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Cadenhead’s Malternative Moments

When does the alternative become the norm?

This something I’m asking myself on a frequent basis nowadays. Whisky is becoming increasingly expensive and more about possession than the actual experience of. Friends are being driven away by difficulties in trying to purchase a bottle to enjoy or being asked nearly £100 for a 3 year old malt. With all of these shenanigans and more besides, you cannot blame others for looking elsewhere.

Fortunately, Cadenhead’s have a legacy of bottling other styles of spirit with the consistent focus of not tampering with the liquid. But it remains an overlooked sector of their range. We’re too busy chasing whisky to be bothered about the whiskey unless it’s a Heaven Hill well-aged cask, or the rum unless it is a Caroni. These genres and many more offer variety and different sensations. The only way to appreciate those is to get stuck in.

I appreciate that we’re in turbulent times and many of us don’t have disposable cash, or even such a luxury to be able to afford a punt on a random spirit. It’s like starting out again. Disarmed of any knowledge and the faithful signposts of distilleries, cask types and characteristics. Thankfully, to highlight other ranges, Cadenhead’s Edinburgh put together a Malternative tasting pack featuring 6 samples from across the world of spirits.

These are all fairly new to me with the exception being the Cachaça, as I’ve previously had the Cadenhead’s Cachaça 10 year old and still have a bottle open, so this will be a good opportunity to compare and contrast the differences 5 years embed into the spirit. Let’s jump in…

Cadenhead’s Armagnac 1990 – review

Bottled in 2019, Appellation Tenareze Controlee, France. An outturn of 456 bottles at 47.8% and expect to pay £85.

Colour: walnut.

On the nose: a real mix of mulched fruit and polished oak. There’s leather, dried fruit, all-spice, black peppercorns, a used eraser, toffee and that fruity layer keeps you coming back for more – fighting against the density of the French oak. Not forgetting, cinnamon, a flourish of raspberry and hazelnut.

In the mouth: not as forceful on the wood as anticipated, more a gentle oakiness with some tannins. Plums, chocolate, toffee and almonds. More black peppercorns and some figs as well. It has that hard-edged French wood characteristic showcasing age and polish, but the density doesn’t swamp the entire experience. If it had more fruit on the palate this would be an 8.

Score: 7/10

Cadenhead’s Calvados 1989 – review

Bottled at 48.7% strength, this 20 year old from Dupont Distillery will set you back around £85.

Colour: copper.

On the nose: tarragon and chalky with diced apples. Some elements of cinnamon, strawberry, tangerine and aniseed. Time reveals rubbed brass, a sticky toffee and vanilla.

In the mouth: more delicate than I anticipated, very refined and yet simple. Apples obviously, some ginger, ripe pears, leathery elements and apricot. Almost malty with a flourish of cinnamon.

Score: 6/10

Cadenhead’s Cachaça 2014 – review

From Sapucaia, this 5 year old is bottled at 40.2% strength from an oak cask with an outturn of 414. Except to pay around £34.

Colour: almost clear, a faint haze.

On the nose: green jelly sweeties with a touch of sourness. Some Kiwi Fruit and unripened mango. Saccharin, white grapes and gooseberries. Pleasant enough stuff, nothing too demanding or forceful.

In the mouth: initially tastes a little washed out on the palate with just a gentle oakiness to offer some character. The finish bounces back with lime, liquorice and more green mango. Memories of padron peppers and white chocolate are revived, as is the pistachio tart I had the other day.

Score: 5/10

Cadenhead’s Salvadorian Geen Label Rum – review

There probably aren’t too many contenders as to who produced this rum. Bottled at 46% strength, it is 11 years old and retails for around £47.

Colour: a dull gold.

On the nose: a light sugar emphasis, olive oil and a hint of UHU glue. Bashed mint, some coconut and it does settle in the glass, becoming more faint jelly sweets, minimal wood influence and a touch of fake vanilla.

In the mouth: more gentle sugar vibes, redberries, green apples and white spirit. There’s not much definition here, a very casual and trivial rum.

Score: 3/10

Cadenhead’s Jamaican Green Label Rum – review

Bottled at 46% strength, this is a product of the Caribbean and will cost you around £40.

Colour: gold leaf.

On the nose: sugary over-ripened fruit and still vibrant at 46% strength. Gluey in parts, that rotting aspect that we all come to know as Dunder! Soaked yellow raisins, five-spice, grape juice, chewing gum and given time in the glass that initial dunder thud steps aside to allow more fruity notes to come through.

In the mouth: echoes of the nose but everything is more subdued now. Oh, to have tried this at cask strength. Remnants of the fruits and a gentle funkiness but lacks punch. Brown sugar, mace, liquorice and plums,

Score: 6/10

Cadenhead’s Nicaraguan Green Label Rum – review

This 19 year old rum is bottled at 46% and will set you back an affordable £43 or thereabouts.

Colour: deep amber.

On the nose: quite a floral rum and gentle on the sugar. Black spices with cloves and a rich honey. Fennel, white chocolate, caramel, raisins and a twist of lime. A pleasant enough nose.

In the mouth: more fruity now, sage, cinnamon and some chocolate with dried fruit and liquorice on the finish. Pretty simple for its age, but entirely drinkable.

Score: 5/10

Conclusions

I really enjoyed the Armagnac and for the price, it underlines the value that this spirit can offer. In whisky nowadays £85 will buy you a 3-5 year old Scotch from a new distillery that doesn’t even come close to the array of flavours and aromas showcased by this refined dram that is almost 30 years old. The Calvados felt a little timider in comparison, still enjoyable though but not the sense of value compared to that of the Armagnac.

I’m no rum expert, but I’d wager the Jamaican rum is from Hampden distillery. It has been watered down which is reflected in the price. Being a fan of the more aggressive side of this distillery and its output, I would have preferred the cask strength edition. However, this is an everyday rum that you can nose for ages. Think of it as an easy sipper or a tentative step into the more robust realm of Jamaica. The Salvadorian is a polar opposite to the Jamaican. Light, shallow and lacking definition. In reality, I suppose an easy sipper or mixer for those that enjoy such a delicate touch. Personally, I like a bit more rum from my rum.

The Nicaraguan rum faired better overall and is a drinkable and leisurely experience. No need to focus heavily or brace yourself for some funk and you can enjoy it without having destroyed your bank account entirely. Same applies to the Cachaça, which is lively, fresh and affordable. It just works as a standalone offering and I’d envisage has some value in cocktails.

My thanks to Cadenhead’s for the tasting pack.

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