What's in a number?
Posted 23 September 2019 by Matt / In Cameronbridge
Bottle Name: Cameronbridge 39 year old Batch 7
Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
That Boutique-y Whisky Company have long championed grain whiskies. Rather than scything them off into a second class citizen sub brand, grain whiskies sit with exactly the same livery as their malts – 50cl, cartoony and generally quite fun. On the one hand this feels like the correct approach – whilst some would argue that grain whiskies *are* second class citizens in the whisky world, you’re only going to raise their profile and understanding by giving them an equal share of the limelight. But, on the other, it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of pricing grain whiskies based on the preponderance of higher prices for larger age statements.
And that’s what I’m increasingly seeing when it comes to grain. The volumes that grain whiskies are produced in are enormous. This is not a niche industry – it’s very big business indeed. Unless we’re talking about silent or demolished grain sites (e.g. Dumbarton, Port Dundas etc) the production figures from these petrochemical plant-like industrial complexes put all but the largest of malt distilleries to shame. Continuous distillation offers both higher alcoholic yields as well as 24 hour production. There’s a *lot* of grain whisky being produced. Most still to support blends, but nevertheless the volumes are eye-opening.
And yet, the direction throughout the retail market seems to be one of positioning grain whiskies as particularly rare and special. Some certainly are…..but there’s a bulk which was produced as being destined for blend filler and rightfully has no place being hived off and bottled independently. I do not need sub-10 year old single grain in my life.
At the other end of the grain spectrum comes particularly well-aged expressions – and to my mind that’s when the category starts to shine in terms of the liquid. But here too, prices are not what they used to be. Aged malts have moved from pricey to prohibitive, and as a result, producers and particularly indy bottlers have seized this opportunity to pitch up the price of their grain whiskies and market them as exceptional, special and limited. If folks are going to obsesses with age statements, and let their wallets talk in a similar matter, this is exactly what you’d expect. The argument being –“you won’t get a malt whisky at this age for this price”. True enough. But, at the same time, you won’t get an 1960’s Aston Martin at the same price as a 1960’s Skoda.
Grain is a tricky beast. As above, I believe it’s at its best when it has a bit of age under its belt (read at least 25 years). However, at that level of maturity the proposition is becoming increasingly based on the perceptions of age-alone – and driven by the strides of the single malt market which shows few signs of slowing down. Good deals for grain and particularly genuinely exceptional casks of grain are becoming a rarer thing – but this stands in stark contrast to the actual grain industry as a whole which is producing more liquid than it has at any point in its history. Alas, dear friends, the problem is us and our hankering for anything of age.
Boutique-y’s seventh batch of Cameronbridge takes the age statement up towards the four decade mark. The 39 year old, which draws its visual inspiration from world Tiddlywinks Champion Dr. Patrick Barrie (you can read more about him on the Boutique-y blog) is bottled at 44.6% ABV and comes as a batch of just 278 bottles (likely two ex-bourbon casks). The Dramble has enjoyed the easy-going flavourful grain various times, including in previous Boutique-y batches, but notes that whilst this example is noticeably older, it’s also noticeably more expensive - £199.95 from Master of Malt.
Nose: Cinema popcorn, dried apple slices and cashew nuts are joined by polished oak panelling – sheened with tung and hard wax oils. Puff pastry, coconut shavings and a mug of mocha steadily develops additional fruit-driven aspects with orange zest, peaches and halved apricots. Reduction should be undertaken sparingly, but introduces set custard, crème brulee and additional fruit elements such as mandarins and satsumas.
Taste: The mouthfeel is substantive and textural with natural oils clinging to the palate. Cinnamon and ginger spices erupt in the arrival with an abundance of lacquered wood surfaces and overt oakiness. Bran flakes and an wider array of toasted cereals and muesli are joined by toffee apples with a tingling of white pepper and confectioners’ sugar. Dilution here offers less of a positive effect than on the nose – the result is all cask with balsa wood, lollypop sticks and oak chips. It does however up the apple with well-baked tarts and pies as well as diminish the spiciness. On the one hand better-balanced, on the other now literally lost in the trees.
Finish: Quite long with cinnamon and pepper spices overlaid on top of juicy orange segments, oat cakes and rice pudding.
Batch 7 of Boutique-y’s continuing foray into Cameronbridge offers an array of well-aged grain flavours. It’s far superior at its bottling strength of 44.6% ABV - water feels like it should tame the cask-driven spicing – and indeed it does, but it also brings in an abundance of wood. At near four decades this can be expected – old whiskies often walk a particularly taut tightrope. Nevertheless, stick to this as its delivered strength and you’ll find it to be a tasty little number. Albeit an expensive one.
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