Not many readers will likely have heard of Sutcliffe & Son, nor The Exceptional range of whiskies. They’ve not had distribution in the UK and Europe until recently, where they’ve teamed up with Number One Drinks (the company behind the likes of Hanyu and Karuizawa over in this part of world).
The Exceptional range is the combination of two people’s efforts – Don Sutcliffe, the managing director of Craft Distillers, and Willie Phillips, who was a former managing director of The Macallan. The two men actually met when Don helped bring The Macallan single malt whisky into the US market. There are three products in the range: a grain, a malt and a standard blend. Each one is complex vatting of whiskies from many different distilleries, all of which are married together in sherry casks and bottled at 43% ABV. All of these whiskies will sell for £86 a bottle.
The Exceptional Grain
A vatting of North British, Loch Lomond, Strathclyde, Cameronbridge and Carsebridge distilleries. Married in first-fill Oloroso sherry.
Colour: pale gold.
On the nose: gentle, and quite un-grain-like. Reminds me of a very nice bowl of oatmeal I once had in New York, with a dollop of dark sugar and cinnamon. Creamy, with notes of citrus. Once that all settles there’s just a touch of vanilla and a flash of citrus, though not much.
In the mouth: Again, it tastes not far from that oatmeal as well – a certain cereal note lingers. Pastry, vanilla, toffee. Wood spice, and cinnamon again. Dry, tannic. Stewed apples. Rhubarb. I suppose what’s most impressive is that you wouldn’t immediately think this was grain whisky. A very subtle whisky, though perhaps too subtle. Easily forgettable. It didn’t really rock my world.
The Exceptional Malt
A vatting of ‘mature’ casks, including: Glenfarclas, Ben Nevis, Balvenie, Kininvie, Glenfiddich, Alt- a’Bhainne, Auchroisk, Glenallachie, Westport (Glenmorangie tea-spooned with Glen Moray), Speyside and Macallan. Married in first-fill Oloroso sherry.
Colour: old gold.
On the nose: gorgeous and complex, with a broad spectrum of flavours. At the simple end are some dusty, hay-barn like qualities; a trailer full of wheat. Grapefruit. Pears. Grape juice. Gooseberries. Honey. Then just a touch of sultanas.
In the mouth: apple pie, cinnamon, a lot of wood spice early on rather than at the finish, yeasty or fresh bread, floral honey, sultanas, oatcakes. Tart redcurrants. Again, a slight cloying dryness as with the grain. The total picture is weird, and immensely characterful, yet it’s very nice indeed. Not afraid to be bold and there’s lots going on here.
The Exceptional Blend
Malt and grain from the above lists! There’s a 30-year-old Macallan in the mix, too.
Colour: old gold.
On the nose: curiously bringing the two sets of casks from above together results in different notes: vanilla, tons of fresh green apples, strawberries, green tomatoes, Champagne (the yeast really), floral honey and fresh cream.
In the mouth: a little too much heat and woodiness at the front end, but once that goes there’s a very nice if straightforward flavour. Vanilla custard. Toffee. Green apples. A warm, malty quality – hoppy almost. Quite nutty – almonds. Digestive biscuits. A considerably long finish. As you’d expect with a blend the balance is very good, and it packs in a lot of intensity for the ABV.
They’re all decent whiskies, though perhaps the grain didn’t work that well for me. The Exceptional Malt was very good. My only minor quibble is the price – I think £86 is asking a lot of people when it comes to blended whiskies, which are – with some exceptions, notably from Compass Box – usually priced at a more accessible level. The grain whisky seems quite a stretch in particular. I’m guessing they’re priced at this level because of some of the old whiskies used in the blends, such as the 30-year-old Macallan. That said, there’s much to like here – a more reasonable price would have turned that like into a love.