Scots Wha Hae (Standard English translation: Scots who have) and they have little more famous than their whisky. No visit to Scotland would be complete without sampling a ‘wee dram’ of uisge beatha or ‘the water of life’ …the name given by the ancient Celts to the fiery amber nectar we now call Scotch whisky. Our ‘tour’ however was confined to the Whisky Bar of Simple Pleasures Restaurant where we traveled from the banks of the Clyde, to Inverness and Speyside then across to the islands of Arran and Islay off the west coast, before ending in the Highlands. All the whiskies we tasted were single malts, each from an individual distillery having their own characteristics from the locality where it is distilled.
Veld 21, the largest importer and distributor of malt whisky in Russia, supplied a selection of five whiskies for tasting, Passport brought along a sixth and Jerry Ruditser, our generous host, provided a seventh.
The St Andrew Society of Russia was represented by Tom Buchan, resplendent in full highland dress. The Society undertakes a number of charitable activities and is noted for its annual St. Andrew’s Ball traditionally held on the last Saturday of November. This is usually the largest of the expat balls in Moscow and tickets are usually sold out well before the event. To be sure of getting tickets for an event where kilts, pipers and whisky are in full flow, now is the time to reserve by contacting John Roche: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first whisky we sampled was Auchentoshan (Pronounced Ock-un-tosh-an), a lowland malt from the distillery on the banks of the river Clyde. The Auchentoshan Distillery at Dalmuir was founded around 1825 by Irish refugees escaping the famine in Ireland, and they followed the Irish practice of triple distillation. Since 1974 it has been owned by the Morrison Bowmore group, who are a part of the Japanese company, Suntory. The bottle we tasted was from the independent bottler, Murray McDavid, and the amber scotch had been aged in Bourbon and Viognier casks. The fruity influence of Viognier from Condrieu gave this Auchentoshan its distinctive flavor.
Moving up to Inverness-shire and the Tomatin Distillery, we sampled a 12year-old bottle from the biggest distillery in Scotland. This distillery with a total of 23 “stills” is also owned by the Japanese - the Takara, Shuzo & Okura international hotels group, who use the bulk of the production in their ‘Big T’ house blends.
Moving across to Banffshire we tasted another Highland Speyside, Glenfarclas 12 year-old. Speyside is situated to the North of the Cairngorm Mountains and south of the Moray Firth. Named after the river Spey most of the 60 distilleries in the area take their water from its tributaries – the Fiddich, the Livet and the Avon. Glenfarclas is one of the few independent family owned distilleries still producing. The current Chairman, John S. Grant, is the fifth generation to manage the distillery purchased in 1865 by his great-great-grandfather. Sherried fruit, oak and a hint of peat give the complex taste to this malt.
Moving across the countryside we headed off the west coast to the island of Arran where we sampled the 1995 first distillation from Scotland’s newest distillery, founded in 1995 by former Chivas director Harold Currie. Currie has revived the 150 year old tradition of distilling on the island of Arran which is sometimes called ‘Scotland in miniature’ because of its varied landscapes of mountain, plain, lakes, valleys and castles. This first bottling in a limited edition is a young six year-old, and although it has great potential it is not yet ready to compete with the others that spend ten years or more maturing in oak tasks.
Geoffrey Cox, John Bonar and Tom Buchan share a joke
From Arran we moved south to the Isle of Islay, a tiny island in the Argyll county of Scotland. Islay can boast of eight active distilleries and is one of the most appreciated groups of whiskey by single malt lovers. The highly distinctive feature of the Islay malts consists of a strong peaty, seaweedy, smokey flavor which is unforgettable. One either loves it or hates it. So strong is the medicinal tangy flavor that it was the only Scotch legally sold in the U.S. during prohibition – in pharmacies!
Bruichladdich (Brock-lad-ick), a distillery now owned by Murray McDavid, now bottles all of their whiskies there as an independent bottler, and it is not a typical Islay. It is more muted and gentle on the palate.
Our penultimate taste adventure was with a 15 year-old Laphroig (La-froig). Many of the panel members were familiar with the ten year old version which retains all the strong characteristics of the Islay malts. The 15 year-old is a richer and more mature version. This whisky is produced in such small quantities and is in such demand that it is often hoarded and drunk by the thimbleful to make it last as long as possible.
Tom Buchan described it as “Nectar of the Gods, the yardstick for all other whiskies.”
However, at Jerry Ruditser’s insistence, we all sampled a dram of the 10 year-old Edradour, a whiskey from a Pitlochry, Perthshire distillery. This whisky was a very close second to Laphroig in the panel’s ratings. It is from the smallest distillery in Scotland, with just three full time employees. It has passed through several owners and since 2002 is now owned by the independent bottler, Signatory Vintage. The smell and the taste are very distinctive, and for many, can be confused with the subtle delayed taste of smoke and peat in the Laphroig 15 year-old at a first tasting.
As Tom Buchan said, “There is no such thing as a bad whisky. It’s just that some are better than others.”
An opinion shared by our cosmopolitan tasting panel, who rated all the whiskies above 3.1 on average.
Chan Siew Eng
|Auchentoshan 1992 13 year-old
|Tomatin 12 year-old
|Glenfarclas 12 year-old
|Arran First Distillation 1995
|Bruichladdich 12 year-old
|Laphroig 15 year-old
|Edradour 10 year-old
Passport Easy Rating System
|I love this whisky!
|I really like this whisky!
|This whisky is good!
|This whisky is not that good!
|I don’t really care for this whisky!
John Bonar, Managing Editor, Passport Magazine
Jerry Ruditser, Proprietor, Simple Pleasures Restaurant
Tom Buchan, Senior Consultant, D.M. Engineering
John Horton, Sales Director, Moscom Group
Geoffrey Cox, O.B.E., Chairman, Astera
Adrian Tan, 1st Secretary, Embassy of Singapore
Chan Siew Eng, Embassy of Singapore