In order to offer dedicated whisky enthusiasts a glimpse into their huge stock outside of the Classic Malts range, Diageo set up a collection to showcase their lesser-known distilleries. The collection has no name, yet it is easily identifiable: every expression comes in the same standard bottle, with a beige label. Each of those labels is adorned with an image of an animal or a flower. Michael Jackson colloquially called it the Flora & Fauna collection - presumably while performing the moonwalk. The name stuck and the range became almost legendary.
Several batches of most bottlings exist; the first came in a wooden box and the bottle has a grey neck. Subsequent batches came with a black neck, in a cardboard box, or even without a box at all.
The first entry is immediately an interesting one: Aberfeldy is no longer part of Diageo. In fact, it has not been since 1998. This bottling is therefore a chance to try something distilled a while ago by the previous proprietor and can be compared to the more recent Aberfeldy bottlings by Bacardi, the current owner.
If you remember the initial article on this site, you will recall that Auchroisk was marketed under the brand The Singleton (of Auchroisk) until the mid-noughties. Now that it has been replaced by Glen Ord, Glendullan and Dufftown, this Auchroisk is the only regular, official bottling of Auchroisk left. It is a fresh and lightly herbaceous dram that works well as an apéritif. Diageo has since released two older expressions of Auchroisk as part of the yearly special releases: a twenty-year-old in 2010 and a thirty-year-old in 2012 to join a previous 28yo in the Rare Malts Selection range. Most of the output of Auchroisk goes into J&B's blend.
Aultmore has a bit of a tumultuous past as a distillery: it was founded by the founder of Benrinnes (see below), then became property of the Pattison brothers the year they went bankrupt. After the First World War, it was bought by John Dewar & Sons, who subsequently sold it to Diageo's ancestor. In a twist of events, Diageo sold it back to Bacardi, owner of Dewar in 1998. This entry is then also an interesting sight into yesteryear, produced by the previous proprietor. Bacardi has recently expanded the Aultmore brand, introducing several expressions in its core range (12yo, 21yo, 25yo).
Balmenach was also sold off - to Inver House Distillers, this time. This bottling, from the time the distillery was owned by Diageo, is a dark and fruity, sherry-matured whisky with a spicy palate. The new proprietors have been using Balmenach to fuel their blends almost exclusively, so this is one of the few opportunities to try it as a single, bottled by the owner... The previous owner, that is.
A whitewashed building from the 1970s, Benrinnes retains the older chimney that gives it some charm. Another odd feature is the worm tubs used to condensate the distilled spirit. Although every distillery in Scotland used to use that technique, it has all but disappeared. The whisky was interestingly triple-distilled until 2007, a rare occurrence in Scotland, especially outside of the Lowlands. The result is that until late least 2022, a bottle of Benrinnes 15yo will contain 100% triple-distilled spirit. The triple distillation makes it a light and fruity dram.
Diageo sold Bladnoch to independent owner Raymond Armstrong in 1994. This makes this expression rather special: a Bladnoch distilled and bottled by the previous proprietors. The fact Bladnoch was closed down in 2014 renders it even more desirable. It has since been acquired and is soon to resume production, yet an expression from two proprietors ago is unlikely to go down in price. Bladnoch 10yo is a mellow dram, with notes of coconut, manuka honey and custard. When it was in Diageo's portfolio, Bladnoch was used to fuel Bell's blends.
Blair Athol 12
Blair Athol, in lovely Pitlochry, is the home of Bell's. It is indeed the backbone of the famous blend. This 12yo is a solid, sherry-matured whisky, with notes of treacle, tobacco and gentle leather. A good introduction to sherried whiskies, as it is not overpoweringly so.
Caol Ila 15
Caol Ila was not pushed under the spotlight, as it had too similar a stablemate in Lagavulin. That is why it has an entry in this collection, which is used for Diageo's lesser-known distilleries, remember. Caol Ila grew a horde of fans relatively quickly and this particular expression was discontinued to make way for a dedicated Caol Ila collection. The fifteen-year-old is now rather difficult to get, while Caol Ila 12yo is available from supermarkets. The core range also had an excellent eighteen-year-old and there is an entry in the Distillers Edition collection, which we will look at separately.
Following a story similar to Caol Ila's, Clynelish 14yo was so popular it became a brand of its own in what is colloquially known as the extended Classic Malts range. That new Clynelish also kept the wild cat from the Fauna bottling, which is a nice touch. The animal is the symbol of Sutherland, the region the distillery calls home. The whisky is a bold, muscular affair, with scents of musk and alley cat. It can be filed under the love-it-or-hate-it category.
Diageo sold Craigellachie to Bacardi's John Dewar & Sons in 1998, like it did with Aultmore. Bacardi, as it did with Aultmore too, created a wide, new range of core expressions to increase its market presence (13yo, 17yo, 19yo, 23yo, 31yo). Here too, the Flora & Fauna expression is a good opportunity to try the whisky as the previous proprietor used to make it. For an even more interesting experience in 2016, one could try comparing this 14yo (distilled and bottled by Diageo) to the more recent 19yo or 23yo (distilled by Diageo, bottled by Bacardi): the whisky in the 19yo from 2016 was distilled in 1997 at the latest, while the 23yo is from 1993 at the latest, both when the distillery was still under Diageo ownership. Of course, comparing it to the 31yo is very unfair, as the age difference is too wide to do it justice.
Home to a laboratory in which Diageo's scientists conduct experiences with grains, yeast etc., Dailuaine is not exactly a well-known distillery. A 34yo was released in 2015 in the Special Releases and there has been a handful of entries in the Rare Malts Selection range. Other than that, this is the only official bottling. It is a gentle dram with chocolate and toffee notes imparted by the sherry maturation.
This Dufftown was, of course, replaced by the many versions of The Singleton of Dufftown, as we saw in the first article. If anything, this might be even less interesting than The Singleton, so devoid of character it is. A whisky for people who do not like whisky, which, naturally, is not necessarily a bad thing.
It was replaced by The Singleton of Glendullan in the USA. As hinted at in the first article about The Singleton, one would struggle to find anyone who declares Glendullan their favourite distillery. This 12yo is a good illustration of why: it is fresh and herbaceous, with a touch of fruit and a reasonable amount of vanilla. It simply is not that noteworthy. The best thing about it is possibly the grey heron on the label. A wonderful bird that gave birth to the legend of the phoenix: the ancient Egyptians thought it was on fire when it flew down the Nile, with the midday sun reflecting on its silvery back.
Glen Elgin 12
Interestingly, this Glen Elgin was replaced by another Glen Elgin 12yo, this time with its own packaging, in the so-called extended Classic Malts range. The new expression retains the swallow on the label, a small homage to the Fauna bottling. Glen Elgin is a key component of the famous White Horse blend, alongside Lagavulin. The single malt has notes of peppered honey and creamy custard.
Although Glenlossie is sometimes bottled by the indies, it is a rare sight as an official bottling. It mostly goes into Diageo's blends, particularly Haig's. As a single, this one is gently fruity with wood shavings and spices. This Speyside distillery is the sister distillery of Mannochmore, with which it shares its staff: they will work one year at Glenlossie, then one year at Mannochmore.
Glen Spey 12
This light and dry dram introduced in 2001 is one of the very few official expressions from this Speyside distillery. The buildings in the town of Rothes are said to be haunted by the ghost of a soldier stationed there during the Second World War and who was electrocuted in an accident.
The production of Inchgower mostly fuels Bell's blended whiskies. This fresh, grassy and floral tipple is therefore a good way to discover yet another distillery that, apart from two appearances in the Rare Malts Selection, has rarely been bottled by the proprietor for the last thirty years.
Linkwood has not really been bottled often since the 1980s - by the proprietors, that is: the indies release new Linkwood almost every month, it seems. There has been a handful of spectacular bottlings for the Rare Malts Selection and an entry in the Manager's Choice range in 2009; other than that, this light, grassy and slightly floral expression is the only official one that can be found more or less easily. Linkwood is yet another distillery that produces whisky for Diageo's blends. A second distillery was built alongside the first in 1971 to increase capacity.
Ask anyone about Mannochmore and they will gladly tell you how disgusting it is, based on the one famous expression... that they probably have never tasted. Said expression is Loch Dhu, a whisky so full of caramel it is black, widely acknowledged as one of the worst whiskies ever bottled and that has become collectible for those very reasons. If those people had tasted real Mannochmore, their opinion might be different: this one is a mild affair, with sawdust and toasted coconut shavings that is rather easy on the palate.
The Beast from Dufftown was recently replaced by a whole new range (Rare Old, Special Strength, 18yo and 25yo), yet the fans are bitter. This sixteen-year-old is the one that caught their attention and became the object of their following, not those overpriced half-bottles. It can still be found, though no seller will want to part with it for introductory price, now (ca £50). This meaty Mortlach gets its aromas of leather, barbecue and cured meat from the sherry casks in which it was matured.
Pittyvaich, in Dufftown, was demolished in 2002, as we saw previously. This particular bottling did nothing to improve the distillery's reputation: the mixture of wild grass and herbal infusion is an acquired taste and perhaps explains why people see Pittyvaich as blending fodder. It was mostly used in Bell's.
Rosebank 12yo has gained a cult following, since 2011, or so. One used to be able to buy it for the regular price of £50, but not anymore. Regardless, it remains perhaps the most affordable expression from this beloved, departed Lowlander. The distillery closed in 1993, leaving many aficionados craving for more. The recent boom in popularity of single malt means it was discovered and liked by a whole new market and stocks are now depleting. Rosebank 12yo is mellow and delicate, with notes of honey and field flowers. Definitely worth trying.
Royal Brackla 10
One of only three distilleries in Scotland awarded the regal adjective (as well as the first), Brackla is no longer in Diageo's hands, but Bacardi’s -- again. Bacardi seem to be putting the royal name to good use: in 2013, they released a 35yo in an ornate decanter to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the distillery and the 180th anniversary of the royal warrant. At more than £6,000 RRP, the cost was royal too. This more modest 10yo is following the same track and its price has increased tenfold, in recent years. It is a malty and floral dram with a whiff of smoke. In order to try Brackla these days, it is probably a better idea to choose from the regular 12yo, 16yo, 21yo expressions, released in 2015.
This is the oddball of the lot. Speyburn, sold to Inver House in the early 1990s, is widely seen as a distillery that produces a dreary whisky. That reputation is not necessarily deserved, yet that is not the point, here. This is the most sought-after of all the Flora & Fauna bottlings. On the one hand, it is a result of the distillery not being part of Diageo any longer, as well as there being few batches of it (perhaps only one). On the other hand, no-one has published tasting notes for it. There are rumours that such and such writers have declared it the best whisky ever bottled, though evidence remains to be seen. The reality is probably less romantic: collectors want the full collection, this one is harder to get than the others, and hence it commands a higher price. In any case, good luck finding one for less than £800-£1000.
Strathmill distillery produces malt whisky for the blends too (J&B's, mainly). Interestingly, it only came into Diageo's portfolio in 1997. This one is another rare opportunity to try something that is not usually found on its own in a bottle - even independent bottlers do not bottle this very often. Cereals and wood spices make up the character of this rather unchallenging whisky.
A name that not many can pronounce correctly (tee-ah-nee-nikh), Teaninich is seldom seen in the wild. This 10yo is the only regular official bottling for this modern, yet elusive distillery. Three different 23yo came out as part of the Rare Malts Selection. Teaninich is noteworthy in that it is the only distillery in Diageo's portfolio that does not make its own mash. In vulgar terms, they buy beer to distill it, whereas most distilleries brew themselves. Teaninich makes malt whisky for Diageo's blends, Johnnie Walker Red Label being the most well-known. Bottled as a single, it is light and delicate, with notes of cut grass and field flowers.
Not many gentlemen have tried all of them. Time to show your quality.