Skene Finest Scotch Whiskies – Blair Athol, Tomatin and Bunnahabhain

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Skene Whisky was founded by Andrew Skene, a former ambassador for Diageo, working in partnership with Tom Melville. With the intention of combating some of the pretentions of the scotch whisky industry, they created their Black Tartan blended malt by marrying four Highland Malts in specially charred casks. Alongside their flagship product however, they have also been bottling single cask single malts from distilleries all over Scotland. I’ll be reviewing three of their latest releases in this article but there are more available on their website. See link at the bottom of the page.

*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.

Blair Athol 2015 Single Malt

Blair Athol stands on the outskirts of Pitlochry, in Highland Perthshire, near the geographical centre of Scotland. Founded in 1798, the distillery was purchased by Arthur Bell & Son’s in 1932 and the malt still features in the Bell’s blends today, with both now under the ownership of Diageo. Pitlochry is something of a tourist trap, though a very picturesque one admittedly. As a result, Blair Athol is one of the busiest distillery visitor centres in the whole of Scotland.

Matured for five years in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask before bottling at 48% and retailing at £34.

Smell: A nose at first full of malt, flour and grist. There’s also lemon and pineapple with vanilla and buttery, crumbly shortbread. Subtle touch of wine – more like a Fino than Oloroso. Addition of water brings whisky and wine together more effectively.

Taste: Barley malt, butter and vanilla fudge. Rum and raisin. Pepper. Dark chocolate.

Value for money: Skene deserve significant praise for making single cask whisky available at such a reasonable price. Granted it’s on the young side, possibly even a wee bit under-developed, but the overall experience is still a rather pleasant one and there are plenty of occasions I’d rather drink a young, un-chill filtered single cask than spend my money on a similarly priced N.A.S. bottling that’s been diluted to 40% and filtered half to death.

Score: 82

The barley building blocks of single malt whisky are front and centre, with some gentle encouragement from the ex-sherry cask. The result is a light, yet flavoursome whisky that comes at an excellent price. I have to confess, my first impression upon sticking my nose in the glass wasn’t great, but the whisky opened up really well and by the time I was looking at the bottom of an empty glass I found I had really rather enjoyed it.

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Tomatin 2015 Single Malt

Tomatin distillery lies 15 miles south of Inverness, in the highlands of Scotland. Distillation is believed to have taken place in the area since the 16th century at least but it was 1897 before it became official. The distillery famously closed in 1986 but was saved from obscurity by Japanese conglomerate Takara Shuzo. At one time Tomatin was the largest malt distillery in Scotland but under the new owners, production was stripped back to a more manageable level.

Distilled in 2015 and bottled 2020 after maturation in an ex-oloroso sherry cask. Bottled at 50%, it retails at the attractive price of £34.

Smell: Fresh nose with pine needles, agave syrup, honey and lime zest. There’s also malt and cereal notes with some gentle baking spices. Water brings out some hot buttered rum and a little more of the sherry cask. Raisins now and a wee bit of oak.

Taste: The sherry influence comes through straight away, with some chocolate-covered raisins and cinnamon. This is no sherry bomb though -there’s also honey, vanilla fudge, caramel, apple juice and oatcakes.

Value for money: As with the previous dram we’re looking at a young spirit matured in what I presume to be a refill sherry cask. Here however, the cask seems to have exerted itself upon the dram in more convincing fashion, making it the better of the two identically priced whiskies in my opinion. Fantastic price once again.

Score: 84

Youth seems less of a factor here. Whether that’s down to the cask, or the maturation conditions or some other variable I don’t know, but the whole experience seems more robust. There’s a little more in terms of mouthfeel too, something which always appeals to me. At £34 this is exceptionally good value.

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Bunnahabhain 2013 Peated Single Malt

Bunnahabhain is the most northerly distillery on the isle of Islay. Originally founded in 1881, it is currently under the ownership of South African-based drinks giant Distell. Bunnahabhain spends the majority of the year producing un-peated spirt, the only one on the island to do so, alongside Bruichladdich. For a small percentage of the year however, a more traditional style of Islay whisky is created, and it is some of this that Skene have bottled here.

Distilled in 2013 and matured in a hogshead before bottling at 48%, it retails at £43.

Smell: Malty bread and wispy smoke. Seaweed and ocean spray. Liquorice. Old faded leather. Creosote. Vanilla.

Taste: Honey, muesli, sea salt and pepper. Vanilla and pouring cream. Peat smoke builds in intensity the longer the whisky rests on the palate. Malty finish with lingering smoke and more salt.

Value for money: This one is a little longer in cask and as a result is slightly more expensive than its colleagues. I’m pleased to say however that it maintains the level of quality.

Score: 83

There’s nothing particularly fancy going on here, just well-made whisky that delivers a rewarding experience – exactly as I’ve come to expect from Bunnahabhain. The distillery’s core range is largely unpeated but they do delve into the smoky side of things from time to time and that’s what we’re dealing with here. It’s well balanced though, and won’t overwhelm the palate the way a Laphroaig would. Perhaps an option for someone wishing to try the famous Islay smoke for the first time? More great whisky at a reasonable price from Skene. If they keep this up I’ll be expecting to see their name much more often in future.

Browse Skene Whisky range here.

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