Whisky writers can be quite a contrary lot. One minute the Scottish malt producing regions are described as being obsolete and the next, a whisky is being characterised as “archetypally Islay” or “typically Speyside”. An altogether antithetical contrast. Despite what will likely be an eternal, cyclical argument – the definition of whisky by either its style or its flavour will never be something of neatness. Conversely, alternative methodologies for classification have not yet received either a wide welcome or anything like universal adoption. “Focus on the quality, not on the location” is an often-intoned phase. But this construct – like any other arrangement will invariably involve an assemblage of assumptions and generalisations.
Those seeking a perfect delineation for whisky are likely barking up the wrong tree. Whisky is, through its very creation, a complex liquid that is at the same time fundamentally entwined in individual perceptions and sensitivities. Taxonomies in any field are problematic – and they usually involve the formation of new associations and groupings as soon as something is found as hard to define or not neatly fitting into a pre-existing category.
Leaving talk of terroir aside for today (it’s simply far too late in the year to be opening that one up again), whilst a whisky’s regionality might on the surface do something of an injustice to wide diversity of the craft – at the same time, it does achieve one important characteristic that should not be quickly forgotten – that of accessibility.
Those newer to whisky do not need to be further baffled by overly intellectual noodling. But they do need a starting point and frame of reference. Regionality might not provide a perfect map, but it does offer something of a trail of breadcrumbs. As a guide to flavour it is imperfect and likely inadequate – particularly to the miscellany of 21st Century distilling. But as a point of departure it offers signposts which likely do still aid those taking the first steps on their whisky journey. The complexity of the spirit doesn’t in itself does not necessitate that its exploration need be byzantine at all times.
There’s more to say about Speyside #4 24 year old Batch 1’s label than there is about the liquid inside the bottle. The mysteriously ambiguous single malt is not easily found on the Interwebs having been released sometime either towards the tail end of 2019 or the very start of 2020. And presumably selling out in fairly short order. This said, it’s presumably a vatting of ex-bourbon casks and does, from my time with it present quite Burnside-esque.
The label is not the first to feature Boutique-y all-round lovely Dave Worthington. But it’s the first I’ve seen which puts him firmly front and centre. And of course, he styled as Christopher Lambert-like Highlander, receiving his powers from the whisky gods whilst in the company of his beloved banjo. “There can only be strum.”
Nose: Brightly polished with orange oils and tangerines with almond paste and creamy toffee sauce. Maturity is expressed through dusty bookshelves, whilst freshly griddled waffles and toasted bread are slathered in fine, creamy toffee sauce, and sprinkled with bee pollen. The addition of water reveals Cambridge burnt cream alongside velvety orange sorbet.
Taste: Refined, elegant and along a very similar vein to the nose. Ginger spiced orange liqueurs and cinnamon poached pears are joined by lemon drizzled French crepes, whilst polished oak tables sit alongside grapefruit sharpness and an amalgamation of nut and peppermint oils. Dilution expresses a soft, honied profile which retains much of the body and weight of the spirit, whilst adding in further well-defined fruits – lychee, melon and tinned peaches.
Finish: Medium with sweet and sour polished fruits intermingled with a scorched sugar-topped crème brulee.
Speyside #4 24 year old Batch 1 offers bright, focussed fruit-forward vibrancy, ably supported by a backbone of rich toffee-d malt. I find it considerately matured and then well-assembled. And its ability to not only take dilution, but to actively thrive with it takes it up another notch for me. A highlight of the 2020 Boutique-y Whisky Advent calendar. Eyes peeled for a bottle of this.
For Sorren’s viewpoint on this bottling, wander over to OCD Whisky.
Review calendar provided by Atom Brands