A weighty matter

Posted 24 November 2021 by Matt / In Group Tastings
A weighty matter

Whisky’s eminence at COP26 was something of a mixed bag. Whilst the SWA’s COP26 limited edition blend sought to highlight a host of sustainable packaging materials and low food miles in terms of bottle filling – it was unfortunately the supporters of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa who purloined some of the most eye-opening booze-related COP26 media coverage. Employing a “war chest” piled high with Costco Scotch to celebrate the arrival of Mnangagwa in Glasgow, the whisky-fuelled “welcome party” certainly brought a festive atmosphere – but in doing so masked the crucial importance of achieving significant progress toward curbing climate change. And Mnangagwa himself seemed far from concerned by the magnitude of discussions ahead -  “We’ll cover that….for now Zimbabweans are welcoming their President to Glasgow” he posted. Drink now, work later.

Whisky did not top any list of global concerns at COP26. Its carbon footprint is extremely modest when compared to fossil fuel use or deforestation. And similarly, as an industry, spirit producers have made great strides in realising and showcasing a wide range of environmental sustainability achievements. Nevertheless, the whisky in our glasses contributes to climate change. Through the contamination of ground and surface water, CO2 released during fermentation and in the packaging and transport of bottles around the world – the environmental impact of whisky production is inarguable.

Earlier in November a group of wine writers, Masters of Wine and viticulturalists signed a joint letter calling on the trade to tackle the carbon emissions that result from glass bottle usage. Among the measures was the request for producers to declare the glass weight on all tech sheets and for commentators to include this within their reviews, so that bottle weight could “….become a standard part of the conversation and enable consumers to make an informed choice”. This clarion call struck a chord with me – in an age where fancy, often OTT product ‘wrapping’ is still regularly utilised to heighten the conspicuousness and perceived desirability of spirits – why should whisky stand any differently from wine with regards to the environmental impact of its packaging?

In my view it shouldn’t. And therefore, going forward The Dramble will be observing the appeal to commentators and including glass weight within the information section of all our reviews.

This doesn’t mean that I’m calling on collectors to strip out their bottles and consciously dispose of their packaging in an environmentally friendly manner. Only that as consumers as much as we like to be cognisant of the integrity of a whisky in terms of its production (filtration and use of colourant etc) – that as the same time, if we truly care about the industry, its people and its future – that we should also be mindful of the wider impacts of our purchasing decisions.

Whilst a number of producers have recognised both the effects and the gross wastage that results from unnecessary cardboard boxes, tubes, wooded coffins (and where money is seemingly no issue tantaluses) - some by removing their utilisation altogether, others by offering it as an optional addition – I’m not aware of any great strides to reduce the volume of glass usage. There’s a common misconception that glass as a recyclable material is a good choice for the environment. However, the truth of the matter is that the input of energy via the combustion of fuels and the decomposition of raw materials during the melting process invariably leads to the production of CO2. And that this process results in a greater overall environmental burden than single-use beverage containers (ocean pollution aside) due to both the weight of the glass container and the associated amount of energy that is required to manufacture it.

For all of the action around distillery sustainability and less carbon-intensive approaches to whisky production, we as consumers are not changing our habits anywhere near as fast as the industry itself. Whilst the clued-up whisky drinker has shifted their attention to what’s in the bottle, they’ve been much slower to consider how their bottles have been produced and delivered to them. “I ordered my whisky 24 hours ago and it still has not arrived” <sigh>. Whilst it is the job of the industry and its producers to properly communicate the imperatives for sustainability, it is equally the responsibility of drinkers to show a far greater mindfulness of their individual impacts. Ingratiating posts praising new high-sustainability distilling operations ring rather hollow when swiftly followed up by peacocking images of a metric-fuckton of ridiculously redundant, unnecessary packaging. You can’t have it both ways.

Much of the media attention on whisky sustainability has focussed on how projected temperature rises and changes in rainfall patterns and ambient climate could drastically impact the yield and quality of barley. The nub of it being that by 2080, there might not be enough barley to fulfil Scotland’s 800,000 tonne annual requirement. And that even if there was sufficient supply, that climactic change would result in an altering of the flavour profile of whisky due to production processes operating differently – I.E. warmer air and water leading to inefficiencies in cooling equipment and creating challenging production environments in terms of conserving consistent spirit character.

All valuable points. And we’ve already witnessed several distilleries forced to halt their production due to low water supplies both in 2018 and also earlier this year. But to my mind, this is all rather missing the far more significant wider implication – that without concerted, collaborative change, the world in which the makers of whisky operate will not exist in the same form by 2080. Never mind difficult distilling – what about flooding and landslides destroying homes and communities – greater prevalence of heat-related illnesses – disruptions to food systems. I’ve often mused that whisky is not about the liquid, it’s about the people. And the impact of climate change will be felt directly by the people who are responsible for its creation far sooner than those of us who are happy to sit back, wait and then eagerly consume it years later.

No matter your role within the industry – as a producer, distributor or just as a consumer – whichever way you look at it, whisky sustainability is a weighty matter. Work now, drink later.

 ………….

To introduce The Dramble’s glass weight additions to reviewing, today we have a miscellany of single cask releases from The Whisky Exchange - all clocking in with a glass weight of 489 grams. Some desirous expressions sold out on impact, others are still available and well worth your consideration.

 


The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Clynelish 2011 10 year old

Bottle Name: Clynelish 2011

ABV: 59.1%
Distillery: Clynelish
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Highlands Age: 10
Glass Weight: 489g

Kicking off this nine-some of Whisky Exchange single casks with a 2011 Clynelish that has been fully matured in a single ex-bourbon barrel for a decade.

Nose: Travel sweets and pear drops sit alongside golden barley, crème brulee and Mr Sheen furniture polish. The background presents florally with nectarines and peaches joined by delicate blossoms and sweetened with iced buns. Reduction reveals milkshake powder and quince but results in a far narrower profile overall.

Taste: Bright, fruit-forward, oily in character and all rather potent. Pear slices, sunflower oil and a selection of greases join vanilla-imbued milk and creamed rice. Toffee cups and tinned fruit salad follow – all vibrant and expressive. Water brings out a highly juicy quality, emphasising light tropical notes of pineapple alongside tangerine.

Finish: Medium in length and interplaying fruits with a sprinkle of cask-led pepper.

TWE’s latest Clynelish offers a highly enjoyably ride through fruit-focussed distillate. There’s not been quite enough time for this one to develop the deep waxy character the distillery is famous for – but the animated fruitiness more than makes up for its absence here. It’s just a shame that the nose doesn’t want to be reduced down whereas the palate really does benefit from a drop or two of water. Nevertheless, good stuff and easy to see why this has already sold out.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 85/100

The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Linkwood 2009 12 year old

Bottle Name: Linkwood 2009

ABV: 58.6%
Distillery: Linkwood
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Speyside Age: 12
Glass Weight: 489g

Over Linkwood for a 2008 expression that has been matured in a single ex-bourbon barrel for 12 years. Bottled at 58.6% ABV this one is still available from The Whisky Exchange for £59.95.

Nose: Trio biscuit (I want one now) - soft toffee coated in milk chocolate sitting atop a crumbly biscuit. Café latte and mocha join in on the action together with orange sponge, dulce de leche and a light grating of nutmeg. Dilution expresses fleshy stone fruits together with nectarine and apple compote.

Taste: Opening on pepper-spiced toffee and soft caramel, the development heads towards mentholated oak, before levelling off with a selection of baked treats – sponge fingers, pink wafer biscuits, stollen cake and genoise sponge. Reduction delivers orange barley water and over-baked pastries (browned at the edges) alongside consistently palpable toffee influence.

Finish: Medium with crunchy toffee, perky pepper and stem ginger.

Agreeable Linkwood with creamy toffee running throughout from start to finish. Crisp and clean fruitiness bolsters the already likeable profile and dilution is worth exploring too. All in all, a neat little bundle.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Glen Elgin 2008 13 year old

Bottle Name: Glen Elgin 2008

ABV: 52.2%
Distillery: Glen Elgin
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Speyside Age: 13
Glass Weight: 489g

I'm always happy to see a Glen Elgin. This single ex-bourbon hogshead from The Whisky Exchange was distilled in 2008, left to mature for 13 years and then was bottled at 52.2%. You’ll find it over at the TWE website for £64.95.

Nose: Golden syrup is drizzled over orchard fruits (tart apples together with sweeter sliced pears). Banana bread and nut loaf are joined by chocolate covered digestives, whilst fudge character builds in the glass. The addition of water presents a more cereal/bakery-focussed profile with oatcakes, brioche and cookies that have been left in the oven just that little bit too long.

Taste: A melange of orchard and stone fruits (apple, pear and apricot) are greeted by palpable cask char, before milky filter coffee, toffee and a bowl of cereal are provided. Nutmeg and white pepper offer additional cask qualities alongside toasted oak. Reduction lessens the initial spicy/cask-led kick of the arrival – and it also expresses tangerine and apricot cobbler. Noice.

Finish: Medium with barley sugars, lingering orchard fruit juices and sustained char.

Longer-term readers will know that I have a real soft spot for Glen Elgin – despite its unassuming visage, it’s a high quality, characterful distillate. This Whisky Exchange single cask is no exception to that – offering an expectedly dependable, and always appealing selection of fruits and sweet treats. There’s more cask than I’d personally like here – and that manifests itself with spice and char throughout the palate. As such, I preferred this Glen Elgin just taken down a notch with a touch of dilution. Your mileage may vary though if you’re looking for something more spice-driven.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Secret Speyside Single Malt 2008

Bottle Name: Secret Speyside Single Malt 2008

ABV: 55.2%
Distillery: Undisclosed Speyside
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Speyside Age: 12
Glass Weight: 489g

Unnamed Speyside drawn from a single sherry hogshead and bottled at 12 years of age and 55.2% ABV. Quickly sold out online – which I suspect is related to the colour and the fact that a large number of drinkers find a darker hue as irresistible as a moths find flames. Fortunately, they’re far less likely to get burned with this whisky – it’s really rather good.

Nose: Tobacco leaf sits alongside plump raisins, golden sultanas and glace cherries. Soak these in spirit, add flour, eggs, sugar and spices and you’re right on for an excellent fruit cake. Here’s the cake is joined by leather satchels, ripe plums and a very controlled selection of brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Dilution softens things up quickly, expressing bourbon biscuits, fig rolls and burnt pastry cases.

Taste: Big, dusty old-school sherry. And as such, highly appealing. Maraschino cherry, damson jam and chocolate orange, together with polished mahogany and tobacco tin. Star anise, clove and cinnamon add a perky spice whilst cake mix and brandy butter add yet more delectable treats. Water offers spent coffee beans and chocolate sponge together with a handful of slapped mint leaves.

Finish: Quite long and favouring dark sugars and spiced orange slices.

Everyone loves a mystery. Except whisky drinkers – they want to know exactly what they’re getting in to. Alas, I can’t offer to throw any light on which Speyside distillery this TWE single cask hails from. But I can certify that it’s very good indeed. Big robust sherry and with a profile which belies its 12 year old status. Sadly sold out online – but I’d certainly suggest keeping your eyes open for any stray bottles of this.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 87/100

The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Ben Nevis 1996 25 year old

Bottle Name: Ben Nevis 1996

ABV: 51.1%
Distillery: Ben Nevis
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Highlands Age: 25
Glass Weight: 489g

This lasted minutes – as much Nevis does nowadays. It spent its 25 years of life in a single ex-bourbon hogshead before being bottled earlier this year at 51.1% ABV.

Nose: Bright, sweet and tart fruits combine. Mango, dragon fruit, peach, apricot and pineapple chunks – together with plenty of tinned fruit juices. Brioche and white stick bread sit with golden syrup spread over French toast and light touches of pepper and angelica. Water offers more white fruits with lychee, gooseberry and honeydew melon coming to the fore. Overall, it’s a similar, but lighter in profile.

Taste: More fruit-forward action. This time, a little darker and more reductive. Pineapple and mango cobbler and puree together with apple crumble and a development which adds freshly baked oven buns together with buttery pastries - all livened with pepper, ginger and perfectly judged toasted oak. Reduction reveals honey and almonds. It retains the fruit-forward character, whilst delivering less spice at the tail end.

Finish: Medium to long with fading tropical notes and residual pepperiness and char.

An entirely lovely Ben Nevis which is the very definition of fruit-driven distillate. Hard to fault in that regard – though personally I usually enjoy a touch of dirty funk and oiliness from this Highlander. There’s none of that here – it’s clean, precise and defined throughout. And as such, I’m unable to score this any lower than excellent.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 88/100

The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Imperial 1995 25 year old

Bottle Name: Imperial 1995

ABV: 50.1%
Distillery: Imperial
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Speyside Age: 25
Glass Weight: 489g

Another of the quick selling bottles from the latest batch of Whisky Exchange single casks. Imperial’s light has taken a while to truly shine – despite at one point possessing “closed distillery bargain” status for those in the know. None of that nowadays mind – Imperial is sought after and fought over and this 1995 25 year old comes from a wider batch of similar casks – all of which have been excellent thus far. Matured in a single ex-bourbon barrel and bottled at 50.1% - this had an RRP of £225 – eyes peeled.

Nose: Caramel wafers and soft toffee covered apples sit with mango juice and spit-roast pineapple. Barley water is joined by cooling mint, whilst in the background dusty aged notes of cellars and attics reinforce the age statement. Alongside – old orange liqueurs, reeds and flax. The addition of water presents green apples and lemon yogurt together with pink wafer biscuits.

Taste: Boom. Explosively fruity. A riot of orange segments, mandarin peels, peach halves, mango slices and pineapple chunks – all defined and gloriously sweet and juicy. Ex-bourbon led toffee and desiccated coconut follow with polished oak and roasted cashews. Lots going on here – preserved lemons, golden syrup and spent coffee beans all add additional broadness. Reduction offers sunflower oil and white fruits – grapes and melon segments – whilst retaining the overall brightness and expansive profile.

Finish: Long on fading fruits, walnuts, cashews and spiced lemon zest.

A fruitfest of an Imperial that possesses a delectable nose, but truly comes alive on the palate which offers a carnival of defined, vibrant fruitiness that’s only really possible from longer maturation periods. The pick of the bunch from this selection of 9 new single casks – though frankly most mid-1990s Imperials are likely going to be well worth spending some time with.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 89/100

The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Caol Ila 2014 7 year old

Bottle Name: Caol Ila 2014

ABV: 59.1%
Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Islay Age: 7
Glass Weight: 489g

The first of two Caol Ila releases in the latest batch of TWE single casks. This one – the younger of the two has spent its mere 7 years inside a single ex-bourbon hogshead before being bottled at 59.1% ABV. Still available directly from The Whisky Exchange for £62.95.

Nose: Mineral with seawater washed limestone. Citric with freshly squeezed lemons and asides of lime. Medicinal with bandages and antiseptic. A fairly typical profile for young Caol Ila. But there’s a little more under the hood here with pine needles, log fires and a roast dinner like quality – complete with all the trimmings. Dilution offers ozone and burnt key lime pie together with an alluvial quality of putties and clays.

Taste: Particularly chiselled with rockiness and minerality from the get-go. Beach sand, shingle and hewn granite. Lemon gel and lime pickle heat follow, before floor cleaner, tinctures and balms reinforce the medicinal profile once more. In the background, shaved chocolate and residual notes of the meaty quality detectable on the nose. The addition of water presents a far lighter profile with apple and lemon gel bringing sweeter asides which temper out the rocky heart of this whisky.

Finish: Long on lingering medicinal peat, citrus and minerality.

A very Caol Ila Caol Ila which not only ticks the triptych of expected aromas and flavours – but it also delivers them by the shovel load. Straight-forward stuff and no real complaints here – it takes quite a lot of heavy-handedness to mess up this distillate.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 84/100

The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Caol Ila 2007 13 year old

Bottle Name: Caol Ila 2007

ABV: 55.6%
Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Islay Age: 13
Glass Weight: 489g

The second Caol Ila from the final 2021 release of TWE single casks has been matured in “a single cask”?! – which I’m guessing can only be ex-bourbon but is entirely unspecified on The Whisky Exchange website. Nevertheless, 13 years of maturation, 55.6% of ABV and £84.95 of cost.

Nose: Lemon sponge cake and squid ink sit with sea breeze, lime sherbet and maritime-focussed peat smoke. Earthy – smouldering soils, wet leaf fires and a selection of clay and putties sit together with prominent candied lemon peels. Water reveals apple turnovers and white chocolate – and ups the lemony influence even further.

Taste: Compact, dense and impactful. Preserved lemon, lime cordial and chocolate sauce sit with intense medicinal peat smoke – surface cleaner, antiseptic, and hints of Lemon Pledge. In the background granite and limestone provide expected rockiness alongside more earthy qualities of damp soils. Reduction presents lemon posset and lemon gel – a less medicinal, more fruity-focussed profile now.

Finish: Long and very Caol Ila – rocks, lemon and medicinal smoke.

Teenage Caol Ila is always on my radar. Whilst I’ve got time for the spirit at all ages – when just coming into ‘whisky puberty – Caol Ila retains much of its potency, whilst it starts to develop some deeper and broader notes that sit alongside its stereotypical profile. This TWE edition does exactly that – and therefore it’s graded as very good and worth you time.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 85/100

The Dramble reviews The Whisky Exchange Croftengea 2006 15 year old

Bottle Name: Croftengea 2006

ABV: 52.6%
Distillery: Loch Lomond
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Region: Highlands Age: 15
Glass Weight: 489g

Our final stop on our tour of TWE single casks takes us to Loch Lomond for their heavily peated ‘Croftengea’ distillate. This one was matured for 15 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being bottled earlier this year at 52.6% ABV. It’ll set you back £74.95 from The Whisky Exchange.

Nose: Ferns and bracken provide a forest-y profile whilst toffee, felt roofing, mint leaves and marker pens add additional breadth. Smoked apple slices and autumn bonfire notes join damp leaves and green wood, whilst liquorice and apple pie add a sweeter quality. Dilution takes us somewhat barnwards with damp hay and cow hides – not quite meaty – more animalistic.

Taste: Notably balanced. Smoked apple pie is sprinkled with powdered cinnamon, whilst chocolate torte sits alongside preserved lemons – offering both tartness and sourness. Smoke is again vegetal – leaves, wet fallen trees and forest fires together with an addition of lime peels. Water softens this one up quickly bringing cinnamon and chilli spice to the fore.

Finish: Very long – consistently vegetal with wet smoke tempered by citrus notes.

A potent, characterful Lomond whisky that’s a little hydrophobic, but that in neat form offers more than enough ompth and possesses a surprising poise on the palate. Those who enjoy their inland peaters (ala Ardmore) will find much to enjoy here likewise. Does the job for me.

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

Score: 86/100

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