Editor’s Note: Our contributors work independently, with little direction from me, which is the way we like it here at Malt. Occasionally, that means writers will be working on the same review simultaneously, unbeknownst to one another. This is the case with The Fine Drop, which Graham reviewed last week. We also believe that each review is just one person’s opinion, thus having more than one take on a given whisky is to the benefit of our readership. With that in mind, please enjoy Stephen’s take on The Fine Drop. Cheers, TC.
Nearly 2,500 years ago, in the town of Olympia, a bloke called Leonidas financed the construction of a new building. The building was named the “Leonidaion” – see what he did there? – and serves as the first recorded example of sponsorship in history.
Not much later, the Romans got in on the act. Wealthy elites splashed the cash on sponsoring gladiatorial games to curry favour with the plebs and get their names up in lights… or on papyrus, or whatever they had back then.
But it wasn’t just buildings and brutes that our ancient European-elite ancestor friends were spending money on. Maecenas – an advisor to the first Emperor of Rome, Octavian – was a man of the arts. His patronage of the poets Virgil and Horace – who sound a lot like 90s WWF Tag Team champions – created the conditions necessary for them to develop and document their distinctive brand of inspirational slogans and smug aphorisms. Where would we be today without the astute observation that “Fortune favours the bold,” or the sage advice to “Let your literary compositions be kept from the public eye for nine years at least.” Which, presumably, Horace had in the back pocket ready to drop for quite some time.
Skipping forward a couple of millennia, the introduction of naming rights in the 20th century sparked a boom in the kinds of sponsorship we’re more familiar with today. Slazenger’s sponsorship of Wimbledon, which continues to this day, began in 1902. Not a nation to be left behind the commercial curve, corporate America sensed an opportunity. In 1912 the owners of the Boston Red Sox pioneered the concept of stadium naming rights, christening the team’s new stadium “Fenway Park” after their real estate company. And in 1928 – in a move which Leonidas, the godfather of sponsorship, would have surely approved – Coca-Cola acquired the commercial rights to that year’s Olympic Games.
This new era of sponsorship also created what I like to call the “officials:” brands that acquire the rights to become the official something of something. Usually fairly pedestrian, sometimes inspired and occasionally hilarious, whenever I see “officials,” I like to imagine the meetings and conversations that created them. For example, you may or may not know that Coldplay have an official logistics partner (DHL); the NHL has an official laundry detergent (Purex); Manchester United have an official tyre partner (Apollo), or that there’s an official supplier of condoms for the Olympics (Durex). This presumably means that anyone using non-Durex condoms during the Olympics is engaging in unofficial relations.
Which (sponsorship, not sex) brings me to today’s whisky. The Fine Drop, produced by Samuel Gulliver & Co., is an official whisky of England Rugby along with its rum-finished stablemate, England’s No. 6 – which I recently reviewed on Malt.
As far as “officials” go, this is edging into inspired territory for me. No doubt there’s a huge crossover between rugby fans and casual whisky drinkers, all of whom are now sure to be gifted a bottle of Gulliver’s this Christmas.
As a non-distilling producer, Samuel Gulliver & Co. have sourced the liquid from The English Distillery in Norfolk and aged it for 6 years in ex-Margaux casks. Chateau Margaux was one of the original five wines to achieve Premier Cru (first growth) status in the famous Bordeaux Classification of 1855, which makes the use of their casks another smart move that borrows well-established equity from the premium wine world. As an aside, I’ve noticed a few indie bottlings making use of the Margaux name of late. Chateau-specific tie-ups feel like the next evolution of the wine cask wave, and something I suspect we’re going to see more of.
Purely from a commercial point of view, the associations with England Rugby and the premium wine world feel well thought through to maximise “entry points” and giftability. A marketing drop goal, if you will.
Which – rather torturously – brings us back to the Fine Drop. “An amazing tribute to the finest drop goal in England Rugby’s men’s team history that won them the title of World Champions in 2003”, as the blurb – also rather torturously – reads.
I’m certainly not a huge rugby fan, but I can still remember that morning in 2003. I was brutally hungover after a night out at university and had slept on a friend’s floor. The time difference to Australia, where the match was played, was equally brutal, and the first can of Foster’s at 9 AM didn’t go down too easily. Halcyon days.
Warmed by nostalgic memories of teenage alcohol abuse, I opened The Fine Drop, put another log in the wood burner, and reveled in middle age.
The Fine Drop – Review
Distilled at the English Distillery and bottled by Samuel Gulliver & Co. Finished in ex-Margaux red wine casks. 46% ABV. £79.95; this sample came free from Samuel Gulliver & Co. which, per Malt editorial policy, does not affect our notes or scores.
Colour: Golden honey.
On the nose: Almonds, cherries, zesty orange peel and demerara sugar. A boozy Bakewell Tart of a nose.
In the mouth: Marzipan and dark chocolate, with cooked fruits and currants. Some spice along with savoury Ovaltine notes. There’s a herbal quality that comes through after a while which is almost but not quite lavender. The finish is short and dry.
– A whisky I’d happily drink more of if gifted, as I suspect lots of the rugby dads will be this Christmas. It’s a well-crafted, easy-drinking whisky that’s notable for the distinct cherry-almond nose.