I’ve often thought as Kininivie as the shed at the bottom of a seriously overgrown garden. One where the owners have lost interest in the landscape, which has returned to nature with a wild reckless sense of abandonment with glee. And at the bottom of it all resides this wonky shed that keeps its secrets from the outside world. Pure fantasy of course, but in a roundabout way, Kininivie looks like a garden shed. Caught between 2 distilling giants in Balvenie and Glenfiddich, it has been left to its own devices and the spotlight of single malts and marketing have been focused elsewhere.
This all changed in 2013, with the release of its debut single malt that was initially for Taiwan before the flippers seized onto the cash-cow opportunities. Quite rightly, William Grant & Sons reacted with additional releases mostly within the domain of travel retail – where Kininvie has often resided as Hazelwood. I’ve often debated these releases that come in smaller sized bottles and have a lovely art deco feel to their exterior but are priced accordingly.
I refused to pay the secondary market prices for the 23-year-old debut and in time, I caught up with the 17-year-old batch 1 release. More as a box-ticking exercise than anything else it seemed at the time. Great I thought, that’s Kininivie done without much thought around returning to this small and insignificant distillery.
That was very much it, until late 2019, when William Grant & Sons decided to try again with an experimental version of Kininvie. A reboot in many terms but with less emphasis on age. In fact, there’s a greater focus on the edgy aspect that is outlined on the secondary school science class themed page, which even contains a whitepaper.
As you’d expect it is all slickly done and tries to underline the ability of the shed to do experimental things. Despite history telling us that Kininvie has been mainly used for bulk production and the experimental wing tended to focus more on Aisla Bay in Ayrshire. This edginess must be reaching pandemic levels within William Grant & Sons, as we’ve all seen Glenfiddich go experimental. Except their best efforts have been relatively safe and of no consequence.
As with all experiments and whitepapers, you must keep an open mind. I quite like the branding in all honesty, although I suspect Mark will be infuriated by it, as he felt the Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice revamped label looked like a retail sell sheet. I particularly chuckled at the ‘Innovation Manifesto of Kininvie Works’ that revived memories of the Red Army Faction, or another 1970s group. Anything that needs a manifesto is limiting openness and expression in my personal view, but remember distillers drive change (not marketing), the bottle is just a container (if only) and nothing is off the table amongst other manifesto classics on show here from the blue-sky pioneer thinkers of William Grant & Sons.
Let’s give this free-thinking distillery – their words not mine – an opportunity. In doing so, I purchased the single malt experiment from their initial outturn. Their other releases are a single grain experiment and a blended scotch made using only grain and malted barley exclusively from Kininvie, or in other words exactly what Loch Lomond has been doing for years. If I’m interested enough, then I’ll purchase the others during 2020 for further analysis.
Where does edgy get us with this release? Well, this experiment focuses on the Irish triple distilled approach and its outcomes if applied to the superior methodology of Scotch whisky. A single week of triple distillation was run at Kininvie and initial observations included a higher strength (as expected) and more fruity notes (again, as expected) from the spirit run, or as the saying goes: No Shit Sherlock.
This Kininvie experiment is bottled at 47% strength and comes in a 50cl bottle. The range seems to have had a low key roll out with select retailers, falling beneath the radar of many. This single malt is currently available via Amazon for a modest £35. Amazon is also selling the Kininvie Single Grain for £27.72 and the Kininvie Blended Scotch for £27.79; neither being break the bank purchases. On this basis, we approve, but any experiment must have a methodology and validity long term and this is where many of the edgy experiments from William Grant & Son are debunked.
Before we jump into the review itself, I wanted to discuss the packaging on display here. In an era where we’re becoming increasingly aware of carbon footprints, wasted energy and the ridiculous amount of packaging with each release, I believe this is a theme we’ll return to now and again. For as long as Macallan try to package a bottle in a table-sized container to house their latest overpriced whisky. We must question the why more and more.
I’m pleased to report that the packaging here is cheap cardboard and styled to fit the scientific approach rather well. The dinky bottle has no airs and graces, reminding me of the old half-sized hip bottles that were popular in my father’s time. We don’t score packaging here on Malt, but I approve overall, even if Mark I suspect doesn’t.
Kininvie Single Malt Scotch Whisky – review
Colour: pale apple flesh.
On the nose: vanilla marshmallows, still plenty of spirit character and withered apples. Bakers yeast, lemons, chalky with pencil shavings, talcum powder and white toast. Time showcases pepper, Scottish tablet and a creamy coconut nature. Adding water does nada.
In the mouth: vanilla, or VANILLA as Alexandra likes to say. Grapefruit, meadow fruits and lemon peel. More Irish than Scottish. A grain-like finish leaves you dumbfounded. Water unlocks a sappiness and more oils.
A Will-o-the-wisp whisky. Extremely timid and lightweight. A meeting of a delicate Speysider and the most boring of Irish whiskey. There’s nothing offensive here, but there’s little to herald, set the heart racing, or actually beat above a monotonous thud. Neutrality. The Switzerland of Scotch and something that can be filed away under forgettable.
As for an experiment, I’m still unclear as to its purpose. An experiment should have all the facts: not just the year of distillation. There is some detail and that’s a step forward, but what about the sizes of casks, their refill status? The type of yeast utilised? The length of fermentation, the type of barley and where it was grown? I appreciate the opening case files could be deemed whisky experiments for dummies yet beyond this, the devil is in the detail. Right now, this seems like a marketing construct rather than something that is driven by the thirst for knowledge and experimentation.
Nothing is off the table you say? What was on the table in the first place? We’ll return to Kininvie soon for another experimental chapter.
There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement. Lead image kindly provided by Kininvie.