Somehow, we are now well into 2019. And with that, the Spring Batch 1 releases from Cadenhead’s are upon us. This year’s line-up featured the likes of Ardmore, Arran, Balmenach, BenRiach, Benrinnes, Cooley, The English Whisky Company, Glenallachie, Glenrothes, Miltonduff, Tomatin and some other distillery nobody really cared about called Ardbeg. When you really list them out like that and remember the quality that tends to come with the Cadenhead’s name, we really are spoiled for choice.
After a 2018 that passed in a flash and that has continued into 2019, even WebMD would prescribe this writer a bit of rest and relaxation out of chaotic London. So, after a hop, skip, and jump to Singapore (of course that involved whisky, you can read all about it, here and Bali, I arrived back in London ready to ask, like Thomas Jefferson in a small musical you might have heard of, “So, what did I miss?”.
In the whisky world, it was the new Springbank Society release and the Cadenhead’s Spring Batch 1. Refreshed and ready to pick up where I left off, I headed over to Cadenhead’s with big dreams and a small budget. If I was going to purchase something, it was going to have to be decidedly within budget (a two-figure budget).
A quick scan of what was available on the shelves only ruled out the Arran, Cooley and GlenAllachie and still left quite a group to choose from. I said I was refreshed, not made of steel – I needed to pace myself. I turned to the always helpful team at Cadenhead’s for advice and we whittled it down to the Ardmore, Miltonduff and Tomatin.
Unfortunately, the Tomatin was not open to try, but, as luck would have it, the GlenAllachie was. Wait, the Cooley too… Oh wow, it really is a “Mr Jefferson, welcome home”.
An 8-year-old 2010 Ardmore in a sherry cask at 54.2% ABV? You know my feelings about this extremely underrated distillery – people have kept this secret knowing that if it gets more attention we will see the inevitable price raise. And only £48? Let’s do this.
Next up, a 9-year-old 2009 Miltonduff in a Jamaican rum cask, bottled at 62.0%. Maybe we will save this one for the end, wow! You tend to see a lot of older Miltonduff. Seeing one at such a young age with a unique maturation definitely piques the interest. At £52.40, this also stays within budget.
The GlenAllachie 26-year-old from 1992 weighed in at 54.8% ABV and was matured in a bourbon cask. This one just crept into three figures, so I was hoping it was awful and held on to my wallet a bit tighter.
The Cooley, a young Irish whiskey looking to shake things up. An 11-year-old bottled at 49.5% ABV from a bourbon barrel – if anything this is going to be one varied series of notes!
The beauty of this shop is that you can actually try the new releases. It is the perfect opportunity to make an educated purchase. I was lucky enough to be able to try these four in store before making my decision. And that is exactly what I did. There I was, writing down tasting notes with people staring and asking, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”.
Ardmore 8-year-old – review
Colour: Faded mahogany
On the nose: Very light smoke. Touches of vanilla and chocolate breeze through the dram. But then you get even more sweetness. A nice bit of Christmas here with mulled wine aromas – combination of spice, fruit and jam tarts.
In the mouth: Stronger than it appears! But that does not detract from the flavours – a nice combination of smoke and cured meats (think Bresaola, saucisson avec cornichons). With the orange and bread, it combines to come through as an orange mince pie. An oily feel with the taste of sweetened tea. Light cinnamon spice and white chocolate. Medium-long finish – bringing out the spiced oak flavours and bringing down those beefed up flavours so there is a nice balance in the finish.
Miltonduff 9-year-old – review
Colour: Golden wheat
On the nose: No subtlety here. This immediately packs a punch, a spicy rum punch. Quite young and spirit-y. Light bit of vanilla and heather honey. Surprisingly, the tropical fruits are really lacking as they are overpowered by the spirit.
In the mouth: The spirit really does hit hard here – a mix of sweet and spicy. Some honey and golden syrup on burnt porridge. This is matched by some chili flakes, cinnamon. Molasses and nutty flavours (walnut, almond) sneak in as we head towards the finish. This is a medium-short finish, a slight bit of tar, oak and anise.
GlenAllachie 26-year-old – review
Colour: Motor oil
On the nose: There are notes of toffee and apple. A bit of cereal baked with honey. Light floral notes that complement all of this. There is some minerality that adds a bit of freshness to the overall smell. Soft and sweet, a very typical bourbon cask but with that added intrigue of the malty notes.
In the mouth: A pleasant texture, smooth and velvety. Freshly baked apple crumb with sour cherries. Caramel adds even more sweetness, but the nutty flavours add a nice counterpoint. A light bit of spirit comes through followed by earthy and minerality notes that ground this well and complement the sliver of spice (ginger) that creeps in. Medium-long finish that brings out all these flavours with that slight bit of oak that builds into the malty notes again and the fruit pastries with powdered sugar.
Cooley 11-year-old – review
On the nose: A very light smoke and sugar combination that makes this a bit of sweet peat. Green apples and pears with a bit of cereal – baked strudel. This is displaced by a fresh and organic wave of floral notes that wafts through.
In the mouth: The sweet peat is there again – the smoke has a burnt tires flavour to it. Milk chocolate, walnuts and almonds come next. Then the sweetness becomes a bit more candy store – raspberry pop rocks crackle in the mouth. A touch of vanilla frosting with hazelnuts. A shorter finish that does not bring much else to the table but gives a few notes of citrus alongside the smoke.
This was quite the adventure. In the end, the Ardmore and GlenAllachie came out on top – they did not miss their shot. Though there is still a lot to be said for each of these bottlings, which have really demonstrated that each distillate brings its own unique and interesting character to the table.
The Ardmore set the tone. Delicious through and through. This only goes to show that this is a very underrated distillery. Rather than sing this bottle’s praises, I will just say this one was a steal and move on.
The Miltonduff was a bit too raw and needed a bit more time. Like Alexander Hamilton, it was bottled with the attitude that “I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation. Every action’s an act of creation! I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow. For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow”. Unfortunately, not even Cadenhead’s, who manage to bottle whisky that does exceed our expectations regardless of the distillery, could necessarily make this one work.
The GlenAllachie was soft, balanced and overall really lovely. A really solid whisky and I did everything in my power not to pull the trigger on it. That unique range of flavours does not make this an “easy-drinker” but something a bit more interesting, rebelling against what we just expect on the palate. But, alas, my willpower lost this battle, but my whisky selection won the war, as this one was added to the strengthen ranks like Lafayette bolstering the revolutionary forces.
The Cooley was vibrant but lacked the substance and complexity that it needed to hold up this dram. Of course, some lovely flavours but they did not come through enough to really make this a winner.
We should try not to underestimate or write-off anyone or anything in life, and that includes distilleries. They can change the way we look at whisky very quickly. The raw potential and right scenario can guide the success of any whisky revolution.