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Great Whiskies From Rare Distilleries

19/01/2016

A walk through the famed Flora & Fauna series...

Although “single malt” has been the buzz-phrase for the Scotch whiskies industry in recent decades, it wasn’t always so. For most of whisky’s history top quality blends have been objects of desire for drinkers and even in 2016 most whisky sold around the world is blended.

To put things in perspective, in 2014 drinkers in the UK consumed 45,342,000 litres of blended Scotch and 7,191,000 litres of single malt Scotch. (For the record, Australians consumed 1,305,000 litres of single malt in 2014.*Figures from The IWSR 2015) That’s a lot of whisky being distilled around Scotland that is destined for blends. Because they’re not marketed as single malts, the distilleries that are pumping out these masses of spirit are rarely heard from – they’re the workhorses of the industry.

The portfolio of Drinks giant Diageo who, at last count, own 29 operating malt distilleries (as well as a lot of closed ones) boasts many of these unsung heroes. When you need to meet the global demand for brands like Johnnie Waler and Bell's you need a bit of stock. Enter the Flora & Fauna series, a run of bottlings by Diageo from distilleries whose whisky rarely sees the light of day as a single malt.

Distilleries like Mannochmore, Glenlossie, Blair Athol, Inchgower and many others get their chance to shine in the Flora & Fauna bottlings which are becoming hard to find – particularly in Australia, where they’re not officially marketed.

Indeed, distilleries such as Mortlach and Linkwood have made their names via the Flora & Fauna series in the past decade. The former’s famed 16-year-old was deemed so good that its own series of single malt bottlings was launched (and that Flora & Fauna release is now fetching staggering prices at auction).

We’ve managed to land a cross-section of releases from distilleries you may have not tried before, or even heard of, but each with their own story to tell and flavour to savour.

Here they are in alphabetical order - all currently $139 or $125.10 for members.

BLAIR ATHOL 12 YEAR OLD

Built 1798, Highlands

With legal distilling dating back to 1798, Blair Athol – in Pitlochry – is one of Scotland’s oldest working distilleries. A big part in the Bell’s blends (the distillery’s visitors centre is the spiritual home of the brand), Blair Athol’s new make is thick and nutty and with age that spirit takes on a rich, fruity flavour. Best served by maturation in sherry casks, that’s exactly what they’ve done with this 12-year-old. (Blair Athol is pictured top, date unknown, image taken from Diageo's archives)

GLEN SPEY 12 YEAR OLD

Built 1878, Speyside

Located in Rothes in the Speyside region, in 1887 Glen Spey became the first Scottish whisky distillery to be owned by an English firm as gin producers W&A Gilbey used it as their first foray into the industry (they’d later acquire Strathmill and Knockando). Now a big part of the J&B blend, the Glen Spey spirit stills – of which there are two pairs – are fitted with purifiers to encourage a lighter spirit. Purifiers are a pipe which lead spirit from the lyne arm back into the neck to encourage more copper interaction. With quite a sweet new make, at 12 years Glen Spey is dry, nutty and slightly oily.

GLENLOSSIE 10 YEAR OLD

Built 1876, Speyside

Like Glen Spey, Glenlossie also use purifiers to keep their whisky clean and fresh and that grassiness is apparent in this 10-year-old. The use of purifiers dates back to its 1876 when John Duff, who’d worked at GlenDronach previously, appeared to be chasing that lighter style from the outset. In 1971 the Mannochmore distillery was built on the same site, inside Glenlossie’s boundaries, which could have spelt the end for Glenlossie. That fresh, oiliness has remained in demand, however, particularly in the Haig blends and since 2013 the distillery has worked on a seven-day cycle.

INCHGOWER 14 YEAR OLD

Built 1824, Speyside

Used in both Bell’s and Johnnie Walker blends, Inchgower has a very unique taste due, in part, to its coastal location at the fishing town of Buckie and its quick distillation. By pushing the spirit through the still as quickly as possible, the salty, spicy notes remain intact (one writer even described the new make as having intense tomato sauce flavours). This 14-year-old holds a lot of that uniqueness and is dominated by spices and a hint of smoke.

MANNOCHMORE 12 YEAR OLD

Built 1971, Speyside

Housed inside the boundaries of the aforementioned Glenlossie, Mannochmore is a decidedly youthful distillery by Scotch standards. Mannochmore was responsible for the infamous Loch Dhu black whisky, an expression that was largely panned on release and discontinued not long after but is now a collectors’ item if you can find one. The complex that also houses the older sister distillery Glenlossie has warehousing facility that is home to as many of 250,000 casks from Diageo’s distilleries. Mannochmore itself is light and fruity, with a nice waxy texture that’s almost Clynelish-like.

STRATHMILL 12 YEAR OLD

Built 1825, Speyside

Just like Glen Spey above, Strathmill, in Keith, was bought by English gin producers W&A Gilbey in 1904 who used it for blends but exported it as a single malt. The Malt Whisky Yearbook has uncovered quite a gem of a quote from the Manawatu Times, presumably a New Zealand newspaper, which in December 1905 wrote: “Of eight of the most popular whiskies submitted for analysis, the Western Australian Government analyst in his annual report to Parliament, pronounced Strathmill to be the most genuine matured malt whisky.” Interesting also it its mention of an annual report to Parliament discussing the virtues of whisky… These days the distillery’s output is used for J&B and the stills use a purifier pipe, as already mentioned. Honey and red fruits in this 12-year-old with a creamy slickness and pepper to finish off.

TEANINICH 10 YEAR OLD

Built 1817, Highlands

A big part of the Johnnie Walker blends, Teaninich is one of the biggest distilleries it Scotland, capacity wise. Upgrades since 2014 has seen the distillery’s output rise to almost ten million litres of pure alcohol a year and places it firmly in the top ten Scottish distilleries. It’s a long way from the humble farm beginnings of the early 1800s and the current distillery has something of an industrial façade. It’s the only Scottish distillery to use a mash filter, rather than a mash tun, which provides a very clean wort and appears to translate to a light, oily texture. This ten-year-old is more complex than its light, sweet entry of creamy vanilla and sponge cake would suggest with spice and herbal notes.

SEARCH THE FLORA & FAUNA RANGE.

 

Scott Fitzsimons