An Irishman, An Australian and a couple of Canadians walk into a bar…
No, wait. That’s not right. They walked into my house and proceeded to turn it into a bar. No different than most nights, though the accents were decidedly cooler on this occasion.
The ever-changing nature of The Collective morphed again this eve to accommodate a mate who works hard delivering the goods to we whisky-soaked many. Jonathan Bray, previously mentioned on ATW as the Canadian Aussie in a kilt, popped by for a night of cask strength dramming and Cuban Cigar-ing. Everything that happened afterwards…I’ll blame solely on the influence of the contents in his traveling bag of wonders. Mary Poppins has nothing on the nifties Jonathan pulled from his magic bag.
To be honest though, this is a tough one to write up. This was initially a semi-official visit to dig into some of Jonathan’s products, get to the heart of A.D. Rattray and put together this piece for All Things Whisky. As often happens, the end result was a little different than what was initially envisaged. Why? Well…put simply…Jonathan’s a good guy. After a while it simply became more a matter of mates enjoying each other’s company than a ‘feature for the site’ type deal. All the better really.
Having said that. Let’s not get too far into the weeds here. I’ll share a few details with you about ADR, then we’ll get straight to the tasting notes. That was the fun bit anyway. A group of gents (and I use that term VERY loosely) sitting around beating the hell out their noses and their livers. My ideal night in other words.
A.D. Rattray was founded in 1868 by a couple of fellows known as Andrew Dewar and William Rattray. Though their enterprises were varied, the one we whisky geeks care about was their involvement in blending and selling whisky. For just over 50 years Dewar and Rattray worked the whisky gospel throughout the Southwest of Scotland, but sadly…all good things must come to an end. In the tougher times of the early 1900s, the business was sold to whisky broker, William Walker. Throughout his life and tenure at the top of the company, Walker worked hard to expand the company.
Now, back in the hands of the family (no…not ‘The Family’), a fourth generation descendant, Mr. Tim Morrison, formerly of Morrison Bowmore, has revived the company and is firmly in control at the helm. Times have changed for ADR however. For the better. Nowadays the primary focus is on independent bottling. Not only so, but much to the delight of the purists out there, the Cask Colection portfolio showcases Scotch malt as it should be; cask strength and unchill-filtered. Much of what the company releases is pulled from Tim’s personal stock. Other goods are sourced and purchased from distilleries based on a strict adherence to quality.
Globally, ADR has released anywhere from 30 to 40 expressions each year, and are now beginning to make inroads into new markets such as China. On the Canadian front, we’ve seen about 60 to 70 releases in the nearly six years Purple Valley Imports has been importing from them. Locally, we are generally seeing about 8 new expressions each year, of which some could be exclusive to particular stores. Happy hunting, folks.
A couple of personal thoughts…
Independent bottlings can be very hit or miss. Expecting to see the ‘typical’ distillery characteristics that we find in Original Bottlings (or ‘OBs’) is probably not the best approach. Never forget that those releases are comprised of oodles of casks married together. Any bumps or inconsistencies in the spirit can be ironed out or buried through vatting. Independent bottlers, such as ADR, tend to release single cask editions, wherein nothing has been changed from the day it was pulled from the cask. These expressions will often be VERY different from standard distillery releases.
I should also mention that, as with any other company releasing whisky, the product is only as good as the people at the top. Independent bottlers need buyers with great noses to source their stores. The logical conclusion is that there are some indies that are simply at a level higher than others.
What does this mean for us as consumers? Well…caveat emptor. Do your homework.
All I can do is give my two cents and hope that constant readers who know where my loyalties lie take it to heart…A.D. Rattray releases some damn fine drams.
Forgive me…let’s add a note to Tim by way of a P.S. here: “Tim…any Port Ellen?”
Tasting notes below are primarily mine, but I have taken the liberty of tossing in some thoughts the collective had as well, as they shouted out what they were nosing in these drams. Unless, of course, I thought they were right out to lunch (which does occasionally happen). So…what we end up with is a sort of group tasting notes.
Strathclyde 37 year old
Cask # 010722 (173 bottles) Distilled 10.10.1969. Bottled 06.03.2007.
Notes: Lowland Single Grain Whisky.
Nose: Huge bourbon notes. Mild cinnamon loaf. Mild white fruit…pear and apple perhaps? Wispy vanilla. Chocolate. Spiced stewing fruit. Minty and slightly woody. Hard candy caramel.
Palate: Apple. Chocolate. Toasted grain. Caramelized sugars. Mouthcoating, but tart at the back end.
Thoughts & Impressions: Softened slightly through age, but grains are still sharp enough to cut. The bourbon influence is bold and beefy.
Glenlivet 17 year old
Cask # 13641 (248 Bottles) Distilled 12.06.1989. Bottled 20.10.2006.
Notes: Speyside. Bourbon Cask.
Nose: Tart fruit (apple?). Blueberries n’ cream. Peach and apricot. Fresh tobacco leaf. Wort. Cracked peppercorns. Lavender. Cherry liqueur. Slight nuttiness.
Palate: Peppery fruit and oaky tones. Fat threads of bourbon sweetness. Surprisingly dry fruits.
Thoughts & Impressions: Nifty l’il ‘Livet. Not my favorite of the eve, but a tasty treat to be sure.
Strathmill 17 year old
Cask # 1288 (249 Bottles) Distilled 25.03.1991. Bottled 07.07.2008
Notes: Speyside. Hogshead/Fresh Claret. 9 month claret cask finish.
Nose: Deep…deep complexity. Dusty. Baking bread. Floral. Stewed fruit. Hard red berries. White chocolate. Worty and yeasty. MacIntosh toffee. Allspice. Mild dill pickle. Stewed tomato.
Palate: Malty grains. Christmas baking spices. Rich and salty tomato. Dill pickle carries to the palate. Very dry, tart and tannic.
Thoughts & Impressions: Man, is this a whirlwind of scents and flavors. Enjoyed the hell out of this one, not only for drinkability but also for the challenge of working through its complexity.
Macallan 17 year old
Cask # 2819 (256 Bottles) Distilled 23.02.1989. Bottled 15.05.2006.
Nose: Tropical fruits. Mild nutmeg. Orange zest. Sweet dried fruit. Rising bread dough. Fattest, sweetest raisin. Shortbread.
Palate: Chocolate (which does not really appear on the nose). Mild ginger. All of the typical spiced sherry notes.
Thoughts & Impressions: Sweet and charming. Nose outshines the palate.
Bowmore 14 year old
Cask # 2056 (573 Bottles) Distilled 15.07.1991. Bottled 15.05.2006.
Notes: Islay. Sherry Cask.
Nose: Rubbery smoke. Fishy and oily. Peat and smoke. Tarry. Medicinal and industrial. Dry mint. Fruit candy.
Palate: Hefty smoke. Drying and tart. Lingering smoked rubber. Large and in charge.
Thoughts & Impressions: Great nose, though not typical for a young Bowmore. More reminiscent of older, more fruit-laden and tropical Bowmore bottling. Love this whisky.
Laphroaig 18 year old
Cask # 2244 (265 Bottles) Distilled 29.03.1990. Bottled 06.10.2008.
Notes: 1st Fill Hogshead.
Nose: Malty. Dusty grain. Soft peat and dry smoke. Salt water taffy. Caramel and vanilla.
Palate: Smoky and salty. Surprisingly fruity compared to the nose. Grains, wood and anise. Big and lasting. Dries to tart puckered fruit.
Thoughts & Impressions: Would not be able to guess the distillery. Great dram, really…but not necessarily great for an 18 year old Laphroaig.
Glen Mhor 26 year old (1982?)
Cask Sample (~276 bottles)
Notes: Unbottled for this market. Heavy in particulate and charcoal
Nose: Creamy as hell. Oranges and cherry. Vanilla bean. Watermelon. Char/smoke. Grassy and viney green herbal notes. Blueberry. Toasted marshmallow. Moist unsmoked cigar.
Palate: Grassy. Dry smoke. Bitter dark chocolate. Vegetal.
Thoughts & Impressions: (comment pending)
Tomatin 20 year old
Cask Sample (~216 bottles)
Notes: Unbottled for this market. Heavy in particulate and charcoal.
Nose: Raisin. Dark chocolate. Caramel and nut. Cream. Black cherry. Smoky tendrils. Butter cream.
Palate: Waxy oak notes. Smoky and meaty. Fruits are strong, but dried and spiced. Dries the roof of the mouth with sticky sweet caramel.
Thoughts & Impressions: Fruity and engaging. Shame this wasn’t bottled for our market.
New this season from ADR:
Cooley Irish Single Malt – 1999
Keep your eyes peeled for some fun new stuff out there.
Special thanks to Pat at Stand Still Photography. The best photographer I know.
– Sweet Drams…ATW.