Cask Strength Tobermory from Hepburn’s Choice
If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve learned we are intrigued by the concept of cask strength & single cask whisky. Last week, we reviewed a single barrel bourbon, and the week before that two single cask single malt bottles distilled in the same facility. Back in September, we reviewed a whisky from an independent bottler that was distilled at Tobermory. The whisky was distilled for the company’s Ledaig label, and we had purchased it at a shop in Oban during our 2016 trip to Scotland. While we were at the store we had asked the store employee to recommend a peated and an unpeated bottle to take back home. One bottle, the peated, was the Ledaig by Gordon & MacPhail. The other bottle was produced by another independent bottler, Hepburn’s Choice, and was ironically distilled at Tobermory.
We had no idea at the time that the two labels both came from the Isle of Mull, let alone from the same distillery. Back in our September post we discussed how the Tobermory distillery is the only facility on Mull, and the company has a history going back to 1798. Mull is located off the western coast of Scotland, north of Islay and west of Loch Lomond. The distillery currently produces a range of expressions of both Tobermory and Ledaig with different ages and cask types. Based on our experience with the Gordon & MacPhail bottling, as well as with regular Ledaig 10 Year, we expected Tobermory to have a similar island style to the whiskies from Islay, Skye, and Jura.
Hepburn’s Choice is one of several independent bottling labels created by the large blending and bottling company of Hunter Laing. Independent bottlers play an important role in the single malt whisky market, providing single cask bottles while also providing a market for casks that distilleries may not want for one reason or another. The company has produced bottlings from distilleries all over Scotland, and the more we learned about the bottle we purchased the more excited we became. As we highlighted a couple of weeks ago, the variations between casks filled at the same facility can be enormous.
The first thing we noticed when taking a look at the bottle was that we might have misheard things at the shop. Right in the middle of the label are the words “Smoky and Peaty.’ It’s quite possible this whisky was distilled for the Ledaig label after all. Nevertheless, the whisky was aged in a refill hogshead, which most likely means oak that first held bourbon, and then at least two different single malt whiskies. We can therefore expect the cask to have less of an influence on the whisky. Aged 8 years, the whisky is likely to have a strong island, maritime character.
Eyes: Pale green and gold, like the color of a crisp white wine like a Riesling.
Nose: The nose is pretty spirit heavy, with a combination of fresh oysters, bonfire, and mineral oil. The best way we could describe it is sweetened gasoline.
Taste: This is definitely an island whisky. Fresh bread with a hefty dash of sea salt, with undertones of cinnamon.
Finish: The finish lingers long and is primarily salty, with a flavor that reminded us of a stadium pretzel.
Even though we were a bit embarrassed to discover that we basically ended up buying two similar whiskies, we were very intrigued by this Tobermory bottling. We’ve had Ledaig 10 before, and this bottle is evocative of the Ledaig/Tobermory style but brought several surprise tastes and aromas to the table. Perhaps due to being on the younger side, the flavor and texture of the whisky reminded us of an bold Islay single malt, perhaps a Laphroaig Quarter Cask. We didn’t get as much of the ‘smoky’ aspect touted on the bottle, but there was enough ‘peaty’ flavor to last for days. Once again, we were surprised at how different each single cask could be.