The times they are a-changing for all of us and what lies ahead is still very much to be decided. John, tapped into this fear and also expectation, as part of his Future State article recently. And I’m sure we’ve all debated what life will look like in 2021 and beyond.
For retailers, it has meant change already. Some shutting shop and adapting to the new climate. Providing local deliveries, phone and online help. Switching sales from the traditional over the counter method, to a more virtual approach. In the UK, we already have some major players within the online whisky and alcohol scene. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know we’ll link to Amazon, Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange on a regular basis. They are the big names, but beneath these titans, resides several online destinations who arguably provide a more personal service and insight, such as the Aberdeen Whisky Shop, Good Spirits Company, Luvians, Tyndrum whisky, to highlight just a handful.
Today’s destination is Abbey Whisky, a family concern, who has been in business since 2008 and have a name within the whisky community for picking strong casks to bottle exclusively. We’ve been reviewing these since 2013, with their rare cask range, right up until their 10th anniversary releases. Mark has recently, purchased the Glenglassaugh, and by chance, Mike from Abbey, contacted us about sending out a lockdown package of some recent releases. So, we’re in the fortunate position of being able to give you a wider insight into some of these whiskies.
Exclusive casks remain a useful tool for driving business to your shop or website. They also reflect your whisky preferences and in Abbey’s case, some of the strong links they’ve built up over 12 years with distilleries, who in turn, have allowed them to pick a cask for bottling. In doing so, we have a mix of releases that are in the official uniform of a distillery, or more recently, some private picks adorned with designs from Peter Herron. In what, I’d call, is a Tetris style: a game I used to love and have a slight addiction for.
As always, we’re going to be doing these in alphabetical order. Of the releases below, only the Caol Ila and the Glenallachie remain available. The others, you may find somewhere via the secondary market, or have the chance to try thanks to a generous soul.
Kicking off with the mysterious Anon Batch 3, which is an impressive 30 year old. Apparently, a distillery well-known for sherry maturation? Just 153 bottles were released at 46.6%. Then, the Caol Ila, this 11 year old, is from a ex-bourbon hogshead and bottled at 54.1% strength. Just 120 bottles were produced and this retails for £64.80. The Glenallachie is £65.80, and 150 bottles were extracted from a sherry butt at a rather eye-watering 66.2% strength. The GlenDronach, distilled in 1992 and bottled at 27 years of age from a PX puncheon cask (#5850), is bottled at 54.5%. The Glenglassaugh was bottled a 7 years of age after residing in a Oloroso sherry hogshead, resulting in 323 bottles (cask #563) at 58.7% strength.
Abbey Whisky Anon Batch 3 1988 – Jason’s review
On the nose: very fruit with peaches and apples. Some orange peel, honey, barley drops and a real cleanliness and fresh feel. Key lime pie and persimmon round off an experience that is more than just a sherry cask.
In the mouth: softly spoken, orange peel, zesty, a mineral aspect, lemon, tangerines, lemongrass? Ginger, more barley and some milk chocolate.
Abbey Whisky Anon Batch 3 1988 – Mark’s review
On the nose: that slight lemonade feel, perhaps Rose’s Lime marmalade. A curiously strawlike nose for one so old. Coal dust, something from the old ways. Like smelling old copper pots. Vanilla, green leaves and moss.
In the mouth: lovely silky texture. Softness everywhere: vanilla, citrus with a huge mineral note like licking slate. Herbal: thyme and sage, but then a moreish golden syrup comes through. Sweetness balanced by that slightly metallic note. Indeed there is a sour finish, grapefruit juice, then mead and cloves.
Abbey Whisky Caol Ila 2008 – Jason’s review
Colour: lemon juice.
On the nose: not as forceful as expected, gentle almost and a pleasant level of peat. Liquorice, apples and pears, icing sugar, smoked haddock and mint leaf.
In the mouth: very palatable, more gentle peat and a integrated salty vibe. Kindling, bacon fat, creamy and sugar puffs.
Abbey Whisky Caol Ila 2008 – Mark’s review
Colour: very, very pale; Pinot Grigio at best.
On the nose: a lovely sweet peat and vanilla combination. This is very basic stuff – but it is so well expressed. Green apples and floral honey. Pineapple and grapefruit. Lychees. Damp moss and wood, ever so slightly metallic.
In the mouth: great oily texture, really carries the peat and sweetness. Gently warming peat, slightly ashy, mossy, vegetative. Vanilla, custard cream biscuits, slightly buttery.
Abbey Whisky Glenallachie 2008 – Jason’s review
On the nose: orange zest, cherrywood, rhubarb, red apples with black pepper, chocolate and vanilla. Adding water delivers some initial sharpness, then rubbed brass, cinnamon, green apples, caramel, a walnut whip and marzipan. Much improved in fact with peaches and honey.
In the mouth: initially, it’s all alcohol and a pleasing chewy texture. Time reveals an intense cherry, raspberries and red apples. Again, we look to water to open up new avenues. The tone is lowered, but caramel, almonds, barley drops and a little rubber towards the end (in a good way) keep me entertained.
Abbey Whisky Glenallachie 2008 – Mark’s review
On the nose: creamy, funky, yeasty, wort-y. Nutty, with stacks of hazelnut praline. One that wave washes past come the dried fruits: raisins and sultanas, nothing too head. Burnt toffee, distant waft of sulphur? Water leaves a slight hint of burnt wick, which makes me wonder…
In the mouth: very hot and spicy indeed, just bursting with the dried fruits but them strength overwhelms massively; that ABV definitely needs to be brought down. A dash of water and it opens up. Very pleasing when it is: toffee apple, golden syrup notes, and more towards the dried apricots end, the lighter dried fruits.
Abbey Whisky GlenDronach 1992 – Jason’s review
On the nose: plenty of sherry here folks with walnuts, leather, raisins and a shoe polish that brings a waxy element. Blackcurrant jam, charcoal, figs, vanilla, cloves and all-spice. Pencil shavings, red velvet cake and cinnamon.
In the mouth: mellow and refined, more blackcurrants, cinnamon, aniseed and cloves. Treacle, red grapes, black pepper, leathery with figs and dates. A little drying and short in parts, but dangerously drinkable.
Abbey Whisky GlenDronach 1992 – Mark’s review
Colour: old oak.
On the nose: good lord, that’s extraordinarily rich. Dark damson chutney and muscovado sugar. Balsamic vinegar. Prunes and figs, with a little Jamaican ginger cake. Slight flashes of ink with an underlying and pleasing mustiness.
In the mouth: hugely rich, as expected, though a disappointingly thin texture. Weak legs in the glass. That said, the flavours presented are intense: the chutney returns, with figs again; I’d say hints of ketchup with Madiera wine, port, elderberry cordial (neat).
Abbey Whisky Glenglassaugh 2012 – Jason’s review
Colour: golden syrup.
On the nose: a sherry influence obviously, but somewhat balanced and reserved. Honeycomb, red liquorice, black pepper and tobacco smoke. Ginger snaps, dried cranberries, leather, orange zest and toffee. Water releases more sweetness and fruit.
In the mouth: pleasing and not forceful, although it highlights the limitations of age, being a little rough and woody. Prior to that we have honeycomb, red apples, caramel and vanilla as the core characteristics. Water didn’t deliver much other than softening the finish.
When I sat down to experience these whiskies over a couple of evenings, I did so by their age. Kicking off with the Glenglassaugh: we’ve seen a lot of young whiskies from this distillery, partially due to the private casks and their size. I’ve had some younger expressions that have been heavily dominated by the sherry cask. Here, thankfully, things are more circular and leisurely, this one has been bottled in time, before the sherry gained a stranglehold. Sadly, this expression has sold out, but Abbey seems to have strong links to the distillery and that’s likely to mean future releases.
The problem I’ve had with Billy Walker’s current Glenallachie, as it stands on the shop shelves, is too much cask foreplay. At times it feels too forced and engineered. This single cask is tamper-proof and lets a good cask sing with a solid distillate (nothing more, nothing less) and the outcome is an entertaining dram. It is more expensive than the Glenallachie 10 year old cask strength batch 3 release, but I feel the au naturel presentation is worth it.
The Caol Ila is an interesting one from the perspective I was expecting more bite and bravado at this age. Instead, we have more refinement and approachable expression. Not richly detailed, but arguably more enjoyable because of it. A distillery that consistently produces the goods and an ideal option if you’re looking for a more relaxed Islay.
Jumping up in age, we reach the GlenDronach. The nose is particularly excellent, showcasing all the age and wood influence that in itself almost becomes a journey. The palate cannot hope to match this and in comparison, is a little flat and drying. The strength isn’t an issue whatsoever and this – if you’re fortunate to have it or bags of cash – would be a lovely evening sipper that doesn’t demand too much from you after the nose.
Leaving us with the mysterious Anon. I enjoyed this the most due to its elegance and refinement. This is a malt that you have to listen to. Its strengths are the cleanliness and freshness after 3 decades and an enduring finish that underlines the quality. Arguably, it might have peaked in the cask and was stepping down from the summit, but we’re still at an inspirational height with wondrous views.
The Anon is very much a slice of history – I wonder, perhaps, how active the cask was in ameliorating the spirit, but it’s still retained a pleasing essence. There’s a lot of this stuff (Caol Ila) around with indie bottlers – decade-old, re-used cask Caol Ila – but this is absolutely one of the better ones on the market. Kind of pleasing of a summer’s evening too.
First of all, for the Glenallachie, to note that huge ABV of 66.2%, well above the Scotch standard of around 63.5% or thereabouts – which I can only ever speculate is the norm to allow trading of barrels. I’ve been lucky enough to sample a good amount of old GlenDronach over the years and this doesn’t quite have the gravitas of many. A texture thing, for me: just not dense enough – the spirit, that is.
Excluding the lead image, all photographs kindly provided by Abbey Whisky.