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Darach Whisky is an independent bottler established by William Woodburn and Ross Frame. The two friends first discussed entering the drinks industry in early 2020. Before they set out, however, they decided to take some time to learn the trade. The more they learned, the more fascinated they became by Scotch whisky and the pair began to focus their new business in that direction.
The global pandemic delayed the first release but Darach finally got up and running in late 2021 with the release of a 23-year-old Allt-a-Bhainne single cask (you can read my review of that dram here).
That first release was followed by an interesting 13-year-old single malt from an undisclosed Speyside distillery. In turn, the Speyside will be followed by a 13-year-old malt, this time from Ardmore distillery in the Highlands. I was fortunate enough to receive samples of each one.
*Full disclosure: the whiskies featured in this article were sent to me 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.
13-year-old Secret Speyside Single Malt
The Secret Speyside range is a series of bottlings from Pernod Ricard’s Chivas Brothers stable. The whiskies come from four Speyside distilleries: Caperdonich, which has been dubbed The Vanished Distillery, Longmorn, the Pioneering Distillery, Glen Keith, the Landmark Distillery and Braes of Glenlivet (Braeval) – the Remote Distillery.
Since Caperdonich ceased production in 2001 and was demolished in 2010, it seems extremely unlikely that this 2008 vintage came from there. We can therefore assume it’s either Longmorn, Glen Keith or Braeval. Either is an interesting proposition. Longmorn has a fantastic reputation and has long been treasured by blenders for its ability to elevate a recipe. Glen Keith is a traditional Speyside malt and the distillery served as a training ground for Glenlivet’s former Master Distiller Alan Winchester. Braeval, meanwhile, is one of the most remote distilleries in the area. It changed its name from Braes of Glenlivet to avoid any confusion with its famous neighbour.
The whisky was distilled in 2008 and matured for 13 years. No information about cask type. We can probably assume refill bourbon. It’s bottled at a cask strength of 57.1% and retails for £80.
Smell: Quite fresh and fruity to begin with. Some biscuity malt and new oak. Nutty – peanuts and cashew. Oatcakes. Baked apple and pear. Lemon. Even a wee bit of pineapple. Butterscotch. Tablet. Wee bit of cinnamon, too. After water was added I picked up some fragrant, floral notes. Jasmine and lemongrass.
Taste: Honeyed malt and toffee followed by a blast of peppery heat. Oaky round the sides of the tongue. Apple pastries. Tinned pineapple. Wood spice finish – cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Water brings out a savoury note – like biscuits for cheese.
Thoughts: The nose is nicely balanced with no one element dominating. It gets the meeting point between spirit and oak just about bang on. On the palate I felt it needed a wee bit of water to find its best self but at cask strength that isn’t a surprise. The flavours aren’t huge but there’s a nice creaminess to the texture that prevents it from being too lightweight. Good, traditional Speyside fare.
Price: In all honesty, I don’t tend to reach for this kind of whisky very often but that doesn’t mean I can’t opine on what I feel constitutes a good example of the style. Even at the asking price of £80, I felt this was a pretty solid offering. Not exactly on the affordable side but Speyside fans should get on very well with it.
13-year-old Ardmore Single Malt
Ardmore is something of a hidden gem in my eyes. It’s a Victorian distillery established in 1898 by Adam Teacher, son of William Teacher, founder of Teacher’s Blended Scotch. It was acquired by Beam Inc. in 2006 and remained in the company when it merged with Japanese distilling giant Suntory in 2014.
Ardmore produces a peated single malt that offers an alternative to the medicinal style of Islay. There is a small range of official bottlings available but independent bottlings seem to offer the best realisation of the whisky’s full potential.
This forthcoming malt is aged for 13 years and prior to bottling, was given a brief 60 day finish in a red wine cask. It’s bottled at 59.7% and I’m led to believe recommended retail will be around £99.
Smell: Straight away I’m getting coal fires and barbecues but there’s also a nice maltiness to it. Grist. Straw. Honey. Vanilla. Lemon and lime. Mixed peppers. Charcoal. Perhaps some subtle red berry top notes. Smoky bacon.
Taste: Pepper. Toffee. Oak. Charcoal. Caramel. Bacon and earthy smoke. There’s some interesting stewed fruits in there too. Smoke lingers on the finish. Damp, bonfire smoke.
Thoughts: More a spirit-led, rather than cask-led dram. The original cask (hogshead, presumably) has only given the lightest of kisses and it’s all about the character of Ardmore. Even the finishing cask has left only a soft imprint on the flavour profile. That’s not a complaint though, because even everyday, run-of-the-mill Ardmore can be excellent and this was no different. Quite simply: Ardmore doing what Ardmore does.
Price: Ardmore used to be an affordable alternative to the increasingly expensive whiskies of Islay but like everything else, this single malt has climbed in price recently. Such is the market at present and Darach certainly isn’t responsible for it. A nice dram but it doesn’t come cheap.
For more on Darach Whisky visit https://darachwhisky.com/