“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
Whisky is not a constant. It’s creation, composition and consumption all ebb and flow across the decades. A trend for this, a penchant for that. It’s all too easy to cast your mind back and suggest that either things were better then, or that the traditional ways are the best, but if the whisky industry stood still you wouldn’t be drinking what you’re drinking now. The modernity and relevance (and these come in various forms) of the whisky industry are what brought you to where you are now – regardless of whether the secret history of 19th Century peat cutting techniques is your guilty pleasure or not.
The forward motion of whisky is both a reality and a necessity.
Only last week I mused that changes in ingredients, equipment, wood policy and distillery personnel all produce variations in the profile of whisky. But similarly, and at the same time, so do the changing needs and desires of consumers.
Whilst your common or garden whisky drinker might stick to their supermarket dram of choice for the entirety of their lifetime – and hence lead to the dominance of particular blended whiskies in terms of their sizable worldwide sales – to the dedicated whisky enthusiast, access to variety and the exploration of that variety are valued much more highly than a fondness for a particular whisky staple. Would you *really* take that desert island dram?
“Passionate moaning” is a terrible Internet search to run (!) – but regardless, it’s commonplace in whisky fandom – we’re all guilty of it. Indeed, here I am moaning about moaning. It can be hard to let go of the past – of the things which at one point did exactly what we wanted. The perfect liquid, the perfect branding, the perfect price. All perceptions, but all things which whisky fans take very seriously. Often overly so - to a point where we forget that whisky cannot and doesn’t stand still.
It's similar to your memories of being a kid – innocent times – but times that are impossible to return to.
In reality, we’ve never had it so good. There’s more whisky, of more different styles and origins being produced than ever before. There are more people interested in exploring the incredible diversity that the liquid has to offer. And there’s more experimentation, innovation and investment in the sector than I've witnessed during my lifetime. That doesn’t mean you’ have to like and lap up every change - far from it - your money is your money and you're free to spend it as you wish. But to my mind, the positives far outweighs the negatives - and they must do for you also, otherwise you wouldn’t still be here – you’d be off drinking ‘clean’ wine.
It’s all very well and good looking back to times gone by with fondness. The grass might seem greener in the 60s, 70s or even 20 years ago when things were “priced the way they should be” – but irrespective, the grass on our side of the fence has grown both much wider and much taller.
We live in interesting times – and Marilyn Monroe had it quite right – live it up, drink it down…
The Whisky Works is a new (ish) blending and bottling operation run as an independent arm of Whyte & Mackay – owners of Dalmore, Fettercairn, Jura, Tamnavulin, and Invergordon grain distillery (which likely gives some hints as to the constituents they have easy access to). Led by Gregg Glass (ex-Compass Box) and releasing just twice a year, the company aims to compare and contrast classic creations against modern, experimental whiskies. Something old, something new.
We’ll be reviewing all four releases that The Whisky have issued to date – King of Trees (up today) and the Glaswegian, then moving to take a look at the Speyside Cognac Cask Finish and experimental blend Quartermaster. Perhaps we’ll get through them all before more hit the shelves?
King of Trees, released last year is a blend of highlight malts (one north of Inverness and one south – which given the W&M stable should provide some good hints) drawn from 1st and refill ex-bourbon barrels, with “about 13.8%” (precision is a thing) of the liquid being finished in Scottish oak – a rarer and more difficult type of wood (being quite knotty) to work, which is more commonly used for furniture and flooring than it is for stave making.
2157 bottles have been produced at 46.5% ABV. Your current best price is via Drambusters at £55 – quite the reduction from the RRP of £75.
Nose: Rather expressive. White fruits – gooseberry, kiwi and white grapes sit alongside lemon peels. Pear juice quickly develops and becomes quite central after a short period of resting. In support – marzipan, Alpen, sappy tree resin and mint tea. Dilution adds an unexpected note of beeswax, alongside fallen tree blossom and jasmine petals.
Taste: Crisp, clear and freshly focussed. Orchards lead – apple and pear – alongside tart grapefruit segments and once again a touch of lemon (this time a little syrupy in nature). A controlled pepperiness develops in the mid-palate which sits with vanilla extract and a developing dryness – but more of spirit than necessarily of the wood. Water washes this one out very easily, so go sparingly – apple compote, pear cordial and sprinkle of ginger spicing – not all that detracted from the pre-diluted profile.
Finish: Medium in length and more oak focussed now – dry and peppery, but with a residual tangy and floral honey sweetness.
King of Trees is a light, snappy and refreshing blended malt that’s accessible in profile. Whether the Scottish oak finish has enhanced this profile further remains to be seen (I’d love to try a with and without side-by-side) as its influence is tantalisingly elusive. The Whisky Works website highlights orchard fruits as being the resultant from the Scottish oak – and certainly that’s abundant here, but then those notes are also commonly expressed across many spirit esters so I’m left wondering whether the additional effort to work this tricky oak was worthwhile. But then again, one person’s “lack-of” is another’s “wonderful integration” and this is arguably very well integrated and easy to like throughout.
With thanks to Dave Cox for the sample
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