There’s all kinds of independent bottlers. You’ve got the big boys like Gordon & MacPhail, Cadenhead’s and Douglas Laing & Co. There’s a whole slew of slightly smaller bottlers that do still have their own warehouses, but there’s also some that don’t have their own warehousing capacity, often those that operate from outside of Scotland, and store their casks at brokers.
Then there’s bottlers like the Fisherman’s Retreat, a family business near the town of Ramsbottom, a little north of Manchester. The Fisherman’s Retreat is a pub and restaurant first and foremost, but they’ve been stocking their bar with single malt whiskies since 1992. Currently this establishment stocks over 500 different Scottish single malt whiskies, with the majority available to try by the dram or otherwise purchase from their (online) shop, which was opened in 2006.
The Fisherman’s Retreat is a bottler of whisky indeed, first bottling a cask in 2013, but it is one of those where it is far from the core business. They’ve been buying casks for the last 15 years. I imagine it started out of a genuine passion for whisky by the Magnall family, which has sort of spiraled out of control, as is often the case with these smaller operations.
They’re now up to their fourth and fifth release, both of which with an interesting wine cask influence. There’s a 5-year old Arran matured in a 90 litre Octavius red wine cask—not your typical single malt. Then there’s a 10-year old Port Charlotte from a former Haut-Brion red wine cask—still unusual but a little less so because it is distilled at Bruichladdich after all, the undisputed kings of wine cask maturation.
Arran 2013 5 Years Old (54%, Fisherman’s Retreat, Edition No. 4)
Nose: The wine maturation is very obvious and it almost has something fizzy to it. Very interesting. It certainly doesn’t nose very young, but the again the spirit is masked quite a bit by the cask. Somewhat floral with hints of violets, but there’s also cranberry, pomegranate and blackcurrant. Some baking spices also. Taste: Very fruity and sweet (toffee), with hints of pineapple, mango, kumquat and apricots, and it has that fizzy quality again. Notes of cinnamon and almonds too, but also some chili heat. Finish: Lingering sweetness and a whiff of spices.
Port Charlotte 2008 10 Years Old (54%, Fisherman’s Retreat, Edition No. 5)
Nose: Smoky and savoury in the best possible way. Hints of campfire, embers and dried meat and cured ham, but also vanilla and fresh and fruity notes of pineapple and sultanas. Taste: Full on peat, slightly medicinal even, with hints of seaweed and a decent pinch of salt, but also sweet oranges and pineapple. Then there’s damp oak, burlap and a touch of cardboard, as well as wood smoke. Finish: Lingering peat smoke. Long.
Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte just is so insanely reliable, it’s almost as if they took a page out of the Caol Ila book. It always delivers and this time is no different.
The real surprise is the Arran though. I was real skeptical when I read about this 5-year-old wine cask matured whisky, but it simply works. It might be different than what you’re used to, but I find it is balanced and has a proper fruitiness to top it all off. I’m convinced.