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The Speyside Files #2: Spirit Still + Dramfool

The Spirit of Speyside has now become a big, important and very crowded festival: for this reason, we decided to favour smaller events, looking for goodies hidden underdogs. So the presentation of a new independent bottler seemed perfect to us: on Thursday 3rd in Craigellachie we took part in the official debut of Spirit Still, a start up created by two young Scottish people, next to a couple of samples of Dramfool, another Scottish indie-bottler with a particular predilection for Islay peated whiskies. Here are some sentences, soon an extended review for what immediately seemed to us the best dram of the evening.

Needless to say, these are mostly single casks, at cask strength or with an abv not too reduced, without artificial colouring: in short, we are talking about good people.

Carsebridge 52 yo (1964/2018, The Spirit Still, 40,8%)

Crowd-pleasing, and luckily lacking that vinyl note that sometimes marks grain whiskies. Very ripe fruit (banana above all), vanilla, toffee, creme brulée. A seductive warm wood comes out later. Very convincing and balanced, never excessive even if – like all grains, let’s face it – it lacks a bit of absolute complexity. 87/100

Burnside 18 yo (2018, The Spirit Still, 58,2%)

The nose appears naked and closed, on the first ones. But slowly honey, wax, ripe yellow tropical fruit (peremptory and indisputable pineapple) explode in the mouth. Then, all the maltiness of Balvenie, spectacular; the water opens the nose and brings to the palate intense balsamic notes. Always unbalanced, to be honest, and inconsistent between nose and palate: but for this very reason delicious. 89/100

Speyside 22 yo (1995/2018, Dramfool, 55%)

Special bottling for the Spirit of Speyside. Many liked it so much, we frankly found heavy sulphurous notes, especially on the nose, with a few unpleasant smells. This side did not seem to us balanced by a sweetness that was a bit too simple, limited to brown sugar and candy-like red fruits. If you like sulphury whiskies, it will probably drive you crazy; we have to hold back. 76/100

Like A Villain 9 yo (2008/2018, The Spirit Still, 52%)

It is a Lagavulin (which sounds a bit like Like A Villain if pronounced with Scottish accent…) aged in a former Bourbon barrel and finished for 6 months in a former Cote du Rhone barrel. Very Lagavulin nose, with lime and chestnuts and an intense, marine and burnt peat. Not winey but sweet, maybe a little too much?, with lots of vanilla. Then the graceful violence of Laga: sea and peat, impressive. 86/100

‘The Quartet’ blended malt (2018, The Spirit Still, 46%)

A blend of four single malts from Highlands and Speyside (Ardmore, Mortlach and…?), all aged and then mixed in ex-sherry casks. A bit too crowd-pleasing maybe, given the intensity of the sherry, but with a clear peatiness: so nuts and sulphur and a thread of acrid smoke, even a ferrous veil; then, on the other side, a red fruit sweetness, chestnuts, barbecue sauce, carob. Incoherent too, easy nose and rude palate. Mortlach and Ardmore are evident. It was clear to us even at the time we drank it, when we still remembered all four distilleries involved. 85/100

Concluding remark: congratulations to Colin Fraser and Adam Irvine of Spirit Still, really, their four whiskies were very satisfying and – we have to say it – even good priced. The fifth will arrive next week, and will be a real champion… As for Dramfool, in this context it was ancillary to Spirit Still: we didn’t love Speyside, but we know that they have collected a series of islanders, especially from Bruichladdich, very appreciated: for Feis Ile there will be a Port Charlotte 15 years old and a 6 yo Octomore, to the lucky ones who will be on the island we warmly recommend a taste.

Recommended soundtrack: Squeeze – Cool for Cats.

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