INVERGORDON SINGLE GRAIN SCOTCH
2nd Fill Bourbon Hogshead cask #7844000057 selected by Single Cask Nation (2020)
MASH BILL – unstated unmalted grain mash bill
PROOF – 92.4 (cask strength)
AGE – 46 years 6 months
DISTILLERY – Invergordon Distillery
PRICE – $330
WORTH BUYING? – Yes, given its rarity and that such well-aged scotch often goes for many thousands of dollars.
My introduction to Invergordon single grain scotch whisky came courtesy of a barrel bottled by Hunter Laing & Co. in 2018. It was a 31-year-old cask, bottled unfiltered at its natural cask strength of 104 proof. It had sat long enough on the K&L shelf that they put it on sale for a 15% discount. I bit, and was so glad!
More than many others, this bottle demonstrated to me the value and the opportunity of secondary scotch bottlings curated by the likes of Hunter Laing, Alexander Murray, or, in the present case, Single Cask Nation. Simply by omitting the brandname on their label when the distillery would rather it not be known, or “teaspooning” a barrel with a minuscule amount of some other similar whisky (thus technically making it a blend rather than a single malt or single grain), these secondary bottlers are able to distribute often exceedingly well-aged casks of even quite popular brandname scotches at exceptional prices.
They also provide whisky fans with access to little known distilleries like Invergordon, Macduff or Croftengae, which do most of their business selling their whisky to blenders. Rarely is one able to try whiskies from these distilleries outside of secondary bottlers. And though single malt scotch is the standard go-to for most drinkers, single grain scotch can be as pleasing. And it’s largely via secondary bottlers that one can get them unblended, unfiltered, and at their natural cask strength.
More recently, a newer secondary bottling operation, Barrel To Bottle, secured two 29-year Invergordon casks. I bought one—barrel #45090, bottled in 2019—and found it good, but not nearly as impressive as that 2018 31-year from Hunter Laing. Nevertheless, that 29-year was easy drinking and went fast.
It was then by sheer luck of timing that I managed to secure one of Single Cask Nation’s 153 total bottles of this 46-year release. To think this whisky was distilled and put in its barrel to rest in 1974, when I was still learning to talk. Despite the 29-year Barrel To Bottle release being only fine, given my exceptional experience with the 31-year I couldn’t resist going for a 46-year. I clicked “Add To Cart” the moment it appeared on the Single Cask Nation website. A few minutes later, when I saw the “thank you for your order!” notice, all 153 bottles had been purchased. BAM!
The day the bottle arrived, I was not home. My partner called me. She had a friend over and asked what she should share in the way of whiskies. I told her to open the box that had just arrived, and that she’d be very surprised…!
The next day when I got home, I asked what she and her friend thought of the whisky. She said, rather casually, that it was great and that her friend had said, “This is the best whisky I’ve ever had.” I asked her if she was suprised I’d let her open a newly arrived 46-year scotch. She tilted her head sideways, “That was 46 years old?”
They hadn’t even read the label! They just opened the box, popped the cork and went to it!
I laughed. In a way, this was a great sign. Without any knowledge of what they were drinking, they both really enjoyed it. One point for blind tastings. So my partner and I took the bottle out on the back deck right then and there to enjoy the afternoon sun. By the time the sun was setting we’d made it through half the bottle. I didn’t take any notes. We just enjoyed it and our afternoon.
So now the bottle has been open for about two weeks. It’s still at the halfway mark, and I’m now sitting down to taste it formally in a traditional Glencairn. Here are the notes in brief.
COLOR – toasted sienna and straw with flecks of gold and brass
NOSE – lemon salt, bright caramel, sand, cream, sweet caramel chews, dry herbs like oregano, thyme and bay leaf…
TASTE – salty caramel, baked papaya, lemon zest, a creamy custard, the caramel chews, a very light edge of tannic oak
FINISH – caramel chews, cream, a fine and light peppery warmth lingering on the back of the palate
OVERALL – salty caramelly tropical fruity goodness, with a subtle savory bite
Though this isn’t the gooey caramel extravaganza that was the 2018 31-year Invergordon bottled by Hunter Laing & Co., it does best the similarly herb-infused caramel of that 2019 29-year bottled by Barrel To Bottle. This 46-year is about 12 proof points lower than the 31-year, and a bit more relaxed. The additional 15 years in the barrel seem to also have mellowed the exuberance of those Invergordon caramel notes. At about 23 proof points lower than the Barrel To Bottle offering, with which the 46-year shares more tasting notes than it does the 31-year, this older, cooler offering has less of an edge to it. The hotter, younger 29-year bottle’s edge roughened the ease of its softer notes.
Of course there are other factors in addition to age and proof. The 29-year was aged in an ex Tennessee whiskey barrel, and I don’t know the provenance of the Single Cask Nation or Hunter Laing barrels. Where the barrels spent their years, under what exact conditions, is likewise unknown. And do they all share the same mash bill? There are certainly enough similarities between the three bottlings to suggest they do. But I don’t know.
In any case, it’s good. It wasn’t cheap. I don’t want to pay $300+ often. Well, actually I don’t want to pay $300+ ever. But I have done a few times—here and here, for example. Sometimes these splurges are worth it to me, other times not so much. Purely as a tasting experience, I wouldn’t say this Single Cask Nation Invergordon bottling is worth it. I really did pay for age. Older is not always better, just rarer.
But I do love that my partner and her friend opened the box and drank it like it was anything else, not knowing the history in a bottle they were partaking in. And I enjoy that my partner and I then went through half of it just watching the sun move across the sky. No special occasion. Just an unremarkable sunny Sunday, made much sunnier by a patient bottle of whisky shared with someone very special to me. In the end, the money spent means very little next to time well spent.