I spent some time over the last five days sampling the most recent of our new casks with friends, fellow whisky enthusiasts, and a few familiar customers. The arrival of five new K&L whiskies (with another due tomorrow) has been very exciting for us, especially seeing that neither David OG nor I have tasted these whiskies since last April. What I realized for certain after drinking these special malts again was that we truly have gathered together a collection of whiskies linked by the common thread of individuality.
Here's what I mean: if five months from now, after most of these whiskies have probably sold out, you were to come into the store and say, "Hey David, remember that Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc cask you guys had? What else do you have that tastes like that?" I would likely stand there, stare blankly at you, turn and stare blankly at the liquor shelf, and then say, "Nothing." There is literally nothing that tastes like this new Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc single malt. There's nothing this salty, this savory, or even with this type of fruit. Some of the people who tried it looked at me dumbfounded afterward. Others immediately put in an order for multiple bottles. Regardless of their personal opinion regarding taste or quality, everyone agreed that they had never experienced a whisky like that before.
The new Faultline Littlemill 21 year release was no different. "What's that flavor I'm getting?" was the response from about five different test subjects. Lowland whiskies seem to soak up Bourbon casks almost like Cognac does, so there's a little bit of that caramel thing going on, but then there's this fruity and savory note that comes out of nowhere with a hint of peat that ruins any brandy comparisons. Same thing goes for the Littlemill as for the Bruichladdich - there's nothing else we have or have ever had that tastes similar to this whisky. The closest I could come would be the 37 year Ladyburn cask we imported earlier this year, but that wouldn't be really the same.
Even the Glendronach 16 year PX cask we just received is truly without peers. An atavistic malt that definitely harkens back to the old school of Speyside, but never really fits in with the crowd. There's too much earth and rancio flavor happening on the palate to compare with the likes of Macallan or even Glenfarclas. There's too much power to compare it with something even as strong as A'Bunadh from Aberlour. Again the question - if you were to ask me what else tastes like this cask I would probably say: "Imagine Glendronach 12, but older, more leathery, with tons of pop and way more going on." There are too many "buts" in that sentence to make a solid link to another malt.
Is it normally easy to compare one malt to another? Yes and no. When I'm talking about comparisons, I'm speaking from a sales point of view - my job is to help someone who likes one particular malt find another that he or she likes. For example, when a guy came in last week and said he loved the Springbank 9 year Sauternes cask we had a while back, I recommended the new Springbank 14 year Madeira cask we have and the Glenmorangie Nectar d' Or. Both were solid choices and he wrote me an email to let me know how much he was enjoying them. If someone likes Macallan 12, I'll give them Glendronach 12. If someone likes Lagavulin 16, I'll give them Ardbeg Corryvreckan. None of those recommendations are identical, but they're along the same lines.
However, if someone comes back and says, "David, what do you have that tastes like the Ben Nevis Octave cask you imported earlier this year?" then I'm stuck. The whole reason we selected these casks in the first place is because they stand out from the rest of the whisky shelf. They're synonymous with nothing. They're completely unique.