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The Whisky Cellar is an Edinburgh-based independent bottler of Scotch whiskies. Founded by Keith Bonnington, the company launched in 2018 with the Whisky Illuminati single cask bottlings, followed the next year by a range of well-aged single grains under the Alba label. For their latest release, The Whisky Cellar has unveiled a new crop of single casks, which has been named “The Private Cellars Selection”.
Comprising of a wide range of flavour profiles from a diverse array of cask types, the selection strives to offer something for all tastes and budgets. With a total of ten releases in the series, I decided to split my review into two parts, the first of which you can read here.
*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.
Cameronbridge 36 Year Old Single Grain
Cameronbridge is both the largest and oldest grain whisky distillery in Europe, founded in 1824 by John Haig. Even today, Haig’s name remains on the bottle heavily promoted by he of the golden bollocks.
Whilst official bottlings are on the young side, not to mention heavily stylised, the Whisky Cellar’s version has been aged for an impressive 36 years in an American Oak Barrel before being bottled at 53.6% and retailing at £165.
Smell: Caramel. Crème brûlée. Honey. Vanilla. Croissants. Lemon and orange peel.
Taste: Much like the nose.. there’s caramel, vanilla, honey, custard creams. Buttery pastry. Water brings out some citrus and a bit of pepper.
Thoughts: In the past I’ve said that grain whisky offers good value for money when compared with similarly aged malts and whilst I haven’t totally changed my mind about that (try finding a 35 year old single malt for less than £200), I have come to feel that in the vast majority of cases grain whisky doesn’t really live up to its price tag. It is true that it can be a lovely drink when allowed to mature into a third or even fourth decade but is it £165 worth of lovely? For me the answer is almost always no, sadly. I enjoy grain whisky but I don’t think it’s what I want from such a large purchase.
If you’re looking for an old whisky, like if a certain vintage has some significance, a birth year perhaps, or maybe you just want to add a bit of age to your collection, grain whiskies like this are one of the most affordable options, though I do wonder if you’d get just as good value for money and arguably more diversity of flavour from a blend or blended malt?
Still, this Cameronbridge is a fine example of a grain whisky and while it isn’t cheap at £165, we have to bear in mind that the liquid was produced the same year Gandhi was assassinated. The year Apple released the first Macintosh computer and the year the original Band Aid released “Do They Know it’s Christmas”. It is a drop of liquid history and there’s only 183 bottles available. All things considered the price is probably reasonable, I’m just not sure the flavour profile is rewarding enough to my palate.
The Whisky Cellar “House Malt” 15 Year Old
Not much information about this one other than it was drawn from a European Oak Refill Sherry Butt and matured for a total of 15 years before bottling at 40%.
Smell: The sherry cask influence makes its presence felt straight away. Raisins, figs, cherries… Toffee. Cinnamon and nutmeg. Baked apples and orange zest.
Taste: Caramel and toffee. Currants. Cherry cake and sultana cake! Apple juice. Woody spice – especially cinnamon – and a deep oaky finish.
Thoughts: Whilst an abv of 40% is a disappointing sight, the Whisky Cellar have nevertheless delivered a sherry matured malt of decent age here and positioned at the reasonable price of £50 I’d expect it to be a popular choice.
An immensely satisfying little drop this one, and something of a bargain. Nice to see indie bottlers working at this end of the scale and even though I’d have preferred to see a higher strength, the malt carries a remarkable depth of character as it is. Great stuff.
Teaninich 12 Year Old Single Malt
Founded in 1817 by the intriguing figure of Hugh Munro, Teaninich is situated in the village of Alness in the Northeast of Scotland. In 1933 the distillery came under the ownership of Scottish Malt Distillers who went on, through a series of mergers and takeovers, to become Diageo, the giant corporation that remains at the helm of Teaninich distillery today.
Aged for 12 years in an American Oak Hogshead and bottled at 58.2%, it retails at £85.
Smell: Malt. Butter pastries. A touch of lemon. Pepper. Oak char – struck matches. Vanilla.
Taste: Much bigger arrival than the nose prepares you for. Creamy malt. Vanilla. Honey. Apple and pear. Shortbread and lots of peppery spice. Water cools the experience a little though personally I think I preferred the more intense undiluted version.
Thoughts: A good example of the complexities to be found in the spirit produced by workhorse distilleries like Teaninich, though I do find myself asking if it’s special enough to carry a price tag of £85. It is certainly an interesting dram and with only 280 bottles available, it won’t stick around for too long but Teaninich, along with all the other blend-fodder producing, Diageo-owned distilleries, seems to be a frequent inclusion in the output of independent bottlers at the minute and £85 is a lot of money for the consumer to splash out… In fairness to The Whisky Cellar, the pricing of independent bottlers has been on the climb for a while now and £80 / £90 is sadly not uncommon for single casks of 10 / 12 years in age.
I’m sure the pricing is at least partially driven by an increase in the price of the actual casks themselves but it is nevertheless frustrating to the consumer. It’s maybe unfair to go into all of this on a review of The Whisky Cellar because I actually think their prices are OK for the most part but if you strip away all the surrounding information, what you essentially have here is a 12 year old single malt from an unfashionable distillery that costs £85. When did that become the norm? Naturally you expect to pay more for the limited numbers that come from a single cask and I am always happy to pay extra for cask strength but at the end of the day, it is still a 12 year old malt. Perhaps I’m lamenting a time when, even just a few years ago, it seemed there was an obvious value for money advantage in buying from independent bottlers. Sadly that gap seems to have narrowed, if not closed completely.
Can’t say I blame the indies right enough, distillers can charge anything they like for a malt that doesn’t even declare its age and in that mad, mad world maybe we should be paying £90 for a 12 year old. To be honest I’ve given myself a headache just writing this so God knows how you’re feeling as a reader. I will therefore end this portion of the review by concluding that this is a lovely drop, full of depth and complexity – everything that you want from a single cask. It doesn’t do anything fancy, it simply offers up a quality spirit that has sympathetically integrated with its cask. I’m not sure I’d pay the price, but anyone who does will get a more than decent dram for their money.
Benriach 22 Year Old Single Malt
Benriach distillery was originally founded at the turn of the century but the early part of the 1900s were fraught with difficulty for the whisky industry and the company went out of business after just four years. The distillery reopened in the 1960’s before famously being acquired by the Billy Walker-led BenRiach Distilling Group in 2008. Today, Benriach is owned by Brown Forman, the US corporation behind Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Aged for an impressive 22 years and finished in a Rum cask, this Benriach is bottled at 57.1%.
Smell: A nose full of aromatic spice. Rum and raisin. Apple. Cinnamon and nutmeg. Heather honey. Furniture polish. A foundation of oak underpins everything.
Taste: Big spicy arrival. Jamaican ginger cake. Nutmeg and clove. Orange peel. Currants. Leather. Oak.
Thoughts: I think I’ve probably said more than enough about value for money in this article so I’ll keep this fairly brief. Benriach themselves have offered various bottlings of a similar age for anything between £130 and £200 so £185 for this 22 year old, rum finished single cask seems within the realms of acceptability, at least.
An interesting rather than spectacular dram. Not sure I completely fell in love but there was definitely something about it. A bit like that album you didn’t really like on first listen but ended up being your favourite once you “got it”. It’s certainly not cheap but sometimes the whiskies that take you on a journey are the best value of all. Hard to say from one sample if that’s what would happen here but I would certainly like to get to know it better. I’m not quite willing to splash out the best part of £200 right now, but if I was looking for a bottle in that area I would have this under consideration.
Glenallachie 24 Year Old Single Malt
When Billy Walker sold Benriach to Brown Forman, he used some of the profit to buy Glenallachie, another Speyside distillery that sprang to life in the 60’s. Traditionally used to produce blend filler, there is now a full range of single malts available, some of which are very nice indeed.
Meanwhile, this single cask from The Whisky Cellar has been matured for 24 years in an American Oak Hogshead before being bottled at 56.5%.
Smell: Sticky toffee pudding. Varnished oak, old leather, honey, vanilla and tobacco.
Taste: Caramel. Milk chocolate. Lots of oak. Apple juice. Orange zest. Sultanas. Peppery finish with a touch of sea salt.
Thoughts: Once again we’re very much in the premium category here but £150 for a 24 year old single cask doesn’t seem outrageous to me. For comparison, the official 25 year old distillery bottling is £230.
I enjoyed this one. At 24 years the cask is the dominant feature, at least to begin with but over time – especially with water added – you get a much more complex affair with some orchard fruits coming through. I’m growing to love Glenallachie and this is another cracker. The pick of the bunch.
If you would like to purchase any of the whiskies reviewed in this article you can do so at Master of Malt.
Buy The Whisky Cellar Cameronbridge here
Buy The Whisky Cellar House Malt here
Buy The Whisky Cellar Teaninich here
Buy The Whisky Cellar Benriach here
Buy The Whisky Cellar Glenallachie here
*Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make from links on my page.
**Other retailers are available.