The whole point of a proprietary bottling is consistency. When you buy a Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, you know you should be getting something very similar to the last bottle you bought. And the next bottle you buy.
Indie bottles are different, however. As the mavericks of the business, they can be totally leftfield from the norm. The Syd Barrett of bottlings: sometimes genius. Sometimes, erm, questionable.
But amid all the inconsistency that indie bottles can deliver, more often than not they uncover some real gems, as we saw recently with the liquid coming out from Cadenheads.
And it is retailers who seem to be taking a lead in either bottling their own expressions or working with other likeminded souls to release exclusive bottles of indie offerings.
A few weeks ago, The WhiskyExchange released eight new bottles; all independent bottlings, all exclusive to them. Of the eight, four are smoky, four are not. Let’s have a quick look at the latter four first:
Balmenach 1988 (25 years old), Hogshead #1132, Signatory Vintage, 55.6% abv: I think this is the first Balmenach we’ve ever reviewed on Caskstrength.net. A rich and creamy nose gives great flavours of watermelon and mint. The palate is oily and thick and gives oak spices, vanilla and tea tree oil. Takes water well to give a finish of strawberry coulis and cream.
Clynelish 1995 (17 years old), Refill Sherry Cask #12794, Signatory Vintage, 56.2% abv: The classic Clynelish nose of wax candles burning in the middle of a table where a steak dinner has just been served. This gives way to light summer fruits. On the palate, more meaty and waxy notes which are really quite delicious and provide a bold but rewarding flavour experience of plums and blackcurrants. The finish carries on in the fruity nature of the palate. Very tasty indeed.
Edradour 2006. Bottled 2013. Oloroso Cask #240. Bottled for The Whisky Exchange. 59.2% abv: A very oaky and woody nose, this is giving little more than ‘oak’ until the addition of water brings out the Oloroso notes, raspberry jam and cigar casing. The palate delivers more oak, dunnage warehouse flooring and some sulphur tones which linger into the finish, too.
Glentauchers 1997. Sherry Cask #5580, Gordon & Macphail for The Whisky Exchange. 54.3% abv: BBQ brisket, Mars Bar, chopped hazelnuts on the nose. The palate his a HUGE hit of sherry; so powerful yet with some grace and balance. But pretty much just sherry, backed with a hint of the BBQ brisket again. On the finish, coffee, coffee and more coffee. A big dram!
Of these four whiskies, the latter two were forward on the sherry front with the best of the bunch being the Clynelish which carried a great balance of flavours. A really quite fantastic dram.
On to the smoky offerings:
Ledaig 1997, Sherry Cask #465, Bottled by Gordon & Macpahil for The Whisky Exchange. 56.8% abv: Ahhh, we love a Ledaig here at Caskstrength.net and this is a great example of why. A rich nose of mince pie and smoke, sweet yet earthy. The palate gives smoked cream soda rapped with parma ham and figs and the finish... smoked brown sugar. A little dry, but aside from that a winning dram. Really very good indeed.
Kilchoman 2008. Bottled 2013. Bourbon Cask. Bottled for The Whisky Exchange. 61% abv: a whopping ABV here, I was expecting more smoke on the nose, but again this is classic Kilchoman, with smoked cheese, fresh vanilla pods and lilies on the nose, a hint of coal dust but more vanilla on the palate and more smoke an vanilla on the finish. 61%? You’d never guess it. Another brilliant, but disturbingly easy-to-drink, dram.
Caol Ila 1984 (29 Years Old), Refill Sherry Cask #2758. Signatory Vintage. 54.7% abv: Oooh, on the nose this is another corker. Rich balsamic notes mingle with air dried speck ham, cigar smoke and real ale. The palate gives real aged spirit, delicate oak balanced with smoke and cherry jam. The finish is a perfect mix of smoke and red berries. Delicious.
Laphroaig 1998 (15 Years Old), Refill Sherry Cask #700393. Signatory Vintage. 60.8% abv: Hummm... a very sweet nose, which works well with the smoke to give a Lapsang-Souchong-with-a-spoonful-of-sugar effect. The palate once again hides this massive abv with oak, varnish, antique shop, cinnamon spices and smoke. A finish of red fruits and more spice finish of this wonder.
So, that’s four fantastic peaty offerings from the good people at The Whisky Exchange. If I had to pick one... well, I’d go for the Kilchoman I think. No, the Laphroaig. No, wait... the Caol Ila! It is a very hard choice.
A nice step-change from your usual distillery bottlings, these showcase a different side of the distilleries on offer, in only a way that indie bottlers can do. Great stuff.
** A quick Amendment: The guys at TWE have informed us that the Edradour and Kilchoman bottlings are partnership releases with the distilleries, not indie releases. **