I was going to originally title this review, a return to Cadenhead’s, as Scotland’s oldest independent bottler essentially shut up shop as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a human being, I wholeheartedly supported their decision to suspend trading and protect the wellbeing of their staff and shop workers. Whisky is to many the giver of life, but it should never be a taker. We’ll all hopefully live to see another day and Cadenhead’s went into hibernation along with Springbank and Kilkerran employees with just a skeleton staff on site. And while that put an end to any festival plans, it safeguarded as many as possible. The fact that even without a furlough scheme, the owners were willing to protect and pay their employees for as long as it took, underlined good employers exist.
We’ll leave the hardships of 2020 for now and the ridiculous theories and practices that some have adopted. The bottom line for me is that I really missed Cadenhead’s when it was gone. Sure, other independents tried to fill the gap. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society carried on, despite some issues, but they could never shake off the spectre of variable quality. Douglas Laing, bless then, unleashed Big Peat who became somewhat promiscuous, clearly in need of the snip, appearing in more editions than a Kardashian seeking capital for a divorce settlement. Have you seen the asking price of their recent Ledaig 15 year old? The Whisky Exchange released more and more and then some more. And Signatory unlocked a warehouse and filled the void for many whisky drinkers.
Things are returning to the new normal and that means a return to Cadenhead’s, releases and changes. We’ll debate some of those changes in another article, but I wanted to review a release from the delayed outturn. Their first, as they rolled up their sleeves and went about their business once again. I’d love to bring you one of the chased and flipped whiskies. Instead, I picked out a release that normally wouldn’t have caused a commotion whatsoever. The least fashionable of distilleries. An industrial producer. A tepid and variable single malt presence. Yes, we’re talking about Dufftown, or as my friends and I like to call it; dirty, dirty, Dufftown.
In fact, this release also promptly sold out because of the promise of a rum finish. In typical Cadenhead’s style, all they’ve said is a Caribbean rum cask, which is I suppose like saying finished in a Scotch whisky cask, or sherry wood. And Cadenhead’s often do keep it simple, labelling a sherried whisky as such. I know some get their knickers in a twist over such things for a variety of reasons, which is fine, but I’m more concerned about the end result. The liquid. The experience. This could be the best cask Hampden have used in the past decade and if the experience is rank, then it counts for very little. Whereas a Bacardi cask might be less fashionable and less rum-like for many, the proof is always in the pudding.
This Dufftown-Glenlivet is bottled at 53.6% strength with an outturn in Spring 2020 of 258 bottles. It is a finish, having been moved to a Caribbean rum barrel in August 2018 for the remainder of its maturation. Upon release, this was circa £55 and promptly sold out, which is an unusual outcome for anything Dufftown related. But before answering your questions about this release, I was given a sample of a 2018 release by Cadenhead’s, so I’m including a 1994 Speyside review as a bonus, just because. Bottled at 50.9% with an outturn of 210 bottles from an ex-bourbon hogshead, it’ll set us up nicely for the Dufftown.
Cadenhead’s Speyside 1994 – review
On the nose: a very bourbon presentation with vanilla, honey and caramel. Light, inoffensive with icing sugar, flapjacks and apricot. There’s almost mace, tablet, apples and oaky in parts. Water brings out more wood spice, praline and some spent candle wax.
In the mouth: sweet and sugary, a rich stream of caramel and very approachable but two dimensional. Biscuity, bruised red apples, marzipan and vanilla figs on the finish. Bitter in parts from the wood, peppercorn, wood chips and almond paste. Adding water unlocks some withered ginger and chocolate.
Cadenhead’s Dufftown-Glenlivet 2007 – review
On the nose: zesty, grated lime and apples, with meringues and honey. There are barley sweets, mustard seeds and while this doesn’t scream tropical fruits! It does have an engaging, summery and light feel to it. Time reveals pears, green pineapple and with water, it becomes creamier, with white chocolate and vanilla.
In the mouth: very sweet, but not overly so. Refreshing in parts and lots of juicy apples, grapefruit, kumquat with caramel and limes. A pleasing texture and extremely drinkable with coconut flakes on the finish. Adding water ups the sugars, adding white chocolate, some mint and orange peel.
The Speyside bottling is solid enough, caught just in time before the cask started to overpower the remainder of the spirit. I enjoyed it in parts, but it’s not something I’d rush out to purchase. With more than 2 decades in oak, I was expecting more show and panache.
The Dufftown is a successful finish as it’s been deployed with skill and has taken the whisky in another direction. Some of the thuggish finishes from other indies should take note. In doing so, it is the most un-Dufftown-like whisky I’ve had from this distillery in some time. The liquid has been unlocked from the relatively simple and cereal-based produce we expect from this distillery. So, if you’re a hardcore Dufftown fan and someone must be. This dram will probably come as a surprise. Hopefully, a pleasant one at that. For the rest of us, this is what whisky should be about; affordable, enjoyable and with a sense of fun.