The Sassenach Blended Scotch Whisky


Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…

Outlander whisky or something else?

It seems impossible that anyone with an interest in Scotland, its culture, scenery and history, could have failed to notice the TV show, Outlander but in case you’ve been living in a hielan’ cave, here’s the lowdown… The show is based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, stars Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe and blends (pun intended) historical drama, romance and even a wee bit of sci-fi. Now, I’m not really a follower of the show. Nor have I read the books. I did watch the first episode, possibly even the second and remember thinking it was decent enough. I probably assumed I’d go back and watch the rest but that was years ago and I never have. Nevertheless, it sometimes feels a little difficult to ignore. Such is the show’s popularity, social media groups created for lovers of Scotland seem permanently in danger of being forceably converted to Outlander fanpages. Still, believe it or not, I’m not here to talk the show down.

I think there’s probably a strong argument that Outlander has had a positive effect, annoying omnipresence aside. Focus on Scotland as a tourist destination, or even simply as a subject of interest, has never been higher. It seems likely that the success of the books and TV series have been a contributing factor in that. It also wouldn’t be a giant leap to suggest that such an interest might extend to the food and drink of the country in question – and in Scotland’s case, that includes whisky.

Whisky lovers could be forgiven for rolling their eyes when they hear news of a new celebrity-endorsed bottling. There have certainly been a few in recent years with David Beckham fronting Diageo’s Haig Club brand, Nick Offerman‘s association with Lagavulin and even fictional characters like Ian Rankin‘s Rebus being employed to sell bottles. Then there’s Ford Keirnan and Greg Hemphill‘s comedic pensioners Jack & Victor, who now have their own spirits line. Which brings us to TV tie-ins. We’ve seen a few of them, as well. Not least, Diageo’s Game of Thrones series, which created an awful lot of hype over very little substance. Perhaps you can understand, then, why news of an Outlander-related whisky might have been met with a little scepticism. On paper, it can so easily be seen as a cynical cash grab by a greedy TV company. On closer inspection, however, The Sassenach seems to be something a wee bit different.

The whisky, it turns out, was released in 2020 by Sam Heughan himself. This wasn’t the work of a faceless Hollywood corporation, it was Heughan’s own, newly created, Great Glen Company that made the product happen. Unlike most of the celebrities who find themselves linked with spirits brands, Heughan seems to have a genuine interest in the subject – a fact made apparent through an interview with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, of which he is a member. For cynical whisky bloggers, this information changes the equation a wee bit. An individual using their success in another field to allow themselves to carve out a little piece of the whisky industry is more understandable and easier to be sympathetic towards.

The Review

The whisky is named “The Sassenach” in reference to the show – apparently it’s the nickname Heughan’s character gives his love interest. Naming a Scotch whisky after the Gaelic term for “English Person” has always seemed a little odd to me but it’s no doubt popular with those in tune with the show. The whisky is a blended Scotch – which means there’s both malt and grain spirits in there. It’s also bottled at 46%, an encouraging indicator that flavour was high on the agenda during the creative process. Information regarding the exact makeup of the blend is thin on the ground, as is any inkling of the casks used. In his interview with the SMWS, however, Sam described the blend as containing 9 and 12 year old malts with a 19 year old grain. The recipe may well fluctuate from batch to batch but that at least gives us an idea of what we’re working with here.

The Sassenach is described as a “premium” blend. That’s a word I’ve come to dread because all too often it translates to “expensive for no good reason”. In this case, a price point of £80 certainly raises an eyebrow. That’s not necessarily what I would expect to pay for what is, essentially, a no age statement blend. People will pay good money for a good blend, of course – look at Compass Box. But that London-based blender thrives by offering transparency when it comes to their recipes. The Sassenach could really do with some of that. Justifying the price with some more useful information might just be the key to securing wider appeal, beyond fans of the TV show.

*Sample purchased from Drinks By the Dram

Smell: First off, vanilla with oranges and lemons. It’s a little bit bready with some baking spices; cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Toffee. Honey. Peach now. Apple. Toffee apples! Muesli and Trail Mix. Digestive Biscuits.

Taste: Candied fruits. Toffee and caramel. Cinnamon and ginger. Citrus. Peaches and apricots. Vanilla fudge. In the finish, there’s almost a suggestion of sherry, like some subtle dried fruits, raisins and currants, mingling with dark chocolate and oak.

Thoughts: This isn’t bad at all. It arrives well, develops quickly and finishes strongly. Around the mid-palate there’s a nice mouthwatering sensation, inspired by some juicy oak, that evaporates in a warm, dry finish. It’s a fun progression. The liquid itself is light to medium bodied – maybe I’d like to see a bit more heft but it’s unfair to expect that from a dram with a decent helping of grain whisky. In any case, it isn’t overly delicate and there’s enough flavour to carry it. You have to applaud the decision to go with 46% abv as well. It drinks really well at that strength and would no doubt have lost a lot had it been diluted further. I didn’t really know what to expect from this dram but it’s actually very pleasant.

I suppose the possibility for The Sassenach to act as a gateway to Scotch should also be acknowledged. There must surely be some who bought this whisky having never, or rarely, sat down with a dram before. If their enjoyment of it opens their mind to trying other whiskies, then the brand probably deserves some support.

Price: Enjoyable as it is, it still feels a wee bit over-priced. The question I keep asking is would this product carry the price without the captive audience of a successful TV show to rely on? I’m not sure, but I suspect not. Still, I’ve spoken previously about a desire to see more quality blends on the market and The Sassenach ticks that box – it is absolutely a quality blend. I’d just be a bit happier if they knocked £20 off the price, but then, when is that not the case?!

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