I seem to be on an Independant Bottler mission and it’s showing no signs of letting up. With there being so many companies all sourcing and bottling whiskies, it means that there’s an even-wider array of interesting drams to try. Personally, at the moment, they are becoming a more appealing purchase than many distillery releases, which are increasingly hard to afford, let alone keep up with.
My interest in IBs stems from many being from single casks, the bottles are limited in number, most are bottled at cask strength, can be unique in their own way either by age and/or finish, and often carry an air of intrigue about them, particularly when you have no idea of their distillery origin.
I took part in an online tasting a few months ago with the Black Country Whisky Society, incidentally on the same evening as I got engaged – a true romantic. The BCWS are a collective of whisky fans who, like many others since lockdown, have turned their attentions to arranging online tastings with a varied range of Independent Bottlers. This in turn has allowed other whisky lovers in far flung places, such as Belfast, who in normal circumstance would not be able to attend their tastings, to join in remotely and become a part of their society….that is if you can stomach Rich’s overt hatred of the humble, much-loved custard cream.
Luckily, on the night, there was no violence towards biscuits, only some great whisky tasting packs from Lady of the Glen. One of the more recent IBs, they were founded in 2012 and have steadily been growing their presence on the scene with some very popular releases.
Having enjoyed the tasting samples, I decided to pick up a bottle of their Blair Athol 14 Year Old. This Highland single malt was distilled in October 2005, bottled in October 2019 at an ABV of 58.6%, and was matured in a single ex-bourbon hogshead.
Colour: Fresh straw.
As ever, it’s in a Glencairn and rested for 10.
Nose: Dry Weetabix. Slightly grassy, almost meadow-like aroma – a barn full of hay? Certainly very grassy for me. Vanilla in the background too. The ABV gives off a potent whiff too, a bit like nail varnish remover (my go-to accelerant as a teenager, although I must stress I was not an arsonist, although the lines are often blurred).
Palate: The ABV also gives off an immediate bite once tasted, so I add a few drops of water which opens the whisky up a bit more. Hay, cooking apples, and a slightly sweet violet-like taste too, which are all nice. The water added has also opened the nose up a bit – more perfume than nail varnish remover now.
Finish: Quite long and ever-so-slightly astringent too, however the sweet violet taste returns to round it off.
I often find with drams that come from bourbon casks with a high ABV well in to the 50s, that they can be a bit more invasive than when they have had a sherry/port/wine cask to dull them. I recently tried an Infrequent Flyers Fettercairn 11 Year Old which was also from an ex-bourbon hogshead, similar ABV, and it really needed water added for me to get to grips with it. I found this quite similar, but certainly more enjoyable. I checked my notes from the actual tasting and I can remember really loving it then (not that I don’t now!), more than the Glenallachie 2005 Ex-Marsala Cask Finish that was the undisputed star of the evening for most other participants. I found it more cake-like previously (I have written fresh sponge and scones), both on the nose and palate, which I find quite curious. I’m certainly looking forward to what I think the next time I open the bottle.