So said Ralph Waldo Emerson. I would add: And to a very few bottles.
The combined genius of raw materials – water, malted barley, yeast and oak – and of time, and of the skills and patience of craftsmen and masters distillers, sometimes contract into bottles of fine whisky – a distillation of geniuses, you might say. I could go on and on about this alchemy-like process, but I want to get straight on to the whisky at hand from a distillery I’ve never had the chance to try before. I leave you, dear reader, to discover the possible connections between life, whisky and transcendentalism suggested by that Emerson quote. Just know that the story and the answers you seek may be right there in your glass.
The Glencadam distillery is in the Eastern Highlands, not far from Speyside, and that is manifest in this whisky’s straddling of the two districts. It is reminiscent of some Speysiders I’ve had – better Linkwoods and Tormores, for example – but also of some of its closer neighbors such as Fettercairn and Glen Garioch. This is not to say it doesn’t stand on it’s own with an individualism that distinguishes it from other malts; it just shares, as most whiskies do, some general characteristics of its region like an overall brightness and lightness and a fresh lemon-grassiness, especially on the nose. It was once, and may still be, a constituent of the Ballantine’s and Stewart’s Cream of the Barley blends. This particular expression, from Spirit Imports’ The Classic Cask range, gains significantly in individualism by being bottled from a single cask filled in 1991 and matured – expertly, I’d say – for 22 years. It is presented with an ABV of 46%, is un-chill-filtered and untinted by the deceitful E150a. So, we’re off to a very good start…
Wowza! This is effusively fragrant stuff! Fresh mown grass, lemon zest, strawberry jam, fresh celery and sliced green peppers. When first poured, I got a whiff of Play-Doh – not a bad smell, but it dissipated within a few minutes anyway. Then there arose an olfactory air show of delectable creams: Strawberry cream filling, lemon cream filling, mint cream as you might find it in a Viscount Peppermint Patty (without the chocolate, however). There are salted almonds and pear juice and maybe just a hint of graham cracker. Fresh, involving, compelling, delightful. This is well-made, well-tended whisky; that, at least, is what the nose suggests. Water brings out more maltiness and something unspecifically floral. (23/25)
Warm and creamy, which is a combination I love. Tight, bright malt surrounded by warm sugar cookie crumbles, a touch of overripe cantaloupe, almond cream or perhaps a less specific creamy nuttiness, or Brazil nuts, maybe, shelled and piled like eggs in a grassy nest. There is a mild taste that is hard to pin down, something like chewing gum once you’ve chewed all the flavor out of it. More distinct than that, there is the luscious taste of butter pecan ice cream – but warm and without the pecans! Good stuff. Water brings out more oaky spice, more malty sweetness and, uh, a quick trace of what struck me for a moment as ozone; still, a few drops of water did not diminish the creaminess of this elixir whatsoever. (22/25)
Long and lingering, like spiced, melted butter. It courses down the throat and massages the heart with soft, warm fingers. While there are traces of oaky tannins passing through like frightened, bashful, elusive ghosts, this is, I think, the most mouthwatering finish I’ve ever experienced. So, so good! Water brings out more spice and a thin, slight but surprising whiff of iodine. (23/25)
This is well-made whisky – that is obvious in every aspect of it. The cask, which I assume was a refill American oak hogshead, was evidently tight and firm despite previous use. The balance here between nose, palate and finish follows an arc that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in such a clearly defined manner before. The nose is all freshness and delight, offering up the best aspects of youth with all its fresh sliced peppers, celery, lemon zest, fresh-cut grass and pear juice among bakery and confectionary creams. The palate starts to bring in age with its creaminess and warmth, overripe cantaloupe, nuts and nut creams; you might say the palate is middle aged. The finish, long and lingering, easy on the throat, heart-warming and mouthwatering, has the comfort and easiness of age about it. Three stages of life in one potion. I have made these judgments, by the way, based on my experience of this whisky without water. Water didn’t diminish this nice old Highlander, but I preferred it at its bottled strength of 46%. (23/25)
Many thanks to Lauren Shayne Mayer at Spirit Imports for the samples.