Direct Wine’s ‘First Cask’ series, which ran through the 1990’s and several years beyond the Millennium is both an extensive hodgepodge of bottlings, and a treasure trove of undiscovered gems. Using stock sourced from independent bottler Signatory, Direct Wines bottled hundreds upon hundreds of First Cask whiskies for their members club the ‘First Cask Whisky Circle’. Released quarterly, bottles were sold to members in mixed cases – in effect a whisky lucky dip.
The bottlings, despite being single cask releases were all produced at 46% ABV, with minimal branding, prominent vintage dates, and the distillery names hidden away in a tiny font size. In my experience to date, First Cask bottles are inherently hit and miss (though I’m yet to sample one that I’d consider as bad), and likewise, it is worth noting that there is quite some variance between the myriad different casks that were produced from the same vintage year. But, equally, there are plenty of excellent single cask whiskies scattered throughout the broad and extensive collection.
I’ve bought a fair few First Cask bottlings from auctions over the years – the prices for these whiskies is often much lower than both OB’s and most indies of a similar vintage and age. I’m uncertain as to exactly why – perhaps it’s the purely functional labelling, which isn’t the most attractive of things, or maybe it’s because they’re more numerous than rabbits? Regardless, the bottlings (most of which come from ex-bourbon casks) are usually well-aged, and sometimes hail from distilleries which nowadays you’ll struggle to find affordable older examples of.
Whiskybase currently lists five Glenlossie First Cask bottlings – all of them where distilled in 1978 and matured for 27 years in ex-bourbon casks. Given the use of consecutive cask numbers for the series, a little Internet research tells me that there are at least four more 78’ Glenlossies out there - as with many of the First Cask bottlings - Direct Wines Ltd bought in some considerable bulk from Signatory. Our review bottle comes from cask #4786 and was distilled on the 25th July 1978 (11 days before I was born).
Nose: Immediate pronounced and ripe tropical fruits – spit roasted pineapple, guava and mango. Further sweetness is provided by toffee apples, barley water, golden syrup and salted caramel. The result is quite quite lovely – firmly into ‘fruitbomb’ territory. The fruity sweetness is tempered by chiselled steeliness – wet limestone, aluminium and plenty of brass polish and wood lacquer. This whisky is quite happy to shout about its aged character. In the background, some interesting nuances – light sooty smoke, a touch of salty seafood and pungent ginger spicing. The addition of water brings out the natural grassiness of the Glenlossie spirit – cut stems, hay and dried flowers.
Taste: The arrival brings a near explosion of tropical fruitiness – pineapples, mangos, kiwis and zesty limes (rather reminding me of many of the ultra-fruity Irish whiskies which are doing the rounds currently). The mid-palate delivers intense earthiness – wet soils, mosses and old charred wood. The level of oak influence here is well-judged – parquet flooring, polished panelling and lightly smoked logs, but without an abundance of either tannins, nor obvious sappy vanillins. In the back-palate, minerality and spices – coal dust, prickly pepper and ginger. Reduction (not required, but interesting nonetheless), again leads to more grassiness with hay and reeds. It also adds honey, beeswax and a gently touch of mint leaf.
Finish: Fairly long with toffee apples, steeped herbal tea and slight touches of minerality.
This First Cask 1978 Glenlossie was described by my whisky club as ‘dangerously drinkable’. I have to agree. There’s an abundance of tropical fruitiness, which when combined with both aged aromas and flavours, and the underlying character of the Lossie spirit (which is still very much perceptible) makes for a wonderfully tasty treat. There are gems to be found in the First Cask series of bottlings – this is one of them.