As of right now, it seems an exciting period for independent bottlers. We have the Thompson Brothers hitting their stride and promptly selling out of everything they seemingly release. Established names such as Càrn Mòr, Single Cask Nation and North Star Spirits, receiving deserved plaudits and smaller bottlers such as Chorlton Whisky and the WhiskySponge doing good work.
There’s always been an appetite for well-priced whiskies, chosen by a bottler that has a knack for unearthing something good. We’ve become trusting of these brands: buying before trying and happy to return once again. Arguably there are too many bottlers, but I’d counter that stance by saying we can never have enough good bottlers. Those that take care and place attention on what they’re picking, without charging the earth.
I’m already looking forward to the arrival of Watt Whisky later this year, but for now, we’re returning to a relatively new name in the market as Infrequent Flyers. The name of Walker, specifically Alistair Walker, graces each release and might be familiar to you all. Particularly with the heritage and impact of Alistair’s dad, Billy Walker. The brand debuted early last year and we’ve already covered their 2006 Royal Brackla and ever since, we’ve been meaning to return.
I’d suggest checking out the One Nation Under Whisky Podcast, Season 3 Episode 23, for the background to Infrequent Flyers and Alistair’s service to the whisky industry. Sit back and press play. Already some urban myths are appearing about the inspiration for the name: from a desire to step away from all that whisky flying and selling, to highlighting names that you don’t often see on the radar. I’d recommend listening to the show and gaining some appreciation into starting up a new independent bottling business.
Now that you’ve returned, we’ll tackle 2 releases in the range. Kicking off with the Glen Elgin that heralds from the second Infrequent Flyers outturn, released in October 2019. This 13 year old was matured in a bourbon hogshead (801068) and bottled at 59% strength. You can pick it up at various retailers, including Master of Malt for £68.95, or the same price via Amazon.
We’ve had to wait for a wee while for the 3rd outturn, which was held up due to COVID-19, but it is now finally on the runway and landing at retailers across the UK – with reports that more of the range is being seen abroad. It features arguably the most desirable Infrequent Flyer to date – the Concorde of the range – in the form of a 22 year old Bowmore. I’ve been doing a couple of online tastings for a local whisky group and had picked this one out on paper as a possible purchase. Fortunately, the group agreed and I’m able to bring you a review of this, as well as including it in our next tasting line-up. They are all fans of what Billy Walker has achieved, and apparently wanted to see what his son is up to!
Distilled in 1997, this features a finish in PX hogsheads and is bottled at 48.3% strength. There seems to be a real variation in pricing for this release. I managed to pick it up via Tyndrum Whisky (now sold out) for £235, at Master of Malt for £246.95, but I’ve seen it elsewhere for £20-£25 or more, so it pays to shop around. If you can find it, as Bowmore is one of those names on a label that tends to sell itself. That’s despite the official range being a little shallow and lacking. Many enthusiasts are turning to independent releases to truly appreciate what Bowmore is capable of and all about. If only Beam Suntory would learn from their mistakes.
Infrequent Flyers Glen Elgin 2006 – review
Colour: light gold.
On the nose: a very fresh and fruity arrival with apples, caramel, sweet cinnamon and vanilla marshmallows. Sliced yellow peppers, raisins, apricots, a pleasing butteriness and a sprinkling of ginger. Not forgetting red rhubarb and white chocolate. Water showcases more cream, a dash of white wine vinegar, lime juice and almonds.
In the mouth: juicy as if you let it stand, almost a fruit bomb! Tangy, wine gums, apples lead us into meadow fuits, sultanas, cinnamon, wafers and a gentle vanilla. Just enjoyable. Adding water unlocks grapefruit, oils and more vanilla.
Infrequent Flyers Bowmore 1997 – review
On the nose: gentle peat, cherry menthol and toffee. A slight coastal vibe, toffee, honey and chocolate malt. Driftwood, sage and with time more cinnamon, stewed black tea, brown sugar and chocolate. Water turns things more fragrant, juniper berries and coffee.
In the mouth: bacon? The love hearts sweeties, which I don’t enjoy. The sherry hoggie dominates, especially on the finish. A little earthy with some rubber notes, a touch drying a well. Time reveals more brown sugar and sweet peat. More chocolate alongside varnish and cranberry. Water brings out more sherry influence, coal and earthiness.
There’s no resisting the charms of the Glen Elgin, if you appreciate the best of Speyside. It has that lovely marriage of being well crafted and just enough time. Adding water does usher in a new dimension, but I felt just letting it stand in the glass for a wee while, prior to tasting, calmed things down and let the qualities shine through.
An affordable release. One that demonstrates just how good the distillery can be along with the unseen, such as Dailuaine, Glenlossie, Tormore etc. When you can pick up drams like this that offer so much more than the big hitters of the Speyside region, such as Balvenie and Glenfiddich, why look elsewhere? A strong cask pick that delivers.
The Bowmore reminded me of the Walker penchant for applying a robust sherry cask finish. It landed when we’re starting to see a couple more casks from Bowmore being bottled by the independents. The North Start Spirits 18 year old for instance, is exclusively ex-bourbon maturation and a delightful pick. It has so much to say and reminds you of how good whisky from Bowmore can actually be: which begs the question, why the finish here?
That was my initial summary. In good Malt tradition, I returned to the whisky over the course of several nights to see if the passing of time softened the finish and allowed the whisky to settle. There was a slight improvement on the experience. I still couldn’t shake off the feeling that there had been some restoration, or gloss, applied liberally here. What lay beneath was of more interest, but trying to reach that centre is the difficulty. Easily drinkable with the sherry taint, I found myself reaching for more, but I wasn’t thrilled or devoted as I had anticipated.
The Glen Elgin is the flight to book here.
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