‘That a… Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The medicine go dow-own. The medicine go down. Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. In a most delightful way.’¹
Whenever I think of a teaspoon my memories drift towards my nanna, who loved to collect spoons from tourist hotspots across the world. On any family trip, no matter where we would always be on the lookout for a commemorative spoon to add to her collection. These were never used and took pride of place in a specially commissioned cabinet in her living room.
In some respects, thinking back to the beautiful symmetry of these pristine spoons, all lined up in uniform fashion, reminds me of many whisky collections I now see online; all perfect and all untouched. An impressive spectacle but also tinged with sadness as they’ve never been used or truly experienced.
In whisky terms, the teaspoon is a wonderful defence mechanism. A small piece of metal with a drop of liquid changes everything. Deployed in the warehouse to defend the brand of the distillery. A mere drop of Glen Moray transforms a Glenmorangie into a Westport and other names within the industry such as Aldunie, Burnside, Wardhead and it’s likely we’ll be seeing more odd names, as distilleries become more defensive.
Glenmorangie isn’t a distillery we cover too much nowadays – we’ve left them to eat their cake as it were. The array of releases since LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton took over this respected Tain distillery, have shown us that it is adaptable. Sure, the quality has been variable, some concepts less stellar than others, but the ‘Morangie is extremely popular with golfers and those who prefer tumblers. Many years ago, some of the cask types were truly out there, like the swamp oak, truffle and burr oaks. These were extremely limited and nowadays if anything defines LVMH it is scale and the lack of numbers when it comes to limited or special editions. Rather than just a few hundred, we’re talking about tens of thousands… so much so the idea of limited becomes a mockery.
So, it is good to see an unusual single cask duo today, thanks to the efforts of Ukrainian bottler Scyfion. To give us some insight into these releases, we reached out to Anatoliy of Scyfion, to provide all the details and then some.
Malt: So, were these originally from the same cask or sister casks prior to finishing?
Scyfion: These were originally sisters casks and different casks for finish. Before bottling both they were split with Berry Bros & Rudd.
Malt: That’s interesting, given their wine heritage. Were they bottled by Berry Bros. prior to the finish, or afterwards?
Scyfion: They were bottled after the finishing in these casks. Berry Bros. was very interested in the unusual influence of both of casks. It’s a challenge to find our casks and they are splitting with us a lot of casks because our casks are different from their traditional offerings. Sometimes they give us an opportunity to choose some exceptional spirits, then we are looking for exceptional casks for these spirits. After the finishing, we are only paying for our half of the cask of whisky. These casks are very hard to find, so always, it’s only one of a kind.
Malt: I noticed these are editions of 77 and 102 respectively, so quite low numbers and have they now sold out?
Scyfion: Maybe 10 bottles left at my partners, I have only two in my collection, for history.
Malt: Why did you pick 2 Westport casks? Glenmorangie has shown over the years to be a consistent whisky and adaptable to a variety of casks. Did you have this in mind and why finish these after 2 decades maturing?
Scyfion: Because it was the first time when we had an opportunity to buy Glenmorangie… in our sources it’s a rare bird. And there were two sister casks in offer, so we decided to take both.
Yes, as you said it’s adaptable to practically every type of casks and our lust for experiment pushed us to try it very specific casks, one from Ukraine on the sweet side and another from Israel on the rich and dense side due to its specific and climate. Both Westport casks were in refill casks prior and the profile of distillery was prevailing and two decades calmed whisky and prepared it for fresh wine casks for the long finish.
Malt: Both of these casks are new to me. Let’s start with the Argaman Jezreel cask – what can you tell us about its origins?
Scyfion: Argaman it’s an autochthonic grape from Israel, revealed in the 1960s by two local professors of agriculture. This grape became very specific to survive the tough climate of Golan Heights. The wine turns out elegant with rich taste and aroma of red fruit, blueberries, spices. Jezreel is a small boutique winery in Hanaton, was founded in 2012 by two wine enthusiasts. I found the winery accidentally during the vacation through Israel and the wine was a gem!
The Westport was finished for 20 months in Argaman Jezreel wine cask and was bottled at cask strength 49.1%. On the label, we reflected the fusion on Israel. The victory of technology and smart management, intertwined with traditions and history of Jewish people.
Malt: For the label on this release, was it a specially commissioned painting or something you were already aware of?
Scyfion: Our designer paints every label on canvas and then digitizes it. It’s specially commissioned. We tell him about our thoughts and symbols regarding distillery, cask, place of origin of cask and he combines it with his magic into something interesting and unique!
Scyfion Westport 1996 Argaman Jezreel Cask – review
Bottled at 49.1% strength, with an outturn of 102 bottles, this is natural colour and non chill filtered.
On the nose: musty wood initially, then an onslaught of aromas with beef jerky, dark chocolate and blackcurrant jam. Some worn bronze, raspberries, tobacco and orange peel. Red apples, rhubarb, cinnamon and plums. All-spice and beef tomato. A splash of water reveals caramel and more fruit.
In the mouth: quite mellow at first and well-formed. More red apples, tart in places with blackcurrant, liquorice and brown sugar. There’s figs, vanilla, shortbread and chocolate. Some flashes of dryness but its held in check with tobacco coming through on the finish. Adding water I felt wasn’t hugely beneficial.
Malt: Moving onto the Bashta Charred Cask, what can you tell us about its heritage and what prompted your selection?
Scyfion: In Odessa region. We have a long story and traditions of winemaking. Odessa is situated on Black sea coast on the south of Ukraine. Due to the warm climate with hot summer, moderate spring and fall and fertile soil we got all we need for making wine.
This cask came to us from the Colonist winery. They are known locally and abroad for their high quality fortified and classic wines. Bashta Portwine was made from Cabernet-Sauvignon and Merlo grapes, and aged for three years in French oak barriques. The release of this Portwine was dedicated by the owner of winery to his father. The word Bashta means father in Bulgarian. Where the owner has roots from.
When we asked him about the cask and told him about our experiments, he presented us with this cask. As feedback for this generous step we perpetuate his face on the label in the character of our local well-known person Grigoriy Kotovskiy – Bessarabian Robin Hood.
This Westport was matured for 20 months in Bashta Charred wine cask. Before filling, the bottom and lid of cask were charred. Whisky was bottled at cask strength 50% ABV.
Malt: What prompted you to char some of the cask? Was it very old?
Scyfion: It was in mid-condition and it was advice from cooper to char it.
Malt: We’ve spoken before about the problems sourcing casks. How difficult are they to transport into Scotland for the finish? Have you encountered any issues since the UK left the EU?
Scyfion: If casks are delivering from France or Portugal it’s not difficult and less expensive then from Ukraine. We will have to face it in near future. Hopefully, we will overcome all new circumstances and will get that precious experience in the right conditions.
Malt: Is there a distillery you really want to bottle? Do you find a cask and say ‘that’d be great with Ledaig’ and put it aside, or is it more of what you have to hand at that time?
Scyfion: Awesome question. Sometimes I think… wow it’s would be perfect to try this whisky in that definite cask. But we do not have such stocks and the choice is not so wide.
Sporadically all the circumstances are on our side and we have time to react and something very interesting and desirable comes out. (Not for the record, Laphroaig and 30 y.o. Glenrothes and two 27 y.o. Tormores in different casks, ready for bottling.) Usually, we receive an offer with al ist of spirits and try to immediately realize what whisky will be perfect for casks that we have found earlier. My dream is to mature and bottle Springbank in all his reincarnations.
Malt: You must see some casks of Springbank? Prices are shooting up from what I hear, the recent North Star Spirits bottles were £600-ish. Could you see yourself stepping away from finishing a whisky and just bottling it, because its ready?
Scyfion: I have never seen Springbank as an offer. Wow, that’s very expensive. I want to do it myself. I want to discover new tastes and combinations of whisky and casks. And it’s never-ending journey full of joy. Without finish only in one case, if it was suggested by you.
Malt: Thanks, which of these Westport releases do you prefer and why?
Scyfion: Argaman is my favorite! The whisky and cask are in maximum harmony. It’s more balanced and complicated very very rich and tasty.
Malt: One last question – what’s next for Scyfion?
Malt: For Scyfion, we have releases from Tormore, Royal Brackla, Laphroaig in very interesting casks for the finish! The last two Scyfion releases of Dailuaine were amazing. Then, we have the Bookinist range coming out.
Scyfion Westport 1996 Bashta Charred Cask – review
Bottled at 50% strength, with an outturn of 77 bottles, this is natural colour and non chill filtered.
Colour: a rich caramel.
On the nose: red grapes, orange zest and mossy. Time in the glass is beneficial, revealing aniseed, dried fruits and fudge. There’s also walnuts, earthy mushrooms, an old book and apricot. A distinct nuttiness, ginger, playdough, blackcurrants and pencil shavings. Adding water unlocks dark wood, a charred aspect, blackberries and that plastic dashboard smell in a newly purchased car.
In the mouth: not as rich or details, but fairly integrated. Nice in a way. Chocolate, cherry, raisins, blueberries and sooty in places. Also some roasted coffee beans. A pleasing texture. Adding water reveals chocolate again and charred oak.
It’s fair to say that some of the Scyfion releases have preferred a rich and full-bodied wine cask finish. Some of these take effort to appreciate and when faced with the richness in colour of the Argaman Jezreel Cask, I began to think it would be alone similar lines. How wrong was I? Maybe it is the quality of the Glenmorangie distillate (albeit with a splash of Glen Moray), but there’s a harmonious and captivating experience in a bottle.
In recent times, I’ve had wine cask finishes that are just harsh, unbalanced and don’t really serve much of a purpose. Releases such as those turn you off the potential of a good wine cask and expert hand. The Argaman Jezreel effort underlines how good it can be. Lovely stuff.
And that makes it a tough act to follow for the Bashta cask, which is pretty likeable on its own merits. I enjoyed the experience and the differences demonstrated the Scyfion ways of sourcing these different casks and seeing what happens. Isn’t that what whisky should be about? Seeing where things take us?
¹ Sherman Brothers, Walt Disney Records for Mary Poppins, 1964.