Some reviews write themselves… or can, if you let them get away from you.
“Grain whisky is boring. Well, maybe not this grain whisky – hopefully – but, you know: grain. Not as complex as malted barley, of course. Blend fodder and all that. But this grain whisky is old. Like, really old. It’s so old that if it were a malt whisky, you’d probably have to pay four figures for it. But it’s not a malt, it’s a grain. So it costs less. Still pretty expensive, though, especially for a grain whisky. Let’s try it. Ooh, this is nice. I mean, nice for being grain. It’s not a malt whisky, but it’s got some of the depth and complexity of flavors of malt whisky. This is excellent, as far as grain whisky goes. I like it, but it’s expensive for a grain. Not that I’d ever buy a bottle of grain whisky.”
Gentle ribbing of Mark and Noortje aside, most grain whiskies do little to force a change of this entrenched opinion. But, there’s a larger philosophical point to be made here: “we” (defined as: me, but mostly you) need to stop reviewing things like they’re something other than what they are.
As a thought experiment, let me present you with the gustatory equivalent: “This chicken breast is good, for chicken. It’s not steak, though. It doesn’t have the crusty, smoked exterior or any of the bloody, inner juiciness of medium-rare steak. I guess there’s a nice sort of blandly meaty quality about it, but it just doesn’t compare to a flame-broiled bone-in Kansas City ribeye.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” you’d reply, and quite rightly. It’s literally a different species! However, the Scotch whisky critics of the world persist in the error of believing that not only is any whisk(e)y (annoying parenthetical “e” fully intended) fair game, but it ought to be considered in exactly the same dimensional proportions as distilled malted barley. So, you get tepid reviews of bourbon with criticisms of too much oak (real talk: Jason, you’re a much better whisky reviewer than I am and I have your back ‘til I D.I.E.) or the aforementioned half-praise of grain that has spent four decades in a subtly interactive dance of maturation.
I love my elders – this grain whisky included – and I think they deserve a bit of respect, despite their obvious frailties. So, where to start?
I recently laid out a context for consideration of whisky in its totality. It begins from the empirical aspects: depth and breadth of aromas and flavors, balance, persistence… but then, sublimation. In this framework, I think of whisky both technically, in terms of intrinsic attributes, but also as more than liquid in a glass. It’s got a place in emotional spacetime which is augmented by – but also transcends – its internal characteristics. Sorry, I just saw “Avengers: Endgame.” But seriously…
Jason has done the most compelling job of elucidating this relationship by drawing on a deep, Proustian well of primordial memories so specific – yet so universal – that reading them reduces one to a state of vulnerable sensorial infancy. Without being able to lay myself so bare, out of an abundance of caution and also cowardice, I’ll venture as far as to say: grain whisky is the whisky you should drink when you need a pair of thick socks, a warm bed, a chicken pot pie, and/or a hug from your mom.
Back to objective reality for a moment: That Boutique-y Whisky Company has had no little success with their Invergordon series of single grain whiskies, now on its eighteenth batch. Not that this means much; as an ideological late capitalist, I am convinced of anyone’s ability to sell anything. Still, you have to hand it to them, given what little regard grain whisky is held in.
This is a sample once again bestowed on me by Carl, who paid $110 for a 375 ml of this. It is bottled at 47.7%.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Invergordon Batch #8 – Review
Color: Medium-pale apricot
On the nose: Generous and estery; enveloping and comforting. Egg custard, lemon pound cake with vanilla cream frosting, Elmer’s wood glue, a hint of anise, Dove bar soap, my Gram’s pizzella fresh from the waffle iron, and corn in its most sumptuous and milkily-beautiful form: grits.
In the mouth: A surprising exoticism for something that’s meant to be ineffably dull. Kola nut and sandalwood to start. At midpalate, this has a perky heat and a tightness to it that belies the 42 years in the barrel. There’s a grassy note as well – astoundingly, for I more often associate this with juvenile whisky, of which this is definitely not an example. This transitions into the finish with a note of varnish and then a long, sweet fade into full-fat buttermilk accented by the hot spice of cayenne pepper.
Using the rubric presented above: this has breadth, and it has depth. It lingers a bit, enough to incite a yearning for more, but not enough to wear out its welcome. It’s deeply comforting, though not at all challenging. Perhaps this is for the better? A whisky for quiet moments of solitude; a whisky for an exhausted body after a long day’s work; a whisky for when you’re feeling especially sensitive, or slightly vulnerable, or even that little-bit-of-happy-so-small-it-turns-into-a-tiny bit of sad.
Maybe that’s the magic of grain whisky? It’s almost useless until you need it the most, and then it’s indispensable. As the right tool for an exceedingly esoteric metaphysical and existential job, the equivalent of $220/bottle is way too much to pay, but also a complete steal if you’re properly situated. Do with that what you will.
Calibrated for the common dimension, but 10/10 at the precise boundary of intellectual and emotional horizons that make this a necessity. Photograph from Boutique-y.