When Distell Group’s Brand Ambassador for Germany, Chantalle Seidler, asked me if I wanted to join a tasting with the group’s Master Distiller at Whiskyplaza in Hamburg, I did not have to think twice about it! After all, Chantalle is well known for putting incredible bottles on the table at the events she runs. Plus, said Master Distiller was none other than 17-year industry veteran Brendan McCarron, whose illustrious career included positions as Distillery Manager at Oban and Lagavulin as well as Whisky Makerq for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg (just to name a few). Since April 2021, the cheerful Glaswegian who’s lost his heart to Islay has been in charge of Distell Group’s top-of-the-game Scotch portfolio centering around Bunnahabhain, Deanston, and Tobermory distilleries. For the Hamburg tasting, he and Chantalle produced a total of seven bottlings, all of which were far from ordinary …
We started with Bunnahabhain. According to Brendan, there are always three challenges when working with this much-praised Islay distillery: First, correctly pronouncing the name of the place and – especially – the releases. Second, producing enough output to meet the ever-soaring global demand. And third, making people understand that usually there is no smoke in Bunnahabhain … nope, not just a little! When asked about the distillery’s unique proposition, our host said the following: “Bunnahabhain is a great, classical whisky that tastes big, massive, and flavorful at any age – from NAS to 25 years and beyond.” To illustrate this, we drank two total stunners: the sweet, juicy, and velvety Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old, which Brendan compared to “perfumed, liquified strawberry jam”; and the partly sherry-matured and partly port-matured Bunnahabhain Aonadh, which he announced with the words: “I always describe Bunna as a big whisky, and this is a big Bunna!” As the ten-year-old malt was filled to the brim with dates, raisins, wine gums, dark-choc pralines, and other tasty treats, it perfectly went along with the piece of Dundee cake we got served on the side.
Next up, things got waxy as Brendan took us on a field trip to Deanston, located about 40 kilometres north-east of Glasgow. As the Whisky Maker told us, the next-level waxiness of the fan-favorite Highlands distillery originates from the immensely fruity barley beer, which in Deanston’s case is not yellow as a wheat beer but brown like an old English ale. Though Brendan himself believes that Deanston’s versatile spirit does best come of age in ex-Bourbon barrels, he treated us to two limited editions with different wood formulas: Deanston 17 Years Old Pinot Noir Finish and Deanston 9 Years Old Bordeaux Cask. Both were rich with the distillery’s typical notes of apple peel, orange oil, and citrus zest. The older of the two also contained lots of banana squash, pineapple juice, fruit salad, and clotted cream. The younger was full of red and brown notes like sugared redcurrant, burnt cookie, old n’ soft banana, and aromatic rosehip tea. Both ruled supreme!
The last distillery we dealt with was Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, home of the sophisticated Tobermory Whisky (no smoke) as well as the gritty Ledaig Whisky (lots of smoke). Texture- and character-wise, these two drops are like day and night. To highlight this, Brendan used an allegory: “Imagine you were a painter,” he said, “and you would cut your finger. If just one drop of blood splashed upon a snow-white canvas (i.e., Tobermory), the little accident would be there for everyone to see. However, if the same happened while you were working on a jet-black screen (i.e. Ledaig), it would go pretty much unnoticed.” The differences in the two whiskies’ complexions also reflect in the way they age. “Tobermory needs to spend a significant amount of time in the cask before it unfolds its full potential,” claimed Brendan. “Thus, we will always bottle it with an age statement, starting at 12 years old (for the entry-level core range expression).” Ledaig on the other hand does also cut a mighty fine figure at an early point, when its blackened fumes and vapors are still at their strongest. As we learned these and many other interesting facts about the Isle of Mull’s only whisky distillery, we sipped three incredible drams originating from there: the elaborate Tobermory 25 Years Old, the multilayered Tobermory 17 Years Old, and – last but certainly not least – the smoky n’ fruity Ledaig Rijoa Cask. Just like the drops from Bunnahabhain and Deanston, which we had before, these three island malts were real crowd pleasers, too. They put one helluva final stroke under a far-from-ordinary and impossible-to-forget masterclass with a host, whose good humor is contagious, whose whisky knowledge is immense, and whose football fandom is exemplary (“Nur der HSV”)!
Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old (Sing. Malt Whisky / Islay / 25yo / 46.3% / Sherry casks / ~325 Euro)
Bunnahabhain Aonadh (Sing. Malt Whisky / Islay / 10yo / 56.2% / Sherry & port casks / ~140 Euro)
Deanston 2002 Pinot Noir (Sing. Malt Whisky / Highl. / 17yo / 50% / Pinot Noir finish / ~150 Euro)
Deanston 2008 Bordeaux (Sing. Malt Whisky / Highl. / 9yo / 58.7% / Red wine casks / ~75 Euro)
Tobermory 25 Years Old (Sing. Malt Whisky / Islands / Oloroso finish / 48.1% / ~395 Euro)
Tobermory 17 Years Old (Sing. Malt Whisky / Islands / Oloroso casks / 55.9% / ~155 Euro)
Ledaig Rioja Cask Finish (Sing. Malt Whisky / Islands / Red wine finish / 46.3% / ~45 Euro)
Bunnahabhain Distillery @ Web: https://bunnahabhain.com/
Deanston Distillery @ Web: https://deanstonmalt.com/
Tobermory Distillery @ Web: https://tobermory.com/
Distell Group @ Web: https://www.distell.co.za/
Whiskyplaza @ Web: https://www.whiskyplaza.de/
*** I was kindly invited to the event by Distell Group. Thank you. ***