On paper Strathisla has a great deal going for it without
question. Frankly it’s been around since 1786, which is a very long time by any
measurement and it possesses the classic postcard visuals that are only second
to The Tormore. The missing part of the equation is sadly the most fundamental
as an enthusiast i.e. the whisky.
My own experiences with the official range in particular
have shown a rather light and in some cases a slightly, forgettable rough
whisky. Unlike the distillery exterior, it’s far from memorable or of
significance to keep you coming back for another bottle. Clearly, Strathisla
should be capable of more and a couple of independent bottlings I’ve had over
the years – mostly from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society – show potential after longer
periods of maturation.
The key element of the problem I suspect is the current
owner, Chivas Brothers, or Pernod Ricard if you prefer. They are very much
brand, quantity and blend focus orientated. Across their sizeable array of
distilleries there is a distinct lack of a single malt presence or the
practical display of knowing how to create and build one. Yes, many
distilleries within the group bottle now and again for distillery exclusives
and generic ages, but there’s a catastrophic failure to look outside the
blended market. Bottlings when they do appear are oddities and distilleries are
run very efficiently, and my recent tour of Glen Keith suggested that quantity
is the main focus. Even when Chivas does try to turn the spotlight on the producers
to the Regal range with the recent launch of the Ultis, it’s all about the
final blended malt as opposed to each individual distillery.
Chivas of course have been in the news recently for agreeing
to sell one of its lesser known distilleries, Glenallachie, to a consortium led
by Billy Walker. In total soulless corporate speak, it highlighted this deal
allowed Chivas to focus on its priority spirits and to adjust its industrial
footprint to its needs. This underlined the general issue in my eyes to the
whole Chivas distillery stable. Distilleries are commodities, programmed to
produce a certain style and adopt a uniform existence without hope of freedom
A recent tour of the Chivas owned Tormore – arguably their
most prized distillery – highlighted the short-sighted nature of headquarters.
When an employee was quizzed about why the official Tormore range only consists
of a 14 and 16-year-old expression, which seems odd given their proximity,
there was a shrug of the shoulders and the simple answer was marketing. It says
something when marketing and not those who truly know a distillery, its whisky
and fulfilling its potential now make decisions. I’m sure this isn’t the only
similar set up within the industry, but when consumers feel let down and query
why core official ranges aren’t delivering more than someone has to take
All of this takes us back to Strathisla distillery that I
happened to visit in July of this year. It was just a fleeting visit when
passing through Keith, to assess what was available and the bottle-your-own
option. At times I expect Chivas believes the exterior of Strathisla will lull
visitors into some whisky romanticism and a considerable spent within the
distillery shop. This time around I was able to take in the range of cask
strength releases that are appearing and generally are very reasonably priced.
The 15-year-old Tormore for instance is only £43 (for 50cl) and is the best official
example currently available, whilst the Glen Keith bottling when down well with
our group last time.
For my criticism of Chivas in this article, their pricing
strategy remains fair and refreshing as shown by the delightful 23-year-old Caperdonich that hit the shelves at a very reasonable £130. Whilst at the
distillery, I was able to purchase a new cask strength release from Strathisla,
matured exclusively in a 1st fill sherry butt. It gives us the
opportunity to compare 2 similar ages with different casks. Priced at £70, I
felt it was a reasonable price once again and commendable.
Bottled at 40% strength, this core release will set you back
around £33. This features artificial colouring, chill-filtration and thanks to
Michael for the sample.
Colour: a light flapjack
Nose: a gentle array of apples, toffee and all-spice with
milk chocolate and a floral note. With the addition of water pears arise along
with cinnamon, apricots, tablet and a refreshing vanilla.
Taste: light and classic Speyside with vanilla, caramel and
more of the all-spice. Water produces dough, pears, cinnamon and a malty
Overall: better than the taller previous bottling, this one
is more polished and refined. Still, not hugely detailed or epic in nature. I
can see this whisky finding favour with those new to whisky, or who prefer a
Speyside apparel, or a no-thrills experience.
Part of the Distillery Reserve Collection, this was
distilled on 18th September 2003 and bottled 25th May
2017. From cask number 62274, a 1st fill sherry butt, resulting in
654 bottles at 58.3% strength and non chill-filtered. Available at Strathisla
distillery for £70.
Colour: a red tinted treacle
Nose: a rich arrival with cola cubes, milk chocolate digestive biscuits and raisins. There's a slight hint of rubber but that's a good feature in my book. and cinnamon More treacle and leathery qualities with a layer of beeswax for good measure. An assortment of macadamia and Brazil nuts freshly cracked open, a touch of alcohol on the fringes and some pepper. Water I felt here didn't deliver much else.
Taste: amazingly not as dominant as the nose suggests even for a 1st fill. There is a lovely harmony at first with honey and treacle and the power of the cask beings to insert its presence towards the end of the experience moving into a resin caramel finish. Prior to that more of those cola flavours, a strong sense of vanilla, blackcurrant jam, figs and a touch of dryness. Water brings out a rolled tobacco quality and a rich dark chocolate.
Overall: a very good enjoyable and well priced Strathisla. Although it begs the question why we don't see more of this officially? Clearly the distillery is capable of greater things than what we associate with the core range as it stands today. Come on Chivas, live a little and unleash some new Strathisla single malts.
Labels: cask strength, chivas, featured, strathisla