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The Whisky Cellar is an Edinburgh-based independent bottler founded by Keith Bonnington. With years of experience gained at both Whyte & Mackay and Edrington, Keith now divides his time between Colonsay Beverages Ltd where he is a director, and The Whisky Cellar, the company he launched in 2018 with the release of the intriguing “Whisky Illuminati” label.
In September it was announced that Keith would follow the “Solaria” and “Alba” series’ with The Private Cellars Selection, a range of single cask whiskies sourced from across Scotland, with options for all tastes and budgets.
The new range launches with ten whiskies, drawn from a mix of barrels, hogsheads, butts and in one case a quarter cask. Keith very kindly sent me samples of the full release but without wanting this review to drag on too long I’ve picked out five to talk about here, the rest I will cover in a follow-up review…
*Full disclosure: I was sent these samples free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Invergordon 24 Year Old Single Grain
Unique as the only distillery in the highlands to solely produce grain whisky, Invergordon was founded in 1960. The distillery is currently owned by Emperador and produces spirit for use in their Whyte & Mackay range.
This Whisky Cellar expression has been matured for 24 years in an American Oak barrel before being bottled at 48.6%.
Smell: Vanilla ice cream. Crème brûlée. Breakfast cereal. Pepper and a touch of oak.
Taste: Corn flakes! Vanilla cream. Citrus. Butterscotch. Juicy oak and gentle spice.
Value for money: £95 is no small amount to pay but the liquid is of an impressive age and it appears cheap when compared to a single malt of a similar vintage. Even with maturity, grain whisky can lack a little in complexity but this one at least makes up for that with a fullness of flavour that satisfies the palate.
I have to confess that I’ve got a bit bored with these older single grains. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them, it just feels like we’re seeing a lot of them and there are rarely any surprises when you stick your nose in the glass. Having said that, this is one of the better examples and 48.6% is a great drinking strength – not too hot but not too weak. If you haven’t given single grain whisky a chance, this would be the perfect dram to show you what it’s all about, but if you’ve dabbled before, don’t expect anything too radical here.
Glen Moray 23 Year Old Single Malt
The next release comes from the Glen Moray distillery in Elgin, producer of some excellent whiskies over the last few years. Aged for 24 years in an American Oak barrel it is bottled at 55.5% and retails for £150. A price I don’t think is unreasonable, or at least unusual, for a single cask single malt of such age.
I decided not to review this one, because I began to suspect that my sample had been contaminated in some way. Especially on the nose I picked up an extremely off-putting aroma of paint and it returned on the palate as the spirit evaporated off the tongue. For the record I also picked up notes of floral honey, caramel, lemon and eucalyptus along with apple and a light note of cinnamon but sadly the nasty paint character spoiled the experience.
After all the time I’ve been drinking whisky I can count on one hand the amount of drams I’ve found to be un-drinkable. This is one of them. Either it’s a terrible dram or something happened in the decanting / packing / shipping process that spoiled it. I lean towards the latter and so wouldn’t feel comfortable putting a score on it.
Westport 21 Year Old Blended Malt
A blended malt, or perhaps a tea-spooned cask, with a large proportion of single malt from a well-known Highland distillery. Tea-spooning is when distillers add a small quantity of another whisky to a batch of their single malt before selling a parcel of casks. It means any casks that are bottled can’t feature the name of the distillery on their labelling. Some such bottlings have gained nicknames over the years however but should you happen to recognise this one, please try to contain yourself.
Aged for 21 years, it is bottled at 43.8% and retails for £115.
Smell: Lots of vanilla and cereal notes. Fresh oak. Apple and pear. Floral honey, bordering on perfume. Touch of woody spice comes through over time.
Taste: Honey and orange. Caramel. Dark chocolate. Ginger biscuits. Oaky finish with some cinnamon.
Value for money: A bit of a mystery perhaps but 21 is a good age, and with just 164 bottles available it is in pretty scarce supply. Given said age and the aforementioned rarity, £115 seems quite reasonable. I must confess that it’s not a style of whisky I usually go for but I found it to be rather enjoyable once it had been given time to relax and open up.
Seems to hide its age on the nose and even on the palate it starts all honeyed and light before a big wave of spicy oak comes crashing down on top of you. It’s not a spectacular whisky but it nevertheless delivers a pleasant, balanced experience.
Ardmore 14 Year Old Single Malt
Ardmore is a Highland distillery located in the village of Kennethmont, Aberdeenshire. Unusual in that it produces a strongly peated malt, Ardmore is owned by Japanese distilling giant, Beam Suntory.
Aged for 14 years in an American oak Hogshead and bottled at 58.9% abv, it retails for £85.
Smell: This one seems right up my street. It’s got a youthful nose for its 14 years with a lot of spirit character. Smoky bacon crisps. Dry roasted peanuts. Liquorice. Vanilla. Lemon juice. Touch of orange and mango too. Grist and sawdust.
Taste: The meatiness from the nose continues. Barbecued ham with sea salt and black pepper – lots of pepper. Touch of charcoal. Malty. Lemon again before a dry smoky finish. Water worked well with this one, toning down the fire and brimstone a little.
Value for money: The price seems maybe a wee bit on the steep side but it’s not far off – and official bottlings of Ardmore aren’t too plentiful so it’s always nice to sample a single cask version like this.
A good example of a peated malt that’s been left to do its own thing for the entirety of its maturation. No fancy cask enhancements or re-rackings or finishes – or whatever they call it these days. Just a peaty spirit given a chance to mellow over a decent amount of time. Really enjoyed this one.
Royal Brackla 7 Year Old Single Malt
So named thanks to the granting of King William IV’s Royal warrant, Royal Brackla distillery was originally founded in 1817. Today it forms part of the Dewar’s group of distilleries under the ownership of Bacardi.
Aged for 7 years in an Oloroso Quarter Cask and bottled at 56.8%, it retails for £65.
Smell: Raisins and sultanas. Rum & raisin ice cream. Maple syrup. Nutmeg and clove. Cinnamon. Barbecue sauce.
Taste: The oloroso is very much the dominant influence here with all the Christmas / Fruit Cake notes you’d expect. Raisins, sultanas, currants. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Dark chocolate.
Value for money: This one seemed to have sold out at time of writing and I’m not surprised. Sherry bomb whiskies are much sought after and this dram very much sits in that category. At £65 a bottle it’s also the most affordable in this half of the batch and though some might feel that is high for a 7 year old whisky, bear in mind that it is bottled at a hefty 56.7% – and there were only 160 bottles.
In truth it comes across more like strong sherry than it does scotch whisky but I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. In fact 160 bottles already sold out tells you there were plenty of people looking for that very thing. A big rich, sumptuous mouthful of a dram at a decent price. What’s not to like?
If any of the whiskies in this article have caught your eye you can still purchase some of them from Master of Malt.
Buy The Whisky Cellar Invergordon here
Buy The Whisky Cellar Glen Moray here
Buy The Whisky Cellar Westport here
Buy The Whisky Cellar Ardmore here
*Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid commission on any purchases you make having followed a link from my page.
**Other excellent retailers are available.
Part 2 of my Private Cellars Selection review is coming soon…