The Highland distillery of Knockdhu have released three new limited edition whiskies in their AnCnoc single malt range. The Peaty Collection marks a new chapter in anCnoc's history as they are the first smoky whiskies to be released by the brand. The distillery has been making peated spirit in very limited runs for the last 10 years or so. The Rutter, Flaughter and Tushkar expressions are all named after traditional tools used to cut peat.
Knockdhu (pronounced nock-doo) lies deep in the rugged countryside of the eastern Highlands, with the closest town being Huntly. The distillery is one of the most traditional in the Scottish whisky industry with no computers to aid production. Knockdhu translates as 'black hill' from Gaelic and the name of the single malts were changed to AnCnoc (simply 'the hill' in Gaelic) in the 1990s, so as to avoid consumer confusion with the similarly named Speyside distillery of Knockando. Knockdhu was founded in 1893 by a company called Distillers Company Limited and is currently owned by Inver House Distillers. It produces approximately one million litres of spirit per year.
All three whiskies have been matured in ex-American oak casks, although the specifications and cask sizes differ. All are bottled at 46% ABV, are non chill-filtered and are of natural colour. The Rutter has a peating level of 11 PPM (Phenol Parts per Million) and the Flaughter is 14.8 PPM and is initially exclusive to the UK. They have a recommended retail price of £52 each. The Tushkar is 15 PPM and is exclusive to Sweden, with a recommended retail price of 449SEK (£41.50). All are available now.
The colour is pale lemon yellow and the nose has a distinct and immediate smokiness to it. This has a combination of aromas reminiscent of damp moss and oily rags. Underneath are further aromas of oat cakes, hay, malted cereals and vanilla with hints of green apple, burnt sugar and lemon zest.
On the palate this feels quite light and delicate, but the peaty aspect contradicts this and introduces a feisty, hot and spicy element. Initial notes of vanilla, syrupy honey and coconut are quickly joined by earthy malty characteristics, which again are most reminiscent of oat cakes as on the nose. Sharp and tangy crisp green apple and lemon zest notes add further freshness. It is not very long before the hot earthy peat smoke becomes increasingly obvious. It builds to a point where it threatens to take over but pulls itself in a the last moment. The smoke gives an intense drying and peppery edge, and this carries through to the finish. Here the sweeter and maltier notes attempt to redress the balance.
The colour is very pale lemon yellow and the nose is full of peat smoke, but this comes across as more bonfire-like and ashy than in the Rutter. Further aromas of vanilla, green apple and icing sugar poke through the dominant smokiness. There are also late hints of cooked bananas and something nutty.
On the palate it feels more viscous and oilier than Rutter and the initial notes are of burnt oatmeal cookies, malted cereals and brown sugar. However, it is not long before the peat smoke begins to make an impression. This is soft and ashy but builds in intensity. Underneath are lovely notes of golden syrup and toffee, along with the banana from the nose. The increasingly influential smoke carries much further in to the finish here, and becomes drier and spicier - the spices are much woodier and reminiscent of cinnamon. The malty and sugary notes lay the foundation of the finish and there is also a hint of toasted nuts as the smokiness slowly fades.
The colour is pale gold and the nose is immediately peaty. There is more smoke present than on the other two, but it seems softer and more rounded. There are other aromas than filter through - think of green apples, boiled fruit sweets, marshmallow and honey with hints of lemon, dried grass and coconut.
On the palate this has a mouth coating quality and three elements work well together - sweetness, fruitiness and smokiness. The sweetness has notes of honey, vanilla, boiled sweets and hard toffee, while the fruitiness consists of green apples, crisp pears and an almost 'fake' note that is most reminiscent of red fruit jelly. The soft smokiness weaves itself around these and seems to compliment and enhance them more than in Rutter and Flaughter. The smoke has an ashy bonfire-like feel to it, along with something that can best be described as damp, earthy and leafy. The finish is lovely and the smoke lingers for a long time, which creates a pleasant dryness as the sweet and fruity notes fade.
What's the verdict?
These are a very interesting set of whiskies that take Knockdhu in a different direction and back to a time when their whisky (and most of those in Speyside and the Highlands) was mildly smoky as the norm. Distilleries that are not known for peaty/smoky whisky in the current market are reaching back to this heritage when peat was the main fuel source at a distillery and we are seeing more and more experimentation.
What is our favourite? Easy - the Tushkar. Lucky Swedes, we say. Despite being the peatiest of the three, it is the most rounded and has all of the elements within it complimenting each other well. It feels like a classy whisky. The others are slightly 'rougher round the edges' and they are both clearly quite young. The Rutter in particular is pretty feisty with the peat dominating most other characteristics and in danger of overpowering the delicate nature of Knockdhu's spirit. It will be interesting to see how they develop with further maturation.