When English distilleries can make nearly eight grand by auctioning off their first bottle of malt, how best to go about trumpeting the oldest English whisky ever committed to glass?
Answer, if you are the English Whisky Company: quietly pop it in a nondescript bottle, fire off an email to your followers and stick two posts on Twitter.
There’s something so admirable about that. No falderal fanfare, no “something wicked this way comes” buildup. Not a sniff of Lalique crystal or velvet-lined mahogany. Just “we’ve made an 11 year old whisky, it’s aged in Cabernet Sauvignon casks and it’s the oldest whisky we’ve bottled.”
I imagine there’ll be marketing departments tutting “missed opportunity,” and pointing out that, over two weeks after launch, there’s still plenty of stock left. But this quiet, measured, hysteria-free approach is typical of the folk at St George’s. Which isn’t to say they’re above a special edition – they love anything with a sniff of royalty about it – but does suggest that they put more time and thought into the whisky than into the PR. Which, we all agree, is generally A Good Thing.
Those two cheers aside, not much more to add really. The distillery has been plugging away since 2006 now, so I think it’s safe to say they’re comfortably part of the world whisky furniture. They’ve a commendably broad selection for under £50 or so, though I wasn’t blown away by their new-ish look flagships.
Along with the wine cask matured 11 year old, they released an 8 year old ex-bourbon peated whisky, which, for the benefit of statisticians, came in at a chunky 63ppm post-malting. Generally speaking, my experience is that the English Whisky Co do peated whisky better than they do unpeated, but I found this one a slight curiosity, as there seems to be rather a lot of independently bottled eight-year-old, ex-bourbon peaty EWC at the moment. Indeed we’ve reviewed at least one of them here. So I’m slightly surprised that the distillery itself didn’t release something with a greater point of difference than a slightly lower abv. But I suppose it makes for interesting comparison, and perhaps I’m simply being over-speculative.
Shall we get on?
The English – Cabernet Sauvignon Cask, 11 years old – review
Colour: Tawny with a salmon rim (who have I become?!)
On the nose: Very vinous notes shuffle respectfully – decorously – from the glass. Red cherries. Cranberries. Both fresh and dried. There’s wood influence in toast and ginger, plus something mildly tropical. Dried apricots. It’s fairly delicate, this.
In the mouth: More dried apricots straight away, riding a wave of almonds and sweeter marzipan. Almost frangipane. Some stone fruit joins the red berries – borderline peachy. Decent malt backbone. Indeed “decent” sums this whisky up. It’s decent. It’s balanced. It’s respectable. It’s fine.
The English – Smokey Oak, 8 years old – review
Colour: Young oaked Chardonnay
On the nose: Ooh. That’s a round, rich, enfolding baritone of peat. Firmly from the Lagavulin school. Smoky bacon, mixed herbs, heather, pine. A pleasantly musty maltiness and hemp sacks. Popcorn. The smoke is very pleasant, but perhaps a smidge too all-pervading.
In the mouth: Sensational, sensuous, oily mouthfeel. Sweetness and smoke beautifully in tandem. Vanilla and butter shortbread. A little ginger. Sherbet lemons. Comforting hay in a warm barn. All rather fulsome and sonorous. At cask strength this would probably be my favourite English Whisky Co whisky ever.
Far better than The Original and The Smokey. But I’m still not quite blown away. I think, where this distillery is concerned, that I put myself at a disadvantage by tasting their fabulous Chapter 16 before I had tasted any of their other whiskies. Perhaps that set my expectations a little too high.
Nonetheless, 6 and 7 are decent scores on Malt, as we have now re-iterated ad nauseam. And the Smokey Oak will certainly titillate fans of all things south-east Islay.
And, given the obvious marketability of age-dated English whiskies from a small-ish distillery, I think prices of £56 and £51.50 respectively deserve a third cheer for St George’s. At which point I’ll stop writing, before Jason accuses me of over-cheerfulness.
Photos from the official distillery website.