Strathearn Cask Samples: To Bottle or Not To Bottle?
Somewhere along the journey every whisky enthusiast makes, he or she tinkers with the idea of buying his or her own cask of whisky. Since I’m no different than most of you, I too have played with that idea. So far though, I’ve yet to buy my own cask. To be honest, I’m not sure it will ever happen. Partly because buying an entire cask is quite an investment, but also because I wouldn’t know what to do with all the bottles.
Sure, I know plenty of people I could sell my hypothetical whisky too, but why bother if that’s what you’ll end up doing with most of the bottles that come from your cask? Also, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that your cask will eventually produce quality whisky. You might be unlucky, and buy a shitty cask. In the end, there’s too many reasons for me not to buy my own cask.
Enter the casQueteers. They’re a cask sharing collective from the Netherlands. They’ve acquired some wonderful casks, including some really good Clynelish 1997s. Now those casks were bought from brokers, but with all the new distilleries in Scotland, there’s plenty of opportunities to fill a cask with new make spirit, and be involved from the inception of the spirit and onwards.
Strathearn Distillery is one of the distilleries where you can buy your own cask. When the casQueteers decided to buy a few octaves back in 2014, I decided to tag along with them and bought a share of each cask. When bottled, I’ll end up with three bottles of each cask. Now that’s a lot more manageable than an entire bourbon barrel.
A few weeks ago I was sent a sample of each cask to determine whether or not it is time to bottle our Strathearn casks. I can’t believe it’s been four years already since these casks were filled! Considering that we’re talking about octaves (really small casks of approximately 50 liters), anywhere between 3 and 5 years of aging is probably plenty of time.
Strathearn 2014 Ex-Bourbon Octave (53,5%, OB, C#78)
Nose: Plenty of pine needles and resin, as well as some wood shavings. Indeed, this is what maturation in a small cask smells like. Then on to more floral notes, as well as sal ammonia and cloves, before settling into slightly sweeter territory of honey and vanilla. Water makes it more grassy and brings out a hint of menthol.
Taste: Good creamy texture, followed by fruity notes (green apple) that go well with some of the sweeter aspects like honey. Quite spicy as well, with a bitter gingeriness. I guess that’s not a word, but you get it, right?
Finish: Lingering spices and oak.
Strathearn 2014 Ex-Sherry Octave (55,3%, OB, C#77)
Nose: Big sherry notes, somewhat dry. Lots of fudge and caramel, with lingering notes of milk chocolate, cherries, and even a bit of mint. There’s a whisper of soy sauce, that becomes a whole lot louder with time, transforming it into a much more savoury dram.
Taste: Not as balanced as the nose, this is quite spicy and dry. Plenty of sal ammonia and nutmeg, with hints of burnt caramel, licorice and cough syrup. I’m missing some fruitiness. Adding water brings out more sweetness, but also highlights the dry side of this whisky.
Finish: Dark chocolate and drying.
I feel like the spirit sometimes gets lost in the fray with the wood, especially the sherry cask. Man, I wish I could taste some Strathearn new make, if only to compare with the two cask samples, and to be able to see how much influence the wood has exerted.
I would bottle both of these, although that’s not completely up to me. There’s other shareholders that have a say in this, but I have a feeling I’ll be welcoming my share of both these casks sooner rather than later.
Thijs is a spirits writer and accredited liquorist from The Netherlands. He runs the blog Words of Whisky and contributes to a number of Dutch and international publications.