Chapter 7 Whisky, will be an unfamiliar name to many of you, as an independent bottler based in Switzerland. These are heady times as a consumer in terms of choice, availability and distribution. Whenever I think about the whiskies we potentially have available to purchase, I’m always reminded of the saying that someone can’t see the wood for the trees. There is frankly so much available and from a variety of sources. Independents have to rely on their instincts, strong branding and word of mouth to stand out and make headway.
Founded in 2014 by Selim Evin, Chapter 7 takes its name from Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man that our Adam would approve of as inspiration. An extra spark also came from family connections to whisky and a new bottler was born. Initially, taking inspiration from the world of Scotch, the brand has moved into grain and Irish whiskey, before branching out into blending their own malts, which form part of the reviews below.
Malt has been following Chapter 7 on Instagram for a while and we are very fortunate that Selim reached out to us to prompt this article. As we’re starting to see with more independents nowadays, there’s an emphasis on less is more. Releasing their wares in small batches every now and then, rather than a constant stream of releases or monthly outturns. It is the latest Chapter 7 batch that we’ll be taking a closer look at today.
I’ll keep the introduction casual, as we have 7 whiskies in total to explore and score. The conclusions will be sizeable as well. Selim has advised that due to COVID-19, he hasn’t been able to deploy the bottles to as many online retailers as he would have liked. In these trying times, we’re all doing the best we can. As always, if you like the look of a whisky and need a hand in tracking it down, you can purchase directly from Chapter 7, or I do know of a couple of retailers who have these in the UK at least.
Pleasantries aside, let’s get down to business.
Chapter 7 Anecdote #1 Blended Malt Scotch 1995 – review
Distilled in July 1995, this was bottled in March 2020 from a bourbon hogshead, at a reduced strength of 47.9%, with an outturn of 424 bottles. Featuring 17% Laphroaig, 20% Highland Park and the remainder from Speyside distilleries, this has married for 24 years. Expect to pay £129 at retail, or Chapter 7 members can purchase for £103.20.
On the nose: an assortment of fruits with apples, pears and peaches. A diluted orange, pencil shavings and rice pudding?
In the mouth: oh, there’s a soapy aspect. Almonds, a delicate floral peat, apples, a little waft of smoke, vanilla cream, a mineral vibe, but I cannot shake the soap.
Chapter 7 Chronicle #1 Secret Islay 2011 – review
Distilled in May 2011, this was bottled in March 2020 from a vattting of 3 first fill bourbon hogsheads, at a reduced strength of 49.2%, with an outturn of 893 bottles. Apparently, this is a Caol Ila. Initially, these casks were matured in refill bourbon hogsheads for 5 years, before being re-racked. Expect to pay around £74 for a bottle, with members paying £59.20.
Colour: a faint haze.
On the nose: pure Islay combining all the familiar coastal elements with a robust peat and a lingering campfire. Creamy vanilla undertones, sandpit, driftwood and toffee apple.
In the mouth: a little timid on the palate, more driftwood, sea salt, peat of course, clammy, brine, damp cardboard and chocolate.
Chapter 7 Monologue #1 Jura 1998 – review
Distilled in September 1998, this was bottled in March 2020 from a bourbon hogshead (#2144), at a cask strength of 55.1%, with an outturn of 284 bottles. Expect to pay at retail £161, Chapter 7 members can pay £131.20.
On the nose: oily, musty, clammy and there’s something here… A metallic note, no make that talcum powder. Elements of a yeasty dough and a fruitiness trying to breakthrough. Key limes with time, a well-loved shammy, fudge and a sprinkling of salt. Water unlocks hemp, mint leaf, a muted raspberry and quince jelly.
In the mouth: fresh bark, coal dust, ashy and zinc? Oily certainly but it marries well with the initial woody presentation that carries through to the finish. Smoked apples. Almost mossy and coastal in parts. That fruit continues to poke through – almost in the style of Jack Torrance from the Shining. Once it does it becomes jammy and dirty. Water provides more fun with sawdust, candied lemon and blood orange: remaining hard to pin down.
Chapter 7 Monologue #2 Ledaig 1995 – review
Distilled in September 1995, this was bottled in March 2020 from a bourbon hogshead (#189), at a cask strength of 51.6%, with an outturn of 242 bottles. This has been classified as an unpeated Ledaig, with the most likely synopsis being it was originally Tobermory spirit, then filled into a cask that previously contained Ledaig. This will cost around £169, or for members £135.20. I’d christen it Toberdaig.
Colour: white gold.
On the nose: fruity and a gentle peat influence ensure a warm welcome. Honey, apples, pears and a burst of strawberry sweetness. A dirty vanilla, some stone fruit, classic Tobermory notes with hemp and cannabis resin, also new potatoes. Some caramel as well, ultimately a difficult but engaging nose.
In the mouth: a lovely texture, toffee, salted caramel and prickly as well. Some greeness with apples, oily and a sense of restraint: we’ve gotta work this one. More hemp and cannabis leaf vibes, smoke, aniseed, liquorice and smoke. Great fun when you get your head around it.
Chapter 7 Monologue #3 Miltonduff 1998 – review
Distilled in October 1998, this was bottled in March 2020 from a bourbon hogshead (#10142), at a cask strength of 49.7%, with an outturn of 238 bottles. Price wise expect this around £129, or for members £103.20.
Colour: apple juice.
On the nose: even after all these years this is still fresh and clean. Resinous, apples, pinewood and icing sugar. Playdough, lemon peel, white pepper and gentle citrus. An oaty biscuit base and a floral diversion. Adding water shakes up the apple tree giving us pears, rock candy, green mango and vanilla.
In the mouth: a lovely assortment of fruit and more texture than I anticipated. A classy Speyside whisky. Balance and just enough power in reserve. Tepid vanilla, white grapes, silver needle tea and green apples. Water delivers limes, a creamy stream and a hint of smoke.
Chapter 7 Monologue #4 Blended Scotch Whisky 1993 – review
Distilled in December 1993, this was bottled in March 2020 from a sherry butt, at a cask strength of 44.9%, with an outturn of 618 bottles. This has a malt content of 50%, with a 31 year old grain making up the other component. Retailing for £119, members will pay £95.20.
On the nose: resin, worn varnish, pine needles, orange peel and some candle wax. Oh, toffee and a hint of smoke that mixes well with the cloves and roasted hazelnuts. Honey, tobacco and tiramisu all combine to give a sense of unity and an elegant subtle nature: like a BMW, it doesn’t need to boast about the quality. You know it is there.
In the mouth: oaky, but combining extremely well with elements of chocolate, shoe polish and walnuts. Also figs, vanilla, mace, more cloves and a little earthiness mixed with black pepper.
Chapter 7 Monologue #5 Ledaig 2009 – review
Distilled in May 2009, this was bottled in March 2020 from a bourbon hogshead (#700493), at a reduced strength of 51%, with an outturn of 351 bottles. This will retail for circa £84, with members paying £67.20.
On the nose: a sweet coastal peat, clean and fresh. A mix of salt, sweetness and a little charcoal. Lemon drops, honey, mint leaf, strawberries? Salted peanuts and white chocolate buttons.
In the mouth: lighter and more delicate than expected. A salty peat, dried beachwood, more smoke, clean and not spirit driven. Harmony, sugary and cream soda. A great drinker without too much complexity.
We’ll round things up in the order that they were tasted.
The 1995 blend, is very much an interesting and enticing recipe on paper. The nose is intriguing. Some are sensitive to sulphur – I’m not – but when it comes to soapiness there’s no escape. A lighter whisky than the 1993, which has more weight and wood notes. I returned to this whisky the next day via a different sample and it still had the same issue for me. Maybe the Speyside element features Balvenie? The main soapy offender nowadays and we’ll never know.
The Secret Islay is solid, and another reminder that you really cannot go wrong with this dependable distillery. Where Lagavulin descends into cardboard and Bowmore into caramel hell, Caol Ila keeps on delivering. Unfortunately, there are so many examples on the market, that this dependability counts against it. People are looking for variety and new excitement. The pricing is also fair.
The Jura is utterly beguiling and even the day after the night before, I’m still piecing things together. I’m often accused of many things including being a Jura hater – whatever that is. I always counter that I’m not a fan of the slop that they are happy to churn out. The setting, the history, the distillery: everything is in place for a fantastic whisky. Instead, what do we get in the glass? Disappointment time and time again.
For many years, I’ve searched for the whiskies that offer hope from this distillery. Such nuggets are rarer than a pride of white lions. I’ve gone back decades, chased unicorns and when the sky falls into place for a super blood wolf moon, something happens. I recently tried the Adelphi Jura that was funky and divisive. Maybe too much cask to let things truly sing? It fell just short of the 30 year old Jura from Cadenhead’s in 2016. Now, that ladies and gentlemen, was a great one.
This Chapter 7 cask is another to add to the highlight list, but with a caveat. For this is a challenging whisky and I sat with my generous samples for a couple of hours, unpicking and dusting down the exterior and probing within. Thankfully, this isn’t Jura as we know it, but if I was given this sample blind, I wouldn’t know what to suggest as a possible distillery. Very much a leftfield dram, one that you take you time to appreciate.
The hybrid Tobermory Ledaig is a unique proposition. You can experience elements of both distillates, but a unique marriage, thanks to time. I’ve had Tobermory’s where maybe things weren’t as clean and there’s a trace of Ledaig. In this whisky, the fusion is at times captivating and great fun to unravel.
The Miltonduff marries all the Speyside features we enjoy in a dram. There’s nothing to grumble about and it has that added bonus being a whisky that I’d expect we’d all find drinkable, without needing concentration like the Jura. Recommended if you enjoy this style of whisky.
The same applies to the 1993 blend, which has that touch of class and depth. Given what we’re paying nowadays for some whiskies, blends are increasingly good value. When they are done right and priced attractively, you’re onto a satisfying winner, much like this bottling.
Last, but by no means least, is the younger Ledaig. This took me back a couple of years to when many were jettisoning Islay, in favour of Mull. Some of those Ledaig’s offered more for less. This timely reminder would be a recommendation to any peat fan.
So, an impressive outturn, miraculous by some standards with the odd blip. Featuring several whiskies that warrant serious consideration for me as potential purchases.