...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 11, 2015

WTF Is This? Macgavin's Highland Single Malt

Speyside Distillery makes some exceptionally poor whisky.  Their 12 year old is probably the worst official age-stated single malt on the market.  Drumguish is drum-gross-ish.  And Cu Dubh is loose poop in a cup.

So when Oliver Klimek tweeted out that Speyside Distillery was releasing another e150a-flooded thingy, Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail had the only appropriate response.

The Speyside Distillery's ownership used to also own Scott's Selection, one of the first indie bottlers to bring cask strength whiskies to The States.  Good stuff (courtesy of other distilleries' casks of course) and at good prices.  When I heard that the company had divested themselves of Scott's Selection, I realized that their (both old and new) management's bad choices extended beyond the confines of what's inside the bottle.

This is unfortunate because they (Harvey's of Edinburgh) are one of the few small businesses remaining in the Scotch industry -- though on the SWA's site, Harvey's lists a Grand Cayman address. The company's former owners specialized in a number of bottom shelf blends, such as Old Monarch, Blackburn, and King Henry VIII, thus malt quality was probably not their first priority.  This new Harvey's ownership seems to have banked on a new "Spey" brand in China and Serge V. seems to like the 18 year old.  Perhaps this means they're attempting to improve things.  Or they're just betting the house on China, which, if economic trends continue, would prove to be another bad decision.

One of the products produced by the previous owners was the Macgavin's series of single malts.  There's little to nothing official about the range online, but I do know that there is or was a "Highland" and a "Speyside" (apparently there's an Islay and Lowland too).  I attended a tasting three years ago (an experience that really deserves its own post) at which I tried both of the "Speyside" and "Highland" whiskies.  According to my notes, both whiskies use single malts from The Speyside Distillery, the difference between the two being "Highland" contains a bit of peated malt.  Way back then I liked the NAS "Highland" more than both the NAS "Speyside" and the official 12 year old.  My whisky buddy JLR (and his wife) were at that very tasting and he bought a bottle of the Highland.  We both eventually departed with much more expensive whisky, but that's another story.  Many thanks to JLR for this sample.

Distillery: The Speyside Distillery
Range: Macgavin's
Ownership (current): Harvey's of Edinburgh
Region: Speyside (but almost not)
Age: ???
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Likely so
Colorant added? Likely so

Color - Brass
Nose - A light but ever-present grungy peat coated with vanilla simple syrup and white flour.  A little bit of Ethyl (in my life. A little bit of Monica in---oh shit, I'm sorry).  It's quite cheery and candied.  At first.  After 10 minutes, a sour milk note announces itself.  After 20 minutes, it becomes stinky cheese.  After 30 minutes, it starts to pick up some baking spice and caramel.  It sort of redeems itself as the expired dairy floats away.
Palate - Pencil lead, vanilla, sugar, and light smoke.  Watery texture, though not surprising at this ABV.  A slight peppery zip.  Malt first, then oak.  At first.  After 15 minutes, the sour milk note arrives, but then so does an oaky bitterness.  Then some oak spice, sand, and salt.
Finish - A little citrusy, then peaty.  Some of that milky residue comes and goes.  The citrus builds with time, but so does the oaky bitterness.  A hint of cardboard appears after 30 minutes.

First off, this is better than Cu Dubh, Drumguish, and Speyside 12yo.  I'm not saying it's great.  I'm saying it's drinkable.  And its price point doesn't suck.  It wouldn't be the worst idea for the distillery to bottle something like this at 12 years old and put their name on it, discarding the current "Speyside 12" recipe.

It starts off as a C+ whisky and then goes weird after 10 minutes.  It does pick itself back up after more than a half hour, but never gets back to where it was at first.  It's much too thin and light for water, if you're drinking to taste.  But if you're just plopping it on the rocks, go for it.

Availability - Some specialty retailers in the US
Pricing - $20-$25
Rating - 72


  1. Oh, wow...I completely forgot about this bottle. I have not, however, forgotten about the Caol Ila (and all the other whiskies), though it's waiting to be opened in colder climes. What a grand tasting that was...WHY DIDN'T I ALSO GET THE LONGMORN-GLENLIVET? One of two bottles I deeply regret not purchasing.

    1. Somewhere I have the notes from that tasting, but they're probably buried in a box in Mathilda's room so they're as good as gone right now. Monique is/was one of the best reps I've ever met. But those Scott's Selection whiskies were from a different dimension than the Speyside stuff she started us off with.

    2. OK, now I really need to know what the hell transpired at that tasting...

      It sounds like a bank robbery.

    3. The tasting began with Speyside 12, Macgavin's Speyside, and Macgavin's Highland. Then as the best apology ever we received '80s Highland Park, Caol Ila, and Bruichladdich; then '70s Glen Mhor and Bunnahabhain; then '60s Longmorn. This was three years ago, when these things could still happen.

      A few weeks later I went to another event that was identical, minus the Speyside products. And someone brought a bottle of Scott's Selection Port Ellen. That was also an acceptable tasting.

  2. I'm surprised your review was so kind ! at the price point, id hoped to like this single malt. maybe the barrels they use are ancient and spent ? the whiskey smelled good and i tried it with and without water but found that once in my mouth it just went metallic ? I'm no expert but was disappointed and won't purchase again.

    1. Oh man, John M., please don't try their other products! :) It might be instance of zillions of spent casks, or maybe their new make spirit is just not good. I was surprised I didn't totally hate the Highland too. The nose was the best part. I wonder if the pencil lead note I found was the metallic note you experienced. Sadly at the $20 price range, there's almost no drinkable Scotch anymore.