Standing out from the independent crowd is a difficult task with the genre growing increasingly more populated. More than I can ever recall, we now have a huge range of choice from an expanding assortment of sources. How do you decide where to place your bets? Which brand or distillery can count on your support?
James Eadie has historical origins in blending and was available until the 1960’s before being revived more recently for a new generation. Mark has already reviewed the James Eadie Trade Mark X creation and kindly suggested that I take the reigns of their latest 6 single malt whiskies that have just landed at a retailer near you. Needless to say, I don’t want to cover the same ground and several of these single malts are from distilleries that many of you won’t be too familiar with, or potentially have never seen before.
With that in mind, we’ll do something different. A short snippet about each distillery and what’s of interest and any expectations before reaching into the whiskies themselves. How does that sound? Hmmm, ok? Sure, summary wise these are mostly bottled at 46% strength and range in ages from 9 to 14 years old for 5 of the candidates. Only the Cambus is extravagantly aged at 24 and like all grains in this bracket, it’s hopefully had enough time to reveal its strengths. That’s been harnessed at cask strength alongside the Strathmill and Blair Athol – 2 distilleries you don’t see much of on the single malt radar.
In other words an interesting selection of whiskies that step away from the catwalk models that domination the headlines and send phones into meltdown across the Cadenhead’s whisky shop empire. I’m looking forward to this. My own first impressions of James Eadie came from the Fife Whisky Festival in 2018 where the packaging had a simple and yet pleasurable style. Claiming a Caol Ila release for our sadly delayed train journey south, Andy and myself got stuck into the bottle which did the job without bursting your wallet. An overdue return so let’s commence with the distilleries themselves.
Blair Athol pretty much is destined for the blends. Very little makes it out into single malt form, in fact just 0.3% according to the folks at the distillery. Set on the outskirts of Pitlochry in Perthshire, Blair Athol still retains an old charm and historically has been prized by blenders. At MALT we’ve managed to review several Blair Athol single malts recently and they’ve always been interesting.
James Eadie Blair Atholl 14 year old – review
Bottled at 59.8% strength this will set you back around £65. From a refill sherry cask number #99 resulting in 529 bottles this was distilled in 2004.
Colour: a golden tan
On the nose: that cereal-based emphasis I associate with this distillery. The sherry cask has married well rather than taking the lead. Red liquorice, dried cherries and a syrup quality chip in nicely with a yeasty bread dough. Water reveals an apple puree, waxed lemon and barley sweets.
In the mouth: far more sweetness and fruitiness than I was anticipating. Towards the end, the cask influence comes through with cranberries, red apples and a drying quality. The finish is pleasing and prolonged. This Blair Athol is a welcome surprise. A drop of water brings out a smoky dimension, more lemon sponge and some pineapple.
Caol Ila is the most overlooked of the Islay malts. It is Diageo’s principal source of peated malt and as such produces on an epic scale for the island. The distillery was levelled in the 1970’s to create a new – almost industrial emphasis – on production. This doesn’t make for the best tour or picturesque buildings. However, the view from the still room is magnificent and the whisky isn’t half bad either. Caol Ila at a young age is robust and indicative of its Islay origins and into its 3rd decade of maturation can become a stunner.
James Eadie Caol Ila 10 year old – review
Bottled at 46% strength this will set you back around £47. Distilled in 2007, a vatting of casks 314426-314430 resulting in an outturn of 1147 bottles.
Colour: very neutral, a slight tan haze
On the nose: a touch of smoke, lemon peel, grapefruit and candy floss. The peat lingers nicely throughout the aromas with salted peanuts popping up and honey.
In the mouth: in a word nice. Possibly one that may have benefited more from a higher strength. A sweet peat, more grapefruit, a little oiliness and sliced apple. Just lacking that raw power of a memorable Caol Ila.
Cambus if you didn’t know was a grain distillery situated in central Scotland, or Alloa to be precise. The site of a former mill, the distilling heritage commenced in the early 1800’s until 1993. When a Diageo corporate shuffle stopped production and the site today exists to fill casks and a massive cooperage. While it still plays a part in the whisky you see today, an actual dram of Cambus is consigned to history. Making each release of interest.
James Eadie Cambus 24 year old – review
Bottled at 54.9% strength this will set you back around £90 and is an outturn of 465 bottles from a sherry cask.
Colour: chewed toffee
On the nose: a slight char, some toffee but it is a fairly gentle arrival. Dark chocolate and fruit loaf, roasted coffee beans and a flash of raspberry jam.
In the mouth: a simple pleasure. Very cask orientated with leather, plums and chocolate flavours. A resin quality and touches of orange, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamon. Treacle follows as does vanilla bark and rolled tobacco. An impressive balance overall.
Dailuaine was built in 1852 and was the first distillery to have the iconic pagoda roof – the classic icon for a distillery today – installed in 1889. Sadly this was lost due to a fire and Dailuaine has experienced a couple of fires in its history, but not to the same extent as the unfortunate Banff. Despite its age, Dailuaine had to wait until the 1990’s for its official single malt debut.
James Eadie Dailuaine 9 year old – review
Bottled at 46% strength this will set you back around £42
Colour: sanded pine
On the nose: fresh and light, it showcases wine gums, lemon pips and syrup. Vanilla marshmallows, cottage cheese, fresh cotton sheets and a cream soda. Water reveals white chocolate
In the mouth: very gentle and what you’d expect from a Speyside whisky at this age. Vanilla, custard cream biscuits and more syrup qualities form the main thrust here. It is rather lacking any real vibrancy or character. It is perfectly sippable and water unlocks pine cones, resin and buttery.
Inchgower distillery lacks a colourful history. Built in the 1870’s when a whisky boom was manifesting and taking much of its equipment from the now lost Tochineal distillery. It’s primary purpose has been and continues to be producing content for blends, most noticeably Bell’s and Johnnie Walker. Situated near Buckie, its as coastal as you can arguably get for a Speyside exponent. At times the coastal characteristic comes through, as does a waxiness.
James Eadie Inchgower 9 year old – review
Bottled at 46% strength this will set you back around £43, an outturn of 552 bottles from two 1st ex-fill bourbon casks.
On the nose: creamy and lightly honeyed with subtle vanilla. A little bit of resin, a touch of smoke – hey this has character – that blends in well with the cask char. The inviting aroma of toffee apple followed by milk chocolate. Water delivers a buttery pastry, more apples, coconut and melon.
In the mouth: first impressions are good with a light zingy character. Plump meadow fruits, caramel and a sugary finish. It’s very reminiscent of young Inchgower’s I’ve had previously. Water shows almonds, syrup and ultimately just a drinkable and enjoyable young whisky.
Another distillery without a showcase history. Strathmill was built in 1891 in the town of Keith, as many distilleries were established across Speyside. Originally known as Glenisla – not to be confused with the 1970’s experiments at a nearby distillery – the name change took place in 1895. It is rarely seen officially and one could argue is best put into a blend however the single malt format allows us to explore its qualities in greater detail.
James Eadie Strathmill 9 year old – review
Bottled at 59% strength this will set you back around £44. Residing in a re-charred hogshead cask number 806273 since 2008, this produced 258 bottles.
Colour: egg white
On the nose: quite sappy, interesting and juicy. A chalky mineral aspect, lemon, apples, pears and peanuts. This certainly doesn’t come across as cask strength as its very approachable. Water ushers a drying vanilla quality and a light varnish followed by melted butter.
In the mouth: the strength is noticeable now, but not overly so. Tangy, a light citrus taste, more apples, icing sugar, white peppercorns. Ooh, water turns this up a notch on the fruit juiciness. Quite surprised by this one in a good way.
I suppose you have to put things into perspective. The Dailuine, for instance, is youthful and lacks that definition you’d long for but its perfectly pleasant. For £40-ish many would be happy with the experience, for what is an easy drinking whisky. If that’s your Modus operandi then go for it. Ideally, if I was planning a tasting then it would serve as the palate warm-up act.
The Inchgower and surprisingly the Strathmill are better all round in comparison. The Caol Ila is impressive on the nose but the palate retreats somewhat hampered by the bottling strength. A fun whisky nevertheless, but not one that grabs you as it should have. The Blair Athol is really really good. It might be my pick of the bunch and just shows the value of single casks and the indies who showcase the lesser distilleries. The Cambus does run it close however and both would be my recommendations from this batch of releases.