Cadenhead’s Cage Duo: Bruichladdich & Bunnahabhain

You win some, you lose some. I suppose that’s the case with every type of whisky, but it’s particularly the case with independent bottlings. And today it’s one of my favourites that sees me lose! Although to be fair, I don’t think these whiskies are easily available, as they come from the Cadenhead’s Cage. A random assortment of cask ends, it looks a bit like this:

Cadenhead's Cage

It was my colleague Jason at the Whisky Rover who alerted me to its presence. Annoyingly he works nearby, so could easily pop into his local Cadenhead’s. It’s probably no bad thing that I don’t live nearby, as it’s difficult not to step back outside without having bought anything.

So I sent Jason back inside to find me some whiskies. After a run down over what was in the cage over the phone, I opted for two: a Bruichladdich and a Bunnahabhain. I have very little to say about the whiskies as I know very little about them. That’s the thing with these cage whiskies – they’re odds and ends, things that were leftovers in the cask, not enough to fill whole bottles, certainly not enough to make as a wider release.

Cadenhead's Cage Whiskies

Bruichladdich 21 Year Old

Colour: pale straw, so a second, possibly third-fill cask here.

On the nose: grassy, with sweet vanilla, honeysuckle and citrus notes. Parmaviolets. Lavender, cloves. A creamy, buttermilk note to this with some underlying barley notes. It’s not a million miles away from new-make spirit.

In the mouth: better than the nose promised, but that’s the texture of the spirit that brings any delight. It echoes the nose completely: dominated by grass and vanilla, with a prickle of cloves and black pepper. It’s very sweet and light, not at all complex.

There’s nothing like a good-quality Bruichladdich – and this is nothing like a good-quality Bruichladdich. This does nothing to rob me of the notion that the secondary cask market is getting harder and harder to find good whiskies.

Bunnahabhain 19 Year Old

Colour: white wine. Again, exceptionally pale.

On the nose: prickly and creamy, with a lovely soft and sweet peat note. Slightly metallic, almost lead-shot. Boiled pork and lemon zest. Husky, hay barns.

In the mouth: creamy buttermilk, honey and peat. Gentle toffee, salted caramel, milk chocolate. In fact, the saltiness really comes to the fore, mingling with the peat and a dusty cereal core. A gentle ginger-warmth and woodiness. Again very simple stuff, and the casks involved really aren’t that effective, but it’s still a nice enough whisky. The cask has had little influence again.

Conclusions

One trend I have noticed of late concerns… colour, which in non-coloured whiskies is a good signifier of wood influence. So I’ve noticed more and more whiskies that are sold with an attractively mature age statement, but which remain very pale. This can indicate very cheap casks – second, third fill perhaps. The wood is knackered, that’s for sure, and consequently has little impact on the whisky. One or two would be fine – mere quirks to be celebrated in the industry – but to see this repeatedly? It’s almost as if the secondary market has run out of good casks. (And these days we’re even seeing young grain whisky as pale as gin being released, which is almost certainly taking the piss out of consumers.)

I’ve tasted so many indie bottlings of late, at shows or reviewing for Whisky Magazine, as well as on here, that I think it’s time to declare the good days of very cheap and very tasty indie bottlings over. Now you have to pay more to get the good stuff – almost on parity with proprietary bottlings. And by good stuff, I mean anything that doesn’t come from a thoroughly used ex-bourbon barrel, giving the same weak grassy-vanilla flavour profiles. Frankly, I’m bored of those now.

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