With a degree of trepidation, unsure whether I had safe search activated, I opened Google and typed the word “teaspooning.”
The fact that I was expecting an onslaught of Urban Dictionary-esque puerility probably says more about me than I’d care to admit or explore. But, as the Bahamian Evangelist preacher Dr Myles Munroe not so famously said, “We are products of our culture and interpret the world through our mental conditioning.” It’s society’s fault that I see smut lurking behind the verbing of innocent nouns, although I’m pretty sure that’s not what ‘Dr’ Munroe was getting at.
A bunch of bastards.
It’s an odd quirk of the whisky world that so much of the liquid produced by distilleries ends up being sold as something else… and I’m not just talking about blends.
When selling their casks to mass retailers, brokers and indies, many distilleries take steps to ensure their whiskies can’t be bottled under the family name. The result is that a huge amount of single malt whisky ends up on shelf under assumed identities.
The most common manifestation of this phenomenon is the so-called bastard malt. The disowned progeny of unknown parentage, the bastard bottle is destined to forever sit lower – in price point, as well as position on the shelf – than its legitimate brothers and sisters bearing the family name. Lidl’s Ben Bracken range – one of which I previously reviewed through the lens of Kate Bush, obviously – are classic bastard malts. Some bastards, having risen clear of their wrong beginnings, have even established a reputation for excellence (and lofty price points) in their own right. Murray McDavid’s Leapfrog – with no prizes for guessing the distillery – leaps to mind as a good example of a coveted (vs. classic) bastard.
When is a bastard not a bastard? When it’s a teaspoon.
The other – and to my mind, more interesting – manifestation of the bastard is the teaspoon. Having recently bought a Campbeltown “blended malt” (read: “teaspooned”) from Master of Malt, it was the act of teaspooning – leaving any double entendre at the door – that piqued my interest and led to my hesitant Googling.
Teaspooning is simply the act of adding a very small amount of single malt into a cask of whisky from another distillery. The teaspoon of foreign liquid renders the cask a “blended malt,” no longer legally a single malt or a product of the originating distillery. The fact that 99.99% of the liquid in the cask is unchanged is irrelevant. It’s all bastard whisky now.
Whilst clearly absurd – and assuming that it actually happens – teaspooning is a simple way for distilleries to protect their brand whilst earning a bit of extra cash selling casks to independent bottlers or competitors (for blending).
The main difference between what I’m lovingly calling a “classic bastard” and a teaspoon – and the reason I think the latter is more interesting – is the “fact” (in a Trumpian sense) that teaspoons are essentially single-cask malt whiskies sold at discount prices.
We should totally teaspoon more often.
The bottle I purchased from Master of Malt was an 8-year-old Campbeltown Blended Malt. For argument’s sake, let’s assume the teaspooned MoM bottling is a Glen Scotia. Forget the regulatory nonsense; it’s single-malt whisky. It’s also – even though the liquid has technically moved between three casks – a single cask whisky. This seeming contradiction in terms is another regulatory quirk. Single cask whisky that matures sequentially across several casks is still single cask whisky. So – by my loose interpretation of the rules – this is a single malt, single cask whisky. And at £40 a bottle (compared to £70 for a similar official 8-year-old Glen Scotia single cask expression) it’s an absolute bargain.
All of which, especially against the very real backdrop of escalating prices, begs the question: is now the time to trumpet the teaspoon?
Well, I guess the answer partly depends on how it performs.
Master of Malt Campbeltown 8 Year Old 2014 – Review
Colour: Apple juice.
On the nose: Really difficult to pin down. Mango and green apples with a flinty underbelly, like a supercharged Chablis… sort of. Then, nutty: walnuts and almonds, developing into a malty chocolate Ovaltine and desiccated coconut. It’s complex. A mercurial bastard, if you will.
In the mouth: Wonderfully dry, salty, and a little bit briny. The fresh fruits on the nose are dirtier and drier now, more like mince pie filling, figs, and dates. A youthful white pepper fieriness is tempered by the grown-up muscularity of salted caramel and vanilla and there’s a distinct hit of pencil shavings on the medium finish.
Based on this example I will be spending more time hunting out teaspooned cask bottlings. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe an official singlecask version of this whisky is even better. But at £40, I’m very happy to be the recipient of a good teaspooning.
To quote the Malt scoring system, “in an ideal world all whisky would reach this level.”
I wonder if it’s similar to the North Star 8 yr old Campbeltown I have on the go. That’s great value too.
North Star is a new one for me; I’ll definitely be checking them out now!