...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Signatory Tasting Bar at Edradour Distillery

Yesterday, I left you off here:

I enjoyed visiting Edradour and appreciated the very good tour given by Helen (whom I recommend if you have a choice of guides).  And since Edradour was actually my first distillery stop on this trip, it was nice starting small.  But really, really, I was there for Signatory.

To make a long story one paragraph short, my first two experiences with independently bottled cask strength scotch came from Signatory bottles.  And it was a couple years later, when I set foot in Royal Mile Whiskies and saw a zillion (back in the day!) Signatory bottlings on the shelves, and then purchased two for myself, that I was forever warped.  It's thanks to Signatory that I'm here typing this post.  To this day, I find the quality of Signatory's single casks to be the most reliable in the independent bottling scene.  And often the most reasonably priced.  So, yes, while it was exciting to see one of Signatory's warehouses, it was more thrilling to attend their tasting bar.

Located just up the walkway from the visitor center, the bar is located in one of the many small white houses on site.  I don't know if one has to buy a tour ticket to go to the bar or if there's a fee if one doesn't attend a tour, but since I paid £7.50 for a tour I was led to the bar upon my arrival.

Because I'm a fool, or rather because I was somewhat distracted, I don't have a photos of the bar.  There are three, maybe four dozen, Signatory single casks available to try, along with another couple dozen Edradour/Ballechins as well.  Yes, one must pay for the 25mL(-ish) pours, and pay in cash, but the prices are the lowest you'll pay for a pour of this stuff.  Nothing I tried cost as much as the tour ticket.  And there were some deceased distillery bottles to taste for a bargain.  But I wasn't there to experiment.  I arrived with a plan. There were whiskies I wanted to buy, but I wanted to try them first.

Ben Nevis 22yo 1991 sherry butt #2382, 58.3%abv -- Signatory has gotten the reputation for having cornered the market on excellent Ben Nevis sherry casks from 1991 and 1992.  And, yep, this one was stellar, somehow balancing the massive oddly musty fruity almost smoky Ben Nevis spirit with a wallop of sherry drenched European oak.  Someday I'll have more notes on this one, because I bought a bottle.

Blair Athol 25yo 1988 refill sherry butt #6914, 56.8%abv -- Signatory also seems to have a whole flock of 1988 Blair Athol sherry casks sitting in their warehouses.  These releases, along with those from The Ultimate which come from the same warehouses, have helped make Blair Athol kind of a thing for some whisky geeks.  This cask was fascinating, especially after the Ben Nevis.  Though the oak gave the whisky plenty of dark color, it was surprisingly reserved in its influence.  Lots of good, comparatively young, spirit glowed through.  Water thickened and improved the whisky.  I resisted buying this very good whisky because the Ben Nevis blasted my socks off and I predicted there would be a number of other bottles accumulated once I went to *whisper it* Campbeltown.

Deep thoughts
Ledaig 10 year old 2005 first fill sherry butt #900145, 54.6%abv -- Reputation, reputation, again.  Young Ledaig has picked up a considerable following over the past two years, partially because it's proven to be pretty good and partially because a certain influential whisky reviewer keeps calling it The New Ardbeg.  This has resulted in very young Ledaig selling for almost Kilchoman-esque prices.  I'm a Ledaig Hipster, myself, having liked it before it was cool and still like the stuff from the less-sexy weirder period of the '80s and '90s.  Anyway, I was looking forward to this Ledaig and found myself disappointed.  It was indeed a big and peaty whisky.  But it showed nearly no character beyond "big and peaty".  It was sub-Uigeadail and very-sub-Benromach 100 Proof.  Water didn't open it up, nor did air.  It's not a bad whisky, it's just that it has a lot of competition at its price point (and below), and I'd rather just buy two bottles of the official 10 year old instead.

Ballechin 13 year old 2003 single port cask #221, distillery exclusive, 58.6%abv -- When I asked our guide Helen -- more of a fan of Ballechin than Edradour -- if they had any bottles of the excellent Ballechin Discovery Series Port Cask on hand, she said no.  Before my shoulders could droop in disappointment, she directed me to a distillery-only bottle.  I said something like "Holy Fudge" and then repeated it when I was informed that the tasting bar had it as well.  Back at the tasting bar, I tried it next to the above Ledaig 10yo sherry cask and there was no competition.  Like the Ledaig, the Ballechin was "big and peaty", but it was also rich and multi-faceted, it swam well, and was frankly "bigger and peatier".  And £20 cheaper.  Sold.

The Visitor Center
I ended the drinking experience here because, with the two tour drams, I'd consumed 5-6 servings of alcohol over a two hour period.  My judgement would be dulled beyond this point.  And I would make for an obnoxious passenger for the next three hours of car travel if I pursed additional whisky.

Happy pricing news: These four pours plus two bottles of water came out to less than £25, less than one glass of Highland Park 18yo at a Los Angeles bar.  So I highly recommend the tasting bar to geeks and casual drinkers, to those with a plan and those without.

Sad pricing news: It's a little difficult to recommend purchasing bottles at the distillery because Edradour's visitor center does not participate in the VAT refund scheme.  So technically, if one was able to find the above bottles in a UK shop while traveling, they would be cheaper.  For high priced bottles, it would likely be a better deal to buy them at a UK shop and have them shipped back to the US (or most other countries).  But in this case, that Ballechin is sold only at the distillery, and that specific cask of Ben Nevis is sold out everywhere else, and thus I bought them.  We tell ourselves stories in order to live.