000 bottles available, it is bottled at 49.3% and retails for £35.
Smell: Couldn’t be more different from the last dram. The nose is young, bordering on immature, with a distinct new make quality. Malty with flour, shortbread and lemon. Honey, vanilla and apple.
Taste: Better than a first sniff at the glass would perhaps indicate, though still on the young side. Lots of fruit.. pineapple, melon and lemon… with the barley malt providing a solid foundation. There’s also caramel, apple and a gentle peppery prickle.
Thoughts: Young whisky can be fantastic but many are put off when they see a 5 or 6 year age statement on a label. Sensible then to include a few drams in an advent calendar because people will be far happier to try a glass or two rather than investing in a full bottle. Having said that, £35 is a fairly sensible price for such a young spirit.
A fairly typical young Speyside that doesn’t offer anything particularly radical but provides a fullness of flavour you perhaps wouldn’t expect from one so young.
Door 19: Macduff – Batch 6 – 11 Year Old Single Malt
Macduff is a Highland distillery situated on the banks of the River Deveron. Through the years the distillery has been known alternatively both as Macduff and Deveron. In order to confuse matters further, someone at Dewar’s has now decided that the distillery should be named Macduff once and for all, but the whisky it produces should be bottled under the name “Glen Deveron”. Since that is a brand name however, and therefore subject to copyright and whatnot, you’ll still find independently bottled versions labelled as Macduff. Clear? No? Never mind.
This Batch 6 Macduff is 11 years old and bottled at 48%.
Smell: Puff pastry and baking spices. Gingerbread. Malted barley. Floral honey and lemon.
Taste: Honey and orange. Caramel. Cinnamon buns and ginger snaps. Vanilla. Apple and lemon.
Thoughts: This sample is labelled as Batch 6, which I was unable to find a price for but previous batches seem to have gone for £52.95 and I’d expect something similar. It’s a decent example of a Highland malt in any case, with lots of the honey character you’d expect.
A good demonstration of the benefits of allowing a malt to remain un-chill-filtered. This flavour profile is one I personally feel suffers a lot from such processes. Strip the oils and acids away, water down to 40% and you would lose the depth of those honey notes but here, left as nature intended and allowed to remain at the reasonable drinking strength of 48%, you have a fully flavoured, satisfying sip that offers balance between spirit character and well-integrated oak.
Door 16: Bunnahabhain – Batch 22 – 10 Year Old Single Malt
A 10 year old malt from the remotest and most northerly distillery on the isle of Islay. Founded in 1881, Bunnahabhain looked every one of its 140-odd years until recently, when a massive regeneration project began, giving this wonderful distillery a visitor centre befitting of the excellent malt it produces. Here That Boutique-y Whisky Company have bottled a 10 year old malt at a decent strength of 50.1%.
Smell: Lots of sultry dark caramel and rich honey. Dried fruits and woody spice. Chewy toffee. Apple pie with almond flakes. Sea shells.
Taste: Apple juice and cinnamon sticks. Rum and raisin. Highland toffee. Lots of chewy oak and black pepper towards the finish. Water smooths the experience somewhat and makes for a more cohesive sip.
Thoughts: Like the Macduff, I can’t find this batch listed online anywhere but previous batches were around £62.95. Assuming the price is similar this would be a decent buy, though the 50cl bottle must always be kept in mind.
It would be fair to say the first three samples I pulled from the calendar had some similarities, not least in that they all came from the North-East. Here however, for the final dram we take a radical change in direction and head west, to the Isle of Islay and Bunnahabhain, a distillery that produces some of the best quality-to-price ratio drams on the planet. This is a good example of the spirit but when the official 12 year old is so good at £40 a bottle, people may wonder why they should spend upwards of £60 on 50cl of a 10 year old. As a sample waiting behind the door of an advent calendar, however, this distillery will always be a most welcome sight.
I’ve reviewed the drams above in the context of full bottles but really what we’re talking about here is a box containing 24 x 30ml samples at a cost of £99. It’s no small amount of money but works out about £4 a dram which is pretty reasonable given the quality and in some cases, age, of the whiskies. It’s certainly less than you’d pay in a bar for comparable drams. Whilst I’m on the subject of bars, it looks likely that we’ll be denied the opportunity to visit them over the Christmas period, at least in the UK, so the idea of a box of drams, to be enjoyed one-a-day in the run-up to the 25th, seems all the more appealing to me.
If you’re interested in That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s advent calendar, or any of the other calendars stocked by Master of Malt, you can check it out and buy here
*As mentioned previously, I can be paid commission on anything you purchase from the above link.
For more on That Boutique-y Whisky Company visit here