The art of whisky blending, and trying the fruits of that labour, has been on my mind a lot this year. From Cutty Sark Prohibition, to Compass Box’s brands, learning from Diageo’s blending masters, and trying Ballatine’s, it’s been a year where blends have been on the brain.
The latest experience in this whisky segment came from an invite extended to me by the affable chaps at Caskstrength: Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison.
The two dapper gents, who are well known for their irreverent style and imprint on the whisky market, had released a new whisky as part of their independent bottling series, which is seeing them bottle a whisky for each letter of the alphabet.
In 2011, in honour of the 3rd birthday of Caskstrength.net, there was a bottling of Arran whisky, and in 2012, it was BenRiach. This year, they teamed up with Cutty Sark, which is celebrating its 90th birthday, having been released by London wine and spirits merchants Berry Bros & Rudd in March 1923. The result: their own blended whisky based on the attributes of the famous brand and bottled at 90 proof (51.4%).
They have put together a video of them revealing their latest whisky, which can be found here.
On the night of the reveal in person here in London, the two decided that – rather than doing a traditional whisky launch – they would take a group on a “tube crawl” to teach everyone about the brand’s development and their partnership.
In a rather quirky twist, a group of us headed out on the “Cutty Line” where we learned about how much London’s tube stations have to do with whisky making (obviously that was a wee bit stretched in truth) from our two “captains” before heading to Casita cocktail bar, which is tucked away on a side street near Old Street tube.
There we gathered with Kirsteen Campbell, Cutty Sark’s master blender, who helped Neil and Joel put the blend together.
The inspiration behind doing a blend for the third release (outside of the brand happening to have a major anniversary and it starting with the third letter in the alphabet) was simple, Neil told us.
“We believe blending doesn’t get the recognition it should so we wanted to pay attention to and work with one of the most robust and quintessentially English blends,” he said.
The difficulty lay, said Kirsteen, in creating a blend in such small quantities (only 500 bottles have been released) and in working with the alcohol strength.
“The challenge was also to go higher in strength because it becomes more tricky on the palate – we had to tweak the recipe so it could be smooth at the higher strength,” she commented, adding the whisky has been made predominantly from a blend of The Glenrothes, North British grain whisky, The Macallan and Highland Park.
The result – like the other two bottlings – has been a success. In fact, I’ve been told by the team at Master Of Malt – who are distributing the release – that not many bottles are actually left. Given it’s priced at the very reasonable £34.95, it’s no wonder.
But what, you’re surely asking, does this more powerful Cutty Sark taste like?
Well, on the nose it is quite floral with a bit of a dusty, sherry note and a butter and caramel tinge. There’s a lot of alcohol bite to it at first, so it’s one to let stand in the glass for a few minutes and nose carefully. There is also a wee bit of lemony-citrus notes and a briney addition that hits the back of the nostrils. On the palate, the whisky is lovely and creamy, with a grassy hint that balances the flavour profile out. There’s a bit of caramel sweetness and a finish that reminds me of the smell of a tin of Quality Street. It’s a very pleasant dram and I have enjoyed sampling it thoroughly.
Now, it’s up to the boys to get brainstorming for whisky release number four…but what will “D” be?
For more information on the release and to buy a bottle head here.