Life’s funny isn’t it – you wait for one exclusive whisky from a certain company and then three come along at once! Today the three examples that hail from the That Boutique-y Whisky Company stable I’m faced with are all from very unique entities – Ledaig, Glenburgie and Heaven Hill. All bottles have similarly weird labels for sure, but they’re all very different from each other in terms of distillery location, history, age, ownership and as the Heaven Hill is a corn whisky, grain type too.
It’s impossible then to compare these side by side in any way other than as whiskies. They are not alike to each other except in that sense. The only connection between them is TBWC – so what I’m going to do here is take stock of TBWC’s quality control process, albeit from a very small sample.
Now, the difficult part in testing TBWC’s quality control is the fact we are all different people. I mean, there are people out there who like and drink Fosters. No judgements here (he says judgementally) but then that’s my opinion, so that’s allowed. Your opinion differs? Fine! My seven might be your four (new readers might not know what I’m on about, but handily there is a link here to the scoring bands).
The point I’m trying to make is that someone at TBWC said “yes” to bottling these whiskies for the consumer to, well consume. TBWC have released these bottles for sale to the public, which as far as I’m concerned is a stamp of approval that they are fit for consumption and should at least be “OK” for the asking price. But I once had what was classed as a single malt scotch whisky (the name evades me, so I’m open to suffering from it again) which smelt and tasted exactly like BAD tequila. And when I say bad, I mean really bad. And I like tequila, so this whisky was terrible indeed. A solid gold 0/10. I was pissed off someone had given the go ahead to bottle that whisky – they had made that choice. It’s then our choice to buy and drink it, and if it’s crap, then we avoid that brand in the future. I like to think of it as a form of natural selection.
So I’m making a pre-judgement that these whiskies will be at least an OK on the pleasure scale. But we don’t come here for OK – we come for amazing/outstanding/stupendous etc. and the only way to find out if these are any of the above is by opening them.
Before I start to taste them, I’ll provide a few words on the distilleries. Glenburgie isn’t a commonly sold single malt, with much of their wares going into blends such as Ballentines, but some of it does sneak through as a single malt, with odd one or two reviewed here at Malt in the past. Located at the top edge of Speyside, it’s had a typically chequered history for a Scottish distillery – suffering from closures, takeovers, changes and developments – with the current owner now Pernod Ricard. But who cares about history? This 8-year-old is the youngest whisky here of the three. This is my first Glenburgie too, so I’m quite excited by this. This one is bottle 318 from Batch 5, a release of 1,891 bottles. It’ll cost you £43.95 from Master of Malt and is bottled at a hefty 55.2% ABV.
What’s to say about Heaven Hill that hasn’t been covered already on the pages of Malt? The Heaven Hill distillery is a (huge) family-owned affair (is that going to influence what comes out of the bottle?) and is based in Kentucky in the US of A. This American corn whisky is different from the other two in every aspect I’d say, other than it being aged in oak. Corn whisky for those that don’t know is made from a mash of at least 80 per cent corn, compared to bourbon which is made from a mashbill with a minimum of 51 per cent corn. This one is bottle 29 from Batch 1, a release of 1,679 bottles which will cost you £44.95 from Master of Malt and is bottled at a 49.5% ABV.
Finally, back to Scotland with Ledaig. There have been plenty of Ledaig releases – a small core range and limited releases from the distillery itself plus a huge number of indies are available. A Highland Scotch (sometimes included in the wrongly defined “Islands” region) based on the Isle of Mull, it has a clearly defined profile, namely big peat. After 19 years, what will this be like? Well, I’m expecting a big peaty hit and hope for some other tasty elements too. At 46%, this a more typical strength. This bottle is bottle 421 from Batch 4, a release of 1,121 bottles and will cost you £77.95 from MoM, the most expensive of the three here.
All bottles are 50cl as usual from TBWC, so multiply by 1.4 if you want to know what 70cl bottles would cost. Frankly, I prefer smaller bottles, but that’s just me.
Boutique-y Glenburgie 8 Year Old – review
Colour:: Pinot Grigio.
On the nose: Initial whiffs of straw, with vanilla ice cream. Plenty of freshly cut fruit – strawberries and zingy apples. There’s something baked, like a croissant. Time brings a little herbal element including mint and thyme. Adding water opens this up, and it can take plenty of it. Dried pineapple, vanilla and some kiwi, plasticine and pinewood come through once it’s added. Very light and estery, with a nice balance between sweet or sour. This is probably the strongest whisky I’ve nosed – you can really tell it’s not your usual 40%! Once beyond that though it’s a nice, light whisky.
In the mouth: Light sweet peach and Galia melon which is swamped with a huge wave of alcoholic heat. Vanilla features again, this time melded with toffee, ginger biscuit and green fresh apples. Water brings more toffee, but with cinnamon too. This is nice and fruity, but a little too light and a little too young. It would be great in a nice light, fruity cocktail – it has that kind of flavour profile. A light, zingy cocktail, with a little rosemary and a bit of fizz maybe.
Boutique-y Heaven Hill Corn Whiskey 9 Year Old – review
Colour: Sunflower oil.
On the nose: Aniseed is the initial hit, along with big fat buttery toasted popcorn, vanilla icing, a top note of sweet melon and green apple. Further sniffing reveals pine wood and varnish. There’s something mineral here, like a damp cave, or petrichor. Candlewax, allspice and honey mix with fruit cake in the background.
In the mouth: It’s aniseed’s big day out here, continuing with the palate, plus buttered toast, chocolate, flapjack and nutty marzipan with caramelised brown sugar and maple syrup. Orange marmalade mixes with more spicy notes on the finish – cinnamon and nutmeg. Overall, it’s thick and warming.
Boutique-y Ledaig 19 Year Old – review
On the nose: Straight off the bat is a massive, and I mean MA-HOOSSIVE hit of creosote and coal tar followed with some deeper smoke from barbequing bacon. There’s a peppery note that hangs on to the smoke too, slightly bitter, like peppercorns dry toasting in a pan. Brine, with a little creaminess and an oaty/malty tang from unbaked oatcakes. Further delving brings in faint aromas of Wine Gums and toffee, but they’re hiding well behind the juggernaut of creosote. Water does little to open things up a bit, the creosote note completely takes over everything – it’s very one-sided.
In the mouth: The smoke is relentless – for 19 years old I thought it might be a bit calmer than this. It’s more of the same with coal tar, but wood ash mixed in too, saturating everything. Pear drops appear but disappear as quickly as they arrived. Chilli, raisins and fudge try and break through the lingering creosote, but this is the Duracell Bunny flavour here today. Age is but a number – 19 years bring smoothness at least, but I’m not a fan.
It’s hard not to review these whiskies and not try and consider personal preferences, and say things like “if you like Laphroaig then you might like this as an alternative” or “a nice entry-level whisky for gin-drinkers” which is what I might say if concluding the Ledaig and the Glenburgie. If I was sharing any of these bottles I would definitely (and have) share the Heaven Hill, which is lovely. If a peat-head came around I would share the Ledaig, but only once before moving to something less peated, like Ardbeg. It’s that kind of dram.
I’m disappointed with the Ledaig. Although I’m a bit tired of peat monsters at the moment, that’s not what’s put me off here. Even if I was loving them, the Ledaig lacks some sweet fruity ying that it so needs to match the creosote yang. It’s one of the most one-sided drams I’ve ever come across.
The Glenburgie needs a bit more time in a decent cask and a bit of water to put out that fire and mellow things out, but there’s some potential here. The ABV is way too high which makes you wonder if you’ve got COVID and your sense of taste is affected after having your first mouthful. I do think a cocktail would be the thing for this at this strength. I must say it does work well in a Highball.
As mentioned, the star here is the Heaven Hill. It’s just lovely – warming without being too hot; buttery and rounded, it’s just good stuff. The fact I’ve nearly polished this one off whilst the other two lag someway behind being finished says it all really. I must say I’m enjoying the variety of flavour compounds from corn-derived whiskies. It’s very pleasant to sit, nose, sip and enjoy this particular dram.
I can’t really knock TBWC here, I’m sure there are people who will love the Ledaig and enjoy the Glenburgie and I’m sure there are many out there who would think the corn whiskey is not enjoyable. Remember folks, each to their own.
While we’re here, there are commission links above, but as you can clearly see, we don’t bump up the score to make a sale.