Reviews of interesting whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
The Clydebuilt Collection is a series of blended malts from the team behind the Ardgowan Distillery. The new distillery is planned for a site at Inverkip, near the mouth of the River Clyde.
The term “Clydebuilt” refers to the famous shipyards that once populated the banks of the river, particularly in Glasgow. Beyond its literal meaning, however, the term also became something of a quality stamp. Any ship built on the Clyde was sure to be built with craft, skill and pride. Among the better known output of the river’s yards were ships like the Cutty Sark, The Lusitania, HMS Hood, The Queen Mary and the QE2.
The success of Glasgow’s shipyards supported all kinds of satellite businesses. The city became a hub of industry with steelworkers, wire rope manufacturers and rivet makers supplying the ship builders.
A Plucky Sailmaker
The latest release in the Clydebuilt Collection is named Sailmaker, after the craftsmen who made and repaired sails. As well as being based in and around the yards, it was not uncommon for large ocean-going vessels to include at least one sailmaker among her crew. These were hardy men, ready to risk life and limb to make on-the-fly repairs, often in horrific conditions.
In December 1902, one such brave soul, saved the lives of his entire crew. The Lady Isabella, from New Caledonia was bound for Glasgow with a cargo of nickel ore. She was coming up the Clyde in a south-west wind, steering for the Cumbraes. Sometime between three and four in the morning the wind shifted to the northwest, followed by a heavy gale and very soon, it became clear that the ship wasn’t going to clear the rocks near the Cumbrae Head Lighthouse.
Despite every effort being made to right her course, the Lady Isabella was driven heavily into the rocks. The crew set off rockets and got the lifeboat over the side but the Captain, reassured by the steadiness of the vessel, ordered them to wait until morning, before disembarking. It was a decision that almost cost him his life.
The vessel lurched by the stern and a heavy sea broke over her. The Captain was almost washed overboard but managed to cling to the rigging. He was forced to climb and remain in an elevated position until morning. Taking action, the first mate called for a volunteer to take a line ashore. As soon as his request was made, it was taken up by the sailmaker, F. Anderson. The morning was dark and the sea was breaking over the rocks but Anderson lowered himself into the freezing water and somehow made the 50 yards to land before succeeding in making the line secure. Thanks to his bravery, all 22 men were gotten ashore. The men were looked after by the lighthouse keeper until they could be put aboard the Clyde Shipping Company’s tug and brought to Greenock.
Approaching Greenock, the fortunate men would have passed the Ardgowan Estate, soon to be home of the Ardgowan Distillery. No doubt the restorative qualities of a wee dram would have been much welcomed upon their arrival. Anderson, the Sailmaker, above all others, had certainly earned it.
*Full disclosure: the whisky featured in this review was 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.
Smell: Big oloroso nose. Walnut. Ginger. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Leather. Tobacco leaves. Orange. Dark chocolate. Polished oak furniture. Golden syrup on sponge cake. Even a little bready. Some malt notes under all the sherry. Possibly some newer oak too.
Taste: Oak tannins. Dark chocolate. Dried fruits. Sultanas, raisins and currants. Walnut. Festive spices – like those spice packs you get for making mulled wine. Honey. Some vanilla pods in there too.
Thoughts: I suspect this dram is going to tick a lot of boxes for a lot of people. If you like your whisky with a big sherry influence this is definitely for you! It’s boldly flavoured without being too intense and the spice is in flavouring rather than heat, making it very easy to sip. That combination of sherry and spice is also very suitable for this time of year..!
Perhaps not the heaviest on the palate although it still has a nice oily texture. Maybe you could say the sherry is a little too dominant? Ardgowan say the whisky was made by combining six distinctive malt whiskies – if they were so distinctive, why smother them in sherry? To be honest, though, I don’t know that it really matters. Sailmaker is, at the end of the day, a very enjoyable whisky that just happens to be all about the sherry casks. If you like that sort of thing, this is well worth picking up.
Price: It’s retailing for around £50 – £55 which is pretty damn good value for money. As single malts continue to spiral upwards in cost, blended malts like the Clydebuilt series, continue to offer access to quality whisky for a fraction of the cost.
For more on Ardgowan Distillery or the Clydebuilt Collection, visit here: https://www.ardgowandistillery.com/
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