Much has been and will still be written about the modern trend away from spirit-led whiskies towards a greater focus on wood influence. This drift is not something which has happened over the last few years, nor it is more than a generalisation. But, over the past three decades consumer tastes for single malts have undeniable changed, reflecting a growing desire for cask finishes as well as a greater willingness to explore younger whiskies as the prices of older expressions have sky-rocketed. And producers are happy to oblige – producing wood-forward whiskies not only sates changing consumer preferences, it also allows for the use of smaller casks to ‘supercharge’ maturation – and push a narrative that ‘the wood makes the whisky’.
As Waterford Founder Mark Reynier points out, “100% of whisky's flavour has been influenced by its time in wood”. Whilst this sounds plainly obvious, it runs counter to the often rolled out line that oak maturation is responsible for a definable (and large) percentage of whisky’s flavour. The storyline suits many distilleries - either through their use of smaller casks, or in an attempt to ‘hide’ the inconsistencies of the underlying spirit behind a wall of oak influence. Whilst there are certainly times that a vigorous, active maturation can positively affect the overall profile of a whisky, I’d posit that an unsophisticated overuse simply results in a glut of whisky which all largely tastes the same. If you repeatedly beat spirit over the head with a vanilla stick, don’t be surprised by the results.
There is of course a balance to be struck. And at the other end of the spectrum there’s a stark difference between a whisky being spirit-forward and a whisky being overtly raw. Oak maturation *is* responsible for a host of complex chemical transformations that convert new make spirit into something greater than its original composition. But, the type, length and quality of maturation is what will create this greatness. Its most masterful form being an equilibrium between spirit and wood - a perfect harmony of both elements resulting in an enhancement which elevates both the underlying distillate and a sympathetic cask.
That congruence rarely stems from tired, knackered wood. And the adage that age is not the same as maturation holds true in all aspects of life.
The fourth door of the 2019 Boutique-y whisky Company Advent Calendar provides us with a case in point of spirit-forward highland whisky in the form of Teaninich 11 year old Batch 2. The bottling was released earlier in 2019, but obviously flew under the radar of the ‘usual’ online retailers as there’s no reference to it I can find on the Internet, save for its inclusion in the calendar itself. It’s bottled at 47.9% ABV and features a label which highlights the story of distillery founder Captain Hugh Munro and a tale of tragic unrequited love.
Nose: Highly spirit-forward – bright estery aromas from green apples and pear juice alongside brown sugars and notes of warm porridge. Crème caramel, vanilla cream and burnt butter join in support. The addition of water adds notes of Alpen cereals, toast and fermenting wash.
Taste: The nose translates over to the palate perfectly – this is fresh, crisp and relatively bare. Toffee apples and ripe pears are soured by tart grapefruit pith, whilst barley water and toffee sit with vanilla essence and notes of liquorice. Reduction adds sweetness and additional brightness – tinned orchard fruit salad, and a dusting of icing sugar over oven-baked buns and pastries.
Finish: Medium with fading candied apple, gentle pepper and suggestions of oak-influenced vanilla.
A pared-back and rather ‘naked’ Teaninich that firmly focuses on the fruit-forward notes of the distillate. Despite the 11 years of maturation, the wood influence is kept to a minimum (suggesting a relatively inactive cask) and the estery flavours of orchard fruits are firmly in control throughout. The end result is light and accessible, but lacks both depth and individuality beyond the underlying character of the spirit itself.
Review calendar provided by Atom Brands