This week I was fortunate to be invited by @tweettasting to participate in a Tweet Tasting of the SPEY range from their beautiful Speyside Distillery in Kinguisse This is an area I know very well having skiied and walked in the Cairngorm Mountains for many years.
The distillery has an interesting and complex history with royal connections old and new entwined with Prohibition era gangster customers. The original Speyside distillery operated from 1895 until 1911.
In 1815, during the reign of King George III, Lord Byron married Seaham Hall owner’s daughter, Lady Annabella Milbanke. In celebration of his wedding and in the knowledge of his royal friend’s preference, Lord Byron gifted a cask of scotch whisky, thought to be SPEY Single Malt, to King George III.
This cask was recently traced to Kew Palace opening new SPEY connections to two royal charities.
In 1962 George Christie commissioned Alex Fairlie to build this new distillery on the land he had purchased six years earlier. Work on the distillery was finally completed in 1987 with the first whisky launched in 1993.
In 2012 Harvey’s of Edinburgh bought Speyside Distillery and its warehouse. The purchase by John Harvey McDonough – a customer of the distillery – enabled the family to return to distillery ownership for the first time in nearly a century.
The acquisition of Speyside Distillery was the lifetime achievement for John Harvey McDonough allowing todays’ SPEY brand to grow from strength to strength using time-honoured techniques and specialising in cask finishes.
John relaunched the SPEY brand in Taiwan his adopted home, together with Taiwanese colleagues. He built SPEY to the No.3 malt brand in a few short years. Then in 2012, John Harvey McDonough realised his grandfather’s dream of returning to distilling, when Harvey’s bought Speyside Distillery Company Limited.
This acquisition will safe-guard the supply of SPEY Whisky, this truly exquisite single malt, for generations to come.
Spey achieve some glorious notes from its two stills. it is based on a luxurious core spirit which reveals distinctive rose, berries and blossom notes. Initially with some expressions I might have guessed they were using worm tubs however they do not, but at the heavier end of their flavour spectrum they achieve a savoury note along with their distinctive berry and rose spirit notes. To achieve this they could be doing something with the temperature of the water in the shell and tube condensers or with fermentation and distillation timings. I am of course speculating here but it is particularly noticeable in the older stock including the Royal Choice. However they achieve it they can produce interesting complex flavoured malts.
Spey Tenne 46% ABV
Tenne is matured in Bourbon casks and is non chill filtered and no colour added.
It is a lovely light elegantly flavoured whisky.
The Tenné nose is herbal, I get strawberry tarts, the fruit, the jammy sauce and the pastry case , then lychees (which is a rose aroma), and a milk chocolate note
The Tenné on the palate offers white pepper, pears, a marmalade hint, berries and finally Frys chocolate cream.
This is a hugely enjoyable whisky. Great for the price with really well crafted aromas and taste.
Spey 12 yo 46% ABV Tawny Port
The 1 year old is Non chill filtered.
On the nose the initial aroma is port unsurprisingly, then more of that Turkish delight with almonds and more berries. Berries is such a classic SPEY note. Raspberry mainly but sometimes a darker berry note like brambles.
The palate delivers sweet mince pie; the mincemeat , the pastry case and caster sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, fig a nice bramble jam note and mineral feel, kola cube with finally, cherryade. absolutely lovely!
A well integrated tawny port cask whisky, delivering exactly what a port cask ought to. I loved this expression and could easily have drunk this all evening in front of a fire.
This was the favourite for many of the evenings tweet tasters. An excellent whisky.
Spey Royal Choice 46% ABV
This is a rather special more expensive whisky, hailing back to the distillery history and connections.
Non chill filtered it delivers a wonderful texture and great mouthfeel. This contains some older expressions and delivers the notes I was describing as savoury, either from the casks the whiskies were matured in or during distillation.
On the nose dusty old books, leather, caramelised steak ,fig rolls, nuts, oak with just a tinge of banana
On the palate meaty , basil nuts and almonds , more sweet mince pies, white pepper and dates,
I really enjoyed this whisky and it was in my top two of the evening. A fabulous whisky which would make a very special gift.
Spey Trutina 59.9% ABV
Non chill filtered and no colour added.
Trutina nose soft, floral blossom and roses very clean and crisp with green apples. A great uncomplicated nose which delivered with clarity and simplicity the very best of Speyside aromas.
Trutina on the palate classic summer orchard fruits, Victoria sponge cake great luxurious citrus note maybe lemon curd with afternoon tea, then the pepper and ginger and lemon sherbet, lovely dram so good.
This cask strength expression really showcases what SPEY has to offer, not super complex but multi-layered and all the better for its clarity of delivery. This is one of my two favourite drams of the tasting.
Spey Fumare 46% ABV
A peated, Bourbon cask matured non-chill-filtered, no colour added whisky.
Fumare nose sweet, heathery peat ( probably the peat is from St. Fergus in the N.E. of Scotland) with smoky notes stronger than the peat note which I would describe as leaves burning in autumn, and finally toffee bon bons.
Fumare lovely creamy palate. Oooh buttered crumpets! Berry notes, blackcurrant gums this time with hints of smoky bacon crisps.
Quite a perfumed expression but a really great use of peat to deliver a balanced complex dram with the smoke twisting around the peat and the fruit. The aroma and flavour still unmistakably SPEY but with many more aspects to enjoy. This delivered balance texture and complexity. I enjoyed this peated speyside and admired the craft in its production.
My overall impression of the range that we sampled was that it is significant and commendable that the core spirit notes were consistent through such different expressions balanced and developed by excellent casks yet never overwhelmed. They were lovely drams every one.
The Royal Choice and the Trutina cask strength were outstanding for completely different reasons but I enjoyed every dram they were all top quality.
You could cover most styles of whisky with a row of SPEY on your shelf. I would recommend every one of these. SPEY is not as well known in the domestic market but is one of the major brands in Taiwan and the Far East. I can well see how it fits well with the oriental palate almost Japanese a style increasingly popular with whisky fans worldwide and at home.
Some very straightforward quality drams properly matured with great core spirit backbone. Byron chose well whiskies fit for a king!
With many thank to Speyside distillery for the excellent tasting pack and to Steve Rush @ThewhiskyWire @Tweet Tasting for organising and hosting another excellent event.