By Richard Thomas
The blended whisky Usquaebach dates back to 1877, but it is perhaps more identified with using ceramic bottles for regular Old Rare Superior release than it’s antiquity. Still, old the brand is, and it has been almost a quarter century since a new expression came out under the Usquaebach name.
That drought is now over with the release of Usquaebach An Ard Ri, the later a Gaelic term meaning “The High King.” Unfortunately, An Ard Ri is a limited edition, and not a regular release, but that isn’t altogether surprising considering the backstory behind An Ard Ri. Master Blender Stewart H. Laing tapped a range of 10 to 21 year old casks from his personal collection to create this blend, embracing Inchgower, Benrinnes, Craigellachie, Glengoyne, Diluaine, Blair Athol and Auchroisk malts (to name just some of the constituent stock drawn upon). The resulting blend was bottled at cask strength (57.1% ABV) and yielded enough for 2,000 bottles, these being blue and gold ceramic flagons.
The color runs in a thicker, darker vein of gold. The liquid coat on the glass drops few legs, and those are heavy and thick.
The scent here is malted graininess at its core, with the marks of a leather tobacco pouch and marzipan hanging off it. The flavor opens with a mixture of honey and brown sugar before adding a little burnt orange zest, and then on comes a wave of dry peppermint on the backside. This continues off into the finish, but as the peppery mint winds down a very modest hint of pipe tobacco rises to meet it.
The warmth, as one might expect from a Scotch in the upper 50s ABV, lingers on for several minutes, but remains fairly modest for that whole stretch of time. At no time is this whisky hot. If you want to add water, go right on ahead, but it’s not actually required.
This is quite a nice Blended Scotch. It is silky rather than delicate, and that allows the cask strength to carry over some strong flavors while retaining plenty of sophistication. It’s definitely on that line where you might be tempted to neglect your friends in favor of contemplating the contents your whisky glass instead.
A 750 ml flagon of Usquaebach An Ard Ri should cost $200.