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All the way back in November last year I was sent a whisky advent calendar that contained 24 drams from That Boutique-y Whisky Company. I wrote about the calendar (here) and reviewed four randomly chosen drams but there were a lot of other samples inside that I thought were interesting enough to review.
Catching my attention right away were a pair of 21 year old single malts from the Speyside region. One from Glen Spey, the other from Strathmill. These I paired purely because of their shared age and provenance, though as it turns out, there are some remarkable similarities between the two distilleries.
*Full disclosure: I was sent these samples free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Glen Spey 21 Year Old – Batch 1
Glen Spey began life as an oatmeal mill in Rothes, at the heart of the Speyside region. Founded by corn merchant James Stuart, the site was expanded to include distilling equipment in 1878. After a decade in operation, Stuart had acquired enough funds to buy the Macallan distillery and Glen Spey was sold off to W & A Gilbey of London in 1887.
In 1920 the distillery was almost completely destroyed by a devastating fire, with only still-house and warehouse left standing. It would be rebuilt to an ultra-modern design that utilised a practical, efficient system. Further building work in 1969 saw production capacity doubled.
Today Glen Spey is owned by Diageo with much of its spirit used in their J&B brand. It is one of only a handful of distilleries to use a purifier pipe. This small pipe protrudes from the lyne arm of the still, acting as a mini-condenser and causing some of the vapours to drop back into the pot to be re-distilled, the end result being a lighter spirit…
Bottled at 49.7%, this 21 year old Glen Spey retails for around £120.
Smell: Floral perfume. Barley sugars and honeyed malt. Vanilla flavoured butter cream with a touch of citrus and lightly spiced oak.
Taste: Surprisingly good weight with lots of orange and apricot. There’s also berries and dark chocolate. A wee bit of cinnamon and ginger too with some fresh oak notes.
Value for money: This may meander a little, so bear with me. I would usually expect to pay something between £120 and £150 for a 21 year old malt, so this appears to be decent value at first. We have to take the smaller 50cl bottle into account though. £119.95 for 50cl is £2.40 per centilitre, giving a 70cl equivalent of about £170. That may not be obscene pricing but it’s above average and in order to justify such a tag, the whisky has to reward the sipper with above average enjoyment. I thought long and hard over this and changed my mind a dozen times but I think it just about scrapes my approval. Pricy, but just about good enough to warrant it.
A surprisingly weighty Speyside, full of robust flavour and character. It’s almost cartoonishly tasty and absolutely not what I expected when I stuck my nose in the glass for the first time. I wonder if it would retain its allure, time after time, or would that big burst of flavour become a bit of a one-trick pony after a while..? It’s not really possible to say when you’re working with one sample but I’d love to get my hands on another dram or two and that surely has to be a good sign.
Strathmill 21 Year Old – Batch 6
The village of Keith in Moray has a long history of milling, thanks to its proximity to the River Isla. Like Glen Spey, Strathmill began as a mill (obviously, it’s in the name), established by A. G. Johnstone in 1823. During the whisky boom of the 1890’s it was converted to a distillery, before being taken over (like Glen Spey) by W. & A. Gilbey of London.
The distillery is currently owned by Diageo (like Glen Spey) and much of its spirit is used in their J&B blends (like Glen Spey). It also (like Glen Spey) utilises a purifier pipe, in order to produce a lighter, more delicate spirit character.
Bottled at 47.7% this one retailed for £90.
Smell: Lemon and white grapes. Coconut. Almond. Mango and peach. Grassy barley. Honey.
Taste: There’s a delicacy to this dram that completely opposes the weight of the previous one. There’s gristy malt, almond, custard creams and ginger biscuits with a wee touch of mature oak on the finish being the most obvious indicator of its age.
Value for money: At £90 this is a much more reasonably priced option. It lacks the robust weight of its predecessor, but has gained some interesting complexity over the years that I suspect might make it a rewarding long-term proposition – one of those whiskies that unveils a little more of itself with each encounter.
Where the Glen Spey was something of a brute, forcing its character upon you almost immediately, this Strathmill is a far more gentle beast that has picked up some manners over its 21 years of maturation. It’s light and it’s refined but it will show its quality when given the time and space to do so. It totally isn’t the kind of dram I usually go for, but I could really see myself growing to love it.
If either of the whiskies reviewed in this article have caught your eye you can buy them from Master of Malt at the links below. * **
Glen Spey 21 Year Old buy here
Strathmill 21 Year Old buy here
*Be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid commission on any purchases you make
**Other retailers are available
For more on That Boutique-y Whisky Company visit here