Here’s another intriguingly-named expression from Tatsuya Minagawa’s bar- The Highlander Inn Craigellachie.
You can consider Highlander Inn an independent whisky bottler, although it also doubles as a really cosy bar in the heart of Scotland’s whisky trail, deep in the Speyside. We have covered a bit about Highlander Inn and Tatsuya-san’s story in an earlier whisky review. So for more story, check out our review of the Oishii Gureen Invergordon Single Grain Whisky!
Back to the present bottle. We tried it as part of a tasting session with Friends with Drams and guided by the man himself, Tatsuya-san. Let’s get to it!
This is a bottle of 24-year-old single malt from an undisclosed distillery- what Tatsuya-san would rather refer to as an “Obscure Speyside”.
This bottle come under the Maggie’s Collection series- one of Highlander Inn’s core ranges besides Oishii Wisukii. Who is Maggie? Well, you’re looking at her art. The range takes its name from well-known local artist Maggie Riegler, whose artwork adorns the labels.
A closer look at the label art makes you feel like you’re looking at still life paintings in a Renaissance art gallery (Image Source: Friends With Drams)
According to Tatsuya-san, the label art was intended to indicate the multi-dimensionality of this expression with big notes of pears and oranges. The painting made a bit more sense to me after i realised that the big reddish fruit in the middle was not a papaya but just an oversized pear.
The malt was distilled in 1997, matured in cask #3478 and bottled in 2021, exclusively for Singaporean whisky store Friends With Drams. The cask used for maturation is apparently a refill sherry American oak hogshead.
Where was this distilled? What’s this mysterious “Obscure Speyside” distillery? I shan’t tease you- it’s from Allt-á-Bhainne Distillery which was founded by the Chivas Brothers.
(Image Source: Peter Moore)
Allt-á-Bhainne (pronounced “all-ter-vain”) was founded relatively recently in 1975, built to ensure a steady supply of whisky for Chivas blends. What does the unusual name mean? It derives from the Scots Gaelic phrase “Allt a’bhainne” which means “burn of milk”. “Burn of milk” is certainly English, but the translation does raise more questions than answers. As far as I know, there seems to be no auspicious omens associated with the scalding of milk in Scotland.
No official bottling has been released from the distillery and it appears unlikely that there will ever be any. Yet, thanks to independent bottlers such as Highlander Inn, we get to taste some of their single malt before they go into Chivas’ blends.
The typical Allt-á-Bhainne (let’s just call it “AAB”) has bright aromas of wild flowers with grassy and lightly herbaceous notes. Let’s get to tasting it!
Colour: Yellow gold with long trailing legs indicative of some viscosity.
Nose: Initial notes are thick, syrupy and very bold. Not what I expected of the usual AAB!
This opens with big notes of rich orange marmalade and blackcurrant jam that really take centre stage with their sweet honeyed richness and intensity. There is quite some heat here, but with the richness of flavour and so much going on, it’s really more similar to a topping of light spiciness on ginger-spice cookies.
There is some multidimensionality. Before the syrupy richness begins to get cloying, the fruitiness takes a step back and the aroma transitions towards light caramel and toffee, before finally settling into a quieter oak and vanilla musk. Behind the vanilla, there is also a trailing hint of magnolia flowers and light mineral notes.
Palate: Lots of oomph and so much to work with! The palate has complex and multi-layered notes, great depth and a thick mouthfeel.
What was felt on the nose really shines here. Initial palate is heavy on rich red fruits from the Oloroso cask- with strawberry preserve, cherries and red raisins. Lots of delicious baking spices with cinnamon, nutmeg and slightly hot star anise- reminiscent of having hot chai latte at Starbucks.
As the palate opens up, lighter fruits begin to reveal themselves. Yes- I get the tangerines and orange peels alluded to on the label, but I also get soft red Gala apples and pear undertones.
This also feels more like a Campbeltown whisky than a Speyside for me (any Springbank fanatics here?) There’s a mentholic tinge, with slight gasoline notes, rounded off with a briny minerality
Finish: As the main orchestra fades out, darker notes become more pronounced. The finish is a little packet of trail mix- a scattering of roasted cashew nuts combined with dried figs and raisins. And with an enduring sweet aftertaste of spiced hot chocolate, the melody ends.
This is a surprisingly complex expression coming out of AAB. Compared to the typical AAB i’ve tried, Highlander Inn’s Obscure Speyside has a profile so much richer and thicker. The flavours are indeed multidimensional with so much to work with.
Few would have guessed this was an AAB. I thought it could have been a lightly-peated Springbank or Kilkerran.
This is yet another great example of the role that independent bottlers like Highlander Inn play in the whisky industry. People like Tatsuya-san occasionally come by very decent batches of whisky from underrated distilleries that may have been overlooked, and they try to share them with whisky lovers like us.
The AAB brand doesn’t exactly inspire the same level of fandom as the Macallans or Springbanks of the whisky world. So bottles like these rely on the reputation of a well-known bottler like Highlander Inn to reach the wider public. (To learn more about what independent bottlers do within whiskyland, check out or special feature here.)
This expression was a pleasant surprise with its great complexity and depth. A testament to what AAB could deliver with two decades of maturation.
A magician’s hat-trick. Surprising level of fruitiness, depth and complexity that one would not typically associate with Allt-á-Bhainne Distillery.