Master Of Malt – That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Late last year (2012), the good folk at Master of Malt launched a new line of independent bottlings. Perhaps it was a retaliatory gesture aimed at the creative geniuses behind the Dali-esque naming conventions and abstract tasting notes of the SMWS. Or maybe it was a shot at Edradour in the way of ‘Aha! We too can dupe the public into spending much on wee 50cl (500ml) bottles!’ Or maybe, just maybe…it was simply because they had access to some really good whisky and wanted to provide another alternative in the ever expansive market of independent bottling.
Either way, all three scenarios are met head on with the new brand ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’. The niche here is how utterly ridiculous these bottles look nestled amidst the shelves of austere single malt Scotch whisky packaging. Each label is adorned with comic book-esque drawings artistically reminiscent of a cross between ‘Where’s Waldo’, ‘Tintin’ and ‘Beavis And Butthead’. The images are not random bits of artistic tomfoolery, however. They are rather cleverly reflective of the distilleries captured within the glass, and depict some subtle secrets and whisky geekery, sure to have the whiskily-inclined salivating at unraveling all of the hidden meanings.
Now…much like the old adage ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, it would be a big mistake to dismiss these releases as novelty items. I mean really big mistake. As much as the purists may prefer a more…ummm…elegant outward appearance for our snooty tipple’s daily wardrobe, the simple fact of the matter is as mentioned above: there is some damn good whisky in these bottles. As soon as these are naked in the glass, all doubt disappears. We’ll come to some actual tasting notes and details in just a moment.
A little on the bottings themselves…
Each release is wax-sealed, cask strength and non chill-filtered. Further, in a rather interesting move…they are also non age statement (NAS) whiskies. If I understand correctly though, these are not single cask releases. Rather they are built in small ‘parcels’ to a specific desired quality. *(If I’m wrong here, please correct me). Either way…the NAS approach will allow Master Of Malt much greater future flexibility in regard to batch variance. Rest assured, friends…if any of you are naturally cynical about the whole NAS concept (and I know many of you are, especially in light of the whole 1824 deal) …these are not young whiskies. You can tell just by nosing.
One other point to note: While other independent bottlers seem to be struggling for some variety in their portfolios, MofM have managed releases from Port Ellen, Brora, Ardbeg, Macallan, Caperdonich, etc. Neat stuff.
At this point I am won over. Can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Forgive the quality of photos (or lack thereof). They were thrown together rather quickly in the shop.
Secret Distillery (Batch 1)
55.4% abv 486 bottles
Nose: Tobacco and raisins. Cinnamon and fresh scones. Some floral notes. Baking spices. Fudge and caramel macchiato. Honey. Creamy caramel with fruit. Rich, rich, rich.
Palate: Surprisingly tart up front. Followed by big, dark intimidating fruitcake notes. Then some apple. Think a’bunadh meets amaretto with a wee splash of Southern comfort.
Thoughts: A neat one. Both in character and out of character at the same time. Like seeing this distillery in another dimension.
*Secret Distillery’s real name rhymes with Ben Schmarclas.
Macallan (Batch 3)
43.4% abv 245 bottles
Nose: Bread dough. Nice spices..and lots of ’em. Some apple pie, heavy on the cinnamon. Some old library notes. Buttery sauce. A little atypical of Macallan.
Palate: Creamy and spicy. A fair bit of dry oak. Over-toasted marshmallow. Grape skins. Bitter chocolate. Fairly tannic. Zippy with spice and very pleasing apple notes.
Thoughts: Not a bad whisky, but the low, low abv makes me think this one cooked in the warehouse for a while. If this is indeed and older dram…I’m a tad underwhelmed.
Clynelish (Batch 2)
50.6% abv 319 bottles
Nose: Lavender and perfume. Some pepper. Nougat and honey. Lemon poppyseed muffins. A little orange juice.
Palate: Wow!! Old wax and dunnage warehouse. Just extinguished candle. Oil lamp. Charred oak. Some smoke. Sooooo old school. Cinnamon. Apple juice and skins at the back end. One of the all time great palates. Loved it.
Thoughts: Some disconnect between nose and palate, but they are at least complimentary. The palate though…gad!…extra points for sure. Just wow!
Springbank (Batch 2)
53.1% abv 450 bottles
Nose: Pickle. Dust and pine. A bit of peat, yeah. Flinty. Winter wood fire. Clove and pepper. Pine sap. So odd…so unique…so intriguing.
Palate: Now there’s the smoke. Kinda oily. Notes that should only be found in older whisky (wonder how old this actually is). Some great sweetness meets the machine smoke. Some figgy notes with honey. Smoked fruit skins. Pear, apple and currant.
Thoughts: Very different for a Springbank. The pine and pickle notes really threw me off, but surprisingly…worked out just fine in this one. I liked it.
Highland Park (Batch 1)
44.7% abv 241 bottles
Nose: Sweet nose with a great composition. Tangy jam note. Peach, orange and lemon. Warm leather and a very inviting salty note (makes the mouth water just inhaling it). A touch of oil.
Palate: Smoke and earthy notes. Hay. A mix of green and purple grapes. Walnut. Old school heft and some moderately subtle sherry-like tang. Tart marmalade.
Thoughts: Balance, balance, balance. Again…a little out of character, but not too far off the path. Not bad at all.
Bowmore (Batch 2)
49% abv 292 bottles
Nose: Farmy and iodione-heavy. Rubber, smoke and other such. Lemon zest. Damp soil. Smoky fruits. Gravel dust. Dry ash. Sultanas. Develops a bit of orange and some creaminess, surprisingly…but only if you give it a bit of time.
Palate: Oh yeah! Oily..smoky…earthy, and rich in dark red and purple fruits. Think Laimrig meets motor oil. Plum and purple grape.
Thoughts: A well-earned 89.5. Maybe even closer to a 90. This is a neat Bowmore. These recent profiles that combine jammy fruit notes and industrial oiliness…win. Just win.
Caol Ila (Batch 1)
45.8% abv 732 bottles
Nose: Prickly and briny. Peat and smoke. Sweet and citric at the same time. Orange oil. Olives. Candy sweetness. A dusting of salt and pepper.
Palate: Very Caol Ila. Some melon with citrus. Toffee and smoke. Oyster with salt, pepper and lemon. Wet rock. Ocean shoreline. oil. There are some notes that make me think of Kilchoman (if that distillery’s malt were a little more mature).
Thoughts: Damn decent Caol Ila, but definitely not the best of the indies I’ve tried. Particularly liked the oceanic notes and oily saltiness.
Look forward to future releases.
Thanks to our mate, Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market, for the chance to try these.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photos: Curt