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Saturday, 20 February 2010

Back To The Future - Thirteen

Way back in November 2009 (some time in the last decade...) we featured a story about the lost whisky of polar explorer Sir Earnest Shakleton, which has been discovered lain beneath the ice waiting for someone to set it free. This afforded Neil the opportunity to play one of his favourite tricks: freezing bottles of whisky to see what they taste like when frozen (a la Vodka). Often this leads to some fantastic results (have you ever tried freezing a bottle of Talisker 10 and then dribbling the gloopy liquid over smoked salmon at breakfast? What do you mean “no”...!) and our current favourite for this treatment is Johnnie Walker Gold, an exceptional blend whichever way you choose to consume it.

One of the replies from this post was by the always entertaining Mr Richard Patterson, “The Nose” himself. He suggested that to make the comparison a fair one, we should stick in a Whyte & Mackay, as the aforementioned “lost” whisky was McKinlay’s & Co, a brand which is now owned by Whyte & Mackay. Hopefully W&M will be able to get a sample of the historic whisky and do their up most to send us a sample recreate the product, so we can all have a taste of the past.

In the mean time, I have stuck a bottle of Whyte & Mackay "Thirteen" in the freezer to see what happens. Thirteen is Whyte & Mackay’s second cheapest blend in this market (the UK), coming in at around £20, about £5 cheaper than their entry level blend, Special. Thirteen is also a brave title for a whisky. Famously unlucky on these shores as a number, it is also one year older than a 12 Year Old and three whole years older than a 10 Year Old (“No $hit Sherlock”, I hear you cry...), but this is clever. A lot of consumers buying a blend in the sub-£20 market will take a look at the Thirteen and think, “Wow, this not only has an age statement, but it is so much older than a 10 Year Old blend.” Thirteen is also not unlucky everywhere in the world; one only has to look towards the bar mitzvah to see that the age 13 isn’t always considered bad. But here, the thirteen relates to the companies “double marriage”, where the blends are brought together at 12 Years Old and finished for a year in sherry casks. This is supposed to give the blend “a distinct graceful smoothness” and this “double marriage” can be seen advertised on the box. Speaking of which, the presentation of this blend is fantastic. Whyte & Mackay really reach out to their Glasgow heritage with cleverly designed packaging that echoes one of Glasgow’s most famous sons, Charles Rennie Macintosh with a beautiful silver box and fonts which could have come straight from a Macintosh text book. They’ve done a cracking job with that.

But enough about the marketing. How does the damn stuff taste? Before we dive in to the chilled goodness, we must screw off the cap (and it’s not often enough we say that) and pour a dram “warm” to see how this fairs:

Whyte & MacKay – Thirteen – 40% ABV – 70cl

Nose: This has quite a complex nose for a cheaper blend. Chocolate Orange, vanilla, butterscotch, hot toffee apple. It doesn't smell young, but you can pick up on the grain which gives the whole thing a sprity lift and delivers a hint of mint right at the death.

Palate: This whisky is so easy on the palate, take a big gulp. Ginger nuts and wood- some hints of cedar wood and polish. So, so easy to drink. No nasty kicks or surprises from anywhere. Sticking it in that sherry wood must have been like giving Ritalin to kids.

Finish: Slightly hot with woody spices (that cedar again) and some summer fruits (strawberry jam, mainly). Very yummy.

Overall: This is a cracking little blend. Very easy to drink (quaffable!) and would work as well in the summer as in the winter. A good,well made all-rounder. Museltof!

So, let’s step back in time and see what this baby has to offer after a few hours in the freezer:

This doesn’t thicken up as much as other blends I have tried cooling (JW Gold / Monkey Shoulder). The palate gives off much more of the strawberry notes. I make a great dessert by roasting strawberries soaked on vodka with a dash of pimms (serve with thickened balsamic vinegar and it is amazing) and the profile is not that dissimilar to that. The spirit-grains come though loudly and it all finishes with a malty after glow.

Overall: as a preference, drink this the normal way! Nice and warmed, in a big glass!