We would like to imagine that whisky blenders and bottlers choose to purchase and bottle their casks by walking through mouldy dunnage warehouses, smelling out classic whiskies like airport sniffer dogs. The truth, though, is that industry decisions are more often made from spreadsheets. In the distant future when spreadsheets seem archaic, we’ll hear on tours how some distilleries still use a second-hand copy of Excel 95 for their cask management because it was built so well it never broke and they’re too traditional to risk changing what they do.
For now, spreadsheets are very much current and hidden from the tourist’s view. New independent distilleries use them too, although frequently with more debt and sweat involved. Cask sales for them can be about bringing in much-needed cash. But sometimes they are more calculated than that. By selling a cask to the right independent bottler, new distilleries can expose their whisky to a new audience. A talkative and potentially lucrative audience – people who buy independent bottlings often buy a lot of whisky and talk a lot about whisky to a lot of people.
Paul John is an example of a brand that has been exposed to whisky hardcores through independent bottlers, each of whom has typically put their own twists on their releases. SMWS releases of Paul John have, of course, been single casks at cask strength, and they have alternated between casks aged underground and above ground. Ageing location has also differed for the Cadenhead’s Paul John bottlings. Their first was aged in Goa for five years and it has been followed by releases adding one and two years of further ageing in Campbeltown.
Other upstart brands have also benefitted from independent bottlings bringing them exposure, including – from much closer to the Cotswolds – The English Whisky Company. Their attitude is a far cry from that of some distillers, who prohibit any independent bottlings of their whisky from publicising their distillery name, their postcode, their GPS coordinates, their water source, or even a cartoon drawing revealing their distillery’s identity. It’s understandable that some established distillers want to retain full control of their brand, but for young whisky brands it can be beneficial to trust independent bottlers with converting new followers.
This whisky is Boutique-y’s first batch from the Cotswolds distillery and as far as I am aware, it is the only Cotswolds independent bottling to date. The batch’s 1,783 bottles were produced at 50.4% ABV and released in November 2018. It's available for £58.95 from Master of Malt.
Nose: Sweet and fruity on apricots and red grapes, with some vanilla-heavy madeira cake on the side. Time in the glass drizzles honey on that cake and adds strawberry ice cream, but there are also flashes of cloves and damp wood. Adding water is not advised – the round fruitiness is blurred by dusty tannins, with the honey also emphasised.
Taste: Sweet entry on strawberries and cream alongside red grapes, followed by black pepper spice and eventually some maltiness. There’s always vanilla underneath and some pineapple juice in the mix. The mouthfeel is slightly astringent with some wood tannins. Water brings out honey and overwhelming spices, with cloves and ginger turning up to dominate the fruit.
Finish: Medium length and drying on apricot and cloves.
Neat this Cotswolds is pleasantly fruity, with sweet oak character and few if any harsh edges. It’s impressive considering the whisky is barely legal, but not a surprise to anyone who’s tasted the distillery’s official bottlings. However, the whisky is worse with water added, as the wood character becomes more spicy and drying. Boutique-y bottlings are generally diluted to achieve bottling strengths ideal for drinking (presumably also for profit margin spreadsheets) and the strength here was well chosen. Still, given that official Cotswolds cask strength releases are cheaper and can be better than this diluted dram, I would recommend them over this release to anyone looking to try out the distillery. This bottling might win Cotswolds some new fans, but sometimes there’s no need to preach to the converted.
N.B. This piece was originally posted exactly one year ago today as part of last year's Dramble Boutique-y Advent rundown.
As always, you can head over to Sorren at OCD Whisky to discover more about this whisky.