INVERGORDON SINGLE BARREL CASK STRENGTH SCOTCH
2018 store pick from K&L
MASH BILL – Undisclosed (single grain scotch)
PROOF – 104
AGE – 31 years 2 months
DISTILLERY – Invergordon Distillers (via the Hunter Laing & Co. “Sovereign” series)
PRICE – $92 (on sale from $108)
BUY AGAIN? – If I could, yes. But $$$ and anyway it’s all gone!
Hunter Laing & Company is among a few Scotland-based bottlers (others include Alexander Murray and Douglas Laing) that purchase casks from Scottish distilleries, allow them to continue to age before bottling them, or bottle them straight away if they’re deemed good to go. These bottlings are typically released as single barrel offerings, without artificial coloring added, and at cask strength. Hunter Laing & Company bottles these barrels under a range of label series—e.g. The Sovereign, Hepburn’s Choice, Old Malt Cask, and several others.
One can only speculate why a given distillery sells off their barrels to bottlers like Hunter Laing & Company in this way. Whatever the reason, the result is consumer access to a variety of affordable well-aged scotch whisky. Sometimes this means idiosyncratic barrels from well-known and sought-after distilleries like Caol Ila and Macallan. Other times it means an opportunity to experience lesser known distilleries that typically sell their barrels to major blenders like Johnny Walker. Sometimes a bottler is contractually obliged to not reveal the distillery, often when it’s a mainstream distillery—Balvenie or Glenfiddich, for example—that prefers to keep its brand identity fully under its own control.
Nearly every scotch I’ve purchased has come from bottlers like Hunter Laing & Company. The price is inevitably better than similar name brand bottlings. It’s a chance to try scotch in its purest form, sometimes at an age that would cost literally thousands of dollars were there a mainstream brand stamped on the label.
Three years ago, for example, I saw a 43-year Macallan single malt on a liquor store shelf with a $16,000 price tag posted beneath it. Then last year I picked up a 48-year Strathclyde (who?) single grain scotch for $325, tax and all. Not the kind of purchase I’m going to make lightly or often. But what an opportunity! I’d never heard of Strathclyde, a Glasgow distillery that supplies single grain whisky to Chivas for blending. But I didn’t care. It was the 48 years that compelled me, and that Strathclyde’s primary grain is wheat, a grain that tends to yield softer whiskies. A 48-year-old wheat whisky? Yes please! This past June I brought that bottle to a party celebrating several birthdays, my own among them, and it went fast! I was very pleased to share such a rare treasure with friends.
Invergordon Distillers is a Highland region distillery based in the coastal town of Invergordon. They use wheat and corn as their grains, supplying whiskies to Whyte & Mackay Company for its labels aimed at the international scotch-blend export market. I picked up this bottle after it had been put on sale at a 15% discount. I was of course interested in the opportunity to taste a 31-year scotch untainted by additives, filtering, or cousin barrels blended with it to blur its particularities. The description promised prominent caramel notes, a flavor area I tend to go for. They weren’t kidding about the caramel! Here are some notes in brief:
COLOR – light buttery yellow with hints of orange
NOSE – cream, butter, gooey caramel, butterscotch, milk chocolate
TASTE – soft tangy caramel, salted caramel, lemon zest, butterscotch, a light peppery sparkle
FINISH – butterscotch, the gooey caramels, a faint and fine warm sparkle, all fading gently
OVERALL – a caramel lover’s dream!
Okay. This is exactly the sort of bottle that leaves me wondering why I would ever, ever pay who knows how many times as much for a name brand 31-year scotch. Or even half as much for a name brand half the age. This Invergordon one-off is a quintessential “Are you kidding me?!” bottle. The caramels are so gooey and so creamy, sweet without cloying and salty without drying—like good homemade candy or deserts. The 104 proof supports the flavors with masterful grace and restraint. The overall impact is so satisfying, strong, and balanced. It tastes at once mature and spritely, thoughtful and good humored, serious and fun.
As of this tasting I’m already about a third of the way into the bottle. I opened it two weeks prior, and it’s been remarkably consistent from the uncorking to now. I was as wowed at the uncorking as I am this time around.
I can’t recommend anyone buy this, since all 293 bottles are now sold. But I can highly recommend exploring what’s on offer from bottlers like Hunter Laing & Company. It takes more work and research. One cannot simply rely on the well-known reputation of a brand. And for some whisky drinkers these bottlers carry the stigma of being second- or third-class citizens, buying up orphaned barrels turned away for unknown reasons by their makers. Also, there is the worldwide Single Malt obsession, which overshadows entirely the perception or even knowledge of the many Single Grain scotches that form the vast majority of any major blend like Johnny Walker or Chivas Regal. That’s all fashion and classism at work, of course. But fine! Wider popularity would surely raise prices and make these rare bottles even rarer.
Given Invergordon distills what is the basis for a variety of blends, its own identity vanishes behind the labels of the various products overseen by Whyte & Mackay Company. And yet—in this single barrel at least—it stands alone and entirely on its own merits as an impressive, pleasing, exciting whisky experience.
At $92 this bottle wasn’t a minor expenditure. Yet I almost regret not having purchased a backup! Oh well. How could I have known? And fine. Because Hunter Laing & Company will put out more such oddities. Some will be forgettable. Others will be like this 31-year beauty—spectacular, accessible, rich, and friendly. In short: DANG GOOD.