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Watt Whisky is the independent bottling arm of the Campbeltown Whisky Company ltd. Founded by husband and wife Mark and Kate Watt, the firm launched their first batch of spirits earlier this year. Mid-December would seem an odd time to launch your second release, but with Brexit deadline day looming, it makes sense to get it out there now under the current trade agreements. Their first batch featured an interesting array of reasonably priced spirits, including a lovely 13 year old Rum to complement the selection of scotch whisky and I’m pleased to say Batch 2 looks to carry on in the same vein, albeit minus the Rum…
*Full disclosure: I was sent these samples free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion as to the quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Girvan 29 Year Old Single Grain
The Girvan grain distillery is owned by William Grant & Sons of Glenfiddich and Balvenie fame. The site was constructed in the south of Ayrshire in 1963 in order to supply grain spirit for use in the Grant’s blend. It is also the production site for Hendrick’s Gin and since 2007 it has housed the experimental Ailsa Bay malt distillery.
This 29 year old single grain Girvan whisky was matured in a bourbon barrel and bottled at 56.5%. Retails for around £90.
Smell: Caramel. Vanilla. Custard creams. Flour. Honey and lemon. Biscuit. A warm spicy note – meaty almost – helps it to stand out a little from other old grains.
Taste: Lots of wintery spice on arrival – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg… Burnt toast. Vanilla fudge. Caramel. Honey. Touch of citrus too. With water – and time – it develops a very pleasant mouthfeel – surprisingly weighty for a grain.
Thoughts: The price of old grain has always been cheap in comparison to single malt, although prices do seem to have been climbing recently. It’s nice to see that Kate and Mark have managed to keep costs down on this – a near-30 year old whisky for a two-figure sum has to be seen as great value.
In another recent review I expressed a little frustration at the plethora of old grains on the market just now. Not because they’re bad whiskies – they’re not – it’s just that for the most part they deliver a very similar experience time and time again. In fairness though, this Watt Whisky offering is more reasonably priced than most and there’s even a wee spin of originality in the character of the dram that should make it a contender for anyone desperate to add an old grain to their cabinet.
Allt-a-Bhainne 23 Year Old Single Malt
Allt-a-Bhainne is a Speyside distillery that stands not far from Dufftown. Built in 1975 by Seagram’s, it was later sold to Pernod Ricard and now operates under their Chivas Brothers label, producing spirit for the Chivas Regal, Passport and 100 Pipers Blends. Official bottlings have been infrequent, though in 2018, Chivas released a peated version.
This offering from Watt Whisky has aged for an impressive 23 years in a bourbon hogshead, before being bottled at a strength of 51.3%. Retails for £123.
Smell: Agave syrup. Apple. Lemon and lime. Vanilla. Fudge. Caramel. Shortbread. Dusty oak.
Taste: Caramel, toffee, honey.. all there. More of the acidic lime from the nose. The oak comes through after a while, but it’s by no means excessive for a dram of this age. Dark chocolate. There’s some pepper and cinnamon too. Great dram with a lovely creamy mouthfeel.
Thoughts: On paper the asking price of £123 seems quite reasonable for a single malt of this age but that would mean nothing if the liquid wasn’t up to scratch. Fortunately, it manages to live up to expectations and delivers a well-rounded, fully flavoured experience.
A delicious well-aged Speyside dram that shows what can happen when a whisky is left to its own devices for a decent amount of time. Nothing fancy or trendy, just good quality, mature, single malt whisky. I’m not sure if it’s the power of suggestion because I know this stuff goes into Chivas Regal but it actually reminds me of that blend, only with more weight and far greater depth. In short, it’s well tasty.
Inchgower 13 Year Old Single Malt
Founded in 1871, Inchgower was liquidated in 1903 and lay dormant for a number of years. Buckie council eventually purchased the site in 1936 and moved it on to Arthur Bell & Sons two years later. As part of Diageo, the association with Bell’s remains to this day with much of its liquid used in that range of blends.
Aged for 13 years in a bourbon hogshead, before bottling at 56% and retailing at £60.
Smell: Malty. Freshly baked bread. Hobnob biscuits. Sponge cake with lemon curd. Baking spices. Apple turnovers.
Taste: Caramel, chewy toffee and peppery spice. Herbal with honey too. Gingerbread on the finish with a wee touch of liquorice.
Thoughts: It’s had only the lightest of touches from the cask, which means you get a very spirit-forward dram – and that’s a good thing because Inchgower doesn’t pop up too often and it’s nice to be encounter the spirit character rather than the flavour of a cask. Once again, prices seem perfectly reasonable for a 13 year old single cask.
A wee splash of water helped to tone down one or two harsh edges, though fortunately it didn’t lose that wee bit of spice. Not a spectacular dram perhaps, but a solid drinking whisky, with a bit of character, that won’t won’t break the bank. What’s not to like?
Dailuaine 12 Year Old Single Malt
Dailuaine was founded in 1851, a few years before the Strathspey railway arrived, bringing greater access to the markets of the south. As a result the distillery prospered and by the end of the 19th century it was the largest distillery in Speyside. In 1898 it merged with Talisker to form Dailuaine-Talisker Distilleries Ltd and was later taken over by DCL, a forerunner of Diageo who still own the distillery today.
Aged for 12 years in a Bourbon Hogshead before bottling at 57.8%. Retails at £55.
Smell: Quite a young nose. There’s lemon curd and vanilla. Fresh pineapple. Lime. Some honey. Pepper.
Taste: The arrival actually takes you by surprise after the fairly tame nose. It’s not that they differ, it’s more like the volume has been turned up by the time it hits the palate. Quite acidic with those lemon, lime and pineapple notes again. There’s vanilla and almonds with honey too. Some nice peppery spice and a touch of malt.
Thoughts: Another well priced spirit-led single malt. What I like about this kind of whisky is that you feel like you’re tasting the raw ingredients and getting more of the sense of place from the experience. The spirit has evolved over its 12 years, no doubt, but there will be a core DNA here that can be traced back to the clear liquid that ran off the Dailuaine stills back in 2008. You’re tasting the skill of the craftsmen and women who made the stuff in the first place and all too often that skill is muted by the flavour of wood and residual cask contents.
You can almost see this spirit-forward presentation emerging as a sort of house-style for Watt Whisky. It’s about letting Scotch whisky breathe and allowing its natural personality to shine through. It’s a refreshing stance to take and it provides a counterpoint to distillers who have been obsessed with casks for years now. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either – it’s all about variety and choice for the consumer. There’s a sliding scale in whisky where you have spirit-forward at one end and cask-dominated at the other, with perfectly balanced in the middle. You can find excellent whisky at every point along that scale and what you reach for depends on mood, occasion, company… It’s important to me as a consumer that distillers and bottlers add quality options at each end of the scale and it feels like Watt Whisky are contributing greatly to the spirit-y end of things.
Orkney 14 Year Old Single Malt
A single malt from an undisclosed distillery in Orkney. Since there are only two it isn’t too difficult to figure out which one we’re dealing with here and at 14 years old, including a 5 month spell in a Ruby Port Barrique, this should make for an interesting dram indeed.
I suspect this is the dram most likely to catch people’s attention from this batch and looking at the colour of it, it’s not hard to see why. For a 5 month finish, it has taken on a lot of colour from that barrique…
Bottled at 60.9% and retailing at £75.
Smell: Great nose. Lots of berry notes from the Port to begin with. Beyond that there’s vanilla and heather honey, with a touch of malt and a waft of peat smoke.
Taste: Fruity arrival, with an undercurrent of smoke. Raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry… Rich honey and black pepper. Dry smoke lingers into the finish.
Thoughts: Kudos to Watt Whisky. I was very pleased to see this at such a sensible price. It’s in extremely limited numbers, it’s been aged for 14 years and bottled at a big cask strength of 60.9%. I’m certain there are bottlers out there who would have asked three figures for such a dram.
As a lover of peated whisky – and a fan of port casks – not to mention someone who was introduced to whisky through a well known single malt from Orkney, it is perhaps unsurprising that this is my pick of the batch. It’s amazing how much the Port cask has given in just five months and it’s probably a good job that it was bottled when it was. A few months more and the distillery character could have been lost. Going back to that scale I mentioned before – with spirit-forward at one end and cask-dominated at the other – this dram sit somewhere in the middle, where neither cask nor spirit dominate the experience. Balance, in other words.
For more on Watt Whisky, visit here.