Scotland 2013 - Day 1 - Frostbite

We had heard that the weather in Scotland had been quite cold as of late. We had heard about the springtime snow that seemed to appear from out of nowhere. However, while we both packed our thickest, warmest winter clothes into our now-heavy suitcases, I wasn't quite ready for the view I saw out of the airplane window while landing in Edinburgh. This wasn't a bit of springtime snow. This was a freakin' winter wonderland!

Since we didn't have any business with Chieftain's this year (we've already purchased a 22 year old Mortlach first-fill sherry that should arrive around late April), we immediately hopped in the rental car (which we upgraded to a 4WD SUV) and sped north for an hour and a half to Pitlochry. Our favorite warehouse in all of Scotland would be first up this time around. The playground of the whisky gods, the heavenly destination of sweet ancient nectar, the blessed site of so many amazing casks: Signatory's warehouses at Edradour Distillery.

Upon arrival we met with our favorite cask hunter Des McCagherty for a short sitdown chat before making our way into the dungeon. He had a list of barrels he thought we might be interested in, but first why not taste the open bottles available in the shop? Des always likes to talk shop first. How's your business? How's the whisky moving out there in CA? For those who haven't met Des, he's very much like Liam Neeson from the Taken movies. Seeing that I had just watched Taken 2 on the plane, I felt like I was merely continuing where the film had left off. Except instead of manuerving my way through the streets of Istanbul on the run from terrorists, I was meandering through the many barrels of Signatory trying to keep up with all of the samples being pulled. Signatory has some great grain whiskies on site as you can see from the bottles above. We definitely wanted to add some of those to the list.

Signatory has always had a solid amount of very mature and very rare stock. However, replaceing those barrels once they've been sold has been nearly impossible according to Des. Whisky is so hot right now that there's little motivation for cask owners to sell unless they're getting top dollar for their product. He mentioned that Signatory's business with China and Taiwan is through the roof, while Europe continues to be a big player for their barrels. Des said that if India ever lifted the import tax on single malt and blended whisky, he believes that country could drink Scotland dry on its own. For that reason there's no reason for anything at Signatory to move unless the price is right. This was a completely understandable point, but it was also a bit disconcerting. If we did find something we liked, how much was it going to cost us?

See this room? There's another room just like it behind the red door. And in that room there's another red door with another room behind that! All kinds of treasures lurk within these chambers, but we couldn't waste time on the Dallas Dhu, Ladyburn, or Glenugie casks resting quietly within them. We know what these whiskies are going to cost in today's market. We needed overachieving malts that outperformed their reputation. Des knew all the right whiskies and exactly where to find them.

We found a ton of great whiskies today at Signatory that should be within our wheelhouse. We're on the hunt for value this year and you're not going to find value with a Laphroaig cask. Nevertheless, we did taste a 1997 sample that knocked our socks off from a refill sherry butt. Other standouts included a bourbon cask of 1989 Isle of Jura with aromas of toffee and cask frosting, a 1979 Mosstowie that was light and fragrant with fruity highlights. a 1995 Miltonduff with lots of rich Bourbon cask spice, a 1995 Glenburgie that did the same thing as the Miltonduff but with more wood, and a 1995 Imperial with enough round, candied fruit to make me think of Bladnoch. A 1991 Cambus grain whisky is also in play.

There were plenty of great options on the table today.

As we came out of the distillery, fresh snow had already blanketed the grounds. David and I bid Des adieu and headed back into town for dinner. We decided to walk to our meal, but we didn't realize how cold it was actually getting. I'm back in my hotel bed now trying to thaw myself out from the stroll back home.

Tomorrow we're off to Speyside and the Highlands. I'm nodding off while I'm typing this, so that means it's probably time to hit the hay.

See you tomorrow!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll