The road is long. With many a winding turn and those that make the effort to venture down to Campbeltown are appreciated. Truthfully, even with the faithful Tormore chariot restrained at a modest pace, the drive towards the Mull of Kintyre isn’t half bad.
My thoughts veer towards the drive onto the Isle of Skye – despite recent news – remains an island, unless someone has plugged in the watery depths. The voyage north is considerably longer, more demanding roads showcasing heavier traffic volumes ultimately creating a more arduous experience. When Campbeltown stepped forth from the cascading downpour and we rolled into the historical town centre, you could only appreciate the ghosts of the past and its former status of the whisky capital of the world.
Today, only Glen Scotia and Springbank remain with their numbers swelled to regional status level by the revival of the Glengyle (Kilkerran) distillery. A separate piece will recall our walk around Springbank and Glengyle, with Glen Scotia demanding another trip south; any old excuse, I know. Campbeltown has become synonymous with William Cadenhead since J&A Mitchell & Company purchased the independent bottling outfit in 1969 at auction. It’s roots date back to 1842 and Aberdeen, but since its transplant into the new environment of Campbeltown, it has thrived, as seen by the 175th Anniversary celebrations this year.
Cadenhead’s is arguably my second mortgage during 2017, whereas previously it’s been a welcome if not sustained monthly treat. A variety of tours and whiskies are offered in the Cadenhead’s shop itself and one well worth seeking out is the Cadenhead’s Warehouse Tasting tour; do book in advance however. For the ticket price of £30, you’re ushered into one of the traditional dunnage examples that is utilised by this independent bottling giant amongst the Springbank warehouses. If you’ve read my earlier piece on the Cadenhead’s Edinburgh 30th Anniversary Tasting, then this gives you some more insight into the environment and the playful mindset of Mark Watt and Cameron McGeachy, as well as the Edinburgh Campbeltown Young Team. Both of the aforementioned were away when Malt visited, in Holland and Belgium apparently working by all accounts. Instead our tasting was hosted by the delightful and 100% Campbeltown native Jenna.
Having worked for the Mitchell Company for 8 years she’s only recently been given the opportunity to join the Cadenhead’s brigade within the last 12 months. With such responsibility, an appreciation of whisky has to be formed and she’s already a confident host and seemingly thoroughly enjoying this new role.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the tasting experience was Jenna’s tales of Campbeltown life, haggis nachos, avocados and the day-to-day experience of working for Cadenhead’s. I’m fairly confident in stating that Malt has met the power base of the trio and great things lie ahead.
For now, slightly drier having spent a few moments within the warehouse acclimatising, it was time for the whiskies themselves. The tour includes 6 cask strength drams taken straight from their hosts, right before your very eyes. The casks themselves are exclusive to the tour and one-off experiences. Whilst the whiskies below were available when Malt visited in September 2017, the 37 year old blend was proving popular and coming to the end of its lifespan, as was the divisive Longrow. Being cask strength and generous measures, its best to attend prepared. This means eating beforehand and if you’re driving, taking along sample bottles so you can experience the whiskies later, although you may have to rely on fellow attendees to make your purchasing decisions.
This takes us onto the bonus part of the tour, which is for purchasing a ticket and making your way down into the depths of Campbeltown, you’re granted the opportunity to buy bottles of anything you’ve enjoyed. These are filled by your host and then made available at the Cadenhead’s shop for collection and purchase. For once, Malt was actually on navigational duty so whisky was permitted. We’ll do these casks in tasting order…
Linkwood 29 year old Review
Bottled at 46.5% from a bourbon hogshead.
Colour: peach pulp.
On the nose: immediately you recognise this as a Linkwood. The joyous arrival of freshly plucked apples perfectly balanced with vanilla giving it a vibrant creamy quality. A gentle sweet cinnamon combines with a buttery pastry and a light fragrant tea. There’s no need for water with something this elegant but a drop showcases raspberry and sunflower oil.
In the mouth: more beautiful balance with coconut, those apples once again and a light caramel. A touch of mint leaf cuts through the figs, raisins and vanilla. Lovely stuff, almost old school in its relaxed journey without forceful wood and a silky texture.
Tamnavulin 11 year old Review
From a bourbon hogshead resulting in 58% strength.
Colour: a very clear spirit.
On the nose: the freshness of apples with a caressing vanilla, followed by grapefruit and a twist of lemon. More interest awaits with hints of toffee and Kiwi fruit, then a touch of plasterboard before a gentle layer of cinnamon and meringues.
In the mouth: very drinkable and still spirit based, it is gentle with a sugary vibe. Green apples, a little cream soda and Custard Creams with the vanilla coming through strongly.
Edrington Blend 37 year old Review
Pre-blended cask from Edrington featuring Invergordon, Tamdhu, Glenrothes, Macallan and Highland Park.
Colour: a well-rubbed bronze.
On the nose: elements of furniture polish, vanilla, fruit and nut chocolate with a touch of brass and cinnamon. There’s more orchard fruits including apples with cardamom and a little mustiness. It’s all very agreeable and appealing.
In the mouth: very drying is my initial impression followed by one of richness. You return, reflecting on the lightness and touch of soap. It’s delicate and probably nearing the limits of its prime before the wood overrides the balance. There’s a fresh delicate vanilla, aniseed, stewed fruits, polished mahogany and a soft floral note.
Glen Scotia 16 year old Review
Distilled 2000, bottled from a sherry butt at 56.7% strength.
On the nose: dirty Scotia alert! Rolled tobacco, discarded rubber bands, cherries, walnut oil, blackberry jam and out of date cinnamon bark. Sweet and dry throughout, it’s the distinctive Scotia sherry character that isn’t for everyone. I’m more than pleased with all-spice and vanilla toffee rounding off a memorable barrage.
In the mouth: very drying again, a well-worn leather bodysuit gives way to dark chocolate, walnuts and cloves. The rubber quality won’t be for everyone but I love it. Liquorice and more blackcurrants follow with the underlying sense of licking the back of an envelope and the distinctive aftertaste.
Longrow 15 year old Review
Distilled 19th October 2001, since 2008 it’s been in a Chardonnay cask since 2008. Bottled at 56.2% strength.
Colour: syrup with a reddish tint.
On the nose: a punchy arrival with soured apples, opal fruits and a subtle earthiness, but the memorable quality is one of sweetness. Cherries, poached pears with vanilla essence and lemon sponge cake with a dollop of cream.
In the mouth: it’s a weird experience to fully write down on paper. Divisive at the Edinburgh Cadenhead’s 30th tasting and yet again during our small warehouse group. The peat has become very sweet and creamy almost sickly sweet. Milk chocolate and a slight sourness, lemon peel, ruby red grapefruit and a chewy texture that moves into a metallic metal finish.
An Islay Malt 9 year old Review
Distilled 2007, bottled at 59.5% from a hogshead.
Colour: lemon juice.
On the nose: a capsule of Islay power and a fitting last dram. The punch of coastal peat matched by the brine and lemon. Vanilla from the cask but its been swamped somewhat by the spirit itself. It reminds me of a baked vanilla cheesecake with the buttery biscuit base, then a creamy aspect. Splashing through this is a touch of white wine vinegar, sea salt and pine nuts. Water revealed a surprising layer of sweetness feature bubblegum and those rubbery wine gums.
In the mouth: a coastal sea spray full of saltiness, seaweed and brine. A beach fire full of driftwood that provides a touch of bitterness and dry quality on the finish. Water wasn’t hugely beneficial revealing some creaminess, vanilla and a used matchstick.
A great showcase of the Cadenhead’s warehouse and its delights. More than anything it underlines the broad spectrum of whiskies and what they can offer, regardless of age, cask type and distillery. There’s something for everyone within, the sense of discovery, friendly banter and taking home a special memento to share with others unable to make the voyage to Campbeltown.