For what it’s worth, I agree with Mark. Single malts, blended across a range of a distillery’s casks, are more complex than single casks. No, sorry, should be more complex than single casks. No, wait, can be more complex than single casks. No, hang on. Oh F.F.Sake. Look, it depends, alright.
Ugh. “It depends”. The whimpering banner of on-the-other-handism; the glue that sticks you to the fence. There’s nothing that can draw a knife so quickly through the hamstrings of useful criticism; no attitude that can so quickly suck the raison d’être from an opinion column. So, since Malt is nothing if not a critical opinion column, let me clarify.
All things being equal, the best single malt, blended across a range of casks, is obviously a more complex, symphonic, comprehensive thing than a single cask from the same distillery. There are, as Mark has eloquently attested, simply more flavours on show. But. More casks, particularly in such an efficiency-driven, use-it-again era as that in which we currently squat, mean more chance that some seriously ropey wood will slip in too. And, whilst we have pointed out umpteen times that the wood does not make the whisky, shoddy wood can certainly give the whisky a jolly good stuffing up.
It is also far easier to just pop a bung, think “ooh, doesn’t this smell nice?” and bottle it as a solo act than it is to take a selection of casks and transform them into a greater, unified whole. Which is why I have more respect for a multi-cask single malt. Why a multi-cask single malt – even if less tasty than a particular individual cask – has more interest. More soul.
Single casks are only really interesting if they show off some hitherto-unexplored riff on a distillery’s usual theme. This super-peaty, barbecue-beef-flavoured Glenturret, for example. Or a Glendronach that hasn’t spent its life in sherry. When they exist as just a one-man-band version of a distillery’s norm, single casks shed much of their glamour and wonkishness and risk. They become a bit safe. Which isn’t to say they can’t be tasty. It’s just that any clown with a working snout could pick them. Put it this way: if you go for a meal at a top-class restaurant, you don’t want something that you could throw together yourself.
I’ve probably given you enough fodder to grumble about in the comments section there, so let’s pile straight into today’s whiskies, which are two single casks from the English Whisky Company, bottled by the ever-dependable Cadenhead’s. We’ve a peated eight-year-old and a non-peated seven-year-old, and both have come out of ex-bourbon hogsheads. Which puts them bang in line with almost every one of the independent English Whisky Company single casks I’ve come across from anywhere. Hence, I suppose, all that grumbling in the paragraph above. The one complaint you should never be able to level at single cask picks from a sole distillery is predictable ubiquity.
But perhaps they’ll be yummy and I shan’t mind so much.
Unbeknown to Adam, Jason & Noortje enjoyed a bottle of the peated release in Rotterdam recently and chip in with their surprise notes.
Cadenhead’s English Whisky Company Aged 7 Years (non-peated) – 61.5%
On the nose: Simple, but pronounced and clean. That typical malt-and-dairy English Whisky Co combo. Shortbread and the innards of custard cream. Warm lemons, melon and pear. Rather floral, in a blossomy way.
In the mouth: Medium-bodied, and the flavours and texture can’t quite contain that mule-kick of alcohol. They are, nonetheless, clean and pleasant once again. Inoffensive. Mixed nuts, vanilla and pine. Crushed almonds. Dries rapidly. I can’t say this is groundbreaking stuff. It’ll do.
Cadenhead’s English Whisky Company Aged 8 Years (peated) – 61.9%
On the nose: Ooooh, now then. Now then. An oozing, comfort-blanket smother of bass-note peat; wet-rock minerals, petrichor and medicine cupboard. But that only accentuates a lovely orchard fruit – pears and white peach. All rounded off with malt, chocolate and warm barn. Fab.
In the mouth: The smoke becomes woodier – hearthier – here at first. Meatier too. Kipper. Smoked pork. Ripe lemons, garrigue herbs and more of that intense minerality in a big, booze-calming wrap of flavour. Islay, eat your heart out. No, it’s not the most complex beast in the world, but it’s lovely to drink. Just a tiny smatter of bitterness on the finish. Is this an 8? Is it? Is it?
No. Not quite.
Cadenhead’s English Whisky Company 2010 – Jason’s review
Colour: Another shade of caramel.
On the nose: Smoked boiled fruit sweets, a briny quality and a real interesting level of earthiness. Beef tomato, ham hock and a dense smoke or smoke that suffocates the Golden Gate Bridge. Tinned peaches, vanilla toffee. With water there’s apricots, banana and wafers.
In the mouth: Elegant in a way, not forceful or uncouth. A smokey blanket, earthy with scattered ashes, but some sweetness within as well. It takes water extremely well, delivering a more resin-like texture with a burst of sweetness. Not complex, but still jolly good old bean.
Cadenhead’s English Whisky Company 2010 – Noortje’s review
On the nose: Peat at first. Some fruitiness from apples, pears and kiwi too. A hint of biscuits. But it’s a little restrained. With water: a little less peat. And there is a hint of lemon now too. Trampled grass.
In the mouth: Ok, this reminds me of ‘boterbabbelaars’, which is a Dutch candy. But that might not ring a bell by everyone. Maybe that butterscotch comes close to this? There’s a layer of peat. And plenty of honey and vanilla. Some menthol in the background. Quite a thick mouthfeel. In the finish more peat and honey. With water: Somewhat ashy now. Also some liquorice.
In the beginning, I have some nice fruits (at least in the nose) and sweetness, but from time to time it is a bit too peaty for me. It takes the upper hand a bit too much compared to the other notes. Adding water creates a bit more complexity and brings the peat a bit more to the background, what makes it a little more pleasant. All in all, it’s certainly not bad whisky, but it isn’t very special in my opinion.
Not sure how many more times I can say that peated EWC always beats non-peated. Peat’s not a smoke that works with every malt, in my book, but it really works here. A little more complexity – an extra cask or two – and this eight year old would be right up there. It’s a cracker for a hip flask and a long walk as it is.
As to the non-peated? Meh. Wouldn’t pick it out of a lineup. Another in the ever-growing line of single cask bottlings that only seem to exist for the sake of it.
Many thanks to David for providing the two samples.