Scotch and cocktails, words rarely uttered together positively, make a resounding resurgence to celebrate Speyburn Distillery’s 125th anniversary. (More on this at the bottom of the article). In the meantime, we explore one of Speyside’s most awarded distilleries and home to the 9th largest-selling single-malt Scotch brand in the USA.
Speyburn’s founder John Hopkins, a successful whisky merchant, scoured the country seeking the ideal location to build his dream. Nestled in a steep and heavily wooded valley just north of Rothes and renowned distilleries Glen Grant and The Glenrothes, Hopkins discovered Granty Burn, a hidden freshwater tributary to the River Spey. To accommodate the pitched valley walls, he needed and achieved an engineering miracle- a three-level distillery maximizing operational space despite its compact footprint, replete with a newly developed Doig Pagoda Ventilator. To this day, the ventilator peeks out above the treetops, a monument to distilling ingenuity.
Speyburn, now owned by Inver House Distillers (also Old Pulteney Distillery, anCnoc, and Balblair Distillery), produces textbook Speyside whiskies- ex-fill bourbon cask maturation and finishing in ex-sherry casks. The current core lineup includes three vertical expressions (10, 15, and 18-year single-malts), a newly added NAS (non-age-statement) “entry-level” bottling, Bradan Orach, and Arranta, also NAS and matured solely in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. Speyburn has also joined the growing ranks of distilleries offering bottles for the duty-free market. These “Travel Exclusives” are similar to their core expressions (with Hopkins Reserve as the lone exception- it’s slightly smoky, compliments of casks previously used for peated whisky) but were developed specifically for the preferences of international travelers.
I recently had an opportunity to sample their three core vertical bottlings, with the 10- and 18-year-olds stealing the show. The 10-year-old is golden in the glass, with an intensely complex and unexpectedly savory aroma exhibiting citrus, cooking spices, fresh fruit, and herbal notes. I concur with the brand’s description- this is a very clean dram. Many sherry-aged whiskies can be cloying, but they’ve managed to tame and balance the sherry. At 40% ABV, it’s easy to drink yet fully sip-worthy. Surprisingly round and full-bodied, the flavors lead with almond butter, toffee, and butterscotch, followed by hints of poultry-seasoning spice- dried thyme, sage, bay leaf, and white pepper. The finish is long, sweet, and creamy, with toffee, milk chocolate, nutmeg, and custard on the aftertaste. Highly satisfying.
The 15-year-old is a study in contrasts. Its gorgeously deep amber color promises aged-in-sherry goodness. The spiced aroma leans into mulled-wine territory- cinnamon, cloves, orange zest, and vanilla extract. I found it less balanced and much hotter on the swallow, commensurate with 46% ABV. Unfortunately, the burn overpowers, demanding a quick swallow. I noted flavors of cocoa powder, vanilla chews, choco-wafers, orange peel, and coffee. The finish is long but hot, partly hiding hints of bit-o-honey, marzipan, caramel, and lemon cake. This particular whisky has a long afterglow of sweet coffee, leather, a hint of band-aid, and finally, toffee. Adding water was a game-changer, cooling the blow-torch, exploding the flavors, and ultimately changing my initial opinion!
Now, for the beast- the 18-year-old! Although the 10 was my favorite, this ultra-aged beauty is both spectacular and a spectacular value. Interestingly, it’s one of the most accurately described whiskies I’ve seen in a long time! Echoing the website, the nose offers toffee, sugared almonds, and tropical fruit, to which I’d add coffee, molasses, burnt orange, and pipe tobacco. Despite its 46% ABV, it feels less hot, with a big, round, oily feel that leads to flavors of rich winter spices, cocoa, toffee, and intense sherry. The balance leads to a sense of powdered sugar, maple walnuts, dark chocolate, and molasses, but I didn’t note the smokiness as mentioned on the website. I think what I’d describe as a dark coffee aftertaste could be considered “smoky.” The finish is long and luxurious, and the overall experience screams “deluxe.” A touch of water opens up the flavors and aromas but isn’t as necessary as with the 15-year-old.
Returning full circle to the introduction, Speyburn just celebrated its quasquicentennial (yes, there is a word for “125th anniversary!”). They’re commemorating this unique event in an equally unique way- by creating four 1890s-inspired cocktails to showcase their Scotch in a way that “whisk-in-a-glass” alone can’t. I admit that I did not try all four- mainly for lack of ingredients. The two I did make likely suffered a bit in the translation as I had to substitute for several of the ingredients. I’ll make my observations brief- I prefer scotch neat. There. I said it! However, without being so bold as to decide for you, here are the recipes, exactly as provided by Speyburn. If you’re feeling adventurous, the world is your oyster! I’d love a report back if you do take the plunge!
To celebrate its milestone anniversary, the distillery has created a series of 1890s-inspired cocktails, perfect to enjoy over the festive period and to raise a toast to 125 years of history and heritage. Taking inspiration from the Victorian era, Speyburn’s cocktails include a Jubilee Punch, a Jack Rose, and a Holland House, each nodding to the heyday in which the distillery was born, whilst showcasing Speyburn’s wonderful expressions.
An additional cocktail, named the 125 Highball, has been created to add to the celebrations, made with Champagne, and is a wonderful serve to raise a toast to Speyburn’s anniversary.
Ingredients for 1L of Jubilee Punch:
– 222ml (7 ½ oz.) Speyburn 10-Year-Old Speyside Single Malt
– 222ml (7 ½ oz.) Earl Grey tea (chilled)
– 111ml (3 ½ oz.) Raspberry Oleo
– 111ml (3 ½ oz.) Lemon juice
– 33 dashes aromatic bitters
Topped with 333ml (11 ½ oz.) sparkling wine
Take a punch bowl, add your ingredients, and stir. Spoon into coupé glasses over a large ice sphere, top with edible flowers, nutmeg, and enjoy.
Taking inspiration from one of the Victorian era’s favorite pastimes, an afternoon tea, the Jubilee Punch offers flavors of raspberry, lemon, and Earl Grey tea, which pairs wonderfully with the notes of vanilla, butterscotch, and citrus of Speyburn 10-Year-Old.
Topped with sparkling wine, Speyburn’s Jubilee Punch is the perfect celebratory serve, combining the nostalgic flavors of afternoon tea with the deep and complex notes from Speyburn’s core expression.
– 50ml (1 ½ oz.) Speyburn Bradan Orach Speyside Single Malt
– 25ml (¾ oz.) Apple oleo
– 5ml (¼ oz.) Pomegranate syrup
– Egg white/vegan foamer
– 25ml (¾ oz.) Lemon juice
Add all your ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and mix vigorously. Take a strainer and pour into a chilled coupé glass. Add a slice of apple to garnish, and enjoy.
Spinning a Speyside twist on a beloved 1890’s cocktail, the Jack Rose, Speyburn’s serve showcases the apple notes from its Bradan Orach expression beautifully. The traditional serve was a firm favorite throughout both the Victorian and Edwardian eras, featuring in Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises,’ and was the epitome of style.
Subtle but full-bodied, Speyburn’s vibrant Bradan Orach showcases notes of honey, vanilla, apple, and citrus, with a spicy and creamy finish. Speyburn’s Jack Rose cocktail brings the flavors of the expression to the fore wonderfully, creating a fantastic serve that deserves to be savored.
– 50ml (1 ½ oz.) Speyburn 15-Year-Old Speyside Single Malt
– 15ml (½ oz.) Triple Sec
– 5ml (¼ oz.) Pimento Dram
– 2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
– Orange peel
Add all your ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain and pour into a chilled coupé glass, top with orange peel, and enjoy.
The 1890s didn’t just see the opening of Speyburn Distillery, but it was also a time when the Manhattan cocktail was a big hitter.
Speyburn’s Holland House is a creative twist on the much-loved serve and created using its 15 Year Old expression, shining a spotlight on its orange notes. Aged gently and taking influence from its Speyside surroundings, the expression also showcases rich notes of dark chocolate, raisins, and vanilla and encapsulates the craft and expertise that goes into every bottle.
Typically created with Rye Whisky, Speyburn’s Holland House has a more mellow flavor, perfectly complemented by the juicy and tart notes from the Peychaud’s bitter.
– 40ml (1 ½ oz.) Speyburn 10-Year-Old Speyside Single Malt
– 30ml (1 oz.) Homemade apple cordial*
– 100ml (3 ½ oz.) Champagne, chilled
– 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
– Apple to garnish
*Homemade apple cordial – dice 200g apples and cover in 200g caster sugar for 24hrs in a sealed Kilner jar. Strain and lengthen with 200ml boiled water.
Add Speyburn 10-Year-Old, cordial, and bitters to a highball glass with good quality ice cubes and top with Champagne. Add two dashes of Angostura Bitters to add complexity and complement the flavors. Garnish with an apple slice or star anise if you want a touch of theatre!
The 125 Highball highlights the beautiful tasting notes of apple in Speyburn’s 10-Year-Old, with the sparkling fizz from the Champagne complimenting the toasty sweet-caramel notes of the expression. With a crisp fizz and creamy malt undertones, this serve is fruit-forward and deserves to be enjoyed this winter.