Grains, trains and automobiles
Posted 29 March 2018 / In North British
North British 1994 20 year old
Cask Type: ex-Bourbon
Distillery: North British
Bottler: Master of Malt (Single Cask range)
The North British Distilling Company (NBDC) was formed in 1885 to provide an alternative source of grain whisky for the blending market – Distillers Company Limited (DCL) had maintained an iron-clad grasp on much of the grain market since 1877 (manipulating supply to affect both prices and demand) until the new North British distillery was constructed in Edinburgh near both the railway and Union canal. The site quickly expanded its production, and by WWII was producing 9,000,000 litres of spirit each year. The distillery is now somewhat ironically owned jointly by Diageo and Edrington – DCL became United Distillers in 1987 and then several years later Diageo. So, in effect, North British is now 50% owned by the company it set out to compete with back in the late 19th Century.
Today’s tasting note is of a bottling from Master of Malt’s Single Cask range – whilst you no doubt know of them as a global purveyor of all things drink-related, they’ve also been an independent bottler in their own right for a number of years. This particular North British was filled in to an ex-bourbon barrel just days short of Christmas in 1994 and left to slumber for 20 years before being bottled at a cask strength of 51.7% ABV in April 2015.
Nose: Quite delicate when first out of the bottle, though opening nicely in the glass. A initial mix of varnish and polystyrene cement (very spirit-driven as one might expect) is supported by some big wafts of American oak – vanilla, sawdust and coconut shavings. Fruit comes next with melon, kiwi and green grapes – maybe even a hint of acidic orange in there too. Deeper there’s a fair array of bakery aromas – freshly made puff pastry, buttery flans and confectioners toffee. A little water doesn’t alter the overall composition too much, but does allow some natural earthiness to start to shine through.
Taste: Full-bodied and much more bold than on the nose. Baked apples, coconut shavings – and vanilla – loads of vanilla. Woodiness levels are high with freshly cut planking, oak chippings and a newly opened pot of wood stain – these bring both a degree of icing sugar sweetness as well as some astringency. There are still some patisserie flavours here with buttery pastries and tropical fruit flans. Hints of spice start to lick at the edges with pepper, ginger and nutmeg. Dilution softens the astringency and tannins nicely, further reinforcing tropical flavours and adding in some white chocolate and creamy fudge.
Finish: Fairly long, quite drying and quite oaky.
There’s a few grain distillery’s that I’ve always got time for – North British is one of them. This bottling is an exemplar of many of the typical facets one can expect of medium-aged grain whisky: spirit-forward and with a lot of vanilla-ry ex-bourbon along for the ride. It’s also, like many single grains, rather on the sweet side, so that’s either going to float your boat, or not. Nevertheless, this is a well-constructed North British with some big flavours on the palate that can likewise take a good drop of water too. Full bottles have sold out, but there are still 3cl samples available at a quite reasonable £5.72.
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