In this second part of my piece on new independent bottler FABLE Whisky, I conclude my conversation with Calum Lawrie, co-owner of FABLE, and review Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of the first volume of their range.
Malt: Can you describe the process that you follow for deliberating over which casks of yours to bottle
Calum: We don’t have a central warehouse, so we request samples to be drawn from the casks we own that are stored in different warehouses all over Scotland. In our head office we have a panel, including some whisky experts like Dominic Roskrow, and we’ll nose, taste, and take notes. If we think the whisky isn’t ready yet, we’ll let it keep maturing. But if we reach a consensus on a specific cask, we bring it to the bottling hall and regauge how much liquid is left before it goes on to bottling.
Malt: With all the releases in FABLE’s Volume 1, I noticed that they all were aged in ex-Bourbon hogsheads. Is that a particular direction you guys are following?
Calum: For this volume, we wanted to really showcase the characteristics of the distillery, which means trying to make the whisky as raw as possible: cask strength, non-chill filtered, etc. We want the distillery to speak using its whisky. Using hogsheads allows for that.
The feedback we’re getting is that consumers love getting to taste a distillery’s nuances and seeing how different parts of the production process like still shapes or the size of the washback affect the liquid, all those subtleties that whisky geeks are looking for. In all honesty, if there’s a whisky that isn’t as “smooth,” I think people appreciate that more. Most of the big companies like Glenfiddich want to aim for consistency and easy sipping, and people love them for that. On the other hand, we just want to present the whisky in its rawest form.
Malt: Does this mean you’re planning to follow the same pattern or philosophy for future releases?
Calum: No, we’ve already started our cask strategy, which involves releasing other things. But the act of releasing raw and untainted whisky to maintain the distillery character will still be part of our DNA. Besides, some of the whisky is pretty beautiful already, so there’s no point messing with them. It’s part of the charm of what we’re doing. Consistency isn’t our friend; we like the fact that they are all different.
Malt: When I was looking up the releases available to us in the Philippines, I noticed that they’re slightly different in terms of factors like age or ABV compared to releases in other countries. How do you determine what specific single cask bottlings to release to certain export markets?
Calum: We work closely with our distributors in those markets, and we get their feedback. From our experience traveling for our past work, we have ideas about what certain styles some markets might prefer, but we like our distributors to take the lead as to what they feel would work in their own markets.
We send samples to those distributors first, then we select which whiskies to send over once we receive feedback. Part of the decision-making also involves price, especially how much the whiskies we send would cost in different markets. Sending a delicious 18-year-old whisky won’t work if it’s too expensive for people to try. We don’t want to alienate people by releasing whisky that doesn’t appeal to them, whether because of flavor or price.
Malt: For the first Volume you released, how do you know what whiskies to match with different Chapters
Calum: Right now, there’s no logic to those assignments. At first, we tried following a specific logic, and we had lots of different themes and rationales for linking distilleries with Chapters, but we ended up boxing ourselves in. We realized that if the stock of one distillery was unavailable, we won’t be able to change the narrative we associate with that distillery and a specific Chapter. We decided to keep ourselves open and flexible, especially since, like I said, whisky supply is the biggest challenge.
Malt: Is it fair to say or expect that the next volumes of FABLE are also centered on Scottish fables?
Calum: We’ve thought at length about whether we’d also do stories that make releases country-specific, but now that we’re in 14 markets, that’ll be quite challenging to do. We’re Scottish, and whisky is the country’s passion, so we’ll just focus on Scotland. This isn’t to say that we wouldn’t potentially look at a one-off single casks with particular stories for individual labels.
Malt: Among the 14 markets you have, which ones are the strongest? Are you planning to target any new markets?
Calum: It’s been a long road given COVID and Brexit, so we’ve landed on fewer markets than we had planned. Among those 14, there are some, like Australia and Japan, whose allocations are still on the water and haven’t been selling yet. The UK, being our home market, is always going to be our strongest. Israel, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and France – a lot of European markets – are selling well, too. America is only starting to sell now, but we’re only cherry-picking a few key states since a single state can be considered its own market. Trying to launch across the United States is a recipe for disaster, so we’re prioritizing certain states like New York and Texas. In East Asian countries like the Philippines, Singapore, and Taiwan, we’ve only just either gotten to or started selling.
Malt: Aside from the blended malts that FABLE plans to release, what can consumers expect from you
Calum: We’ve still really young since we’ve only properly launched in July 2021, so it’s more of the same: the stories, the blended malt that we’re in the process of developing, and a consistent stream of single casks. Since we’ve done fairly well with retail during the pandemic, we want to focus a little bit on the on-trade and get into mixed drinks.
I think we can get a lot more people to be aware of the brand that way, and they can find their way to the single casks. That’s our aim, but we’ll still be working on the next volume, which is set to be released in 2023. We’re excited for that already.
I’m grateful to Calum and Andrew’s correspondence with me and their willingness to give their time to chat. Now, let’s take a look at the final three Chapters of their first volume.
FABLE Chapter 3: Moon – Review
Dailuaine aged 11 years. Charged from an ex-Bourbon hogshead. 59.9% ABV. Sold locally for $127.
Color: Halfway between a lemon’s pith and zest.
On the nose: Creamy candle wax and orange peel jump out. It takes a while for those top notes to make way, but eventually, there comes a curious mix of latex, dried figs, toasted almonds, bay leaf, and earl gray tea. Its aromas are generally fresh but has a muted earthy undertone that provides a gently lift. Water chops off the earthiness and makes the aroma more ethanol-forward to a fault.
In the mouth: It has a noticeably thick texture. The development takes a similar direction to the nose, but the duration of each stage is different. The arrival has a fairly brief layer of caramelized apples, paprika, and the same toasted almonds and earl gray tea before oil pastel emerges to guide a transition into earthier flavors like coffee beans, singed hickory wood, star anise, chocolate porridge, and cacao nibs. Added water diminishes the variety among the darker flavors, but the oil pastel, star anise, and texture are enhanced. The fresher flavors seem less vibrant, too. The finish is not as long as I was hoping to be, but it doesn’t immediately fall off either. Lingering cacao nibs, tart zest, and spicy honey.
This is good whisky. It’s better than the first two Chapters I tried last time, though I prefer having this neat. I continuously feel engaged throughout the dram. Price continues to be a concern, though. However, since this actually made me think about getting a bottle, no deductions will be given.
FABLE Chapter 4: Bay – Review
Benrinnes aged 9 years. Charged from an ex-Bourbon hogshead. 60.4% ABV. Sold locally for $127.
Color: Diluted lager.
On the nose: The top note has an intriguing aroma of light Fino Sherry wine. Streaks of balsamic vinegar, bavarian donut filling, and confectionery sugar cover an underlying base of polvoron (Spanish shortbread), tulip petals, walnuts, and ginger. Added water has a significant effect: the base notes, especially the walnuts and polvoron, are emphasized. The Fino Sherry takes a back seat but is replaced by crisp stone fruit.
In the mouth: Much deeper flavors than what the nose would otherwise imply. Chamomile tea, ginger, and strawberry chiffon cake. It’s rich and evokes images of desert but is not cloying. Nutty digestive biscuits. A touch of balsam, especially when it comes to the earthiness. Medium-bodied and dry. With water, a spicy quality shows up: turmeric and paprika. Heavier flavors like the ginger and balsam are amped up a bit. The finish has a brush-stroke of banana, licorice, and chamomile before quickly fading out.
Despite the quite anticlimactic finish, I found this whisky to be good, too, especially compared to its middling contemporaries in the same volume. It has a calming character while not being boring, especially in terms of how it develops. I guess it’s also a plus that water arguably causes the flavors to blossom. I still prefer it without water, though. If only this was a tad cheaper, the idea of getting a whole bottle might be more viable.
FABLE Chapter 5: Hound – Review
Mannochmore Aged 12 Years. Charged from an ex-Bourbon hogshead. 60.1% ABV. Sold locally for $127
Color: Sunflower petals.
On the nose: Ethanol- and malt-forward, with oatmeal, lightly buttered toast, and crushed biscuits. This has a floral character in the form of rose water and sampaguita (Arabian jasmine). A zinginess that reminds me of mountain dew. Quite sharp. Water injects a quiet fruitiness – sliced pears and bananas – in place of much of the grain notes.
In the mouth: This brings to mind the image of a light breakfast outdoors: orange juice, oatmeal, cream wafers, and wheat bread surrounded by moist grass. Generally thin and sharp, with only a brief jab of richness at the very beginning. Mountain dew is still there, but with a certain dustiness. With time, a faint citrus note emerges. Water brings out new wood and shaves off a bit from some of the more vibrant flavors like orange juice and mountain dew. The finish is short. Milk wafers, light honey, and returning rose water.
Just fine; nothing special. The ABV seems to be the saving factor because I can’t imagine how uninteresting this might be if it wasn’t at a high strength. For me, this tastes like it was bottled a bit too soon. As can be expected, I find an entire bottle to be too expensive for what it offers; thus, a point is deducted.
Overall thoughts on FABLE:
Taking the context of my thoughts on each Chapter of FABLE’s first volume and the qualitative equivalents of the scores I provided (none of which were initially below 5) based on Malt’s scoring bands, one can see that FABLE releases good whisky that is mostly hampered by the price set by my local distributor, who seems to also the exclusive local retailer of FABLE whisky. It’s important to note, however, that this is also a reflection of the continued rise in price of whisky. If you believe that the rise in price is unavoidable and if you are the type to disregard cost, heed the scores I gave prior to reductions. Either way, I believe it’s possible for the quality of FABLE whisky to entice consumers, especially if those consumers are those who travel frequently and shop in duty free… a primary market that FABLE, to their benefit, targets. I look forward to seeing what FABLE have in store next.
Photos are courtesy of FABLE Whisky.