Whilst whisky worrywarts would have you believe that NAS whiskies are a scourge of the modern marketplace, their origins can actually be traced back to the 19th Century. There’s a raft of documented near ancient bottlings without an age-statement between them. Indeed, in the early 20th Century blenders would sometimes utilise an average age-statement – little better than a guess by modern SWA rules and regulations. Nevertheless, there is of course little uncertainty that aged stocks have come under increasing pressure in recent years – and that NAS bottlings have been utilised to fill holes in distillery inventories as much as they have to push the boundaries of experimentation.
In theory, NAS whiskies should allow distilleries greater flexibility when combining spirit and wood – recognising that age and maturity are not one and the same. However, some have stretched the concept to near breaking point with marketing being put before quality - and in doing so, have given NAS whiskies an in-built sense of mediocrity. This is of course a travesty. There’s a large number of high quality NAS releases that come to market every year – which, irrespective of their age (or lack of it), possess outstanding characteristics and offer exceptional qualities. Case in point – Glengoyne Teapot Dram.
Batch 6 of Glengoyne’s popular Teapot Dram was released at the end of November 2018. Available as a distillery-only release (well kinda – you can also pick this up for £90 via their webshop) Teapot Dram is an NAS expression created from four 1st fill sherry butts and two 1st fill sherry hogsheads. Its conception recalls Glengoyne’s history, where until the 1970’s distillery workers would be offered three fingers (three times a day) from a oloroso sherry cask, rather than the more usual (and frankly less appealing) dram of raw new make spirit offered at most other sites. This latest release consists of 2772 bottles clocking in at fairly mighty 59.3% ABV.
Nose: Concentrated, forceful and piquant. There’s no mistaking the highly active oloroso maturation here – rich and syrupy, packed full of walnuts, balsamic and polish, and sitting on a bed of dried fruits (raisins, sultanas and figs). Additional aromas able support – toffee sauce, coffee powder and brighter fruit elements – cooking apples, red berries and roasted pineapple chunks. In the background, a damp earthiness of soils and mosses alongside energetic cask spicing (cinnamon) reinforces Glengoyne’s trademark integration of spirit and sherry wood. Reduction unsurprisingly diminishes the intensity, losing some of the louder top notes for breads, doughs, honey nectar and scattering of delicate garden herbs.
Taste: Bomb alert. Penetrating fresh sherry is derived from ripe berries, sticky jams and preserves (raspberry, cranberry and orange) together with dark chocolate, toffee sauce and espresso grounds. The mid-palate throttles back on raw sherry power introducing a creamier texture of buffered scones alongside orange peels and liqueurs, tanned leather, polish and a bite of chilli pepper. The wood influence is surprisingly lithe with a progressive fading dryness, but few overt tannins. The addition of water unlocks this influence further with touches of charred wood, a building black pepperiness, cinnamon, cloves and grape spirit.
Finish: Quite long - cask-forward with tingly pepper, sherry-laced with ripe berries and cinnamon.
The sixth batch of Glengoyne’s Teapot Dram is bold, intense and quite excellent. The balance achieved here is quite extraordinary considering the activeness of the oloroso casks and Glengoyne’s characteristically spicy distillate – and yet they work together here in near perfect harmony. The high ABV might prove tricky for some to handle, but this takes water well - offering a lowered volume but still maintaining plenty of sumptuous aromas and flavours. A brutally decadent whisky.