Today, we’re bringing you a dramtastic slice of Mark’s favourite genre in grain whisky. Recently, he took a swipe at the humble grain by labelling it as inferior—a sweeping generalisation that I felt was rather harsh and a bit snobbish.
Not all grain is good, I admit, just like single malts, regardless of where they originate. I’m sure Waterford will release some average wood-soaked whiskies along with the hits. The same will apply to some of the distilleries we respect here on MALT like Smogen and Daftmill, among others. This is the way of whisky. You can break it down into stages and the science and pour vast sums into trying to formulise the process to ensure consistency, but there still remains a random element. Whether you want to call that nature, good luck or the X-factor is down to you.
Whatever you label it as is beside the point. Personally, it is a key feature that gives whisky a hypnotic feel, and it’s also why we need blenders to ensure consistency: everything is not a given. Patience and capital do come into the equation, but this variable keeps whisky fresh, challenging, evocative and engaging.
I don’t care if something is a single malt, vatted, blended or a grain whisky. What matters at the end of the day is what’s in your glass and the message it delivers. Grains can be harmonious, and they can also be utter garbage—particularly in today’s environment, where we’re seeing younger grains brought to market. We’re all too easily herded into the single malt persona. Blends are inferior and looked down upon, while 100% grains are only fit for cocktails. Such beliefs are utter rubbish, unhealthy and limiting of your perspective for discovery.
Grain whiskies, until recently, gave enthusiasts the opportunity to experience considerably aged whiskies for a fair price. We’re in the eye of the storm now with Balblair asking £502.91 for their 25-year-old, and they’re not alone in ramping up prices to attract new money. One by one, distilleries are pricing themselves out of reach of the mere mortal. We’re seeing grains rise in price, too, but not as dramatically. The last bastion of an affordable dram to celebrate a special birthday or moment is slipping out of reach.
Speaking of sweeping generalisations, another is that all grain distilleries are the same, a point that Mark overlooked with his steel towers diatribe. All grain distilleries are not the same. It’s an easy trap to stumble into if you’re considering the more neutral grains of today, such as Cameronbridge and Girvan. These need considerable time and good cask to break away from their inherent Swiss properties. Also in existence are Invergordon (though closed currently for extensive renovations) and the Edinburgh mammoth in North British. Both of these display more flavour due to their nuances and North British’s use of maize over wheat. Occasionally, I’d argue that Invergordon is Whyte and Mackay’s best distillery!
Grain gives us the opportunity to step back in time. Not just in terms of decades, but also in regards to fallen distilleries that have long been closed, demolished or repatriated for other uses. This old guard can display a wonderful spectrum of flavours and aromas, a veritable Dad’s Army of whisky. We’re talking about Caledonian, Cambus, Dumbarton, Garneath, North of Scotland, Port Dundas and of course Carsebridge, which is what we have here today.
As always, such expeditions come with a caveat: not all of their wares are worthwhile with increasing frequency. The market is eager for age statements, rarity and exclusivity. Many of these grain whiskies were filled into casks that had been filled more times than a Range Rover Evoque. These were intended for the blended market, the backbone of Scotch today, which still accounts for around 90% of production. By default, the best casks—you’ll remember, everyone apparently has the best casks—were never intended for grain whiskies. However, mistakes were made, and when you have that marriage of a good cask alongside a distinctive grain spirit, then you have something special.
Today, hopefully, we’re about to experience something indeed memorable. After all, wouldn’t it be a travesty if this whisky resided in a refill hogshead (#60442) since 26th March 1974 for 44 years, only to deliver a disappointment? The cask outturn was 278, bottled at 42.3% strength, and I must thank John aka @deadscotch for the sample and opportunity to once again try some Carsebridge. This release cost circa $400 and represents the oldest whisky he’d purchased (to date), so thank you for sharing.
Exclusive Malts Carsebridge 1974 – review
Colour: golden syrup.
On the nose: cream soda, kindling, Sugar Puffs and Jacob’s crackers. There’s a helping of wood shavings, a freshly baked croissant fresh from the oven, and beeswax. Fresh unused matchsticks emerge; next, there’s sweetness from pear drops, barley sugars and withered apples. A light honey brings freshness with caramel, buttercups and some foam bananas.
In the mouth: an enjoyable gentle, oozing texture leads us into a robust dirty vanilla ethic and an unmistakable sense of dusty age. More cereals with crackers, porridge oats and syrup. A gentle grain with popcorn, caramel, and a woody dryness towards the end.
Before we jump into the summary, on side note, I wanted to say what a shame the Creative Whisky Company (who bottled under Exclusive Malts) is no more as of 2018. You could rely on this independent bottler for a variety of releases at an affordable price point. We need more of this style of bottler nowadays, and not less; a wee toast to your legacy, and thank you.
As for this whisky, it’s neither here nor there. Somewhat stuck in neutral, trying to break out into a worthwhile experience, it’s solid enough—but distinctly average. This isn’t the best Carsebridge I’ve had, by some distance. The quality of the distillate shines through in what I’d expect is a fairly washed-out cask that was on its last legs. Echoes of the past and potential are there if you concentrate and listen hard enough. It’s perfect as an opening dram or an aperitif.
As for grain whiskies, next time we meet John, I’ll crack open something in the form of a Cambus or sublime Caledonian to celebrate.
There is a commission link in here if you’re mad enough to purchase the Balblair. Also a big thank you to @fromwhereidram for providing the photographs to accompany my rambling monologue.