Hogshead Imports is a relatively new importer on the Dutch whisky scene, but over the span of just a few years owner Toon van Rooij has managed to build a qualityportfolio of brands. Late last year he branched out and launched his own independent label, called Hoghead Indie.
“We stand for old school style Scotch whisky.” That’s what it says on the website and is not a very surprising statement if you know some of the people that have been involved. However, the old school whisky they’ve released so far is quite young and relatively affordable. How does that work?
They also aim to offer their whisky at affordable prices “so that one can indulge without bad conscience.” So, made for drinking, not collecting or investing. I’ll let them explain further. “Young refill single casks expressions that cause 60’s nostalgia and present distillery characters at its purest without hiding behind much oak, wine or peat. But wind back even further to the very early nineteen hundreds and you could find a style of brutal whisky drenched in sherry. If a distillery character can handle it, we’ll present it.”
What stands out is the standard bottling strength of 48 percent, which I think is very smart. It has probably elevated the drinkability of some of these young ones, and contributes to a lower overall price.
Linkwood 2014 8 Years (48%, Hogshead Imports, 308 bts.)
From a refill barrel
Nose: Loads of sweet orchard fruits, mainly ripe apples, stewed pears and cotton candy grapes, but also a touch of wine gums. A whisper of ozone, vanilla and nougat too. Not super complex but certainly very enjoyable. Taste: Thick, fatty mouthfeel. The palate builds on the nose. Super fruity with loads of apricots, even more apples, gentle honey and just a subtle spiciness. A pinch of white pepper and a few cloves, that’s it. Finish: Medium length. A whiff of tangerine, soft spices, sugary sweetness and a touch of chalk.
An impressively fruity Linkwood from a refill barrel. This is top spirit doing the talking, while the alcohol percentage seems to have been reduced to a perfect strength. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in deliciousness. Super quaffable.
Strathmill 2011 11 Years (48%, Hogshead Imports, 356 bts.)
From a refill hogshead
Nose: Gentle notes of barley husks, draff and porridge with a tinge of lemon zest, pear skin and beeswax. There’s a gentle sour note too (can’t quite pinpoint it though), but also soft agave touches, straw and almond oil. Taste: Great oily texture that’s a perfect accompaniment to the barley forward palate. Hints of rye bread, bran, some gentle oak spices and a subtle grassiness. Some lemon tarte and meringue too. Finish: Medium length. Cereal notes and fresh fruits intertwine.
Very spirit-driven, this Strathmill strikes the right chord. The cereal notes are on centre stage but there’s more going on. One for the purists.
Benrinnes 2011 11 Years (48%, Hogshead Imports, 337 bts.)
From a refill hogshead
Nose: Opens up on freshly cut apples, brioche and wet pebbles, as well as a tinge of banana peel. Slightly vegetal and nutty at times, with some soft heathery and grassy notes too. The balance is top notch. Taste: Creamy mouthfeel with some initial orchard fruits, but also soft peppery spices, chalk and fruit eau-de-vie. Somewhat meaty but not overtly so. Hints of mocha there at the end. Finish: Medium length. Sweet spices and creamy barley.
A tad narrower than I expect from Benrinnes, which is usually a highly characterful make. More gentle than you’d think. One other way of saying that would be that it lacks a little oomph.
Benrinnes 2012 10 Years (48%, Hogshead Imports, 62 bts.)
32 month secondary maturation in a Ruby Port octave
Nose: Somewhat dusty with touches of cranberries, cough syrup and dark chocolate. Also whiffs of tobacco, damp oak and some chopped herbs. Hints of violet cordial and blood oranges too. Quite expressive. Taste: Lots of charred oak, cloves and coffee grounds, as well burnt toast and a touch of aniseed. There are some cloying, jammy red fruits here too, but they remain somewhat in the background. Although less so with every sip. A pinch of pepper to round things out. Finish: Herbs, spices, jammy fruits and aniseed. Medium to long.
I’m always a bit apprehensive of wine casks, but the cloying nature that can sometimes be off-putting is kept largely in check. It’s not front and centre. And the nose is expressive and different, yet mostly balanced. I enjoyed myself.
Dailuaine 2016 6 Years (48%, Hogshead Imports, 92 bts.)
32 month secondary maturation in an Amontillado octave
Nose: Immediately loads of sultanas, dark caramel, dunnage floor, and some earthy mushrooms, but also soft notes of tobacco, walnuts, and a whisper of Maraschino cherries. Taste: Dark honey sweetness with marmalade and orange peels, also a touch of citron liqueur. Even more sultanas and some green peppercorns too, with just a tinge crushed mint leaves. Finish: Medium length. More of the above. Rather excellent.
The cask speaks loudly here. A 32-month secondary maturation in an Amontillado octave has made this the opposite of spirit-forward. But the balance is still here, much to my surprise. Excellent Dailuaine.
26 month secondary maturation in a rebuilt Pedro Ximénez solera cask
Nose: Savoury and somewhat nutty, with touches of smoked paprika powder, grilled beef and raisins. Just a tinge of orange marmelade, gentle peat and dried apricots. Also a whiff of wood smoke, bung cloth and damp oak. Taste: Fairly dry mouthfeel. Spices on the arrival (such as cloves, nutmeg and black pepper) are accompanied by sweet touches of Demerara sugar, some milk chocolate, triple sec and dried red fruits. Finish: Long and drying. Waves of wood smoke and tobacco with a pinch of salt.
Good whisky but maybe just a tad too dry. And it might just be me, but I don’t think I would’ve used a precious solera cask for such a heavily peated whisky. Now it feels like the peat smoke sort of outshines the better qualities of the cask.
Caol Ila 2008 13 Years (48%, Hogshead Imports, 90 bts.)
3 year secondary maturation in first-fill Oloroso octave
Nose: It’s fresh with touches of grilled lemon, seaweed, kippers and fresh oysters, but the Oloroso influence is also apparent. A tinge of cocoa powder, hints of rose petals and whispers of prunes. Really well done and a nice balancing act between spirit and cask. Taste: A similar balance on the palate. Soft notes of wood smoke, tar, salt and sweet peat, but also grilled meat, dark chocolate and some jammy fruits. Figs and dates too. Finish: Long. Lingering wood smoke, a touch of rubber, pralines and candied fruits.
Just a perfect drinking strength. And the secondary maturation in the Oloroso octave seemed to have worked out really well. Nothing else to add.
Impressed with the overall quality and pleasantly surprised by the spirit-forward refill ex-bourbon whiskies. Prices range from around 40 to 55 euro, which I think is very fair. However, the instant that some more exotic casks are used this is reflected in the price.
Affordable is a subjective term, but from a price-quality standpoint I think I would rather see more of those refill, spirit-driven releases from Hogshead Imports. Keep in mind, that’s just from the perspective of a whisky drinker. I couldn’t tell you if that makes any business sense.