North British is a grain distillery owned by Edrington Group and Diageo, and provides the bulk grain whisky to the two big Edrington blends (Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark) as well as J&B rare and JW black for Diageo. Most of this whisky arrives for bottling in tankers – production of blended whisky on this scale and price point is an significant, industrial operation. But a high level of care is still taken to make good whisky. Cutty Sark is becoming a firm favourite of mine – it’s frequently in highballs and Glencairns chez Cops.
Lots of the grain whisky that’s produced by North British leaves in tankers after three years in cask, but in order to make old blended whisky, you need old grain whisky. So while the best casks don’t typically make it into the big grain distilleries (which can lead to some very old, not very interesting grain whisky, such as the recent Society G7.8), the single cask bottlings that escape are often pretty interesting.
So here’s a pair! The first is a single cask from BBR (intimately linked to Edrington through their ownership of the Glenrothes brand (but not the distillery) – also a big component of Cutty). This caught my eye because it’s quite young, and single grain bottlings are often quite old (and also because BBR intrigue me). Next is a North British Old Particular, part of a quartet that mark the first OP grains, released recently.
Nose - Ripe, stern and cakey. Red berries, a touch of bandage, hard wood and a woodworking file. On exhale there's kola cubes (remember, no cola) and a honeyed edge, like sesame snaps. Finally, a touch of bacon, swiney rather than smoky. This is rather strict, but somehow very refreshing and quite enjoyable.
Body - Plays a good wood, sour, vanilla game, right down the middle. Bright and feisty
Finish - Short but refreshing - clean and tart. Wood at the end.
What's not good about it - strict and simple. Quite a lot of youth still.
What's good about it - But refreshing and quite dangerously drinkable. When I first opened it I was quite disappointed but I am slowly learning that single grains take a while to open up.
Note that while this score, A, is pretty “low” from me, I find this a very drinkable, good value bottle of whisky – lots of fun and interesting. I would definitely recommend this.
Cask 10797, refill hogshead. This is a typical Old Particular release – good for the long run but doesn’t blow the doors off at first. I think that’s right.
Body - Oddly compelling - sweet and sour, I'm reminded of dandelion stalks for some reason? That savoury note makes it very drinkable again - rich and meaty but light and herbal.
Finish - Long with a bright, sour note at the top of the palate, like vinegar (but it's not acetic at all). Well balanced throughout.
What's not good about it - Odd stuff - it's how I imagine an un-smoked mezcal might taste.
What's good about it - Very interesting though, and extremely drinkable - both of these are but this is the more interesting. I could see myself enjoying a bottle of this.