Caperdonich may have sputtered and survived until the turn of the millennium – thanks to a soap opera provided by its owners – but the axe finally fell in 2002. Then, indecision took a hold until 2010 when the site was finally demolished.
A recent entry then, to the hallowed ranks of closed distilleries. However, Caperdonich endures today with a steady assortment of releases reaching the market including an official 23 year old peated expression that was an interesting diversion, closely followed by the Cadenhead’s 1977 39 year old, which was, unfortunately, more cask than distillery.
If anything there has been a noticeable rise in prominence for Caperdonich as time passes by. It offers the classic assortment of Speyside fruits and approachability with an engaging level of spice. With a good cask Caperdonich sings but with a great cask, it captures the spotlight on stage and the attention of any audience. Hence my decision to talk about casks in this particular review rather than the history of Caperdonich that you may find across the aforementioned articles.
My esteemed colleague here at Malt – Mark – has recently been standing on his ramshackle soapbox about the quality of casks used in the Scotch whisky industry. Regulars to Malt will have picked up on his regular diatribe. I’ve pointed out to him on at least one occasion that he’s firmly fixated on the most obvious cause for his outrage. This has been fuelled after reviewing for the Whisky Magazine and enduring a constant stream of similarly tasting whiskies. Indeed, casks do form part of the issue and I have spoken with a distillery owner recently who lamented the difficulties in purchasing good casks. Also for the record, how scruffy and damaged some of the Jack Daniels barrels have become.
Casks certainly are an important consideration and they do result in a great deal of flavour in our whiskies today. The industry would have you accepting that they account for 70-80% of the flavour spectrum because that’s what they would want you to believe. Just like age does matter. Remember that one? Nowadays age isn’t a barometer of quality and its all about the casks. Let’s not forget about the importance of the soil – am I morphing into Mark? – the barley, floor malting, fermentation, yeast strains, direct fired stills, computerisation, removal of worm tubs, the cut, alcohol levels prior to filling and then the cask quality alongside maturation conditions. It all adds up. Then there’s the overriding factor of time. As speculated in my recent Highland Park 1999 Anon 2 review, why bother waiting for the whisky to reach a decent standard when you can ship it out in black bottles with very few details? If it’s selling and if someone is gullible to purchase such a release, then they’ll bleed the market dry with subsequent bottlings that follow the same template.
There is no silver bullet. Individually these issues may seem insignificant. Mark’s venom towards casks is one I can appreciate especially with the Malt workload and my constant reviewing as the artist formerly known as Whisky Rover. At times it felt you were in the midst of a Groundhog Day nightmare facing similar whiskies with a limited flavour and aroma spectrum. This is no reflection upon the reviewer or their palate, rather everything begins to taste of vanilla and caramels because of the domino effect. All these little changes over the decades have given us consistency, but in doing so have removed the rollercoaster experience of Scotch and that handcrafted quality nature that shone through until the 1980’s.
Casks might be the vessel but they are only part of the issue. My fear is we have so many new distilleries incoming that are more a reflection of consultants and efficiencies rather than a dedication to bring their own style of whisky to the market. If you homogenise distilleries then you’re left with an overproduction of a very limited spectrum of spirit. Ultimately, only time will tell but I fear for many new distilleries and what they are bringing to the whisky realm other than fancy packaging and marketing rhetoric.
Let’s turn our attention to the release at hand with a special thanks to Noortje for providing a sample of this Caperdonich along with the photographs. It comes from German independent bottler Maltbarn that surprisingly operates out of an agricultural setting, hence the name. This 22 year old Caperdonich was distilled in 1994 and resided in an ex-bourbon cask for its lifetime. It was than bottled at 49.8% strength with an outturn of 201 bottles.
Maltbarn Caperondonich 1994 – review
Colour: a pine worktop.
On the nose: extremely vibrant and fresh. A real buttery quality followed by pine nuts and resin leading into varnish. Of course, there’s vanilla from the wood with a dusty characteristic. Pencil shavings, mangos, lychees, candy floss and soft pears. Spices with ginger and all-spice add another dimension.
In the mouth: pleasurable in its simplicity. There’s a reasonable texture that is light and engaging. Vanilla certainly as the wood dominates the flavour spectrum with a tinge of bitterness towards the finish that is a peppery caramel. A weathered lemon, touches of orange peel and apricot with toasted oats and milk chocolate.
Not the most fruit laden Caperdonich I’ve had but nevertheless still plenty to enjoy here. A style and confidence from this enduring and generally overlooked closed distillery. Unsurprisingly this 69th Maltbarn release sold out pretty quickly, and was priced at 145 Euros.