Even in times of restrictive upheaval, new business opportunities emerge. As it is now, when whisky clubs and producers have seized their captive audience and sent out more Zoom invites than any single liver could cope with. As it was then, when the 1920-1933 prohibition of alcohol in the United States destroyed some brands but opened the door for others. Cutty Sark was a new brand created in 1923 so it was considered less likely to be counterfeited than the established likes of Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal. The story goes that it benefitted from the seal of approval of its importer Bill ‘Real’ McCoy. This enabled the brand to grow even while it was prohibited.
There’s a little excitement today at Dramble Towers as we’ve reached the dizzyingly heights of our 1000th review. You’ve likely noticed already that we’re not going to be celebrating this milestone in quite the same way that most whisky sites would approach it. No legendary bottlings, no unobtainium liquid – not even an expensive snow globe that we’ll dare to open up, contrary to its secondary market ‘value’. Nope. For our 1000th review I’ve decided to go back to where it all began for me – not the first whisky I ever tried (that moment is lost to the annuls of time), but certainly the first whisky that I remember trying. And thinking about. The whisky which started me on my path to wider malt appreciation and exploration. A significant moment and with a salutary lesson attached – it’s important to always remember our whisky roots.
The constituent malts and grains contained in the current day Johnnie Walker Blue Label will not be the same as those from bottlings created decades earlier. Whilst nowhere near as prolific an expression as some of the other releases in the JW stable – Blue Label’s conception and profile draws from a very limited number of casks from across Diageo’s portfolio of distilleries. Whilst older bottlers are noted as potentially containing small parcels from the likes of Port Ellen and Brora, I very much doubt that the current incarnation of the release digs quite so deeply into Diageo’s inventory.
The history of Blue Label can be drawn back further than its official release in 1992. Johnnie Walker’s Oldest pays more than a passing resemblance to what would go on to become one of the world’s most famous whiskies. And indeed, the makeup of this forerunner expression, noted as containing whiskies aged up to 60 years, and rumoured to included liquids from DCL’s (the forerunner to Diageo) distilleries Port Ellen and Brora have led to persistent rumours about the actual composition of Blue Label decades later– most of which increasingly don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Chivas Regal Scotch is big business - you'll see it simply everywhere. Even some of my non-whisky drinking friends own a bottle in amoungst their oft-times unusual booze cupboards. It's therefore no surprise that its the market leading Scotch, aged 12 year and above, across both Europe and Asia Pacific. The 18 year old 'Gold Signature is a blend of over 20 single malts and grains from across Scotland - a large portion of the blend coming from Strathisla distillery in Speyside, which Chivas Brothers purchased in 1950.
Ballantine’s is the world’s second best-selling Scotch whisky (Johnnie Walker holding the top spot for many a year). Established in 1827 by George Ballantine, the blend is comprised of 50 single malts, and four grain whiskies, but draws its flavour profile primarily from Speysiders Glenburgie and Miltonduff. Currently owned by big boy Pernod Ricard, the core range of expressions is quite broad, covering NAS’s ‘Finest’ and ‘Limited’ and then extending from 12 years of age all the way to 40 with a fair few pit stops on the way.
Chivas’s Royal Salute 21 year old has been around for quite some time – 1953 to be precise. Introduced to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the name derives from a gun salute – a barrage of cannons or artillery fired as a military honour. The ‘basic’ salute is 21 rounds (which ties rather nicely to the age of this particular whisky) fired at 10 second intervals. Though in certain locations (Royal Parks, London’s Tower of London etc) extra rounds are fired, meaning that for something as significant as a royal coronation, both 41 and 62 gun salutes would take place. Earplugs at the ready.
The Antiquary 21 year old is a primarily a blend of Speyside and Highland whiskies (and being owned by Tomatin, no prizes for guessing one of the big constituents – 30% I’ve read) with a dash of something smoky from Islay to make up a total malt content of over 50%. The remaining half of the blend comes from a selection of grain whiskies. It’s bottled at 43% ABV and costs around £80.
In 2015 William Grant & Sons launched the travel retail 'House of Hazelwood' series of blended whiskies. The three age-statement blends were inspired by the life of Grant family member Janet Sheed Roberts who lived in 'Hazelwood House', an art deco property close to Glenfiddich distillery. The bottles were designed to not only celebrate the life of Sheed Roberts, but also to hark back to the 1920's which was both a peak for Scotch drinking and the time when fashion and design entered the modern era.
The limited edition Antiquary 35 year old was launched in September 2015. Just 800 bottles of this very well aged whisky were produced at an RRP of £300 – which you’ll still be able to find as of writing. A little research suggests that this blend might just have two components – 50% Tomatin single malt, 50% Girvan single grain – though take that with a pinch of salt – the Internet rarely being the font of 100% accurate knowledge. Nevertheless, there is one thing which I can tell you with absolute confidence – this whisky demands that you rest it. Those with patience will be justly rewarded.
Throughout the wider, less educated (I.E. ‘normal people’) world, peat smoke and Scotch whisky is synonymous. Whilst only a mere faction of the overall whisky output of the country *is* actually peated, perceptions can be both a boon or a buggerance. You don’t have to travel all that far to find this inaccuracy being spouted first-hand – often as a means to artificially define a sector which is already quite well-defined thank you very much. Nevertheless this false opinion persists – and brings with it all manner of expectations not only on flavour profiles, but on pricing.
Blends are the oil that keeps the wheels of the whisky industry turning – responsible for more global sales than single malts several times over. But, that doesn’t mean that all blended whisky need be boring bottom shelf glass filler, and The Blended Whisky Company spends its time trying to prove that blended whisky can be greater than the sum of its parts.
The world outside of enthusiast circles still often views blending with something of an upturned nose. There’s a lack of knowledge, and to some degree a lack of education around what is and what isn’t blending. On a base level, all but single cask releases are indeed something of a blend – the often rolled out adage of “I don’t like anything that’s been blended – just single malts” simply doesn’t hold any water, let alone any whisky. Long held misconceptions can be hard to unpick. But on the flip side, there are instances when blending takes on forms which are outside of the conventional norms even for most whisky lovers. Blending aged stock is one thing – blending from birth is quite another.
Bottled for Watt Whisky and Friends (WW&F) – I.E. only available in Campbeltown itself from Halls and the Ardshiel Hotel – this blend hails from more than one Campbeltown distillery. Interestingly, at the present time guesswork on which distilleries make up the components are quite possible….but fast forward 10 years and they’ll be 7/8 distilleries in the region where such a 5 year old may be possible. Times are a-changin’. Just 150 bottles of this at Mark’s presently favourite ABV of 57.1%.
A truly local release with just 66 bottles available from Halls in Campbeltown by the bottle and the Ardshiel Hotel by the bottle and the dram. Noted as a combination of whiskies from more than one Campbeltown distillery, the expression has been bottled from the remains of a hogshead of the Campbeltown blend – the rest of the juice is currently residing in the rather funky Clarendon rum cask that was also released as part of this batch of Watt Whiskies. Might as well use what you’ve got to hand!
A noteworthy release from Watt Whisky in the form of a high (cask?) strength blended Scotch. Matured in a “barrel” (whether from birth or combined at some point who’s to say) which produced 232 bottles at 56.5% ABV. This one is available via The Whisky Exchange for £44.95.
Watt Whisky have already demonstrated that they’re not afraid of combinations of casks – and more power to them. Whilst there’s certainly a joy to selecting single casks packed full of idiosyncratic character – there’s likewise an even broader palate of possibilities available once you wade into the realms of combined distillates – either at their birth or once they’re fully matured. This latest blend appears to be the former of those two – matured for 18 years in a single ex-bourbon hogshead. It’s available via The Whisky Exchange for £69.95.
Mystery blended malt that’s been matured in a sherry butt for the best part of two decades. Rather good value at £79.95 from TWE.
Night and day. Black and white. People are either open-minded and welcoming of change and new ideas – or they’re closed-minded and hold rigid opinions and narrow outlooks. And so, we all choose to associate ourselves with being open-minded – it is a binary choice, right? Yes, we should choose to be open-minded - after all, a closed mind is a dying mind. If only it were that straight-forward. As much as we all like to consider ourselves to be open-minded, few of us truly are. I’m not nearly as open-minded as I’d like to be. This stems not from being obstinate (I can be quite good at that when the mood takes me), but rather from choosing a position or a belief before ever evaluating what’s really in front of you and whether that position or belief is either factually true, or indeed is emotionally faithful to who we are. And when it comes to whisky – this happens all the time.
A Sponge-ified configuration of a 2001 refill butt of unknown whiskies all stirred around together (Edrington?) combined with a 2000 refill hogshead from Glenrothes. An interesting amalgamation offered at 47.2% ABV and still available via Decadent Drinks for £89.95.
The annual circus that is Diageo’s Special Releases always gets people talking. Now into its 16th year, whisky enthusiasts are greeted with a Brora and Port Ellen that both cost the price of a second hand car, a selection of other expressions from Diageo-owned distilleries often at higher ages and therefore eye-watering prices, and a slightly more affordable Caol Ila and Lagavulin. There’s also oft-times something a little bit left-field included in the selection. 2017’s oddball bottling is Collectivum XXVIII, the first time a blended malt has appeared in the Special Releases and composed from whisky taken from each of Diageo’s 28 currently active distilleries.
Unless you’ve already moved to the Off-World colonies, you’ll probably be aware of a little low-budget film called Blade Runner 2049. The acid rain soaked world of Blade Runner has long been associated with both high rise neon branding, and booze – after a hard day of retiring replicants, what better way to unwind than to imbibe for some product-placed Johnnie Walker Black Label? Deckard reached for the Black Label in the 1982 original – served in a stunningly designed, weighty, but completely impractical glass designed by Cini Boeri, and, of course accompanied by some sultry Vangelis on sax. Well it’s now 2049 and rest assured, Diageo haven’t missed a marketing opportunity.
By-the-by I have few problems with marketing tie-ins. They’re largely harmless (often tenuous) attempts to raise the visibility of a brand or to try to sell you pizza whilst you watch Chester-set soap opera buffoonery. The world of whisky is no stranger to tie-ins -many a golf tournament has had an official bottling produced for it. Powerhouse Diageo have chosen the big and small screens for several of their recent tie-in products – from 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 inspired Johnnie Walker Black Label Director’s Cut, to this year’s extensive Game of Thrones partnership. Fortunately, due to a range of sensible advertising laws, we’re unlikely to see a 2020 celebratory bottle of Cbeebies Brora the Explorer.
Something strange has happened over the last couple of days. The sun, that much elusive celestial body (at least to the British) has decided to make an early appearance. Only a few weeks ago, parts of the country were under a thick layer of snowmageddon, and much of the rail infrastructure had gone in its oh so predictable ‘adverse conditions’ week-long coffee break. Spring appears to be entirely missing in action – it’s positively summery - plants and animals are not doubt starting to look a touch confused – “…do we come out now, or are you just tricking us?” I sadly suspect the latter, but, regardless this early tease of warmth has made for ideal conditions for a summer sipper - queue Douglas Laing’s Epicurean.
Have you heard the blended whisky musical metaphor? It goes that single malts are soloists who spend most of their time working together in a blended whisky orchestra. The idea is that master blenders are like great composers, creating blends that like orchestras are greater than the sum of their parts. Whisky shop shelves are full of solo artists and orchestras – single malts and blended brands. Where, though, are the whisky equivalents of bands, groups, and duos?
Timorous Beastie’s older brother was released by Douglas Laing towards the end of 2016. The blended components hail from Blair Athol, Dalmore, Glengoyne and Glen Garioch (which I believe is the same constituents as both the NAS and 18 year old versions) and are delivered at a high strength of 54.7% ABV. Big numbers on whisky bottles always tends to open eyes, and with an RRP of £200 you can probably guess how quickly this bottle sold out - much faster than the 8mph average speed of a house mouse.
The Surgeons Ball is one third of bottler/cask trader Edinburgh Whisky’s New Town Collection. Named after the largest complete example of Georgian town planning in the world – Edinburgh New Town was approved in 1767 (the whisky marketing materials list 1952 – but what’s a few years between friends?!) and constructed in phases up until 1850. Built as a result of the Scottish Enlightenment and as a solution to overcrowding, the development included a grid-style pattern with street names chosen from both monastic and Union references (Queen Street, George Street and Princes Street).
Edinburgh Whisky’s New Town Collection doesn’t seem available from the ‘usual’ selection of whisky outlets. Instead, the trio of blended malts look designed to appeal to the gifting market (which, I suspect is why I’ve been sent these to review in the run up to Christmas). A curious mix of retailers including Not on the Highstreet suggests to me that Edinburgh Whisky are looking to position their products outside of the usually highly competitive world of direct whisky retail. And distribution via website more commonly used for gifting likely provides the brand with some appeal for shopper who want to look off the beaten track of marque brands, but who at the same time don’t want to be digging to deeply into their pockets at the same time.
The final bottling in the Edinburgh Whisky New Town Collection series of blended malts eschews the peated influence of the other two expressions for the use of some Spanish sherry casks. There’s not a great deal to say about the composition – it’s designed for those who “Scotch whisky” and “sherry” are likely about as descriptive as is required. It’s aged 10 years, bottled at 46% ABV and available as of writing for the Christmas-focused price of £27.30 from Edinburgh Whisky.
Whilst the Elements of Islay range was introduced in 2008, it was not until 2016 that the series expanded to include a blended malt – simply titled ‘Peat’. Initially bottled at a higher strength (‘Full Proof’), the ‘Pure Islay’ edition was released shortly after at a lower ABV of 45%. Peat Pure Islay is still bottled in the 50cl chemical flask style glassware that the Elements range is known for, but with the alcohol reduced down it allows those that prefer an ABV closer to golden strength the opportunity to explore the series sole blended expression. It’s priced at £29.95 and is currently available from the Whisky Exchange with some neat label personalisation for no additional charge.
The whisky industry’s use of sherry casks goes back to an age before even our grandparents were born. Their use being a factor of the economic realities of time, as much as for the flavours the would imbue into Scotch whisky. And yet, the combination of natural, elemental peat smoke with juicy, rich, sweet sherry has endured as an extremely popular style in its own right since. Sit down at any gathering of enthusiasts and I guarantee you there will be some form of split between peat-heads and sherry-monsters. And yet, present both of these groups with something drawn from right out the middle of their flavour preferences and you’ll likely find fans willing to cross the divide.
The Elements of Islay range focusses on showcasing cask strength single malt whiskies from across Islay’s distillers – at least, it did until 2016 when the first blended malt ‘Peat’ was introduced – effectively forming a blended core range of permanently available expressions. Bottled ‘Full Proof’ (avoiding any issues around the changed SWA definition of cask strength), Peat clocks in at a very pokey 59.3% - so, whilst it was the series’ first blended expression, the high strength of the previous single cask releases was still maintained though into Peat. The whisky is drawn ‘from across the island’ – I.E. you’re going to have guess which Islay distilleries have been utilised in this blend – for my money, I’d be looking to the North East of the island. Each batch is made up of a vatting of around 60 casks - with the resulting 50cl bottles being available from the Whisky Exchange for £38.95.
It’s a jungle out there. The number of new independent bottlers is growing exponentially. Every person and their dog seems to want to give the independent bottling lark a crack – there’s certainly money to be made. But I wonder how many of these newer bottlers are going to last the distance. There’s countless knackered casks out there ready to be snapped up by an unsuspecting and ill-educated fledgling bottler – and it doesn’t take too many duff releases for reputations to be set across the minds of consumers. But, thinking more widely about the independent bottling world, it is sometimes not just the liquid quality which defines a bottlers fate – visibility in a particularly crowded marketplace is vital.
The Angel’s Nectar Collection produced by Highfern is inspired by evaporation – namely the angel’s share. But rather than attempting to provide customers with either captured alcoholic fumes, or an entirely empty bottle, Angel’s Nectar pins its colours to the suggestion of enjoying the indulgences that the angels take from the myriad casks maturing across Scotland. We don’t dig into the concept anymore – it makes for a nice enough story and brand design.
‘Rich’ is a blended malt composed of American and European oak oloroso and PX sherry casks – likely respectively. However, it’s not all just big butts here – there’s some hoggies and quarter casks at play too (PX QC’s can be pretty fun when carefully judged). The components have been blended and then bottled non-chill filtered at 46% ABV. Rich can be found over at Master of Malt for £42.50.
Our last J.G. Thomson blended malt is ‘Smoky’ – composed from a combination of ex-bourbon barrels and PX butts and hogsheads (though certainly with far more of the former). Positioned as “Not too sweet and not too rich..” – which seems sensible given the names of the other two current releases in the collection – this can be picked up from Master of Malt for £42.50.
‘Sweet’ has been created from a combination of new toasted oak casks (read virgin), heavily toasted casks with a medium char and casks with a heavy char and extra toasting on their heads. The key takeaway here being that if you’re not attuned to the fundamental difference (in both process and results) between toasting and charring – none of that is going to mean much to you. Hmm – perhaps a topic for another time.
Nevertheless, there’s ample wood variance here to ensure that this blend isn’t as simple as a pile of disgorged ex-bourbon barrels, shaken together and then bottled up - and I admire that approach. Sweet has been bottled at 46% ABV and is available via Master of Malt for £42.50.
Despite usually being a sponge for new information – it turns out that my brain does in fact possess a saturation point when it comes to whisky. And I’ve only recently discovered this. With just one Dramble post under my belt over the past two weeks (sorry readers – sorry brands) it’s high time I admitted to myself that writing about whisky whilst working within whisky is far more challenging than I expected it would be. This isn’t a case of being too busy – indeed, overall I’m less busy than I was when working two disparate jobs concurrently for the best part of three years. No – this is a realisation that my brain has a finite amount of whisky processing power and that the ‘day job’ is now (rightly) utilising a lot of this.
As the French novelist Gustave Flaubert (author of Madame Bovary in case you were wondering) once wrote – “There is no truth. There is only perception.” Value is in the eye of the beholder – as consumers we evaluate the merits of a product or service based on its ability to meet our needs and expectations, as compared with its peers. Any concept of value is an entirely personal assessment – open to variance, open to discussion. Not fixed in stone. Nor fixed in time. We purchase ‘stuff’ because a products’ proposition (which includes the price) aligns to our individual perceptions of value, worth and importance.
Whilst the Coleburn Distillery in Elgin was closed in 1985 the site is not as silent as some forgotten distilleries. Independent bottler Murray McDavid have turned the distillery into their HQ and still use the Victorian dunnage warehouses to mature their growing stock of malt whisky. According to their website there is currently over ninety single cask and single grain whiskies slumbering up at Coleburn. Today, we're in effect looking at several of them at the same time - as its time for a blend review in the form of the Bodach Aislig 35 year old.
The British apparently spend nine months of their lives bargain-hunting. That equates to two hours a week, or four days and 8 hours a year, spent solely in pursuit of a good deal. I’d posit that this figure is likely much higher for whisky enthusiasts – hours whiled away searching through auction listings (where bargains are now far rarer than they used to be), days spent scouring online retailers for discounted or end of line listings – or even just the tease of free shipping. It’s an entirely predictable thing – for some people, it’s simply the love of the chase. But, for others, hunting out the next deal is likely a far stronger addiction.
Independent bottler North Star Spirits have not been on the block all that long, but have already made plenty of waves in the whisky world. Founded by Iain Croucher (formerly AD Rattray’s Brand Ambassador) in 2016, North Star have released several batches (35 bottles and counting) of well-regarded single malts, single grains and blends. The company’s ‘Vega’ blended malt series launched last year with a 23 year old that had many of my fellow writers and bloggers noting not only the quality of the liquid, but also the highly reasonable asking price. Few were prepared for what Iain had in store for the second edition.
Whenever someone asks me for my top tips for writing about whisky I always offer up the same advice - research, integrity and passion. To my mind, these tenets should hold true no matter the topic of writing. Putting in the ground work, ensuring a fair and balanced view, and writing in a manner which shows the reader that you care. But what about style? What about flair you ask? Well, those comes later. And they take practice.
Towards the latter part of 2016 Chivas produced their very first blended malt (i.e. a marriage of single malts from different distilleries, but without the addition of a grain element) in the form of Chivas Regal Ultis. Ultis is presented in a snazzy bottle, housed in a snazzy box and has some snazzy marketing behind it - a story of the five master blenders who have preserved the Chivas house style since 1909.
The Single Malt Whisky Society has seen more change in 2017 than in any other year since its creation. At the start of 2017 came a complete brand overhaul, then, over the summer, new single cask spirits (gin, cognac and rum) were released, widening the Society’s brief into what they describe as ‘the finer things in life’. Then there was whisky ice-cream – it’s delicious you should try it. Now, the SMWS has decided to risk cries of sacrilege by introducing their first blended malt – Exotic Cargo.
There’s a growing symbiotic relationship in whisky which is extending outside of the bounds of the industry itself. We’re all aware of the connection between the US bourbon industry and the Scottish malt whisky industry – the former using fresh barrels once, the latter requiring a constant source of pre-seasoned wood for a number of fills and refills. A perfect rapport. But, there’s another type of cooperation which is growing in both significance and occurrence - cask sharing.
Last year saw a confounding number of self-proclaimed authorities on parliamentary practice. 2020 has revealed a staggering number of armchair epidemiology and virology experts. But rest assured dear readers, since time immemorial, everyone and anyone has believed that they can ‘do marketing’. Its genesis can be traced back to antiquity, and its early professional practice was solidified during the time of the industrial revolution. Unlike some career functions, marketing is everywhere you look – both inside and outside of your workplaces. And this ubiquity has resulted in everyone thinking they’re a marketeer – particularly now, in an interconnected world that has provided us with the platforms, tools and voice to freely share our opinions. But as the whisky world can regularly attest to – turning hype into hyperventilation is still a skilful endeavour.
Day 16 in the Boutique-y Advent calendar offers us a slightly mysterious 6 year old blended malt. The label indicates that once again we’re into teaspoon territory (so a blend only in technicality), and the scene of Time Square in New York offers us sights of many other Boutique-y labels both past and present. I wonder if this cask has been ‘spooned’ with a tiny selection from across many different Boutique-y bottlings? Part of the fun of these bottlings is working out the visual label codes! Our blended malt is a 6 year old and is bottled at 53.6% ABV.
Seeing Blended Malt #4 6 year old Batch 1 yet again in the Boutique-y Advent calendar felt like a great disturbance in the Force - as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Of all the drams to be recycling into Christmas, it pains me that it’s *still* this one - a whisky that is not only my lowest scoring Boutique-y whisky, but something I have become oddly and most annoyingly inseparable from over the past three years. As if 2020 couldn't get any worse.
Adding a tiny amount of single malt whisky from one distillery to a cask of single malt from another distillery means it is no longer 100% one thing or another – and technically now a blended malt. But, if you think about it, any whisky that’s come from a refilled cask is going to contain elements of its precursor liquid. On the one hand we have distilleries dumping whole bottles of sherry into tired casks to ‘season’ them, and still being able to label and sell the result as a single malt. On the other, adding a few centilitres of 'foreign' single malt means the whisky is now legally a different thing altogether. But, of these two examples which do you think will have changed the underlying profile of the whisky the most?
I’m still surprised by how many people turn their noses up at blended whiskies. Not only are blends the oil that keeps the wheels of the whisky industry turning (selling more than single malts globally many times over), but they’re oft-times far from boring bottom shelf glass filler. Any yet, adding grain into malt still always seems to turns off a certain constituent. Baffling snobbishness in my view – there’s more than enough exceedingly high quality blended whisky to win over any waverers should they really want to waver. Nevertheless, the art of blending is far from well understood, even by the folks who do enjoy the broad diversity of styles that whisky has to offer.
Boutique-y have a well-aged blend for us behind door number 10 in their 2017 Advent calendar in the form of their Blended Whisky #1 35 year old Batch 3. Bottled at 46.5% this one sold out in no time at all.
On to door number 21 in the Boutique-y Advent calendar and some rarely seen 50 year old grain – in the form of Boutique-y’s yet to be released Blended Grain No.1 50 year old Batch 1. No specific information is given on which distilleries outputs are involved in this blend, but our label is adorned with a coconut laden tall ship and seagulls who’s bodies have been replaced with a wide variety of fruits. As you do. Let’s get stuck in…
Merry Christmas and seasons greetings to all! We hope you have a wonderful festive break and find plenty of time for drams and laughs with your family and friends. So, here we are, the final day of the Boutique-y Advent calendar and it's actually a bottle we've previously reviewed on The Dramble. So whilst we put our feet up for a few days, here's our thoughts (unedited from before) on a very old blended Scotch.
Treacle Chest is a blend of two unspecified Highland single malts that have matured in fourteen 1st fill ex-sherry hogsheads. It’s bottled non-chill filtered, naturally coloured and at an ABV of 46%. 6,300 bottles were produced and it’s available for a shy under £47 from Master of Malt.
Vanilla Burst is a blend of two unspecified Speyside single malts that have matured in fifteen 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels. It’s bottled non-chill filtered, naturally coloured and at an ABV of 46%. 4,800 bottles were produced and it’s available for a shy over £43 from Master of Malt.
Barley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Barley was as dead as a doornail.
Booze scientists (which is a different thing to boozy scientists) have long demonstrated that changes to ambient conditions can markedly change our perceptions of taste. One recent study sought to pair music with wine – discovering that the right combination (based on individual tastes of course) of wine with music was noted to improve the perception of a wine’s quality by up to 15%. Another back in 1999 directly linked in-store music to purchasing decisions – play French music and consumers are more likely to purchase French wine. Simples. But it’s not just changes to music that can affect our taste buds – light conditions, places and even the composition of the air will all affect our perception of taste.
If you’ve been following the independent bottling scene over the last couple of years (particularly on the European side) you’ll have likely observed a number of well-aged blended malts (often from a base of Edrington malts) hailing from 1973. This Whisky Show exclusive bottling sounds immediately like one of these well-regarded expressions – however, its UV light reveal highlights a different journey. The component malts (of an unspecified number, but hailing from Speyside) were matured separately until 2005, and then married (in Glasgow it says in glowing fluorescent light) in a single refill sherry butt (#6) for an impressively long finishing period.
“Nothing lasts forever, so live it up, drink it down, laugh it off, avoid the drama, take chances & never have regrets, because at one point everything you did was exactly what you wanted.” – Marilyn Monroe
Grain whisky is underappreciated, under-valued and often misunderstood. Despite a total lack of education into what grain whisky is, and what grain whisky isn’t – the common or garden consumer is likely to have already formed an opinion on this much maligned of categories. And, it’s a mark of the success of “single malt” marketing that despite an absence of knowledge, folks will still readily proclaim grain whisky as a to be avoided ‘additive’ to their precious single malts. And yet offer these same folks a renowned wheat whisk(e)y or high percentage corn-based product and the penny almost never drops.
I have come to dislike the term “beginner whisky”. It is a misleading and loaded moniker which often does a disservice to both the intrinsic quality of whiskies and in particular to the intent and target audience of certain bottlings. The name itself suggests several characteristics: that this whisky is unsuited for those who aren’t beginners; that the being of a beginner and thus enjoying so-called beginner’s whisky is but a formative period of time before you head off to discover the ‘real stuff’; and that there’s a selection of transcendent olfactory aptitudes that can only be developed with a concerted input of both time and money – after which, it is possible to rise to a level of enjoying “expert whisky” (which is also not a thing either).