The mysterious realm of unnamed cask components is a fascinating environment. Casks are bought and sold with few details available regarding their heritage. This could just be the inefficient legacy of threadbare paperwork or more likely the result of the original producer protecting its identity and brand.
From the independent bottler point of view they may know the details of the whiskies involved or its source, but contractually are not allowed to state it. This is true of the 37 year old Edrington blend that Cadenhead’s currently offer on their warehouse tour. The source is clearly the massive company behind distilleries such as Tamdhu, Highland Park, Macallan and Glenrothes however beyond the identity of the parent company, the contents are a mystery. In some respects, I actually prefer this approach as it comes down to the components, their marriage and the whisky experience itself.
Then there are the single malts of brands fiercely protected most notably Glenfarclas, but others such as Lagavulin, Glenmorangie and Balvenie. When these casks appear on the market they’re often tea spooned and adorned with unique names, or when being bottled, cryptic titles adorn the bottle label. Yes, quite possibly it’s a roll of the dice and fortune favours the brave. These mysterious unnamed casks are often the source of many delights. The advantage to the consumer being that lacking a premium name results in the costs to bottler being reduced somewhat and a fair price can be charged.
As a whisky drinker we’re often told the benefits of blind tasting, putting aside brands and signposts such as the colour of the whisky, its age, alcohol strength and cask maturation details. How many of us actually achieve this virtual blindfold when faced with a whisky?
Personally, I love to sit down with a dram and appreciate the liquid itself minus the fancy packaging, press release and tiresome hype. Ideally, it’s the future but even when you’re organising a tasting, the emphasis is on revealing details in advance to attract attention and justify the admission price. I’d like to do a tasting for a fair price where no one knows what’s coming and given my generous nature, it’d have some seriously impressive whiskies.
For now we’re faced with this 23 year old blended malt that’s been selected and bottled by the Thompson brothers. This duo for the unaware, reside at the Dornoch Castle in Sutherland and have created a nirvana in the form of their whisky bar. A fine selection of malts is available by the dram and their appreciation of whisky has lead to the creation of the Dornoch Distillery. Whilst we await their debut whisky, they’ve been purchasing casks and bottling these independently. Each is adorned with a distinctive and stylish label from the talented and equally entertaining Katie Shiach. These playful labels offer hints at the contents with this mysterious blend being summed up with a Frankenstein-like figure with a hint of Metropolis.
For those new to Malt and whiskies in general, then this is a malt blend, which means it only contains malt whisky and no grain. We also know the youngest whisky within the blend will be 23 years old, but older whiskies may have been used as well. It was distilled at least beyond 1993, but then vatted in an ex-sherry hogshead in 2000, where it resided until July 2017 when it was bottled at a strength of 53.6%. This resulted in an outturn of 318 bottles, with 200 of these heading to Japan and the remainder being exclusively available from the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar in person, or online for £75. By all accounts, it’s been selling very well and only a handful remain.
The brothers kindly provided this sample and I also took the opportunity to blindly purchase a bottle to split with friends. Their releases have mainly sold out, but I’ve reviewed several formerly as Whisky Rover, with the Invergordon being memorable and the Arran release remaining my overall favourite. Throughout I’ve been impressed by their cask selections pricing and variety offered, hence buying without trying. I’m also a sucker for a cool label on a bottle.
Dornoch 1993 23 year old blended malt
On the nose: rubbed bronze, a touch of raspberry and Highland toffee. There’s a strong sense of nuttiness then almonds, dried fruit with raisins and apricots arrives. Time unleashes cinnamon and nutmeg, with liquorice towards the end and a whiff of tobacco.
In the mouth: more youthful and robust on the palate with dark chocolate, tannins from the wood and cherries. Sweet cinnamon, nutmeg, a little ginger all combine nicely enough with brazil nuts and stewed apples and rhubarb.
At this price there’s little to argue with. The whisky is structured to provide a fluid experience and does benefit from a touch of water on the palate. Very drinkable and that’s always a dangerous commodity married with a decent price these days. In a world of escalating whisky prices and disappearing age statements thankfully some out there are still bottling good stuff.