This past Friday I was privileged to be invited to an online whisky tasting with That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC henceforth). It was led by brand ambassador Dave Worthington (@BoutiqueyDave on Twitter), who hosted a rousing and informative tasting despite it being nearly 2 AM in Scotland. I learned a few things, including that Dave (and his beard) got his start as a whisky blogger, of the now-defunct Whisky Discovery, and that he continues to host a podcast on whisky matters called Uncorked Whisky Sessions.
The tasting occurred via Zoom, which we are all painfully familiar with at this point, but went off without a hitch and was very well-organized. I was accompanied by a reader, who I hope had as good a time as I did. It was nice drinking virtually with you, Aaron!
The lineup, for those curious, were four refill ex-bourbon single casks from TBWC: A Dufftown 10 year, a Linkwood 10 year, a Teaninich 11 year, and an Auchroisk 12 year. These all retail for somewhere in the $40-$60 range depending on whether you can get your hands on them, most are probably only in the UK market. I had actually already reviewed the Teaninich, but I didn’t realize that until just about right now, so yay I can compare notes and see how completely unreliable my tasting notes are. Bonus!
First, the Dufftown 10-year (batch 4) at 47.8% ABV, full of soft vanillas, honey, and fresh cream, with a faint but delectable green pear note. The texture was soft and a bit syrupy. Sweet, with a lot of malt and cereal up front. Some fruits carried through. Gentle and nice. The Dufftown finished with a little barrel char, but the sweetness remained. This one ended up being my favorite by aroma: very clean, sweet, and light… everything I want in a Speysider and I would definitely pick up a bottle if I found it on the shelf for a reasonable price.
Next after a little Q&A came the Linkwood 10 year (batch 7) at 48.2% ABV, which was shy out of the bottle but opened up with some barnyard hay, light dry grassiness, and a hint of bubblegum. A moderately viscous body carried several surprising and delicious tart notes of lemon/lime, fresh berries, and Oxalis (aka Sourgrass). It finished with a similar amount of barrel char as the sweetness dropped away. Faded a little bitter. This ended up being my favorite on the tongue, and I would also seek out a bottle if it were convenient.
The penultimate whisky was the aforementioned Teaninich 11 year (batch 2) at 47.9% ABV. We learned that Teaninich uses a mash filter – unusual for a scotch whisky distillery – which produces ultra clear wort and thus a delicate spirit. I found a hearty amount of black licorice, along with black pepper and a grassy note that’s somewhere in between roasted cactus (nopales) and blue agave (tequila). Dave said green tea, which I agree with. A rest in the glass gave this one some airy cotton candy notes and finally revealed a banana note that had been hiding underneath. On the palate it was syrupy like the others, and redolent with banana bread. It finished with black pepper, very dry, and no bitterness but an unfortunate invasion of a slightly rotting banana note. Not my favorite. For fun let’s compare this to my notes from March (seems so long ago, doesn’t it?): I clearly found more fruit on the aroma back then, but did notice the banana. I also liked it a lot more the first time. Just goes to show how different whiskies can be from one day to the next. Also shows how little I know what I’m doing. Why are you even reading this?
The final whisky was an Auchroisk 12 year (batch 7) at 47.9% ABV. We learned that it is pronounced “Aww-thrusk”, and that the zombie apocalypse depicted on the label was because there were no cheeky Auchroisk distillery stories available to cartoon-ize. Who knew. This whisky was lemon-heavy on the nose, and sharp – it needed a little rest. Reader Aaron came up with the very accurate butterscotch note. A rest in the glass yielded candied lemon peel, vanilla buttercream, and fresh leather. It also became a bit sweeter. On the tongue, a medium body with a robust burn. Butterscotch again, and also oily, like Redbreast but without the coconut/meaty/nutty notes. The Auchroisk finished quite dry. Not bitter, but oaky. I found this one a bit odd. It was better with a rest, but still oily without the umami/nuttiness that you want with that. I think I’d pass on a bottle but was glad for the opportunity to try it.
I wrote down a few pearls of wisdom and insight from Dave, which I’ll try to convey here. He noted that whisky tasting notes should be expected to change over time (See! It’s not because I’m awful at this!), as both you and the whisky change between when you try it and when you come back to it again. Yes, I have definitely felt this effect.
We learned a bunch about the independent scotch whisky market, including this tidbit: Usually if there’s no distillery name on a label (aka “Speyside 20-year”) then it comes direct from the distillery. Most brokers (who provide most independent casks to the market) don’t restrict this. Fascinating. He also described how he evaluates cask samples, by first nosing them at full cask strength and then watering them down to 20% ABV or so. This is also how blenders do their work – when you dilute out most of the alcohol, he said, you can more easily sort out the different components, and you can more easily detect a “bad cask”. Then when they choose a cask, they will usually water it down to a decent drinking strength using “neutral” water (not sure if that means distilled or filtered).
Lastly, I learned that TBWC is now warehousing some of their casks, so not everything is bottled immediately as it comes from the broker. None of the TBWC-labelled whiskies are finished/recasked, though. Those are under different labels from parent company Atom brands. The “Darkness” line, for example.
Interestingly, Dave reiterated several times that he feels the “best whisky” available comes from independent bottlers, not from the official distillery expressions. I’m not sure I agree with that fully… I do think that independent single casks – from all independent bottlers – have the potential to outdo the official bottles, but they also have the potential to underperform them. Sorting those two out is what brings great risk to venturing off the beaten “official bottling” path. And you know what comes with great risk.
Thanks to Ros and Dave and everyone who participated in this virtual whisky tasting, and to you for reading my ramblings this far down the page. Cheers!