WHISKY REVIEWS, NEWS, HISTORY & FOLKLORE
Watt Whisky is an independent bottler based in Campbeltown. Husband and wife team Mark and Kate, industry veterans in their own right, use their extensive knowledge to source casks of quality spirits from across Scotland and beyond.
Through writing this blog, I’ve been able to closely follow Watt Whisky through their early years and it’s been fascinating to watch the company establish itself as a trusted bottler. One of the things that helps Mark and Kate’s whisky to stand out is their apparent devotion to spirit character. Many indie bottlers (somewhat understandably) feel the need to transfer their liquid into secondary casks in order to add new flavours but the Watts, for the most part, seem happy to let the spirit do the talking. Even when they have dabbled in finishes, the process has been handled with sensitivity and the finishing cask is never allowed to dominate.
In-house preferences like those help to give an independent bottler something of an identity. Distillers will often talk about a house style, that is, a common thread that runs through their core range. Indie bottlers, by definition, have less control over the spirit but in sticking, at least loosely, to an ethos, they can let people know what it is they stand for. Consumers will have an idea what to expect from a Watt Whisky bottling. It helps the company to find a following and to build brand loyalty. Something which I think Watt Whisky is doing quite well.
Below, you’ll find my thoughts on some recent Watt Whisky bottlings. There are four single malts and one single grain, each one bottled from a single cask.
*Full disclosure: the samples 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 drams and the value for money they represent.
North British 32-year-old (Single Grain)
I’ve been avoiding writing about grain whiskies for a wee while, not because they’re bad but because I tend to find them very similar. It sometimes feels like you’re writing the same notes over and over again. That said, it’s hard to resist the temptation when a 32-year-old whisky crosses your desk, grain or not. North British Distillery is a large grain distillery on the edge of Edinburgh that’s jointly owned by Diageo and Edrington.
The whisky was matured for 32 years in a single barrel. It’s bottled at 50.1%.
Smell: Oak and sawdust. Wood seal. Butter pastry. Shortbread. Honey. Custard tarts. Lemon. Fresh orange. Vanilla pods. Werther’s Originals. Caramel and butterscotch. Apple pie.
Taste: Honey and caramel, followed by some cereal notes. Savoury biscuits. Oakiness kicks in around the sides with some peppery spice but there’s nothing in the way of spirit heat. Turning sweet – custard tart vibe returns around the mid-palate and reminds me of the Portuguese Custard Tarts my wife ate on a holiday to the Algarve! (They’re called Pastel de Nata, apparently).
Thoughts: As I mentioned above, there are certain notes I seem to identify in almost every old single grain I encounter and certainly, there’s some familiarity here but where this dram excells is firstly in the boldness and the depth of its flavour and secondly, in the weight of the liquid. It doesn’t feel like a mass-produced spirit, churned out in the millions of litres and bulk-filled into half-dead casks. It feels like a craft whisky that’s been made with flavour as one of the primary drivers. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the best grains I’ve come across in a long while, maybe ever. 50.1% is a great bottling strength and prevents any excessive heat but I still added a wee drop of water to see what would happen. If anything it got better. More rounded, more balanced, more complex. An absolute cracker. Yes, there’s lots of grains on the market and yes, they all kind of do the same thing but very, very few do it as well as this.
Price: £104. Three figures is always a lot to spend on a single bottle of booze but the quality on offer here is bordering on exceptional and I dread to think how much you’d have to pay for a single malt of the same age.
Dalmunach 6-year-old (Single Malt)
Dalmunach is a Pernod Ricard / Chivas Brothers distillery in the Speyside region. Relatively new by Scotch whisky standards, it was opened in 2015. Official bottlings have been largely non-existent and indie releases have been the best way to sample the progress of this new malt.
The whisky is 6 years old, with 22 months of its maturation spent in an Amontillado sherry cask. It’s bottled at 57.1%.
Smell: Young and a little bit funky. Almost a bit sulphury with a bit of that “struck match” thing going on. Hazelnut. Also honey and toffee, orange marmalade. Dark chocolate. Actually a wee whiff of Jaffa Cakes! Spicy oak. Ginger liqueur. Water brought out a wee touch of heat that stung the nostrils a bit.
Taste: Nutty with caramel and honey. Sherry quite prominent, especially on the arrival. There’s even a wee touch of acidity in there before lots of dry, new oak sweeps in and stays through to the finish. There’s a definite touch of youthful spirit heat around the mid-palate. Water brought out some nice malty notes but the dryness of the sherry and the oak remained.
Thoughts: 22 months is quite a long finish for a whisky that’s only 6 years old – especially by Watt Whisky standards – but then this isn’t Oloroso or Pedro Ximenez, it’s Amontillado, which is a far more subtle wine. The combination is intriguing rather than alluring. That can be a good thing, as you feel like you need to spend some proper time with it in order to figure out its quirks. On the other hand, it’s the sort of dram that could prove to be quite divisive – nutty sherry and immature whisky won’t be for everyone. Certainly, I haven’t fallen head over heels for it myself, but must confess to a certain fascination with it. It’s almost like it’s challenging me to come over to its way of thinking. Difficult to come to a conclusion but ultimately I think I would have liked it better with another couple of years in its original cask. It could still make for a fun conversation piece – one for those who seek out the weird and wonderful.
Price: £60. May seem a little pricy for such a young whisky but it probably compares quite favourably to official bottlings of single casks from other new distilleries. Won’t be for everyone so maybe a try-before-you-buy scenario.
Undisclosed Highland 12-year-old (Single Malt)
No information about the origin of this single malt. This can be confusing if you’re new to the world of independent bottlers but it could be as simple as the bottler being contractually forbidden from naming the distillery. Some distillers feel the need to protect their reputation by blocking the use of their name. It’s somewhat ironic, given that the indie bottlers often portray the whisky in a far more favourable light than those who made it.
The whisky was matured for 12 years in a bourbon barrel and bottled at 58.9%.
Smell: Grassy. Straw. Honey and lemon throat lozenges. Vanilla. Buttercream. Some new oak. Butterscotch Angel Delight and vanilla fudge. Shortbread. Apple Danish Pastries. A little new oak. A wee bit waxy.
Taste: The honey and lemon lozenge note is there on the arrival, quickly followed by a burst of peppery spice. That’s followed by more honey and apple compote. Hobnob biscuits. Lots of malted barley character. A splash of water settles the spice and brings out a lovely natural oiliness. Nice oaky note on the finish.
Thoughts: This one feels absolutely on point for Watt Whisky. Just like I was saying above, it’s all about letting the spirit and cask come together with minimal interference and the result feels old-fashioned in the best possible way. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a crazy wine finish from time to time, but there’s something deeply satisfying about a whisky that keeps things simple and traditional yet still delivers something exceptional, and I don’t use that word lightly. On paper, there’s nothing special going on here. It’s just a 12-year-old Highland malt in a bourbon barrel, the sort of thing we take for granted but every now and again, a dram comes along that reminds you why people fell in love with this spirit, long before anyone had heard of sauternes, calvados or tequila finishes. Great stuff.
Price: £75. Around average given its age and limited nature. Nothing average about the quality though. This one really hit the spot for me.
Glen Elgin 11-year-old (Single Malt)
Glen Elgin is a Diageo-owned Speyside distillery. Official bottlings are rare, with most of the distillery’s spirit used as an ingredient for the owner’s blends. The odd cask finds its way to market, however, and this particular hogshead has been slumbering for 11 years, before being bottled at 60.9%.
Smell: Buttered bread. Vanilla. Straw. Lots of blended fruits – apples, pears, oranges and lemons… even a wee bit of pineapple. Some gentle baking spices. Little touch of fresh oak. Becomes increasingly centred around cereal notes after water was added.
Taste: Honeyed malt arrival. Vanilla. Apple and citrus. Develops some woody spice around the sides. Black pepper. Oak towards the back. More honey and some stewed fruits on the finish. A splash of water seemed to kickstart the natural oils and the result was an improved mouthfeel. Rather than dampen down the pepper, however, it seemed to kick things up a notch.
Thoughts: This one feels very much like standard Speyside fare. Light, fruity, malty, it checks all the boxes. My own tastes tend to veer towards the heavier, bolder styles but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the full spectrum of Scotch whisky and I could see this dram having its place and time. I’m not sure the dark, Autumn evening I wrote this review fit the bill but that’s not the point. Perhaps it also suffers from coming after the three previous drams, all of which had something different to offer. By comparison, this seems a little Speyside-by-numbers but even that seems overly harsh. It’s a good, solid dram. Pleasant, if unremarkable.
Price: £70. A typical example of a cask strength Speyside at a fairly standard price.
Glenlossie 10 year old (Single Malt)
Another Diageo-owned Speyside, Glenlossie lies to the south of Elgin. Founded in 1876, the distillery has long been a supplier to various blended Scotch brands. Like Glen Elgin, official bottlings are rare but independent releases are a little more common.
The whisky was matured for 10 years in a hogshead before bottling at 56.4%
Smell: Vanilla. Clotted cream. Rich Tea biscuits. Lemon curd and orange marmalade. Dry-roasted peanuts. Barley flour and grist. Heather honey. White grapes. Touch of young spirit in there too. Water brought out some lemon air freshener.
Taste: The arrival carried another wee hint of new make followed by a blast of peppery heat. There’s a touch of saltiness around the sides and at the back as it transitions into a relatively straightforward finish of malt and oak. With a splash of water, some tropical fruit notes came through on the arrival and carried on – pineapple developing into orange. The heat settled a little, but didn’t disappear. Peculiar liquorice note buried in the finish.
Thoughts: For a whisky 10 years in cask, there’s a definite touch of youth about it. The spirit itself feels quite delicate and the cask has given only the gentlest of influences. In truth, I couldn’t quite get on board with it. You have to work on your relationship with some whiskies but try as I might we just couldn’t see eye to eye. Again, maybe there’s a time and a place and it could possibly be described as something of a breakfast dram, the sort of thing you use to kick off a tasting. In fairness, it did improve with time – more fruitiness came out the longer it sat in the glass but it never quite got to a level that would convince me. Still, you can’t win them all. No doubt it will suit someone’s palate. Sadly it won’t be mine.
Price: £60. Probably the most afforable of the batch but I don’t think it’s enough of a bargain to sway me.
For more on Watt Whisky visit https://wattwhisky.com/
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