Are you a half empty or a glass half full kind of person? Personally, for many years, it was easy to slip into the half-empty routine, to look upon something through grey-tinged vision and take a more pessimistic viewpoint. Then one day, something changed. I’m not sure why, or when, but a more fruitful middle ground was adopted.
Historically, there seems to be some debate around the origins of the phrase “it is better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all,” but this summarises my outlook and approach nowadays. For the independent bottler, I believe they have a little more freedom than the official expressions. They can be more open to experimentation and utilising a single cask approach, whereas the distillery will have to think more along bulk lines. In other words, they are more open to throwing caution to the wind and seeing what happens if you do X, Y and Z.
I recently caught up with Gregor from independent bottler Lady of the Glen, who was positively beaming about having a more hands-on approach with his releases. By this, he meant sourcing casks to finish maturing stock, and then seeing how these new hosts influenced the whiskies, before finally picking the right moment to bottle before the octave had gone too far. Honestly, until this moment, I’d never appreciated how mundane and passive the life of an independent bottler could be, or the fun element that finishing could bring to the equation.
Upon reflection, it makes perfect sense. Rather than letting nature take full control of the voyage, with the only influence you have being the brakes, you can instead play a more active role. Your own opinions on finishing, or on double maturation for that matter, are your own; there is no right or wrong. I’m on record has saying I don’t like finishes that exist only to offer an alternative, such as the SMWS, where the majority of their maturing stock is in ex-bourbon barrels. They have no option but to engage with port pipes, sherry hoggies and such-like of this world to offer some variety.
I understand the commercial aspect and need for it. What I don’t agree with is the original motivation: taking a perfect acceptable whisky—or something that hasn’t reached its peak—and forcing it down another route.
For poor casks there is an argument for a finish or additional host. Mark will tell you there are plenty of poor casks floating around just now via his usual third- or fourth-fill rant. I have no issue with this whatsoever, because there are too many casks that fit this criteria, especially if the finish is highlighted significantly enough. The SMWS, I hope, are going to address their labelling and underlining any finish going forward, rather than having to read the online or brochure description for the real DNA of a release.
All that said and done, I don’t want to focus on the finish from that angle. Instead, the freedom and level of control it brings to an independent is a break from the mundane daily routine.
Those crafty whisky types down in Campbeltown at Cadenhead’s have been flexing their minds in recent years with a series of Creation releases, double maturation and finishes. Some have hit the mark, and others have fallen by the wayside, such as that 30-year-old Bladnoch that I had the opportunity to purchase, but after hearing several bad reports, stepped aside. You win some and you lose some; just how many clichés can I insert into this piece? Nonetheless, you get the mentality, and why it is better to have tried and failed than…
Adam has talked previously about the rum renegades known as Foursquare and what makes them so exciting to him personally. Our Mark has chipped in as well during his Foursquare Zinfandel 11-year-old review, and is no doubt taking notes for the incoming Renegade rum distillery somewhere in the Caribbean. I’ve never been truly won over by Foursquare, but in their defence, I’ve not had enough of their output to form a solid opinion, either. I’m more of a Hampden high-ester junkie with the solvent aspect turned up to the max; it’s challenging and fun, although clearly not for everyone. Rums can be fun and challenging, but they can also be extremely dour and laced with bad practices and extra ingredients.
For this release, we do have a coming together with a Foursquare cask that has been diverted to Campbeltown, then from December 2017 was moved into an ex-Kilkerran port cask: a unique history, and a fair degree of experimentation before being bottled in March 2019 at a mighty 63.2%. I have to thank Dave for sending me a sample of this release, which was priced a reasonable £59 before promptly selling out at most retailers, but do shop around; you never know. Let’s see if this is a marriage worth celebrating, or whether the secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.
Foursquare 12-year-old Kilkeran Port Cask Finish – review
On the nose: brown sugar, mangoes and grapefruit vibrantly jump out of the glass. Mace, cinnamon and rubbed bronze tail behind. Cherry menthol, with a raspberries hint at the finish, with a creamy nature and the bite of alcohol. Coconut hints at Caribbean origins, malted loaf and an outdoor park bench provide an intoxicating assortment. Water is very beneficial, revealing honey glazed pineapple and red liquorice.
In the mouth: very sweet, and it does feel a bit youthful with its punch teenage nature. Peppery, dark brown sugar and caramel alongside red apples and coconut on the finish. Again, water improves the show and it can take a fair bit. A level playing field brings out tropical fruits and more sugars with a resinous quality.
A successful experiment and marriage. Far from a showstopper, there’s plenty of interest and interplay here to unlock. The price helps somewhat, as well, and shows the potential fun they’re having in Campbeltown when it comes to giving us rums with a twist.
Lead image kindly provided by Cadenhead’s London.