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Woven Whisky Makers

Woven Whisky burst onto the whisky scene from seemingly nowhere in 2021 as a small niche and very trendy blending house. Their initial manifesto was a little vague, a little pretentious, and full of buzz words. The message I was left with is that beyond the hipster vibe there was a real focus on flavour, which is why I have kept an eye on them. The release of their first collection of whisky found a much more interesting blog which reiterated this small start-up was the kind of business that I was keen to support. It’s this first blog which really reveals the background and intention of the collection.

The first collection was all Scotch aged from just five years up to a weighty 42 years old. As one of the few new blenders since Compass Box in 2001, there was quite a challenge sourcing suitable small parcels of whisky for the blending. The secondary market was (and remains) buoyant, new entrants are treated with skepticisms, and single casks are selling for vast premiums. The Holyrood distillery was instrumental in supporting the first release with a loan of some bonded warehouse space. As an aside: the collaboration with Holyrood is certainly going to be beneficial for Woven. Holyrood are producing some of the most interesting new wake whisky, which is available to buy whilst the whisky matures. I had the privilege to taste some Holyrood new make at an impromptu sharing session on a train to London; one expression had the distinct flavor of hot chocolate.

Back to the origins of Woven and their initial release: once the whisky was in hand, the team began the process of blending. This is no different than what is carried out at all of the big distillers, whether it be for Johnny Walker, Aberlour 12, or the Macallan. However, Woven believes that being small and agile allows them to bring blends to market that would otherwise be uncommercial to the big players. They do not chill-filter, do not add colour, and allow each blend to marry for an extended period before bottling. They also reduce the ABV gradually – in a similar way to Cognac – which is believed to enhance flavor and mouthfeel in comparison to a more aggressive dilution.

The releases are ultra-small batch blends, released as “experiences.” They come in stylish non-whisky looking bottles which reveal very little about the contents. In the spirit of their stated aim, they should be enjoyed as they are found, with flavour being the focus. However, each release is not entirely mysterious, they are supported by additional information which describes each blend and allow the hardened info-phile to get a hit.

The team at Woven have also taken a look at the traditional tasting notes. We often recognise the limitations of these tasting notes at Malt as the limited experience of a single individual. At Woven, a number of alternative approaches have been adopted this includes the spider’s web style flavour chart, but also an artistic approach where an algorithm produces a digital artwork based on each whisky’s flavour profile. This was developed by Dutch visual artist, creative coder, and motion graphic designer Loïc Schwaller. Unfortunately, these could not be found for the particular releases here, and the QR codes on the publication material gave a “404 not found” on the Woven website.

The team at Woven also acknowledge the power of the environment to influence the tasting experience. At one end of the spectrum, we know that simple house tequila can taste pretty good in the middle of a big night out, but is sipped in horror on other occasions. At the other end of the spectrum, high end whisky always comes in an elaborate box with a unique mechanism, in a fancy bottle, maybe with a special stopper; this is required to create the theatre required to justify the price. These bottles regularly fail to deliver on flavour in blind tastings. What Woven highlights is that individual whisky drinkers can contribute to the environment – and therefore enhance the experience – as much (and probably more than) the brands themselves.

So, readers might ask, given that the team at Woven are doing such interesting things and are clearly quite aligned with my own views on whisky, why has it taken me so long to get around to reviewing them? After all they are at Experience 14 now, along with a bunch of other one-off releases? I did, in fact, have a tasting set of their Experiences 1 through 3 that were releases on launch. However, before I had a chance to taste them, a friend of a friend – an architect and whisky drinker – did me a massive favor, and I thanked his assistance with my Woven set. The review remained unfinished business until I spotted the tasting set for the latest releases and got on board.

As always with my tasting notes, I taste the whiskies at least twice as I develop them and hone in on them. In this case I did it once without looking up any of the supporting information, and then a second time having read about the development of this particular batch of releases. The information online about these releases is quite interesting. I’ve snapped a few pieces of information for each one below, but those trying each blend would be well advised to check out the Woven website themselves. I’ll deal with these chronologically.

Starting with Woven Experience No. 11 Peachy Blended Scotch, we can see that the largest components are Strathclyde (which is grain) and Loch Lomond (which could be single malt or single grain), then there is roughly 5% from Cameronbridge. The website describes this blend as having more than 60% grain, however they also talk about un-peated malt from Loch Lomond which perhaps means the “single grain” made exclusively from malted barley where the grain designation refers to SWA rules, not to the content of the mash.

“Over 60% of this blend is grain whisky. Two grain whiskies of similar flavour profile, both within an hours drive from Glasgow. Yet one is from a distillery classed as a Highland Distillery and the other a lowland. Even more; they were produced two and a half decades apart. Both these factors shouldn’t dictate how we perceive the liquids – but of course they do, which is essentially why we use this system to help us overcome our biases. We actually considered just bottling that combination, such was its success; The combination yielded an explosion of tropical tinned fruit flavours. Melon, Lychee, pineapple – the dynamic between similarly profiled young and old samples creating a sort of yoyo on the palate which was quite a sensation to behold. But we’re blenders so the next day found ourselves road testing other combinations that would preserve the brightness of the blend, but create a more ‘rounded’ sensation – turning two bright colours into a gradient between the two that was more pleasing to the palate. We reached for unseated whiskies; light malts that boasted fruit forward profiles. The rarely talked about Glentauchers Distillery, the tiny Glasgow Distillery and an un-peated malt from Loch Lomond Distillery. The combination we created of these three distilleries was rich in dried fruits – Glasgow’s signature tropical fruit notes driving the conversation despite being one of the smaller inclusions. The difficulty in balancing this blend was in getting the balance between bright ‘summer’ fruit flavour and a desired level of underlying complexity – we found a few of our versions descended into more heavy tannin flavours than we liked. Lovely though they were – it just wasn’t the experience we were trying to create with this blend.” – Woven

Woven Experience No. 11 “Peachy” Blended Scotch – Review

45.5% ABV £55 for 50cl.

Colour: White gold.

On the nose: Dusty and dry at first, the suggested peach is there but it feels ashy. The spirit is a little prickly like a bramble bush, resinous and spicy, however with air the spice eases and the fruit begins to burst through, along with some vanilla and more sweetness from lychee and metallic mango, and some Fruit Salad sweets.

In the mouth: Aromatic juicy fruit initially, then spicy peppery spirit, slightly sooty, a little bitter, medium weight, chili oil, mineral limestone notes, a gentle background of peach throughout and more juicy and effervescent on the finish.

Conclusions:

I must admit this Scotch tastes young with vibrancy being the focus rather than smooth softness. That was indeed the stated aim of this blend. The grain is making it taste a little volatile. It’s nice but not delicious.

Score: 5/10

Woven Experience No. 12 “Echoes” contains components from three grain distilleries, making up about 40% of the blend. This, then, is a high malt content, although don’t be fooled: the statement that the Loch Lomond Single Malt at 20.6% is indeed from a pot still is likely to be incorrect. as on the website it is described as being a grain. This would bring the total malt content up to 60% as per Experience No. 11. The Tullabardine is a forceful wine cask and the Speysider is a lighted peated one, which significantly narrows down the potential distilleries.

“On paper this is a simple blend. Built around a cask of Tullabardine Distillery which had previously held a Burgundy wine. The ripe fruit notes were, if we’re honest a little too much for the spirit and so our task was finding things that would draw out some of the distillery character whilst taming the rampant wine notes that had overgrown the Highland spirit. We started with two grain whiskies of fine maturity. A very old Girvan and a medium aged Loch Lomond. They blended beautifully and had the impact of rejuvenating the Tullabardine in such a way that brought out subtle spice, vanilla and a raft of other flavours that had been eclipsed by cask influence. It was then rather simple to see the gaps in the flavour profile. There was space for some top notes, and it needed a baseline on which to harmonise.” – Woven

Perhaps most interesting, though, is that the intent of this blend is to emulate a good single malt, to be placed in front of single malt drinkers and break them out of their habits and preconceptions and look at blended whisky with fresh eyes.

Review: Woven Experience No. 12 “Echoes” Blended Scotch

47.3% ABV. £60 for 50cl.

Colour: Pale gold.

On the nose: Dry and sharp, resinous, mineral notes, mescal, spicy, sawdust, plasticine, a little custard. Savoury and tannic red wine notes tangled with whisps of smoke.

In the mouth: The wine note is woody and tannic up front, mineral and spicy, dry vanilla, then some smooth, more rounded malty notes suggesting a bit of age in bourbon casks. Some Dettol anti-bac fluid, a little light toffee sweetness before heading towards a lightly sooty finish, there is a little fruit towards the end too, but more pick’n’mix than natural orchards.

Conclusions:

I’ve made a few “home blends” and have had limited success. The single biggest lesson is that you cannot blend away an unpleasant flavour; you can soften it, but the note remains. Personally, the Tullibardine in this is a dud and can’t be blended away. Maybe better to have resold the cask? However, it’s not a disaster, it’s a gallant effort to develop something interesting with the components. it’s a discussion dram.

Score: 5/10

Once again, the Loch Lomond here is mostly likely their malted barley column distilled ’grain’ along with the other grain components including North British and Cameronbridge. Tullibardine single malt features heavy again, and is also a wine cask that needed knocked back so we can assume, given the small volumes that this component probably hails from the same Tullibardine cask as in No.12. The whisky was married in a sherry butt and a heated hogshead. Hello? What? A heated hogshead? A hogshead with an electric blanket? I rather suspect it’s a PEATED hogshead and their proof-reading skills are similar to my own.

Woven Experience No. 13 “Catalyst” Blended Scotch – Review

47.1% ABV. £75 for 50cl.

Colour: Gold.

On the nose: Dry and sharp and resinous; reminds me of Raasay signature actually with the wine presumably being the common note. Spicy, some slightly medicinal peat.

In the mouth: Mineral, spicy, then a little sweetness, simple sugar syrup, mezcal, spray polish, gold caster sugar, some fresher wood notes, sticky pine resin, in the midpalate and finish there are hints of something more refined, richer, thicker, more complex sweet notes, and soft lingering spice and smoke.

Conclusions:

Interesting whisky from the trendiest folk in whisky. Am I not cool enough to get it or, is it that some people are too caught up in the hype to offer a dissenting view? With this blend, at £75 for 50cl, it’s a lot of money for something truly experimental and the score has to reflect that.

Score: 5/10

Final Thoughts:

Woven recently appeared on a BBC Food Programme podcast about the price of whisky casks to explain how difficult this is for their fledgling business. The price escalation from investors, stiff competition from other indie bottlers, and the focus on single casks all conspire to increase prices. This knocks on to the lesser-known distilleries that usually feature in blends. If Woven can make it through this period and the impending crash, then I do believe they have the potential to become another more grounded Compass Box type blender, but some more experimentation and access to a large inventory of whisky will be required. Fortunately, Woven continue to offer sample packs, which are fairly priced, allowing us to follow their journey without having to take a chance on 50cl of a particular blend.

All media other than the final photo are courtesy of the Woven Whisky Makers website.

CategoriesBlends
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