The Kobayashi Maru

Posted 23 July 2021 by Matt / In Group Tastings
The Kobayashi Maru

Whilst the act of venting on social media might make you feel momentarily better – crying about missed bottles and calling out distilleries and allocations methods only stands to make obtaining future bottles either tougher, or more expensive, or more than likely - both. Internet chatter will have you believe that bots, career speculators and ninjas from the League of Assassins are solely responsible for the instantaneous acquisition of any and all releases deemed as ‘chasey’. But the truth of the matter is that there’s a raft of individuals sweeping up whisky bottles who don’t know a damn thing about what they’re buying – they’ve just observed you and others publicly grousing and utilise this as a smoke signal to get in on the action.

I’ve been spending time recently lurking on various whisky “investment” forums. An eye-opening world packed full of as much inexperience as it is of actual knowledge. And my anecdotal findings indicate that the more folks moan, the more often opportunists (both seasoned and ill-informed) will seek to buy up precisely what they’re moaning about. A post I spotted not all that long ago peacocked several cases of unopened bottles and was accompanied with the message: “Saw someone complaining that they couldn’t get these bottles, so bought as many as I could lay my hands on. What do you guys think they might be worth? Longer-term or flip?” Talk about an open goal.

Whilst there’s a strong argument to make (which I’ll save for another post) that speculation, investment and secondary market shenanigans are all inherently part of any mature market – I’d posit that in continually shouting about perceived missed bottle aggrievements, whether rightly or wrongly, all enthusiasts are doing is adding further fuel. And there’s no smoke without fire.

The outcomes of this conflagration ripple out far wider than just retailers and distillery websites being inundated on release days. They directly influence the downstream market – particularly in terms of cask brokers and those peddling their wares as cask brokers (I.E. the ones who don’t own anything, but “know a guy” and will happily add an additional 50% to your final bill). And this doesn’t just affect the perception of what casks are ‘worth’ or should be priced at, but it also influences what liquids bottlers are able to access and potentially what they’re able to afford. Monthly instalment plans with 0% APR aren’t really an available model – it’s a payment upfront business for bottlers.

None of this is to say that I believe that folks should just ‘put up and shut up’. Where there are gripes, these should be noted. But at the same time, we all should be more cognisant of how both our actions - in paying over RRPs - and importantly in our words – that feed the hype train – all play a part. And it really is all too easily done. Publicly noting that you’re “….not buying that bottle because it’s too over-hyped and impossible to obtain” is still a form of information nourishment for hungry vultures. As is continually chasing releases for Pokemon completeness – I wrote about being prepared to let things go (and how liberating that can be) earlier this month.

But this is far from a no-win scenario in terms of how whisky enthusiasts can help to shape the future of the market and the hobby that they love. Perhaps rather than eagerly responding to the distress signal we should seek to reprogramme the conditions of the test. There is an incredible depth of whisky choice out there – should you choose to seek it out. There are still distilleries and bottlers producing expressions which offer a multiplicity of styles and qualities at a wide range of price points. If we spent more time talking up the qualities of the accessible as opposed to lamenting the missed opportunities of the unobtainable, not only would we reduce the visibility of the smoke signals for opportunists - we’d also be putting whisky on a more appropriate pedestal.

A plinth of conviviality is far less likely to lead to feeling like you’re behind the purchasing curve than the continued foisting of whisky onto a dais of would-be capital gains. The expression is portable to all sorts of scenarios – “don’t feed the trolls” – and who knows, in terms of whisky conversations, there are times when focussing on the positive realities rather than the negative histories might even earn you a commendation for original thinking.

Speaking of the qualities of the accessible, that’s the perfect segue into the June 2021 releases from Watt Whisky – which are all still available to purchase and enjoy. Golly – that’s a pleasant sentence to be able to write. Watt Whisky makes no bones about producing bottles for people to actually drink. A short exploration of their social media channels reveals a contrary approach to whisky marketing which admirably utilises photos of opened bottles (and to date only features a single tree placement – I’ll forgive it this once). Even simple acts like showing occasion open bottles reinforces the notion that the contents of those bottles should actually be their main talking point. Unsurprisingly simple – but given the number of new bottlers who never feature a single shot of an exposed cork - I still find this admirably authentic.

The latest release from Watt Whisky consists of seven bottles – four single malts, one blended malt (only available physically in Campbeltown), one single grain and a rather funky Jamaican rum from Clarendon Estate (often known as Monymusk). We won’t be writing about that one on The Dramble – but suffice it to say that all lovers of filthy and funky, high ester rums will find much to enjoy there. 

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Paul John 2016 4 year old

Bottle Name: Paul John 2016

ABV: 57.1%
Distillery: John Distilleries
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Rest of the World Age: 4

First up from the June 2021 batch from Watt Whisky we’re over to Goa in India for a 4 year old Paul John that has been fully matured in the distillery’s underground warehouse. The site currently consists of three warehousing areas – the underground area stores up to 4,000 barrels and has a lower temperature and less humidity than the two ‘upper’ warehouses, which together store 12,000 barrels and see evaporation levels hitting 8-10% annually. Available for £84.95 from The Whisky Exchange.

Nose: Dried mango slices and mirabelles alongside dusty chocolate and caffe latte. Behind – a highly aromatic and expressive combination of leather satchels, tobacco leaf, cardamon and cloves – tempered by the sweetness of vanilla-piped choux buns and freshly baked pastries. Reduction introduces chilli and orange alongside plum preserve and chocolate fondant.

Taste: Amply body and impact here. Cinnamon heat and chilli prickle on the arrival lead into tinned fruit salad and newly lacquered oak flooring. Custard cream biscuits and chai tea join peppering and a combination of deep and tannic and young and sappy oakiness. Water feels ill-advised – whilst it reveals cloves and an effervescent character, the oak is now quite overwrought and drying – stick to 57.1%.

Finish: Long on fading tropical fruitiness, chilli spice and resinous oak

Another Paul John whisky that really overdelivers on its age statement. Dense, and deep throughout with ample spirit and ample (more than in places) cask influence and yet is still recognisably from the Goan distillery. There’s rather a lot to unpick here – and rather a lot of oaky heft throughout. At 57.1% it all works together – particularly if you like cask-forward, spice-heavy whisky – just don’t go thinking you can improve it through dilution as it is on the edge of the tightrope already.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 85/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Linkwood 2007 13 year old

Bottle Name: Linkwood 2007

ABV: 59.3%
Distillery: Linkwood
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Speyside Age: 13

Clear wort, long fermentation and slow distillation all help Linkwood whiskies exhibit a fresh character combined with a weighty mouthfeel – a combination which makes the spirit rather popular in blending circles. This Watt Whisky single malt example hails from 2007 where it was filled into an ex-bourbon hogshead and left quietly for 13 years. £67.95 from The Whisky Exchange.

Nose: Royal icing sits atop marzipan which sits atop a well-made cake. Festival stuff. There’s a creaminess throughout that’s typified by fudge and milk caramel – rather reminiscent of a Trio biscuits. In support – golden barley and toasted cereals alongside scattered lemon peels and a leafiness of fir cones. Dilution expresses honeycomb and Frosties together with French crepes and a glug of herbal liqueur.

Taste: Considerably bolder on the palate than the nose implied – quite the arrival in fact. Ooft. Buttered brioche and stem ginger sits alongside tangerine segments, whilst biscuit crumb and cashew nuts join peppered toffee and touches of mentholated oakiness in the back palate. The addition of water softens things up considerably – honey-imbued barley water and juicy demi-sour apricots making for quite the summery dram.

Finish: Medium to long in length with pepperiness and ginger together with a fading earthy barley quality.

The nose of the Watt Whisky Linkwood is highly inviting – and the undiluted palate offers considerable bulk and impact. But things really come alive when it is taken down a notch or two. Water reveals a fresh, crisp and yet still defined Speyside, that is unfettered by high strength and piquant cask spicing. Nevertheless, both variants work well – I just prefer this one that has had its edges smoothed off a touch.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 85/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Glen Elgin 2007 14 year old

Bottle Name: Glen Elgin 2007

ABV: 51.3%
Distillery: Glen Elgin
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Speyside Age: 14

A key contributor to myriad blended whiskies, the popularity of Glen Elgin is currently on the rise – something which no doubt the large tranche of indy releases over the past 3-4 years has assisted with. Watt Whisky’s Glen Elgin was distilled in 2007, matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead and bottled earlier this year. A bottle will set you back £64.95 from The Whisky Exchange (there’ll be one less there very shortly).

Nose: Immediately vibrant, animated and fruit-forward. Syrupy peaches and zesty orange joined fluffy meringue and powdered sugar. Crumbed biscuit is mixed with gentle pangs of cinnamon and nutmeg whist sweet mint adds an aside of welcome leafiness. Very appealing. Reduction offers up buns and pastries alongside bourbon biscuits and crumbly rock fudge.

Taste: The party continues. Tinned peaches and apricots join spongecake drizzled with sunflower oil, whilst dried mango slices develop into perfectly-judged spicing – cinnamon and tingle of pepper – alongside gloriously gloopy toffee. All perfectly lovely. Water reveals freshly slapped mint leaves together with a broader fruit salad including orchard fruits. The oak influence is more prominent, but still completely controlled throughout.

Finish: Medium with toasted oak, shaved coconut and lingering fruit sugars.

A pure, defined and outright delicious Glen Elgin – Watt Whisky have hit the jackpot with this super well-judged release that offers perfect poise throughout. Dilution is not required – but the weight of the Elgin spirit can still take it – and as such, experimentation is rewarded. Very easy to recommend – you can spend considerably more than this and not get anywhere near the quality.

Score: 88/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Port Dundas 2000 20 year old

Bottle Name: Port Dundas 2000

ABV: 57.1%
Distillery: Port Dundas
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Lowlands Age: 20

A one point in time Port Dundas was the largest producer of whisky in Scotland. But by 2011 Diageo’s production of grain whiskies has been consolidated over at Cameronbridge and the distillery was closed and quickly demolished. The site is currently being prepared for redevelopment into residential housing. This Watt Whisky Dundas was distilled in 2000 and matured in an ex-bourbon barrel before being bottled last year. Currently available via The Whisky Exchange for £84.95.

Nose: Cherry bakewell tarts and cinema toffee popcorn sit with desiccated coconut whilst condensed milk and oodles of ex-bourbon-led toffee are joined by shredded wheat and golden syrup. Reduction introduced further creamy notes with whipped Chantilly and mascarpone alongside milk toffee.

Taste: Deeper and broader than expected – more espresso than latte. Burnt toffee and cask char play against digestive biscuits whilst waxy lemons and light touches of nail polish remover sit with dark chocolate and pronounced oakiness – which is surprisingly un-tannic considering the level of influence. In the back-palate powered ginger and a tingle of both salt and pepper. Well-seasoned. Water again reveals a creaminess – but this time it brings considerable cask influence with it. Imagine a bowl of Bird’s Custard mixed using a 2x4.

Finish: Long with tingly spice, spent coffee and lumber mills.

There’s a really pleasant idiosyncrasy and a lovely ex-bourbon creaminess to this Port Dundas. But the wood influence is rather taut throughout – and I suspect that the ABV of 57.1% has been deliberately selected as the balancing point - as when rectified lower the oak really starts to run roughshod over the brighter grain notes. Take it as it comes.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 84/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Ardmore 2001 9 year old

Bottle Name: Ardmore 2011

ABV: 57.6%
Distillery: Ardmore
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Highlands Age: 9

Dramble favourite Ardmore gets the Watt Whisky treatment with this 2011 9 year old single malt matured in an ex-bourbon barrel. You can find this at The Whisky Exchange for £71.95.

Nose: Burning forests, pine needles and lemon floor cleaner are joined by an assortment of clays and putties. Potting shed roofing and Wellington boots sit with waxed jackets whilst herbalness from sage is tempered by both metholated oak and touches of Philadelphia cream cheese. Water adds sweetness at the expense of some of the more vegetal notes. It also reveals a lemon meringue pie (served under a smoked cloche).

Taste: The arrival is sharp and citric – combining pine, fir and antiseptic with crystalline lemon. Nougat offers creaminess whilst fireplace ash runs throughout and is set against spent coffee and moist earthiness. Reduction once again adds a sweeter character with the lemon pushed upfront and the peat smoke shoved to the back. An interesting transposition.

Finish: Quite long and all on ash, lemon and earthiness.

A fairly singular Ardmore that drinks well for its ABV, possesses plenty of spirit character and never outstays its welcome. Likable stuff for those who seek out the Highland peated style - I.E. me.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews Campbeltown Blended Malt - The Local Edition

Bottle Name: Campbeltown Blended Malt - The Local Edition

ABV: 57.4%
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Age: 7

A truly local release with just 66 bottles available from Halls in Campbeltown by the bottle and the Ardshiel Hotel by the bottle and the dram. Noted as a combination of whiskies from more than one Campbeltown distillery, the expression has been bottled from the remains of a hogshead of the Campbeltown blend – the rest of the juice is currently residing in the rather funky Clarendon rum cask that was also released as part of this batch of Watt Whiskies. Might as well use what you’ve got to hand!

Nose: Vegetable oils and pan fats sit with a fruit salad composed of apples, pears and white grapes. Then they’re all cooked in foil in an engine compartment (as you do). Cream cheese and hay add a slight funkiness to proceedings whilst gooseberry fool and vanilla cream patisserie provide welcome sweetness. Dilution offers a weirder journey with wire wool, decade old Nescafe and a puff of exhaust fumes. Funky and fun.

Taste: Thick and mouth-coating with a real combing together of fruitiness and industrialness. Orchard fruits are drizzled with lemon to prevent them turning brown, whilst smoked cream cheese and water-logged hay join lamp oil, wet earth and gingerbread men. Still funky. Water adds softness which straddles oiliness and creaminess, together with notes of green bananas and tutti-fruity chews.

Finish: Medium with freshly brewed coffee, barnyard and fading fruity sweetness.

Irrespective of whether this is heavier on the Springbank or the Glen Scotia elements – this is fun throughout. The blend is well-composed and doesn’t take itself too seriously – there’s more than enough no matter your preferences for Campbelton whisky. Oh and it drinks really nicely for the ABV and can take a splash of water too. Bonus. I really look forward to the results fo the remainder of the original hogshead.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 86/100



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