An Edinburgh Institution
Single Cask Whisky from one of the Oldest Independent Bottlers
A few weeks ago we reviewed three whiskies from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Though the Society (SMWS) is celebrating its 35th anniversary, the concept of independent bottling predates organizations like the SMWS. Since the early nineteenth century, countless companies have been purchasing casks of whisk(e)y from distilleries in order to rebrand and sell the product. You may wonder how the market can sustain independent bottlers. The answer is a question of supply and production. The whiskey production process involves a number of variables—weather, harvest, cask condition, etc. As we have touched on a bit in past reviews, distillers mix the contents of countless casks to maintain the consistency of a distillery’s flagship varieties. In the process, distilleries often set aside casks that don’t make sense in their blending and production. Independent bottlers purchase this stock, which can often produce incredible whiskey.
Cadenheads is one of the oldest independent bottlers in Scotland, having been in operation since 1842. We had the opportunity to visit their shop in Edinburgh in 2016. Situated near one end along the picturesque Royal Mile, the Cadenhead’s shop is worth a visit for the single malt enthusiast. Inside, casks and bottles seem to explode from the walls. While Cadenhead’s bottles its whisky in Campbeltown, the shop contains plenty of the company’s releases. For our trip, we had already planned on buying several full sized bottles at distilleries and luggage space was an issue. Fortunately, Cadenhead’s sells ‘Cask Ends’ 200ml bottles. Perfect for sampling, the small bottles also were ideal for traveling.
Cadenhead’s Tullibardine 20 Year Old
Although Tullibardine has existed since the 15th century as a brewery, the company began distilling whisky in 1947. Unlike many Highland peers, Tullibardine has remained independent and family owned. With several expressions using many different cask finishes, the company produces a wide range of whisky. Our Cadenhead’s bottle was aged in an ex-Bourbon cask for 22 years. We had not experienced Tullibardine before, so let us know if you have tried any to see how this single cask bottle compares.
On the Eyes: The color of the Tullibardine is a pale Yellow, like a field of wheat in late summer. In the glass the whisky is viscous with long lasting, thick legs.
On the Nose: At first we detected a strong scent of fresh lemon mixed with the aromas of grassy meadow after a rainfall and light fresh flowers. The nose is clean and subtle.
To the Taste: Corresponding to the nose, we tasted limoncello mixed with a hint of wood and honey. The dram is more on the oily side, and is has a mellow character that belies the cask strength ABV.
And the Finish: The finish brought forth flavors reminiscent of the Arran malt we tried a few weeks ago. Echoes of grapefruit, apricot and cereal grains lingered.
As we mentioned, we’re not familiar with the Tullibardine ‘house style,’ so we had no reference point for this dram. With our limited expectations we were thoroughly impressed. This whisky has all the smoothness and fruitiness of a Highland or Speyside single malt with complexity to spare. The dram is rich but not overpowering, flavorful but not flavor dominant. Either way, this whisky showcases the range of a single cask spirit. All of the different flavors we found were wrought from the distillation and the wood of one ex-bourbon cask. We’re curious to see how the Tullibardine 20 Year Old expression compares. If you’ve tried Tullibardine before, let us know your thoughts.