October - and already my parents were asking me what my wife and I wanted for Christmas. It’s a commonly held belief that retailers gear up for Christmas earlier each year in what’s been termed “Christmas Creep” – early advertising to gain visual impact and competitive advantage. The truth of the matter however is that whilst Christmas has undoubtedly become more commercialised, the extended shopping period has existed for over a Century. TV adverts from big retailers have all started to air between 6th-12th November for well over a decade. Perhaps it’s just their increasingly saccharine heart-string tone that makes us feel like we’ll be continually shafted by John Lewis until we lay in our death beds?
It’s now the 12th November, and like it or not, we’re now firmly into the run up to Christmas and I’m thoroughly bored of Whisky Santa already. Never one to miss an opportunity, Whisky Exchange’s 2018 Christmas offering – ‘A Fine Christmas Malt’ was released last Friday – well in time for adding to festive gift lists, and barely a breath after November 5th’s spent fireworks had been cleared away. It’s a limited release (1800 bottles) sherried, 17 year old Speyside single malt. No prizes for guessing the distillery on this one.
The bottle is priced at £74.95, which, it’s probably worth noting seems relatively reasonable (in the current market conditions), but is actually 20% higher than last year’s TWE Black Friday 16 year old. The comparison seems fair – both bottles hail from sherry casks produced at the same distillery. However, whereas 2017’s release was drawn from a single sherry butt which produced a mere 582 bottles, this year’s larger special release should at least be on sale longer than the mere hours it took the Black Friday 16 year old to sell out. Spreading the Christmas cheer.
Nose: Highly characteristic of this ‘unknown’ distillery’s house style – Chocolate cake, sponge fingers and toffee sauce envelop a generous helping of dried fruits – raisins, figs and cranberries. There are fresher fruit elements here too – poached pears and zesty oranges. Spicing goes straight for the Christmas dessert jugular with plenty of cinnamon, a touch of ginger and a dusting of icing sugar. In the background, substantial earthiness (damp soils) and hessian cloth. Reduction reduces sweetness, but opens up a wider array of aromatics – anise, nutmeg and something akin to either pickled onion crisps or balsamic.
Taste: The arrival has the viscosity and impact you’d expect and hope for from the high ABV – forceful, but not aggressive and opening with rich and sweet flavours. Demerara sugar and fruit cake (containing some combination of pears and oranges) are tempered by slightly bitter coffee grounds, dark chocolate and a parcel of spices (cinnamon and prickly pepper) that builds in intensity along with the development. The mid-palate delivers nuttiness (hazel) and charred wood as well as offering a noticeable change in mouthfeel – not quite chalky, but heading towards seeming alluvial. The addition of water adds some juiciness to the fruit selection as well as heightening the influence of the cask – slight oaky bitterness with peppery heat and the return of the earthiness that was detected on the nose.
Finish: Long, peppery and with a touch of cough syrup.
A Fine Christmas Malt is what it proclaims to be. It’s a well-made, straight down the line typical expression from this Speyside distillery with plenty of rich sweetness and aromatic seasonal spice. For me, its strength lies in its very healthy ABV which helps deliver pronounced aromas and flavours, whilst retaining a level of drinkability that many high-strength bottlings sacrifice. The combination of quality, age and relative price make this certainly recommendable – though precisely what a ‘Christmas malt’ means to you is open to question. There are plenty of sherried expressions on the market – some delivery considerably more rich intensity than this one. Sugar and spice and all things nice - and remember, there's only 42 shopping days left until Christmas.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange
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