*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
The Scottish grain distillery Cambus was (yes, sadly, past tense…we’ll get to that) at one time, one of the largest distilleries in Scotland. It was probably a fairly modest little place when a man named John Moubray founded it in 1806 on the site of an old mill. In 1826, the original pot stills were replaced with patent stills designed by Robert Stein. Stein’s stills were inspired by Sir Anthony Perrier, an Irish distiller who developed one of the first continuous stills to be used commercially. A continuous still, as opposed to a more “traditional” pot still, lets the fermented wash flow…continuously through the heated, partitioned still, thereby efficiently increasing the amount of consumable spirit produced. Subsequently, Stein’s stills served as inspiration for another Irishman, Aeneas Coffey, who refined the continuous still even further, allowing for multiple distillations and higher proof spirits. It was Coffey’s stills that truly ignited not just whisky production but spirit production in general all over the western world.
I’ve digressed. A worthy digression but a digression nonetheless. Back at Cambus, Coffey stills replaced Stein stills in 1850. 27 successful years later, the founder’s son and now owner of Cambus, Robert Moubray, joined forces with five other powerful whisky-makers to form the mighty Distillers Company Ltd., which of course went on to be acquired by Guinness which eventually became United Distillers, and then the gargantuan corporate beast known today as Diageo. Cambus was expanded in 1882, and according to Alfred Barnard, was producing 900,000 gallons by 1885, which was a huge quantity for the time. A devastating fire in 1914 reduced the site to a grain malting and warehousing facility, but by 1937, new construction had Cambus up and running again…just in time for World War II shut it down. After the war, the distillery started up again and ran continuously until 1993 when it was closed down yet again. This time the closure was most likely for good; the distillery equipment has been removed, leaving just maturation warehouse operations on the site. At its recent peak, Cambus was producing approximately 20 million liters of alcohol per year. Presumably, it was closed because the output of Guinness’ other larger grain distilleries, Cameronbridge and Port Dundas, were easily producing enough to meet demand at that time.
These days, when you see a Cambus single grain whisky, you’re most likely seeing an independent bottling from the distillery’s finite dwindling stock. It’s always a treat to try something from a distillery that is no more. This 26 year old single cask bottling from The Exclusive Malts was distilled five years before Cambus closed and was matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead.
The Nose: A lot of rich sweetness and sweet richness. Sugar and fruit dominate with Amaretto, dark honey, and butterscotch along with bruised bananas and passion fruit. After that, some vanilla bean, and both freshly grated and toasted coconut and a hint of whole wheat bread. For 26 years, the wood is rather subdued on the nose, soft worn oak and buttered cinnamon bread. Not that it needs water, but adding a little tames the sweetness some and reveals some earthier, almost floral notes of unripe banana, wet linen, and subtle clove.
The Palate: Great googly-moogly that’s sweet stuff. A slightly airy, slightly syrupy mouthfeel opens with more caramel, honey and Amaretto, but instead of moving towards the less-sweet, more wood-influenced notes as whisky usually does, this actually continues to evolve and grow even more sweet. The fruit is now all sugared and syruped – banana in a banana split sundae and Juicy Fruit gum. Mid palate, there’s a mystifying, huge wave of just-short-of-cloying crème de cacao. As with the nose, the wood and spice are relatively subdued; lightly grippy oak, vanilla bean, a little cinnamon, a little nutmeg…all covered with crème de cacao. A bit of water definitely calms all that sweetness and manages to balance it with the wood and spice a bit more.
The Finish: Medium-ish, and, surprise, surprise…sweet. There’s more crème de cacao, mildly tannic oak, cinnamon, and vanilla bean. Just a hint of dark chocolate lingers as it all fades away.
Thoughts: I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is one of the strangest whiskies I’ve ever tasted. I’m also going to go out on a limb and admit to a deep fondness for sweet liqueurs. So with that in mind, yes, I liked this, at times quite a bit, but man it’s a weird one. The nose is sweet, but compared to the palate, it’s relatively normal. The palate though, that’s a different story. At times, I could’ve been fooled into believing I was drinking a flavored, under 40% ABV something or other. The nearly overwhelming hit of crème de cacao would’ve been overwhelming if I didn’t like crème de cacao. At strength, this is not a balanced whisky, a little water helps in that regard. That said, if you don’t mind your whisky on the sweet side, there is a certain kind of complexity here, and the sheer novelty of the flavor profile makes it worth trying. As for the bang-for-yer-buck, at around $180, it’s hard to say. Stocks of Cambus are not going to last forever and this is an older whisky, but it is an odd one. This one’s a tough call, I’m gonna go pour some crème de cacao over ice in a pint glass and think about it.
- MacLean, Charles. “Cambus.” Whiskypedia: A Compendium of Scottish Whisky. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub., 2010. 99-100. Print.
- Barnard, Alfred. “Cambus.” The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2008. 287-90Print.
- “Diageo.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.