In my fifteen-or-so months of burping out content for Mark and JJ, I think I’ve gotten a fairish idea of what brings you most en masse to our digital yard.
You love a bit of knife twistage, especially when it’s plunged into someone big and corporate and stoogeable. If we declared 2019 to be the year of only rubbish Highland Parks, Laphroaigs and Conor McGregor we’d probably double our hit rate overnight. (And thanks to Edrington’s zeal for new releases, we’d probably still manage daily content.) You’re fond of non-review articles when there’s a skeleton’s-worth of contention propping them up. And if we cover something from Glendronach, Bruichladdich, Ardbeg or a supermarket’s bottom shelf you’ll tuck in like a millennial in an avocado factory. (Which is, of course, famously, where avocados are made.)
But I’ll tell you what you don’t like: bourbons, ryes, and so-called “world whisky”.
The anomalous point to this theory was when Mark reviewed Kyrö and ninety per cent of Finland descended upon us. But, generally speaking, when we start waffling about something a bit off-piste, you vanish in droves until the next horrible Viking juice pops up.
Which I think is a bit of a shame. And not just because off-piste “world” puggle has been the backbone of my Malt contribution this year. Rather because, as Mark pointed out in our review of 2017, there are absolutely fabulous whiskies being made right across the world at the moment – often better than their Scottish and Japanese counterparts – and the only column inches most of them get are when the mainstream media publishes a token, patronising, “whisky from where?!? Yes – really!” sort of watery puff piece.
So we’ve made extra effort to ferret out these pours from the otherwheres of the world this year, and bring them to your deserved attention. By my count we’ve racked up a twenty-one-strong nations tally in 2018; I see no reason why in 2019 we shouldn’t push for twenty-five – even thirty.
But if they’re going to be covered, then they’re going to be criticised, and that brings me to today’s road-less-travelled, which is the new rye from the London Distilling Company. In my opinion (and, I think, the opinions of most onlookers) they did themselves no favours with their launch price of £251. Not only that, along with the similarly self-aggrandising inaugurals from the Lakes Distillery, their bumptious pricing moved the conversations about English whisky away from the quality of the actual liquid.
Which is particularly annoying, as interesting, ingredient-and-process-driven whiskies are being made in England at the moment, and deserve to be properly discussed. What’s more, aiming for a wishful-thinking market of magnates and oligarchs has risked casting a negative pall over the fledgling and fragile English whisky industry; undermining the good foundations that several distilleries have spent time, effort and money putting in place.
At this point I’m just repeating words I’ve written umpteen times before, so let’s look at the whisky itself. It’s a 100% rye, double distilled and – here’s a sentence for you – “rested for over 1400 days in New English Oak Barrels”. The 1400 days bit is just a manufactured way of putting a big number on a young whisky, but the “New English Oak” intrigues me, because nobody, to my knowledge, has done that before. There are a good few ryes playing around with virgin European oak – Adnams and East London Liquor Company to name but two – but virgin specifically-English is a new one. Annoyingly the website doesn’t tell us anything pertinent about what makes English oak different, relevant, or useful in the creation of tasty flavours. But perhaps millionaires don’t care about that sort of thing.
Oh, and it also brought whisky distilling back to London after more than a century. Which was possibly the reasoning behind the price tag. But given that 251 bottles took them two months to shift, and are still (at the time of writing) gathering digital dust on Master of Malt, London’s pint-sized whiskymaking history must have been less of a draw than expected.
The London Distilling Company Rye Whisky LV-1767 – review
On the nose: A lignin blast of clove, blood orange, nutmeg, rye toast, white pepper and ginger. Like a greatest hits of young rye plus virgin European oak. Not dissimilar to Adnams in many respects, but deeper, it must be said, and a little less cereal-forward. There’s a slightly metallic tang, but it’s not unpleasant. And a floral, almost parma violet character.
In the mouth: A rich, supple mouthfeel that nicely balances sweetness, spice, body and tannin. Still the nutmeg and orange, but sweeter notes of cinnamon and dark honey too. Polished wood and dark cherries. Honeycomb? All scored through with a salivating rasp of black pepper and jalepeño. Hard to tell where the rye spice crackle ends and the alcohol snap begins.
If this first-ever bottling was £65 or thereabouts I’d be telling you to go straight out and buy it. But it isn’t, and I’m not.
London’s threadbare whisky heritage, about which we have heard so much in the last few months, came to a choking end in 1905 on the back of the infamous Pattison Crash that knocked the stuffing out of Scotch whisky. Quite possibly the only recorded historical instance in which London suffered from someone else’s hubris.
The Pattison crash was moulded from grandstanding, arrogance, a false sense of invulnerability and a disconnection with the real world. And that thunderous, rickety runaway train plunged the whisky industry, bloated by self-satisfaction and conceit, into decades of disrepair, misery and darkness.
No one is asking new distilleries to be charity projects. And there is a cynical secondary market champing at the bit to skim the fat off naïve distillers. But the unsold bottles on Master of Malt, two months after this whisky’s launch surely point to the high watermark of what the market will accept. Consumers have been alienated and turned away by the first bottlings of start-ups this year. Judging from the comments following our article in October, many of them won’t be in the mood to listen when press releases are launched for the second editions.
I hope in the new year that some sense of proportion returns. That distilleries think about how they want to be perceived. About who they want to sell to. About what happens when the inaugural carnival ends, and their whisky becomes just another speck in the boundless global panoply.
(7 for quality, but price makes a difference to our rating on Malt)
Many thanks indeed to Emma for parting with a sample.