Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Blue Hanger is a blended malt whisky from independent bottler Berry Bros & Rudd. It isn’t one of the better-known brand names but it’s a whisky of great quality and it has made its presence felt throughout my own personal whisky journey.
Like many people, my early dalliances with Scotch whisky came in the form of whatever bottles were stocked by my local supermarket. For years I was content to sample them one by one, never paying more than £35 for a new tipple. Then, in February 2013, I was invited to a whisky tasting at the Good Spirits Co in Glasgow. The evening featured six drams from an independent bottler called Berry Bros & Rudd.
Many people talk of their initial whisky epiphany when their mind was first opened to the wonders of Scotland’s national drink but this was like a second epiphany, every bit as poignant as the first. There were malts from distilleries I’d never heard of. They were light in colour and bottled at higher strengths. Most noticeable of all, though, was the way they tasted. Every one of them was exceptional. More interesting, more complex and more delicious than most of the whiskies I had tasted up to that point.
There was a single grain from Invergordon, a malt from Braes of Glenlivet, a Clynelish, an incredible 38-year-old Glenlivet (I paid £15 for the ticket *mind-blown*), a Tormore and to finish, a blended malt with a funny name: Blue Hanger. The latter, for me, was the dram of the night but at £70 a bottle it was a little beyond what I felt comfortable paying (how times change). I made a mental note to treat myself to one for a birthday or Christmas at some time in the future. But then I forgot. The memory of Blue Hanger faded into the fog of a thousand other drams.
Thus was I introduced to a whole new world of whisky. Just as I thought I was getting a grip on the best-known distilleries and the complexities of the different regions, along came Berry’s to shatter my illusions and show that I hadn’t even come close to scratching the surface yet. It may sound a little dramatic but that night, and others like it, changed my life. It turned a casual interest in a drink into a driving passion that would eventually lead to the creation of this blog – and my involvement in various other projects.
Then came a reminder. You don’t have to work very hard to find fault with social media, but sometimes it comes good. Ten years after my first evening in the Good Spirits Co, a Facebook memory popped up. A picture of the drams from that very evening with Berry Bros & Rudd. I scanned the picture, jogging my memory. Blue Hanger! Of course, I had always meant to get one of them. Tragically, Berry’s didn’t seem to be making it anymore but Master of Malt seemed to have stock of the 11th Release (I tasted the 6th back in 2013). A digital conversation with Jonny McMillan, Berry’s ambassador and host of the evening all those years ago (and soon-to-be-co-founder of Kythe Distillery) persuaded me to take a punt on the £70 asking price.
Blue Hanger 11th Limited Release
Blue Hanger is named after William “Blue” Hanger, Lord Coleraine who was a loyal customer of Berry’s at the end of the 18th Century. Batch 11 is bottled at 45.6% and, I’m reliably informed, contains whisky from the likes of Bunnahabhain, Glengoyne, Aultmore, Dailuaine, Tamdhu and Glenturret.
Smell: At first, malty and fresh with biscuits, oatcakes, almonds, apples and lemon juice. Then comes some honey and vanilla, followed by gentle oaky spice and a subtly warming touch of sherry. There’s the lightest touch of smoke, barely noticeable at first but growing in stature the longer it sits in the glass.
Taste: Mouthcoating and intensely flavoured. Arrives in a flurry of honey, vanilla and malt before developing some peppery spice. There’s a distinct smokiness that comes through on the finish, much clearer here than on the nose, although it’s still only a tiny part of the overall experience. Along the way, there’s also some citrus, ginger and silky caramel.
Thoughts: This is divine. It carries some real weight and coats the mouth beautifully. You get the sensation that you’re drinking a real, top-quality product, even just from how it feels. In some ways, it isn’t particularly fancy – there are no overwhelming sherry casks at play and no palate-exploding peat cloud to overpower the senses. Instead, it’s all about balance and form as each element bursts into life before giving way to the next. A wonderful, spirit-led blend that combines separate components to create something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Fantastic.
Price: £70. My advice to anyone that stumbles across a Blue Hanger in the wild is to snap it up. I’ve no idea how many are left out there but they won’t be around forever – and who knows if we’ll ever see another release. Grab it now, while you can.
For more on Berry Bros & Rudd visit: https://www.bbr.com/