By Richard Thomas
With its Single Cask line, Wemyss Malts moved well beyond the usual purview of the artisanal whiskey-maker. Companies like Wemyss are not distilleries, and therefore do not make their own whiskey. Instead, they select and purchase premium whiskey from the distilleries, and use these to make their own blends for sale. Since the core of what a “negociant” like Wemyss does is blended whiskey of one type or another, the idea of bottling a Single Cask line is two full steps beyond the norm, and the 14 Year Old Highland scotch is the youngest expression in that line.
I say “two full steps” because single cask also means single malt, and neither is typical of a whiskey-maker like Wemyss. Single malts are usually released by the distillery, and bear the distillery’s name, so it’s rare for a whiskey blender like Wemyss to get in on the single malt act. Single cask, or single barrel, whiskey is uncommon for the scotch-making industry as a whole, nevermind a blend-maker like Wemyss.
Keeping all this in mind, it was with curiosity and a sense of novelty that I approached the 14 Year Old Highland, or “A Day at the Coast” as Wemyss also calls it. That anticipation wasn’t disappointed.
“A Day at the Coast” comes from Clynelish Distillery (a major contributor to Johnnie Walker Gold Label), was distilled in 1997, and bottled in August 2011. The scotch is a limited edition, and only 354 bottles were released. The source distillery also sells a 14 year old single malt, but according to Wemyss there is no connection between the whiskey in their Highland Single Cask and Clynelish Distillery’s single malt, and the aging statement is just a coincidence.
The appearance of the 14 Year Old Single Cask is typical of Wemyss: a squat, rounded clear glass bottle bearing a label that looks like what one might find wrapped around artisanal goat’s milk soap at a posh farmer’s market. That look doesn’t detract from Wemyss at all, not in my opinion, because it suggests a homemade product made with the greatest of expertise and care. In my book, that is what “aristanal” is all about. The 14 Year Old Highland is bottled at 46% alcohol.
In the glass, this scotch has a fairly middling scotch color, that of the yellow straw look of a full-bodied white wine. “A Day in the Coast” is an appropriate name, as the nose starts by imparting the crisp scent of sea spray. Underneath that is the vibrant sweetness of apples, along with some low-lying musty and woody notes.
That character undergoes a marked change on the palate, with the wood supplanting the salty sea breeze, but mixing well with a foundation of vanilla and apple pie sweetness. The scotch also carries notes of peatiness, and has a noticeable, but not overpowering spicy bite to it, producing a flavor that is well-balanced. A splash of water supposedly brings out the sea spray more strongly, but with only a 5 cl sample to work with, I was unable to try that. The finish is warm and has an earthy, musty aftertaste, and carries for a middling length of time.
Despite the rarefied single barrel designation, “A Day at the Coast” is pleasant and unpretentious sipping whiskey. It’s easy to imagine sitting on a balcony, looking out over the ocean in the cool, damp air of an early spring or late autumn seaside holiday, and enjoying the way this stuff mixes with the environment while keeping you nice and toasty.
If you can find it, the Wemyss 14 Year Old Highland has a recommended price of $103.99