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Interview with The Whisky Baron

Whisky Baron

The Whisky Baron is a relative newcomer on the independent bottling scene, and yet the name may well be familiar to you already; their recent Springbank bottling has received quite a bit of attention. My first impression of TWB came in an unusual form; I happened to win an Instagram competition for one of his Infinity bottles. It is essentially a 200ml blend to start you off on your own home blending journey, with a unique code for the website where you can log and track your additions if you choose.

I am all for encouraging a little more experimentation and fun, but the real surprise came when I tasted the base blend to see what I was dealing with; it was excellent! I decided that it was much too good to ruin with whatever concoction I would have thrown at it, since my method of choice is to just add and hope for the best, and so I decided to just enjoy it as is. I even included a couple of drams blind for a tasting with friends. My interest was peaked though, and I have been meaning to try some of the single cask releases ever since. That opportunity is finally here, courtesy of Ian, a friend and fellow London whisky club member, who has since become a brand ambassador for TWB.

Making connections and friendships in the world of whisky are inevitable, and it comes part and parcel of this hobby; the more whiskies we taste, the more people we meet. The internet has also made a small world even smaller. The deeper we go down the rabbit hole, and the more people we meet along the way, the harder it is to find a whisky that is not somehow linked to an acquaintance who has a connection to the industry. I say this only in the interests of full disclosure, and to highlight any potential bias to you, and to myself for that matter. Ian knows that I do not pull any punches when it comes to reviewing a whisky, and if anything I am more worried about a reverse bias creeping in here. I can only assure you all that I subscribe fully to the MALT mantra; free whisky, while always appreciated, is only a guarantee of as fair and unbiased a review as we can humanly manage. 

As this is The Whisky Baron’s inaugural piece, in what has now become a debut article tradition, I decided to reach out and ask the Baron himself a few questions for your reading pleasure. 

Whisky Baron

MALT: TWB, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Please introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about your whisky journey.

TWB: Not at all, thank you for deeming me interesting enough to interview! My name is Jake Sharpe and I am the Founder of The Whisky Baron. I’ve been in the industry for about six years now and after a rocky start working for some untrustworthy individuals, I decided to launch TWB as my first solo business venture. I’ve always had a drive to run my own business and with the experience and passion I had gained within the whisky industry, it seemed like the next logical step in my career.

I’ve always had an interest in whisky – I was never one to down jaeger bombs on a night out and even saying those words now makes me feel a little sick – but since working in the industry, I’ve developed a real passion. It’s a fantastic industry to work in and no matter how much I learn, I constantly feel that I’m at the foot of the mountain with everything ahead of me. I just hope that through The Whisky Baron, I’ll have some other people join me on my journey.

MALT: It sounds as if that rocky start may have taught you a few valuable lessons. What sort of role did you have in the industry before starting your own venture?

TWB: It certainly did and more importantly, I met a lot of very valuable contacts that started collaborating with me as soon as I set up The Whisky Baron. I could quite easily breeze over this question, however, I feel it’s important now more than ever to take a stance and provide whisky enthusiasts everywhere with a word of warning from my experiences.

I initially started selling casks for a company as an investment opportunity. Following my quick success as a sales rep, I then took on the task of reviving the director’s legacy bottling business and was responsible for designing the product and organising the bottling projects. It all seemed to make perfect sense – casks appeared to be rising in value and there was a growing interest in whisky. However, since leaving I’ve realised that what they were doing was not only dishonest from a sales standpoint as casks were being sold at massively inflated prices, but it was also completely illegal as they didn’t have the necessary licenses. I was very lucky to realise this and get out when I did.

Unfortunately, it seems as though this isn’t the only company taking advantage of the unregulated whisky market. As all trades are OTC, sellers can set the price as they see fit and I’ve seen many more companies pile into the industry in recent years to mislead the public on the returns that whisky can provide. Whisky is for drinking – not investing. Yes it is a real asset and yes it can go up in value, but I urge any keen whisky drinker looking to have a cask of their own to do their research thoroughly. If an opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is.

MALT: A refreshingly candid response from someone within the industry. The ‘get rich quick’ attitude seems to have become far worse during the recent lockdowns, and whisky is seen as liquid gold. The exploding secondary market has garnered a lot of attention here on MALT. I am drawn to your last couple of comments on drinking and investing, and whether you have a target market in mind for your own products, be it drinker, collector or, dare I say it, flipper. Is this something you are conscious of when deciding on a whisky to bottle?

TWB: Well put; it definitely is a ‘get rich quick’ mentality and I just don’t understand it.

When it comes to bottling, I choose my expressions almost solely on their quality. Given the brand was created to draw on the stories of the original whisky barons, we also sometimes look for links between spirit and story. For example, our recent 22Y/O Glentauchers tells the story of James Buchanan who founded the distillery and the year of 1922, which was a special year for this particular whisky baron.

Regarding our target audience, I’m definitely in the market for whisky drinkers. We have developed a unique AR app that allows consumers to delve deeper into their whisky and explore distillery history, food pairings, cocktail recipes etc. and so we have focused our brand around an entire experience. We have positioned ourselves at the premium end of the market though, spending a lot of time on product design/presentation, so I hope to also cater for the collectors – after all, you can’t drink all whisky as soon as you buy it without developing a problem!

You’ll always get the flippers as with all walks of life – those looking to make a quick buck – but my drive is to bring more drinkers into the category and share experiences with as many people as possible. You can’t do that without popping a few corks.

MALT: Too true! Buying more than we can possibly hope to drink is the bane of the whisky enthusiast. Is there a particular whisky baron or story that inspired the brand? The care that has been taken over the aesthetic is clear to see, and it’s also funny you mention corks, how did the glass stopper come about? I wonder what the barons would think!

TWB: I suppose the story of James Buchanan resonated with me the most as he was largely a one-man band for some time and I set up the business by myself. Having said that, the stories of all these incredible gents were really inspiring and the more I learned the clearer my brand idea became.

Ah yes, the glass stoppers seem to have a bit of a marmite effect. It was two-fold for me. I wanted to create a product that provided a modern twist on a timeless classic and so the entire product design was focused on keeping things familiar whilst also bringing whisky into the 21st century – our AR experience helps with that. However, there is a huge benefit in as much as corks are perishable goods and so from a simple business point of view, glass stoppers seemed much more sensible. I also hate pulling an old/mouldy cork out of a bottle I’ve been saving for a special occasion!

Whisky Baron

MALT: It is hard to beat the sound of that first cork pop, but I have to say I am a fan of the glass stoppers. The perishability of natural cork does worry me with some of my own bottles that I am hoping to open quite some time down the line. Many rum brands have moved to synthetic corks, perhaps it is time whisky explored the same. All this talk of popping corks has me thirsty, I think it’s time for a dram! Tell us about your first three whiskies and what drew you to them.

TWB: The first three whiskies and for that matter, the entire ‘Founder’s Collection’ is made up of casks that allowed me to start the business. The Glenrothes was the first cask I ever purchased and as a lover of sherried malts, it really hit the spot for me. The Bunnahabhain showcases the true distillery character, untouched and unadulterated, which I think is rare for Bunna as you usually find it finished in sherry/wine. Also, having a 16 year old Bunnahabhain for launch was something that I considered to be pretty impressive! And Fettercairn is a funny one. I’m not usually a fan of traditional single cask Fettercairn – it has this off note that I can’t quite get my head around. Cask 4622 just didn’t have that though and to me was the perfect example of a light, breezy and easy to approach dram. I think the legendary Serge from WhiskyFun said it best when he questioned ‘did they normalise Fettercairn indeed?’ I like to think we did!

Whisky Baron Fettercairn 10 – review

Distilled in 2008 and matured in a bourbon barrel. Bottled at 48% ABV at £75 RRP.

Colour: White wine. 

On the nose: Lovely fresh, ripe fruits to begin. Almost perfumey they are so ripe. Apples, pears, peaches and apricots, with a light dusting of cinnamon. It starts to become more tropical and creamy; it reminds me of a peach and tropical fruit yoghurt. A medley of mango, passion fruit and pineapple. Cereals in the background, with wheat grains and a gristy, malty note. This is lovely. 

In the mouth: Faithful to the nose, very juicy ripe fruits and cereals. Peaches, passion fruit, mango sorbet. Pears, cinnamon and toasted oak. A little vanilla before barley sugar and ripe wheat. Fizzy peach rings and crisp, ripe gala apples. A lengthy finish with pineapple juice and a touch of black pepper. This does not require water, it is already going down very nicely indeed!

Score: 7/10

Whisky Baron Glenrothes 12 – review

Distilled in 2006 and matured in a first fill sherry butt, bottled at 57% ABV at £100.

Colour: Rubbed brass. 

On the nose: Sherry kissed, rather than drowned in sherry, which makes for a very refreshing deviation from the majority of sherry casks these days. Waxed Barbour jacket, madeira cake, pistachio baklava. Raisins macerated in oloroso, with that classic yeasty, salty tang. Orange peel. A touch of nutmeg and clove. Figs drizzled with honey. Is that a whiff of parma ham with the figs, or am I just really hungry? I could nose this one all night. It is a little muted with water. 

In the mouth: Viscous mouthfeel. A little more sherry on the palate. The macerated raisins lead, with roasted figs and prunes behind. Salted almonds. Mixed citrus: orange peel, lemon zest, grapefruit juice. Crystallised ginger and nutmeg in the finish. I do not find water beneficial. 

Score: 7/10

Whisky Baron Bunnahabhain 16 – review

Distilled in 2002 and matured in a bourbon hogshead. Bottled at 51% ABV. RRP £150.

Colour: Straw. 

On the nose: Damp earth and musty oak from the off. The elusive dunnage? Until I have set foot on that hallowed ground I cannot say for certain, though it is a very moreish note that I find in whiskies from this distillery. Toffee apple and salted buttery popcorn. Orange oil. Sweet liquorice allsorts and a whiff of menthol in the background. With water a little wax, even a touch of coconut oil.  

In the mouth: Oily and mouth coating. Much fruitier than the nose had me believe. Apple and pear tarte tatin. Tinned apricots and pineapple. More creamy caramel and that salty popcorn coming through. Cracked black pepper, chilli powder and cinnamon. Schweppes fizzy bitter lemon in the finish. Water brings waxed apple peelings, cream of coconut and candied orange peel. 

Score: 7/10

MALT: Correct me if I am wrong, but all your releases so far have been full maturation, not a finish in sight. Has that been a conscious decision on your part? What are your thoughts on finishes, and are they something you would consider bottling?

TWB: Yes, thus far all of the official TWB expressions have been from full maturation in single casks. We have collaborated with my friend Dan at The Summerton Club on a blended malt finished in Oloroso octaves though. This was a great project and we enjoyed working together so much that there may be another TWB x Summerton Club expression in the pipeline for later this year.

The ‘Founder’s Collection’ and ‘Renaissance’ lines were definitely created for single casks, however, we certainly have plans to expand our range and this will include all sorts of expressions and experiments. Much like blending, I’d say that finishing whisky is an art form and so I seek advice from experienced professionals and I’m constantly trying to learn more in order to bring great whiskies to the market. The right cask finish for the right amount of time can bring everything you want out of a whisky, but it’s easy to make a bad call and ruin a dram forever.

MALT: Your emphasis on single casks there is interesting. While a full maturation will always be that, do you see finishing as muddying the waters? The rules certainly seem less clear, or perhaps easier to blur. There is a growing conversation around this in the whiskyverse, with some distilleries being called out for vatting casks into a single finishing vessel and labelling and selling the finished article as a single cask. 

TWB: No, I don’t think it’s muddying the waters at all, but I suppose it’s very personal. Some whisky purists take things to the Nth degree with what they deem to be acceptable and seem to think that there’s only one way of doing things and anything else is just wrong. I’m much more easy-going and would focus on the quality of the outcome.

What I would say is that there could be some clarity given as to what constitutes a single cask, a finish, double maturation etc. As you say, these are all terms that are easy to blur and use as a selling point. Similar to what defines a ‘first fill’ cask – the number of STR casks that I see labelled as first fill is shocking. Ultimately I think that providing the consumer with as much information as possible is the most important thing as this breeds a more knowledgable and interested customer base.

MALT: I would agree with that completely, and it also goes both ways; the more knowledgeable and interested the consumer, the more transparency they tend to desire. I am curious about your approach to buying, do you try and sample everything first, or do you have to buy blind sometimes? When looking for casks, are you hunting for something ready to bottle, or are you also building stock for future releases?

TWB: We often buy blind as waiting for samples is time-consuming and rarely offered by distilleries/brokers. As a cask trader, I buy bulk quantities of stock and sample it as I go, cherry-picking the real winners and fitting them into our bottling plan. We then offer certain stocks to the independent bottlers that we supply and lay down the rest for future projects.

It’s great to find stock that is ready for bottling and I have bought on this basis on a couple of occasions, but it’s often more expensive. I’ve been creating a plan for the future over the past few years and so I suppose the best way to answer this is by saying that the ‘Founder’s Collection’ and ‘Renaissance’ lines are just the tip of the iceberg – an introduction to The Whisky Baron. We’ve got a lot more in store for you!

MALT: It is always interesting hearing the inside take from independent bottlers here on MALT regarding cask prices and availability in the current market. What’s your view at the moment, have you noticed any obvious changes?

TWB: I think the cask market is an interesting place at the moment. As mentioned earlier, there are far too many investors taking a speculative approach and this is having a knock-on effect when it comes to sourcing liquid for bottling. Many distilleries/brokers are closing their doors on companies like mine as we’re new to the space and so in their eyes, can’t be trusted. It’s frustrating, but I can absolutely appreciate it at the same time. Distilleries spend millions on equipment and hiring professionals to perfect a product and build a brand, offering it to the open market so as independents like The Whisky Baron can provide an alternative offering and come at things from a different point of view. Then these investors come in, buying at X and selling at 2X overnight. What value has been added? None. It’s the same product, it’s just being mis-sold. I’m very lucky in that I’ve built strong relationships within the industry and I think that I’m largely seen as a trusted bottler. It is a shame though as certain brands are already out of reach due to this investment market and so we’ll probably never get to bottle liquid from certain distilleries.

MALT: Let’s dive in to some more whisky with your fourth and fifth releases, the Renaissance line. I know that the Springbank in particular has an interesting back story.

TWB: Yes, they’re both great casks but I suppose the Springbank, in particular, has quite a history to it. It belonged to a friend of mine, Charlie, who since selling it to me has come on board as part of our sales team. His dad bought six butts of Springbank from the distillery in the ’90s and Charlie was lucky enough to be gifted them. We went to neighbouring schools and growing up we’d always be the ones at a party sipping on whisky as opposed to downing shots. It took me a few years and a lot of convincing, but Charlie agreed to sell the cask to me and was able to take part in the process of bottling and bringing the expression to market. It’s not every day you find a 23Y/O sherry butt of Springbank, so I was obviously delighted.

Renaissance means rebirth and so we’ve used this lineup of whiskies to tell the stories of the original whisky barons. I mentioned that the Glentauchers was bottled in honour of James Buchanan earlier, but the Springbank tells the story of Captain Bill McCoy and Rum Row.

Whisky Baron Glentauchers 22 – review

Distilled in 1997 and matured in a bourbon barrel. Bottled at 48.1% ABV, with a RRP of £175.

Colour: Apple juice. 

On the nose: Overripe, fermenting apples, honey cake and cantaloupe melon. Dried mango. Old cinnamon stick from the back of the spice cupboard. Wet leaf mulch and a touch of frangipane. With time raw, waxy honeycomb. Water brings vanilla sponge, church incense and white candlesticks. 

In the mouth: Quite a surprise on the palate! Apple cider vinegar and naturally fizzy, earthy West Country cider. Waxy honeycomb and granny smith apples. An extremely long finish of toasted walnuts, lemon and vanilla icing. Water is a real plus here, balancing out the sharper notes with honey cake sweetness, cinnamon, vanilla cream, and a lovely waxy mouthfeel. 

Score: 7/10

Springbank Springbank 23 – review

Distilled in 1997 and matured in a fresh sherry butt. Bottled at 54.6% ABV, with a RRP of £400.

Colour: Beef tea. 

On the nose: Rich sticky toffee pudding, medjool dates, prunes and raisins macerated in cream sherry. Memories of a school pencil case with pencil shavings and rubber. The funk is in the background with a hint of barbecue smoke, charred wood and soot. With time, hello angelica root! That’s a new one for me. More vegetal and herbaceous notes develop; carrots, parsnips, celery, peppercorns and bay leaves. A little salty liquorice, juniper, leather and some sort of sticky citrusy reduction, blood orange syrup if such a thing exists. Patience is key; it takes time to peel back those sherried layers after 23 years. With water, nothing new, but it is a little too sweet now. 

In the mouth: Oily but very drying. Hot Ribena, prune juice, medjool dates and buttery caramel sauce. Crispy raisins from a Christmas pudding drenched in brandy. Chilli spice and burnt orange peel. Charcoal, lighter fluid and cigar ash in the finish. Lingering juniper, bay leaf and black pepper. Water dampens the tannins a touch and brings out a little more soot and woodsmoke, and a hint of rubber, but also more cream sherry sweetness which dominates.  

Score: 7/10

MALT: Springbank has such a fervent following that it is now almost a religion to its most fanatical disciples. With its growing reputation but ever-diminishing number of casks out in the wild, do you think it has become the crowning jewel to every indie bottler’s portfolio? Was a cask of Springbank something you had your eye on from the very beginning and were there any nerves releasing to such a passionate crowd of fans?

TWB: This is a great question. I suppose knowing that Charlie had the cask I’d have to say yes, I always had my eye on it and knew that it had to become a part of our range. It certainly helped to propel The Whisky Baron into the mainstream and gain a lot of attention which is never a bad thing, but you’re always going to get people with differing opinions. So was I nervous? No. I was excited – I got to bottle a 23 year old Springbank! Having worked in sales within the UK most of my life, I’m no stranger to people…well let’s say speaking their mind. The internet is a funny place and often when I respond to rude and unnecessary comments, the individuals come back in a really positive way and often withdraw their original remarks. We’ve had a few of these instances with the Springbank and I appreciate that due to the amazing brand and following the distillery has built, a release from an outsider can be seen as almost unholy. All I can say is that I found an expression that I fell in love with and I didn’t mess with it. It was bottled at cask strength without colour/filtration, so if you have a problem with the liquid, speak to Springbank!

MALT: We’ve had the bottles of past and present, now let’s look to the future. Tell us a little bit about these two new releases which will be hitting shelves shortly.

TWB: These two expressions are both very exciting for me. I love Glentauchers and having bottled a 22Y/O bourbon barrel, a 6Y/O sherry hogshead seemed like the perfect way to showcase how versatile this whisky is. It was a cask I bought when it was practically new make and it has impressed me since day one. It’s bottled at a cask strength of 62.5% but goes down almost too smoothly. I’m not sure what else I can say about it – Glentauchers is just amazing!

The Port Charlotte is one that I would definitely consider a jewel in the crown. Matured exclusively in a Vosne Romanée barrique for 13 years and bottled at cask strength, it’s a challenging whisky and not for the faint-hearted. There are layers upon layers of flavour and for lovers of Islay whisky it doesn’t disappoint. I personally fell in love with peated whiskies matured in wine casks a couple of years ago as there is a wonderful roundness in the competing flavour profiles. This cask is the best example of these competing flavour profiles that I have ever come across and there was a moment when I considered if it should be bottled for The Whisky Baron brand or just for private stock to share with friends and family. It’s too good not to share though, so I hope others enjoy it as much as I do.

Whisky Baron Glentauchers 6 – review

Distilled in 2014 and matured in a sherry hogshead. Bottled at 62.5% ABV with a RRP of £45.

Colour: Yellow with a tinge of orange.

On the nose: Pineapple upside-down cake and vanilla custard. Cherry syrup. Cinnamon and ginger. Stewed apples and raisins. Aromatic pipe tobacco and something a little earthy in the background. With water, it becomes less dense and sweet, with a little more zest to it. Tropical fruit juice. That earthiness has become lemon thyme. Marzipan, candied orange peel and dried apple rings too. 

In the mouth: Spiced stewed apples, raisins and lots of chilli heat. Fresh pineapple juice. Definitely, some water required. Fresh ripe apples, sticky date sweetness and walnuts. A stubborn one, let’s go for another round of dilution. Perfect, a very silky mouthfeel now, and here comes the pineapple cake. Passion fruit, floral honey, toasted peanuts. Sweetened citrus, like the topping for a lemon drizzle. Quite a light, grassy and refreshing finish now. 

Score: 7/10

Whisky Baron Port Charlotte 13 – review

Distilled in 2007 and matured in a fresh Vosne Romanée barrique. Bottled at 60.5% ABV with a RRP of £160.

Colour: Gyoza dipping sauce.

On the nose: Oh boy, I think my meaty prayers may have been answered. First, it is sweet, sticky, jammy and sooty, as if someone has dropped forest fruit jam into the fireplace and quickly scooped it back up again. There’s hessian, lemon rind and sea spray next. Then comes fatty Jamon serrano morphing into sticky BBQ pork ribs drenched in a tangy, smoky sauce. The background has orange blossom and marmalade on burnt toast. With water cherry sweets, farmyard and a more vegetal peat. TCP and dusty old leather books.  Salted caramel.

In the mouth: Exactly as the nose advertised. Juicy raisins and blackberry jam. Woodsmoke, soot and ash. Raw and burnt tobacco. Chilli prickle and a drying mouthfeel, but not overly so. Sweet and salty chorizo breaks through with loads of extra smoked paprika. Forest fruit jam, marmalade, and soot linger on and on. With water orange blossom, date syrup, BBQ sauce and TCP. Hessian. Salted caramel, raisins and prune juice. 

Score: 8/10

MALT: Looking beyond these two, do you have any clues for us as to what me might expect from you further down the line? Are there any distilleries in particular that you would be keen to bottle?

TWB: Hmm… I don’t want to give too much away, but I suppose I can give you a peak at what’s coming later this year. We have a Bruichladdich MRC cask which is a little younger than the Port Charlotte mentioned above. Another very interesting expression showcasing Mark Reynier’s experimentation with wood. We also have a 24Y/O Bowmore that we’re hoping to release soon and maybe even a Clynelish. You’ll have to stay tuned though – as I said earlier, we’ve got a lot more in store for you!

MALT: It certainly sounds it! Jake, it has been a real pleasure chatting to you, thank you once again for taking the time to answer my questions. Since I’ve ended up going all Desert Island Discs on you by interspersing the whiskies, indulge me in a final whisky take on their parting question. The castaway is always given the Bible, or chosen alternative, and a luxury. The Bible alternative is a no-brainer, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible would make the perfect fire starter. As for your luxury, what would be the one whisky you would take with you?

TWB: Now that’s a tough one. If I was actually stuck on a desert island I’d probably go for something a bit lighter and easier as the heat would be unbearable – perhaps a Clynelish or the Redbreast 27 Ruby Port finish as it’s just so fruity. However, I see this more as a question of ‘what is your one favourite whisky’. So, if I was sat next to a roaring fire on an island for an evening, I’d have to say our Port Charlotte. It really is spectacular and every time I go back to it I find a new element that I hadn’t noticed before. This may seem like shameless advertising, but I’d remind your readers that as with the Springbank; I didn’t make it and I didn’t mess around with it when it was bottled. It is a testament to Bruichladdich distillery and I am proud to humbly offer it as part of our range.

Whisky Baron

Conclusions

During a previous lockdown last year the London whisky club did a virtual tasing with TWB. There were too many options at the time, and my pockets not endlessly deep, so I chose to skip it, though I remember regretting it after the fact. I also remember that members who did attend the tasting rechristened this Fettercairn as a Bettercairn, and now I understand why! It is a lovely bourbon cask whisky, full of juicy fruits, cereal grains and moreish creaminess. It reminds me of a tropical fruit yoghurt with whole grains thrown in. The dilution has also been judged very well, not compromising on the mouthfeel. This would make a perfect start to an evening of whisky, or you could easily spend all your time peeling back its layers. It is not what I would have expected on paper before tasting them all, but after the Port Charlotte this would actually be my pick of the lot. I have a very strict, self-imposed bottle purchasing resolution in place this year, but if there are any bottles miraculously left come Jan 1st 2022 I will be getting one. 

The Glenrothes has a very interesting nose, and I would be curious to know what kind of sherry was in the cask beforehand. It has a ‘proper’ oloroso feel to it, the dry, salty, yeasty kind, which translates to a really nice interplay between sweet and savoury notes, not just your full-on dried fruit bombardment that is so common in a sherried releases these days. The palate did not quite deliver the same level of complexity and layers, but it is delicious nevertheless. If the wax and parma ham had come through on the palate I think it would have taken it to the next level. 

The Bunnahabhain is another winner. I am a big fan of that earthy musty note I find so often in their whiskies. As I mentioned above, I need to actually visit Islay and the warehouses before I can confirm whether that is the same Bunna dunnage note people rave about. It has a little bit of everything going on, and the creamy, salty, caramel notes make for a really comforting dram. A little patience and a drop of water reveal new pleasures that take it up a level. Jake is also right, it is not often that we get a pure bourbon cask Bunnahabhain of a decent age; you have to look to the independents, and even then anything 15 or over is rare. I also recently tried a 16yr old bourbon matured moine, and this just cements my hope that we see a few more well-aged Bunnahabhains from bourbon casks. The elder of the two Glentauchers is a tale of two halves. It has a dignified old nose, sweet and seductive with dusty notes of cinnamon and incense, without the oak taking over. The palate comes as a bit of a surprise initially; it is very spritely with sharper, vibrant fruit. The lovely waxy notes running through both really bring the whole thing together, and again a touch of water just brings out more to enjoy. It is one to mull over.  

On paper, I was most looking forward to the Springbank, and my word the nose did not disappoint; I probably spent an hour and a half just nosing it. As time passed layer after layer fell away revealing unexpected depths. The savoury, herbaceous and vegetal notes were really interesting, and that angelica root will stay with me for a while. It just has so much going on, I imagine you would find new flavours every time you revisit the bottle. The Springbank funk is there too, like a warm hug from an old friend. Its a really wonderful nose, and if that were the only thing to judge it on, I would give it an easy 9. Sadly, for my tastes, the palate does not come close. I think it has sat too long in the cask with the sherry and wood dominating proceedings. It is quite hot and aggressive with a lot of drying tannins. Do not misunderstand me though, it is still a very good whisky with a lot to enjoy, but the exceptional qualities of the nose do not manage to follow through, which is reflected in my score. 

The younger Glentauchers is a very different beast to its older sibling at first. It certainly has a kick to it, and I would recommend having a play with water. I would guess that this is a refill cask, and it works very well. The light sherry touch brings out and compliments the fruity notes of the base spirit. Similarities between the two begin to emerge in time, with notes of sweet but tart apple, tropical fruit and sweet sponge, and an earthy quality on the nose. 

Last but not least is the Port Charlotte, and Jake’s desert island dram. My notes and score were made prior to asking him the question, but I can see why he chose it. If you have read my pieces previously you will know that sweet meaty peat is my Achilles heel. This delivers on all those fronts, from sweet jams, to soot and woodsmoke, while the meaty flavours took me straight to Spain. That sweet and smoky paprika is such a lovely note. For me that nudged it just ahead of a very strong field, although there is really very little separating them all. 

My summary in one word: consistent. It may appear as though I have thoughtlessly copied and pasted the same score from one review to the next, but this has to be the most consistent line up of whiskies from a single source that I have tasted. With new bottlers springing up constantly it must be difficult to stand out from a growing crowd, but  with a starting line up like this I think TWB is bound to gain attention, and it is surely the best way to create a lasting business in this industry. 

A final word on pricing. It will not have escaped you that these releases are at the premium end of the market. Jake has not pretended otherwise, in fact, he has made a point of saying that this is the very market he is targeting. A quick google will also tell you that they are actually completely in line with many other similar releases. That does not mean I am suggesting that they are all within everyone’s grasp, most of them are sadly well out of my reach. But that is where the market is these days, we must accept it, and accept that all of us play an active and ongoing role in the state of it, but that is a topic for another time. I also cannot see it slowing down any time soon, and the majority of us without endless means may well be thinking about buying less but buying better. I certainly am, although there is more choice out there than ever before and it can be difficult to know where to look, not to mention confounding factors like misleading paid for reviews online. In that regard, I think that there is plenty of room for more bottlers who can guarantee the highest level of quality and consistency, which I mentioned also in my Adelphi write up last year. Some things will always be a pretty safe bet (I hope), a Caol Ila for £50 is likely to be enjoyable at worst, but I suppose we all have a cut off at which we are willing to take a gamble. If I am looking for a special bottle at the top end of my budget then I think I would rather pay a little extra for a more curated service to cut out, or at least minimise, the element of chance. That level of service, the guarantee of consistent quality, should and does come at a small premium, and as a consumer, I enjoy the added choice. 

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Tony says:

    “…buying less but buying better…”

    Agree 100%! I’m not a collector, I’m a drinker! Thanks to excellent work such as your article, WS, it’s easier for me to avoid the duds with my minimal purchases.

    Fantastic journalism.

    1. TheWhiskySleuth
      TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi Tony, thanks for reading! In a world of ever increasing choice, but also price, this is the only way we’re headed, unless we are lucky enough that money is no object. Sadly I am not that lucky! I think we always have to take individual reviews with a pinch of salt, but they can be very useful in pointing us in a general direction. I think the whisky baron offers some quality drams to be explored. Happy hunting!

  2. Avatar
    kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    “…buying less but buying better…” translates as paying more for standards or ridicously much for older whiskies for some years now.
    Not to speak of paying more for lowered standard OB bottlings. Isn’t buying less but better not only a paraphrase for form over substance?

    I mistrust the Greeks bearing gifts.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  3. TheWhiskySleuth
    TheWhiskySleuth says:

    Hi Kallaskander, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I would agree with the first half of your statement. Sadly yes, prices have been going up and up over the years, and we are having to pay more for the same whiskies we were drinking a few years ago. That isn’t to say there aren’t still some fantastic value whiskies out there. The second part of your statement I would flip on its head. With ever increasing prices, we also have ever increasing choice. The market is flooded with new releases and new companies/distilleries/bottlers, not to mention some of the shady business practices the whisky baron has highlighted. It’s hard to know where to put your money. There is something to be said for thinking of the more premium bottlers as being like concierge services, they are taking some of the guesswork away, for a price of course. They are sifting through all the duds, as Tony put it so well above, to provide only what they feel is the best. Perhaps an example to illustrate my point. I am looking to try a new distillery I have been recommended, and I have £100 to spend. I could take a gamble on the £80 bottle from a bottler I am yet to try, or I could spend £100 at a bottler like Adelphi, or The Whisky Baron. Yes on paper £100 is more, but if I am buying a guarantee of quality I think that small extra investment will pay itself off as I enjoy the liquid within.

  4. Avatar
    kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    let me voice my doubt that a concierge service will get the consumer very far.
    For 15 years or longer whisky production runs along optimised parameters in most of the distilleries.
    Optimised for yield not taste and need I say more than… sherry seasoned casks?

    Two of your reviewers – at least two – have made notes to the same effect… one about the predictability of modern whisky and the other about the gereal uniformity of contemporary whiskies….

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    1. TheWhiskySleuth
      TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi kallaskander, apologies for the late reply. I am not sure I entirely follow you. I also cannot speak to the opinions of other contributors on MALT. The beauty of this site is that it holds a multitude of opinions from many and varied minds.

      I personally disagree. I think we have never had it better in terms of variety, choice and access. But added choice inevitably makes it harder to choose, hence my thoughts around whisky concierge services. And I think the whisky industry is full of them. From subscription services to bloggers and reviewers, everyone is trying let us know about the next best thing we should be drinking. Even a whisky club, a big part of it is the word of mouth recommendations you get from fellow like minded individuals, or words of caution on what to avoid. Is it so different for a bottler to provide a similar service, a fast track purchase to guaranteed good purchase? And I think they are extremely successful so far. Just take Adelphi, it has funded the building of an entire distillery!

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