Cadenheads. Signatory Vintage. If you are reading Malt, neither need any introduction. So, as they say at the bank where I work: let’s hit the bullet points instead.
Cadenheads has the distinction of dating right back to 1842, which means this is year number 180 of operation. Signatory Vintage, conversely, dates to 1988; therefore it may not have as long a history, but I dare say their reputation is every bit as glowing as Cadenheads.
Cadenheads has spread itself around different spirits, with the expertise to release rum, gin, and cognac; I am unaware of Signatory doing anything but whisky.
Cadenheads basks in the association with the revered Springbank distillery (they share the same owner); whereas Signatory have owned the very highly rated Edradour since 2002 (operating out of the same premises in Pitlochry).
Cadenheads, in recent years, disappointed its fans by dropping the Small Batch series and replacing it with the Original Collection; Signatory stick to the trusted brands of their Cask Strength, Un-Chillfiltered, Single Grain, and 43% ABV releases.
For years, Cadenheads’ vast quantities of maturing stock have enabled them to release numerous in-house blends. Recently, Signatory released its own blend. After I enjoyed writing a piece last year comparing two Australian blendsat similar price points in the market, I thought I’d do it again here.
The Cadenheads 7 Star Blended Scotch Whisky brand dates back several decades. A review of the original blend on Whiskyfun claims the bottling is from around 1970. The original blend was released at 85 proof (by my calculation 48.6% ABV), contained malt whisky only, and stated the component malts were anywhere from between 12 to 20 years old on the bottle. As part of the marketing when relaunching the 7 Stars Blend in 2021, Cadenheads advised that the original blend was created as a challenge to see if they could create a quality blend from their warehouse stocks.
Having resurrected the brand, it now contains grain whisky and is released at 46% ABV. The blend is finished in Oloroso casks. I read online that the blend is 60% grain and 40% malt; I can’t find anything from Cadenheads to confirm this, but I tend to believe it; this is a ratio which will keep prices down, and compares favourably to the rumoured grain to malt ratio in more commercial blends.
Signatory Vintage’s Hogshead Fine Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky is released at 43% ABV and contains malt whisky only. I found several reports claiming that the split is around one third Islay (so, Caol Ila, then?) and two thirds Highland malts… possibly a portion of Signatory Vintage’s own Ballechin/Edradour in the mix? The flavour profile is expected to be peated, as opposed to the Cadenheads sherried, grain-infused blend.
Comparing these two releases isn’t necessarily completely fair; they come at different ABVs, purportedly different flavour profilesm and one contains a blend of grain and malt whisky, whereas the other is blended malt only. That’s not to say either blended malt or a higher ABV must by any definition be better; just that these are different articles.
I think it is fair to compare them because they are both blends from iconic indie bottlers at very similar price points. For UK readers, I found the Signatory Release available from The Really Good Whisky Company currently on sale for £30 (regular price £35) and the 7 Stars Blend for £30 directly from Cadenheads (other retailers appear to have it at £35).
Down under, The Whisky Company is selling Signatory’s Hogshead for $85 and Whisky Freaks have the 7 Stars for $100, though I have seen it at $90 previously elsewhere.
Signatory Vintage Hogshead Fine Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – Review
Colour: Auburn, per the colour chart here.
On the nose: The peat is there but it’s muted in a pleasant way. Smoky bacon crisps. A crisp sea breeze sweeping in. Boggy soil. There are some fruits though, in the form of candied oranges, quince paste and then also smoked almonds. Roasted peppers. A waxiness in the finish.
In the mouth: Immediately peatier in the mouth than on the nose, but this fades to motor fumes, faint iodine, smoky tea, and the sharpness of orange rind. Ground up peppercorns. Salty ham (makes sense given the label on the bottle). The finish is reasonably short and there are no off notes. A last go round on the palate reveals more coastal notes such as drying seaweed and driftwood.
A reasonably tame affair from Signatory who, out of their warehouses, could’ve delivered any flavour profile they targeted. Perhaps the light peat here is covering up some young spirit, despite the “Fine Old” designation on the bottle. It’s easy to imagine a bottle of this swiftly disappearing over the course of a couple of nights on a camping trip.
Cadenhead’s 7 Stars Blended Scotch Whisky – Review
Colour: Burnt umber, per the same colour chart.
On the nose: Sweet wines, somewhat tinny (aluminium foil), then roasted chestnuts and campfire coals. I’m also getting copper pots, and sunflower oil. Then once again the mulled wine and some cinnamon. On the nose this is certainly lively, not particularly clean but in a good way, showcasing the oloroso cask effects.
In the mouth: Very rich and creamy, almost tastes below its ABV. I am getting Glacé cherries, and golden syrup. Some woodiness and the obligatory figs and raisins. Also, some jam roly-poly, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Quite a short, sweet finish.
This had a heavier mouthfeel that I expected; the wood has had a influential effect and for that I can commend it. I think it’s certainly a bottle to reach for when you are in the right mood, but be careful that it’s not too early in the evening. At the price point and the quality delivered, I think this deserves a passing grade.
They say you only live once; so like I did for my recent review of the St Bridget’s Kirk blends, after opening these bottles I combined 25ml from each neck pour to give general impressions.
Cadenhead’s 7 Stars and Signatory Hogshead Mark P. House Blend
Unlike the St Brigid’s Kirk blends, I am not sure this was worth the trouble. The peat from the Signatory blend and the grain from the Cadenheads blend cancel each other out leaving a glass not representing very much at all really. Believe it or not, blending whisky may well be a job for paid professionals. Perhaps it’s time to move along to overall conclusions?
As I’ve noted in recent reviews, I am increasingly keeping an eye open for these value blends from independent bottlers. Gordon & MacPhail have comprehensively dropped off my radar (until I qualify as either an oligarch or oil sheikh), but as I grow increasingly an enthusiast of blends, it’s releases such as these two that capture my attention.
I think both of these warrant serious consideration as a back-of-the-liquor-cabinet staple for when the time is right. I can’t recommend one above the other as I believe they both offer similar quality and value for money. They won’t harm the wallet. If you are looking for a quality blend above the supermarket staples, either of these bottles will tick a box, depending on your palate.