Watt Whisky is the independent bottling arm of the Campbeltown Whisky Company. Run by Kate and Mark Watt, the business began bottling single cask Scotch whisky – and the occasional rum – in late 2020.
Unlike distillers, independent bottlers don’t produce their own spirit. Instead they source it from other companies. The best indie bottlers, in my opinion, are those who put out the most interesting whiskies. For that you need someone at the helm who really knows what they’re doing and while Watt Whisky may be a relatively new bottler, both Kate and Mark have extensive experience in the industry and that shows through in their cask selection. Each batch has consisted of a cross section of whiskies that showcase the diversity of flavour profiles produced by Scottish distilleries.
Watt Whisky’s Autumn 2022 batch includes single malts from Craigellachie, Glen Spey, Blair Athol, Ardmore and an undisclosed Orkney Distillery.
*Full disclosure: the whiskies featured in this article were sent to me free of charge. As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Glen Spey 14-Year-Old Single Malt
Distilled at Glen Spey in Rothes, this single malt is aged for 14 years, including a finish in an ex-Islay whisky cask. It’s bottled at 54.8% and retailed for £65.95.
Smell: Malty. Gristy. Barley flour. Muesli. Heather honey. Vanilla buttercream. Shortbread. Tinned fruit cocktail. There’s a wee savoury, almost meaty, note underneath – Islay cask maybe? It’s like an earthiness. All-spice. Charcoal. With water: new oak, cinnamon, nutmeg.
Taste: Toffee. Black pepper and salted caramel. Some new oak. Some fiery pepper but not too overpowering. More of the tinned fruit from the nose. Subtlest suggestion of smoke at the very end. Water brought out some buttery, creamy bourbon mingling with Speysidey orchard fruits.
Thoughts: On paper, Glen Spey isn’t the sort of whisky I normally reach for. I generally find it very light, even a little bland, but this Watt Whisky bottling, at its full cask strength, feels like a very different prospect. That typical light Speyside vibe is still there but there’s more depth and a bit more of a finish. Maybe that’s the Islay cask or maybe this is just a particularly good example of the Glen Spey malt. Whatever the case, I’m enjoying it much more than I expected. Don’t be put off if you don’t like peated whiskies because the Islay influence is very subtle. It really just gives a little backbone, rather than an abundance of smoke.
Price: I didn’t expect to feel this way but I’d be quite happy paying £65.95 for a bottle of this whisky. It gives you everything you’d expect from a light Speyside but with some added depth and complexity. Great stuff.
Blair Athol 13-Year-Old Single Malt
Blair Athol distillery stands on the outskirts of the popular tourist town of Pitlochry in Highland Perthshire. This single malt has been aged for 13 years, with 16 months of that time spent “resting” in a red wine barrique. The whisky is bottled at 56.7% and retails for £65.95.
Smell: The wine influence is noticeable straight away with strawberry, raspberry and red currants coming through. Touch of burnt toast under that. Almost like a slightly smoky paprika. When you get underneath the wine there’s a grassiness and a nuttiness. Malt. Straw. Vanilla. Burnt caramel. Citrus. Toffee.
Taste: Red wine tannins. Hot peppers on first sip. Raspberry and blackcurrant. Jammy. Oaky and drying. Toasted oak and charcoal. Big dollop of toffee. Some woody spice.
Thoughts: The label note “rested in a Red Wine Barrique” had me imagining only the subtlest of red wine influences but the wine seems to have given quite a lot. It doesn’t quite dominate but it’s very prominent. Fortunately, the spirit feels like it has enough backbone to cope with it. At first, I found it a wee bit hot but time and water smoothed that out. I maybe didn’t quite love this one but I didn’t hate it either and it offers a different take on a distillery we don’t see enough of.
Price: Same price as the Glen Spey. The former appeals more to my palate but this one should find an audience as well.
Craigellachie 6-Year-Old Single Malt
This Speyside single malt was matured for six years in a sherry butt. It’s bottled at 58.1% and retails for £55.
Smell: Nutty oloroso. Touch of sulphur with struck matches and burnt toast. Walnut. Tobacco. Chinese 5 spice. Fragrant. Almost perfumed. Jasmine maybe? Rosewater? A bit of Turkish Delight – covered in chocolate. Heather honey. Barley malt. Citrus – orange. Peach and red apples.
Taste: Sherry oak arrival followed by some soft spirit heat that tickles the lips. Lovely texture on the palate. Burnt toast again. Then some intense dried fruits. Ground cayenne pepper. Maybe even some chilli powder. Black pepper and charcoal. Char note almost comes across as a bit of smoke on the finish.
Thoughts: Despite full-time sherry maturation, this isn’t a full-on sherry bomb. That just wouldn’t be in keeping with the Watt Whisky style. Of course, the whisky came from a butt and six years isn’t a long time for the liquid to interact with such a large maturation vessel. That’s not to say you can’t taste the sherry – you certainly can – but it’s balanced with the weighty, funky young spirit of Craigellachie. A powerful young whisky. Something of a rogue, even – but a lovable one.
Price: Maybe not for everyone but there’s no hesitation on my part. £55 is an absolute bargain.
Orkney 9-Year-Old Single Malt
A 9-year-old single malt from an undisclosed Orkney distillery – not that there are many to choose from. This is a vatting of two hogsheads, giving a decent outturn of 733 bottles. The whisky is bottled at 57.1% and retails at £58.95
Smell: Vanilla. Malt. Heather. Flour. Straw. Savoury buttery pastry. Sponge cake. Lemon. Coconut. Subtle woodiness with some oak char. Pencil shavings. Scottish tablet. Cereals.
Taste: Citrusy arrival. Orange and especially lemon. Then some toffee, followed by pepper and a slight oakiness. Some nice creamy malt in there with vanilla, too. Oatcakes. Toffee biscuits. Soft, distant smoke on the finish.
Thoughts: There’s a real contrast between the nose and the palate. It smells quite light and fresh. Even airy but comes across as rich and sweet on the tongue with lots of fruit and toffee. Those familiar with Orkney’s most famous distillery will recognise it immediately but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an exciting dram. Sometimes indie bottlers can show us new sides to a distillery but equally valuable is when they offer us exactly what we know and love about a particular brand.
Price: There’s an official N.A.S. Cask Strength bottling from this distillery on the market for £65. The two may not be comparable but I think it highlights how good a price £59 is for this 9-year-old small batch release. Good quality dram at a great price.
Ardmore 12-Year-Old Single Malt
Ardmore is unusual for its north-eastern location in that it continues to produce a smoky spirit. This peated malt was matured for 12 months in an ex-bourbon barrel. It’s bottled at 57.1% and retails for £81.45.
Smell: Bourbony vanilla. Citrus. Almonds – and marzipan. Apricot. Vanilla ice cream. Lemon drizzle cake. Sea spray. Black pepper. Malty biscuits. Toasted oak. There’s something about it that gives me a festive vibe – a little nutmeg maybe. Distant wood smoke.
Taste: Citrus oak. Toffee. Big blast of pepper and smoke – more prominent than on the nose. Some tropical fruits in there. Pineapple. Melon. Apple. A wee touch of briny sea salt and some woody campfire smoke. Dry, smoky finish.
Thoughts: Actually quite similar to the Orkney in that the nose is clean, light and fresh, whilst it comes across far more robust on the palate. The peating level feels lighter than some Ardmores. I certainly don’t get the smoky bacon note I often pick up. Although there was a slight meatiness on the nose after water was added. Speaking of which, I thought it was better all-round after a wee splash. All the different elements seemed to sit better together. A typically decent Ardmore.
Price: Ardmore seems to be getting a wee bit more expensive these days. There also seems to be a spate of these lighter peated versions around. That said, £80 for a 12-year-old single cask isn’t out of the ordinary and the quality is there to back it up but for me personally, there’s others in this batch that I’d be going for first.
For more on Watt Whisky visit https://wattwhisky.com/