When we created the Faultline program nearly 10 years ago, we were one of the only retailers in the States scouring Scotland’s warehouses to find those hidden gems for our loyal customers. It was clear even back then that if we relied on our suppliers to select casks for us, finding true winners would be little more than a game of chance. We visited nearly every bottler in Scotland to examine the wares and negotiate pricing and those who remember the good old days know that it worked out pretty well. But, the days of finding a treasure in some far flung-shed seem to be behind us. There’s still plenty of whisky available, but price and politics have always gotten in our way. Increasing world demand, supplier savvy, and general market maturation have limited our access. We’re still able to offer wonderful casks from our great suppliers – Old Particular, Old Malt Cask, Sovereign, Hepburn’s Choice, and a handful of committed distillers – but finding casks free to bottle under our own label has been next to impossible.
As things change, you are forced to adapt. That’s why this story is so interesting. You may have known about the Alexander Murray Company if you’re into Scotch. They’ve become famous for bottling store brands for some of the biggest retail outlets in the country. They’ve been a value player from the start – producing an incredible array of bottlings for unbelievable prices. Their focus on the mass market has been a point of contention for some of our aficionados, as a significant amount of their stocks are bottled at 80 proof and colored for consistency (that’s pretty standard throughout the Scotch production).
They DO NOT generally bottle single casks, but are in the upper tier of the distiller-broker-blender-bottler loop. That means they have access. They move a lot of juice and I guarantee they’ve made more than one Scottish person wealthy doing so. I’ve always had a great relationship with the owners, as customers and general Scotch-lovers, so when they came to me with a list of casks, I took note. In fact, they nearly took me off my feet. Old sherried whisky? How? These must be outrageously priced. And they were. “What do you think you should pay?” he responded. That is a great way to get something sold by the way…
I’m not sure if they’re cost averaging these ridiculously rare and delicious single casks with their larger bulk business or if they’re buying at such a high level that they’re legitimately looking at commodity-level cost basis, but they’ve been able to deliver on the promise (after nearly a year in the works) of supplying us with cask strength single cask single malt at absolutely outrageous prices. A significant portion has sold to the clever few in the past week and an email goes out today, but there will be few casks more valuable available this year, so don’t sit on your hands.
This incredible collaboration between Alexander Murray and K&L is part of the first batch of Faultline casks we've had in years. There are a couple of factors that qualify a cask for inclusion in this special program. The casks must be absolutely exceptional, and they must represent the best possible value for our customers. As the whisky boom has continued to explode across the world, fewer sources are available and scarcity means higher prices. The great casks we find are less likely to be made available to us under our own brand as our suppliers want credit for great casks under their own labels. That's why this find is so incredible. Ben Nevis is an unbelievably good distillery that is unfortunately NOT regularly available in the US. It's located on the western coast of Scotland in the town of Fort Williams, and the owners are Japanese, which means that's where the whisky goes. This gorgeous old hogshead, filled once previously, was fashioned from American oak and shows all the great texture and depth we'd expect from Ben Nevis, although with none of the saltpeter or sulfur that is sometimes present in their heady distillate. Pungent and almost extreme, the nose is a concentrated particle beam of fruit and malt flavor. This cask is all about freshness, maturity, and balance. While it may not be as showy as the others on paper, the absolute purity of the aromatics and the unrelenting energy of this malt will leave a lasting impression on anyone lucky enough to procure one.
We almost never see Mortlach available for sale by the cask in Scotland. If we do it's almost certainly in a third or fourth fill barrel and almost certainly young and expensive. Even the underwhelming NAS bottling from the distillery still costs $100. Why is it so expensive and hard to get? That answer starts with a J and ends with a Walker. There's just too much money in that special blend to let these casks out of the system. When they do make it out, there's usually a reason. On the rarest of occasions, likely the result some fortuitous clerical error or bad bets by a London executive, we might happen across something like this. Two decades old Mortlach always raise eyebrows around here. Tell me it's been aged in a fresh sherry butt, can be sold for around $100, and tastes amazing? I'm looking like a Vince McMahon Reaction meme -almost a wrestling reference. Even more exciting is that it truly is Mortlach for the masses. Sometimes the beefy gnarly quality of the distillery, the result of an unusual multi-still distillation process, can overwhelm the uninitiated. This cask, however, is so fun and forgiving with all that wonderful Mortlach meat playing second fiddle to the dense sherry and dark malt flavors. There's no question that this is going to be the cask, among all our recent Faultline releases to consider stocking deep. It's very unlikely that we'll ever see value and quality converging quite like this again. Let's all pray that we can keep pulling casks this good.
We've had an incredible set of old Bunnahabhains over the last two years. This isn't our first Bunnah under the Faultline label, that was released in 2013 and was a steal for $100. We've bottled Milroys, Hepburns, Exclusive Malts, and multiple Old Particulars in the last few seasons. The sale of the distillery a few years ago has certainly sparked some house cleaning at the gorgeous old distillery in the cove north of Port Askaig. While we've had many exemplary old offerings from this special distillery, none represent quite as much value as this special cask. 1989 was an unusual year for Bunnahabhain. Something unusual happened that year, as a significant number of old casks from the vintage have turned out malt whisky at considerably lower proof than is typical. Perhaps they'd procured an excess number of casks that vintage and decided to fill at lower proof or maybe all the stuff we're seeing today was stored in EXTREMELY humid conditions, thereby encouraging the evaporation at a higher rate. We may never know why these whiskies are so different from other vintages, but its obvious after tasting several that something special was going on. The heights achieved here are totally unique and deliver an experience unlike any other. Fill that into a fresh sherry hogshead and you've got what is likely one of the most interesting cask we've ever bottled. What's even more incredible is that the "Bunnahabhaininess" still shines through after nearly decades. Oh and that price, dang.
We've always looked to make Faultline about providing exquisite values for our customers. This is the third Mortlach we've procured under the Faultline brand and the oldest to date. The last time we had Mortlach it was nearly the precise opposite style of this wild cask. Three years ago we found a 25-year-old Mortlach in a refill hoggie and bottled it at over 60% alcohol. If you're lucky, maybe you have that bottle in your cellar to compare to this one which is opposite in style in almost every way. Filled almost three decades ago into a fresh sherry hogshead, it must have been stored in an extremely humid warehouse since it's only 84 proof at full strength. This is real deal Mortlach with the savory beefy quality front and center. It's something like walking into an old wooden house, perfectly preserved antique leather furniture, mahogany cabinetry, and in the kitchen a great big pot of stew bubbles slowly on the stove. Inviting, warm, complex, and yet somehow familiar - there will be very few whiskies comparable to this one available this year and absolutely NONE anywhere near this ridiculous price point. We could probably sell this whisky for twice the price and still convince everyone that it's a steal. Though it's not as approachable and universally likeable as its younger sibling, some of our die hard customers will undoubtedly find this cask to be one of the finest we've ever procured.
We're off to scotland next to find more stuff. Keep an eye on the blog for updates...