The press release describes the refill ex-bourbon barrel used to mature this 23 year old Imperial as ‘inactive’ - which is likely doing it something of a disservice, at least in terms of those with fixed perceptions. There’s a lot of contention around both the ideal level of activity a cask should possess and the number of refills it's used for – one person’s knackered old cask is another’s sympathetic mellowing vessel. To my mind the dividing line is often not as cut and dry as is sometimes suggested, and can greatly depend on the personal taste of the imbiber. Regardless, all other things being equal, a long maturation in a less active refill cask should allow the inherent character of the spirit itself more room to shine – and if the overall balance is right, then you should be onto a real winner.
This Imperial, bottled for the London Whisky Show was disgorged from barrel #7896 and then bottled at 45.2%. A mere 125 bottles have been produced, at an RRP of £165.
Nose: Lacquered wood panelling and glorious lemony polish sit with an array of fruit and confectionary sweetness – mango and guava with cotton candy, iced gems, soft Italian meringue and marzipan. Running throughout, homemade lemonade and gingerbread men alongside buttered bread and an assortment of chopped kitchen garden flowers. Dilution adds orchard fruits into the mix – apples and pears – together with chalky cream cakes and buns and additional green leafiness.
Taste: The arrival is gentler than one might expect – an effervescent combination of confectioners’ sugar, meringue, and dried tropical fruit slices. These are served with fondant icing and marzipan (I.E. a wedding cake without the actual cake element – just the sweet stuff). The mid-palate introduces spicing – pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg, which build steadily and then transposes into bitterness alongside a backdrop of guava, mango, lemon peels and balms. The back-palate treads a similar path, but sadly takes it just a little too far - still all on fruits, but now under-ripe and increasingly soured. Ack - frustrating, we were riding the crest of a wave until this point. Reduction offers an interesting change of direction – steeped green leaf tea with brass polish, cream cakes and touch of anise and angelica.
Finish: Medium, with mint tea, green leaves and old library oak panelling – old, well-polished, but quite bitter.
Inches away from a classic. Whilst this Imperial offers consistent sweet fruity treats alongside the notes of a sympathetic two decades of maturation, the back palate and finish have just tipped over the edge of bitterness/sourness. Whilst there’s not too much ABV scope for dilution, experimentation is still encouraged and offers deeper insights into the underlying distillery spirit character. Nearly impeccable.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange.