We all have our favourite bottlers. And we select our whisky darlings based upon our perceived views of the qualities of their ranges and an overall sense of the appeal of their offering. Price is of course important – and particularly the relationship between price and professed quality – but it’s not the only influence. Favoured distilleries always have an allure and bottlers who regularly obtain liquid from these well-supported sites will always attract an audience. Similarly, brand and design do matter – and whilst some might wish for poorer packaging as a sop to lowered prices, these are but a few lonesome voices screaming into a much wider void. But when looking at That Boutique-y Whisky Company, for me, it’s not the immediately recognisable labels that hold the highest appeal, nor the overall quality level – it’s the sheer variation of styles that can be found within the bottler’s selection.
Personal partialities come with the territory, but whilst many independent bottlers offer occasional forays into the wider world of whisky (some of which have high levels of broad appeal - ala anything from Chichibu), Boutique-y are actively pushing the envelop in terms of reflecting the diversity that exists within whisky. Whilst some bottlings come with slightly left-field cask compositions (read on dear visitor), the company is actively advocating for a wider exploration of the multiplicity of whisky. And at the same time ensuring the continued availability of an extensive range sourced from north of the border. There’s something for everyone. Deliberately so.
For some, this varied assortment won’t hold the same draw. I’ve seen folks who simply want to buy all the Invergordon, people who have a particular fondness for the bottlers range of (often mystery) blended malts – and everything in-between this. But as someone who’s actively working for a distillery that’s all too often lumped into the catchall of ‘world whisky’ I see Boutique-y’s willingness to bottle as widely as it does deeply as nothing but a good thing for the future of whisky. Afterall – until you’ve sampled something, all views and judgements can solely be based on presuppositions and potentially prejudices. In all forms of life, and also within whisky - diversity *is* creativity.
Boutique-y have released three separate bottlings from James E. Pepper to date – last year we took a look at a PX finished rye and this year it’s time for a dive into that bottling’s oloroso finished sibling. James E. Pepper is the new name for the Henry Clay distillery which closed in 1958 and left completely abandoned for more than 50 years. The site recommenced distillation back in 2017 so would presumably now have spirit approaching three years of age. However, this Boutique-y edition has been knocking around for a little while and therefore would have been sourced by the Pepper team (from MPG in Indiana) rather than having been produced by them.
Batch 1 is listed as a 3 year old rye that’s been finished (not that common a sight for the spirit style) for an unspecified amount of time in oloroso sherry casks. It is a release of 1,622 bottles at 50% ABV. Bottles are still available for sale at Master of Malt for £46.95 a pop.
Nose: Prominent sherry influence right from the off. Brown sugars, chopped walnuts and jammy red berries alongside a kick of cherry cola. Cocoa nibs and liquorice sit with dusty rye-profile spices – cinnamon, clove and caraway – whilst orange zest and split vanilla provide additional brightness. The addition of water offers up a real granary aspect with gingerbread men, spiced loaves and doughs.
Taste: Viscous and thickly textured with a more than ample weight of sherry. Raisins and fig rolls join toffee sauce and creamy milk chocolate whilst discernible rye influenced spices (cloves, cinnamon and caraway again) emerge from the sherry and conjoin with pepperiness from the cask. Running throughout – a slight edge of volcanicity – not sulphurous for me, but instead, metallic and with intimations of potassium nitrate. Reduction adds caramel, drinking chocolate powder and plenty of earthiness into the spice mix.
Finish: Medium to long in length, with spiced chocolate ganache and sustained sherry-berries.
You’d be unlikely to note the Boutique-y James E. Pepper Oloroso Cask Finish as a rye from the nose alone. However, the palate offers the full array of spicing which you’d expect from this style of whisky. There’s a very heavy hand of sherry along for the ride here - and to the purists this may not be what they’re looking for. But for sherry lovers not yet attuned to the spiciness of the rye style, this could represent something of a bridge. Your mileage may vary, but whilst I find the composition a little eccentric and not 100% united between the spirit and cask throughout – at the same time I’m finding it strangely moreish.
I wonder what Sorren over at OCD Whisky makes of this one?
Review calendar provided by Atom Brands.