...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Least Epic Taste Off Ever?

Be honest.  You've seen them.  Confused them.  Interchanged them.  The Spey-somethings.  Sitting there on the shelf, looking idly tempting at $19.99, the Speyside 12 and Speyburn 10.

I think there was even a gift set with one of them along with two glasses for $20.  I almost bought it.  For the glasses?

Anyway, these guys get no love.  Yet they are from very much legitimate distilleries.  The Speyside distillery is almost outside of the familiar Speyside region, in the far southwest corner; while Speyburn is smack-dab in the middle of whisky central.

The Speyside Distillery is owned by The Speyside Distillers Company, who also owns the great little indie bottler Scott's Selection.  The former owners bought the distillery land in 1956, but the construction didn't finish until 1987, with the first spirit being run in 1990.  In the meantime, the old ownership, led by George Christie, ran a grain distillery (Strathmore/North of Scotland) for almost 25 years, until it was sold to DCL and closed soonafter.  The Speyside distillery sits right on the bank of the River Tromie, the source of the Spey (as per Charles McLean).  It has at varying times released an 8yr, 10yr, 12yr, 15yr, and the NAS Drumguish.  They also briefly released the widely sh*t-panned black whisky named Cu Dubh.  The bottling we see the most of in The States is this 12yr.

Speyburn Distillery is a bit older.  Built in 1896, they only closed briefly in the 1930s, but otherwise mostly produced malt for blends up until Inver House Distillers (now owned by Thai Beverage) bought the distillery in 2001.  It was actually one of the top six malts in the US for the first few years of the new millenium, but its sales have since dropped by almost 50% here (as per the Yearbook).  They have this 10yr bottling, as well as an (even cheaper!) NAS whisky called Bradan Orach.  Several years back they put out a 25-year Solera bottling that's been consistently well received.

On the personal side of things, I was very happy to find minis of these here and there around town.  $3.99 is a less risky investment than $19.99, according to my maths.  This wasn't going to be the most glamorous Taste Off, but it needed to be done.  And maybe, there was a gem to be found.  Maybe.


Distillery: Speyside
Ownership: Speyside Distillers Co.
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon American oak
Region: Speyside (Glentromie)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Neat (only)
The color is a medium brass.  The nose is simple.  Malt, sugar cookies, vanilla, a tiny bit of barrel char. Almost a Canadian blend.  Acetone?  A little PVC plastic.  The palate is simpler.  Cocoa, fresh grass, light smoke, the other grass, and an odd cheap vodka (or grain spirit) note.  Its medium-length finish is all malt and grasses.


Distillery: Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House Distillers (Thai Beverage)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon American oak
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Neat (only)
The color is a light brass.  The nose?  Per my notes, "Ew." Young whisky note reminiscent of Black & White or Hankey or Cutty blends.  Bright overripe tropical fruits, not the best oak, bananas and molasses.  Afrin nasal spray?  The palate is a little more approachable.  It's hot and spirity, but mildly smoky, like a very young Johnnie Walker Black Label.  Its simple sweetness grows with time.  The medium-length finish keeps the sweetness, though can be a bit drying.  And there's the unmistakable puff of Swisher Sweets.

Nose - Speyside 12
Palate/Finish - Speyburn 10

I was very surprised at how similar these two were to the blends at their price range.  And I don't mean that as a compliment.  Similar to blends like Hankey and Cutty, these two malts wavered between being nearly silent to begging for a drowning in mixers.  The Speyside 12 gets the slight nod overall since the Speyburn 10's nose was substantially short of pleasant.

On a random note, the Speyside 12's packaging was impressively shoddy.  The metal cap broke and fell apart upon opening, while the label was peeling off the bottle.  That may sound petty, but I've had many liquor minis -- a number of them at 99cents a pop -- and this was the crummiest construction of any of them.  Mini presentation is an odd way to fall short, but the whisky within the bottle wasn't much better.  It's too bad, because I really recommend their sister company Scott's Selection's bottlings.  But I do not recommend The Speyside 12 nor the Speyburn 10.

Speyside 12yr
Availability - Many liquor purveyors
Pricing - $23-$28
Rating - 68

Speyburn 10yr
Availability - Many liquor purveyors
Pricing - $17-$23 (cheap!)
Rating - 66

For a completely different take on Speyburn 10 please see this review.