I recently cast a critical eye over Goldfinch whisky. New indie bottlers are springing up everywhere. Each one seems to offer a new take on demonstrating the provenance behind the brand, with the expectation that this should reassure customers of some semblance of quality before they choose to part with their hard-earned money for these whiskies.

Finn Thomson may have gone the farthest and spent the most in demonstrating that whisky is in his DNA, commissioning specialist research to investigate the family connections with whisky. Finn was able to construct a comprehensive back story that formed the plot for a glossy high-production value advertisement film that has “Finn” running up Scottish mountains to oversee his estate in scenes that appear to have been cut from the James Bond Skyfall movie.

Where some indie bottlers struggle to sustain the backstory after a little scrutiny, Finn Thomson’s relatives were significant characters in the whisky business. The whole history sounds like something that should be covered by the Liquid Antiquarian. The company website states that in 1772 James Thomson was running an illicit still. In 1838 the Thomson family acquire the tiny Grandtully Distillery. The distillery output was just 5,000 gallons a year (a cottage industry, really); it closed in 1910 after Prime Minister Lloyd George increased taxes.

Alfred Barnard noted during his visit that the high quality of the spirit was sold to all the powerful locals. The distillery was run by cousins of Alexander Thomson, who was a successful grocer in nearby Perth. This, of course, is the heyday of grocers and around the time many notable whisky businesses such as John Walker in 1820, Gordon and MacPhail in 1895 were founded in grocers’ shops.

Around this time, grocers would buy bulk whisky and blend their own brands, many of which remain in some form today. It seems Finn’s ancestors were no different, taking whisky from the family distillery and selling it as Grand Old Grandtully. The family continued the Perth grocery business in the town through the turn of the century, with Peter Thomson creating a house blend for his own shop for which he laid down casks. Around the same time Bell’s, Dewar’s and the Famous Grouse had their beginnings in Perth.

The house blend was named Golden Beneagles in 1922, jumping the gun on the magnificent Gleneagles hotel which opened in 1924. The roaring 1920s was a successful time for the family, with Beneagles and Gleneagles becoming somewhat synonymous. During the Second World War the women of the family stepped up to run the family business and drive it onwards into post-war modernisation.

By the 1960s Michael Thomson took over the business and continued to grow it, including – in particular – the wines and spirits arm. This chapter somewhat overlaps with my own family history as my Great grandfather, Sir Robert Nimmo, was chairman and managing director of John Wright & Co (Perth) Ltd, which owned Perth Brewery. His father was a brewer in the town and his son, my grandfather, also worked in brewing and distilling.
Back to the Thomsons, who tell us that Michael Thomson sold the Beneagles brand in the 1980s but retained the company’s stock of aging casks; this was well timed, as single malt wass beginning to boom. This stock of whisky was, in turn, passed to his son Andrew and onward to Finn in the form of parent company MacGregor Thomson Whiskies Ltd, of which Finn is a director.

MacGregor Thomson Whiskies Ltd was founded in 2017. I’d question whether the quiet period between the 1980s sale of Beneagles and the founding of the new company in 2017 equals a break in continuity and perhaps weakens the provenance a little? Could I start brewing beer riding on the coattails of the success of my grandfathers? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the family story is a lot more authentic and interesting than other indie bottlers who are mere pretenders.

The timeline also helps us understand that the family casks laid down in the 1980s and early 1990s will form the premium Rare and Crown collection releases from the Finn Thomson brand, whiskies with hefty age statements and associated price tags. The first Crown collection release is a 50 year old Glenlivet from the family stock, a small insight perhaps into the component parts of the original Beneagles blend.

Us mere mortals will most likely be delving into the Core collection, whiskies quite frankly not old enough to be included in the official narrative. These are acquired via the same open market as other independent bottlers acquire casks. It is the core releases I will get down to reviewing shortly.

As for the big man himself, Finn: a stratospheric rise from a UK Sales Trainee at the Scottish Liqueur Centre, via Sales for Morrison & Mackay, followed by promotion to brand ambassador for Morrison MacKay, a role involving working the circuit of whisky festivals and shows around Europe. Moving back into sales with Copper Dog, Finn then finally stepped in as Director of MacGregor Thomson Whiskies Limited in 2019. Compared to many others in the independent bottling business this is quite reasonable experience.

Finn identifies four factors which he applies to the grading of the casks: personality, distillery character, cask influence, and balance. These are then detailed alongside each bottle on the website. This is a nice touch and provides much more of an insight into the whisky than tasting notes alone. It helps elucidate a signature style. The importance of a balance between distillery character and cask influence is certainly something that is often missed in modern indie releases.

The packaging and labelling of all whiskies, no matter the range level, shows a touch of class. Verging on exquisite, clearly no expense has been spared with product designers and brand developers before the very glossy launch of the whiskies. These certainly have shelf appeal, even at the basic core range.

Finn Thomson Blair Athol 9 Year Old – Review

230 litre hogshead. 59.6% ABV. £56.

Colour: Gold.

On the nose: Sweet buttery and malty, ripe white fruits develop slowly along with soft woody notes, some icing sugar and a punch of nutmeg and all spice.
In the mouth: Youthful and juicy, creamy vanilla, bold and delicious, juicy peach, roasted nectarine, orange blossom. Water makes it more approachable, juicer, more aromatic, custard apple, quince, strawberries with cracked black pepper, vanilla cream, a little clove, madeira cake, a pinch of cayenne pepper gives away some youth on the finish.

Conclusions:

Honest, tasty spirit, no silly casks, fantastic whisky for just nine years old.

Score: 7/10

Finn Thomson Inchgower 13 Year Old

Torres Red Wine finish for 18 months. 58.8% ABV. £65.

Colour: Corten steel.

On the nose: Juicy stewed red fruits, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, some spearmint, with a backbone of malt. Cracked black pepper. With water more fruit, some blackcurrant and bramble.

In the mouth: Thick, syrupy red fruits and red wine, peppery spirit and tingling wood spices. Creamy cranachan. More rich malt notes appear with water, these are overlaid with more thick fruit sauce, ground ginger, mace, clove give a spicy finish.

Conclusions:

Good spirit with a good cask gives a very modern wine finish. Yes, a modern whisky, but one that works as well as any wine finish I’ve had. Reminds me of the Old Perth Cask Strength Red Wine. Fairly priced, too.

Score: 6/10

Finn Thomson Mannochmore 14 Years Old – Review

18 month finish in a Pedro Ximinez sherry cask. 58% ABV. £85.

Colour: Rich gold.

On the nose: Thick, cloying sweetness, boiled sweets, milky coffee, juicy raisin, boiled sugar and Brûlée tops at first but there is a fruitiness and spirit quality that begins to show with enough time in the glass.

In the mouth: Oily sweetness followed by a veritable Willy Wonka’s factory of sweets, foam shrimps, soor plooms, orange popping candy, rhubarb and custard, refreshers sweets, then more complex flavours too, apple crumble and Tarte Tatin, the finish is short and a little peppery.

Conclusions:

I have to admit, this had a lot of red flags for me: Mannochmore (groan), PX finish (groan)… and on the nose those concerns seemed to be valid. But there was good whisky character itching to be experienced too. Happily, the lighter flavours won out on the palate, and I would have to say this is probably the best Mannochmore I’ve tasted.

Score: 7/10

Finn Thomson Caol Ila 15 Year Old – Review

18 month finish in an oloroso sherry cask. 51.3% ABV. £105.

Colour: Rich gold.

On the nose: Soft wood smoke, sweet dark sugars, a pinch of salt, furniture wax, Vimto cordial, water brings out an interesting sparkling prosecco note.

In the mouth: Smoky flat Vimto, smooth and sweet, some raspberry jelly, milk chocolate, orange zest and juicy raising, there is a background funkiness which is nice. Peppery baking spices and a twang of spicy peat. The finish is quite short and a little flat, woody and dry.

Conclusions:

Indie bottlers all release Caol Ila, some try to stand out with cask finishes, boosting the price and trying to cover the costs of the other Diageo distilleries they had to buy in the four-cask parcel. That has led to a plethora of disappointing releases. The underlying Caol Ila spirit is always good, and it’s super to find a bottler who has managed to find a cask to work well with it. Here the finish improves the overall experience. Being bottled at 15 years gives a roundness to the spirit which is often not present at the younger age statements seen. It probably justifies the price.

Score: 7/10

Final thoughts

Although my instincts suggest all the family history is irrelevant to the quality of whisky from this new privileged upstart, tasting these first releases suggest I may well be exhibiting some unconscious bias. Could whisky actually be in the blood of the Thomson family? Could it be that Finn has inherited not just a cask portfolio but an innate intuition for selecting great whisky? I really hope that this first release is a statement of intent and future release will continue to reach this benchmark or even better it.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Graham

Graham is at the consumer end of the whisky world; constantly seeking out a bargains and generally very cautious with his limited budget. An occasional visitor to distilleries and a member of the odd whisky club. He does not collect whiskies but has a few nice ones put away for some future special occasion. He enjoys discussions with the wider whisky community and may resemble the ‘average’ Malt reader.

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