Sincere thanks to JA and Usquaebach for the sample.
Obviously, the most striking thing about Usquaebach’s Old Rare Blended Scotch Whisky is the ceramic flagon that the whisky is sold in. One sees quite a few glass bottles on liquor store shelves, but flagons…not so much. The word “flagon”, of course, is derived from the 15th century Middle French flacon meaning “large bottle for wine or liquor”, and the 14th century Old French flascon meaning “small bottle”. And as we all know, those French, Old and Middle, got their flascons and flacons from the Latin flasco, meaning, simply, “bottle”. Usquaebach’s appears to be a pretty good looking flagon, though, to be fair, my experience with flagons is quite limited. There is, however, one piece of information on the bottle, sorry, flagon, that’s a little confusing. The line “Over 225 years of Tradition” strikes me as a little vague and random. I can’t figure out what 225 year tradition they’re talking about. According to Usaquaebach’s website, the original owners of the Usquaebach brand, Ross & Cameron, didn’t start selling their own whiskies until 1800 (215 years ago) and didn’t launch the Usquaebach brand until 1877 (138 years ago). Perhaps it means over 225 years of Scotch whisky making tradition, though that would seem a bit of safe hedge as whisky-making has been happening in Scotland for well over 225 years. Perhaps it alludes to flagon use in general though Romans were tossing flasconem around close to two thousand years prior. Perhaps 225 years refers to when most flagon-makers (flagoners? flagonists?) moved on from the bulky, ham-fisted, and often leaky Stone-Campbell design and began producing flagons in the far more elegant, smartly practical High Lamont style*.
All this talk of flagons is neither hear nor there. Though, as I mentioned before, the most unique thing about this whisky is the flagon, so there you have it. The whisky inside the flagon is a blended one, with a very high proportion of single malts (85%) to grain (15%). While there is no age statement, the company line states that 41 Highland malts, up to 20 years old, have been used to create the blend.
The Nose: A rather young-seeming, straightforward, traditional blended nose with a bit of everything. There’s honey, malt syrup, and juicy sweet citrus initially with a little toasted barley and vanilla bean behind. Further back, there’s a subtle bit of youthful rancio, dried grass, and sawn wood…though not necessarily oak. Sweet cinnamon and candied ginger provide a bit of spice, and I’d swear there was the faintest whiff of dry woodsmoke in there as well. I say “young-seeming” because there’s solvent-y quality tucked in the background as well.
The Palate: Quickly more robust than the nose lets on. A brown sugar sweetness has a tropical, almost Juicy Fruit quality to it that carries on throughout most of the palate. More toasted grain, and some semi-sweet chocolate and vanilla bean lead to more prevalent oak than the nose. Slightly edgy green spice wells up towards to finish; cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, ginger, a little clove, and fine ground pepper.
The Finish: Just long enough, with more caramel-y, fruity sweetness, chocolate, and sharp, earthy spice. That subtle impression of smoke sneaks in at the last.
Thoughts: A decent, somewhat old-school blend, though also my least favorite of the three Usquaebach whiskies. While there may be some older malts in here, I’d guess the majority is younger whisky. The solvent tones on the nose and rough edges of the palate would seem to indicate that. I enjoyed this, it’s certainly a step up from many of the more ubiquitous, $20-$30 bigger name blends, but in no way does it justify the high $130 price tag. I suppose you also get the ceramic flagon, but that ends up being one pricey flagon.
*I made that last bit up.