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According to legend, the Skene family name dates back to the Robertson clan. A young son of Robertson of Struan saved the King from a savage wolf, using only his sgian-dubh (Gaelic for black, or hidden knife). As a reward for his bravery the young man was granted lands in Aberdeenshire which he named after his famous weapon. From that day forward his descendants named themselves after the land.
Skene whisky was founded by Andrew Skene, a former ambassador for Diageo working in India. He was joined by Tom Melville, founder of design agency Melville & Young and Alexander Harrison who previously owned an events company in Edinburgh, working extensively with Scotch whisky brands.
Seeking to puncture some of the elitism of the whisky industry, the three men launched a new blended malt brand in 2018. Black Tartan was created by combining four Highland malts in heavily charred casks with “Black” said to represent the charred oak, whilst “Tartan” is apparently a metaphor for the blending of whiskies. Objecting to the outdated view that whisky should never be mixed, the men developed Black Tartan to work as well on its own as it does in a cocktail.
Whilst commendable, this seemingly modern attitude is hardly revolutionary, with plenty of brands championing the mixing of their spirit. Indeed, at a bottling strength of 40% and a retail price of around £30, Black Tartan slots right into the market space created long ago by Monkey Shoulder.
Alongside their flagship blended malt however, Skene whisky also bottle limited edition single cask whiskies, and for their latest release they have combined the two… Black Tartan ’88 is a blended malt from a single cask, aged for an impressive 31 years and bottled at 48%. Recommended Retail Price is £248.00.
*Full disclosure: I was sent this sample free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Surprisingly malty for a whisky of such impressive age. Honey and vanilla. Lemon sponge cake. Lemon curd. Apple. Caramel, pepper and a touch of oak.
Taste: Honey again. Vanilla fudge. Apple and bitter lemon. Caramel. In the latter half the spirit’s age makes its presence felt, with lots of oak and woody spice. Towards the finish things get fruity again, tropical even, with more lemon and pineapple. Almost an effervescence to it: a pleasant fruity fizz on the tongue.
Thoughts: No question this is a thoroughly decent dram. Fresh and fruity on the nose but then shows its age on the palate without ever becoming over-oaked. There’s a good balance between spirit and oak which is no mean feat for a whisky three decades old. At this kind of price point however I find myself asking if the liquid is… well, special enough. I also can’t help but judge against North Star Spirits’ Vega series, which has been offering blended malts up to 41 years old for £150 or less. Whilst I accept that those drams were exceptionally good value, it nevertheless leaves the Black Tartan ’88 looking rather steep in comparison.
It’s always a pleasure to try a whisky of this kind of age and the depth of flavour on offer here made for a very rewarding experience. It is a bottle that will cost you an arm and a leg but will at least compensate you with a fine example of a well aged, traditionally-Highland flavour profile. Lovely stuff, but a bit rich for my wallet.
Fore more on Skene Whisky and Black Tartan visit here