Quick on the heels of my Bradan Orach review, I received a sample of Speyburn 10 to compare. The bottom-dollar category is an odd one for a reviewer. Can I pan it because it doesn’t compare favorably with standards like The Balvenie DoubleWood or Glenfiddich 15? Not really, it’s almost half the price of those bottles. I could lift it up as a paragon of drinkable whisky for almost no money, but then readers might mistake that for a wholehearted endorsement of the quality of the whisky and go buy a case.
In the interest of skirting this issue, here are my thoughts. Speyburn 10, aged in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at a respectable 43% ABV, is better than the younger NAS Bradan Orach. It costs about $3 to $5 more ($20 at BevMo here in California), and is better suited to sipping than any other $20 whisky I’ve tasted. Bradan Orach becomes more of a mixer after your first glass or two, but Speyburn 10 manages to straddle the line between “cheap” and “worth drinking straight”. It’s lightly floral and has no outstanding positive (or negative) characteristics. You should buy it if you feel guilty drinking $40 whisky, but don’t enjoy blends neat. It’s also worth the extra $5 over Bradan Orach. However, it simply isn’t going to satisfy like a $40 or $60 whisky, especially if you’re accustomed to sherry finishes or
Nose: Yeasty. A sour note – like young white wine. A hefty dose of vanilla. More character than the younger Bradan Orach. After a rest in the glass, it becomes more overtly floral.
Palate: Creamy texture. A wave of vanilla bean up front, subsiding to reveal soft grains, sugar cookies, and… well, that’s it.
Finish: Short. The wine flavor returns – here grape skins – with a slight tannic quality. Not particularly bitter, but there is a dry “vodka-esque” note on the fade-out.
With Water: A few drops of water draw out a little sweetness in the nose, and a larger dose of florals. The mouthfeel suffers a little, but that sweetness continues on through the finish. A few drops of water are a good idea with this dram.
Overall: This is a step up from the NAS release Bradan Orach in both potency and quality. There’s nothing here to warrant recommending this bottle over any other similar Highland malt, which sounds like a criticism, except that Speyburn is wisely priced to compete not against other, better, single malts, but instead against inexpensive – and abrasive – blends. While it could be argued that some of the better $20 blends are superior, it’s impossible to argue that this isn’t a great value. If you’re trying to decide between Speyburn 10 and Bradan Orach, know that for $3 to $5 more, the 10-year is about 50% better. Also, Speyburn, nice move bottling this at 43% ABV. That extra potency shows.