The Exclusive Malts 1999 North Highland 14 Year Old – Review
*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Buried somewhat shallowly in the whisky industry, there is a…what shall we call it, a practice? A concept? A technique? Something called “teaspooning”. Basically, teaspooning consists of adding a little bit of another distillery’s whisky to a cask of single malt whisky. Ostensibly this is done so the cask cannot be sold or bottled as single malt whisky because it now contains single malts from two distilleries. So…for example, say a big company, let’s call it Grant Wilma & Daughters, owns two distilleries – Glen Helheim and Inexorable Park. Throughout the warehouses of these two distilleries, there’s bound to be a few casks that just did work out. The whisky is perhaps not bad, but it strays too far from the house style and is too anomalous for the company to use or to want to slap the distillery’s name on it. Then let’s say an independent bottler comes to Glen Helheim looking to buy casks. They’re not necessarily worried about selling a distillery name, they’re more concerned with selling a unique whisky, or possibly creating a special blend. They decide to buy a teaspooned cask, an oddball Glen Helheim which has a bit of Inexorable Park added to it, thereby nullifying it as a Glen Helheim single malt. The independent bottler might pay a lower price for a cask like this than they would for a certified 12 year old Glen Helheim, but they also do not have the built-in distillery name recognition that might help with sales.
That’s a simplified version of teaspooning. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how practical and a little silly the idea is. I’ve both read and personally talked to industry people who have assured me that teaspooning happens quite a bit and is an important practice for the world of independent bottling. Then again, I’ve both read and personally talked to industry people who are skeptical as to whether or not the practice even exists…a minority opinion, but still. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if teaspooning is actually happening or not. In a sense, teaspooning is roughly a non-disclosure contract, a way for distilleries to sell off oddball casks and keep their name off the label at the same time. With distilleries currently keeping a tighter reign on stocks, teaspooning keeps an avenue open for independent bottlers to buy whisky. But is the practice actually necessary? Couldn’t one just sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep the distillery name hidden? After all, you’d never be able to taste the addition of such a small amount of whisky added, and I’ve not heard of any official oversight in the matter. Would it be possible to just say a cask has been teaspooned without it actually being so? Hell, maybe there’s some secret teaspooning ceremony in which hooded distillery masters take turns pouring small amounts of whisky into casks with quaichs made with feline calvaria, after which the casks are rolled away by nubile women dressed in gauzy attire. That seems unlikely…potentially awesome, but unlikely.
I mention this whole teaspooning thing because the The Exclusive Malts 1999 North Highland 14 Year Old reviewed here did not come from the North Highland Distillery. There is no North Highland Distillery. It is a single malt whisky, but The Creative Whisky Co. has purposely chosen to not disclose the distillery responsible for making the stuff. A small amount of poking around the interwebs turns up several assertions that it is indeed Glenmorangie whisky, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. Might this be an example of a teaspooned cask? Maybe, but again, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a single malt whisky from an undisclosed Highland region distillery, aged for 14 years in an ex-bourbon cask, and bottled at cask strength.
The Nose: If it is Glenmorangie, there’s slightly more rugged nose than I usually associate with the distillery. Along with lots of floral clover honey, there’s vanilla bean ice cream and apricots, both juicy and dried (go figure). Subtle hints of cocoa nibs and much bigger hints of old, dried oak chips, and a wisp of slightly mineral, wet stone give a little earthy balance. There are fairly zippy spice notes of ginger powder, peppercorns, and clove. Adding water adds a bit more ruggedness, toning down the sweetness and bringing out more earthy spice and subtle minerality.
The Palate: A nice, lively, honey-filled sweetness carries through much of the palate, with additional early notes of juicy orange, vanilla syrup, and tinned fruit cocktail. A building wave of complex oak and increasingly drying, tannic spice rolls in, more old dry oak plus fresh-sawn wood, un-sweetened chocolate, cinnamon, candied ginger, white pepper, and lots clove towards the end. Water very nicely calms that wave of spice and wood.
The Finish: Medium length with the sweeter honeyed elements vanishing first, leaving dusty cocoa, clove, oak, and pepper to wrap things up.
Thoughts: Very enjoyable. If this is Glenmorangie, I wouldn’t say it has a classic Glenmorangie profile, but it’s not far off. It’s missing some of the fruit, the stone fruit, that I usually associate with the distillery, but it does have that lightly rugged and mineral, yet elegant and honeyed quality you often see in younger expressions. I very much enjoyed this at strength, at least until the end when things got a little too tannic and dry, but even then there was a complexity to keep things interesting. While I preferred the nose neat, water definitely helped the palate – especially towards the end – be more approachable. A nice whisky, certainly an interesting one for Glenmorangie fans…if it is Glenmorangie. Recommended.
The Exclusive Malts 1999 North Highland 14 Year Old, Highland (North, I guess), IB +/-2013