I’ve spent the last few days musing on (but mainly lamenting) the whisky industries current pricing trends – today, seeing as it’s the end of the week we’ll shift the focus to something more positive. Independent bottlers provide enthusiasts with not just a wider selection of whiskies to choose from, but also a slightly different brand proposition – largely free from the constraints and limitations that the distilleries themselves are bound by. The growth of the industry has led to an explosion of new bottlers – just a few weeks back I was staggered by how many new IBs were in attendance at the London Whisky Show. But, many of these new bottlers and several of the longer established ones have been steadily increasing their prices. And then there’s Whiskybroker.
Whiskybroker remains one of my few remaining bastions for great value liquid. There’s no fancy packaging and no concocted brand stories. The bottle labelling can charitably be described as ‘informational’ at best. But, for omitting all of these unnecessarily niceties (and for being simply utterly reasonably minded!) the bottlings are able to be pitched at incredibly competitive prices. This is liquid designed to be consumed, not commoditised.
Martin Armstrong and the Whiskybroker team crossed my path several years ago when I was exploring bottling for the monthly whisky club that I organise – since then, their kudos has risen and word of their pricing, and increasing number of releases has spread. As the rest of the whisky world pushes for premiumisation (or in many cases just hiking up prices), Whiskybroker has stuck to their guns – only offering liquid they believe to be fairly priced. I heard rumours over the summer of a cask of 21 year old Springbank that the company decided to sell whole, purely because they didn’t want to offer it at the premium that the liquid would command. Perhaps that’s missing a commercial trick and failing to capitalise on the current whisky boom – on the other hand, it’s a demonstration of a single-minded attitude which in the long-term with surely engender much more interest and support from the wider whisky community. Good whisky at good prices – there’s little to grumble about that.
Today’s Whiskybroker bottling is a recent release hailing from Loch Lomond. Distilled in February 2005 it was matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead for 13 years, being bottled just two weeks ago. It’s described as ‘Heavily Peated’ – those in the know about Lomond and its unusual still configuration will know that there’s a huge variety of spirit types available for production at the distillery. Recently, the market has seen a good few bottlings of the heavily peated ‘Croftengea’, but this Whiskybroker expression has been described as being more like ‘Inchfad’ – a short-lived peated Lomond whisky that was distilled a little after the turn of the millennium. There has not been any official Inchfad bottlings since 2007 - though it might be worth noting that Whiskybase lists a brand new release from independent bottler Whiskymax – interesting!
The bottling comes from Hogshead #409 (bottle number 54 of 331) and is delivered at 50% ABV. The cost - £42 - and it’s still available via the Whiskybroker online shop.
Nose: We’re clearly in for quite the ride with this one – out of the bottle we’re starting with cheese – strong, well-aged Gruyere or Morbier (the one which has a thin black ash layer running through the middle). Pungent and lactic – with a hint of a Perry rind wash. This largely dissipates from the after resting – but it does take 5-10 minutes to do so. After de-cheesing has taken place, the nose is much milder and arguably more mainstream - green berries – gooseberry and greengage – sour apple chews and a slightest hint of minerality – a sea breeze or some beach shingle. Reduction (not necessary, but virtually always interesting) brings out a real sense of ionised air – ozone and dampness – such as you’d find just after an early evening torrential storm. It also allows a bit of cask influence to shine through in the form of soft ginger biscuits.
Taste: The arrival is bold – tart apples, sour lemons caster sugar, cotton candy and plenty of pungent smoke – we’ve moved away from dairy by-products now – the focus here is on heavy dirty distillate – diesel, brake fluid, surface cleaner and coal dust. It sits very nicely with the combination of fruit sugars and natural sourness. In the back-palate, again there’s a sense of steeliness – hewn granite and waterlogged limestone. A few drops of dilution really brings out the underlying fruity character of this Lomond spirit – tinned apples and pears alongside a vein of tropical juice (mango perhaps?). Again, it also reveals some cask ginger.
Finish: The longer side of medium with sugar dipped lemons, sweet and sour smoke and resinous wood.
This Whiskybroker Loch Lomond 13 year old is weird and wonderful and 100% not for everyone. The initial cheese aroma on the nose is so well-pronounced as to be frankly bizarre – and yet it works for me – probably because its seems so strange, inexplicable and most of all unexpected. When you’re nosing hundreds of whiskies each month there’s something to be said about standing out from the crowd. But, behind the wacky lactic diversion there’s a solid spirit here, that’s has been rested in an equally solid hogshead (probably a refill) for a very sympathetic composition.
There’s a ton of innovation and experimentation in the industry – but how often have you sampled a whisky from an unusual cask type only to find that the aroma and flavour profile remains largely similar to much of what you’ve tried already? On paper, this is just a peated ex-bourbon matured Lomond, but in the glass it feels more experimental than many bottles marketed as new and innovative. The price point, like all Whiskybroker bottlings is well under the current market level – recent IB Croftengea’s have been clocking in around the £60-£70 bracket – and they’ve all, bar one, been younger than this expression. You might love this or you might hate it, but either way, at £42 a bottle you have to tip a hat to Whiskybroker’s continued adherence to both value and whisky as a drink, not as a commodity.
But don't take our word for it..
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