In November , Sussex Whisky Appreciation Group hosted Mark & Kate Watt who presented Watt Whisky from the comfort of their living room.
The idea of becoming an independent bottler had always been a dream for Mark, who had thought the idea unfeasible in practice given the large scale operations of existing bottlers such as Duncan Taylor [of which Mark was Head of Sales] – 100s of casks per year. Mark and Kate hadn’t been thinking small enough!
With a scaled-down tailor-made vision, Mark & Kate registered Campbeltown Whisky Company [CWC] in December 2019. With over 40 years of whisky industry experience between them, respected by consumers and those in the industry, what – with a new baby on the way, Brexit looming, and the ‘C-ituation’ just around the corner – could possibly go wrong? Despite potential hurdles, a crowdfunding campaign in April 2020 was an overwhelming success. Given the Watt’s didn’t own a single cask at the time, they restricted the crowdfunding bottles to just 250. They sold out in hours and raised a grand total of £36,001 with 275 supporters in 28 days.
“We said we should never work together”, says Mark, who paints the picture of himself sitting on the dock, rocking the pram, whilst on the phone to a Japanese importer. “At the time” , “we weren’t sure how much Kate would input”. It’s 50/50.
With a concentration on single cask whisky at cask strength, unchill-filtered and with natural colour, according to the wattwhisky.com website, CWC ‘,…. bottled a total of 26 casks in the first year, covering single malt, blended malt, single grain, blend, rums and Indian whisky (our first non-scotch whisky) hoping to expand on our offering over time‘.
- Question: How do you see CWC expanding in the future?
- Answer: 35 casks have been bottled to date, “,… a reasonable amount”. To grow, we would have to double”, explains Mark. “That’s massive”. CWC is a family business, deliberately small scale = content [for now].
Let’s get started on the drams, shall we? Yes we shall.
This one’s done the rounds already [WLP85]. Let’s see how I find it today.
- N: Toasted cereals, Copydex [glue], lively woody vanillins, waxy desiccated coconut & coconut milk, vanilla & rosehip tea, raspberry jam on an almond-toasted croissants, figs & mascarpone,… In short, plenty to savour.
- T: On the palate, we’ve more of the same,…. home-baked confectionary delights that teeter on the sweet/sour pivot point.
- F: Elongated finish, lightly seasoned, still creamy, [oat] milky, [Alpro’s] vanilla custard,…. a bitter/sour resinousness at the back of palate.
- C: Finely balanced. For a moderately-aged grain, this works a treat. Even the Foz liked it! Recommended.
Scores 85 points [again]
Many of you will know that Mark has synaesthesia like [Whisky Mystery] Phil, who, Roy Duff explains “will paint pictures of colour on paper to represent what he’s getting in the whisky” [V-Pub: Breaking Whisky – 14:59].
Kate admits to thinking it was a touch of pretentiousness at first until Dave Broom pointed out, ‘that’s synaesthesia’. This ability is reflected by Watt’s colour-coded labels that encompass one of nine taste buds with three individual colours within each [see pic]. ‘Grouping our whiskies by colour, instead of the usual regions,…. we have come up with 9 different colours of taste buds with 3 colours in each, so 27 different colours to choose from‘ [website].
- N: Aside from melon & apple jam/chutney, pear snow and milky toasted/charred cereals, we’ve also some rather particular confectionary combinations which I can’t quite pin down on the night. Let’s throw in for starters, [Rowntree’s] Wine Gums, some coppery Caramac,… something of the fairground rides – those greased bearings of the Ghost train perhaps – ‘perfumed truffle” [Wayne],… even some components of a Big Mac [though it’s been decades since I had one].
- T: Somewhat Glen Elgin-like [from limited experience] at first, the arrival is ‘large’, citrusy [sweet waxy lemon], and prickly, but not at all offensive. It remains ‘large’ with water, but is far more agreeable diluted. Turning sour on the turn, waxy again,….
- F: ,… and then honeyed which balances out the sourness considerably. With water, we’ve less sourness and more Caramac-y milkiness, the spiciness a continual theme.
- C: It’s not the easiest, but that brings it’s own rewards. Relaxes some, in time.
Scores 85 points
Next up, we have ‘teaspooned’ Glen Scotia. Mark & Kate tell us that in recent years, the industry [SWA] have become insistent that blended malt should truly be blended malt. In practice, [now] typically, one bottle of one single malt is poured into 25000 litres of another single malt.
Campbeltown Blended Malt 7yo  CWC/Watt [66 bts] 57.4%
Just 66 bottles! What’s going on here then? This is a part-cask bottling, the rest of the parcel now destined for a Jamaican rum cask. This was only re-racked because the rum cask was soooo good. Eyes peeled.
- N: There’s Campbeltown DNA all over this one, 99.9% of the spirit coming from Glen Scotia. How far this distillery has come in the last 10-15 years is extraordinary. Mark & Kate reflect on how tragic the distillery was before the turnaround. Nosing, we’ve a heady creamy savoury-sweet brine-y mix, more malty later, slightly sweaty faux [or PU] leather – most of which still typically contains leather btw – and quite some phenolic farmy-ish > mezcal-y vibes with a lactic Ben Nevis-y suggestion. Overall, salivating just to nose, I imagine this working fabulously in a rum cask.
- T: An all-round good egg. With a Longrow-ish vibe, the peatiness is prominent from the off. Being also malty, creamy, and chewy, it’s the distillate that talks. Sustains in the middle stages. Despite the strength, it’s a relative soft one – dry-ish, briney – and a little less sweet with water.
- F: Swift fade before another moreish chocolatey sustain,… floury lingerings.
- C: Clean yet funky, ‘a good egg’ sums this one up rather nicely. One could say it’s ‘cracking’
Scores 87 points
- Question: I assume you’re predominantly buying stock/casks from brokers you’ve built personal connections with over the decades. So how does it work? Do you pay for cask samples and have time to mull them over or do you have to buy on paper?
- Answer: Like bottles, lots of people are buying casks and storing them away for the future. The whisky business, say the Watt’s, relies on plenty of contacts, from importers, retailers etc., that both Mark & Kate have made in their well-documented whisky-related careers. Admittedly, the Watt’s get better prices from brokers because of their historic relationships. They do, however, buy blind, and the cost for a sample from their own cask – £50! – isn’t cheap. Like houses, there’s a cask chain. People have ‘lists’ but don’t necessarily own the casks on their lists. Some put margins on casks on other peoples lists. The same cask may be on 3, 4, or 5 different lists, the prices differing wildly – five times that of the cheapest price on another list, for example.
The tricky elements of starting & maintaining their business, explains Mark, has been the forms, forms, and more forms, duty [forms],… and with no bottling plant come bottling charges, labels,… Once bottled and packaged, the Watt’s are “doing things the correct way” – using traditional distribution channels/not selling direct. Apparently, sales will go up 30% if the bottle comes with a carton!
Next up, Watt’s first non-Scotch in the form of Paul John. Appropriately enough, we have Shilton Almeida in attendance, just before the announcement that he’d be moving from [the face of] Paul John to Milk & Honey.
- N: Another fruity number, but very different from the Linkwood. As well as being rather fusty, I pick out mace, wild strawberries and a gamut of dried fruits, [slightly stale] dried coconut, leather over thick padded brown paper & fleece envelopes, amchoor powder, pineapple-y white bread,… nutty homemade snacks. Quality gear.
- T: Follows on from the nose rather nicely. Somewhat distinctive if also somewhat hard to read, but that isn’t to say it’s not commendable whisky. It’s simply rather dense, rich, floral, funky with a dry fruitiness, potpourri,…… yet we get the oils of those things too and something of the Irish Currach [WLP]. In some respects, I find this somewhat more Glen Scotia-like than the previous Glen Scotia with a greasy dirty weirdness/freakiness,… in a good way. Brought forth are spices, herbs and food stuffs from a haberdashery/old pantry – one built out of thickish hardwood.
- F: An unstoppable fruity oaky spice train ensues, yet with honeys that belie this one’s tender age, perhaps due to it being matured in Paul John’s underground warehouse used exclusively for their special releases. Down there, there’s little air circulation or temperature fluctuations. This dram settles beautifully on soft floury honeycomb with a strange waxiness – strange/odd as in its only 4 years old yet neither Scottish nor typically subcontinental/age-accelerated whisky.
- C: A dense/intense dram for sure. It’s not one I’d imagine wanting for with too much regularity, though I rather fancy a reference bottle for particular moments.
Scores 86 points
We finish this evening’s session with the aforementioned inaugural crowdfunder’s release.
[Highland Park] Orkney 2004/2016 16yo CWC/Watt [290 bts] 59.1% WB86.36
- N: With aged raisins & sultanas, it’s salty and a little sweaty – all good. Then there’s the smoked bacon [Frazzles] that allude to HPs on-site peated maltings [see pic below]. There’s plenty of weight & texture here too, and an older grape-based style to this ‘Orkney’, not like the now-typical highly engineered syrup-sherry styles. Aah, it’s brandy, that’ll be why!
- T: Oh yes, this is a desirably peated dram, the minerallic phenols holding up just fine after 16 years. One may well guess this isn’t sherry cask matured, but I wouldn’t have picked up on there being brandy cask maturation at play – a light ex-bordeaux wine finish, perhaps? Nah. The sweetness is impeccable without losing sharpness.
- F: Never drying, we’ve a delicious honest tasty barley=oaky peaty chew, spicy meaty smokiness emanating from the front top of the palate.
- C: Brandy maturation – yes please! I’ll check, but this must be one of the finest examples of brandy cask implementation I’ve come across. “Let’s give them [crowdfunder’s] a treat”, says Mark. A treat indeed.
Scores 87 points
- Question: During your time at Cadenhead’s, there must have been a few casks you had/have your eye on. I imagine you might have found a way to bottle one or two of those casks for CWC – it’s all good for the town, right?
- Answer: Cadenhead’s whisky is exclusively for Cadenhead’s bottlings – of course, we all knew that. Mark points out that his legacy at Cadenhead’s is yet to be seen in its entirety. More delicious whisky is on its way folks!
With thanks to Mark, Kate, and SWAG