By Richard Thomas
Vatted malts made by small artisans are one of the many trendy fixtures of international whiskey today, alongside high-end, no-aging statement single malts; wine and port barrel-finished bourbon; American malts; and micro-distilleries. These are sometimes referred to as “blended malts,” but I prefer the old terminology, as it emphasizes the distinction between an all-malt blend and a blended scotch, which is a malt and grain blend. Either way, this style of scotch had been around for a long time when John Glaser at Compass Box started producing finely crafted vatted malts, kicking off the trend. If Compass Box has any real competition in this field, it comes from Wemyss Malts, and the Spice King 8 Year Old is a good example of why.
The Spice King is bottled at 40% abv, and like the entire Wemyss vatted malt line, comes in a squat, rounded clear glass bottle with a label that always reminds me of nothing quite so much as what one might expect to see at an expensive farmer’s market. The vatting has an emphasis on Island malts.
The whiskey has the golden color of mid-bodied, rich honey. I found the nose to be thick and syrupy. There is certainly a tinge of ginger spice there, but it certainly doesn’t dominate the other notes: malty and sugary sweetness, peat smoke, a little bit of mustiness, and a touch of wood. The thing that struck me the most about the nose is that it manages to pull off being heavy and subtle at the same time.
The flavor continues in that vein. It has a mellow, silky texture that imparts clear, distinct flavors. The ginger spice is there again, as is the woody note, all on a base of raw sugar and caramel. However, I thought the main aspect of the flavor was its mild smokiness, and not any peppery kick. The finish is a long, lingering one. Smoky throughout, it begins on the woody note and winds down into full-blown pepper spice. Even so, it remains mellow, and that big, spicy kick at the end isn’t a burning one.
With a name like “Spice King,” you would expect this scotch to deliver big spicy flavors. It doesn’t. Instead, the scotch is a bit subtle and a bit complex, balancing its spicy side against the other strands in the whiskey, all in a pleasant, inviting ambiance. The big kick of spice doesn’t come along until the end, where it is very welcome and warming. It’s a marvelous scotch, especially for something so much on the young side.
The Spice King 8 Year Old is part of a line that is supposed to retail for $40 across the board, and at that price this stuff is a major bargain. However, I have seen it priced in the lower €40s in Europe, and for up to $55 in the United States. Remember that recommended retail price and shop around.
This vatted malt won a silver from the Beverage Tasting Institute, silver at the 2011 International Spirits Challenge, a five-star rating from CLASS magazine, and a silver from the 2010 The Spirit Business Travel Retail Masters Awards.