A theme I want to pursue more with MALT this year is taking releases from the prospering independent sector. Particularly the small scale or 1-man band outfits that are releasing casks they enjoy and appealing to a more niche or price sensitive sector of the market.
Such an example is Chorlton Whisky based in Manchester, which we finally covered with a Ben Nevis 21-year-old review. This was also was a Patreon bottle for our supporters and seemed to go down rather well overall. An overdue review certainly and this time around we also wanted to cover some current in stock releases for the readership. Thankfully, we make good with our intentions and armed with a few more Chorlton releases; we had a wee chat with David about all things Chorlton and whisky.
Malt: Let’s start right at the beginning, how did you get into whisky and what prompted that step to move into sourcing and bottling your own releases?
Chorlton Whisky: I wish I had an exciting Marvel-esque origin story for you, but it’s just the tedious tale of someone who has always been a foodie-type and at a certain point became fascinated by whisky. Who can really explain why things like that happen?
I started organising some tastings locally, and at a certain point thought it would be a nice thing to have a bottling to sell at those. I had literally no idea how to go about it, but it turned out to be a fun and interesting process, so things went from there.
Malt: What drams do you like to go to when you have the opportunity?
Chorlton Whisky: Islay always has a special place in my heart, and an older Laphroaig would probably be my desert island dram. It’s always exciting to try something new though, and it’s that sense of there always being fresh avenues to explore that sustains my enthusiasm for whisky.
Malt: The number of releases you’re bringing out seems to be on the increase have you been surprised by the response so far?
Chorlton Whisky: Starting out small, and with a general air of clueless enthusiasm, had the benefit of not setting me up with any real expectations. I’m still small and clueless, mind you, but there does seem to have been steady growth in sales and interest. Hearing back from people who’ve been enjoying the whisky is always lovely.
Malt: How difficult is it to source casks in the current market?
Chorlton Whisky: You hear all these stories about how easy this all was a few decades back – old casks of Port Ellen being sold for tuppence ha’penny and suchlike – but even in the couple of years I’ve been doing this prices have pretty much doubled. If you have deep pockets then almost anything is available, but if you’re operating on a shoestring like me then it’s certainly a challenge.
Malt: Is there a particular distillery you’d like to bottle at some stage?
Chorlton Whisky: Clynelish for sure. I’ve also acquired a serious love for Glen Scotia recently. If anyone from either of those two fine establishments is reading: call me! Some decently-aged Laphroaig would be amazing too, but probably dependent on my somehow acquiring a wealthy benefactor.
Malt: We often get asked about buying casks at MALT, what advice would you give someone looking to do this?
Chorlton Whisky: Talk to as many people as possible, and preferably those who didn’t just stumble into it blindly like me! Bottlers are, for obvious reasons, often protective of their cask sources, but beyond that I’ve always found people in the whisky world to be very open and helpful.
Malt: Do you think there are too many independents bottling currently or just that too much choice can be a bad thing?
Chorlton Whisky: Most of the whiskies that catch my eye and I end up purchasing are from independent bottlers, but the sheer amount out there is overwhelming and I’m sure I’m missing out on amazing stuff all the time. Add in all the new and re-opening distilleries and it can be impossible to keep up just with what’s happening in Scotland, let alone the rest of the world.
Malt: A real attraction of what you’re doing is the affordability of your releases. Value for money seems a key component of your success to date. Do you turn away casks as the retail price would be excessive to make a reasonable profit?
Chorlton Whisky: All the time. I have a bee in my bonnet about keeping things as accessible as possible, and I don’t think I have any business selling bottles that I wouldn’t buy myself. Since I’m a skinflint this tends to keep prices at the lower end.
Malt: A pleasing aspect has been the variety of distilleries you’ve covered. The less fashionable names like Bruichladdich, Cambus and Burnside – are you driven by taste in your cask selection rather than status?
Chorlton Whisky: I think Bruichladdich is pretty fashionable – check out their swish bottles!
Ultimately all that should matter is that the whisky is tasty, but the dull practical point is that casks from lesser-known distilleries are better value and there’s less competition for the good ones. For the price of a mediocre hogshead of Macallan (just as a randomly-chosen example of a blue-chip distillery) you could probably buy five interesting and characterful casks from places with less cachet. If you’re a whisky drinker, as opposed to a collector or auction-flipping enthusiast, then this seems a much superior proposition.
Malt: What releases do you have incoming in 2019 and is there anything you’re particularly excited about?
Chorlton Whisky: The Ruadh Maor I’ve just released makes me very happy – it’s not expensive at all and is just full of personality. It’s exactly the sort of thing I want to be bottling – and drinking! Although the old hippie maxim about never getting high on your own supply really should apply…
There’s going to be a Mackmyra at some point, which is my first foray away from Scotland. And another in my series of ‘Bealach Ruadh’ Islay single malts is on the way too – it’s really lush, and will be pretty affordable. I’ve been enjoying doing some collaborations with other parts of the food and drink scene here in Manchester (cask-aged beers with Salford’s Pomona Island brewery, food pairing with chef Mary-Ellen McTague) and I’m really looking forward to doing more things in that direction.
Malt: We cannot talk about Chorlton without touching upon your distinctive and wonderful labels! Can you give us the background on this approach and the various themes that run throughout the releases?
Chorlton Whisky: Most of the credit should go to the Medieval and Renaissance illustrators whose work I am plundering for inspiration!
I suppose I just thought that since every single cask bottling is unique then each one should also have its own design. That might be a decision I live to regret if I end up doing significantly more frequent bottlings!
I do try to link the image to what’s in the bottle, sometimes in a fairly obvious way like the maritime theme to Islay releases, but also sometimes in a manner that probably only makes sense in my own head.
Malt: What do you think of the current state of the whisky industry and is there a burning issue that needs to be addressed?
Chorlton Whisky: I suppose I don’t really feel like I’m part of the whisky industry enough to comment on the inner machinations. I’m just an odd bloke doing his own thing in a very insignificant way on the fringes.
As a consumer though it’s sad to see a few grand old makes having their reputations plundered through increasingly shoddy and over-priced releases by their owners. There’ll probably be a cost to that down the road.
I also think that whisky is behind the curve compared to the rest of the food and drink industry in how it presents itself to younger people and modern concerns about sustainability, transparency, etc. It also feels painfully male at times, even speaking as a pained man. Things are moving in the right direction, but slowly (it feels) compared to, say, beer and wine.
Chorlton Whisky Ardmore 9 year old – review
Bottled from a bourbon barrel at 60.1% strength with an outturn of 153 bottles, this costs just £55.
Colour: Lemon oil.
On the nose: Well rounded despite the strength. A gentle vanilla, wafers, coconut ice and wood chips. A hint of Wotsits? Salted caramel returns us to familiar ground followed by lemon pips, a gentle earthy smoke, popcorn and a creamy toffee.
In the mouth: Oily, a spent campfire and robust biscuits. Hot chocolate with a splash of cream, driftwood, black pepper and caradmon. Molasses and Kiwi fruit take us into a good sized brown sugar finish.
Chorlton Whisky Orkney 9 year old – review
This bourbon hogshead delivered 191 bottles at 63.1%, and they are available at £50 each.
Colour: A light haze.
On the nose: Creamy, malty and smoky fudge! Olives, freshly laid tar and honeycomb. A pungent thing. A slight wine/grape dynamic leads into fruits, biscuits and some stock. It can take plenty of water, revealing chocolate maltesers and a light smoke.
In the mouth: A crisp mouthfeel, chewy as well and very satisfying. Robust and a peppery beef? A citrus freshness, toffee into resin. Water reveals a chalky note, liquirce root and a lingering and smoky finish.
Chorlton Whisky Ruadh Maor 8 year old – review
Just 158 bottles were drawn from a hogshead at 62.5% and they are available for £50 each.
Colour: A sense of limescale.
On the nose: Zingy with citrus and ripe apples. A fresh, light and floral peat. Oily, lemon peel, white chocolate and a slight medicinal note. Familiar notes of honey and a Sunday morning legacy of bacon fat after a fry up.
In the mouth: Smoky, very smoky. Then those limes and squashed lemons followed by Kiwi Fruits and roasted carrots? There’s a charred or barbeque nature in here. Drinkable at cask strength, lemon thyme and a floral heather honey.
Chorlton Whisky Tobermory 25 year old – review
Coming soon – from a sherry butt.
Colour: Dulled gold.
On the nose: Ginger, dried staves, dandelions, fresh tea leaves, caramel and leather. Then chocolate digestives and apricots. With water, there’s oranges and traces of mango.
In the mouth: Well rounded and very drinkable without every being thrilling. Lots of chocolate and sooty flavours with some salt, peanuts and salted caramel? An odd one, water not so successful and reveals a touch of smoke.
Kicking off proceedings, we have the Ardmore and we’re currently seeing a lot of single casks from this distillery released at a young age. The Malt Society seem to bottle every month and on the whole, the standard is good, or very good, in some cases.
I really enjoyed this particular Ardmore and the price point almost twists my arm to award a 7 score. Upon reflection a 7 it is! I’d always recommend checking out our scoring guide as our mark means something… The Highland Park – sorry Orkney – is pretty much a 7 again offering enough fun and that attractive price point. Throughout I just considered how poor the official range compares to a cask strength 9 year old sibling. A few heads need to be smashed together on Orkney that’s for sure.
The Ruadh Maor is a little bonkers and hard to pin down but all the more fun because of it. You can go chase the big Islay names for excessive prices but for £50, the heavily peated Glenturret whisky is hard to beat. The Tobermory is a weird one, not a typical sherried whisky and quite subtle and delicate in places. You’d struggle to pick it out as a Tobermory and the price point will be interesting.
Overall, an impressive clutch of releases from Chorlton Whisky with some interesting twists and turns with the emphasis on value, which is a refreshing commodity nowadays.
Images come from Chorlton Whisky as do the whisky samples.