It was a blind tasting with a bit of a twist, as after tasting each whisky, the details were revealed. No whisky club brain cells were over-exercised trying to guess what the whiskies were. A blind tasting with one eye open then.
Hints given at the beginning:
- All were grain whiskies
- Each of the first four whiskies came from a different distillery
- The fifth bottle was a combination of whiskies from the first four distilleries
- All were Scotch whiskies
- Each came from a different Independent bottler
- Whiskies from largest, oldest, newest and ‘silent’ grain distilleries
- There were cask strengths, single barrels and a variety of ages
- The last bottle was the only blended whisky
The last bottle wasn’t Haig Clubman. (That’s a bit of an ‘in joke’ that Sean is too embarrassed to explain. Ask Paul S – he’ll tell you).
The evening started off with some explanation about what makes a grain whisky different from a malt whisky (that’ll be the type of still and the grain being used). Interestingly, there are only 6 full time grain distilleries in Scotland and their combined output far exceeds that of the combined output of the 100 or so Scottish malt distilleries. 90% of whisky drunk around the world today is blended whisky. In the past 40 years 7 Scottish grain distilleries have closed, so more distilleries have recently closed than now remain - that’s not the result of a downturn in consumption, but more about the big distilling companies pursuing a strategy to focus their activities and improve efficiencies.
Now on to the interesting part of the evening – tasting the whiskies.
Whisky 1 - Signatory bottling of 2007 vintage North British Single Grain - 43% ABV - Distilled 15 Nov 2007, bottled 07 March 2018 (10.3 YO then)
Signatory is a very well-known Indy bottler and specialises in small batch, single cask and cask strength Scotch whiskies. Based near the Edradour distillery in Pitlochry.
North British distillery was founded in 1885 and is in the western outskirts of Edinburgh. Owned jointly by Diageo and The Edrington Group. This is Edinburgh’s only remaining distillery producing around 14 million gallons per year going mainly into Chivas Regal, Famous Grouse, J&B and Cutty Sark. They have three Coffey stills and new make spirit is 94.50%
Nose- Melon with a touch of Parma ham, Vanilla
Taste – Citrus fruits with some spicy notes
Finish – Short with a little spice and slightly herbal
Whisky 2 - That Boutique-y Whisky Company bottling of Invergordon 10 YO Cask Strength Single Grain – 55.4% ABV - Limited run of 217 bottles
TBWC is based in Leith and we know them very well – we had a great presentation from them back in April 2017. They specialise in small batch whiskies with graphic style labels and usually sold in 50cl bottles.
Invergordon is the only grain distillery that’s not located in or very close to the Lowlands region. Instead the distillery can be found in the Northern Highlands a few miles north of Inverness. Founded in 1960 it is owned by White and Mackay and produces around 9 million gallons of whisky per year from 4 Continuous stills. Used mainly for White & Mackay offerings
Nose – Youthful, spicy, vanilla, wood
Taste – Almond, toasted cereals
Nose – Short with notes of orange and pepper
Whisky 3 - Douglas Laing ‘Old Particular’ bottling of Port Dundas 13YO 2004 vintage single cask single grain – 48.4% Distilled in July 2004, matured in American Oak barrels and bottled in March 2018. Small batch of 3000 bottles
Based in Glasgow and established in 1948, Douglas Laing is another of the giants in the Indy bottling world, they specialise in Single Malt, Single Grain, Blended Malt, Blended Grain and blended whiskies – That’ll be pretty much everything then.
Port Dundas is now a ‘silent’ (aka closed) distillery which was located in Glasgow, built in 1811 and starting grain production in 1845. In the late 1800’s it was the largest distillery in Scotland. Various companies have owned it over the years, but it was in the ownership of Diageo when it was closed in 2009 and demolished in 2011. In its heyday it produced around 9 million gallons a year.
Nose – Sweet, milk chocolate, vanilla, pear drops
Taste – Light spices, cocoa, honey
Finish – Medium, cinnamon, creamy caramel
Whisky 4 - James Eadie bottling of Cameronbridge 21YO Cask Strength Single Grain – 54.4% - Limited edition of 265 bottles distilled 1997 bottled 2018 matured in refill hogshead.
James Eadie was a Scottish beer distiller in mid 1800’s and had inherited a recipe for blended whisky from his father. James Eadie the company specialise in small batch, single cask and cask finish bottlings.
Cameronbridge is situated in Fife mid-way between Edinburgh and Dundee and is owned by Diageo. It is the largest grain distillery in Europe, producing around 22 million gallons per year. It also claims to be the oldest, founded in 1824 by John Haig, whose cousin Robert Stein invented the column (continuous) still. It was the first distillery to produce commercial grain whisky. It is also one of the very few grain distilleries to have ever released its own brand of blended whisky - Cameron Brig. Used in J&B, JW, Haig, Bells, VAT69 to name but a few.
Nose – Sweetness, strawberry cheesecake, peach, slightly perfumed
Taste – Vanilla fudge, toasted cereal, pepper. Buttery feel in the mouth
Finish – Medium with almond and sweetness
Whisky 5 – Compass Box Hedonism: Blended Grain Whisky, NAS, 43% -
Aged in first fill American oak casks.
Compass Box was founded by American entrepreneur John Glaser in 2000, their headquarters and blending room is in Chiswick, London. Maturation storage in Scotland. Their ethos is “Good wood makes good whisky” and “A well-made Scotch whisky blend, made from excellent component whiskies, is something no single distillery can create, and can rival the complexity of the very best of single malt whiskies”
Compass box has long campaigned for complete transparency in the whisky industry and the right to disclose constituent parts of a blended whisky including distillery, type of cask, Age and percentage.
Hedonism was the first whisky released by Compass box in 2000. Since then it has won a number of awards, most recently a gold at the World Whisky Awards in 2018.
(Definition of hedonism by English Oxford dictionary - the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence; self-gratification; debauchery, decadence. Call me old-fashioned, but somehow only the first definition seemed suitable for a whisky club meet).
34.7% Invergordon - 27.8% Port Dundas - 21.2% Cameronbridge - 16.3% North British. Ranging from 13- 24 YO - 51% over 21 YO
Nose – Fruitiness, strawberries and cream, pepper
Taste – Toffee, cherries, light spices
Finish – Medium, warm and spicy, vanilla and some wood
As usual we finished the evening by rating each of the whiskies. All five of the whiskies were very good in their own right and coming in ahead of the pack was Compass Box Hedonism demonstrating their skill in selection and blending of whiskies.
1st - Compass Box
2nd - James Eadie Cameronbridge
3rd - Signatory North British
4th - Douglas Laing Port Dundas
5th - TBWC Invergordon