Even as someone who reviews whiskey professionally, it seems like there’s a never-ending list of unique scotch whisky distilleries to discover. One of those is Speyburn, a distillery located on an offshoot of the river Spey nestled in a valley so cramped they needed to create a tall pagoda-shaped distillery to get it to fit. Today, we’re checking out their 10-year single malt.
Inspired by the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, Scottish businessman John Hopkins decided to found a distillery and produce a bottle of whiskey by the end of the year to toast the queen’s health. He chose a spot on a branch of the Spey river in Scotland which was nestled into the hillside and in a steep valley, requiring a unique tiered design to the distillery to get it to fit in the allotted space. After many construction delays, John and his team worked in a blistering snowstorm on December 15, 1897 to produce the first run of spirits and officially open the distillery (thus ensuring they just met the criteria of producing bottles in 1897).
Over the years, the company would eventually be sold to Inver House Distillers — a company which owns a number of other Scottish distilleries in the country. That company would be sold to the Thailand based ThaiBev in 2001, who owns it to this day.
This is a spirit that seems to follow the typical scotch whisky script and doesn’t seem to want to deviate even a little bit.
As with other scotch whisky products, the recipe starts with 100% malted barley, which is shipped into their facility and fermented with yeast to create a mildly alcoholic distiller’s beer. From there, the beer is distilled before being transferred to a combination of previously used American bourbon barrels and sherry casks for a period of 10 years.
The bottle itself is rounded with a flared base, and with a gentle taper outwards from the base to the shoulder. There it curves gently inwards to the relatively short neck, and the whole thing is topped with a cork and wood stopper.
The label is green with some metallic accents, which gives it a regal air. Overall, the design is simple and understated, which is personally my style. I also appreciate that the label is efficient with its use of space, being just enough of a billboard to telegraph exactly what’s in the bottle without obscuring the beautiful contents.
The first thing I get coming off the glass is a strong hit of fruity notes. Apples, grapes, a little pear, and a slice of cantaloupe. Just behind that is a little bit of honey sweetness, and a drop of vanilla. Definitely on the sweeter end of a speyside whisky.
Unfortunately, those flavors don’t really translate into the taste of the whiskey. Instead of those fruity notes, the majority of the flavors seem to come out of those previously used bourbon barrels. There’s a small glimmer of floral sweetness at first, but then a groundswell of caramel and vanilla start to take over.
The finish is what kills it for me though: there’s a distinct bitterness that develops, and lasts well after the spirit has disappeared.
The addition of a bit of ice is often a double edged sword. It tends to have some disastrous effects on the lighter flavors in a spirit, but it can also greatly improve some of the more unpleasant qualities.
In this case… I think it’s all bad news.
Instead of having multiple flavors making an appearance (bourbon barrel or otherwise), now we’re pretty much down to honey. And maybe a hint of black tea. It’s not inherently bad… it just isn’t all that interesting anymore, either.
And as for the bitterness at the end, the ice hasn’t fixed that. It remains, unfortunately. Toned down a bit, but still noticeable on the back of the tongue.
The unfortunate reality is that this is a super crowded market. As their distillery architecture illustrates, this area of Scotland is so lousy with distilleries that they had to shape their building to match whatever scrap of land they could get their hands on. So while this isn’t the worst scotch whisky I’ve had, there just isn’t anything memorable about it either. And with other better options available in this price range, I don’t see this chalking up a win.
|Speyburn 10 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky|
Produced By: SpeyburnOwned By: Inver House Distillers
Production Location: Speyside, Scotland
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 10 Years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $25.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
Probably a little rushed into the bottle, just like the opening day of their distillery.