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A Thompson Bros Trio

Today we’re taking in 3 single casks releases that are linked not only by the independent bottler, but united by a sense of unfashionability. There’s an easy way out for independents whenever possible to bottle names that sell – if you can find the casks – rather than following your senses and taste buds. After all, for the smaller indies, it’s all about cashflow and being able to ship respective releases asap to then bring in revenue to continue the cycle.

Throughout 2019 on MALT, we’ve been focusing on the independent bottler in a series of articles. The team at Dornoch are on my to do list, but for now we’re just going to concentrate on a trio of their recent releases. I’m sure I’ll catch up with either Simon or Phil for a chat about whisky soon enough. By then, more than likely, a few more worthy selections will have hit the market.

What I do know about how they operate, is that they bottle what they like. A cask from a broker that impresses after a sample is tried. This explains the huge variety and assortment of releases they’ve already put out; each adorned with an eye-catching label from Katie. Underling this approach is the trio we have lined up today; an obscure distillate, a Campbeltown blend, which effectively by default makes the single cask Caol Ila the Macallan of this article.

On that point, I’ll say that consistently Caol Ila produces solid single cask releases with older vintages becoming epic in nature. Even at a young age, it has something to say that elbows many of its Islay brethren. Caol Ila is Islay’s factory distillery, with its produce being shipped off the island to mature and yet it still sings. I’m looking forward to the Caol Ila then, but also the Campbeltown 5-year-old blend. When was the last time you saw a 5-year age statement on a release? It’s not a common occurrence and I was slightly miffed at the SMWS recently for celebrating their first No Age Statement single cask bottling. Why exactly? Don’t be afraid of the number and don’t butter up the audience by saying the distillery has the same approach; if its good enough then it’s good enough, regardless of age.

Amongst all of this, is the easily overlooked 2005 Inchfad, that prompts the immediate reaction of being typed into Google in search of answers from several onlookers. Let me save that chore for you this time around. Inchfad was a heavily peated distillate once produced at the Loch Lomond distillery. This overlooked distillery can create a variety of distillates thanks to its unique assortment of stills and open-mindedness that has, on occasion, brought the wrath of the Scotch Whisky Association down upon it.

The Inchfad was bottled at 13 years old, 53.2% strength and will set you back £65. The refill bourbon hogshead produced a reasonable 295 bottles. The Caol Ila has just sold out and is from a refill hogshead with 338 bottles at 51% strength. Rounding off our trio is the mysterious Campbeltown blend that has just sold out, but was originally £40 with 386 bottles at 50% strength.

Campbeltown 2014 Blended Malt – review

Colour: white grapes.

On the nose: very light and delicate for a 5-year-old whisky. Apples, melon and grapefruit all merge nicely with white pepper and pears. There’s salted caramel in the background, lemongrass, vanilla, sweet pastry dough all underpinned by a gentle peat. White chocolate, sherbet, coconut and a resin quality. Water revels a sappy nature, malty and used tea leaves.

In the mouth: interesting, although not hugely defined given its age but enoyable. Wine gums, apple peelings, a touch of salt, an oozing texture and an oozing peat. Cheddar? Crackers, grapefruit towards the end with sea shells with that layer of salt on the finish. Water wasn’t hugely beneficial and reveals a yeasty apple quality.

Score: 7/10

Caol Ila 2008 – review

Colour: Pear flesh.

On the nose: oh yes, unmistakable Caol Ila. Beach pebbles, Limoncello and a coarse sea salt. Pine cones, Calamine lotion, smoked apples and an engine oil residue. There’s heather and ham hock before water reveals more vanilla, nutmeg and an ashy quality.

In the mouth: an oily texture is the initial impression with a bacon fat vibe and a rich saltiness. Caramelised apples, Kiwi Fruit and a damp peatiness all rush past leaving that enging oil once again, vanilla and a sticky nature. Petrichor on the finish with a well used shammy, more ash and liquorice. Water isn’t required and its best to enjoy in its natural form.

Score: 6/10

Inchfad 2005 – review

Colour: barley sweets.

On the nose: juicy pineapples, mango and a sweet peat lacking that engineered Ailsa Bay dynamic. The peat is more subtle and integrated. Lemon oil, palm sugar, buttery applesand a fresh varnish. Not a complex nose but enjoyable. Fresh vanilla with a scattering of salt, white chocolate, banana peel and a hint of smoke.

In the mouth: oily with cereals and plenty of lemon. There’s an undercurrent of peat but well layered with a creamy finish. Apples, raw pastry, oats and shortbread. Water reveals more smoke combined with an earthiness.

Score: 5/10

Conclusions

The Caol Ila is almost a seven but price wise it just dropped down a notch. I did really enjoy it and would consider a bottle, but the market is quite populated with single casks from this distillery. I found this to be one of the better examples for its age, so its worth considering. The Inchfad is a whisky to say you’ve had; solid enough expression and an experience. If the palate matched up to the promise of the nose, then it’d be recommended.

Finally, the Campbeltown blend. A mixture of youth that arguably lacks distinctive definition, yet at the same time, the harshness of a younger whisky is lacking. The outcome is a well made and easy drinking whisky. I expect, if I put down a bottle amongst friends, we’d have no bother polishing most of it off during an evening. At £40 it’s easy to see why this sold out and why we should keep an eye out for more of these Campbeltown blended malts when they appear at retail.

After repeated visits, I really swithered between a 6 or 7, but the clincher other than its well made or tasty, is I can see myself going back to this bottle time and time again and enjoying it as the fill level lowers.

The Inchfad and Caol Ila photographs were kindly provided by the bottler, as were the samples for both of these whiskies. Just because it’s free doesn’t automatically mean a favourable review.

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    Mark says:

    Just an observation JJ – that Campbelltown 2014 blended malt likely shares very similar origins to North Star’s 2014 Campbelltown blended malt?

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