My experience of MALT is that they work hard to cover the outputs of independent bottlers, be they large or small, well-established, or new kids on the block, and I guess I wanted a slice of that pie. I did not know much about what indies do, and when I found out, I was somewhat unnerved. I have been involved in business myself in the past, and I am not a risk taker, but rather conservative in how I splash the cash. The idea of investing a load of moolah in a barrel where the spirit may or may not be premium scares me. It isn’t cheap, and I have a lot of respect for the guys who are taking these risks. Sure, they can sell it off again if it doesn’t meet their standards, but will they make a return on the investment, break even or lose out?! Ahhhh my heart, so risky!
The Single Cask is an independent bottler headed by Ben Curtis who, in his exploration of whisky, went from being a distributor in Asia for a number of Scottish distilleries to becoming the founder of a whisky “rescue” operation. Think of a pet home: a lot of animals may be overlooked or grouped together with a bunch of their fellows of the same breed. What the guys try to do is look into these collections and pick out the ones that might have that extra sumfin sumfin! Maybe those are special because of the tricks they can do! Now I feel sorry for the other cats… sorry; casks!
In their words, “Our goal is to identify these special casks and preserve them exactly as they are, before they can be blended, vatted, filtered or watered down.”
When one of their brand ambassadors suggested sending me some samples, I was happy to accept! With this, however, I also felt some apprehension: it was the first time I had been sent anything with a view to write a piece on it. I told brand ambassador Torsten that I had to score truthfully, and just because I was sent whiskies did not mean I could go easy on them. Once I got that off my chest, the pressure was alleviated, and I looked forward to sampling these drams. It was extremely exciting. After tasting the samples, I was ready to write up my first ever vertical. With that, here are my notes and scores!
The Single Cask Dufftown 10 Year Old, 55.7% – review
Colour: Pale white wine
On the nose: Initially an alcoholic burn on the old snout, with a sweet creaminess coming through. It is quite fruity, with big splashes of green apples and freshly cut grass. I get drying paint and PVC glue, reminding me of art class at primary school. Hints of new-make spirit with its stewed apples and pears. Rubber is present. The sweetness I get is akin to white grapes, icing sugar, watered-down honey and travel sweets, not unlike pear drops. I get the sensation of chalk in my nostrils and citrus oil. There is also something like vanilla pods dipped in wet soil, which reminds me of old books: a sweet kind of fustiness.
In the mouth: Very sweet, tannic and drying. White pepper is present, giving a burning sensation. The dryness in the mouth is very similar to drinking a sauvignon blanc. Quite thin, with rubber and brine. White grapes give it more of the sweetness and bitter citrus rinds and zest, toning it down a little. The chalkiness from the nose comes through to the mouth, and the burn turns into fresh green chillies; there is also bitterness, not unlike eating padron peppers.
The bitterness and tannins on the finish, cause the sides of the tongue to become numb over time. Very drying, with a hot pepper burn. It is short to medium on the flavour, with a heat on the throat that lingers.
Score – 5/10
The Single Cask Ardmore 9 Year Old, 58.5% – review
Colour: Pale straw
On the nose: Sweet with vanilla. Earthiness comes through with wet tobacco, wood smoke and slightly smoked peat. It is almost like sitting in front of the fireplace all night and sniffing your hair as it is saturated with dry ash. There is a sour tang from stewed orchard fruits and rhubarb. The sweetness becomes almost like toffee, fudge and caramel, with hints of raisins and sultanas.
In the mouth: Initially sweet, with a rubberiness coming through. There is a white pepper burn and chilli spice heat giving the sensation of a warm tongue. The mouthfeel is slightly drying, yet oily. Dry ash is present, but countered with a runny toffee sweetness. Saline with salted seaweed crisps that gets bitter with citrus rinds. That slight hint of citrus is not unlike a lemon meringue pie. I get liquorice, bergamot, cedar, rosemary and thyme, making it quite medicinal and herbal.
The finish here is drying at the top of tongue and roof of the mouth with oiliness that numbs the sides. It is medium to short with a herbal bitterness coming through from the rosemary and thyme flavours.
Score – 5/10
The Single Cask Aultmore 8 Year Old, 62.3% – review
Colour: Oloroso sherry
On the nose: Sweet with vanilla, treacle, dates and creamy caramel like a gooey sticky toffee pudding. Halloween toffee apples made with a more tart green variety. Drying on the nose, like turpentine and hints of juniper berries. There are hints of plastic, rubber and freshly turned soil. Sour and tart, from sweet Morello cherries, stewed rhubarb and apples and sticky plum jam. Hints of chocolate with a bit of cereal not unlike chocolate digestives.
In the mouth: Sweet and spicy with a sprinkling of black pepper. It is rubbery and earthy like latex gloves and mushrooms. A drying salty brine is present that almost disappears, leaving a bitterness not unlike bitter gourd. The mouthfeel is quite oily and chewy, but the dryness takes that away almost instantly. Jujube dates and goji berries with the characteristic tastes of umeboshi (pickled plums) with its slight saltiness and sourness. The sweetness is from a table laden with things like cakes, caramel pudding, and chocolate chip flapjacks with fruit. Sensations from the nose translate well on to the palate here.
The finish is drying and bitter, with a white pepper burn that lingers to a warming glow on the back of the throat. Medium, with a chalky powdery feel on teeth and a liquorice aftertaste that causes numbness on the tongue.
Score – 7/10
The Single Cask Ruadh Maor 8 Year Old, 59.5% – review
This release is available via Master of Malt for £84.96.
On the nose: Sweet and sour with a peaty smoke. A fireplace that has a little bit of burning rubber and plastic. Stewed apples and red berries-flavoured herbal tea is present, as are honey and confectioner’s sugar that hits the back of the throat when you inhale. Wakame with its smoky saltiness. Barley sugar, citrus zest and fermented soy comes through. The smoke becomes almost like burnt-out rubber tyres, giving off an ashy coal scent.
In the mouth: Very sweet, with wood smoke and diesel fumes. White pepper and chillies burn the roof of the mouth and back of the tongue, causing it to dry out. Bitterness like chewing tobacco leaves and drinking lapsang suchong with its smoky fishiness. Strong black looseleaf tea, ash and coal are present; each battles to be the most dominant. Ripe orchard fruit with sweet red apples and mushy pears are there, with a lemon sourness coming through, and hints of plastic and rubber appear every so often.
The finish is medium to long. It is quite oily, even waxy, felt most on the sides of the tongue. Drying with its bitter sweetness and tannic nature that creates a warm glow on the throat.
Score – 6/10
A very interesting tasting, for which I give my thanks to Torsten from The Single Cask for providing the samples. I found the Dufftown very sweet and drying, which is fine. That said, I am not a fan of that chalky feel, which was not dissimilar to the result of eating too many sweeties. I found the Ardmore quite bitter and drying. Again, not a bad thing; I don’t mind that, but I felt those characteristics were too dominant. Neither made me go “wow, those are excellent whiskies,” but nor were they bad, hence an average score for both.
The Aultmore and Ruadh Maor scored higher because I found them more complex, with flavours that matched the nose. I really enjoyed these latter two, with the Aultmore being my firm favourite; it was a well-picked sherry cask. Recently, I have been finding many sherried whiskies a bit unpleasant with their earthy, mushroom, rubber characteristics, but this one was well-balanced. It had not too much of what I dislike, and with other flavours present at the same time. I would have probably given a couple of these an extra point, but I had to take into consideration the cost of each bottle. All things considered, The Single Cask is definitely an indie to look out for, and worth trying if you get the chance.
Images kindly provided by The Single Cask. And there are some commision links within this article that help cover our costs and expand our coverage for you.