September 2017: Independent Scotch Bottlings

 

Cadenhead's Scotch Whisky

Host: Dr. Stephen Benson

I had the great fortune of visiting London and Edinburgh this past Spring.  I thought I would pick up a few bottles for Flight Club while I was there, but honestly did not have much of a plan.  This was a mistake.  The sheer number of bottlings is overwhelming to say the least, especially if you’re not sure what you are looking for.  A coupleof helpful store owners told me about independent scotch bottlers and that piqued my interest.

Independent bottlers are essentially specialized whisky brokers.  They purchase new make spirit or already matured whisky casks directly from the distillery and bottle under their own name and brand.  Sometimes the name of the originating distillery is listed on the bottle, sometimes it is not.  The independent bottlers employ a variety of techniques/strategies in getting the spirit ready for market.  Some will purchase new make whisky and have it put in their own casks and then matured in their own warehouses.  Others will purchase a mature whisky and then transfer it to another type of cask for additional aging and finishing.  The opportunities are endless for creativity.  And still other independent bottlers will buy a cask and bring it directly to bottling without any revisions.  Clearly this requires incredible precision and expertise, since it can be assumed that most distilleries are not willing to part with their better casks.  Not all independents are single cask either.  It is not uncommon to blend different casks and release blended whisky/malts.

Some of the advantages to independent bottlings are the price and rarity.  Typically, the independents are less expensive and often released as a single cask making it quite unique.  Furthermore, these bottlers have been a driving force behind creativity in the industry (experimentation with maturation, finishes, and wood) and now some independent bottlers are the driving force behind the scotch transparency movement.

Some notable independent bottlers include but is not limited to: Douglas Laing, Hunter Laing, Cadenhead’s (oldest independent bottler in Scotland), Compass Box, That   Boutique-y Whisky Company, SMWS, Adelphi, Murray McDavid, Gordan & McPhail, Claxton’s, and Signatory.

I hope you enjoy these Independents as much as I have.  Slainte!

  • Cocktail:

Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Rob Roy

  • Name: Barrel-aged Rob Roy
  • Ingredients: Scotch, sweet vermouth, Peychaud’s bitters
  • Recipe: Basic Rob Roy recipe is 2oz of Scotch, 1oz sweet vermouth, 1-2 dashes bitters.  This recipe specifically used King of Scots Blended Scotch Whisky bottled by Douglas Laing (an independent bottler).  It was expanded and then aged in a 2-liter bourbon barrel (previously holding Buffalo Trace).  It was aged for approximately three weeks.  Presented chilled and with a lemon twist.

 

  • Bottle 1Cadenhead Small Batch 19 year Single Malt

Cadenhead Small Batch

  • Distillery: Aberfeldy, bottled by Cadenhead’s
  • Proof: 106.6
  • Mash Bill (if available): N/A
  • Price: $80
  • Purchase location: Cadenhead’s, 172 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK
  • Tasting Notes:
    • Nose: Lemon zest; sweet honeycomb; very creamy and milky with cinnamon, pears, and sourdough.
    • Palate: Spicy note; mint; lemon meringue; banana cream; vanilla puff pastry; apricots, syrup, lime and spiced apple.
    • Finish: Lemon zest, lime juice, milk chews and apple crumble; some soft peat; the proof causes a numbing sensation that mutes many of these flavors.
  • Why this bottle is featured: One of only 528 bottles.  Highland region.  This bottle was chosen on the recommendation of the staff at Cadenhead’s (the oldest independent bottler in Scotland).  They stated that it was a good representation of their work.  It is also originally distilled at a well-known distillery (Aberfeldy).
  • Bottle 2: Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection Cask Strength Single Malt 27 year

Cadenhead Authentic Collection Cask Strength

  • Distillery: Inchgower, bottled by Cadenhead
  • Proof: 106.4
  • Mash Bill (if available) N/A
  • Price: $145
  • Purchase location: Cadenhead’s, 172 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK
  • Tasting Notes:
    • Nose:  A bit funky, almost like wet dog; dry pinto beans; varnished wood; old apples.
    • Palate: A little smoke, ashy but oily; briny; black tea; rich; creamy pepper, rosemary and a soft spice throughout.
    • Finish: Long, with rich oak and brown sugar; a bit of smoke/ash at the end.
  • Why this bottle is featured: One of only 234 bottles.  Speyside Region.  Again, this bottle was recommended by the staff at Cadenhead’s.  The main issue was how often does a person get to taste a single cask 27-year-old Scotch?
  • Bottle 3: SMWS 125.73

Scotch Malt Whisky Society

  • Distillery: Officially this is distillery #125, bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society
  • Proof: 118.6
  • Mash Bill (if available) N/A
  • Price: $160
  • Purchase location: SMWS of America, smwsa.com
  • Tasting Notes:
    • Nose:  Fresh laundry detergent; under ripe strawberry; oak; granny smith apples.
    • Palate: Lots of fruit, apples, pears, stone fruit, pomegranates.
    • Finish: Peach and mint with dry oak and hops and melon. Long finish.
  • Why this bottle is featured: One of only 192 bottles.  11 years old.  The Scotch Malt Whisky Society website states “the SMWS is an international members club offering the world’s widest collection of rare and exceptional single cask whiskies to discerning whisky lovers. Each of our whiskies is bottled from a single cask at natural strength without the addition of water or colouring.”  I like the idea of this being a “blind” tasting without judging the scotch based off the distillery reputation (even though the distillery code listing can be found online).
  • Bottle 4Covent Garden Speyside Reserve – Straight from the Cask

Covent Garden Speyside Reserve

  • Distillery: Unknown origin, stated as a Speyside. Bottled at and by the Whisky Exchange.
  • Proof: 120.2
  • Mash Bill (if available) N/A
  • Price: $75
  • Purchase location: The Whisky Exchange, Covent Garden, London
  • Tasting Notes:
    • Nose: Rich; plum, leather, caramel chocolate, heath bar, coffee.
    • Palate: Leather; flat grape soda; plums; salted caramel.
    • Finish: Long. Heath bar and grape soda. Reminiscent of the 1959 Brown Forman President’s Choice. 

Why this bottle is featured:  This bottled was primarily selected for the cool factor.  I walked up the stairs at The Whisky Exchange and saw a barrel sitting in the corner.  I went to the counter and asked about it.  He said to just let him know if you want some.  So, I said yes…he grabbed a bottle…we walked over to the cask and he poured it right in front of me.  He corked it, went behind the counter and put the seal on it, and then used a heat gun to seal it up.  He then wrote the label out, I paid, and off I went.  It’s one thing to buy a single cask bottle from the store…it was something else to literally have the cask in the store and then have it bottled right in front of me.

  • Bottle 5: The Glover 18 year 4th Edition

The Glover

  • Distillery: Fusion Whisky, Ltd.
  • Proof: 98.4
  • Mash Bill (if available) N/A
  • Price: $168
  • Purchase location: masterofmalt.com
  • Tasting Notes:
    • Nose: Cast iron, soft grain, green grape skin, kiwi.
    • Palate: Cool apple jolly rancher, sourdough, mint cream
    • Finish: Caramel, red apple, fig, sunflower seed.

Why this bottle is featured:  One of only 1406 bottles.  Aged for at least 18 years.  This bottle is truly unique.  I discovered this bottle while doing research on independent bottlers and this was listed.  I then contacted one of the owners of the company (Fusion Whisky, Ltd.) to ask about this gem and was informed that “officially” they are not independent bottlers since they own the rights, etc. of their product.  That said, they use Adelphi (which is an independent bottler) to acquire their whisky.  With that background, here are some interesting features of this whisky…it is a blend of Scotch (Longmorn (Speyside) and Glen Garioch (Highland)) and Japanese whisky (Hanyu).  It is blended in England and then shipped back to Scotland for bottling since the rules in Scotland prevent blending Scotch with foreign whiskies.  Interesting stuff!  And please note that Hanyu whisky is very rare.  The distillery closed some time ago and the stock has been sold off (mostly back to the son Ichiro).  This might be the closest we get to tasting a Hanyu whisky.

And finally, we must thank two special guests who joined us this evening: The Scotch Test Dummies’ own Bart and Scott. You can check out their website and youtube channel to see why we wanted to invite them to join us. Their humor and expertise were much appreciated. We’re happy to call them kindred spirits.

Gentlemen devoted to the finest.

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