The names are instantly recognisable: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Singleton, BenRiach. All speak of the place they’re from, the glens and hills of the countryside surrounding the river Spey in Scotland’s highlands.
Speyside single malt whiskies are considered by many to be the quintessential Scotch whisky. Gently sweet flavours of caramel overlaid with fruit and floral aromatics, balance and elegance on the tongue, subtle spice but always characterful and pleasing to a broad spectrum of enthusiasts.
To keep the panel on their toes, a ringer was included in the shape of the Aerstone sea cask 10 year old single malt. It’s part of the William Grant & Sons stable and although it’s from the Ailsa Bay distillery in the Lowlands, it exhibits the same typicity and appeal as its Speyside counterparts.
At the conclusion of the tasting there was a clear favourite: Glenfiddich 12 year old. “I don’t know when last I had a Glenfiddich,” publisher Shayne Dowling commented, “but I feel stupid for not doing so because it is just such a good dram!”
Spirit journalist Clifford Roberts agreed. “It’s one of the first you would think of to present to someone as a gift because you just know that it’ll be enthusiastically received. You simply can’t go wrong with Glenfiddich! It has everything you want from a Speyside.”
Another standout in the abbreviated lineup was the BenRiach 12 year old. It was distinctive in its smokiness – reminiscent of a peated Islay whisky. It prompted editor Fiona McDonald to comment that this is the kind of whisky which would be a great introduction to the bigger, smokier whiskies from the renowned island, the Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Bruichladdich drams.
“But what a delight to taste these smooth, creamy caramel and vanilla-toned examples,” she said.
Aerstone Sea Cask 10 Year Old
Light floral notes with fudge, caramel and some candied orange peel on the nose. The palate is smooth, creamy with crème brulee, heathery barley notes and rich toffee with a long, spicy tail.(Ed’s note: It’s not a Speyside single malt but is a Lowlands whisky made in a Speyside style.)
GlenGrant 10 Year Old
Butterscotch, vanilla, what the Scots call tablet – or fudge, rich and gently sweet, both on the nose and in the mouth. Clifford noted a bright lime freshness to this dram. Gentle with silky texture and ease but with a distinct spiciness and a trace of fieriness to its heart. Long rewarding finish. Ideal as a summer dram Shayne said.
BenRiach The Twelve
Cocoa and shortbread aromas with some deeper, savoury, almost meaty nuances, Fiona said. All were agreed that this was a more powerful dram – because of its 46% alcoholic strength. Barley, thatch, leather and a Dubbin earthiness and flavour but with lovely dry, spicy length and generous appeal. Matured in Bourbon, sherry and Port casks. “There’s a lot going on here!” said Shayne.
The Glenlivet 12 Year Old (Ed’s Choice)
The single malt that kicked the whisky boom off centuries ago! Light fruity apricot and dried pear with baked biscuit and marmalade. The biscuit flavours are obvious on the palate with nuttikrust and ginger notes along with spice and nuts. As Shayne said, it’s a whisky which introduces itself politely – you don’t have to go searching for it.
The Singleton 12 Year Old
Luscious nectar by name and so it proved. Creamy toffee and butterscotch, gentle roasted nut nuance with polished leather too, all of which could be found on the tongue. Clifford noted marzipan and fruit cake, gentle and appealing with a light white pepper and sweetness on the tail.
Glenfiddich 12 Year Old (Panel Choice)
Everything you’d want in a Speyside malt: crème brulee, dried apricot, spice, heather and shortbread. Beautiful spicy but understated sweetness on the palate, with browned butter and creamy deliciousness which lingers long.
BenRiach The Smoky 12
Overtly smoky bonfire, ash and charred log aromatics – like a campfire the morning after, Shayne said. Like its stablemate, it’s bottled at 46% abv so the fiery spirit heat is more pronounced but it’s still balanced and elegant yet boasts sweet oily smoke flavour. Peaty, somewhat medicinal with a subtle ginger sweetness below.