If there’s one thing we can all hopefully agree on about technology, it’s been that despite all the negative it has aspects it has brought into our lives, it has also thrown a spanner into the way the world operates.
Fields previously dominated by certain sections of society have now become more democratized. In the field of cinema, where I work, we have begun the long process of discussing questions of access: who gets it, and who makes the decision about that? We’ve begun discussing ways of making certain things fairer. We’ve started thinking about not just the immediate recipients of any benefits but those who are often excluded due to financial or geographical constraints. Although it will be a long time before we find any sort of equilibrium or a fairer playing field for everyone, it’s still refreshing to see us thinking about these issues. The pandemic that we are still in accentuated some of these unfair situations.
You might be wondering how this relates to the review? Well, last week I had the opportunity to attend a tasting by a new company trying to do things differently. Being in that room made me think about the issues of access, exclusion, and how conversations are defined.
Buying a cask of whisky is not something that’s within the remit of most people. Even if you can manage to get together a group each willing to split the prohibitive cost, there’s questions of how one would even navigate the whole system. It’s a bit of a closed box that comes with a level of exotic mystery surrounding it.
Caskshare, a new “club” (for lack of a better word), is trying to change this in an interesting way. Acting almost as a broker between the consumer and the distillery, the company removes the expense of having to purchase an entire cask. By selecting casks and inviting the public to purchase future bottles from casks that may interest them, they’re creating a unique system where individuals are able to experience whisky that they may not otherwise be able to. It helps that one half of the duo behind Caskshare is also involved with the Isle of Raasay Distillery, a relative newcomer with a promising track record.
Caskshare’s website explains the whole process in depth and also provides fairly good notes on each of the casks to allow a knowledgeable purchase. Of course, there’s always going to be the variables of whether the cask will mature to something interesting, being reliant on others in choosing the cask, and whether the chosen maturation time will be enough. Caskshare’s team seem pretty confident that their conservative estimates will yield decent results and – if the tasting was anything to by – I do honestly believe there’s potential there. I’d recommend visiting the site to have a browse for yourself, to see if the whiskies elicit any interest.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I was invited to a virtual tasting to try some of the selected casks for Caskshare. I also had the opportunity to ask questions; it was an interesting affair. The team are fairly transparent about the processes involved as well as the finer details of how the whole thing works legally and economically.
I also found it interesting to hear others’ notes on the whiskies we tried. Again, circling back to the questions of access and conversation, I’m often curious to explore where my tastes may differ from others especially based on reference points. Reading whisky tasting notes is a revealing affair, often showing you the background of the person doing the tasting, as the memories the whisky evokes will often be related to their own lives. As someone who was not born in the UK, I can often find my reference points diverging quite significantly from others’; it always makes me wonder whether there’s room for whisky to become more cognizant of these differences. To that end: you can read my notes below, as well as those of Dora, who also participated.
The following whiskies were tried in the order below on the night. All samples were provided free of charge, courtesy of Caskshare.
Cambus 31 Year Old Cask 41752 (1989) – Evrim’s Review
Ex-Bourbon barrel. 52% ABV. Retail price £139 (sold out).
Color: Pale gold, light sunray.
On the nose: Light, initially a burst of gentle alcohol but soon overtaken by summer notes, buttery, there’s a note of sweet sweets, like fresh baklava for example.
In the mouth: Popcorn, pear drops, maybe a touch of rosewater? It’s quite lovely and easy-going though for my taste, I have to say there’s an element of one-note wonder here that I can’t quite shake-off – in fact it’s something I’ve often felt with grain whiskies and does make me wonder if I need to expand more horizon further to understand them better.
(though add 1 more point if you like grain whisky)
Cambus 31 Year Old Cask 41752 (1989) – Dora’s Review
Colour: Yellow honey
On the nose: Sweet and creamy. I am getting Victoria sponge and cream scones dusted with icing sugar. It is coconutty with a slightly floral aroma. Light ester notes in the form of foam bananas and pear drops; think of opening a new tin of travel sweets. Fruit in the form of figs and delicate milk bananas that you get in South Eastern Asia. The sweetness continues in the form of milky banana flavoured ice cream and banana bread but, as the whisky oxidises, those sugars become darker and present in the form of a thick block of dried dates and fudge covered in dark chocolate. Throughout there is the spice from chilli and white pepper with the coolness of mint.
In the mouth: Sweet with honeycomb and raisins; I get a rum and raisin ice-cream vibe that has been drizzled with a healthy helping of white chocolate. A nuttiness akin to raw pralines and almond butter. Spice comes in the form of ground ginger and the heat from black pepper and green chillies. The mouthfeel is oily with a chewy buttery texture and flavour. Throughout, menthol is present and a clove-like taste which reminds me of being in a dentist’s chair. Tannic and drying after some oxidisation with an astringent burnt char. Medium to long finish, the tannins linger and eventually dry out the tongue. The sweetness is present at the back of the throat cooling the heat from those chillies and black pepper.
I found this whisky quite aggressive, with the heated spice and the astringent burnt char. However, the nose was fantastic – unmistakable single grain. The coconutty and fruity flavours are oh so tropical and summery. I definitely preferred the nose over the taste; this is not a bad whisky but it didn’t exactly blow my socks off.
Isle of Raasay Peated, Ex-Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Peated Cask, 17 Months – Evrim’s Review
Yet to be bottled. Retail price £65.
Color: Light blushing pink, like a berry or a currant.
On the nose: The wine cask really comes through, the smell of fruit juice (almost something like um bongo?) but also a deep, hidden whiff of peat – it’s a memory I can’t quite unearth – smoked raspberries perhaps, or a bonfire wafting over bramble bushes.
In the mouth: Yes, this is young and not quite ready to call whisky – vimto? Crushed berries? – but there’s also something interesting to keep coming back to – the brine and smoke of the peat not married yet and nothing comes together – it’s like looking at a dish with all its ingredient’s separate and tasting each one and trying to ascertain what it’ll end up as – but there’s something fascinating, too because you can see where it’s almost going.
This is an interesting one. The spirit has only been in the casks for 17 months and therefore is not mature enough to be released yet – and it shows. It was probably the least favourite with the group on the night. Having said that, and maybe it’s just the oddball explorer in me – there’s something about this I find fascinating: like a promise almost being made. Although not sure it’s something I’d want to drink the whole dram of on a regular basis, I really found myself excited by the interplay between cask and spirit here.
– Not sure it’s fair to score an unfinished whisky – so let me just say I’d buy a bottle of this cask based on this sample.
Isle of Raasay Peated, Ex-Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Peated Cask, 17 Months – Dora’s Review
Colour: Pink lemonade.
On the nose: Sweet and peaty with fermented fruit, think grapes and dark cherries. I get serious fusty grappa notes reminiscent of a sample of Greek ‘moonshine’ I got recently from a friend. Sour and slightly sulphurous notes with a seaside brine. There is an astringency in the air mixed with the waft of driving past a farm with dung heap powdered with icing sugar. Burnt varnish is present also.
In the mouth: Sweet and gin like. The grappa’ness comes out as experienced from the nose. Peated with bitter notes of coal. As the sweetness fades it becomes ever more bitter and tannic. There is a chalky and dry mouthfeel which is prickled with white and black pepper. Sour unripe strawberries with icing sugar that becomes strawberry and gin jam. That hint of farmyard makes it presence known. Finishes long and very spicy with the peppers from the palate. Slightly salty brine with icing sugar ending with a dry mouth.
I felt that it was unfair to give this spirit a score as it is not a whisky. At 17 months old, you can really taste the youth. It definitely needs to mature and change a lot in the cask, at the time of tasting I found the off notes a bit too much. For me, the farmyardiness was too strong and unrefined!
Score: No score.
Isle of Raasay Ex-Woodford Reserve Rye Peated Cask, 33 Months –Evrim’s Review
Yet to be bottled. Retail price £69.
Color: Light silver, almost gold.
On the nose: The nose is buttery, with a touch of spice – something exotic, perhaps almost like ras-el-hanout.
In the mouth: That butteriness continues, a rich coating of the mouth, the spice is not quite apparent within the flavors but in comes a little peat – a bonfire smouldering of flavors, perhaps some sort of stew, a long cooked dish – again it’s not all there but what is there is enough to pique the interest, to want to explore more.
Now we’re beginning to cook with gas – you can taste the whisky coming into shape, like something almost being said – there’s still work to be done but the promise is beginning to appear.
– Like above, not fair to score an unfinished whisky but another one I’d definitely want to try later.
Isle of Raasay Ex Woodford Reserve Rye Peated Cask, 33 Months – Dora’s Review
Colour: Sunflower oil.
On the nose: Sweet with vanillin and icing sugar reminding me of creamy custard and vanilla creme crownes fresh from a bakery. A waxiness in the aroma with wet peat and the ghost of grappa and smoke in the air. Sawn wood with a floral hint that comes in the form of heather honey and caraway seeds. On the nostrils there is a fruity fizziness, but also a slightly savoury element as if it is the after party of a meaty BBQ. White pepper gives the spice with a tobacco leaf and linseed oil scent in the background. Hint of rye bread spread with a thin layer of sweet creamy butter.
In the mouth: The mouthfeel is drying and spicy. It is very sweet with sugar syrup and there is a slight tropical note. Though it is drying, initially it’s oily but thins almost instantly. The peat is more prominent on the palate as it was not too noticeable on the nose. Coal and smoky notes especially on the first taste as it comes back through the nostrils. Bitter and tannic with a waxy flavour. There is a hint of espresso and stale cherry lips that have sat beside an ash tray. Medium to short finish with a spicy sweetness. The bitterness comes in and out with cask char and over-toasted spices.
The youthfulness is there and it is noticeable, however it does have the qualities to be a promising whisky. Drinkable though not complex at the moment and the most surprising thing to me was the fact that the rye cask influence was very shy in the spirit. The few times I have tried a rye whisky, it has blown my socks off with how super spicy it was. This is spicy but again I accredit this to the ABV at the time of sampling. Like before, I have decided not to score this as it is three months short of becoming a whisky.
Isle of Raasay, Virgin Chinkapin Oak Peated Cask, 45 Months – Evrim’s Review
Yet to be bottled. Retail price £65.
Color: Light chestnut, or maybe early autumn leaves.
On the nose: Rich and generous, full of promise, malty undertones, sweet toffee factory
In the mouth: This is my favourite of the samples, it’s childhood sweets, vibrant toffee and smoke, floral, autumnal – at 5 years, I’d happily drink this. Isle of Raasay is making some curious whisky.
– Continuing the theme, I’ll refrain from scoring except to say another resounding yes.
Isle of Raasay, Virgin Chinkapin Oak Peated Cask, 45 Months – Dora’s Review
On the nose: Fudge, caramel and toffee immediately comes to mind. Initially only a hint of peat but as the spirit oxidises, it becomes stronger. Icing sugar dusted red apples and red grapes in a blackberry compote gives the liquid a fruity character. White pepper and ginger spice is cooled with a creaminess from vanilla. Pencils with that metallic graphite note is present. Sour hints reminding me of thick black vinegar and intermingled with sweet tea. As the whisky oxidises, the fruits become darker akin to blackcurrant like an adult version of Ribena (i.e. alcoholic!) and the white pepper transforms to black. American cola is in the air and a bitterness from walnuts with their slightly burnt skins.
In the mouth: Very spicy initially with hot red chillies, white and black pepper. The mouthfeel is drying and a menthol coolness is present throughout. After that burst of heat and then the coolness from menthol, the sweetness comes through with icing sugar and vanilla. The liquid does begin to become more oily and chewy as you keep drinking. Cloves gives the mouth a numb feeling and sweet black liquorice is on the palate also. Sugar syrup mixed with coal and cask char gives a hint of bitterness. Fruit is there in the form of jujube dates and goji berries with a hint of earthiness. Medium lasting with sugar syrup coating the throat plus the spicy heat produced by lingering white pepper. The walnuts from the nose appears at the end with a drying and bonfire smoke finish.
This was a surprising one; it was spicy but the sweetness managed to calm that down and made it quite drinkable. Peat was present but the spiced oaky fruit kept it in check and for me personally, it was more balanced than any of the previous samples.
Glen Moray 2008 Cask 2956, Ex Red Wine Unpeated Cask – Evrim’s Review
Yet to be bottled. Retail price £57.
Color: Blushing light pink, beautiful sunset.
On the nose: Fruits of the forest, light gateaux, floral but with purpose.
In the mouth: Glen Moray’s Speyside whisky is a beautifully light and pleasant experience in the mouth and the 1st fill red wine cask adds notes of fruit that compliments it perfectly. It’s almost ethereal, there and gone and makes you want to savor the moment with another sip and one more.
This is a lovely dram – a good example of Speyside at a decent price that expresses the style without ever pushing any boundaries.
Glen Moray 2008 Cask 2956, Ex Red Wine Unpeated Cask – Dora’s Review
On the nose: Sweet dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas in syrup maturing in an oak cask. Aromas of fruit cake with demerara sugar crystals and glacé cherries on top and the sponge soaked in fino sherry. Blossom honey and tea infused toffee with the smell of hot rubber in the background giving it a slight sulphurous note. Spiced stewed fruits in red wine and the smell of apple slices baking in the sun with freshly grated nutmeg. Caramel drenched pears mix with the scents of leather and oak spice. Jammy but the red wine dials that down with some tannins.
In the mouth: Sweet and deep flavours such as dark chocolate, rich almond marzipan and roasted coconut. Sugary and sour with balsamic vinegar giving the whisky a thick chewy mouthfeel though it does become quite drying with tannic black tea. Hot with red chilies and aromatic with powdered ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and oak spice. The sour tang from the vinegar diminshes the Christmas cake flavours I got from the nose, I was expecting more. Rubber hint is present. The dark chocolate from earlier goes towards milk as the whisky oxidises. Well stewed pears and apples comes to mind and a minty and liquorice root flavour is also present with some cherries in the background. Medium to long finish, with sugar syrup sweetness toning down the chili note on the back of the throat. The tannins and very slight numbing and rubbery chocolate notes play on the palate throughout.
My favourite of the bunch but that may be because it is unpeated. I do generally prefer non peated spirits but this whisky has some funk. It is fruity and malty and sulfurous and I like an interesting tasting dram. I have mentioned in some of my other reviews that some sulfurous notes puts me off but I am happy to say this whisky didn’t have those nasty latex flavours I sometimes get. I would happily sup this as it is but, in a few years, this could be incredible!
Ardnamurchan 2015 Cask 706P Peated Cask – Evrim’s Review
Yet to be bottled. Retail price £79.
Color: Alchemist’s gold, light but beautiful
On the nose: Brine and black pepper combine to create a sense of something the wind might bring in – gentle yet there to make an impression.
In the mouth: Ardnarmurchan came out swinging when they opened the distillery and it’s good to see they’ve kept up on their new releases – the subtle smoke is complement by almost a greasy mouthfeel, there’s the salinity of oysters and the dry finish almost taking away the entire song, making you reach for another sip.
Beautiful bottle, perhaps a little pricey for what it is so docking a point.
Ardnamurchan 2015 Cask 706P Peated Cask – Dora’s Review
Colour: Very light white wine.
On the nose: Citrus sweet with this one as I received floral orange such as peeling a sweet small clementine and having just sliced into a lemon drizzle cake. There is brine and a creamy peat aroma with furfural notes reminding me of almonds. Light white pepper mix with cinnamon, vanilla and eucalyptus. Tonka beans and orange oil comes immediately to mind with all of these scents. Mocha with lots of chocolate and cookie dough is present as if you are in a bakery cafe.
In the mouth: Sweet and spicy as white pepper and creamy vanilla ice-cream intermingle. Icing sugar atop a high cocoa content chocolate square with a sprinkle of nutmeg. The mouthfeel is initially fairly silky and oily but does dry. Fruit from oranges, peaches and plum gives the whisky its fruity nature. Ice-cream flavoured Chewitts and Blackjacks with their sweet liquorice and numbing quality sends me back to assessing my choice in an old school confectioners as I stare at the jars of sweeties with childlike excitement. A nice salinity and the ghost of raw oysters on the palate. Finish – this lasts fairly long with spice and sugar syrup on the tongue. The hint of saltiness remains on the back of the throat as the fruity flavour dies down.
An enjoyable dram with very elegant qualities. The flavours are interesting and somewhat nostalgic. Again I found the peat balanced like the Chinkapin which is my personal preference; when the peat is over-powering it tends to put me off.
Caskshare is certainly an interesting proposition and the bottles they’ve picked have a lot of promise. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so we will need to give it some time to see how it shapes overall but, for now: 100 percent one to watch and support.