It’s all too easy to forget that the whisky world exists outside of the enthusiast bubble. Whilst fans get all het up about pricing, allocations, terroir, re-brands <delete as appropriate>, your average non-convert is much more inclined to dive into an impassioned but wholly inaccurate explanation of whisky with or without the ‘e’. Like many hobbies, folks move at different speeds and with different levels of knowledge. And similarly to the weekly ‘with or without the e’ dispute - the general level of familiarity with ‘world whisky’ is arguably presently poor. To the great unwashed, whisky is invariable Scottish, and whiskey is Irish or American – the produce of other nations is oft-times reduced to that of mere perceived novelty, or simply regarded as not the ‘real deal’.
Whisky education has a way to go - even within the enthusiast bubble. And it will increasingly have an uphill struggle when it comes to world whisky – a category which is growing exponentially, but in reality is nothing more than a convenient catchall.
It's a simple fact of rationalisation and prioritisation. If your whisky website listed all the different types, styles and producing countries on an equal basis, it just wouldn’t work – the consumer wouldn’t know where to look. The major producer of whisky is and likely will be (at least for my lifetime) Scotland – and as such, top billing is a guarantee and in many ways a sensibility. However - and speaking from experience as part of the English whisky scene – being listed as ‘others’ does world whisky no favours when it comes to promoting the rich diversity that producing nations (and there’s many of them) have to offer.
Whilst the output of many ‘other’ countries is often individually piecemeal compared to that of the established nations in terms of LPA – recognition is still possible. You only have to look to Japan and see that as a whisky producing country its appreciation has reached a level where many shops and retailers will dedicate a section of their space/site solely to the promotion and sale of Japanese whiskies. Will others from the ‘others’ category achieve such fame and the comfort of their own recognisable and commonly utilised sub-division?
Time will tell – though it’s important to note that it’s only over the last two decades and particularly within the last five years that the reputation and desirability of Japanese whisky has skyrocketed. As a producing nation Japan can draw its history back to 1923 – and liquid renown has taken the country the best part of 100 years to achieve. Many who currently reside in the ‘others’ category are much younger as producing nations. And whilst they might wish to be listed on equal footing to Scottish, Irish, American and Japanese whiskies, the passage of time to acceptance and widespread understanding has yet to pass.
For now, we’ll have to be content with retailers and bottlers promoting the multiplicity of world whisky under that universal term - but at the same time - recognising that whilst there will always be ‘others’ that more others there are, the wider the acceptance will be for whiskies produced outside of the traditionally recognised countries.
Boutique-y Whisky has recently adopted a quarterly release cycle. As opposed to whiskies being emancipated in dribs and drabs the Atom Brand imprint will now be bundling their bottles into ‘series’ which they will aim to release four times each year. Whilst the press release oddly suggested that “…the whisky world couldn’t keep up” – the reality seems to be that the bit by bit, gradual (and largely arbitrary) release of bottles resulted in an overabundance of batches which got a little lost along the way. I.E. far from not being able to keep up – the bottler was simply releasing too many new expressions without enough promotion, visibility and marketing to shift them all before the next raft of bottles arrived at the warehouse. A recent, large Boutique-y sale on Master of Malt seemed to confirm the view that it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing.
Fast-forward to the future and ‘series’ are the way forward for Boutique-y – the first of which ‘World Series’ features nine new releases – four of which are first time forays for the independent bottler. The Dramble has been sent a few samples of the World Series to muse over – first up today – the inaugural batch of Nantou which is delivered as a 4 year old from ex-bourbon and at 49% ABV. 342 bottles have been produced at £69.95. The Master of Malt ‘home allocation’ seems to have sold out in short order – but other retailers will likely be receiving stock I’d imagine.
The last time we visited Nantou was early in 2019 for a similarly aged SMWS expression. My writeup includes a modicum of biographical notes about the distillery if you’re looking for a little wider background on the state-owned Taiwanese distillery.
Nose: Vivid fresh tropical fruit is up first – mango juice and underripe banana alongside kiwi fruit and quiche jelly. Running throughout – glossy toffee and golden barley together with powered ginger and dry earthiness. The addition of water reduces the expressiveness of this whisky substantially – all yeast, bread and bun - little of the previous bright fruitiness.
Taste: Fruits forward, spices back. Mango, guava and pineapple cubes lead off, livened by dry spiciness – ginger, nutmeg and allspice. Richness from golden syrup, cacao nibs and malt extract are joined by barley water and an aside of back palate fizzing dry oakiness. Reduction is disadvantageous - it brings the cask front and centre with forceful oakiness, wild piquancy and a diminished fruit profile.
Finish: Medium with dry earthiness, chilli and white pepper.
Out of the bottle Boutique-y’s first batch of Nantou would easily be mistaken for an older whisky. The fruit-forward profile is straightforward, but all rather effective – and certainly belying of just 4 years of maturation. Similarly to other whiskies from the region, what can be achieved in such short times with tropical climes never fails to impress. But equally similarly, the equilibrium between spirit and wood is often tauter when things have been supercharged by climate. Here, the adolescence of the spirit is apparent once diluted, and results in a significantly more wood-driven experience, which, whilst far from disagreeable, feels lesser to the bright and fresh fruits the whisky originally delivered.
Review sample provided by Atom Brands