Since making the acquaintance of Jason Johnstone-Yellin and Joshua Hatton of the Jewish Whisky Company, I have enjoyed a pair of Glenrothes selections from their Single Cask Nation range, as well as a stunning bottle of Light Whiskey from the old Seagram (now MGPI) distillery in Indiana. This latter offering was a special bottling for their Whisky Jewbilee festival in Chicago.
In November, the Jewish Whisky Company announced it had decided to “mothball” the Whisky Jewbilee in order to focus on expanding the Single Cask Nation range. Ambitious plans are afoot for expansion into the UK, Europe and Canada, with the intention of trebling the number of 2019 bottlings from this past year’s 28.
Though I’m sad to see a quality event go on hiatus, I applaud the company’s decision to go out on a high note. With their energy focused on sourcing and bottling of distinctive casks, we have every reason to hope that Single Cask Nation will soon be releasing several dozen interesting bottles every year. As the company’s mandate – allowing drinkers to observe Kosher restrictions as they interpret them – necessitates maximum transparency about cask type and maturation period, we’ll continue to have good insight into the specifics of each whisky.
Ironically, then, let’s take a look at an unnamed Single Cask Nation selection from Speyside.
A recurring dilemma facing independent bottlers is that they periodically get access to casks with the caveat that these must be bottled without naming the distillery. Occasionally this takes the form of “teaspooning” in another malt in order to technically prevent the label from indicating the source of origin. Other times, it’s based on a gentleman’s agreement not to publish the name, though little birds frequently chirp out the true origins in side conversations, particularly over a dram or two. That Boutique-y Whisky Company uses their exuberant “Hairy Who”-style labels to provide cryptic visual clues that hint at the source of their anonymous bottlings.
Ostensibly, all this secrecy is in service of “protecting the brand,” which is certainly the right of every distillery owner. Though – as Jason tartly notes in another review of a regionally-disguised independent bottling – this dynamic has become inverted of late. For all the beverage majors’ obsession with brand and its protection, I cannot think of anything more brand-impairing than charging escalating exorbitant prices for pedestrian whisky swaddled in marketing claptrap. And yet, the beverage giants are afraid that a few hundred bottles of this or that cask will spoil the party!
Setting aside that mini-rant: today we’re considering a Speyside whisky of uncertain provenance. Jason Johnstone-Yellin noted that he would have preferred to label this with the distillery name, but “when presented with whisky this good it’s simply about sharing with fellow whisky lovers.” Fair enough, though my curiosity is far from sated.
So we’re left with a little mystery, requiring some light detective work. We know this is “an undisclosed Diageo owned distillery located southwest of Aberlour” according to the release notes. Geographically, that would broadly indicate Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Dalmunach, Glenallacahie, Glenfarclas, and Knockando. Of these, only Benrinnes, Dailuiane, and Knockando are owned by Diageo. Benrinnes is more due south, while Knockando is closer to straight west. Splitting the difference, let’s taste this with the working assumption that this is Dailuaine.
To test this hypothesis, it’s worth considering what we know about the distillery. Jason previously reviewed a Dailuaine single cask from the Strictly Limited range of Càrn Mòr. That review contains a compact history of the distillery, particularly the recent changes to the production process to make the spirit more waxily Clynelish-like. Today’s selection dates from well before that change.
Dailuaine is known among experts for the heft of its new make, the result of long fermentation times and a short distillation, with stainless steel condensers. These latter have also been fingered as the source of a sulfurous note and have subsequently been removed from the facilities. With the above in mind, I’m being attentive to any aromatic or gustatory tells that might confirm the suspected identity of Dailuaine.
This is a single cask of Speyside whisky (#130), distilled in September 1989 and matured in a refill Sherry butt. It was bottled in December 2017, 28 years old, at 54.3%. 488 bottles were produced. It retails for $170. Full disclosure: a sample was provided to me – unsolicited – by Single Cask Nation.
Single Cask Nation Speyside 28 year old – review
Color: Medium-light amber.
On the nose: Rich and sweetly fruity. Yellow raisins, apricot marmalade, mocha, pine cone, smoked banana peel. Faintest touch of sulfur, but evolving organically from within in the way of well water, as opposed to the overlaid struck match note of a dodgy cask. Very pleasant; good balance of malt and wood.
In the mouth: Starts with a burst of tart spiciness; whole cloves and lemongrass. Intensely woody at midpalate, making way for the smooth sweetness of milk chocolate, and crescendoing with a pleasant warmth. Fades into a dried firewood note, with lingering nuances of ash and spice.
If you enjoy sherried Speyside whisky but favor balance over aggressive cask influence, you’ll like this very much. Based on the rather broad selection at my local spirits warehouse, this is in-line (from a pricing perspective) with other Speyside single casks in the late-20’s age range. As for its mysterious origins: the slightly sulfurous note on the nose would point strongly towards Dailuaine. Would be interested to contrast this with a post-2006 bottle to note the difference following the removal of the stainless steel condensers. Single Cask Nation keeps the quality picks coming, and I’m looking forward to trying whatever they’ve got up their sleeve for 2019.