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Going forward Lady of the Glen will be releasing many whiskies that are finished. Admittedly, this is not innovative by any stretch as finishing has taken place within the industry for many years. However, Scotch itself is a wonderfully diverse product, with different flavours appearing within different regions, from over 130 different distilleries that produce different vintages of whisky in uniquely different casks. There is so much variety in Scotch compared to other spirits and the industry could do better to celebrate this diversity compared to our competitor spirit categories.
My goal is for Lady of the Glen to be releasing the finest quality whisky consistently but with a view to release diverse flavours from authentic cask sources. I want to produce whisky for drinking which is not standard. Every cask is unique and has a story and by building relationships with the bodegas in Europe, I’ll be able to release casks that have a traceable and high-quality authenticity.
Finishing is the approach of re-racking a cask into another cask, which means pouring the contents of one cask into another. The aim of the process is to allow the spirit to take on the flavour characteristics of a different cask from that which the spirit was originally matured in. Lady of the Glen is looking to conduct long term finishing projects so that each cask of spirit is getting adequate exposure to the oak although this will be dependent on the cask size and type of spirit/wine that the cask previously contained.
Around 90% of the whisky industry is matured in Bourbon hogsheads and yet Sherry single malt releases tend to be the most popular. The solution to this is to re-rack a bourbon cask into a Sherry cask in order to let the spirit absorb some of that Sherry flavour and colour from the oak. However, finishing has developed a bad reputation because it has been used to mask poor flavour notes by covering them up with the more intense flavours from the re-racked cask and it is generally looked down up by parts of the industry because it can be construed as passing off a whisky as something that it’s not i.e. a whisky matured in a bourbon cask for 12 years then re-racked into a Sherry cask for a very short time will be identified as a Sherry release but have very little of a sherry matured whisky characteristics.
The SWA places a number of restrictions on the process, for instance, a re-racked cask can no longer be called ‘a single cask’ that is despite the re-racked cask being a single cask and no vatting or blending of other casks at any stage. The finished whisky must still possess the character and traits of a whisky. The re-racked cask must also have a history of being used in the Scotch whisky industry.
The SWA’s strict requirements ensure whisky from Scotland is always of high quality. The main criteria are that:
Through this Lady of the Glen aspires to be a reliable source of authentic Scotch providing quality examples of European oak married with the finest in Scottish distillate.
Our releases include:
Glenlossie Vintage 2010 with Tawny Port finish
Glen Elgin Vintage 2008 ex-Tawny Port cask finish
Glenlossie Vintage 2010 with ex-Ruby Port finish
Deanston Vintage 2000 with PX finish batch 2
Tamdhu Vintage 2007 with PX finish batch 2
Glen Moray Bourbon Barrel with PX Sherry octave finish batch 2
Linkwood Vintage 2006 PX finish batch 2
To find out more about all the Lady of Glen whiskies check out our online shop.
The answer - to personally select the very best casks to finish the rare spirit I source in Scotland.
For over a year now I have sourced casks from the Josafer bodega near Porto. They provide the Pedro Ximenez (PX) Octaves that have been sold and some of the Tawny and Ruby Port releases too.
I asked the bodega if they could share a bit more information about the PX sherry variety and explain why it is so special.
Pedro Ximénez wine is obtained from grapes of the same name which then undergoes a traditional process known as "sunning", whereby the fruit turns to raisins.
The region where the Protected Designation of Origin "Jerez-Xérès-Sherry" and "Manzanilla - Sanlúcar de Barrameda" wines are produced is located in the southernmost area of the Iberian Peninsula. Only the vines of the Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Trebujena, Chipiona, Rota, Puerto Real, Chiclana de la Frontera, and Lebrija planted on land deemed suitable by the industry's "Consejo Regulador" are permitted to grow grapes for production of "Jerez" and "Manzanilla" wines. This region is divided among 3,511 vineyards owned by 2,720 proprietors.
Musts are obtained after pressing which have an extraordinarily high concentration of sugars and a certain degree of colouring, whose fermentation is stopped by adding wine alcohol. Ageing is exclusively oxidative in nature, facilitating a progressive aromatic concentration and increasing complexity, though always ensuring not to lose the fresh, fruity characteristics of the grape variety. A dark, ebony coloured wine with pronounced tearing and a thickness to the eye. In the nose its bouquet is extremely rich with predominantly sweet notes of dried fruits such as raisins, figs and dates, accompanied by the aromas of honey, grape syrup, jam and candied fruit, at the same time reminiscent of toasted coffee, dark chocolate, cocoa and liquorice. Velvety and syrupy in the mouth and yet with enough acidity to mitigate the extreme sweetness and warmth of the alcohol leading to a lingering, tasty finish.
The PX variety tends to be the most expensive compared to Oloroso, Fino and Amontillado.
Lady of the Glen has produced the second batch of PX finishes:
DEANSTON VINTAGE 2000 WITH PX FINISH BATCH 2
TAMDHU VINTAGE 2007 WITH PX FINISH BATCH 2
GLEN MORAY BOURBON BARREL WITH PX SHERRY OCTAVE FINISH BATCH 2
These are batch 2 and the Octaves are on their second fill so the intensity of flavour is more balanced compared to batch 1. Our octaves are small, around 50-litre casks which yield about 60 bottles per release. The smaller casks allow for a more intense maturation between the spirit and the oak due to the greater oak spirit contact so our whisky is usually ready after 3 months although the spirit has been previously matured in Bourbon casks for a much longer time.
To view our full range of whiskies, check out our online shop.
Whisky regions are very interesting because on the one hand they help to categorise an industry by whisky type, and an industry so diverse requires some level organisation to manage, whilst on the other hand they are almost irrelevant.
Most whisky shops will categorise their stock by region and the valuation of whisky at wholesale is done with the region, among other factors. Visit our shop to take a look at some examples.
Here is a brief description of the whisky regions.
Floral with honey and heather. The Highland region is made from an ‘imaginary’ line drawn from Greenock in the West of Scotland to Dundee on the East. However, the Speyside region is captured in a separate net within the Highland region. There are approximately 40 distilleries within the Highland region.
Lush with fruits of apple and pear and providing honey, nuts and spice. Usually included within the Highland region, Speyside is reputed for producing highly sought-after sweet whiskies. There 50 distilleries in Speyside all sharing similar water sources, predominately the River Spey.
Lighter bodied with more sweetness from grassy notes. South of the ‘imaginary’ line, for decades there was a decline in distilleries, in 1980 there were only 2 within the Lowlands. However, there has been a revival with likes of Daftmill, Borders Distillery, Annandale and Ailsa Bay. There are now 17 Lowland distilleries.
Salty with similarities to Islay’s peat and depth. In the Victorian age, there were 34 malt distilleries in Campbelltown but as recently as 1998 there was only 1 which was Springbank. Paul McCartney can now enjoy 3 distilleries on his annual visits.
Coastal, salty and that famous peated smoke. Due to the prevalence of peat on the Island, Islay has historically been associated with producing peaty whisky. There are 9 distilleries operational on Islay now and this is set to grow.
More coastal and salty flavour profile Includes distilleries from the Western Islands and Orkney such as Scapa, Highland Park, Arran and Jura among others. A very diverse region!
There are a number of reasons why whisky regions are irrelevant:
1. A key trait of the Islay region is the production of peaty and smoky whisky. However, not all distilleries on Islay produce peaty Whisky (i.e. Bunnahabhain is unpeated as standard), some of them will also produce non-peated runs. Any distillery in Scotland can produce peaty whisky and this is not a right reserved to distilleries on Islay. For example, some distilleries will produce runs of peated spirit such as Ben Nevis, Balvenie, Glenturret, the list is very long. Other distilleries, such as Ardmore distillery, were built to produce a smoky spirit for blending but are not located on Islay.
2. It has been argued the Highland whiskies have an advantage over Lowland whiskies purely because of the region name. In the customers' view, it has been suggested that selling Lowland whisky against Highland is an ‘upward battle’…this is just purely to do with the terminology in the customers head.
3. Most distilleries prize their water source such as those in Speyside that use the River Spey. It has been suggested that water sources and rivers would give a more accurate reflection of the flavours expected rather than the region. However, certain rivers pass through multiple regions and distilleries which share the same water source are split into two different regions. The overall impact of water on the final spirit quality is debatable with the still shape and production techniques manipulating the flavour regardless.
4. The Speyside/Highland category is so large that it dwarfs the other categories and makes it harder for individual and smaller Speyside distilleries to stand out. From personal experience, selling Speyside whisky can be hard despite the region being known for producing lots of good whiskies.
5. It is worth noting that there is slight confusion within categorisation, some parties include Speyside within the Highland categorisation as this was historically the case. However, Speyside as a region was signalled out as its own region due to the density of high-quality distilleries – of the 90 distilleries in the Highlands, 50 are in Speyside. Similarly, Islay and Island can sometimes be grouped together so distilleries on Orkney and the Outer Hebrides would be placed in the same category as that of Islay despite them being great distances from each other.
The benefits of categorisation by region are that it provides a structure or style that distilleries within that region can aspire or meet which can make blending easier, it can make valuations easier and it can help consumers explore flavours that they enjoy based on past experience, i.e. ‘I like this Speyside whisky so I’ll try that Speyside whisky’. Without categorization, you would have over 100 distilleries all possibly doing their own thing and with no discernible way to approach it.
Alternative forms of classification have been explored such as by typical aroma characteristics. Through this approach, whisky is categorised by malt characteristics, sweetness. The industry is split into about a dozen aroma characteristic groups.
Whisky glasses are a contentious aspect of the whisky industry because everyone has a favourite and admittedly I’ve never really had a particular preference. More and more often, I’ll visit festivals where aficionados have taken their own glasses and despite some appearing more cumbersome the aficionado will be undeterred!
The majority of whisky festivals provide the standard Glencairn glass which is practical and strong; It has a tulip shape which is good for getting aromas and the ball shape allows you to heat the glass up in your hand, it’s also very sturdy and it won’t spill when it falls over due to the shape of the glass. I have about a dozen of these in the house and it has now reached a point where I can no longer justify taking the glass home.
What I’ve seen become more popular is the micro Glencairn glasses. These cute little glasses are the same as standard Glencairn but smaller and so contain less whisky but they are hardier which is probably why I’ve seen them at more outdoor festivals.At the Fife whisky festival, I was given an unusual glass called the neat glass. At first, the neat glass was recognizable because it was hard to drink from but to nose whisky with, I thought it was terrific! I’ve been using it to do my tasting notes for my recent releases and it really opens up the dram to pick out specific notes. However, it is not something I would take to a whisky festival as I still find it hard to drink from and I would look like a dribbling idiot. Apparently, the shape of the glass diffuses the alcohol fumes so that the natural aromas are more detectable.
More common in tastings, where people are sitting down and where there is less of the rambunctious festival atmosphere are the delicate copita glasses. Copita glasses are elegant glasses with a stem and tulip bowl, similar to a small wine glass.
Fundamentally, a tulip shape bowl is highly desirable as this allows the liquid to be swirled about, making it ideal for nosing. Where a stem is not present the glass can benefit from being warmed in the hand which allows the aromas to be more detectable. If you're keen to start drinking from a new glass, we have some great Glencairn glasses available to buy in our shop.
In light of this, I thought I would share my tips on what to look out for and how to identify the best drams at a table!
Tip 1 - Has the bottled used colouring?
Every whisky festival I go to I’m aware our dark coloured stock goes first; people look beyond the cask styles, the maturation length and the distillery and narrow down their whiskies based solely on colour. I can understand this, darker whisky implies greater maturation which is desired and there is the expectation of those highly sought after fruity sherry flavours. However, I would caution against anyone selecting a whisky based on colour because of the use of caramel colouring, it is very common in the whisky industry and gives a likeness of richness and colour. The easy way to identify caramel colouring is to ask the person behind the stand and they’ll tell you, the majority of independent bottlers, including myself, don’t use colouring.
Tip 2 - Whisky doesn’t have to be over 10 or 15 years old to be ready.
A pet hate of mine is when a customer looks at some of my releases and states too young. This is for a 10-year-old single malt matured in a bourbon barrel. A better way to understand if a whisky is too young for your palate is to identify the maturation vessel such as the oak cask. A quick tip, generally speaking, the smaller the cask the faster the maturation. Please read my post on maturation to get more detail, below is a quick summary.
When a new spirit is placed into a cask the majority of flavour from the cask and colouring comes in the first 6-12 months. After this, the cask allows a sufficient level of oxidation (contact with the air) that allows for the removal of undesirable characters of the distillate or allows the oak flavours to mask the undesirable flavours. The removal of undesirable characters happens within a few years. As the years go by the alcohol level will gradually reduce as the liquid evaporates through the cask (Angel share). After 10 years there is no shareable research as to what happens to the whisky but the assumption is greater mouthfeel and balance, while the alcohol and volume reduce. The smaller the cask the greater the amount of evaporation and the more oak to spirit to contact which means aspects of maturation take place at a faster rate.
What can be taken from this is after only a few years whisky can be good and the smaller the cask the sooner it can be released. From small to large, you have Octaves, Quarter Casks, Barrels, Hogshead and Butts.
Tip 3 - Ask the person behind the stall what they would recommend based on your preferred whisky.
Don’t be shy asking for a recommendation as this is usually a good opportunity to get a bit of the story behind the cask and why it was released. Each one of our casks has been on a journey and I’ve tasted each of them and prepared them for this moment for you to taste so ask away!
Tip 4 - Don’t have peaty whisky first.
Just don’t do it, you’ll only be able to taste peaty whisky for the rest of the day so you’re limiting what you can try. If you're new to whisky, be aware that peat is not limited to Islay, many Speyside distilleries have peat releases and any distillery can do it. Also, not all Islay whiskies are peaty, our Secret Islay is from a distillery on Islay that doesn’t distil peaty whisky normally.
Tip 5 - Know your limits.
A whisky festival is a great chance to try and sample whisky. However, a number of releases at these events will be cask strength, all of our stock is cask strength. Cask strength can be anywhere, even below normal strengths of 46% as it’s just a term used to describe the strength of the whisky but in most cases, it is very much higher than standard strength whiskies. The best way to approach cask strength is to try it at its cask strength first and then water it down to your preferred level.
These are 5 tips from my experience at whisky festivals. If you see me at my stand feel free to say hello and ask if I have any of the behind the table stuff, as I always have something special behind the table!