Back in the early 90’s, a series of bootleg concert releases made their way into discount stores in my corner of Western Australia.
I don’t mean discount music stores; I am talking the kind of discount stores that generally stock past-their-expiry date 2 minute noodles and bulk packets of dish cleaning cloths. Legitimate music stores wouldn’t touch these CDs with a barge pole, at risk of running afoul of Mr. RCA or Ms. EMI.
I bought up as many of these as my meagre income could afford me; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Metallica, U2, and a bunch of Pearl Jam. I still own a few to this day.
The appeal was to hear an authentic concert experience. It’s not that it was impossible to acquire legitimately released, slickly produced concert albums… but these bootlegs felt gritty. They all contained the entire concert as one track, the labels were perfunctory, the sound was of a questionable quality, and you often needed to endure variable set lists and Eddie Vedder’s ramblings.
For 15 year old me, there was nothing – NOTHING – cooler. Is there an equivalent authentic experience in the whisky world though? Strip away the artifice, the marketing, how far from 40% ABV, chill-filtered, and artificial colouring can you get?
Bottling your own whisky from a cask at a distillery is a good start. What about cask strength releases, or the single cask batches that distilleries such as GlenDronach and BenRiach are known for?
One could argue independent bottlers offer authentic experiences with their single cask or small batch releases. These are rarely chill filtered, often at or close to cask strength and as a rule offer genuine colour. If you want “authentic,” Cadenhead’s offer an Authentic Collection range, consisting of single cask, cask strength releases.
Drilling down one step further we find Ian Macleod’s ‘As We Get It’ range. Ian Macleod Distillers are behind popular and well-regarded brands such as Tamdhu and Glengoyne, as well as the forthcoming revival of Rosebank.
The ‘As We Get It’ range is exactly as advertised in the name: casks are acquired and disgorged directly into bottles. No finishing, no decanting into vats for any filtration. There is no information offered to the consumer regarding the age of the whisky or source distillery.
There is a Highland and an Islay release. The source distilleries likely change, as do the ABVs from batch to batch, as each cask will differ. I have read that Laphroaig, at one point, was noted to be supplying the Islay range, but whether this is still the case only Ian Macleod Distillers would know.
Edradour also offer Straight From The Cask releases, so there are other options of this ilk available. To be frank, I don’t see how these releases will be vastly different than a standard single cask release, other than perhaps a little extra sediment or, if you are lucky (?), wood splinters in your glass.
In Australia, these are available for $140 from Nicks, a little on the high side but I think you are paying for the high ABVs. In the UK, you can purchase them directly from Ian Macleod for £65. UK readers can let me know if this is a fair price for what is essentially NAS, undisclosed distillery whisky, but it does seem high at first glance.
Let’s see how rock ‘n’ roll these bottles really are.
Ian Macleod’s ‘As We Get It’ Cask Strength Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Review
Bottled at a boisterous 66.8% ABV.
Colour: Warm orangey-gold.
On the nose: More than a wisp of sulphur but – as someone who does not care for sulphur in my whisky – it is not quite problematic. Copper coins, brass, oiled leather… basically a well-loved wallet. Some turmeric and smoky meats. Dark liquorice and a recurring sweet hint of musk sticks. This doesn’t 100% cohere on the nose, and I feel the sulphur rising as things go along, but it is reasonably inviting.
In the mouth: This tastes young, despite the bottlers claim of having “been matured for many years,” and it does burn the throat, though what else could one expect from a whisky at this ABV? That sulphur is there, orange flesh, fried mixed capsicum. Time to add some water to see what else can be drawn out. After allowing the water to properly integrate, things soften pleasantly but also calls the struck-match flavours out further. More charred meats, fish oil, and a kerosene lamp.
This one is difficult to score. The price is understandable at this ABV, but perhaps if I knew how the sausage was made (the age of the spirit and the source distillery) I wouldn’t be so forgiving. This is a perfectly acceptable dram, full of character, a true winter warmer, perhaps slightly above average and so I will reflect that in the score.
Ian Macleod’s ‘As We Get It’ Cask Strength Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Review
Bottled at a boffo 60.6% ABV.
Colour: Pale white wine.
On the nose: Boom! This explodes out of the glass, a frontal assault on one’s olfactory capacities. I fear my kids could get a little drunk just walking a little too close to the table at which I am writing. A true Islay dram per our definitions and expectations: smoked pork belly, salty bacon frying up in a greasy skillet, wood smoke, shoe polish, burned scrub grass. Finally, Lapsang Souchong tea and smoked kippers.
In the mouth: Translates into the mouth as expected from the nose; kudos though for offering a rich, coating mouthfeel. The question with these peated drams is: do they offer room to move underneath the peat? Is there more than one dimension here? Perhaps I am in a generous mood but I will say yes; with sliced apple and white grapes, definite grapefruit. Some freshly squeezed citrus and long grass.
From my time following the whisky business, I’ve noticed that Laphroaig are known to surreptitiously and not-so-surreptitiously (I am looking at you, Williamson releases) supply indie bottlers. From a taste, it wouldn’t shock me if the Islay dram was indeed Laphroaig, or I could be way off and it’s yet more Caol Ila and this review will get passed around the office of Ian Macleod for laughs. Ultimately, does it matter if the liquid is kicking goals?
Results will vary with this series from Ian Macleod. Batches come and go, ABVs will fluctuate, source distilleries may well change. So, perhaps don’t take it as a fait accompli that your experience will be as positive as mine. For a taste of whisky in an authentic form, the ‘As We Get It’ series is at least worth one try.