For the month of August, Edinburgh swells to bursting point as it welcomes entertainers, musicians, artists and much more from across the world. A series of festivals are unleashed and the city limits almost burst with the sheer pressure of visitors and excitement. There is no better place to be when the conditions and entertainment meet in unison on the streets of Edinburgh with a dram in hand.
To celebrate the arrival of the Edinburgh International Festival, J&A Mitchell create and release a limited-edition blended Scotch whisky. Priced at £27 this is pitched at the more affordable end of the spectrum much like the Mitchell’s Glengyle blend that offers plenty of value for the price point. Hedley G. Wright, the current chairman of Springbank distillery, is the fifth generation of the family to own and run arguably Scotland’s greatest distillery. Always resplendent in person, he is also a supporter of the arts hence this annual tradition of a commemorative bottling.
There are no real discernible details regarding what goes into this annual release, or even an outturn number. It’s priced for drinking rather than any investment portfolio or scandalous flipper activity. All we know comes from the typically Campbeltown labels that offer just enough of the bare basics. Bottled at 40% strength, it is comprised of 100% Scotch whiskies. It also comes in a standard Springbank bottle that may or not wet the appetite. The reverse label hints at the blending skill of Scotland’s oldest distilling family, going so far as to promise a sophisticated, well-rounded and silky smooth dram to the discerning International Festival audience.
Following the same lines as the city itself, the Cadenhead’s shop in the heart of Edinburgh is a difficult proposition during August. The sheer carnival atmosphere around the Royal Mile is enough to dissuade most weary locals from even venturing within the vicinity. Fortunately for you dear readers, I happened to be nearby, early one Saturday morning. Eager to try this year’s release I purchased a bottle before the crowds invaded. Traditionally anything peated is the big seller during festival season with requests for more peat being transmitted to Campbeltown.
Generally, this festival release outlives the month and offers an impulse purchase opportunity or a wee gift to someone that isn’t ready for the trusted single malt cask strength offerings that adorn the shop. There’s nothing wrong with a good blend. I’m tired of stating the obvious. Compost Box can dress up blends in fancy packaging and transparency much to many social channels glee. Personally, I’m more inclined towards a solid, tasty enough blend that offers the opportunity to relax in the evening without too much effort.
Given the sheer range of casks at the disposal of the team in Campbeltown this blend could have almost anything within its makeup. Before the actual tasting, I’m envisaging a blend with a higher grain ratio than malt. There are no details on colouring, looking at it and knowing the traditions of the team this will be natural. In terms of chill filtration, we’ll add some water during the process. However, there are some cask remnants in my bottle which to me means flavour, or flavor as Alexandra keeps on reminding me.
Edinburgh International Festival 2018 blended whisky – review
Colour: lemon peel
On the nose: very fresh, light and floral with subtle vanilla, pear drops and ripe apples. There isn’t that grain harshness evident you can feel in many famous blends nowadays. It lacks the industrial edge of a Grant’s, Grouse or Whyte & Mackay. Buttery with notes of white chocolate, fudge, fresh cottage cheese, white grapes, pineapple cubes and lemon pip. Water reveals more floral notes, pine cones and nougat.
In the mouth: short and sweet, not overly complex or provocative but extremely drinkable and refreshing. Green apples, unripened bananas midway, then lemon before the vanilla finish lingers for longer than expected. Texturally it is pleasing and approachable without the taught nature, we see in other blends. The grain tries to break through at one point but fails. Water reveals some lovely natural oils and in terms of flavour marzipan and meringues.
Overall I feel I’ve picked up an enjoyable blend for a good price. One I can happily enjoy without too much effort and it serves the dual purpose of cleansing the palate, or as the initial dram at a tasting. Leave it to stand in the glass for a wee while prior to nosing and tasting. As for water on the palate use sparingly as it can become silky smooth too easily.
A whisky ultimately that anyone should be able to enjoy if not find some satisfaction with. Priced just below the overhyped Monkey Shoulder, I’d pick this Festival release every time.