I enjoyed the 2023 Rugby World Cup; as a Scotland fan, it was hard not to be disappointed. We only managed to meet expectations in our tricky group. However, the quality of the rugby made for spectacular entertainment which helped ease the post-group stage blues.

Our Auld Enemy England faired better, making it to the bronze medal. There were some fantastic moments from the English team and, in our household, we are always happy to cheer on any British or Irish team that makes it further than the Scottish lads. South Africa, of course, provided a lesson in doing just enough, winning all of their knock-out games (including the final against New Zealand) by just one point. I have to reluctantly admit that England have the edge in the rugby stakes, but I am consoled by the exceptional steak in winning the Calcutta Cup. There is a shiny trophy in the cabinet at Murrayfield.

The whisky I will go on to review is a tie-up between The England Rugby and an independent bottler Samuel Gulliver & Co., an arrangement that sees a long term, worldwide Licensing Agreement with the RFU to become The Official Whisky of England Rugby. It began with the Gulliver’s No. 6 Whisky – which is also from the St George Distillery, Norfolk – but has a rum finish. This continues a long standing arrangement between Gulliver’s and the English Distillery Company, who own St George’s Distillery.

These types of arrangements are not uncommon in sport; Gleann Mòr Spirits have a wide range of Scotch, from blends to single casks, with the Scottish Football Association brand. Loch Lomond Whisky tied in with The Open golf tournament, one of the many ways in which whisky is finding arrangements to broaden its appeal such as TV and celebrity links.

The St George’s Distillery is more commonly known now as The English Distillery… which is somewhat odd, given the proliferation of distilleries in England in the last 10 years. The distillery has double distilled spirit, tripled distilled, peated, and heavily peated. Having been founded in 2006, it has settled into a number of core ranges and single cask releases. They experiment further, with use of different grain types, as well as barley for some expressions. The fermentation time is a middling 85 hours. The distillery has a popular visitor centre and a decent whisky shop on site.

The Specific release in question was designed to commemorate 20 years since the English men’s rugby team won The Rugby World Cup against Australia. You may recall Jonny Wilkinson scoring in the final 28 seconds with a dropkick. Five world cups on, that moment was a focus for the release of this expression to be enjoyed whilst watching England progress through the tournament. The red wine finish is a nod to the location of the 2023 world cup in France. In launching the release, Stuart Gulliver said: “I’ve played and coached rugby for 50 years, including coaching some of team playing in the World Cup, so being The Official Whisky of England Rugby is a real personal thrill for me and my three rugby-playing sons.”

Now, here I find some common ground, as I too loved playing rugby until an unfortunate injury in 2011 put an end to my rugby career. I have watched my young lads begin rugby tots and then be tempted away to football training with their peers. The rugby world cup saw my eldest become inspired to pick up a rugby ball, and he has started training at a local club. I hope that, like Stuart Gulliver, I can watch my lads grow into regular rugby players in time. I hasten to add I’ve many years to catch up on Stuart’s 50 years in the sport. Nevertheless, that common ground is exactly what brings opposing rugby fans together and makes it a convivial and good-hearted sport to follow. I’d raise a glass of any whisky to that.

Fortunately, Scotch whisky remains the undisputed world champion of the genre. Although challengers around the world are plenty; we may find ourselves in a situation where we have to fight to defend our position much as we do with rugby today.

The Fine Drop – Review

Distilled at the St George’s Distillery (the English Distillery) Norfolk, bottled by Samuel Gulliver & Co. Finished in Margaux red wine casks from Bordeaux, France. 46% ABV. £79.95 (this sample came free from Samuel Gulliver & Co.)

Colour: A blush of rose gold.

On the nose: Sweet barley sugar, slightly sour cherry clafoutis, wild raspberry, vanilla toffee.

In the mouth: Sweet rich baked red fruits, strawberry jam and crumble topping, some peppery spirit. Caramelised sugar, lots of baking spices, slightly floral notes of rose water, a nics savoury drying note on the finish which is fairly short.

Conclusions:

This is a tasty easy drinker, a worthy hipflask whisky. I would not be disappointed to find this on an exchange of drams watching the Calcutta Cup in 2024. It is uncomplicated, but also exceedingly moreish. Call me a traditionalist, but I would certainly rather encounter a dram of this than the budgie smugglers that are promoted on the website.

Score: 6/10

Sample provided courtesy of Samuel Gulliver & Co. Rugby frustrations exclusively our own.

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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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