This is what I’d like to call the debut outturn of releases from the Single Cask Nation in the UK. This bottler has been active in North America for several years and we’ve managed to cover a handful of previous releases. Now, we have the opportunity to purchase and explore some of their exclusive single cask selections.
Regulars will know we’ve had a real focus on independent bottlers throughout 2019. We’ve interviewed several entities all united by a love of whisky. This journey has taken us to England, Scotland (of course) and then further afield to the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium and Singapore. Whisky is universal, as is the appreciation of an unmolested release presented at cask strength, naturally coloured and non-chill filtered.
First up, before we get stuck into these whiskies some transparency; full disclosure, or call it whatever you like. Jess, formerly queen of bottles – I prefer this to boxes – is now (arguably) queen of casks having taken up a new position with Single Cask Nation, as their European Sales manager. I know Jess, she’s fun and very passionate about whisky and helped me put together a charity tasting in Glasgow last year, where we raised money for a local homeless charity. As she rightly noted on her covering letter, she knows none of this will affect my judgement whatsoever, but I wanted to highlight this from the start.
So, an exciting time ahead for Single Cask Nation and a new European focus. They’ve picked well in Jess, who can bore you to tears (almost as much as Mark’s soil chat) about law and Brexit. I’m hopeful she can tackle the bugbear that has hampered the Single Cask Nation releases so far i.e. pricing. But let’s give her time and some patience to see where things take us. There’s room for a quality bottler that marries good cask selection with a worthwhile price – always a winning combination.
Perhaps it’s a good time to move into other territories given the 25% tariff on Scotch imports to the United States? A recommended piece of listening is the Single Cask Nation podcast (season 3, episode 19) that discusses the tariffs and an interview with Jess.
Single Cask Nation Angostura 16yo – review
Distilled in April 2003 and bottled in August 2019 from a refill Oloroso sherry hogshead. Cask #3, produced 309 bottles at 55.4%.
On the nose: a fruity punch greets you with a spirity undercurrent – not sherried as we know it. Juicy mangoes, light brown sugar, oranges, lemon sorbet, ginger root and peeled carrots. Rounding off an assortment we have winegums and peaches. Water unlocks more lemon-thrust and pineapple cubes.
In the mouth: very fruit-forward, a tinned fruit salad before a hint of wood and autumnal foilage on the enduring finish. The sherry influence taps in midway with cigars and a sticky toffee pudding. A hint of esters on the finish along side IPA hops. I actually can’t shake that IPA characteristic the more I dwell on it. Water brings out more of that beer-ish aspect along with tinned syrup, lemons and a good IPA!
Single Cask Nation Blended Malt 9yo – review
Distilled in July 2009 and bottled in May 2019 from a 1st fill Oloroso sherry butt. Cask #417, produced 654 bottles at 65.4%. Available from Master of Malt for £74.95.
Color: lemon peel.
On the nose: a citrus freshness with grapefruit, lemon and orange juice. Some almonds, buttery popcorn, white chocolate and honeysuckle. Those sherbet flying saucers and ginger snaps. Water ups the citrus level and brings out more hints of the cask; figs, tobacco and orange peel.
In the mouth: oddly, this feels separated, detached almost. Alcohol spirit up front and way behind a murmuring of sherry. More grain-like with a light tobacco aspect. Water is the way to go as this delivers cohesion. Polished oak, dried fruits, honey, caramel and a bitter finish – quite a transformation.
Single Cask Nation Caol Ila 12yo – review
Distilled in January 2007 and bottled in May 2019 from a 2nd fill bourbon hogshead. Cask #510, produced 294 bottles at 59.3%. Available from Master of Malt for £80.95.
Color: olive oil.
On the nose: a classic Islay presentation of seaweed, sea salt, hemp and a touch of smoke. Toffee, stale bread, pine cones, barbeque ribs and with water coal, old rope, lettuce and lemon oil.
In the mouth: a gentle oiliness, bacon crisps, fatty, smoke and coastal flavours. A weighty texture and ticking the Islay and Caol Ila boxes with a gentle smoky ember finish. Water wasn’t needed, or beneficial hugely, unlocking black peppercorn.
Single Cask Nation Craigellachie 13yo – review
Distilled in December 2005 and bottled in August 2019 from a 2nd fill bourbon hogshead. Cask #314984, produced 294 bottles at 58.1%. Available from Master of Malt for £81.95.
Color: pale almost clear.
On the nose: sappy and creamy, quite an arrival with a trace of smoke. A dull vanilla, silver needle tea and almost cheesy with the yeast aspect, turps – hinting at the sulfuric style of distillation with reflux encouraged. Icing sugar, limes, green apples and almonds. With water this reveals wine gums, varnish and a raw dough mixture alongside dried reeds and honey.
In the mouth: very robust and spirit driven at cask strength. More limes and an oozing texture that I appreciate with cooking apples. Water reveals more depths with an earthy agave Mezcal vibe, pear juice, more wine gums and jelly sweeties with a creamy yeasty emphasis.
Single Cask Nation Teaninich 13yo – review
Distilled in September 2005 and bottled in May 2019 from a 2nd fill bourbon hogshead. Cask #487, produced 277 bottles at 56.2%. Available via Master of Malt for £84.95.
Color: very similar to the Craigellachie.
On the nose: zesty and fresh with chocolate mint leaf, cardboard, apples, foliage and freshly grated lime zest. Pine nuts alongside rock candy and lemon with white chocolate and pepper. Water reveals candy floss and cream soda.
In the mouth: more drinkable at cask strength with Kiwi fruit, pineapples, limes, sour green jelly sweeties and porridge oats. Water doesn’t prompt any dramatic changes, perhaps less edgy and more safe, it retains a clean and fresh nature.
Single Cask Nation Tomatin 12yo – review
Distilled in September 2006 and bottled in August 2019 from a 2nd fill bourbon barrel. Cask #800230, produced 219 bottles at 58.1%. Available from Master of Malt for £78.95.
Color: white gold.
On the nose: I felt this was very summery and floral: light and spirit based with a gentle lick from the wood. A weird combination of aromas including limescale, chocolate, roasted coffee, toffee, hazelnuts and a creamy vanilla give this a distinctive presentation alongside freshly sawn wood.
In the mouth: The gentle wood influence continues on the palate with a more rugged and spirit-based nature. An ashy undercoat that lingers into the finish, which I did enjoy. Green apples, wine gums and more limes are noted alongside a pleasing mouthfeel and Kiwi fruit.
Ok, a few to conclude here, so we’ll do it in alphabetical order, which means kicking off with the rum. However, firstly, lets talk pricing, which is always the issue based on previous experiences. In the extremely competitive UK independent realm, pricing is almost everything when it comes to attracting attention. And while others sidestep the issue of pricing, it is important that we do consider the entry fee. Using the Good Spirits Company retail prices, these are circa give or take, but will give you an approximate expectation. The blended malt is £77, while the Craigellachie comes in at £84 with the Tomatin being £80.50 and the Teaninich £87.50. A little disappointing, my own input is that these are priced as being more old-teenage whiskies than the more youthful end of the decade. As such, for many they will be £10-£20 too much per bottle.
I really enjoyed the rum and whatever the refill sherry hogshead has delivered, it has had a gentle influence. Much like myself. We don’t like aggressive casks and dominating the character of the distillate. Here, it’s helped deliver a fun and enjoyable single cask release.
The blended malt needs more time in all honesty. If feels to me as if there are orchestral manoeuvres in the dark to be carried out. A work in progress so to speak. It does have an interesting dynamic to it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase a bottle. The same applies to the Caol Ila, which is solid and as expected from this distillery, but there are so many single casks already out there. This one is good but doesn’t set itself apart from a competitive field.
This then leaves the trio of Craigellachie, Teaninich and Tomatin. I enjoyed this spirit-based trio and they represent some solid if slightly wacky single cask picks, which is a dynamic I approve of. The Teaninch you can taste the potential and the wood influence is less, but I do wonder what a couple of more years of maturation would have produced. The Tomatin is the greenest of the bunch in my opinion and a talking piece. A good quality distillate in a slightly worn out cask – some like Mark might kick off right about now, yet I’m enjoying the ride.
The pick of the bunch is the Craigellachie in my opinion. It has style and character, which is quite often what I’d expect from this distillery. What’s stopping me from buying a bottle is that old pricing thing again. I’m gonna praise the SMWS here proving how fair I am. They quite often bottle teenage releases from Craigellachie (number 44) at the young end of the spectrum – ok this applies to all distilleries in reality. However, take for instance the Cabinet of curiosities that I reviewed recently, which would set you back £59 if you are a member. That’s a bit of a contrast and proves there’s more work to be done.
Let’s end on a positive note at least. A strong selection, showcasing some variety and different styles and unfashionable names. The promise is there for all to see with this debut outturn: now the graft begins and finding their own niche in a competitive market.
Note: commission links added on 29th January 2020 – these do not affect our opinion.