Once when I was working behind a bar, a customer remarked, “Why are you selling that s***e?” whilst pointing to a bottle of The Chita single grain sitting on a shelf. He proceeded to tell me he worked for a company that specialised in selling Japanese whiskies to businesses and rattled off a few well-known Asian whiskies, the usual sales patter. When I finally asked him who he worked for, he replied Suntory… slightly confused, I kindly decided to glance over his faux pas.
Personally, I quite like The Chita. It is a perfectly good dram and I will happily sup one, perhaps after a nice porcini risotto as it really brings out the creamy, earthy notes from the whisky. I have a bottle open that I will often revisit, as it is so easy to enjoy. My review, however, is not about The Chita, but rather a blended grain whisky I received a sample of for one of my gifts last Christmas. The dram in question is from Bartels Whisky, His Excellency blended grain 25yo bottled at 40.3%. This whisky came into existence when a first-fill sherry butt of 25-year-old Cambus grain was sent to the bottlers, only to be found to have an ABV of 39%. As we whisky drinkers know, that is a big problem, so it was vatted with 5% proportion of 25-year-old North British grain to bring it up to that magic mark whereby it can legally be called a whisky. Only 100 bottles of this liquid were produced due to a structurally defective cask, so it is a wee bit of a unicorn! The fact that it is decently aged and a blended grain makes it quite a rarity, and I feel lucky to have tried it.
I have noticed that single and blended grains do get a lot of bad press. They are usually looked down upon as people feel that they are inferior. Yes, they are cheaper to make, and I guess not as romantic as a single malt, but the ones I have sampled have been quite delicious. At times I have overheard conversations where the view is expressed that if it is not a single malt, then it’s not worth drinking. Along similar lines, I have noted people saying that no water or ice should ever be added to any whiskies! This baffles me… Surely if you drink whisky, you and only you can decide how you enjoy your spirit? Though I have seen a couple of old geezers pour as much water as whisky into their glasses, and that horrifies me! Anyway, I have gone off on a tangent. I have been quite lucky as the blended/single grains I have tried, bar The Chita, have been aged for a fairly long time, so the intense alcoholic flavours have had time to mellow and transform to create wonderful tropical delights.
I wanted to get into the history of Bartels, the fact that it is a small family-owned independent bottler. However, I thought Mark did a great interview with the Bartels team (albeit this was back in 2015) and you probably would learn a whole lot more by taking a read. I love a family-run business, having been brought up in one. I can imagine what it is like: despite being in a totally different field to my own experiences, I reckon there are plenty of similarities to which I could relate.
I decided to review this Bartels Whisky because I found it very different compared to others I have tried in the same genre. Most grains I’ve sampled have been quite similar in their flavours; I almost always get coconuts like Scottish macaroons and the aforementioned tropical fruits often associated with grains. With this whisky, I didn’t really get that, which I found interesting and noteworthy!
Bartels Whisky, His Excellency, Blended Grain – review
Colour: deep amber
On the nose: up front I get sweetness and creamy vanilla. Lot of sugar, definitely brown to dark brown, that has been slightly burnt to give a nice toffee aroma. There are also lots of bread and toast scents with maybe a light spreading of marmite. Christmas cake flavours are present; I get raisins and orange peel as well as the spices, hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
In the mouth: I found this whisky quite spicy with lots of black pepper. The sweetness is there but surprisingly not as much as expected after my experience on the nose. I thought my blood sugar levels were going to hit the roof! It has a silky mouthfeel with a slight saltiness, saline, vanilla bursts, and then over time, it becomes somewhat drying. After a while, I began to get mushrooms, earthy undertones, sporadic liquorice bursts, a little bit of Asian medicine as I began to get some ginseng root and tannic bitterness. the finish is medium with a warm lingering burn, sensations of numbness on the sides of the tongue. Silky at the base of the throat with hints of cinema toffee popcorn.
This dram surprised me, I was expecting milk chocolate Bounty Bars but instead I got dense Christmas cake! In fairness, I should have realised it was from the sherry butt; still, the flavours did throw me. If this Bartels sounds appealing to you, you might get lucky and be able to pick one up at a reasonable price at auction even with only 100 bottles ever being produced. An interesting and enjoyable dram that shows a slightly different side to grains than I am used to. I enjoyed it despite the clash with my expectations, but must admit I much prefer the totally tropical notes that I’ve had with previous grains.
There is so much snobbery in the whisky world, isn’t there. I was one of those who despised blends as well as single grain, but I entered the world of Irish whiskey and changed my mind. Some of my favourites now are single grains!
I’ve never heard of vatted grain whiskey before – interesting!
Thanks for the comment Susanne. Yes, I’ve met a few folks and know friends who can be put in the snobby category! I can see why people can be uppity about it but if the first grain they sampled didn’t agree with them they could give others a chance. Just like single malts… not all of them are good. For myself, it is all about exploration! I am also quite contrary! That is one thing I definitely need to get into, apart from one Irish whiskey I had at a tasting event, I haven’t had any. There are just so many whiskies and I have barely scratched the surface! May I ask why you disliked these whiskies?
Thanks for the review I had not discovered Bartels before and found something interesting in their range.
Hey Graham, thanks for the comment. I’m glad my review helped you to discover something new, I hope you enjoy it!