Tag Archives: Banff

Bullshit And Beyond; Banff Bonus

WELL HOWDY! It sure has been a while. I’m glad you’re here and reading, even if I’ve been lax in writing. I’d give some long explanation about my slack in writing, but it would amount to bullshit.

Bullshit

Check that segue out. Masterfully executed.

This post is a grab bag of reactions and thoughts. I’m keeping it grab-bag style so I don’t get too long-winded on any one point, but rather long-winded on a collection of points.

Whiskey blogs and twitter dorks are all abuzz about Buffalo Trace’s latest back-slapping press release, which masquerades as information about the company, but is actually PR that would do Barnum proud. Proving the adage attributed to him, I’ve seen non-whiskey blogs lapping up Buffalo Trace’s dire warnings about a whiskey shortage and effectively acting like goldbugs or Jim Cramer, warning you to buy,  buy,  buy while you can, and hopefully, eventually, Buffalo Trace will make more.

This is no Schooner Tuna pitch. This is facts which may individually be true that have been woven into a tapestry of complete bullshit.

Let’s not forget, Sazerac et al were responsible for a vodka so completely gimmicky that you can still find it languishing on shelves years later. Had a similar tale been told about whiskey, that shit would have vanished in a heartbeat. Yes, whiskey lovers, the vodka fans we mock so readily have exercised better judgement and restraint.

There’s an undercurrent of worry, as if old whiskey will never be seen again, or perhaps no whiskey at all will exist in a few years. Let’s review some basic concepts.

Whiskey production is planned years in advance. Yes, the plan is subject to revision, but you’re fundamentally working with about a 4-year minimum window. If you forecast a downturn, you’ll start curtailing production years ahead. If you think your product will increase in popularity, you increase production. Generally that increase, plus a little price bump, will smooth things out.

Well, whiskey exploded about 3-4 years ago, and really in earnest in the last 18 months. We’ve seen products disappear for months at a time (how many times have you heard “there’s literally no [whiskey name] available in the state” from a retailer?). This is a supply shortfall, and in this case, it’s generally demand outstripping supply as opposed to yield problems (production errors – bad batches, etc) or channel inefficiencies (problem physically bringing product to retail shelves).

If you’re afraid that the distillers are losing their shirt, bear in mind that the current situation is that they are selling virtually everything they produce. This isn’t really a “go out of business” problem. This is a “best problem you could hope to have as a business owner”. Money is not being lost, it is merely being left on the table in the short term.

With full-sell through, buoyed by price increases and stretching supply (dropping age statements, lowering proof, repurposing bottom shelf booze to pad out your prize $35-50+ bottles), but faced with a large shortfall, expansion is the logical path. And this path is being taken.

Yes, you will see old whiskey on your shelves again – even sooner if people lose interest in seeing marketing hysteria around whiskeys they will literally never be able to taste. It may take a while, but it will happen.

The other thing to remember is that this affects a handful of producers. You can still find any number of mystery meat bottlings sourced from heaven only knows where. It’s not like some 1980s vision of Soviet market shelves: they’re not bare. They just might not have that bottle you really want.

And that bottle you really, really want that a bunch of other people want as bad as you? Well, good luck with that. Try finding some everyday choices so you don’t have to endure a lot of craziness.

Finally, and I’ve counseled this before with regards to the completely insane “Whiskey Investment” market: if someone has a vested financial interest in you making a purchase and is screaming that the sky is falling and you have to purchase now – you ought to consider opting-out (or at least not going all-in).

But I’ve never been to the distillery, so this could all be bullshit. What do I know? I’m just a dumb blogger.

Beyond

Around Christmastime, I didn’t care about writing a traditional gift guide with lavish praise for questionable booze. However, I had a lot of fun at the expense of an anonymous spirits PR person who offered me JPGs of their client’s product in exchange for favorable coverage.

Sorry, anonymous spirits PR person. No one wants to work with me because I’m not great at playing ball. You can ask Exposure, who seemed to have a successful run in 2012 getting blogs to cover some of their clients’ products. I expressed my dislike for Glenrothes and never heard back. All good!

But it planted a seed in my head. Several weeks ago, almost a year to the day of my constructive criticism of noted wine critic Robert Parker, David Driscoll of K&L lightheartedly called me out in an email about a gin they were selling which Parker hailed as the best he’s ever tried. David set some aside for me to take the Pepsi challenge with; it seemed ridiculous enough to be fun. This is unfortunately not the entry where a series of gins are reviewed; that will be coming soon. (Seriously). Keep an eye out.

And yes, Beefeater will be covered.

Banff Bonus

So let’s wrap this thing up with an old whiskey that you won’t ever find. Maybe this seems unfair; pretend for a minute that I’m a better writer and have a more discerning palate and my name is Serge, and you’ll be able to accept this coverage of a long-since-gone bottle. Alternatively, you can just imagine that this is some coverage of Slappy van Oceanaged’s latest thirty-aught-six year old wheated bourbon from a typhoon-damaged warehouse housing nothing but lost and orphaned casks which serendipitously got a mixture of rye and hydraulic fracturing fluid in them.

Feel better? Let’s continue, then.

This Banff is part of a longer series of reviews of whisky from the closed Banff distillery. Why Banff? Banff was my first drink-your-age whisky; I really enjoyed it and it has a bizarre story.

Why not.

Anyway, this Banff was distilled in November 1966 and bottled in June 2004, aged 37 years and coming from cask 3440. It’s at a whisky-enthusiast-galling 43%, but let’s be fair: it’s 37 years old and was bottled in ’04. It’s a MacKillop’s Choice Single Cask bottle.

The nose on this has some faint buttercream vanilla and a bit of light grassiness; there’s some white pepper and a little tobacco. The tobacco gives a little bit of dimension, but the nose is primarily vanilla and a touch of malt.

The palate is initially bland, with some general sweet and malty notes; honey and vanilla follow. There’s some white pepper and again, some light grassiness.

The finish perks up with a little spiciness – white pepper and cinnamon, some oak, and it’s all got a honeyed side to it as well.

It’s not a particularly complex one, but it does open up and give a pleasant, if not particularly challenging whisky. Interestingly, this is a whisky where the age seems more felt in a spicy wood flavor than a heavy oaken note. In some ways it’s not unlike Powers John’s Lane.

Today this whiskey would cost nine zillion dollars.

And that’s everything from the clown squad here at Scotch and Ice Cream. Stay tuned for the next post when we investigate if angry tweets and blog posts make whiskey taste better, we determine if Glenrothes is even suitable to use as an engine degreaser, and we react passive-aggressively to retailer blogs.

At a glance:

Banff 1966 Mackillop’s Choice #3440 D: 11-1966 B: 06-2004 43% ABV
Nose:
  An initial faint buttercream vanilla flavor with faint grassiness behind it; a little white pepper. A little tobacco in the background, but a stronger vanilla note above.
Palate:  Kind of bland upfront, a little general sweetness and maltiness, some light honey and vanilla, a bit of white pepper and tobacco and a touch of grassiness. 
Finish:  A little spice! Some honey and white pepper, a faint dab of cinnamon, some oak. 
Comment:  The palate isn’t too interesting, but the ages come through more as spice than oak. Agreeable and easygoing; not too aggressive.
Rating: B

The 1983 Tasting Series #2: Banff

The 1983 tasting continues! Thanks to everyone who came for the first installment. I’ll be trying to publish these on Fridays or Saturdays, depending on scheduling.

This week we’re looking at Banff. If I’ve discussed whisky with you and we’ve drifted to the subject of closed distilleries, I have inevitably discussed this one with a little more intensity. Banff was my first “drink your age” whisky a couple years back, and I was blown away at the time by the really gentle buttercream vanilla notes on that particular bottle, as well as the wonderful, relaxed nose. Perhaps that bottle would pale with my malt experience since then, but that’s a discussion for a different time.

Over the last couple years in the wake of that tasting, I semi-quietly went on a Banff buying spree – up until recently they were an incredible mix of availability and value for a 1983 distillery. Banff didn’t have the lofty reputation of Port Ellen or Brora (and it can be an unusual if not polarizing whisky), but I liked the ones I’d had, so I thought I would capitalize on the opportunity.

Fast-forward a few years and now Banff is starting to command loftier prices and is a little less common. It’s still one of the most reasonably priced of the ’83s, though I suspect in the next two years, that will cease to be the case.

Banff marks the first regional shift in this tasting. We started with St. Magdalene, the sole Lowland representative; Banff is first of a set of Highland distilleries. Banff has a relatively colorful history, and almost feels like the Swamp Castle in Monty Python & The Holy Grail, plagued through its history by fires and rebuilding. The first was in 1877 when a fire damaged a large portion of the distillery requiring an extensive rebuild, which took several months.

The most notable incident happened in 1941, a warehouse was bombed by a German aircraft. This article (page 9 of the linked PDF) has a really amazing eyewitness account -

The fires (two 100kg. bombs had been dropped) spread rapidly and a rivulet of burning whisky flowed through the fallen walls and into the stream. Being lighter than water, the flaming spirit spread across the width and was carried by the flow downstream. The burning river continued out of sight behind the peat store where a steeper gradient caused turbulence which extinguished the flames.

[...]

… they had saved twelve barrels out of three hundred.

[...]

Next day the Regimental Sergeant Major, the scourge of the troops, supervised an equipment inspection including water bottles. This resulted in several non-commissioned officers being reduced to the ranks and many squaddies being confined to barracks for fourteen days.

Jock Crystal reported that his ducks were drunk, and that some of the Old Manse cows were [unable to stand up].

 That alone would be a colorful enough past, but in 1959 during maintenance on one of the stills, a spark caused an explosion that damaged the distillery and required repairs. Fortunately no one was killed in that accident.

Banff was closed in 1983 (as all of these were) and the still house has been demolished; as almost a tragicomic grace note to its history, in 1991 one of the warehouses was destroyed in a fire. Banff is certainly in the category of “lost distilleries” – any new distillery to bear the name would be built from the ground up with no usable equipment from the original.

Interestingly (and somewhat in response to the question around St. Magdalene), Banff did practice triple distillation for a while, though the process ended in the 1920s.

Enough history for now: what about the whisky?

This bottle of Banff is from K&L’s 2011 bumper crop of exclusive bottles and was one of the stars of that productive trip (though eclipsed by the Ladyburn which sold out way before it arrived, as well as the Chieftain’s exclusive Brora from the same trip). This bottle is part of the Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare series, which I’ve had multiple bottles from and can’t think of a single one that I haven’t enjoyed. Alongside Signatory’s cask strength decanters, I’m usually willing to give the Rarest of the Rare a chance if I haven’t seen reviews for a bottle.

This was distilled in November 1975 and bottled in May 2011; cask 3353, at 45.2%. Interestingly a sister cask was released in the summer of 2001 – 3352 – as a UK release.

The nose on this Banff is initially sweet, with some malty notes and a touch of honey. There’s an overall dusting of white pepper and some wood in the background.

It’s got a nice mouthfeel, that bigger, slightly oily kind of whisky. It leads with a fair dose of wood, and has some flintiness to it that’s not unlike older whiskies I’ve had (in terms of distillation date, not time in wood). It’s slightly mineral which just adds a nice dimension. Some of the sweetness of the nose comes through; faint dried oranges and apples. It’s big and bold overall, and the wood creeps up with time.

The finish is warm and with plenty of white pepper; the minerality and a little malt comes along.

It’s a big, bold whisky that hits the spot for me. It’s really enjoyable, and the minerality harkens back to an earlier style of whisky.

This will not be the last time Banff is covered in depth here. As I mentioned, I acquired several bottles. At some point in the future (timing still to be determined), I will go through those as part of a project to do a deeper dive on Banff’s output.

At a glance:

Banff 1975 – Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare, K&L Exclusive Cask #3353
Distilled 11-1975, Bottled 5-2001 45.2% ABV
Nose:  Sweet initially with some malty notes and a touch of honey; white pepper all over, a little wood.
Palate:  Nice mouthfeel, leads with a fair dose of wood. Some old-style flintiness to this one, mineral. A little sweet – a faint hint of dried orange and apple. Big and bold. Leans a touch bitter with time.
Finish:  Warm with white pepper, again a slight hint of minerality.
Comment:  Quite big and bold. Really enjoyable. The mineral notes remind me of older (distillation date, not age) malts.
Rating: B+