When Goldfinch Whisky Merchants got in touch with Malt via a PR representative, we thought we should examine the relatively new company. As always, famously independent Malt will look on such offers critically, apply our price-sensitive scoring framework, and be guided by our principles of independence, diversity, and humility.
Incorporated at the end of 2018 Goldfinch bottle whisky under a number of brands. Partners Andrew and RosMacDonald-Bennett have joined forces to develop a range of bottlings. Andrew brings design and e-commerce skills along with whisky contacts from time consulting with big whisky brands including Whyte and Mackay, Edrington, and Highland Distillers. His whisky-related projects seem focussed on the websites, digital formats, and ecommerce. More recently Andrew has been trading in fine Scottish langoustine. Ros perhaps brings the palate to the partnership, having an extensive career in the wine business.
“So what?” you may ask. Well. for me, it seems as though there is not a week that goes by without another independent bottler emerging from the mist. With each one there is some curriculum vitae demonstrating industry experience and whisky provenance. Some start off small, building reputation and doing the hard miles at events, hosting tastings, and pushing their products to the public. Others seem to pop up from nowhere and are a bit of a mystery. Certainly, this was the case with Goldfinch Whisky Merchants. That they were pushing a “premium” product at premium prices indicates they deserve a little scrutiny.
It would appear that the brand started with The Mey Selection of “rare casks” which have been bottled by Goldfinch in collaboration with one of Prince Charles’ (now King, of course) charities. Each bottle results in an unspecified donation going to support rural causes. The rare-ness of the casks in this release appears due to them being full-term European oak sherry casks. There have been five releases so far, with all but the Clynelish available to buy on the Goldfinch website.
Pricing of this range is hard to fathom, with a Glen Ord 12 year old at a spicy £118, an Orkney (assume Highland Park) at more reasonable £85, and a Blair Athol 12 year old similarly priced. For me these represent common releases of moderate age statements does not strike me as a “rare” find these days. Strangely – for a company with a background in ecommerce – there are a few clunky aspects to the website, such as tasting notes only covering the nose and not the palate or finish for the Blair Athol below reproduced below:
The web shop also supports Scottish premium gins, artisanal mezcals, a well-aged early landed late bottled brandy, and a one-off Macallan in a fancy decanter. The contact from PR, however was to draw our attention, to the new Kilnsman and Paloma ranges of bottlings that have also recently been launched by Goldfinch Whisky Merchants.
Starting first with the Kilnsman’s releases these are described as “celebrating the dedication, experience and ability to read the requirements of a malting floor and the interaction between the grain and heat.” The range will include a 14 year old Orkney… or is it a Highland Park? Because this is listed as a Highland Park on the website, an Orkney on my sample reviewed below, a “famous Orkney” distillery in the website blurb, and an Orkney distillery on the bottle photo online, which may be a mock-up. Despite the insignificance of such slight confusion – we all would have guessed Highland Park anyway – it remains surprising from an ecommerce guru.
Highland Park is a most obvious choice for a range focussed on maltings, as 20% of their grain is still malted on floor maltings at the distillery. Also in the range are a 13 year old Ardmore, not known for its floor maltings or kilnsmen. A third release is a 11 year old sherried Caol Ila. All three are first fill European oak sherry casks, with the Caol Ila being a small octave.
It’s somewhat strange that any whisky would be given a full maturation in an octave, but I can only go with the information on the website here. However all are peated whiskies here, but this is not the principle behind the range, as a Bunnahabhain 10 year old is due out soon. All three Kilnsman’s whiskies are available on the Goldfinch website as pre-order, but further information states that they will be dispatched from the 25th of May (which I assume is 2022 and not May 2023).
The third range of single malt Scotch sold by Goldfinch Whisky Merchants is the Paloma range, which is supposed to focus on Palo Cortado sherry casks. These are one of my favourite sherry casks and I find they impart a lovely balance of sweet and savoury notes to whisky. Palo Cortado sherry is sometimes described as an accidental sherry, as it originates as a Fino which deviated in style due to unexpected yeast activity, acidic grape juice, a warmer vintage resulting in more alcohol, or cask variation.
Modern Palo Cortado is more engineered, and is more akin to a lightweight delicate Oloroso. As far as I know there are no companies currently seasoning American oak casks with Palo Cortado, which suggests the casks used here would be good quality bodega casks. This release included A 13 year old Benrinnes, a 14 year old Linkwood, a 13 year old Ardmore, and an 11 year old Caol Ila. The press information is very clear that these are premium products and will only be available at high-end specialist whisky retailers.
So, what of the whisky? Well, fortunately we got some samples sent through, which allows for some examination of what Goldfinch Whisky Merchants stand for and what sort of whisky you can expect from this up-and-coming whisky merchant.
The Kilnsman’s Dram Orkney 14 Year Old – Review
First Fill European Oak Oloroso Sherry. 52.3% ABV. £85.
Colour: A 2p coin.
On the nose: Bright fruit and a whisp of smoke, quite perfumed, rice pudding with brown sugar. The sherry is present but more delicate, some roasted peach, cocoa butter, salted caramel and dried fruits, a little breakfast tea.
In the mouth: Soft sweet and smooth, the smoke is also soft on the front of the mouth, then toffee and a hint of the fruit on the nose with roasted peach. The peat reappears with some peppery spice. A pinch of salt and a little funky fruit emerges with water, but the peppery spicy finish lingers.
Possibly my pick of the drams due to the spirit character getting a chance, but overall a poor whisky in comparison to other established-indie Orkney whisky out there for more than £20 less. Lacking the costal character and slightly funky fruit I look for from Orkney’s most independently bottled distillery.
The Kilnsman’s Dram Ardmore 13 Year Old – Review
First Fill European Oak Oloroso Sherry. 52.4% ABV. £90.
On the nose: Heavy thick dark sugar, molasses, burnt sugar, boiled caramel, smoked ham hock, wood smoke builds, some mint-choc-chip ice cream, burnt brownie crust.
In the mouth: Burnt roasted nuts, jumbo raisins, burnt plastic, chocolate sponge pudding, sweet and cloying, yellow fish or perhaps smoked Scottish langoustine? Very oaky, bitter on the finish.
Too cask forward, not pleasant at all, far too long in the cask. Peat and sherry can work so well but you can’t dump any old peated whisky in any old cask and expect fireworks.
Paloma Linkwood 14 Year Old – Review
Supposed to be a Palo Cortado finish but the sample received states oloroso hogshead. I checked with the PR agency but did not get a response. 53.5% ABV. £88.
On the nose: Burnt sugar, cinnamon, raisins, treacle, dusty cocoa powder, orange peel, Highland toffee, with time more fruit pushes through with blackberry and a little honey before more layers of sticky dark notes. Hazelnut, hot sugared almonds from a Christmas market.
In the mouth: Very light, palm sugar syrup, raisins, melted milk chocolate, orange juice, water brings out expresso coffee, prune juice, and a little bit of tropical fruit right at the back of the mouth, a soft finish that is bitter and a little too woody.
Big bold modern sherry, a bit heavy handed, boring, and over-priced. This strikes me as a seasoned Oloroso cask but the jury remains out.
Paloma Ardmore 13 Year Old – Review
As above, supposed to be a Palo Cortado finish but the sample received states oloroso hogshead. I checked with the PR agency but did not get a response. 54.2% ABV. £90.
Colour: The copper top of Ardmore’s mash tun.
On the nose: Big toasty sugar, noisette, aromatic smoky peat, blackcurrant, mint, a tarred telegraph post.
In the mouth: Minty, sweet, smooth caramel sauce, smoked sugar, buttery shortbread, Maltesers, Quite oaky on the finish.
This is OK, not unpleasant, the most artificial flavours are absent here, but the spirit is light, soft, and a bit uninspiring. This drinks more like a seasoned Oloroso cask than a Palo Cortado cask with perhaps the exception of the blackcurrant note. It’s a shame we could not find out more about the casks via our contact.
This is obviously a poor showing. I’m particularly disappointed with the Paloma releases, which had none of the Palo Cortado influence I was expecting. More widely: there are a plethora of new entrepreneurial whisky companies and independent bottlers around which are perhaps more opportunistic side hustles than the hard-earned dream of a career whisky person.
I could recommend a comparison between my experience here with the fascinating feature interview on Dramface. Some bottlers appear to be just playing at the whisky game. When that happens – with premium packaging, and a premium price to match – it pays to be cautions. Only independent sites such as Malt will give you critical evaluation within a price-sensitive scoring framework, guided by the principles of Independence, Diversity, and Humility. What rather concerns me is that when the big whisky crash/squeeze/deflation/burst (delete based on your own opinion) occurs, which of the bottlers will emerge from it still in business?
With the exception of the actual goldfinch, all photos from Goldfinch Whisky Merchants. Samples provided by Goldfinch via a PR intermediary which, clearly, does not affect our notes or scores.