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New Whiskies

Batch 211: The Secret Speyside Collection

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Secret Speyside Collection: Braes of Glenlivet, Caperdonich, Glen Keith, Longmorn

The Secret Speyside Collection is the largest range of single malts yet released by Chivas Brothers, covering 15 whiskies from four of the region’s distilleries: Braes of Glenlivet, Caperdonich, Glen Keith and Longmorn.

It’s perhaps open to question just how ‘secret’ Longmorn is – the single malt has been launched and relaunched in recent years, amid some controversy over pricing – but it’s certainly rare to see releases from the other three distilleries.

If you’ve never heard of Braes of Glenlivet, that’s because it’s been known as Braeval since 1994, to avoid confusion with its more illustrious stablemate. All three of the whiskies here were produced – just – before the change of name.

Whether you buy into regional flavour profiles or not, Richard Woodard finds that there’s a definite theme here of Speysidean fruit flavours running through all four of the distilleries on show, with some of the highlights including an ‘opulent’ 30-year-old Braes, and a ‘serious, but fun’ unpeated offering from closed distillery Caperdonich.

Meanwhile, there’s little to choose between a consistently excellent trio of malts from Glen Keith, and Longmorn’s exotic, hedonistic fruit character is very much to the fore, especially in a standout 23-year-old.

The fruit-fest is only interrupted by two peated Caperdonich bottlings, with the ‘wonderfully aromatic and exotic’ 21-year-old a real highlight. Caperdonich’s two oldest Secret Speyside expressions – 25-year-old peated and 30-year-old unpeated variants – are still in cask and will be released later in the year.

The accompanying music takes in the diverse delights of The Killers, Belle & Sebastian, Mascagni, Elvis Costello, Thom Yorke and Cowboy Junkies. Click on the links in ‘Right Place, Right Time’ to listen.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Braes of Glenlivet 25 Years Old

    Score

    83

    Braes of Glenlivet 25 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    All is sweetness here: richly fruited, with cantaloupe and apricot, then more exotic hints of lemongrass and kaffir lime, before the cask chimes in with coconut and vanilla. Those cask-driven notes give a little lift to what might otherwise be a sugary fruit-fest, as do the perfumed spices – coriander, crushed cardamom pod. These are content to sit at the back while the fruits leap around centre-stage. Water brings red apple, dessert pear and some honey and waxed floorboard.

    Palate

    Immediately sweet, but not cloying. There’s a dryness from the cask and a fair prickle of heat. Tangy marmalade notes appear, again stopping it all from becoming sickly. Well-mannered. Water helps to open things up, allowing those perfumed spices to say a few lines.

    Finish

    Stewed red fruits, vanilla custard. Slightly drying.

    Conclusion

    I wonder if 48% is the correct bottling strength here. Much to admire, but not showing its best without a decent splash of water.

    Right place, right time

    Enjoying a fruitarian diet on Cantaloupe Island.

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    Braes of Glenlivet 27 Years Old

    Score

    88

    Braes of Glenlivet 27 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Ripe red apple jumps out first, with a savoury edge – a dusting of nutmeg – pulling at the fruit. Then there’s a swirl of yoghurt-covered hazelnuts, some ginger and finally some butterscotch. Quite perky, with good breadth. Water brings out lighter citrus flavours and a beguiling hedgerow note, so it’s worth a splash.

    Palate

    There’s that red apple again, then a hint of black banana, wood polish and richer, dark fruits – blackcurrants, damsons and super-ripe plums. Then sweeter tones of light butterscotch and barley sugar. Water teases out a little liquorice (comfits), but go easy or you’ll sacrifice the fruit.

    Finish

    A lift of acidity and, after a while, some sweet caramel.

    Conclusion

    It’s a bit of a shape-shifter, but the fruit is the main attraction. Excellent balance.

    Right place, right time

    Riding the wave with The Changingman.

    Braes of Glenlivet 30 Years Old

    Score

    92

    Braes of Glenlivet 30 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50.3%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Not only the oldest and strongest of the Braes trio, but also the palest. A little shy after the exuberance of its younger siblings, but there’s some plum and light vanilla, then densely packed aromas of date and fig. With time, some brighter red fruit aromas of loganberry and red cherry. With more time, light ginger, fenugreek and then lime flower. Finally, much sweeter scents of fondant icing. Take your time!

    Palate

    Velvety, rich, opulent, with the fruit giving way to a wonderfully savoury tang of rancio. Damson jam on hot buttered toast, then a little coconut and overripe banana right at the back of the mouth. Despite the higher abv, you don’t need water.

    Finish

    Fresh pear to cleanse the palate.

    Conclusion

    Here the natural sweetness of the distillate is counterbalanced by judicious cask influence and the complexity and depth that only time can bring. Don’t rush this though, as it’s quite shy.

    Right place, right time

    Wading through the water, going with the gentle flow of Bea’s Song.

    Caperdonich 18 Years Old Peated

    Score

    84

    Caperdonich 18 Years Old Peated
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Whoah Nelly! Tasting the two peated Capers last, it’s quite a shift after the sweet fruit-fest of the other malts in this range. Smouldering bonfire, then camphor and that coal tar soap my grandmother insisted on buying. The peat’s very much in charge here, but there are lingering scents of poached pear that come into sharper relief as the smoke blows off. There’s a herbal element that links with the smoke to create a hint of Lapsang. It’s distinctive, but not overpowering. Water douses the smoke into Plasticine, but brings out zesty orange.

    Palate

    Savoury smoke, more luscious fruit – a sweet, baked apple pie with a slightly caught crust. A little hot, with a blast of cayenne pepper. Some orange zest and ginger playing catch-up, but the enjoyably aromatic smoke is quite dominant.

    Finish

    Smoked meat with a honey glaze.

    Conclusion

    There’s lots to like here, but it’s a little fierce and ragged around the edges. A promising nose, but the palate is slightly underwhelming.

    Right place, right time

    Lively, but just a little too Vicious at times.

    Caperdonich 21 Years Old Peated

    Score

    89

    Caperdonich 21 Years Old Peated
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Only three years older, but the smoke has retreated and evolved into the aromatic scent of olive wood embers, with an accompanying waft of the smokehouse. This allows the lush and luscious fruit to come through – ripe, bright clementine in particular. Next comes a little cigar box and richer cedar wood notes. The smoke just gentles these flavours along, without ever seeking to dominate them.

    Palate

    Mouth-coating, almost oily, with rich mandarin before smoked meat builds through the mid-palate towards an explosive finish. The smoke is much less shy now, returning to bonfire-and-camphor country. Water flattens, rather than enhances, but brings added sweetness.

    Finish

    Again, that elusive herbal quality. Long and savoury, with perfumed smoke.

    Conclusion

    The difference between these two malts feels like more than three years – again illustrating the limited relevance of age statements. This has more poise, and is wonderfully aromatic and exotic. Nicely done.

    Right place, right time

    Lost among the temples, Alone in Kyoto.

    Caperdonich 21 Years Old Unpeated

    Score

    87

    Caperdonich 21 Years Old Unpeated
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Quite delicate orchard fruit notes of russet apple and slightly overripe (faintly brown at the tip) pear. There’s a verdant quality here of sun-warmed summer lawn, vetiver and herb patch. It lacks a little magnitude, but makes up for this with subtlety.

    Palate

    Broader than the nose suggests. A little fiery, but always this mouth-coating creaminess carrying cask-driven notes of vanilla, edging into condensed milk. Quite punchy and certainly mouth-filling. Water coaxes out more creaminess and a super-sweet vanilla-coated pear character.

    Finish

    Clean, slight edge of spearmint, then more sweetness (Juicy Fruit chewing gum).

    Conclusion

    It’s a sweetie, and it’s a cracker. Just the right side of sugary.

    Right place, right time

    Unable to sleep on a hot summer’s night, you amble into the garden to enjoy the Dawn Chorus.

    Caperdonich 25 Years Old Unpeated

    Score

    90

    Caperdonich 25 Years Old Unpeated
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Bigger and richer from the outset. A densely-packed nose of sweet plum, cooking spices, then rich cassis and mulberry. Where the 21 was a little shy, this is much more assertive. The more restrained orchard fruits take a while to come through, but they’re there. Polished desk and then more tropical fruits emerge. Slightly herbal and hard to pin down. Water brings out a new hedgerow scent of white flowers, then camomile.

    Palate

    First the orchard fruits come through, having overcome their initial shyness. Then some earthy, age- and cask-related notes of polished wood and book cupboard. Only late on do darker notes of blackberry and even blueberry emerge, along with bitter black chocolate. Builds slowly to a crescendo, in contrast to the nose. Water sweetens and brings more overt cask notes.

    Finish

    Chocolate, caramel, Fruit ‘n’ Nut bar. Endless.

    Conclusion

    A highly refined summer pudding in a glass. A serious whisky, but one that knows how to have fun.

    Right place, right time

    One of Mozart’s lighter moments: ‘Pa… pa-pa!’

    Glen Keith 21 Years Old

    Score

    88

    Glen Keith 21 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Deeply fruity notes of juicy orange and pineapple cubes. The texture hints at a syrupy sweetness, accompanied by the smooth tones of lightly waxed wood. Then this melds into creamy citrus, with summer hedgerow notes of honeysuckle and jasmine. There’s lightness, but depth too. Water lightens the fruit into reminiscences of Quosh (orange & pineapple), but doesn’t reveal anything particularly new.

    Palate

    We’re back in that hedgerow at first, then there’s freshly shaved ginger (minus the heat), followed by bolder wood-derived notes of cashew and almond. A prickle of heat, even at 43%, but this is all about the fruit, which returns with a vengeance and in tropical guise.

    Finish

    Slightly drying, but still perky.

    Conclusion

    Pure drinking pleasure. Not overly complex, but you can’t keep this down. A labrador puppy of a whisky.

    Right place, right time

    A summery single malt like this needs a Song for Sunshine.

    Glen Keith 25 Years Old

    Score

    87

    Glen Keith 25 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    The polished patina seen in the 21 jumps out again, this time subsiding swiftly in favour of delightful, sun-warmed Amalfi lemon and Valencia orange (very Mediterranean), along with a slug of custard (not quite so Mediterranean). Smooth, seamless and utterly charming. Water coaxes out even more aromas: heady tangerine, Rose’s Lime Cordial.

    Palate

    Ginger and warming baking spices, again that tiny prickle of heat, then darker flavours rush in – cola cube and dark marmalade. It’s lifted by an undercurrent of a greengage pudding spiked with cinnamon. Water brings more ginger and a bit of grip from the cask.

    Finish

    Super-tangy, with some wood tannins bringing depth and structure.

    Conclusion

    The nose is a delight, but overshadows the palate a little. Still, a complex whisky that shows distillery character and cask in harmony.

    Right place, right time

    Such balance and harmony can only be Fleeting.

    Glen Keith 28 Years Old

    Score

    89

    Glen Keith 28 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Spice to the fore – those baking spices from the 25, but there’s much more heft and muscle here as cask and age assert themselves. A wave of dark fudge softens any austerity, and then the fruit comes through: mango, ripe orange, shifting into damson and then date. Water takes us back to the hedgerow, as well as the playroom (Fuzzy-Felt), before the spice returns.

    Palate

    Smooth and sumptuous, but with an added savoury depth now of allspice, then liquorice and bitter, dark chocolate. The fruit hints at a top-class crème de cassis from Dijon, and it builds into an indulgent slice of Jamaican ginger bread. Big. Delicious.

    Finish

    Chewy tannins and whispers of rancio. Later, stewed blackcurrants in dark chocolate. Very long.

    Conclusion

    This ticks every box of complexity and depth. There are times when the cask threatens to become too assertive, but it always steps back from the brink. All three of these bottlings trace a clear line of distillery character and evolution.

    Right place, right time

    It’s a stadium-filling, Runaway success…

    Longmorn 18 Years Old

    Score

    83

    Longmorn 18 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Unctuous exotic fruit – walking through a sunlit orangery, but there’s mango and apricot growing here too. This drives off to leave more fruit, but of the orchard variety this time. Then there’s lots of vanilla and creamy fudge, giving a feeling of decadence. Otherwise, the cask is relaxed enough to sit back and watch, contributing a note of pencil sharpener. Water sweetens things even more, bringing out orange zest and barley sugar.

    Palate

    Big and exotic, but with quite a prickle from the alcohol. It feels hotter than 48% and this rather conceals the perfumed fruit of the nose, leaving coconut and vanilla in their place. Water helps enormously, opening up the fruit and bringing notes of anise and then mint.

    Finish

    Super-sweet, dripping with mango juice.

    Conclusion

    Plenty to like here (if you’re a fan of sweet fruit), but the palate is a little out of kilter.

    Right place, right time

    Keep your balance, or you’ll be Falling Down.

    Longmorn 23 Years Old

    Score

    91

    Longmorn 23 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Indulgent, seamless peach folded into Chantilly cream with a slice of lemon meringue on the side. Absurdly, hedonistically fruity, like Glen Keith on steroids. There’s spice too – ginger, but also something dark and reduced. It’s complex. Water dumbs things down a little, with light fruit cordial notes.

    Palate

    Wonderful texture, with an explosion of tropical fruit darkening into cassis and black cherry, which in turn tips over into a slight, but pleasing, bitterness. Some dark chilli chocolate. Water makes it all a little too austere.

    Finish

    Delightfully sweet. Luxuriant.

    Conclusion

    A crowd-pleasing blockbuster of ripe fruit, but a hydrophobic one.

    Right place, right time

    A winning Intermezzo just before the final act.

    Longmorn 25 Years Old

    Score

    84

    Longmorn 25 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Compared to the fruit-driven delights of the preceding pair, the cask is very much in charge here, and the higher alcohol is also immediately noticeable. The oak brings out sweet spices – cinnamon especially – then there’s dessert apple. A marmalade tang lurks at the back, before giving way to dark set honey. The combination of orange and assertive wood brings to mind a first-division VSOP Cognac. Water allows that orange character – mandarin now – to fully shine, with creamy light spice, cider apple and aromas of a stable hay rack.

    Palate

    There’s texture from the higher alcohol, but the extra heat is manageable. Longmorn’s fruits have retreated before the sawmill buzz of active oak. There’s a tang of black cherries in kirsch as it fades. Water dries a little, but also brings light spices and that slightly bitter black cherry note again.

    Finish

    Dark chocolate.

    Conclusion

    The cask is just a little too dominant here for my taste, but it’s still a decent dram. A darker, more forbidding Longmorn.

    Right place, right time

    It’s going to be a Black Night.

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