It wasn’t all that long ago when I reviewed 4 whiskies from the relatively new independent bottler, Claxton’s. My only real negative comment was that, with one exception, the offerings felt rather similar to one another in places, and a little more variety could have been more exciting.
So they sent me some more whiskies to review and, in a Twitter conversation with me, the folk at Claxton’s mentioned that they were “four very different drams indeed”. Which I thought was a nice touch considering my previous comments. And isn’t it nice that honest comments can be received like that?
Anyway, here are those four new single cask whiskies from Claxton’s. The prices range between £89 and £100 a go, which is consistent with their previous releases.
Claxton’s Bunnahabhain 2002
Bottled at 51.6% ABV from a hogshead cask.
Colour: pale straw.
On the nose: feels younger than it is, but not in a bad way: a lovely youthfulness about it – malty, zesty, creamy even. Champagne-like. The peat is light and breezy. Coastal. Brine.
In the mouth: oily, dense spirit which retains much of the nose. Yeasty, intense barley notes that bind with the peat, which is more prickly and peppery than the nose. Buttery tones beneath the peat, which becomes more ashy than sweet. Fresher vegetative, grassy notes beyond, and then the peat returns with a few notes of tobacco and light oak. It’s simply a very nice, viscous, gently peated whisky.
Claxton’s Ben Nevis 17 Years Old
Bottled at 54% ABV from a hogshead cask.
Colour: deep gold.
On the nose: classic vanilla, toffee notes, and then rather fruity. Blood orange – or perhaps orange marmalade. Baked apples. Cinnamon. Lemon zest. Barley sugar. Apricots. All very gentle stuff though.
In the mouth: intense vanilla notes, again with plenty of sweetness: parma violets or Love Heart sweets, again orange marmalade. Plenty of warmth from the wood, but also a touch of bitterness that somehow doesn’t quite balance out the sweeter fruits, but rather contrasts. A decent enough dram, but the weaker of the bunch for me.
Claxton’s Glenrothes 19 Years Old
Bottled at 53.7% ABV from a sherry butt.
Colour: Almost like treacle. Sherry bomb alert!
On the nose: indeed, a sherry bomb – and rather dreamy. This is an intense mixture of dried fruit and old wood qualities. Hugely rich raisins, dried figs and prunes, with blackcurrant juice and dried cranberries. Pencils and cardboard, with a little balsamic vinegar. But the fruit dominates the old wood, interestingly.
In the mouth: Indeed, dried fruits. Prunes. Mincemeat – for pies! Blackberries. Muscovado sugar. Molasses. Rosemary. Balsamic vinegar. Nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper, but not overly so, and there’s a very interesting, almost meaty, savoury quality that makes this stand out from other heavily sherried whiskies. The only thing stopping this being a simply stunning whisky (such as with some of my favourite GlenDornachs) is perhaps the slightly thin texture, which is more the inherent spirit that the cask choice. Anyway, brilliant stuff.
Claxton’s Glen Elgin 20 Years Old
Bottled at 51.5% ABV from a refill hogshead cask.
Colour: pale gold.
On the nose: there’s a nice dirtiness about this to start with, an oily, earthy undertone that leads towards the coal-like peat. Barn floors. Once that settles, orchard fruits rise above. Melon. Grapefruit. Almost a crisp dry Riesling minerality.
In the mouth: peat – of the dry, ashier variety, and that’s a nice contrast to the juicy, intense vanillins. Malted milk biscuits, or Horlicks. Grapefruit juice and black tea. A huge warming, peppery, smokey finish. In the end it’s all about the nice balance between the sweet vanilla and the peat. This is a good dram, but very much a thinking-woman’s or thinking-man’s whisky – which is to say it needs time and contemplation.
One of the joys of exploring single casks is moving on from vattings of single malts and interrogating what individual components may look like. They tell you little about a distillery – apart from this is one ingredient at the blender’s disposal – but piece them together and they do tell you a lot about a bottler’s tastes. From eight releases now, Claxton’s single casks have all been solid to very good whiskies. Nothing yet has been super incredible, which is often pot luck with single casks, but neither has anything been the slightest bit dull. When you factor in that nothing is over £100, then I think we can say Claxton’s offer very good value indeed. And yes, there is a lot more diversity this time around. They’re very much worth your attention.