The Whisky Illuminati

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Imagine crossing the Freemasons with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Secret handshakes, passwords and symbols, single cask whisky and a new world order. Well, maybe not that last bit, but there’s certainly some single cask whisky involved and you’ll need to create a password when signing up on the Whisky Illuminati’s website. It’s a bit of a stretch, I agree, but this new independent bottler, set up by Keith Bonnington (formerly of Edrington) and digital marketing entrepreneur, Stephen Gorman, has set itself apart from most other indies (SMWS aside) by only selling its single cask releases to those who are members of their website. I must stress, it’s free to sign up – there’s no membership fee – which kinda begs the question… why create all this air of mystery and exclusivity when anyone with a computer, an email address and half a brain can join?

Regardless, they have set their stall out with four single cask releases which, at least on paper, sound rather exciting. This ‘Candlelight Series’, according to the press release, consists of “rare and exquisite whisky that not only offers superior taste, but provides a sound investment opportunity”. Now, the whisky may well be cracking stuff… but is a 20yo Glentauchers really ‘a sound investment opportunity’, particularly when it’ll set you back £270 a bottle? You can make your own minds up about that one.

The Whisky Illuminati’s inaugural releases consist of a 19yo Mortlach, a 19yo Linkwood, a 20yo Glentauchers and a 20yo Clynelish. By the looks of things in the ‘Members Vault’ part of their website (yip, I signed up), these are soon to be followed up with more single cask releases under the ‘Alba Series’ umbrella; four single grain whiskies aged between 24 and 28 years old. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s first take a look at the Candlelight Series.

Glentauchers 1997 20yo
American Oak Barrel #3844
150 bottles
50.3% ABV
£270 here

Nose: Lemon, pressed flowers, fresh laundry, Dolly Mixtures, marshmallows, coconut flakes and pineapple cupcakes. Very light and inviting. There’s some vanilla fudge and caramel too along with some white pepper and sandalwood.

Palate: More of the same; jasmine, elderflower, angelica, lemon drizzle cake, apricot jam, almond oil, and buttery cinnamon swirls.

Finish: Soft, sweet citrus, and some sandalwood.

Linkwood 1998 19yo
American Oak Hogshead #10926
269 bottles
58.5% ABV
£260 here

Nose: Really quite tropical, with black banana, fresh pineapple, lychee, lime zest, orange blossom, and passionfruit. Then some vanilla icing, rapeseed, tinned peaches in syrup and an oily, floral note.

Palate: Guava, mango, melon, poached pears and apricots, and lemon sherbet give it a very juice start. Then white flowers, candy floss, Danish pastries, and some glazed walnuts.

Finish: Baking spices, some grippy oak and touch of raisins.

Clynelish 1997 20yo
American Oak Hogshead #6921
251 bottles
55.3% ABV
£270 here

Nose: Really very clean to begin – coastal air and sea spray, faint lemon, and some vanilla. It’s almost a bit shy. Some gorse and bracken note provide a herbal element, along with Cherry Bakewells, some chalk and faint orchard fruits.

Palate: Trademark waxy texture, with apple skins, vanilla candles, orange oils, bannoffee pie, marzipan, uncooked cake mix (there’s a slight savoury edge) and a clean mineral note.

Finish: Some charred twigs, silky citrus sweetness and some clean, coastal notes.

Mortlach 1998 19yo
European Oak Sherry Butt #3657
476 bottles
56.9% ABV
£260 here

Nose: A little menthol and mint to begin. Then classic big sherry notes of prunes, dates, old leather, mahogany, rum soaked raisins, dark treacle, warm rubber, sweet earthy notes, liquorice, blackberry, dried cranberries, sticky ribs and a whack of cloves. Big and bold.

Palate: Loads of dried fruits, with dark chocolate, cinnamon, dunnage warehouse, praline, truffle oil, spiced onion chutney and molasses. There’s a wee touch of sulphur here too, with copper coins, and burnt caramel.

Finish: Long, with dried fruit mix, espresso, chocolate and cask char.

Overall: Four wonderful single casks. The Clynelish maybe didn’t quite live up to my expectations but the other three are great, old whiskies. Balanced, complex, layered, enticing, and, ultimately, thoroughly enjoyable. The guys at the Whisky Illuminati clearly have access to some fantastic casks and I can’t wait to see what they bottle in the future. The price remains a sticking point though – cask strength bottlings from these distilleries at similar ages from the likes of Signatory and SMWS are available for much less. Nevertheless, based solely on the liquid, these releases are stellar. Great stuff.

 

 

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