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Changing the rules
Back in 2019, the Scotch Whisky Association announced that there had been some changes to their rules. Regulations regarding which casks could and could not be used to mature Scotch whisky had always been fairly rigid. Some things were allowed and some were not. Whilst the 2019 update didn’t exactly open the flood gates, it did create an opportunity for creativity, when it came to the maturation of Scotland’s spirit.
The new regulations were laid out thusly:
The spirit must be matured in new oak casks and/or in oak casks which have only been used to mature wine (still or fortified) and/or beer/ale and/or spirits with the exception of:
- wine, beer/ale or spirits produced from, or made with, stone fruits
- beer/ale to which fruit, flavouring or sweetening has been added after fermentation
- spirits to which fruit, flavouring or sweetening has been added after distillation
- and where such previous maturation is part of the traditional processes for those wines, beers/ales or spirits.
In short, Scotch whisky can now be matured in a much greater variety of cask types. So long as cask maturation formed a traditional part of the production of the previous contents. Gin, for example, is not allowed as the spirit is not traditionally cask-matured.
Among the possibilities was the potential to mature Scotch in casks which previously held Tequila. In the short spell of time since the amendment passed, this has already proved popular with a few examples already hitting the market.
One of the most recent to dip their toe into this new sea of opportunity is the Glasgow Distillery Co.
The Glasgow 1770 single malt brand has just launched their Small Batch Series with two limited edition cask finishes. The first is a peated single malt, finished in a Cognac cask. Whilst not particularly common, Cognac cask maturation has been allowable for quite some time. It is the second bottling, an unpeated Tequila Cask Finish that only became possible, thanks to the aforementioned change in the Scotch Whisky Regulations.
Glasgow Distillery co-founder Mike Hayward said: “The Small Batch Series is a premium range of whiskies we’re looking to introduce to the global marketplace.
“It will be an ongoing series of hand-selected batched releases of single malts which will give our customers insight into the cask trials we run at the distillery and into the great whiskies we’re trying every day.
“The Cognac Cask Finish and Tequila Cask Finish are just the beginning of what will be an experimental range that reflect our ethos of exploration and innovation.”
*Full disclosure: the whiskies featured in this article were given to me free of charge. As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion regarding the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Glasgow 1770 Cognac Cask Finish
This peated single malt was matured in virgin American oak casks and finished for more than a year in Cognac casks. It’s bottled at 55% and retails for £60. 882 bottles available.
Smell: Nutty caramel and chocolate. A bit like liquefied Snickers bars. Cigars. Aromatic winter spices like nutmeg and cloves. Stem ginger. Orange zest. The smoke is subtle at first with a particularly perfumed, almost floral note to it but it builds in prominence the longer the dram sits in the glass.
Taste: Dry smoke. More of that nuttiness from the nose. Tobacco leaves and unlit cigars. Cinder toffee. Honeycomb. Black pepper. Charcoal. Smoke from old coal fires. Some new oak spice in there. Malty cereal notes too.
Thoughts: Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte CC01 showed that peated whisky can work well with cognac casks. Glasgow have added another successful example to that, admittedly small, sample set. Of the two Small Batch Series releases, this was the one that, at least on paper, appealed to me the most but it never becomes a full-on smoke monster. Instead, the smoky element is but one component in a balanced whole. As with other Glasgow releases, it feels like this has been well put together – no mean feat when you have virgin oak, cognac and peat all vying for your attention. Big flavours but never overwhelming.
Price: I’d be quite happy paying £60 for a single malt of this quality. Especially now that Glasgow have increased their bottles from 50cl to 70cl.
Glasgow 1770 Tequila Cask Finish
An unpeated single malt matured in a first-fill ex-bourbon cask before being finished for 12 months in a Tequila cask. 55% abv with just 295 bottles available.
Smell: Lemon and lime – particularly the latter. Under that there’s a nice malty note. Even a little grassy – like hay. Weirdly, it reminds me a little of pickle juice (could potentially make for an interesting Pickleback). Orange liqueur. Agave syrup. Nice base of buttery bourbon and vanilla.
Taste: More of that buttery, vanilla bourbon character. Some peppery spice. Grassy… Breakfast cereals and muesli. Honey. Orange and lemon. Maybe a little pineapple, too. Hard caramel sweets. Tequila comes through on the finish.
Thoughts: I didn’t really know what to expect with this whisky. I drink Tequila occasionally but it’s not something I reach for very often – at least not on its own. Sure enough, one nose of this whisky and my mind began conjuring up images of Margaritas. In all honesty, I had perhaps written off the whole tequila cask thing as something of a fad. Something distillers were going to be do because it had now become possible, rather than because there was any great potential for interesting results. How wrong I was! I absolutely love this whisky. The first-fill bourbon gives it a nice robust base and the tequila adds some lovely acidity on top. Delicious on its own and feels like it could work well in a whole array of different cocktails. I’m converted. Bring on the tequila casks!
Price: It feels like Glasgow are really finding their groove. This Small Batch Series is going to be one to watch. Especially if they can keep the price this reasonable.