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Four Cadenhead’s Whiskies

I ask myself on an increasing basis: what is value? What does value truly mean to me nowadays, as a slightly grumpy and increasingly disillusioned whisky drinker?

Does it mean being able to purchase a favourite core expression at a discounted rate? A new distillery release without having to break the bank? Maybe it’s simply a fair price for a solid whisky that delivers satisfaction? Perhaps value is picking up a limited release at retail and then doubling your money without any effort, other than walking across the road to an Islay auction van?

Point being, value means something different to each of us, just like many of the words and phrases that the whisky industry likes to foster upon us all and literally take the piss. A limited edition with no outturn stated, the cleanest freshest water possible, or how about that immortal classic the finest casks? We could fill the rest of this opening with similar examples, but we’re here to talk about value. When I do think of the concept, I’m drawn towards the independent sector.

Independent bottlers are not infallible. We’ve already seen price increases from the likes of, for instance, Gordon & MacPhail, and a general silence on the topic. As long as the sample is free, who cares about the price? Well, frankly, I do, and so does everyone who writes here at MALT. Price is a big factor, and if something isn’t representative of value, then it’s highlighted and quite often marked down.

With the market so buoyant around whisky nowadays, the concept of value is being somewhat lost in the stampede. More often than ever, I’m walking away from whiskies or offers because of the price. Everyone has a ceiling, and like Mark suggested, we have to look after ourselves. Not only with the amount of whisky we are consuming, but also what we’re buying. How many bottles are sitting around in houses across the UK never set to be opened and appreciated? A growing number, with many running up debts in the pursuit of, well, I dunno really, as I just don’t understand it.

We’ve taken a tour recently here around some of the smaller independents who are striving to offer quality and value as a fair transaction. Bottlers such as Chorlton and Dramfool offer an alternative and bottle at cask strength and with no messing. Their releases often sell out despite being a one-man operation. The key attractions are a quality cask pick and an affordable price. A simple recipe for success and an increasingly rare commodity nowadays.

So yes, when I think of value I turn to these options, and I always include Cadenhead’s amongst this number. Their whiskies might not always be winners, but they are presented naturally and remain well-priced. This month I picked up a 28-year-old Glentauchers for £121, which in today’s environment is seemingly bonkers. More power to these guys and others, but please keep the quality. I’ve seen other independents bottling casks that clearly aren’t worthy of a single cask release simply to cash in on a distillery name or the ravenous appetite for any limited whisky. More than ever, we’re seeing more average whiskies hit the market, which frustrates me increasingly; I’d love to say go buy this! However, I value the responsibility I have here and the minor influence I may have on some. I’m not going to give out a score that doesn’t reflect what I believe if I had to make that purchase myself. Value, like trust is everything.

We have an assortment of four Cadenhead’s whiskies here thanks to the generosity of Noortje and Dirk. Rather than split these out into four articles, I felt a collective approach would be more fun for a change. Let’s go find some value, eh?

The Bunnahabhain was distilled in December 2005 before being bottled in December 2016 at 56.5%. A bourbon cask resulted in 228 bottles. The Glenburgie heralds from the Authentic Collection and September 1993. It was bottled in the autumn of 2017 at 24 years old and 53%. For the last nine years, it resided in a refill claret hogshead.

Our third whisky is a 41-year-old Glentauchers dating from 1976 before being bottled in the winter of 2017. Just 126 bottles were harvested from the bourbon cask at 42% strength. Last, but by no means least, we have a Highland Park devoid of Viking bling and an opportunity to remind ourselves (hopefully) of what this Orkney outpost can produce. Distilled sometime in 1989 before being bottled in the autumn of 2017 at 28 years of age, the bourbon hogshead resulted in 192 bottles at 45.8%.

Cadenhead’s Bunnahabhain 2005 – review

Colour: Olive oil.

On the nose: Salty crisps, honey and a real sweet vibe. Tea leaves, salted caramel and hot dogs in brine. Oily, an engaging nose that’s fun. Nothing too complex. Honeycomb, Yorkshire puddings straight out of the oven and lemon peel. Water reveals a mineral foundation, bacon aromas and apple puree.

In the mouth: Again, very salty – quite a salty dog this one. The dominant flavour, a gentle peat resides beneath with dirty vanilla, more brine, hemp, heather and salted peanuts. There’s driftwood and more lemon rounded off by sour jelly sweeties. The addition of water diminishes the salt appeal and reveals more wood.

Score: 7/10

Cadenhead’s Glenburgie 1993 – review

Colour: Pure gold.

On the nose: Fresh and sappy, with pine wood, lemons and pineapples. There’s a zing to it and a freshness reminiscent of a household cleaner – in a good way! Vanilla it goes without saying, a touch of smoke, honeysuckle and ginger. There’s also marzipan and a buttery nature.

In the mouth: More limited and cask driven. Freshly grated lemon, shortbread, apples and golden syrup. There’s also grapefruit, herbal tea and a light dusting of cinnamon, but not the progression or depth I had anticipated.

Score: 6/10

Cadenhead’s Glentauchers 1976 – review

Colour: Honey.

On the nose: Very detailed with a strong wood element and a freshness with pine cones and citrus twist. Pineapple cubes, resin-like, golden syrup and rubbed bronze. All-spice and mashed orange with waxed lemon. A rum fudge, brown sugar and a malty nature with vanilla custard.

In the mouth: Again woody with traces of vanilla and large chunks of the aromas coming through on the palate. A gentle blood orange, a little chalky in parts, honey, citrus burst with lime and a long candied orange vibe towards the finish with a touch of smoke and black pepper the lasting legacy.

Score: 7/10

Cadenhead’s Highland Park 1989 – review

Colour: New copper.

On the nose: Complex with an array of aromas including buttered crumpets, bashed copper, tree sap, buttercups, fresh breakfast tea leaves and Highland toffee. Terry’s Chocolate Orange, golden syrup and a touch of smoke followed by rubbed chocolate mint leaves. A wet natural sponge, Madagascar vanilla beans, sherbet and this doesn’t need water. More oils and fruits but it is fine thing in its natural state.

In the mouth: Oh the texture is what grabs you initially. A baked lemon cheesecake, that smoke again followed by charcoal, lapsang souchong, malted biscuits and honeycomb. A dash of white wine vinegar midway, some mango, white chocolate and a touch of wax round off a beacon for all shipwrecked Vikings.

Score: 8/10

Conclusions

A perfect way to open this tasting up with the Bunnahabhain. A perfect example of value and a well-picked release that won’t cost the earth. The fact that its 11 years old doesn’t matter whatsoever once you spend time with it. I’d buy a bottle, but this one is sadly long gone. Although, it’s a cert Cadenheads will have more casks from this distillery. Potentially sister casks as well. Fingers crossed then that we’re in for a clutch of strong Bunna’s in the coming years.

The Glenburgie is solid without ever reaching expectations and falls into line with other releases from this distillery I’ve had recently, including what might have been a sister cask of this release. The Glentauchers for me has gone just a touch too far in the cask. What remains is still really enjoyable but I wonder what a couple of years ago might have tasted like – a great nose nevertheless. It’s easy to be swayed by such an extreme age statement. Admittedly, I’m such a fussy git armed with a gerbil’s pipette. The Highland Park rounds off our voyage and a fitting reminder of what this distillery should be doing on a regular basis.

All in all, a fun selection from my Dutch friends and a clutch that underlines the value and quality that Cadenhead’s delivers on a regular basis. Whisky is the winner here but if I was to vote with my wallet – a tough decision – I’d go with the Bunnahabhain over the Highland Park.

2nd photograph kindly provided by Cadenhead’s.

CategoriesSingle Malt
    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi James, these are long gone so I didn’t put prices down as it’d be secondary prices now. The Bunnahabhain was around £60, the Glenburgie about double that and the HP circa £140 if my memory is correct. The Glentauchers was £200+. The value continues with each outturn so its a rolling thing. Cheers, Jason.

  1. Avatar
    Mark says:

    I don’t blame Cadenheads, but it’s a little bit academic saying they offer good value when their prices for less desirable distilleries fall into line with other IBs and the big names are pretty much unobtainable. The London shop have just changed their system from members raffle to reserving stock for people to buy after the members’ tastings. Which is good in a way but not a system I personally can benefit from as I don’t live in London and can’t miss work for a midweek tasting.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Mark, I know several have ‘issues’ with the London shop and some just order direct from Campbeltown nowadays; that’s a whole separate article. I do find their prices reasonable still. The example of the Glentauchers in the text at 28 years old. You’d have to pay £30 more for a 22yo from the Single Cask, £30 more again for a 25yo from Nectar of the Daily Drams, G&M had a 27yo recently for £200 which is a sizeable difference for a bit of packaging. I’d say Glentauchers is a less desirable distillery. At the other end of the spectrum who else gives you a 25yo Ardbeg for £240? If you’re fortunate enough to get the chance to purchase a bottle. Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Mark says:

        Hi Jason,
        Yes I think I will have to go through Campbeltown now, though I’m fond of the London shop, in the end it’s one shop that supplies a country with 10 times the population of Scotland! It’s just supply and demand and I don’t take it personally, though some do! Stephen at Cadenheads in London works his socks off but that doesn’t stop people sending him abusive messages if they can’t get what they want (I’m guessing these same people are sitting on hundreds of unopened bottles)
        Regarding pricing, G&M seem to be experimenting with how much they can increase prices before it comes back to bite them and I can excuse some of the European bottlers for having higher ticket prices, but I was thinking of Whisky Broker and Signatory’s prices which seem pretty much the same as Cadenhead’s until we get to the casks that they know they know will fly off the shelves. I am guessing that in the end Cadenhead would rather use the same pricing formula and keep their customers coming back in the hope of snagging one of the bargain bottles. It does in the end come down to ‘if you’re fortunate enough’. I managed to snag the 30 year old Highland Park last year in the fastest finger first from the online shop, I guess the Caol Ila acted as a smokescreen in that outturn! That said, I (and the rest of the whisky drinking world) would love to get hold of a 1980s Caol Ila, but haven’t had any luck in draws or fastest finger, so I guess I’m going to have to try and track one down at an inflated price at auction, or bite the bullet and order from Cadenheads in Denmark. Regarding 25 y/o Ardbeg, I believe the Peat’s Beast 25 year old and the TBWC Islay #2 might fit the bill if the rumours are true…
        M

        1. Avatar
          James says:

          Incidentally Jason I did the Deanston Warehouse tour a month ago -really good. Same casks as your review except the PX was gone (although there for nosing at the bung hole) for a sister Fino cask. Ended up buying the 12yo Palo Cortado Finish ltd Ed – pricey for a 12yo at £80 albeit cask strength but worth every penny for the quality, it’s a beauty – rich dried fruits from the sherry but the honey Deanston signature coming through loud and clear. Tasted the new make which was really surprising – to me it tasted of sour berries like blackberries…?

          1. Jason
            Jason says:

            Hi James, glad you enjoyed that Deanston tour option and managed to pick out something of interest. The soapy bourbon cask remains a disappointment. Hopefully, they can bring out an unusual cask when the next set of replacements are due. I have some Deanston new make upstairs that I should revisit! Cheers, Jason.

        2. Jason
          Jason says:

          Cheers, Mark. Aye, they work hard in that shop and I’m always made to feel welcome when I drop in. Yes, there does seem to be a sect that aren’t just laying down a bottle for future – whatever – but seem to up their scale and try to obtain the ‘valuable releases’ almost by the box using multiple sources. Sad times indeed and frustrating to those who just want to experience the contents and would love a single release. I do wonder if Cadens have considered a 50cl or 35cl for certain releases to combat this market?

          We do need to do more Signatory here and we certainly have a couple of Ardmore’s from the WhiskyBroker incoming although not the tastiest of whisky. Chorlton are good value as well. Leave it with us!

          1. Avatar
            Mark says:

            I could join a syndicate I suppose, though I don’t really know enough people who are willing to spend over £50 on a bottle, let alone £100 or even £200! I think recalling back to the Malt interview with Mark Watt, while it’s a scramble to get the big names, Cadenheads are one of a number of bottlers who are doing a good job encouraging drinkers to take a less travelled road and seek out gems from the lesser known distilleries. I did the Cadenhead’s warehouse tasting a few weeks ago and took home a Glen Scotia, plus a 13 y/o fresh sherry Springer from the cage, which looks like treacle, so I’ve got plenty of treats to get stuck into though sadly I can’t even drink at the moment for medical reasons.

  2. Avatar
    thropplenoggin says:

    Any chance of the Malt team doing a barrel pick and bottling it up for loyal readers? If you can’t beat ’em, etc.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      We’d like to do something along those lines or team up with a bottler. Buying a cask outright just now is beyond our means but you never know, one day. It’d be value based that’s for sure.

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    David says:

    Going through the comments and noting Mark’s comments regarding the London shop.
    There always has been the ability to buy at the pre-release tastings.
    From now on the reservation lists are no more as it was just too much hassle for the staff (plus currently they are one team member short due to illness) the main reason being that folk would then neglect to pay for their bottles several days after the release day if at all.
    So to be honest I don’t blame them.
    If you are a club member, then my suggestion would be for a in-demand bottle in an outturn is to phone the shop before the pre-release tasting evening and see what they can do.
    I’m more than up for a bottle share by the way!

    1. Avatar
      Mark says:

      No, I don’t blame them either. I completely understand the rationale, though geographically I’m unable to really benefit and I recognise I’m just one of hundreds scrambling for whatever is the latest clickbait dram, and I imagine the London shop has the biggest customer base of any of the Cadenhead’s shops. If I was some sort of IT genius I might suggest they implement some sort of automated draw system online, with 7 days to register and 24 hours to complete the purchase if you’re successful. But I applaud Stephen for getting people to come in and be part of the community if they want to get a chance to get hold of the big names.
      If you want to get in touch with me re: bottle sharing I’m markswhisky on instagram.

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