Only Cadenhead’s would have the audacity and stocks to throw together a trio of Islay whiskies as a vatting experiment and then forget it about it for a while. Compromising of only Ardbeg, Bowmore and Caol Ila on paper it’s truly an experiment rather than the primary school attempts from Glenfiddich.
Back in 2004 or prior, the Cadenhead team put this malt trio together with the intention of making it available to shop visitors. Things being like they are in Campbeltown, time passed and the cask languished until 2013 when Mark Watt and his team decided to put the contents into a sherry hogshead prior to its release in 2017. When it’s long overdue arrival finally landed it was part of the Cadenhead’s Creations range.
The emphasis on blending and creation leads me to an overlooked book by Alfred Barnard enchantingly entitled How to Blend Scotch Whisky. The last entry in his brief bibliography, the book itself was published in 1904 shortly after the Pattison’s whisky crisis that brought turmoil to the Scotch industry and severely hampered its reputation in the eyes of the public. The book itself is a rather modest short-lived affair and is little more than a promotional gambit for blending powerhouse Mackie & Company; a forerunner of White Horse distillers. The book itself was republished just over a decade ago and was kindly loaned to me by Francis of Daftmill distillery fame. Not that he’s looking into creating his own blend, but it is informative to look back as well as forward nowadays.
A large proportion of the book focuses on the trio of distilleries Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Craig-Ellachie. Of these 2 fall into the Mackie ownership stable whilst more famously he was the agent for Laphroaig; Peter Mackie actively pursued the iconic distillery with several attempts to purchase this distinctive producer. His continued failure and escalating bad feud with the distillery eventually led to the establishment of Malt Mill, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Instead let’s focus on some of the pearls of wisdom that Alfred Barnard outlines when it comes to creating your own blend…
A high-class blend cannot be made out of inferior whiskies
This is true in many regards although if you’re fortunate enough to explore old blends there’s a general sense of a greater range of stock to create your own concoction.
Age is the first essential in Scotch whisky
I can hear Mark groaning at this statement but it’s one that the industry was quite happy to peddle us for generations. Now all of a sudden age doesn’t matter? Of course it does to a certain extent; don’t believe the marketing and PR machinery.
The Scotch manufacturer makes a cleaner and better article than can be obtained in any foreign country
Undoubtedly this was once the case but as you’ve seen on Malt during our 2018 excursions abroad the times are changing.
Lowland malts alone, without Highland whiskies, would be of little use; the best makes are useful as padding
Clearly Alfred was already aware of the lacklustre performance of Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie and dismissed their brethren. A Lowland blend isn’t something that screams big seller either and we’re still waiting for that Auchentoshan – excluding the distillery bottle your own – to truly lift our spirits, or a Glenkinchie that restores our faith.
Grain spirit, with age, is useful for keeping down the price, and if used in moderate quantity is perfectly wholesome
Nowadays many blends are dominated by the industrial taint of grain whisky. We enjoy a grain here at Malt but the young stuff keeps costs low and delivers an unpleasant taste. Alfred also states that only 3 or 4 grain makes are of sufficient quality to be used in first-class blends. Sadly he doesn’t name those he prefers although our money is on some of the lost grain distilleries that offered a degree of flavour sadly missing today. Yes Girvan, I’m looking at you.
In bonding, it is false economy to fill bad casks
This is truer than ever today and arguably more identifiable.
The Creation we have here from Cadenhead’s on paper I’m sure would have met with Alfred’s approval. The Creations Range is the genesis of the team in Campbeltown and that sweetie factory mentality of running amok and letting your imagination go ballistic.
Cadenhead’s Robust Smoky Embers Blend Batch #3 – review
Colour: a beautiful liquid gold.
On the nose: yes there’s smoke but there’s a joyous sweet incense to the smog. A rich molten caramel, honey glazed ham and a medicinal aspect. Balance, poise and utter style with an Islay hybrid that is greater than the sum of its parts.
In the mouth: insane on the palate with a barrage of flavours that flow effortlessly and leave you gasping for air as the gentle smoky finish just lingers. Right, let’s try. Walnuts, cardamon, ginger root, marzipan, chocolate, pomegranate, bacon fat, black pepper and a salty brine tinge.
A triumph and a future classic. Only Cadenhead’s would have the audacity to try something like this and we reap the rewards. A touch stronger and I may have been moved enough to go up a notch. Overall, I think Alfred would have approved wholeheartedly as well.
Thanks to Conor for the sample! This will allow me to open my recently secured bottle for a future London tasting. Also thanks to Aeneas for the photograph.