Filling my own bottle directly from the cask is always one of the highlights of any distillery tour I attend. In this day and age, everything is about personalisation – or at least the vague pretence of it – what better personalised (self) gift can there be for a whisky enthusiast than a bottling which you’ve extracted, corked, sealed and labelled (hopefully accurately after that 6-dram tasting) yourself? I find myself surprised when I visit a distillery to find that hand filling is not an option – it seems like a near license to print money – often its absence is cited because of ‘health and safety issues’ (?!?) – though more likely I suspect this is actually due to insurance – cask strength spirit being far from an inert thing.
Other times, you’ll enter a near hand fill sweetshop - the likes of Tomatin or Glen Moray who not only offer a visitors a BYO, they offer and handful of handfills. Decisions decisions.
It’s important to remember that BYOs are single casks, and are therefore subject to all the vagaries that these come with. Not every distillery offers visitors the chance to sample their hand fill options before purchase – but when they do, you should 100% take them up on this opportunity. The profile of each cask will greatly vary – don’t even assume that because the bottling highlights descriptions you would normally find desirable, that their manifestation in the hand fill will be exactly as you’d expect.
But then, there’s the flip side – your hand fill will offer something much more unique than a distillery’s proprietary bottlings. A one-off, unrepeatable amalgamation of spirit and wood. A bottling from your moment at the distillery along with the memories of your experience of filling, labelling and ledgering. That's about as personal as it gets save for purchasing and bottling up a whole cask.
Today’s hand filled bottle of Glen Scotia is described as ‘First fill 2008 MP Bourbon, with 18 months in a first fill oloroso HHD’ –two acronyms which probably need unpacking. ‘MP Bourbon’ likely details the initial filling liquid for this cask - ‘medium peated’, whereas HHD simply means a hogshead – and not a particularly high quality television set.
The bottling was offered to distillery visitors as their shop hand fill edition at the end of last year. The distillation year and bottling date letting us know that the age of the liquid is somewhere between nine and ten. The cask produced 294 bottles which were priced at £100 a pop. More expensive than you might normally expect for a single cask of this age – but then, don’t forget you’re paying for the experience of bottling and labelling.
Nose: Highly coastal with salted toffee, seashells, sea water and a firm shoreline breeze. Running throughout – white and green fruit – gooseberry and key lime pie – with a top layer of berries and meringue (Eton Mess) from the oloroso finish. A dry nuttiness from shelled cashew is joined by biscuitiness from pink waters and custard creams, whilst hessian cloth sits with delicate charred wood notes. Dilution adds tart under ripe apples and baked pastry casks, alongside pepperiness and stick furniture.
Taste: Still all on coastal. Sharp saltiness from saline, rock pools, granite and beachy heads opens proceedings. It steadily develops into chalkiness – Andrews Liver Salts and crushed paracetamol. There’s initially some tartness of fruit and rawness of alcohol – gooseberries and melon joined by reduced sweet berries. The mid to back palate expresses lemon balm and Lockets whilst dusty brown sugars and chewy white chocolate sit with scorched cask ends and wood smoke. The addition of water is transformative – reining in the sharp coastalness for juicy fruits – apple and pear flans with sugar syrup and biscuits crumbs. Much more expressive.
Finish: Medium, with drying mentholated oak and gravel-like minerality.
A resolutely maritime Glen Scotia that will appeal to those who enjoy things salty and coastal. The sharp and hewn profile isn’t quite as laser focused as I’d like – leftfield aromas and flavours providing intrigue, but not necessarily enhancement or coherence. Water is well worth experimenting with here – it takes the minerality down a notch, whilst emphasising the underlying fruitiness of the make. Nevertheless, I’m still left wondering why the cask was subjected to such a short secondary maturation period – I can only guess that the profile was deemed aberrant to requirements (thus the cask was moved into the Glen Scotia visitors centre for hand fill duties), because as it stands, there are but token glimpses of oloroso influence. These offset the salinity with sweetness, but at the same time still feel rather discombobulated from the ex-bourbon.