Just last week I reviewed the first part of Dràm Mòr’s Spring Release 2023. Now it’s time for the second part. Whereas the first three whiskies all matured in trusty refill ex-bourbon casks, this second trio all spent time in casks that are less straightforward. A Glen Garioch finished in an ex-Islay (Williamson) cask, a Speyside finished in a first-fill Moscatel cask, and a Tullibardine from a first-fill Oloroso sherry hogshead.
When speaking to Drám Mór co-founder Kenny Macdonald a little while ago, he explained how much joy it brings him to showcase a distillate in a completely different light. Distilleries have to concentrate on their core range and deliver something that fits the distillery’s flavour profile. An independent bottler has no such obligation, aside from showing the utmost respect to the spirit.
“To do that, the last thing I want to do is throw the spirit into a heavy cask that will mask that distillery style. I want that style coming through”, Kenny explained. “Every cask has its own personality and story to tell. All it needs is a little bit of help. There are so many wonderful, exciting flavours in oak to work with. The more you do it the more your nose becomes attuned to what works. And most importantly, what doesn’t work.”
That’s not to say Kenny finishes every cask he can get his hands on. The other three Spring Releases are all the proof you need. But he’s not afraid to experiment when needed. In his view, a common mistake is to leave a whisky for too long in its finishing cask.
“When we first started out, Jim McEwan would write all our tasting notes. He’s a really good pal. Jim is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to casks. We told him we were going to do a wine barrique series. He told us to do it really gentle. Two, three months at the most. That surprised me, but he was spot on. It allows the distillery style to come through.”
Glen Garioch 2013 10 Years (57.1%, Dràm Mòr, C#1005)
Nose: Hints of forest floor, black tea and cow stables, as well as old books, mandarins and warm vanilla sauce. A few cloves too, with finally a whiff of pear skin, plums and Galia melon. Oh, and just the tiniest trace of damp oak and wood smoke. Taste: A little ashier now, which has been my issue with many an ex-Laphroaig quarter cask matured Ardmore. Also peanut skin, some charred oak, a hint of espresso and a delicate spiciness. Finish: Rich vanilla notes, something slightly medicinal and gentle wood smoke.
I’m pretty sure the finish in an ex-Islay whisky cask improved this Glen Garioch. Yet I can’t help but be curious about what it tasted like originally. The nose is top-level. Really good. The palate is enjoyable still, but I find the Islay influence more noticeable and less integrated.
Speyside Distillery 2014 8 Years (51.7%, Dràm Mòr, C#2432)
Nose: There’s some sulphur here. Gunpowder. It’s undeniable but reduces later on. It takes a while though. Also hints of quince jelly, strawberry marmalade, and ripe coconut. Then some almond paste and cinnamon. Taste: Syrupy mouthfeel. It’s almost fizzy. Less sulphur than I’d expected, which is a good thing. I might not have noticed it hadn’t it been for the nose. Touches of cassis, blackcurrants and sweet red fruits. Also a hint of mead and subtle oak spices. Finish: Medium length. Somewhat dry. Honeyed notes. Forest fruits.
The gunpowder note was a false start. It never totally disappeared, but this single malt from Speyside Distillery has more to offer. Fruity, syrupy stuff with some spicy, dry oak.
Tullibardine 2015 8 Years (53.7%, Dràm Mòr, C#650932)
Nose: Quite rich, somewhat dry and fairly sweet. Hints of butterscotch, cocoa powder and pralines, but also a touch of sour cherries, lime and orange zest. Whiffs of prunes, honeycomb and figs, but finally also some maple syrup and raisins. Taste: Let’s just say this is very raisin-forward, which I don’t think I’ve ever said about another whisky. Raisins are in a starring role here. There’s also notes of mocha, roasted peanuts, leather and furniture polish. And let’s not forget the oak. Spices aplenty, without them ever taking over fully. Finish: Medium length. Sherry. Oak spices. Chocolate.
I could try and think of something more eloquent to say, but this is just all about the cask. Tullibardine? I suppose so. Sherry bomb? Most definitely!