London Whisky Show – Colourful Watt Whiskies

Back in June, I caught in Cape Town, South Africa a rather unpleasant version of COVID. It not only knocked me flat for weeks, it also robbed me of my olfactory senses – a complete disaster for a whisky aficionado!

I’ve often described the experience as akin to seeing only in shades of grey instead of a burst of brilliant rainbow colours. Gradually over the months, some sense of smell has returned but it remains muted compared to the previous clarity – where I could usually easily discern distinct elements, today it can be trickier and I often know there is something more a layer deeper that I just can’t quite penetrate or surface enough to describe. Frustrating indeed… but I’m at least grateful some sense has returned!

This brings me back to colours – in a recent impromptu tasting in Germany, I shared that when first exploring different types of whiskies, one idea is to consider what colour one would associate with that particular whisky profile? This is a great technique to start processing more creative impressions – Does it remind you of a hot and fiery red? A verdant cool green? Or more seaside in style, bringing hints of blue to the fore? What about sunshine yellow?

I’ve seen some “colour coding” before – most recently Gordon & Macphail’s discovery series uses green for ex-bourbon casks, purple for ex-sherry, and grey for peaty drams. However what if the colour wasn’t according to such strict logic?

Enter Watt Whisky – a new independent bottler started by a husband / wife duo Mark and Kate Watt in Campbeltown. As Kate shared, they both came from the industry and decided to set-up their own range with a view to bringing interesting affordable whiskies to the world. The colour approach comes from her husband’s synaesthesia, where he literally smells colours!

We were tipped off that the Paul John was worth checking out, so this was the 1st we sampled.

Intrigued by Kate’s story of how they began their independent bottler journey in challenging times (2019 then….COVID!) with this being their 1st big whisky event, we continued on to the Dunbarton 21 year followed by the Belair Athol 13 year.

We were highly tempted to continue, however, this was getting into the later stage of our whisky wanderings where you know you need to become highly selected else every impression will simply blur together, losing its magic of discovery!

Well worth exploring more another time… enjoy our quick impressions from a small sniff, swish tasting at The Whisky Show London 2022!

Paul John 4 year (2016 / June 2021) 57.1% (Watt Whisky) 1 of 279 bottles

  • Nose – So incredibly tropical – taking the normal PJ tropical fruits and ramping them up several degrees
  • Palate – Intense spice, a bit of a flavour bomb, tropical fruit bowl, chocolate
  • Finish – Ahh… there is that spice shifting into bitter
  • Water – Yes, please!

It was great trying Paul John‘s character as selected by Kate & Mark Watt. What do they have to say:

Fully matured in an underground warehouse in Goa. Tropical fruits, spices, cloves & plums.

We shifted from India back to Scotland with a discontinued Lowland distillery – Dumbarton is a Lowland grain distillery, which also housed Inverleven and Lomond malt distilleries. Previously used primarily in Ballentine’s blends, the distillery closed in 2002 and is now demolished.

Dumbarton 21 year (2000 / June 2022) 57.1% (Watt Whisky) 222 bottles

    • Nose – It started off quietly, gently unfurling, caramel, light smoke
    • Palate – Clearly a grain, what was a light peat influence on the nose became a full-fledged smoke bomb…. frankly more like sipping an ashtray
    • Finish – Closed on more smoke

Wow! I don’t know what exactly I expected. One normally thinks of Lowland grains as being either gentle or harsh alcohol. I think this may be the 1st that I’ve tried which was finished in an ex-Caol Ila Hogshead,

What do the Watt Whisky folks have to say:

Finished for 9 months in an ex-Islay cask. Light, dry smoke, butterscotch, syrupy, ashy and medicinal.

We then moved on to the Highlands with the Blair Athol 13 year (2008 / Sep 2022) 56.7% (Watt Whisky) 301 bottles.

    • Nose – Nice! Extra berry, jammy
    • Palate – Well rounded
    • Finish – Dry and peppery

What a brilliant contrast to Dumbarton! Kate shared it was matured in a Hogshead and then finished in an ex-Red wine cask.

What do the Watt Whisky folks have to say:

Rested in a red wine barrique for 16 months. Strawberries, jelly sweets and cured meats.

This pair – Dumbarton and Blair Athol – had the same coloured labels and yet could not be more different in character! Fascinating.

What fun being introduced to another interesting independent bottler. Wishing Kate & Mark the very best with their venture!

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Ghosted Reserve 21 year (2nd edition) 48.2%

The Ghosted Reserve 21 year was the inspiration for the evening of blends and mystery malts. We tried the 2nd release which features spirits from three closed Lowland distilleries – Ladyburn, Inverleven and Dumbarton.

ghosted-reserve

Ghosted Reserve 21 year 42.8% Bottle No 89

  • Nose: Very pronounced coconut oil! Lots of bananas, pineapple, some beautiful floral notes, then fully back to the tropics then shifting to more citrus fruits. It reminded us of Malibu coconut rum and piña coladas!
  • Palate: Wow! We lost all the rum and instead found a light delightful desert drink, a wonderful oiliness, terrific mouthfeel, lots of dried desiccated sweet coconut, then hints of pepper peaking out, fruits still there – juicy and tropical
  • Finish: The most disappointing element as it was too subtle… after such a distinctive nose and quite delicious initial flavours it somehow drifted away

It actually reminded me a bit of the Nikka Coffey Grain or Compass Box Hedonism, with the grain elements quite pronounced – in a good way. Wonderfully tropical with coconut the consistent element. For one, this was his first encounter with such a whisky style.

Here’s what the chaps over at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Orange and lime peels, with a hint of orchard blossom developing later on. Hints of toffee and raisins.
  • Palate: Another helping of orange peels on the palate, joined by banana and sharp tropical fruit. A touch of peppery malt.
  • Finish: Floral on the finish, with a slight nod towards milk chocolate buttons.

For those curious about the distilleries, here is a synopsis about the trio of lost Lowland distilleries.

Ladyburn (Lowland), William Grant and Sons (1966-1975)

  • Ladyburn distillery was actually two sets of stills in the same complex as Girvan, a grain distillery.
  • While intended to supply malt whisky for the Grant blends, it was operational for less than a decade.
  • One can find a few rare bottles of Ladyburn whisky bottled under the name Ayrshire, named after the area where Girvan is located.

Inverleven (Lowland) (1938 – 1991) & Dumbarton (Lowland) (1938-2002) William Grant & Sons

  • Located on the border between the Highlands and Lowlands, Inverleven and Dumbarton shared a distillery with a column still for production of grain whisky (Dumbarton) and two pot stills for malt (Inverleven).
  • Once upon a time, Dumbarton was Scotland’s largest grain distillery, drawing water from Loch Lomand (not to be confused with the Loch Lomand distillery) of which a Lomand still was introduced from 1959.
  • Inverleven was intended to provide whisky for blending, however blenders never took to the Lomond spirit.
  • While the Dumbarton complex was mothballed in 2002, the equipment from Inverleven has gained new life at the Lochindaal distillery opened by Bruichladdich at Port Charlotte.

In addition to the Ghosted Reserve, our mystery malts and vatted blends evening featured:

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BMC Blends – Berry’s Speyside + Islay, Ghosted Reserve 21 year

I’m not going to suggest that the Bombay Malt & Cigar gentlemen are snobs but… they do enjoy the finer things in life. Our sessions began with an unspoken assumption that only Scottish single malts of a certain age and pedigree were worthy of our palates.

However a clear shift has begun… August’s ‘Affordable Adults‘ broke the £100 barrier (as in below). October’s ‘Blind Surprise‘ shook things up more by including an American (Westland Sherry Wood 46%) and Indian (Amrut Bourbon 62.8%) whisky.

However one member remains rather discerning in his whisky preferences. To have him come up with theme of blends? To say it was rather… ahem… uncharacteristic was putting it mildly. Hence why he kept all three bottles carefully covered in champaign covers to keep us fooled until the reveal…

Lest you think these were standard desi cheap blends, rest assured these were ‘proper’ Scottish whiskies… just not single malts.

Berry's Islay, Speyside + Ghosted Reserve 21

Berry’s Islay, Speyside + Ghosted Reserve 21

What did we try?

I had been keeping an eye out for the last one – the novelty of a marriage of three discontinued distilleries Ladyburn, Inverleven and Dumbarton was a lure I was curious to explore. Our host shared this blend was his starting point and rather than add to the mix other well known vatted malt’s like Monkey Shoulder, opted to explore offerings from Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Berry Brothers & Rudd are known as ‘royal retailers‘ and trace their origins to 1698, operating from the same premises in London’s St James’s Street. So while these were blends… the pedigree clearly remained…

And to top it off, the whiskies were paired with $400 cigars… no joke. Me’thinks the perception of ‘upper crust’ remains intact!

Psst – You will simply have to be patient over the next few days to read the tasting notes…

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