The Exceptional is a line of sourced scotches blended and bottled by Sutcliffe & Son. They began with The Exceptional Grain in 2013, and then expanded to an Exceptional Malt and Exceptional Blend. Putting aside the hubris involved in referring to your own work as “Exceptional”, Sutcliffe has garnered renown for his blends and continues to release new editions regularly. Each edition of The Exceptional Grain contains single grain whiskies selected and blended by Sutcliffe and Willie Phillips (former managing director at Macallan) and then finished in ex-sherry casks and bottled at 43% ABV.
Unfortunately, my Flaviar sample did not indicate which edition it was from, which means this review has to be taken with a grain of salt – the current year’s edition could be vastly different.
When I tasted this, it was right after tasting another grain-centric scotch, 808 Whisky, which means this had a built-in advantage. Let’s see how this stacks up to my go-to example of quality in grain whisky (Hedonism by Compass Box).
Nose: Exceptionally grassy (see what I did there?), with cut grass, cooked nopales, and kitchen compost. Hoping this is a fluke, I gave it a rest in the glass. Alas, that effect doesn’t really dissipate. Under the unfortunate green notes are aromas of coconut, vanilla, and simple syrup.
Palate: Pleasantly silky body – nearly syrupy. Upfront there is a generous amount of coconut water and sweetgrass. A nonexistent tongue burn is followed by vaguely sugary notes of simple syrup, rock candy, and cream soda.
Finish: Short, and very light. Only a few of the sweet notes remain (the syrup), and they fade without evolving. At least the grass is gone, and there is no bitterness.
With Water: Several drops of water increase the nose tickle, and mercifully dull the grassiness. Now it actually smells like it tastes… that is to say, like alcoholic cream soda. I highly – highly – recommend a small splash of water with this, especially if you are sensitive to grassy aromas.
Overall: Huh. It smells atrocious, like grass clippings soaked in sugar water. The experience quickly reverses, however, and it is pleasantly sweet and inoffensive on both the palate and throughout the finish. Still, “Stick with it, it gets better!” is a rotten slogan for a $90 whisky, so I think I’ll pass. Interesting that this was finished in ex-sherry: I detected zero sherry influence. Reminder: Your edition may vary so perhaps I just got a bad one.
For the correct way to bottle grain whisky, see Hedonism.