show image

Speyside celebrates 120th anniversary with Tamdhu 50

Tamdhu 50 is the Scottish distillery's ultra-luxe birthday gift to itself — and the elite few in the world, writes Flora Neville

Few can dispute that whisky is the nectar of the gods. Left in its oak cask, laced with the trace of rum, port or sherry, it is divine intervention that determines whether the whisky is worthy of single malt status or whether the producer must take a deep gulp and blend it.

Tamdhu 50, the newly released single malt made in commemoration of Speyside distillery's 120th anniversary, stayed single. And lucky that it did, because there was only one cask, or 100 bottles worth, decanted into the sherry laced butt on November 2 1963.

As whisky sits in the barrel, the liquid seeps into the wood and out into the atmosphere - what it known as the Angel's share. The longer it is left in the cask, the more drunken the angels, and the less there is to sell. Tamdhu 50 better be good, said the firm’s accountants.

Last week a group of the world’s whisky king pins, (many a tartan-clad man and a small number of women), gathered after hours in Hamilton & Inches on George Street, Edinburgh to toast Tamdhu 50. The bevelled glass decanter was designed by Katy Holford, the artisans at Royal Brierley and the silversmiths at Hamilton & Inches.

After dinner chiselled glasses were introduced. Sandy McIntyre, the distillery manager tasked us to smell it, look at it, swirl it around the glass. ‘Toffee apple’ was the first flavour he distinguished, and soon the experts were calling out, ‘cranberry, orange peel, almonds…’

The first sip was in reverent silence, which I almost broke by gasping - not so much in amazement - but more at the knock-your-head-off heat. Tamdhu 50 certainly packs a punch.  The whisky is 55pc alcohol, which is high for a gentle dram. It does, however, make me feel less drunk after a boozy dinner, my thoughts collated. I have never understood quite so clearly the term ‘a sharpener’.

What do the experts make of it? Leonard Russell who now runs the business with his 90 year-old-father, but admits he is not much of a whisky man, says with a shrug of the shoulders, ‘it’s pretty fucking brilliant.’ Keir Sword, who owns a chain of whisky shops in Edinburgh and London thought he might stock one bottle.

‘It's a bit strong,’ is the opinion of Chris White, a whisky hack who writes an x-rated blog about the whisky scene in Edinburgh and manages a bar in the west end. ‘It raises the hairs on your fucking eyeballs.’ Later that night he tweeted, ‘well holy fucking Moses, privileged to attend the launch of Tamdhu 50.’

McIntyre was thrilled with the product. The blustering Scotsman said ‘I'm no actor. To be brutally honest, if I didn't think it was good enough for the consumer I wouldn't sell it.’ Testament to this statement is that there is another cask in the Speyside distillery that was filled in 1961. That one just isn't good enough for the royal treatment, said McIntyre, and will soon be mixed with other brands, its age washed away in a whisky soup.

So what is it that makes this whisky worth £16,000 a bottle? ‘Exclusivity,’ pronounced McIntyre. There are 100 bottles of the Tamdhu 50, each crafted from start to finish by a small team of hands. With this bottle of whisky comes a certain status, and they predict the 100 bottles will fly off the shelves to Arab, Chinese and Russian markets. After all, two years ago, whisky overtook the price of gold.

In the airport at 5am on my way back to London I lingered in the whisky section. I show the expert my small vial of Tamdhu 50, and he was faintly impressed. ‘Keep that wee dram,’ he advised, ‘it’ll be worth a couple of shackles.’ He had just sold a £17,000 bottle of Glenlivet. ‘There are three kinds of whisky,’ he said, ‘the sharing, the selfish and the collectibles.’