Recently, I’ve taken a wee sabbatical from whisky due to the overwhelming sense of meh or ineptness around many releases. Consistency has become the definitive benchmark, and this has translated into a liquid blandness. High expectations remain paramount alongside remaining impartial. A break is always worthwhile, as is stepping back and counting to three.
Batteries recharged and new addition to the family welcomed. The prospect of which whiskies to sit down with explore was a major consideration. A tantalising prospect was this peated barley, single cask, Amrut from a port pipe. We’ve covered a handful of releases from this Indian producer recently on MALT, And these have been united by characterful tasting notes and a robust nature. Blackadder, as well, has finally received some coverage. Taylor went so far as to interview this long-established independent bottler, and I recommend reading the piece for a worthwhile background. All of this coverage left me in a pickle. When is too much coverage actually too much? Barricaded into a corner, my normal escape routes of talking about the distillery or independent bottler were firmly off limits. Cursing Taylor would be an option, but what about the whisky?
Then Douglas Laing announced their XOP Black Series and a 1994 Springbank. Perfect timing to talk about the rising prices that some independent bottlers are now asking for their releases. Pricing has been a criticism I’ve heard directed at Blackadder previously; however, we’re now seeing the dawn of a new pricing strategy from the big independents. I tapped into this theme with the principle exponents of charging too much and suffocating their whisky in packaging during my Gordon & MacPhail 1984 Miltonduff article. Douglas Laing have always charged a little more due to their fondness of packaging and branding; we accept that is their holistic approach.
Last year they bottled a single-cask Springbank and asked more for it than the official 21-year-old Springbank release. This ruffled a few feathers, but not to the level of the widespread outcry of the Black Series debut. I’m sure Springbank debated how much is too much when setting the price for their recent 1994 single sherry hogshead; in fact, I know they did, and those concerns show how much they their value their staunch supporters. Imagine what Springbank thinks now, when seeing bottles of that release going for in excess of £700 on the secondary market? How does that affect the next time they debate what to charge for a single-cask release?
The sad aspect in all of this is that among those fortunate enough to purchase the official Springbank, very few have chosen to open it, which is its original purpose. There’s a general sense that things are coming to a head. I’m as fed up as many of you are chasing something in the vain hope of having a dram, only to then see X-amount appearing as lots across all the online whisky auctioneers. For the love of whisky? Do you really believe that?
Facebook recently started shutting down alcohol groups that Stateside offered a prosperous secondary market outlet. This news did prompt a slight grin, imagining those individuals stuck with unopened bottles without a route to market. What are you going to do now, punk? How about drinking some of it?
There’s a supermassive black hole around whisky nowadays, slowly sucking many into the vicious circle of profiteering. Douglas Laing have thrown themselves into the void with glee. I could say fools and their money are easily parted. The market is buoyant and some individuals do have the money to indulge themselves and care little for silly prices such as the XOP. Good for you, but I also know from speaking with auctioneers that the amount of effort they have to put into collecting winning bids is growing. Whether it’s fake bids pushing up prices, or an individual waiting on clearing the credit card balance to complete another transaction, there’s a sense we’ve lost sight of reality and what whisky is truly all about.
Then there’s the growing level of narcissism on social media, and especially on Instagram. We live in times of greed and self-absorbed behaviours, of individuals who place more value on the external image than what lies beneath, and of self-indulgent behaviours that are often repugnant. To paraphrase the influential Tyler Durden, you are not your Instagram channel. The XOP Springbank will sell, as there are more than 140 fools, or “investors,” out there. We all breath the same air, eat food and ultimately die. I’d like to enjoy my whisky in-between such milestones because where I’m heading next (the eternal hell-fire of being bathed in Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Macallan and Jura) won’t be pleasant. I’d like to have some fun prior to the downside of the next existence, where I’ll doubtless be flogged by brand ambassadors and master distillers on the hour.
Thankfully, there remains a dwindling number of whisky enthusiasts who open and share, thereby becoming immediate friends and individuals I help locate certain bottles, safe in the knowledge that they will break the seal and explore. Amongst their number is @deadscotch, who kindly did the deed for this American exclusive single-cask port pipe cask #4668, which was distilled in March 2013, before being released in October 2017. It’s worth highlighting that the port is an unspecified finish, as initially this was matured in charred American virgin Oak casks. Bottled at 56.5% and dubbed the Bengal Tiger, it is just under five years old and resulted in an outturn of 480 bottles priced at $165.
Amrut Single Cask Port Pipe – review
Colour: ruby ruby ruby!
On the nose: tobacco and a decaying vegetative matter. A hint of washing up liquid, red coconut ice, ginger sage and toffee. The charismatic assortment continues with chocolate flakes, foliage, brown sugar and wet tweed. This is followed by red liquorice, a rum-like aspect and blackberries. Water reveals used conkers, honey and a Crunchie bar.
In the mouth: cola cubes and a sense of flatness before dried fruits and a malted loaf kick in. There’s chocolate brownies, cinnamon, then cardamom, Chinese 5-spice and liquorice with an earthy quality evident. Water has a positive impact revealing black pepper, orange rind, ginger and a pleasing tartness. Red chilli flakes, treacle and a soot wrap up quite a journey.
Very impressive, especially for a nearly 5-year-old whisky. The most pleasing aspect is with the addition of water, it truly comes alive. Normally, when I add water to Indian whiskies it has a negative effect; shattering what tends to be a rather fragile dram.
The palate I found to be wholesome; a touch flat which prevented a higher score. However, overall, I’d be quite happy to purchase this given the opportunity.
My thanks to @fromwhereidram for the epic photographs.