It’s fair to say that this project has been a while in the making*, but hopefully it’s been worth it. It’s a bit of a two-sided coin, this – one side of it is that there are 3 whiskies here that are utterly delicious and will be super-appealing to everyone. The other side is incredibly obsessive, probably super-geeky, and almost certainly not for everyone. If you’re still reading at this point, well done. You’ve passed the test, and you can be in our club.
I’ll explain the inspiration, before going into the mechanics and the way it’s going to unfold over the coming months and years. It’s a journey, and one which I hope you’ll all come on with us. Actually, I’ve just been sick in my mouth a bit because of how marketinggy that sounds. I’ll re-phrase. It’s a cool thing, and it will become cooler still over time. That.
The reason this all came about is that I personally wanted to understand a bit more about exactly how the various processes to which whiskies are commonly (and indeed less commonly) subjected affect the finished liquid, and being a little bit obsessive, I wanted to exclude as many external factors as possible from the experiment and work with a ‘control’ whisky.
I quickly came to realise that there were very few genuine examples of this available in the whisky world. Sure, you can get hold of a sherry-finished whisky, but can you also get hold of (exactly) the same whisky pre-finishing and taste the effect of that finishing in the final product. The answer is no. Not really.
Equally, it’s easy to get hold of a chill-filtered whisky, or a whisky to which Caramel has been added**, but can you put it side-by-side next to exactly the same liquid to which those processes haven’t been applied? Of course you can’t, and (maybe) for good reason. If (as we’ve been led to believe by people with glencairn-glass-holding lanyards at whisky festivals) these two processes are initiated by Beelzebub himself, there’s no way in hell that a brand that uses them would want you to have access to the un-processed juice, as you’d quickly form the opinion that those brands, and all the people who represent them should go into a giant mincer of some kind. I’ve heard compelling, and completely contradictory testimony from people I trust who have had access to pre and post-processing liquids on both of these issues (Caramel and Chill-filtration), and I can’t make up my mind who to trust. This left me 3 options:
1) Steal/bribe some liquid from one of those people.
2) Live with not really knowing, and get on with something else.
3) Create a massive international brand to give me an excuse to poke about.
It’s 3, right? I mean that’s what anyone with any sense would do. Good then.
Once I’d cemented the idea of having a base whisky to apply different processes to, the leap to having 3 separate whiskies was driven by the desire to see how the processes applied to the spirit affected whisky of different ages and complexities. It could be that chill-filtration doesn’t really do much to the flavour molecules present in a young, vibrant whisky, but completely destroys the more delicate nuances of an older, more fragile malt. I know I keep coming back to chill-filtration as an example, but probably best not to focus on that too much, it’s just a handy example of a (relatively extreme) process regularly employed by producers.
So – onto the way that this is going to unfold over the next few months/years.
The initial launch contains three whiskies; Reference Series I, Reference Series II and Reference Series III.
These Blended Malt Scotch Whiskies all contain the same four base ingredients, which we’re sourcing from whisky blenders and brokers who use significant volume in order to maintain a highly consistent flavour-profile. Two of the ingredients are supplied to us as Blended Malts, and two as Single Malts***.
As we move through the range from I to III, the quantities of the older, more mature, richer malts in the blend (and obviously the price) increase, but the same four ingredients are always used. The back-labels of the 3 whiskies explain this rather well:
This forms our ‘Reference Series’ – the palate from which we’ll be exploring over the coming months/years.
We’ll be releasing special editions of each of the whiskies which will be named (I.1, II.1, III.1), (I.2, II.2, III.2) etc... each of which will provide an insight into a common (or not-so-common) whisky-industry process, the effect of the addition of a specific distillery’s spirit, or any one of a raft of other things I’ve not thought of yet. We’ve already alluded heavily to three releases above, but we’ll probably keep most of these as a surprise until we release them. Some examples (and they’re really only examples – please don’t hold me to them):
Expect the first one within a couple of months or so...
Jake’s done some tasting notes on each of these – so – without any further ado:
Reference Series I – 47.5% – £36.95
Nose: Perfumed malt, citrus hints, menthol, custard and meatiness. Oats, thyme honey, Jelly Tots and apple juice.
Palate: Barley and champagne, heading into bread and butter pudding territory. Dry Sherry too and some late sweetness.
Finish: Dry and subtle with bread and also herbal notes clinging on for some time with a little dry vermouth character.
Reference Series II – 47.5% – £53.95
Nose: Juicy and honeyed with sweet barley and orange. Hugely buttery and quite meaty, extremely well-rounded. Nettle, buttercups, oak, cakey-ness and a little pepper.
Palate: Big, satisfying entry with plenty of classic Sherry influence, herbal and malty with cherries and chocolate.
Finish: Rich oak, chocolate and fantastic creamy Black Forest gâteau.
Reference Series III – 47.5% – £105.95
Nose: Creamy with a little cut grass and pepper quickly give way to fresh orange peel, vanilla, malt loaf, coffee bean, calves leather, rich toffee and molasses.
Palate: Thick with loads of chocolate covered dates and a few raisins. Chewy, herbal and meaty too. Quite fantastic, basically.
Finish: Long with pleasant leather notes, cocoa, delicious coffee cake and a touch of mint on the tail.
As ever, all of these whiskies are available to buy in 3cl sample format thanks to Drinks by the Dram – I’m sure this will become exceptionally useful as we move forward through the series of special editions.
Crikey. What a lot of words about liquid and concepts. One final word on the packaging – you may have noticed that the labels employ blind-embossing. This makes them automatically cool.
*In fact I remember standing at the bar after 2013’s World Whiskies Awards Judging back in early February last year, and explaining the fully-formed concept (badly) to Joel from off of www.caskstrength.net – that’s how long it’s been in the offing.
**FTAOD, Reference Series I, II and III are all Non-chill-filtered, and made without the use of any Caramel
***Unfortunately I can’t**** tell you the ages of these components due to the Scotch Whisky Regulations. The two single malts are old, though. Very old. You’d be shocked.
**** Okay, I could legally tell you the age of the youngest one, but I’m not going to, as it’s highly misleading. See my explanation in the comments section of this post for a further insight as to why I believe this.