Waxhouse Whisky’s maiden voyage into both Linkwood and the oft-times weird and wacky world of wine cask maturation comes in the form of Release 003 - a 10 year old that has spent its life within a 1st fill red wine barrique. The single cask bottling was distilled in May of 2010 and released last month with an outturn of 310 bottles delivered at 50.1%. Linkwood and full-term wine? Perhaps surprisingly, this is not nearly as unusual a combination as you might initially think.
At first glance, the idea of a full-term wine Linkwood might feel like something of an aberration or merely an oddity. Particularly when you consider the ex-bourbon led Flora and Fauna 12 year old – which has remained the sole distillery-only staple produced for many a year. However, Linkwood has been filling a variety of different cask types since at least the early 80’s – helping expand the versatility of a distillate that has been, and still is, sought after by blenders for both its natural texture and bright, fruit-forward profile.
A cursory glance on the Internet for Linkwood matured in ex-wine casks will likely return many results pointing to the Diageo Special releases of 2008. In something of a divergence, that year three 50cl Linkwoods were bottled – each utilising a different finishing cask – port, rum and red wine. The trilogy propelled the as then, largely unheard-of spirit into the spotlight – and at the same time demonstrated its versatility to successfully integrate with a wide variety of cask types (G&M have long bottled sherry cask Linkwood as an almost defacto OB).
However, the Special Release wine cask Linkwood is but a finish (albeit it's a 14 year long finish). You’ll need to dig a little deeper to find the cask type utilised for full-term maturation. But search and you will find. Cadenheads, Signatory, van Wees and Whisky & Genuss Dresden have all released full-term wine cask Linkwoods over the past couple of years – look back a little further and there are doubtless an even wider number of them.
The distillery’s venture into wine cask maturation can be seen as part of its 20th Century history. For 13 years, Linkwood was in fact two distilleries. Originally constructed in 1821, and completely rebuilt in 1874, it was joined by a second distillery (Linkwood ‘B’) in 1972 when DCL (the forerunner of Diageo) upped the capacity of the whole site by running both distilleries alongside each other until 1985. Over this period, the newer Linkwood was used to maintain the bulk of the overall production – whilst the older site was utilised in a more experimental vein.
But whilst some of this investigational distilling found the light of day – including cask trialling - much of the research undertaken was not necessarily released as funky, or unusual bottlings – rather, Linkwood B was operated to explore a range of distillation-based themes - from reflux (spirit stills that are larger than wash stills) through to the use of wormtubs. The original site was demolished in 2012 – whilst Linkwood B continues to expand, now producing in excess of 5.5m LPA.
Waxhouse’s Release 003 joins the growing ranks of wine cask matured Linkwood, and in doing so, to my mind achieves two things. Firstly, it continues to establish the distillate as both adaptable as well as relatively affordable when compared to many other spirit styles. Secondly, the release says something about Waxhouse Whisky as a bottler – releases 001 and 002 both proved popular, whilst largely following a formula which was unlikely to alienate – peat and sherry.
Release 003 says something different – it indicates that Waxhouse are prepared to dig a little deeper into inventories to present something to the market which by its very nature feels more thought provoking. It would have been all too easy for them to simply have followed the tried and tested formula and to have thrown down another sherry bomb or peated expression (I hear Caol Ila makes a reasonable volume of spirit). I admire that they’ve eschewed this approach – and in doing so are presenting something altogether different for their third release.
The Waxhouse bottling can be purchased directly from their webshop for £60. Time to take a look.
Nose: Immediately expressive with crunchy green apples encased in sugar toffee. Additional fruitiness develops with overripe melon and nectarines alongside a scattering of hedgerow berries – part fresh, part jammy. Sweet nuttiness supports with a wedding cake topping of rolled marzipan covered with royal icing. Dilution expresses strawberry prawn foams, cherry yoghurt and light asides of cinnamon and orange peel.
Taste: A bigger presence, but no less fruit-driven. The arrival is grippy with plenty of viscosity and mouth-cling, whilst orange juice and balled melon are upfront and quite concentrated. These give way to building pepperiness, cask-driven vanilla and chopped almonds. The back-palate offers a combination of orchard, stone and berry fruits – all very summer fruit salad and held together by simple syrup and refined sugars. Reduction retains the weight of the spirit whilst offering gentle grassiness and shaved oak.
Finish: Quite long and more cask-focussed now. Sustained berry sweetness fading alongside residue pepper and pliable, but persistent oak tannins.
Gone are the times when a full-term 1st fill wine cask maturation was little more than wild, unfettered experimentation - or indeed the stuff of nightmares. Waxhouse’s first foray into wine territory is quite the success. And this is all down to a largely compassionate cask, that exhibits lower levels of activity than one would expect from a primary filling. And thankfully so. In keeping things restrained the berry fruit sweetness has been allowed to build on top of the Linkwood’s natural apple and stone fruit freshness, integrating and supporting throughout. Just an ounce of tannin stickiness away from an even higher score. Third time’s a charm.
Review sample provided by Waxhouse Whisky