Congratulations, you’ve survived the Cadenhead’s 175th Anniversary celebrations. For a moment back in May, it felt as if we’d never see January. Yet the cold winter storm never descended and a celebration dram is required.
It’s a rare sight nowadays that a maturing cask slips below the legal limit of 40% strength. Once this happens the ability to bottle it as a single cask is sadly lost and denied. Far from trying to advocate a change in the Scotch Whisky Association rulebook – which must weigh a ton – I’ve experienced a handful of spirit drinks that have stepped across the threshold. Surprisingly, especially for those remaining above 35% in strength there is little impact other than the label and price tag. The more knowledgeable element of our readership will also be familiar with the fact that those pesky master blenders regularly take their samples down to 20% prior to nosing and tasting.
The last such spirit I can recall being released was in 2015 as the Spirit of the Highlands via the Whiskybroker. This was actually a Ben Nevis with a ridiculous 49 year old age statement. This had well and truly slipped having been bottled at a benchmark low of 29.5%, which upon reflection did limit the experience. It’s such a tragedy that a cask reaching these advanced years somehow didn’t warrant further observation. On the plus side the price was just £25 for a 50cl whereas a single malt Ben Nevis in this age spectrum would be nearer £1000 a bottle.
There’s always a story behind releases such as these and the Hielanman is no different. It was distilled in December 1971 before being bottled in May 2017 at a modest 45 years of age. Just 75 bottles were extracted from the cask at a borderline 38.3% strength. The original plan was to bottle this cask which is from Glenfarclas as the crowning highlight of their 175th Anniversary celebrations. Unfortunately, the timing was just out and the cask contents had breached the legal limit. The moment was sadly lost according to the SWA rulebook, but the inventive types at Cadenhead’s decided to harness the cask as a spirit drink for a modest price.
Why the Hielanman? Well, Glenfarclas is very protective of its brand and does not appreciate independent bottlers from utilising its name despite purchasing casks. However, Cadenhead’s do have an agreement where they can bottle 2 releases annually under its name. Potentially there was scope to use up a slot in 2017 under the Glenfarclas name, but as it couldn’t be sold as whisky the wiser choice of a spirit drink was utilised and thus the Hielanman was born, or at least this instalment. The name itself has been used by Cadenhead’s for their Old Liqueur Scotch Whisky.
Casks themselves are almost living, breathing vessels. Mother nature is unpredictable taking its fair share or slightly more than expected. Changes in atmospheric pressure can affect casks as can a host of other elements. For Cadenhead’s they have casks littered across Scotland including casks owned by the Mitchell family that may drop into their inventory whenever they fancy it. Keeping track of these casks littered at various locations is an uphill challenge. Whilst it is possible to obtain samples and have these shipped to Campbeltown – imagine having to do this for potentially hundreds of casks every year. Even if extracting a cask costs just £20, multiply this and you have a labyrinth of pitfalls, dead ends and instances such as this cask where time ran out.
Going forward, as explained during the excellent Cadenhead Warehouse Tour that Malt experienced recently. Cadenhead’s are looking to bring as many casks as possible to Campbeltown. This will have obvious benefits, but also such a transplant must be thought through. Moving say a traditional Speyside cask as Glenfarclas to the more coastal and salty environment of Campbeltown, may impact – or taint to some – the contents. Thereby creating a whisky that is not entirely what you’d expect. Some independent bottlers are able to work with distilleries to mature casks on site until they wish to bottle them and for good reason. The future may hold less Hielanman’s but for now let’s saviour the moment.
Cadenhead’s Hielanman Spirit Drink – review
Colour: candied orange.
On the nose: a delicate arrival with glazed oranges, barley sweets, bubble gum and a refined dark chocolate with flakes of ginger. Returning there’s a lingering honey, coconut milk, apricots and some poached pears.
In the mouth: impressively vibrant with a really bitter orange appeal and chocolate coated raisins. A wonderfully light, fragrant and yet detailed texture after 45 years. Honeycomb, caramel and ginger takes us into the prolonged finish with almonds, black pepper and tannins from the wood.
A real pleasure to sit down with this ex-whisky that sadly escaped our clutches. We need to have rules and regulations in Scotch, but this fella is so close that being a tad below 40% doesn’t matter. A great cask and patient approach almost delivered however what’s left is greater than a poor man’s Bushmills. A fitting send off to a year of Cadenhead celebrations.