In recent weeks on Malt, I have sampled a range of blends produced by indie bottlers.
As I have stated in those reviews, I’m increasingly leaning to these blends due their usual good value and consistent high quality. My theory remains unchanged: the bottler isn’t going to release these until they are ready, and if they think they are good.
This isn’t Johnnie Walker Black with an enormous worldwide market with a voracious appetite that needs to be fed. There is no external pressure or demand for these bottlings; if they come, they come, if they don’t, they don’t. If they disappear from shelves some eyebrows may be raised, but for no more than a moment.
The bottle reviewed today, Thompson Brothers SRV5 Over 8 Year Old Blended Malt is in fact the first I have ever purchased through an auction site. Australia does have a well-run and supplied whisky auction website, even if a few of the bottles start to look very same-ish month after month.
Since I started engaging with the site I have had a few half-hearted flutters on some older blends but fell short. Therefore, it was with a modicum of surprise that I took a punt on this bottle at the reserve while on holiday in Bali recently and came back – after a big day of relaxation by the pool – to discover that I had won it. I wasn’t even sure I really needed or wanted it, but what was done was done.
The full story of the Thompson Brothers (Phil and Simon) does not need to be retold here, but in brief: they started by establishing the highly renowned whisky bar at Dornoch Castle in the Highlands of Scotland, before moving onto crowdfunding their own Dornoch Distillery and bottling other casks independently.
Phew! Any one of those three achievements I would consider the sum of a lifetime of hard work. But to successfully achieve all three? If it weren’t for my kids (and job) I might prefer to stay in bed all day; I wonder how anyone finds that energy.
Though it is released in batches of around 800 bottles, somewhat limiting supply, Thompson Brothers SRV5 (Station Road Vat 5) Over 8 Year Old Blended Malt is intended to be bottled and released ongoing as a core range item.
This blend is comprised of North Highland, Islay, and Speyside single malts, all aged a minimum of eight years. The solera style blending process starts off at a small scale, with samples from various casks combined until the Brothers are confident they have the right alchemy. Then much larger amounts are drawn from the casks and vatted together at the determined percentages in a 1,200 litre charred and toasted Oak vat.
When integration is complete, no more than two thirds of the spirit is withdrawn from the vat for dilution to 48.5% ABV and bottling. This leaves around 400 litres to be a starting point for the next batch and to create consistency across releases. The Thompson Brothers website has the story in full.
The website claims this will have a “slightly waxy” mouthfeel. “Waxy” is a triggering term for whisky geeks, and Thompson Brothers have released several Clynelish and Dailuane bottlings, which makes me certain one or the other – or both – are contained in the blend.
Dornoch Distillery Single Malt is so popular its availability is usually only by ballot, and Thompson Brothers independent bottlings are also highly rated. My experience with indie blends peaked with the St Brigid’s Kirk bottlings recently. Can this bottle match that?
Thompson Brothers SRV5 (Station Road Vat 5) Over 8 Year Old Blended Malt – Review
48.5% ABV. Widely available in the UK from the usual outlets for £35 pounds or direct from Thompson Brothers. Does not appear to be available in Australia at retail.
Colour: Dull gold.
On the nose: Candle wax (ticking that “wax” box nice and early), doughy bread, malty biscuits, and some woodiness. Then before the fruits unfold there are pistachio nuts, milk chocolate, and the saltiness of cured meats. With time I get some iron shavings and then a punch of oranges and mango. The fruits become more prominent as the evening progresses. A simple nose perhaps, not without elegance, promising an easy drinker.
In the mouth: This is such a rich, coating mouthfeel. Paraffin wax perhaps? More milk chocolate and chocolate wafer before mango and papaya. But the lingering presence of various candy is still there, such as Werther’s Originals and mint lozenges. On the finish I get kalamata olives, a light, balanced smokiness and that ample mouth coating that suggests you may not want to drink this early in the evening or you could still be tasting it long into the night.
The 48.5% ABV exactly matches the St Brigid’s Kirk Cask #1 and, though that is surely a coincidence, it’s also no surprise that two smartly run operations would choose this strength to create a full-bodied dram to deliver flavour.
I think this is just gorgeously quaffable, and apparently replicable ongoing by the Thompson Brothers which puts us all in good stead.
This is not yet available in Australia at retail (to my knowledge) so I couldn’t consider price in my score. The UK price of 35 quid demands attention. Should you buy this or either the Signatory or Cadenhead blends for about the same price? You’re a clever readership; I think you can answer that for yourselves.
I would hope the Australian price is low $100s but feel Thompson Brothers will be considered a “boutique indie” so it may creep closer to $150, though I hope to be proven wrong.
The last time we were in Scotland my wife and I investigated a night or two at Dornoch Castle but it was done a little too last minute and the prices were eye watering. Next time, one way or the other I am getting to that bar; Phil and Simon Thompson can seemingly do little wrong.