That Boutique-y Whisky Company are one of my go-to’s when it comes to independent bottlers. Behind the light-hearted cartoony labels, there’s a passion for challenging whisky norms. They’re not afraid to bottle something left-field. They’re committed to age-statements, no matter how small. And, perhaps most importantly, they recognise that tastes are as diverse as the liquid they bottle. I don’t enjoy, nor write about whisky because it all tastes the same – I’m here to be adventurous. So are Boutique-y.
Boutique-y’s opening foray into South African whisky is only the second independently bottled expression from James Sedgwick distillery. It is however the first to be conducted by a bottler outside of the country. Whilst South African whisky is only just breaking onto the international stage, the distillery itself was founded back in 1886. It’s not a youngster at all. Like so many other international distilleries, it has taken the current whisky boom to really open the eyes of global consumers to whiskies outside of their comfort zones. Independent bottles like Boutique-y are doing a fine job in continuing to expand these horizons.
In recent years several of the Sedgwick’s brands (notably Three Ships and Bains grain whisky) have started to gain overseas attention, and industry awards. That is due in part to their Master Distiller Andy Watts – both highly affable, and working tirelessly – I can’t remember the last time I visited a whisky show and didn’t see Andy, talking passionately about both Sedgwick, and the growing South African spirits scene. It’s this type of dedication that’s required to break down preconceptions and introduce new expressions into an already crowded market. As such, a Boutique-y bottling of Three Ships feels very natural – and builds on the companies pre-existing range of international whiskies.
Batch 1 of Boutique-y’s Three Ships 6 year old was released a few weeks ago. The cask composition is not specified on the bottle, but Andy informed me is 3 years in 3rd/4th fill ex-bourbon followed by another 3 years in seasoned PX. The release consists of 1150 bottles which are delivered at 53.7% ABV. They come with a price tag of £77.95 for a 50cl bottle. Far from cheap. Whilst I am certainly a fan of the quality and innovation that exists across all of the Boutique-y sub brands (incl. gin and now rum), I’m feeling that bottlings are starting to encroach on the upper end of the indy market in terms of their cost. In essence, that’s no different from many bottlers – these be the times – however, there’s still a part of me which feels that this pricing sits uneasily with the outward ethos of the company which is warm and heartily welcoming. Conviviality and passion start to lose their sheen when bottlings become priced out of reach of the average consumer. Then again, Boutique-y are increasingly looking to challenge perceptions and otherworldly whisky rarely comes cheap. As you’ll see with this Three Ships whisky, this is far from entry level liquid.
Nose: Lumberyard vs. spice market. Instantly heady and highly aromatic, packed full of pungent spices and reduced sugars. Clove, anise and potent nutmeg are joined by earthy vegetal notes – nettles and mulched leaves. Sweetness is derived from soft brown sugar, brioche, burnt toast and sponge cake. The wood influence is high perceptible – sappy (though not necessarily youthful), resinous and with plenty of musky cedar and sandalwood. Reduction takes the edge off both the oak and the spicing and emphasises digestive biscuits, maltiness and pancake batter.
Taste: The arrival has a touch of syrupiness, not quite completely mouth-coating, but there’s certainly cling. First up – intense wood spice – a sprinkle of both salt and pepper, and a near wall of clove and nutmeg. This forcefulness fades into the development which delivers chocolate sponge, coffee and walnut cake, yeasty bread and unrefined sugars (brown rice and maple syrups). In the back palate, the woody and earthy notes detected on the nose return – dusty ebony, cedar planks, bracken and damp moss. Whilst the ABV of this whisky is not brutal, the addition of water nevertheless makes it much more approachable. There’s improved balance and expression of the underlying Sedgwick spirit once the pungency and piquancy of the wood and spice have been taken down a notch.
Finish: Long, drying with wood tannins and offering clove, nutmeg and damp earthiness.
This maiden Boutique-y Three Ships is quite the voyage. There’s plenty of complexity and big brassy aromas and flavours here – don’t let the young age statement fool you - this is far from an introductory whisky. However, in the effort to pack as much punch into six years of maturation, the result feels very cask-driven. Whilst this approach offers a whisky that is highly distinctive, the abundance (and potency) of wood spice are unlikely to be for everyone. I found water to be a necessity, not to reduce any type of alcohol prickle, but just to attempt to loosen the ironclad grip that the cask has over the spirit. Boutique-y whisky has developed a reputation for not playing it safe – this Three Ships typifies that attitude. Homogeneity be damned – I’m here to have my senses challenged.
Review sample provided by That Boutique-y Whisky Company