Three French hens, three wise men from the East, and now three Scottish whiskies for the holidays—has a nice global village ring to it.
Often described as the most photographed distillery in Scotland, Speyburn Distillery sits nestled in a glen on the northern edge of the town of Rothes on the banks of the famous River Spey. It has a timeless feel and an air of serenity we covet this time of the year.
Speyburn Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky was first distilled on December 15, 1897, the diamond jubilee year of Queen Victoria. That gives us another holiday link.
Today, Speyburn continues to use the time-honored traditional distillation methods that created the single barrel of the 1897 vintage. Here are the three expressions the editors of TD have chosen as Whisky of the Month.
Speyburn Brandon Orach
Brandon Orach is Gaelic for the Golden Salmon, a prize catch (and release) for the avid fly-fisherman who casts an eye and line on the famous salmon-fishing River Spey, where the distillery gets its name. Bradan Orach is a classic, easy drinking Speyside (one of the five major whisky-making regions of Scotland) malt whisky, matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. The bourbon wood gives the whisky a wonderful complexity and depth, without making it overly challenging. It’s easy to drink and a great way to get to know Speyburn.
Color: bright, golden-amber colour
Nose: green apples, honey, lemon and floral vanilla spices
Taste: subtle and delicate with vanilla and honey, full bodied, creamy and smooth with a long lasting spicy finish
Speyburn 10 year old
This perfectly-balanced Scottish single malt whisky was born in the Highlands of Scotland more than a century ago. It’s created using fresh spring water from Speyside. And, it’s this soft water which gives our whisky its distinctive character and unique flavor.
Color: pale gold with amber highlights
Nose: fresh, clean and aromatic with a rich lemony fruitiness
Taste: medium-bodied with a delicate, fruity character with hints of toffee and butterscotch. A sweet long lasting finish.
Speyburn 25 year old
Speyburn 25 Year Old is a whisky of rare quality—matured for a quarter of a century in American white oak and Fino sherry and bourbon casks carefully selected by the distillery manager Robert Anderson. This slow process produces a multi-award winning single malt whisky of exceptional depth, complexity and balance.
Color: clear light amber, golden honey, red gold, bright amber
Nose: citrus, toffee, fruity – vanilla, honey, apples & pears, woody, oaky, spicy
Taste: smooth, vanilla, fruity, grapefruit, sweet, spicy, with a long lasting dry finish
“We are custodians of the spirit rather than its masters.”
It was refreshing to hear Bobby Anderson, the Speyburn distillery manager, say these words as part of TD’s exclusive interview with him. It’s too easy to hear the word “master” associated with those entrusted to produce their distillery expressions. “Custodians of the spirit” has a nicer ring to what these skilled men and women do year in and year out.
TD: What one word best describes each of the three Speyburn expressions we’ve selected as our Whisky of the Month?
Speyburn Bradan Orach—refreshing
Speyburn 10 Year Old—elegant
Speyburn 25 Year Old—luxurious
TD: What is the difference between the 10 year old and the Brandan Orach?
Bobby: Speyburn Bradan Orach is a no-age-statement expression, which means a range of vintages go into creating this fresh, approachable expression. Some of the whiskies used are quite young while others are more mature. The 10 Year Old on the other hand consists only of whiskies aged for 10 years and longer.
TD: What is the origin and meaning of Bradan Orach?
Bobby: Bradan Orach in Scottish Gaelic means golden salmon. The Distillery’s water source—Granty Burn—is one of the tributaries of the famous River Spey. This river is world renowned for its salmon fishing.
TD: Is the 25 year old a 10 year old that has aged longer, or is there something that sets it apart from the beginning?
Bobby: Casks which are filled at the distillery and laid down to mature are not earmarked to become any particular expression. Every cask is later evaluated individually by me and our Master Blender, Stuart Harvey. Based on the individual characteristics, we determine if it will be used for Bradan Orach, 10 Year Old or 25 Year Old.
TD: What kind of discipline does it take to age a whisky 25 years? Is there pressure to release it as a 21 year old or is the length of time determined at the outset?
Bobby: Whisky making takes a tremendous amount of patience and planning. A lot of the stock we are rolling into our warehouses today will be bottled by those who come after us. In a way, we are custodians of the spirit rather than its masters.
And as to the pressure, despite the fact that the business is booming, we’ll only ever bottle liquid which is ready, whether that be at 10 years old, or 25 years old.
TD: Are any of these whiskies aged in special casks? If so, how do you choose which ones work best?
Bobby: We use ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, both American and European. We focus on excellent quality of the wood we use and cooperate with top distillers, bodegas and coopers on both sides of the Atlantic. We have no plans to use any other types of casks.
TD: When did you decide to get in the whisky-making business? And how did you get started?
Bobby: My background is in farming and I joined the whisky industry a bit later in my career. My grandfather was the retired manager of Miltonduff Distillery and his understudy/successor offered me a job as a goodwill gesture to my grandfather and that was the start. The farming gave me a good general grounding and the distilling must be in the family genes!
TD: What is the best part of your job?
Bobby: Ah, sampling Speyburn throughout the quality control checks!!!
TD: What was your first whisky experience? Did your grandmother slip you a nip?
Bobby: With my grandfather involved in distilling I was brought up with all the different distillery aromas which I still love today.
TD: What, over the years, has been your best whisky experience?
Bobby: Getting the opportunity to play golf at the Old Course at St.Andrews with our American whisky distributors.
TD: What other whiskies do you enjoy?
Bobby: I enjoy most whiskies, but I also like a good rum or gin. I keep an open mind.
TD: What’s next for Speyburn?
Bobby: We are in the process of increasing our production capacity to allow even more people the opportunity to enjoy Speyburn whisky in the future.
Summary: The only remaining question for you, not Bobby Anderson, is will any of these make your giving list for the holidays…or your asking list for the holidays. I have a birthday in the middle of the month , so I may get two of them. Speyburn has a convenient link for where you can buy these three selections in the UK and in the US.
Sláinte and Happy Holidays from all of us at TD.
PS. TD has a holiday “surprise” in the photo gallery below. See it you can spot it. A gift from our graphics team.
Click on any image to enlarge it and then it turns into a slide show that you can control. Included are images of the picturesque Speyburn distillery, photographs of barrels, stills and a dramatic image of their “spirit safe.” We didn’t know what a spirit safe is, only to learn that it is the padlocked glass walled container at the disitllery which allows the distillery manager to analyse and manage the spirit coming out of the still without coming into contact with the spirit itself. Now they are ready for contact!