Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Watt Whisky is an independent bottler based in Campbeltown on the Kintyre Peninsula. Owned and operated by husband and wife team, Mark and Kate Watt, the company sources casks of interesting whiskies (and other spirits) from distilleries around Scotland (and beyond). In this review, I’ll be working my way through a selection of their recent releases… I know, I know, it’s a hard life.
*Full disclosure: the samples featured in this review were sent to me free of charge. As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the drams and the value for money they represent.
Watt Whisky – A Speyside Distillery 13-year-old Single Malt
The first offering comes from an undisclosed Speyside distillery. It’s been matured for 13 years in a single hogshead and bottled at 56.1% abv.
Smell: It’s woody at first – not in an old, musty dunnage style but in a fresh, sawdust in the air, carpenter’s shop kind of way. There’s some grist and malt flour. Lots of new oak spice. Vanilla pods. Digestive biscuits and Hobnobs. There are also some lighter fruity notes though, apple and lemon particularly noticeable. Perhaps even some zesty lime.
Taste: The fruitiness from the nose comes through immediately on the tip of the tongue before it evolves into something woodier and spicier. Plenty of juicy oak and vanilla. Some honey and biscuits. Oatcakes. More of the apple and lemon. Caramel. Noticeable increase in brightness and vibrancy after water was added but always with something of a robust backbone underneath.
Thoughts: An enjoyable drop of fresh, fruity Speyside with enough cask influence to make it interesting. Has a nice weight to it and the natural oils give it a mouth-coating texture that helps to deliver the fullness of the flavour and allows it to linger for a while. In some ways, it’s a typical Speyside but there’s also something just a little bit different about it, like a meatiness that makes it a little more appealing. A Speyside with unique personality.
Price: £76. 13 years is a decent age on a single cask expression but the price remains fairly sensible. A good buy.
Watt Whisky Blended Scotch – A Tale of Two Cities (and a Wee Toon)
This offering is actually a blended Scotch, one that features malt from Campbeltown, blended with malt from Glasgow and grain whisky from North British Distillery in Edinburgh. Each of the malt components forms around 28.5% of the recipe whilst the grain accounts for the remaining 43%. The whisky is aged 5 years and bottled at 57.1%.
Smell: Fragrant and slightly floral. Oranges and nectarines. Caramel and toffee. Some sherry notes in the form of raisins and currants. Gingerbread and cinnamon. Some cloves too. A wee bit of dark chocolate in the background. Also some honey and vanilla and the aromas of baking bread. Grist and crumbly biscuits. Baking spices. Lemon curd. Lots going on!
Taste: Some dried fruits to begin with, followed by some fiery, ginger spice with black pepper. Honey and vanilla. Pastries. Biscuit. That baking bread vibe again. Citrus and some youthful oak.
Thoughts: The whisky nicely coats the mouth and delivers lots of intense, spicy flavour. It’s a delicious wee drop full of character. Sometimes comes across as a wee bit disjointed – but in a good way, if that makes any sense. Rather than sit smoothly in perfect harmony, the different elements seem to bump up against one another and create wee surprising explosions of flavour. It all makes for an extremely fun experience. Lovely little dram.
Price: £48. Something a little bit different from Watt Whisky as they create their own blend for the first time. On this evidence, it’s to be hoped that they dabble in their own creations a little more often. Delicious, fun and affordable.
Watt Whisky Caol Ila 9-year-old Single Malt
This whisky is distilled at Caol Ila in Islay and has been aged for 9 years in a hogshead before being bottled at 59.6%.
Smell: More medicinal than I’m used to from Caol Ila. Germolene and sticking plasters. Oily smoke. Brine. Seaweed and stony beaches. There are also some lemon and pastry notes. Barley and Grist. Vanilla buttercream. Pepper.
Taste: Honey and vanilla with citrus and apple. Brine. Sea salt. Black pepper. Biscuit and toffee. Ashy smoke. Pungent, coastal peat on the finish with more tingly pepper.
Thoughts: Quite young for its age, this is a fresh, youthful Caol Ila. That’s not a criticism right enough, the spirit has enough about it that it really doesn’t need the effects of a keen cask taking over. It’s already more than interesting enough in its own right. Not the most powerful in terms of its peaty punch but definitely has more of the medicinal Islay “thing” than other Caol Ila expressions I remember. So long as you dig that kind of thing, you should enjoy this. I certainly did.
Price: £65. About as reasonably priced as it gets for single cask Islay malts. If you’re a peathead like me you will not be disappointed.
Watt Whisky Campbeltown 9-year-old Blended Malt
This whisky is a blend of malts from the Wee Toon itself, which has been given an intriguing finish in a Jamaican Rum Cask. It’s bottled at 56.8%.
Smell: Really interesting nose. You pick up on the overripe fruits and banana notes of the rum straight away but there are also some interesting sulphury, charcoal notes underneath. Like burnt toast. Beyond those initial impressions, there’s caramel, honey, biscuit and vanilla. Green apples. A wee suggestion of oily smoke in the background.
Taste: The tropical fruits of the rum explode on arrival, quickly followed by the malty, caramel, biscuit and honey notes before some juicy, mouthwatering oak comes through. Touch of black pepper. The rum comes back just before the oaky finish.
Thoughts: We’ve seen a few Campbeltown blended malts from various independent bottlers in recent years but this rum cask finish brings something new to the table with this expression. I didn’t find it immediately lovable but that’s my own personal issue with Jamaican rum – I find things with an overt banana aroma or flavour to be quite challenging and so there were elements of this dram that I found a bit off-putting. I didn’t really pick up the banana note on the palate though, so found that much more enjoyable. It’s quite drinkable for its 56.8% abv though and if you enjoy Jamaican Rum, you should have no issues with it. find this very appealing.
Price: £65. It’s probably not for me due to my own personal preferences but it’s priced well and some will love it I’m sure.
Watt Whisky Peated Highland 22-year-old Single Malt
Last but not least, I get to sample an impressively aged single malt from an undisclosed Highland distillery. It’s aged 22 years in a sherry hogshead and bottled at 54% abv.
Smell: It’s got the feel of an old, well-loved library. Old leather armchairs, leather-bound books and stale cigar smoke! Like private clubs with old dudes smoking cigars and sipping brandy. Old sherry. Raisins, sultanas, figs… Highland toffee. All-spice. Cayenne pepper. Orange peel. Chocolate oranges.
Taste: Big arrival with old sherry and some dry smoke that cuts through the cask impact. Leather and walnut. Black pepper. Charred oak and barbecue coals. Also sweetness of caramel and honey, a touch of apple and pear. Stale smoke and dunnage warehouses on the finish.
Thoughts: There has been quite a few indie bottler, peated highland malts around of late – from the likes of Glenturret and Ardmore, for example – but I can’t remember seeing any with this kind of age statement. 22 years is an impressive age for any single malt but it’s always fascinating to sample old peated spirits, to see how the smoke has evolved over the years. It’s still very much noticeable here but it’s relaxed and subdued. It doesn’t seem to feel the need to demand your attention the way young peat does. There’s a wonderful weight to the dram as well which really gives you the impression that you’re sipping on something very special. Actually, when I think of what it should be like to sip on an old single malt, this is pretty much the sort of thing I imagine. An absolutely wonderful dram.
Prices: £95. Not for everyone at that price, admittedly, but when you look at the price of distillery bottlings that are 21 years and up, this fares rather well in comparison. Certainly, I’d be happy in recommending it in the knowledge that its quality can fully justify its price.
This has been another excellent series from Watt Whisky with some really interesting drams to choose from. In terms of picking a favourite, I’m torn between opposite ends of the price spectrum. If you’re after a bargain, you want to seek out A Tale of Two Cities (and a Wee Toon). Don’t be put off that it’s a blend, it tastes great and it’s the most affordable of the batch. If you’re looking for a real show-stopper though, that 22-year-old Highland is a phenomenal dram and the sort of thing I don’t often encounter for less than a three-figure sum nowadays. Great stuff.
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For more on Watt Whisky visit https://wattwhisky.com/