Today, we live in a world dominated by brands. The powerful tool of the mere image combined with something less tangible. A scintillating yet vapid illusion that we as consumers are drawn towards and the marketing construct that many seek to be a part of with open arms. In Scotch, we have the lifestyle illusions of Balvenie, Macallan, Glenfiddich and their ilk. When I think of these behemoths and others within their category, the distillery doesn’t even register anymore. Instead, it is the illusion of a lifestyle and the trappings that you are buying into with the brand.
Purchase Macallan and immediately move up a notch in the social ladder. Purchase Balvenie and accept a calm and relatively inconsequential existence. Purchase Glenfiddich and that Ford Fiesta in your driveway becomes a limited edition Fiesta with fancy alloys and tweed seats. Purchase a Jura and immediately go to jail.
That’s jail with no chance of parole.
Hopefully, you get my point. We’re not just buying whisky or whiskey nowadays. You are buying much more besides the liquid, which is why quite often; the liquid is relegated to sideshow status. These behaviours are amplified by social media accounts that fan the illusion and desire to achieve a certain nirvana moment whilst cradling a bottle. Occasionally, I dabble in the aforementioned brands and others that have gone down this route. Normally sitting at a bar and finding nothing that jumps immediately out on the whisky list. A brief encounter to reflect upon a sense of optimism and provide another opportunity to a brand. A moment, that more often than not, confirms things have either slipped again, or I should seek to form a Society for the Prevention of cruelty to whisky drinkers.
All of which brings me nicely onto the Hyde whiskey brand. I’ve not had much Hyde in liquid form, but I have heard a great deal about this heavily debated construct. Phil has touched upon the illusion previously in his Hyde No.6 Presidents Reserve article and Mark stepped into the murky brand depths in his Hyde 10-year-old review. My colleagues referenced and linked to external articles regarding Hyde and the shadowy tactics utilised, with Bill’s candid summary* proving well worth your time if you haven’t read it already. These articles are a couple of years old now, yet sum up the tactics and pitfalls of trying to establish a whisky brand.
I’m old enough to know you make enough mistakes in life. The trick isn’t to ignore feedback and make the same mistake again. We’ve seen many brands – not just in whiskey – believe they are beyond reproach when it comes to their actions and consequences. Big business and media control the agenda in society. When you have elected officials shouting down criticism and screaming fake news, or performing a Rees-Mogg slouch thereby showing contempt and disrespect. You have to wonder where have all the good, honest people and brands gone?
And yet, despite all of the above, I’m sitting here open-minded about Hyde whiskey. Because I am an informed consumer and I can see through the cracks and I accept in this day and age, brands are able to do this. I note the promotional pamphlet that came with these samples has all sorts of awards listed on the cover. Impressive to the general public until you realise that many of these awards are simply paid for by an entry fee. It isn’t the fault of Hyde that these awards exist and are taken advantage of by many other brands and distilleries. It lulls the wider public into believing that an icon or badge represents quality and value for money. The fact that a brand merely pulled over, paid a fee at the pump and drove off with a clutch of awards in the boot matters little. The industry accepts this junket and it’s a reflection of a bigger problem.
In an era where the film industry is coming under pressure for its award and nomination system. I wonder if we should too look at whisky? Where many awards are fee-based and voted by industry judges and members on behalf of the industry. A people’s award? A the startling difference?
I’m fortunate to have 4 Hyde’s whiskies here to review for you. The brand seems to be on a new offensive offering these freebies online to various social media accounts. Some of my friends also have the same package to review and whilst Malt accepted the offer, via my own IG account, I turned down their approach. I’ll be interested in their verdicts once my own are published. There’s always the twist to receiving something free in the whisky industry that you will say nice, or at least very benign things. We don’t subscribe to that agenda here and the whisky rests upon the contents and asking price. So, let us begin.
Hyde 10 year old – review
Colour: white gold.
On the nose: apples, icing sugar, lemon sponge cake, white chocolate and wine gums. Marzipan, pineapple cubes and light, floral spirity nature. Water brings out more citrus elements and meringues.
In the mouth: we have a problem and it feels very misjudged. Not right, all wrong. Pond water, cardboard, a cigarette butt and grapefruit. Adding water makes things more pleasant but far from enjoyable.
Hyde 1640 Stout Cask Finished – review
On the nose: black pepper, treacle and an earthy quality. Mostly gentle aromas with a chocolate brownie, lemon zest, stewed apples and raw pastry dough. Fresh ash and cream. Water reveals melon and pineapple.
In the mouth: liquorice, black pepper, toffee and cardboard. Some cardamon, chocolate, apples and a gentle texture and altogether a bit dull. Water removes the definition without any benefit.
Hyde No.7 1893 Sherry Cask Matured – review
Distilled in a copper pot still, matured in toasted 1st fill Bodega sherry casks. Released in small batches at 46% strength and non-chill filtered. This is bottle #3671 of 5000, bottled in September 2018 and available via Master of Malt for £46.75.
Color: battered gold.
On the nose: orange peel, black shoe polish, blackcurrants and lemon oil. Coffee beans, melted plastic, chocolate and liquorice root. Water breaks down some of the cask influence revealing more apples and new make characteristics.
In the mouth: very flat and unexpected. Some sherry influence but lacking complexity. Stewed apples, orange peel, chocolate, a tar-like come treacle-light quality and ashy. A chalky note and the spirit still breaks through the cask dominance suggesting youth, but some nice oils on the palate. Adding water revealed a nutty toffee and some vanilla.
Hyde 1938 Special Reserve – review
Colour: apple juice.
On the nose: crisp, clean and light. Red apples, lemon peel, vanilla, apricot and melon. Some tobacco, floral notes, a hint of brown onion and grape sharpness. Water showcases fudge and white chocolate.
In the mouth: now the sherry aspect comes through more with leathers, dusty and a touch drying: better for it. Rubber, but still gentle. Strawberries, figs and chewy toffee.
The stout cask has flashes of interest but feels half-hearted when many would have wanted to have that driving force of the cask. Instead, it has cocked its leg and left a residue before moving onto another target. Frustrating, as you can sense the potential and more cask influence at a higher strength would have made this a much higher score. Perhaps this is down to the casks only playing host to Cotton Ball Irish Stout for 3 months?
The 1893 is very cask rich. If you want a sherry influence and little else besides. I feel that the original liquid lacked complexity and the brute force from the wood has given you a very wood-driven experience. To some, this will be easy drinking and ticks the sherry box. Yet, I want more than that in my glass.
The 10-year-old is the only release with a visible age statement. In doing so you’d think it was the most accomplished and stylish of the quartet, but you’d be wrong. The sherry cask finish is bizarre and questionable. There’s little influence on the nose and yet on the palate, it feels like a botched attempt to cover up some inept casks. The end result is even more botched and bizarre: difficult to recommend in any shape or form.
The 1938 is a more successful attempt at a sherry finish. The finish is noticeable and brings a reasonable influence to the final product. In doing so, it is the pick of the bunch in a difficult line-up that has me questioning what all the fuss is about when it comes to Irish whiskey? Thankfully, I know Hyde isn’t representative of the market as such and better things await.
There is a commission link within this article but as you can see such a thing doesn’t affect our judgement.
*this link and page was working at the time of writing but has since been password protected before being taken down completely. We’ve kept the link intact in case it is revived one day.