On Location: Cut Your Wolf Loose

It’s fair to say the last three weeks haven’t been my best. Tonight, however, is an opportunity to let my hair down. It’s time for SWAG’s third physical meet. Today we are visiting the very recently opened Cut Your Wolf Loose [CYWL] in my home town of Brighton. Described as ‘an institution for the modern day whisky drinker with hundreds of whiskies to try by the glass, a stunning selection of single cask bottles to buy,…‘ [cywl.com], importantly, CYWL is NOT a pub!

CYWL is the brainchild of Sebastian Woolf, aka The Artful Dodger and owner of woolfedrinks.com [and not Jake Sharpe, aka The Whisky Baron and owner of ooshkie.com !!!!]. Previously Trafalgar Wines, CYWL is situated next to Brighton’s famous vinyl [and book] shop, Wax Factor [info]. From the outside, CYWL rather resembles vape shop. Perhaps for the unsuspecting, it might initially seems like a vape shop from the inside too – not that I’ve ever stepped inside one. Funky and contemporary, CYWL is a world apart from more traditional whisky venues [wood-clad, Chesterfields,.. etc.]. Being a very visual experience, all the available bottles for purchase [by the dram or otherwise] are on view, though [iPad] menus might play a crucial part when the place is busy. On the other hand, leaning over people to peruse & point to bottles will certainly generate conversation, and there’s no chattier or friendlier folk than whisky enthusiasts. Paul is the first to welcome us and assist us with first orders.

Whilst a few of us start with the 8yo Ben Nevis at a modest [oh, there’s no abv stated on the hand-written bottle], Toby & co. begin with the 3yo Ben Nevis at a whooping 67.8%. That’s some sighter that attracts amusement, but as it turns out, it’s one of the highlights of the night. By the time we’ve all left the building, half the bottle has been consumed.

We head downstairs to the basement with our individual goodies. Let this session commence!

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Ben Nevis 2013/2021 8yo CYWL Single cask hogshead abv unstated

Dist: 07/12/13 bottled: 25/08/21. These hand-labelled bar releases are cask-evolution bottles. Next year, we’ll get to try this as a 9 year old, so on & so on until the cask is empty.

  • N: With an apt Nevis-y clean-filthy eggy/lactose raisin-sweetness, I name this one a ‘fruit salad omelette’.
  • T: Sugary & raisin-y light sweetness once again. Adding water appears not to do a great deal.
  • F: Clean chocolate-y/malty spirit-faithful conclusion.
  • C: Very good whisky with zero issues, though there’s a promising feeling there’ll be even more reward from extra time in the oven. This could be a belter at 15+. 

Scores 85 points

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Dornoch 2017/2020 3yo Ob. cask #001 [btl #460/893] 59.4% [50cl] WB84.77[54] WF[1]88 WF[2]88

I’m pleased to be able to try Dornoch’s inaugural juice at last. I’ve been very open about the fact that – because of the [C19] ‘situation’ – I was forced to sell my [crowd-funder] bottle to pay the bills. I’m most grateful that Phil & Simon were gracious & respectful about it too.

  • N: This is different [not least to Ben Nevis], though vaguely reminiscent of some early cask samples from Spirit of Yorkshire [compliments of Joe, at Dramboree: WLP], and indeed early-output Strathearn when Tony was at the helm and experimenting with different oaks and wood types [WLP]. I find it most reminiscent, however, of Smogen’s cask #P1 which was cognac like and used French oak [WB]. Blind, I might be thinking this as a cognac < armagnac, given all that [first fill ex-oloroso] grape action. The nose is abundant with raisins & sultanas, toffee, butterscotch, some complex liqueurs,… lot’s here. Everyone chips in with suggestions. I’m not sure I have the culinary experience to describe it so well.
  • T: More armagnac-y grape-y [exotic toffee & butterscotch] vibes from that ‘rawr’ cask, yet everything is in check. With moreish offerings, a [50cl] bottle would vanish in no time.
  • F: Travel-wise, it rolls and rolls with chocolate to finish and a lingering cask-dry freshness.
  • C: The best 3yo I’ve tried in this modern era? Better than Chichibu [I’ve tried], yep. Kornog matches it [WLP87], whilst an irregular/sporadic Teeling pips it [WLP88] on its day. Sorry Bimber, not even close. Bravo bros!

Scores 87 points

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Now [more than] two drams in, aptitude and absurdity begins in earnest. It’s what makes the Sussex Whisky Appreciation Group the gem it is – substance and silliness in good measure. CM about CR, delivers the line: ‘Worst Jimmy Krankie impression, ever’, which sets us all off.

Back at the bar, I plumb for the 6yo Indiana bourbon which some have recommended, others not so. Indeed it’s been divisive, says Lee, before offering me a free pour of the young strong Ben Nevis! 

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Ben Nevis 2017/2021 3yo CYWL American oak barrique 67.8%

Dist: 21/11/17 bottled: 25/08/21

  • N: Surprisingly complex for a 3yo. So much so, I initially thought it was the [+/-] 22yo CYWL have also. Richer with water, there’s a decent barrique at work here. 
  • T: Delicious and perfect at cask strength, and similar in nature to a 4yo Loch Lomond I’ve been loving [report to follow]. Despite the abv, incredibly, no water is required. It becomes fizzy with water, dying down slightly with a little more.
  • F: On-point Nevis finish with a farmy touch.
  • C: Seemingly more complex than the 8yo. Rightly popular.

Scores 86 points

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Bar chat reveals Seb’s [not Jake’s!!] £4.5 million investment in casks [et al] of which he has amassed between 800-1000. Yum yum, so much more to come! With more goodies in hand, we move outside to the ‘smoking area’.

Indiana Bourbon 2015/2021 6yo CYWL Single barrel 58%

Dist: 29/02/15, bottled: 25/08/21. The hunch is it’s from MGP in Indiana, but no one is certain.

  • N: With Overholt vibes, that’s bourbon [rye] all right, with a fruity [Dalmore-esque] bouquet.
  • T: Not sure whether I prefer this neat or not. More waxy with water, the orange peel continues, even if overall it never quite fires on all cylinders.
  • F: Lactose-y, dried herbs etc,… before the fruity [Shreddies] sweetness rallies once again – especially after Wayne’s Caperdonich [to follow].
  • C: Whilst slightly overwhelming neat, it stalls somewhat with water, so I’m on the fence with this one.

[Provisionally scores 84 points]

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Caperdonich 1988/2021 26yo CYWL Single cask hogshead 60.2%

Dist: 13/06/1988 bottled: 25/08/21.

  • N: A free snifter from Wayne reveals an old skool charmer. Not sure I’ll ever get bored of these fusty runny honeyed oldies, especially when there’s zero [over] woodiness but deep-layered spirit-cradled maturation.
  • T&F: Savoury-sweet n sour,….. into yet more [light] runny honey.
  • C: Simple and classy. From my rather limited experience of whisky from this closed distillery, this is archetypal Caperdonich.

Scores 88 points

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More jokes ensue. Here’s a family-friendly one:

  • Why do divers always fall backwards into the water from the boat?
  • Because if they fell forward, they’d still be in the boat.

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Deanston 2009/2021 12yo CYWL Single cask hogshead 65.5%

Dist: 31/03/2009 bottled: 25/08/21

  • N: Honey, toasted nuttiness [pistachio skins], a touch of butterscotch, a small slice of banana through the lactose [a common theme today], toasted vanilla pods,… lemonade. There is a slight [toasted/congealed] off-note, but it’s not overly troublesome.
  • T&F: Nice if a little fizzy/punchy, we’ve a light maltiness on the palate with an edgy sourness before the honey returns – but not before many pepper [corn[ types.
  • C: A single cask expression that reflects well on official [12yo] Deanston, one that stylistically, wouldn’t be out of place in the Flora n Fauna series.

Scores 83 points

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It’s time for the Swaggers to depart. The majority of us continue on to the Great Eastern [for Guinness and mezcal no less], once renowned for its extensive whisky selection – by pub standards. Based on the same street, CYWL easily takes over the ‘best whisky establishment in Brighton [and beyond]’ mantle. It’s a must-visit for malt-heads and the curious alike and just what Brighton needs to kick the whisky community down here, back into life.

I ponder how many times I might visit in a year. As a regular, that may depend on the turnaround/rotation of CYWL’s more affordable expressions. Budget-dependant, I might quickly exhaust those affordable and ongoing living cask bottlings with regular visits, leaving then only the significantly pricier older & rarer malts. Perhaps CYWL will introduce a monthly outturn night in the style of, if not scale of, the SMWS? On the other hand, perhaps once a month I’d go in and treat myself to something special, nursing it for a couple of hours whilst catching up on the whisky community news & views.

Frankly, I see myself visiting again before the month is out. One can always go in just for a beer and a chaser. Cut Your Wolf Loose is THE place to talk all things whisky, the place to introduce friends to the joys of single malt, and hook up with the community that makes this liquid gold flourish. Furthermore, it would seem an ideal place to host club tastings for SWAG,… and even Malt n Copper?

With thanks to Lee & Viv [pictured above] and Paul, who did us proud. They make this a place that everyone will enjoy. Be seeing you soon!

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