CAMERONBRIDGE 27 YEAR SINGLE GRAIN SCOTCH
bottled under the “Old Particular” label for K&L (2019)
MASH BILL – Unknown un-malted mash bill
PROOF – 108.6
AGE – 27 years 10 months in a single refill sherry cask
DISTILLERY – Bottled by Douglas Laing & Co., distilled by Cameronbridge Distillery
PRICE – $87
BUY AGAIN? – Can’t! All 560 bottles are long gone…
This is a special bottle. Not only because it’s a 27 year old scotch priced incredibly well. But because I opened it one afternoon when a friend I’ve known for 27 years came by to sit on the front stoop for some physically distanced whisky sipping. We hadn’t seen one another in quite awhile. With all that has been going on in the world and in the smaller worlds of our lives, there was a lot for us to catch up on. We ended up out on the stoop for five hours. By the time we were done we’d sampled more than a few whiskies, making a particularly deep dent in this bottle.
Single malt scotches are the common go to for most people, it’s fair to say. That’s fine by me. Because it means less attention is given to these exceedingly well-aged single grain scotches that are often released by non-distilling bottler’s like Douglas Laing & Co. Single grain scotch is generally made to be blended. Lesser known distilleries like Cameronbridge might put their distillates toward known blenders like the ubiquitous Johnnie Walker. Often it’s a single grain scotch that makes up the base of a blend, with single malt or other single grain scotches added to achieve the final mix.
Perhaps single malts are more favored due to a combination of two factors: the fruity flavors that tend to come from malted grains, and a common misconception of the term “single malt” itself. The “single” does not refer to the grain or a single barrel, but to the distillate (or distillates, in a blend) having been produced at one single distillery. “Malt” means the basis of the mash bill is malted grain—most typically malted barley, but possibly another malted grain or combination of malted grains. “Grain” means the basis of the mash bill is an un-malted grain or grains. Without that understanding, it’s easy to see why the phrase “single malt” might conjure a sense of exclusivity—a classic selling point for many consumers.
But if one is less concerned with labels and marketing and more concerned with taste, getting to know the offerings of the likes of Douglas Laing & Co is worth the time and research. A 27 year old Macallan or Laphroaig will put you back hundreds if not thousands of dollars. But the same age from Cameronbridge Distillery, the largest in Scotland, which nobody has ever heard of despite its having been in nearly continuous operation since 1824, supplying millions of liters of whisky to better-known blenders every year?
Let’s see how it tastes. I’m halfway through the bottle, three weeks after uncorking, and tasting it now in a traditional Glencairn:
COLOR – pale straw and honey yellows
NOSE – creamy vanilla custard, some banana and soft caramel, acidic tropical fruit, a prominent zesty citrus edge, something a touch metallic like copper
TASTE – vanilla caramel with zesty tropical and citrus fruits, the creamy custard, a nice peppery bite on swallowing
FINISH – The peppery bite digs in a bit deeper for a moment before softening again, leaving that nice swirl of creamy caramels and tropical/citrus fruits.
OVERALL – from the nose I thought the main event would be tropical fruits and copper, but from the taste through the finish the caramel aspects hold their own in an experience that balances creaminess with an acidic, fruity, peppery bite
Definitely a whisky that makes you sit up, not back. This is the sort of thing I want to drink at either fancy lively parties or to accompany spirited conversations with friends. It’s not a whisky for a contemplative or quiet mood.
Though its edges verge on too edgy for my tastes, the creamy caramel and custard aspects offer enough balance to keep me sipping. I’ve enjoyed smoother and more luxuriously sweet single grain scotches, like a gorgeous Invergorden 31 Year from 2018. But I do appreciate this bottle’s lively mix of softer caramel candy flavors with brighter, edgier fruit flavors. The sharper, acidic elements risk irritation, but ultimately provide interest alongside the more comforting vanillas, caramels, and custards.
A very fitting tribute to my friend of 27 years, as a matter of fact. He’s a weirdo in the best sense of the word. A mix of contradictions. He’s among the most honest, caring, sincere, even Buddhistic people I’ve known. And yet he’s also edgy, erratic, and given to extremes. I liked him immediately the day I met him, my guts recognizing a fellow oddball. It is a friendship I’ll always be grateful for. We appreciate our differences and our shared fondness for the offbeat. We can go without seeing one another for months or occasionally years, and when we meet up again there is that sense of familiarity that is impossible to fake, earned by time.
I could not have known this Cameronbridge would embody our friendship so well. When I bought it in 2019 I had no intention of connecting it to my friend. It was only on the day he was to stop by that I realized we’d known one another 27 years and I had a 27 year old whisky on hand. But there it is. Some things are meant to be.