Whisk(e)y musings read by tens of people worldwide.

Monday, June 5, 2023

The More You Know

Being a scotch whisky enthusiast these days is easy.  Everything you want to know is just a Google search away.  I remember the days when smartphones didn’t roam the Earth.  You had the information on the label, and the information on the tin, and both weren’t exactly helpful.  Everything was bold, smooth, and had a long-lasting finish, or as I like to call it, “the Holy Trinity of scotch whisky buzzwords.”  Amen.  What frustrated me most back then were the “official” tasting notes.  Early on, I made it my mission to find every smell the notes said I should be smelling:

“Where’s that damn watermelon note?  C’mon Ryan, smell harder!”

A few weeks into my scotch whisky journey, a light from above flashed around me.  I fell to the ground, and heard a voice say, “Ryan, why art thou wasting time with tasting notes?”  After that, my watermelon searching days were over.  My attention shifted.  I now wanted to know how that watermelon note got there in the first place.

I’ve never been to the Isle of Raasay in Scotland, but feel strangely connected to it.  In late 1896, Clifford Sifton became Canada’s Minister of the Interior.  It was his job to encourage settlement in Canada’s “desolate” west.  (Native Americans settled Canada’s “desolate” west thousands of years prior, but that’s a discussion for another time.)  The government feared Americans might start moving north now that their frontier was “officially closed.”  Pamphlets promising free land were dispersed throughout Europe.  Tens of thousands of people, including my great-grandparents, immigrated to the region.  On Raasay, there’s a small cluster of houses known as “Manitoba.”  It’s believed this is where people met before making their way to Canada’s west.  Today, Raasay is home to 161 people.  10% of the island’s population work at the distillery.

Some distilleries aren’t a fan of sharing.  They want us to “stay in our lane,” and dine on the word gruel prepared by the hash slingers in their marketing department.  Raasay, on the other hand, loves to share.  Here’s just some of the information they provide for their R-01.1 expression:

ABV:  46.4%

Peat Level:  Barley 48-52 PPM | Residual in Bottle 7.8 PPM

Presentation:  Non-chill filtered

Cask Types:  First fill ex-rye whiskey (65%), virgin Chinkapin oak (25.5%), and first fill Bordeaux red wine (9.5%)

Barley Variety:  Concerto

Water Source:  Isle of Raasay Distillery 60 metre well on-site – Tobar na Bà Baine

Scotch whisky, by law, must be at least 40% alcohol by volume.  Raasay, despite not having to do so, is giving us an extra 6.4% of flavour (instead of an extra 6.4% of water).  Scotch is usually matured (at least initially) in mass-produced, ex-American whiskey barrels from one of the big producers like Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam.  For this expression, Raasay used first fill Woodford Reserve ex-rye, virgin Chinkapin, and first fill Bordeaux wine casks.  This was most likely done out of necessity.  Young whiskies drink young.  (Thanks for clearing up the obvious Ryan.)  Imparting a heavy dollop of cask influence usually makes a young whisky drink “less young.”  Disclosing the barley variety should also be applauded.  Concerto was the barley of choice for most distillers when R-01.1 was made.  My guess is they’ll go with the higher-yielding Laureate for future batches until that too gets pushed out by an even higher-yielding variety.

I think it’s fair to say non-chill filtering is the norm for “craft” or “artisan” distilleries (I hate using those words).  Chill filtration removes fatty acids, proteins, and esters, thought by many to be the building blocks of mouthfeel.  If you expect someone to spend $100 on a 3-year-old whisky, you should, at the very least, give them the best possible presentation.

“How much was that?”


“What a rip-off!  I can get 3 litres of Jack for the same price.”

All the water used for R-01.1 comes from the Isle of Raasay.  Many distilleries engage in a practice I call “faux water marketing.”  Take Talisker for example.  Only a few thousand casks are matured on the Isle of Skye where Talisker is made.  The rest go to a city-sized warehouse in central Scotland where local water is used to cut before bottling.  Finally, including the residual PPM was a class move.  The phenol (peaty, smoky) level when a whisky is kilned is different than the phenol level after distillation.  Some distilleries don’t make this “inconvenient truth” known to their customers.  Raasay used 48-52 PPM malt to make R-01.1, but the actual phenol level in the bottle, according to them, is 7.8 PPM.

Like in golf, I tend to handicap young, “less experienced” single malts.  It’s not fair to compare them to older whiskies.  Many new distilleries, like new golfers, are still learning how to play the game.  You can’t improve until you’ve had a chance to learn from your mistakes.  Despite hearing good things, I expected R-01.1 to taste like most of the pre-schoolers I’ve had in the past:  spirit-driven, heavily lacquered in new or active oak so it’ll taste less spirit-driven, nonexistent finish, light-bodied, adequate.  R-01.1 is really, really good for its age.  The balance is spot-on.  This must’ve been made by a compulsive tinkerer who refused to stop until every instrument in this orchestra played in perfect harmony.  It’s very clean, and quite reminiscent of a malt matured in first fill ex-bourbon.  The peat keeps everything in check, and does so without overwhelming the experience.  Nice viscosity too.  What’s going on here?  This is so much better than most of the boring, sanitized bottlings on the market today.

Happy dramming,


Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years. -  Charles Perrault,  The Sleeping Beauty in ...