Celebrating 20 years of The Whisky Exchange with Signatory Whisky
Posted 24 June 2019 by Matt / In Group Tastings
Things have moved on apace since brothers Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh inherited their parents Hanwell-based off-license (The Nest) and converted the proceeds of the sale of it into creating The Whisky Exchange back in 1999. Over the last 20 years, the retailer has grown almost immeasurably – with the company’s HQ now taking up a sizable plot of land off the A40 near Park Royal and the various companies and sub-companies (it’s confusing stuff) offering an enormous variety of high quality alcohol which cuts across a huge swathe of styles.
Whisky Exchange’s 20th Birthday celebrations now move into ‘all-systems-go’ mode with the imminent release of a new range of exclusive cask strength, single cask whiskies from Signatory Vintage, and plenty more selected bottlings, offers and special events throughout the remainder of 2019.
The Dramble is pleased to bring you reviews of five of the new Signatory Vintage TWE Exclusives below. Happy Birthday Whisky Exchange!
(Full transparency – these whiskies were provided as review samples by The Whisky Exchange)
The original (smaller) Glenburgie was demolished in 2004 before being rebuilt with a swap from a pair of Lomond stills to three pairs of onion stills. Long a blending component for Ballantine’s, few OB’s have been issued outside of the Chivas Brothers Cask Strength and Distillery Reserve Collections. However, there’s plenty of IB’s out there (32 were bottled in 2018). This TWE exclusive Signatory has been matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead (#6585) for 23 years, before being bottled at 57.5% ABV. It's available from The Whisky Exchange for £120.
Nose: Bright, vibrant fruits and sugary, delectable pastries. Candied apple peels, raspberry pavlova with plenty of gooey meringue, a slice of mango and a cubed honey dew melon. Sweetness pushes through with sugar dusted crepes and choux buns, whilst sunflower oil and polished teak furniture reinforces some well-aged cask influence. Dilution adds pastry crusts and buttered bread whilst emphasising additional fruit elements – peach and apricot cobblers.
Taste: The arrival is juicy, unctuous and fruit-forward. Sugar-dipped ripe apples, freshly squeezed pear juice and peach yoghurt – part tart and peppy with sugar, part soft and chewy with creaminess. The mid-palate favours the cask more with developing white pepper, charred hogshead ends and nutmeg, whilst the back-palate reintroduces some sweetness with white chocolate and cocoa nibs. Reduction adds tartness with pink grapefruit, but also further fruitiness with peach schnapps and orange juice.
Finish: Quite long, with a combination of toasted and polished wood, fading apple sweetness and pleasantly piquant pepper.
The press information describes this Glenburgie as well-aged and elegant – it certainly is both of those things. Not only are the aromas and flavours, well-defined, they’re also sparkling and dynamic, delivering a wonderful balance between vivacious fruitiness and well-judged oak influence. Whilst lovely at 57.5%, this works just as well with a touch of water, where additional fruit components are unlocked and added into the mix. Wonderfully summery stuff.
1995 was inarguably a purple patch year for Clynelish – and Signatory Vintage seem to have snaffled up the lion’s share of the casks for their Cask Strength Collection. Drawn primarily from refill sherry butts, these 95’s are well-regarded and in high demand. This example bottled for TWE’s 20th Anniversary has been matured for 23 years in refill sherry butt #11252 before being bottled at 55.4% ABV. It’s available from The Whisky Exchange for £155.
Nose: The sherry influence is immediate, delivering fine brown sugars, reduced hedgerow berries, plums, raisins and sultanas. Deeper - singed toffee, hot cross buns and chocolate croissants are joined by Turkish delight, polished furniture and well-tanned leather. Less waxy, more lacquered. The addition of water brings blackcurrants and figs to the party whilst Jamaican ginger cake and tobacco are joined by old orange liqueurs.
Taste: Bold and concentrated with much more of the Clynelish-y texture and weight on display. Orange segments, blackberry jam and raspberry coulis with demerara sugar, dark chocolate, Black Forest gateaux and of course, candle and bees waxes. The development takes things profounder with dusty root ginger, leather armchairs, mentholated oak and some umami meatiness before a pang of sweetness from redcurrant jelly and chopped walnuts. Reduction retains the textural mouthfeel, but introduces a lovely softness to the affair – silky, palate-gliding, near-oily. It brings with it spent tobacco, coffee grounds and some dry sherry rancio.
Finish: Long with cherries, tree blossom, and dusty wood panelling before spices (ginger, cinnamon and pepper) fade around the back of the mouth.
Not quite as definitively Clynelish in overall style as other 95’ Signatories I’ve sampled – here there more refill sherry butt action. Nevertheless, this is still wonderfully compelling. The rich, reduced fruits and sugars sit exceptionally well with Clynelish’s versatile and textural spirit, whilst a high quality butt has offered both a top layer of sherry, as well as some well-aged sophistication. Two final thoughts – the price of these 95s has been steadily creeping up – irrespective this won’t sit on the shelves long at all. Move fast.
There’s been a handful of heavily sherried high octane Signatory Glenlivet’s over the last few years. This 2007 12 year old is the next of them. Drawn from a 1st fill sherry hogshead (#900216) after 12 years of maturation and bottled at 54.1% ABV. Available from The Whisky Exchange for £89.95.
Nose: Sherry ahoy! Strawberry bootlaces, raspberry jus and redcurrant sponge cake are joined by Dulce de Leche, caramel ice-cream and bubbly honeycomb. In the background, dry oloroso – as if the cask wasn’t completely emptied – along with dusty cinnamon and nutmeg spicing a steadily developing aroma of chopped hazelnuts. The addition of water adds toasted bread, malt loaf, chilli chocolate, and creamy liquid fudge. Whilst less obviously ‘potent’ it feels somewhat more well-rounded.
Taste: Everything as expected - a riotous arrival of intense richness. Heavily reduced berries – down to jams and preserves - alongside toffee apples, leafy resinousness, hazel and walnuts. Spiciness is heady with a building wall of pepper, cinnamon and ginger, whilst light tar and balsamic sit with underlying honeysuckle floralness. Reduction adds golden syrup and soft nougat as well as burnt maple and allspice. The attack is restrained – it’s powerful, but not quite all sherry-hostility now.
Finish: Long, with nutty sherry (cashew and hazel), fading demerara sugars and pepperiness. There’s a fair whack of oakiness at the end – very drying, rather tannic.
This 1st fill sherry Glenlivet can’t decide whether it wants to brutalise you or give you a hug. It ends up doing both. The sherry and cask influences are both intense, resulting in a rich and punchy whisky with an abundance of pronounced, concentrated aromas and flavours. But, the sweetness and opulent fruit combinations just about manage to keep things on the side of firm cuddle. If you’re a sherry head - just go at this straight, however, to my palate, this works even better once tamed with a few drops of water.
Always a go-to head at Dramble HQ, this relatively young Ledaig was matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel for 8 years before being bottled at 60% ABV. Available from The Whisky Exchange for £59.95.
Nose: Minerality from slate and wet gravel meets salinity from brine, oysters and fish stock, whilst bung cloth and hessian sit with waxed jackets. Sweetness is derived from meringue and marshmallow whilst the Ledaig smoke presents itself as smouldering polythene, smoked porridge and burning seaport. Dilution reveals sweet barley water, seaweed and vegetal green peppers, whilst pronouncing more mainstream Ledaig-y plastic, rubber and ozone.
Taste: Surprisingly drinkable at 60%. Golden cereals, smoked fish and bell peppers are joined by a host of unusual flavours which you’d never believe could align – antiseptic cream, dentist’s mouthwash, tile putty, kelp, hewn limestone and lemon lockets. And yet, there’s great coherence here. Miraculous. The addition of water ups the minerality with single whilst the smoked flavours head more towards TCP with iodine, mentholated oak, leather armchairs and plastic rainmacs.
Finish: Medium in length with root beer and rubber tyres joined by lemon peels and white pepper. The medicinalness is reinforced with a slightly numbing antiseptic like feel. Unusual.
A visit to a beachside dentist. This Ledaig is perverse even by Ledaig standards, with some truly thought-provoking standout aromas and flavours, and a strange disinfectant coldness. The overall experience is full-flavoured and intense, belying the relatively youth of the liquid. Right up my alley.
The name ‘Staoisha’ is derived from Loch Staoisha – some 2.7 miles SW of Bunnahabhain. The Loch has long provided with the distillery with cooling water - and in the past has been utilised as an alternative production water source. Quite when and where the Gaelic name was introduced as a moniker for Bunnahabhain’s external filling contracts seems unknown to all but those at the heart of those contracts. Irrespective, the term is now being used more frequently for independently bottled, young, peated Bunnahabhain spirit.
This Staoisha was distilled back in 2014 and matured for 4 years in a hogshead (#10580) that has been decharred and then recharred to rejuvenate it. Bottled at 60.3% ABV and available for £53.95 from The Whisky Exchange.
Nose: Citric and coastal. Lemon drizzle cake and lemon soaked pancakes are joined by chiselled minerality from slate, granite and rock pools. White chocolate and batter mix are joined by light coal dusty, hay and gentle wood smoke. Reduction adds machine oil and iron filings alongside maltiness, preserved lemons and petrichor.
Taste: The arrival is rich and syrupy and delivers bright, but tart fruits – lemon, grapefruit and gooseberry. There’s plenty of natural sweetness with apple and pear juices alongside lime from a sugar-rimmed margarita. The mid-palate offers some Bunnahabhain Victorian workhouse charm with axle lubricant, engine grease and coal oil alongside kelp, surface cleaner and dusty nutmeg. Dilution expresses fruitiness with tinned apples, lemons and apricots – all rather juicy – alongside cask char and fireplace ashiness.
Finish: Short to medium and quite drying. Fading medicinal smoke with lemon peels and a touch of acrid burnt oak.
Tasted blind you’d peg this Bunnahabhain at least twice as old as it is. The complexity and depth for just 4/5 years of maturation is remarkable. Peat can hide a multitude of undercooked sins, but here, there’s no raw feintiness or copper contact to conceal – everything is super characterful, sharp and precise. It’s only in the finish where balance is lost and young oak takes central stage. Good stuff.