Speyburn was founded by John and Edward Hopkins, two brothers from Speyside, in 1897. They located their distillery near the town of Rothes and close to a pure water source, the Granty Burn, a tributary of the River Spey. John Hopkins appointed Charles Doig, the celebrated distillery architect, to design the plant, and Speyburn still has the classic pagoda ventilator for which Doig is best known.
The brothers were insistent on producing their first whiskey in 1897 to honor the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, but life kept getting in the way. Production was scheduled to start on November 1 but the stills weren’t operational until December 15, at which point the facility still had no doors or windows. According to legend, crews of men in overcoats and mufflers worked through the night of December 31, in blizzard conditions, and finally succeeded in producing one butt of whiskey (the modern equivalent of 490 liters).
Anyone looking for a Father’s Day gift will find a welcome bargain in Speyburn. A bottle of the 10 Year sells for $29, compared to $54 for The Macallan 10 Year Fine Oak. They are both Speyside malts, but The Macallan has a higher public profile and perhaps a more robust advertising budget. Is one any better than the other? Obviously, much depends on your stylistic preference. One expert described Speyburn as a whisky for daily drinking rather than a meditation whiskey, and another characterized it as a summer malt. Both descriptions fit.
Speyburn 10 Year ($29) has a soft, floral nose fragrant with aromas of stone fruit, honey, toffee and baking spices. It enters the mouth smoothly, with a brash rush of citrus and tropical fruit flavors in the mid palate, followed by an edge of pepper and spice. Hints of toffee pick up again on the finish, framing the spiciness and leaving the palate pleasantly satisfied. As delightful as this is to drink neat, it would also make an excellent Rob Roy.
The Arranta Casks bottling ($37) is a limited-edition spirit distributed exclusively in the U.S. market, aged for an unspecified period in once-used Bourbon casks. The entry is creamy, but flavors of white pepper rise quickly to balance the tropical notes. It is much more assertive in the mouth than the 10 Year, with a spicier palate imprint and longer finish—well-suited to a cold night in front of the fireplace.
Like the Arranta Casks, the Bradan Orach ($23) carries no age statement (Bradan Orach is Gaelic for “golden salmon,” a reference to salmon fishing in the River Spey). Aromas of green apple permeate the nose, along with a high-tone note of menthol. In the mouth, the whiskey is simple and straightforward, with flavors of bitter oranges—orange marmalade is the most common descriptor used for this particular spirit. The bitterness persists onto the finish, tempered by citrus. While not as satisfying as the 10 Year, you certainly can’t complain about the price.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.