A little while back, I returned to Cut your Wolf Loose for this hotly anticipated tasting. Hosted by Alistair Walker, this is his first in-person tasting since 2019. We begin with a little:
WALKER FAMILY BACKGROUND
2003: Billy Walker buys Benriach for £6 million, “which will get you just a handful of Macallan casks in today’s market”. The deal included vintage stock from every year from 1966 onwards. [Further reading: SW]
2008: Billy’s BenRiach Company buys Glendronach, followed by Glenglassaugh in 2013.
2017: With Benriach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh sold [to Brown-Forman for a whopping £281 million], Billy buys Glenallachie a year later ‘,.. for its blank canvas history. As a relatively new distillery [est. 1967], virtually all of its previous output went into blends. With little previous single malt exposure and plenty of stock going back to the 1970s, this was the perfect place for new beginnings, without all those initial start-up costs and subsequent wait‘ (WLP).
2018: With almost 20 years of experience in the Scotch whisky industry, Alistair Walker decides to do his own thing and sets up the Alistair Walker Whisky Company (AWWC). His first bottling was a Glen Keith bottled in June 2019 under the brand name ‘Infrequent Flyers’.
Website: The name refers to the nature of many of the casks that we bottle – often whiskies from lesser-known distilleries that are of excellent quality, but have never been widely or consistently available. As such, many of our bottlings are of whiskies that you just don’t see so often – hence the name ‘Infrequent Flyers’.
The casks for Alistair’s Infrequent Flyers releases are predominantly finished at the Glenallachie distillery. “Now very Infrequent Flyers”, can be seen as an independent arm of Glenallachie, set up to promote whiskies from under-the-radar distilleries.
Like father like son, Alistair loves re-racking which he likens to “house renovation”. All his whiskies are naturally presented ‘un-chill filtered, at natural colour, and usually at cask strength‘.
We start tonight’s 6-dram flight with one of the earliest whiskies bottled by AWWC. This was one of the first two parcels Alistair bought along with a Knockdhu which we shall also get to try later.
Balmenach 2013/2022 08yo AWWC Infrequent Flyers Bourbon cask #131 [252 bts] 58.4% WB85
- N: Solid, bready,… desirable 1st-fill bourbon cask action.
- T: Honeyed, floral,… robust but relaxed, a touch sour – Linkwood-esque.
- F: A youthful peppery edge. We are told two casks from this parcel continue to age in the warehouse.
- C: A decent solid likeable session dram. Unusually for AWWC, an unadulterated presentation (ie. no finish).
Scores 85 points
North British 1995/2021 26yo AWWC Infrequent Flyers Marsala Hogshead #5742 [231 bts] 52.1% WB84.50
- N: Delicious rich-sweet maize/corn-derived spirit with a 2-year marsala wine finish, bringing tropical fruity coconut-y vibes.
- T: Oh yes, that’s a moreish fruit-abundant marsala delivery that carries the simpler spirit through.
- F: After an hour, the cask effects die away to reveal the underlying basic spirit.
- C: The cask makes it but don’t leave it hanging around.
Scores 84 points
Deanston 2009/2021 12yo AWWC Infrequent Flyers Sauternes Hogshead #6346 [271 bts] 57.9% WB86.25
From a refill hoggie, this was finished in a sauternes cask for 25 months.
- N: An easy pleaser borne from a wet cask, one that brings clean fusty Christmas-related joys.
- T: Clean prune juice teetering on the sulphury edge. Marmite-y [perhaps more Vegemite] which opens up a wider/deeper perspective.
- F: With a menthol dry finish, the clean > sulphury-ish squidgy moreishness continues.
- C: The [previous] cask [contents] carries this one through again, but unlike many a Benriach release, there’s no woodiness.
Scores 85 points
- Question: Is AWWC ageing from new make?
- Answer: It’s never been Alistair’s thing, but there has been some recent investment in this area since acquiring mature whisky has become more & more difficult.
Knockdhu 2013/2021 08yo AWWC Infrequent Flyers 1st-fill Ex-Bourbon #1 [210 bts] 58.9% WB84.75
Whilst the Knockdhu distillery is legally obliged to use the currently favoured name, An Cnoc, independent bottlers are able to use the distillery name. Like the Balmenach, this is another unadulterated AWWC presentation.
- N: Similar in style to the Balmenach but with more subtlety. It plays out on barley sugar, Iced Gems, and with a fizzy touch towards a subtle sweet~sourness.
- T: Typical ex-bourbon cask-matured single malt with light < weighty texture and a youthful edge on the turn.
- F: Great for its age.
- C: Good overall. Turns out I had this before, but in a different context (WLP81).
Scores 84 points
Fettercairn 2007/2021 14yo AWWC Infrequent Flyers Oloroso Puncheon #1823 [622 bts] 55.2% WB87.69
- N: The 20-month finish in an oloroso puncheon speaks more like PX at first, given what the cask [and previous contents] has imparted. With all the usual nosing suspects, you can tell what this is going to be like without even tasting it.
- T: Distillery-irrelevant sherry-delivered malt,… walnut liqueur etc. This is all about the [very decent] cask.
- F: Slightly dry fruity-fusty gacky,… [sour] cream finish.
- C: Nice enough, but it’s another reason you might want to consider exploring more aged sherry.
Scores 84 points
What a difference 4 months make! Having tried the Fettercairn in May, let’s see how I find it in October after a flight of official Fettercairn the day before in the shape of the 12, 16, 18 & 22yo.
- C: Sure, there is a large oloroso drive, but contrary to my first visit, Fettercairn’s unique distillery character is intact under that lovely clean if wet[ish] cask. Bravo [Mr Walker Jr] for bringing a glossy Fettercairn to the stage. Perhaps it improved a little with time in glass? I’d like to think so.
Rescores 86 points
Caol Ila 2007/2021 14yo AWWC Infrequent Flyers Refill Hogshead #307363 [283 bts] 56.8% WB88.50(5)
- N: Clearly Caol Ila, a sweet one with just a dash of Ardbeg and Laphroaig.
- T: Sweetness maintained with biscuit-y/grey paper, vegetal/mineral qualities.
- F: A mild finish with no further headlines.
- C: Best of the night, but at £100, there’s plenty of competition.
Scores 87 points
- Infrequent Flyers = Alistair Walker [son of Billy], using Glenallachie distillery as a cask maturing & finishing zone. It’s a Benriach approach, less the woodiness and more of the cask contents.
- Little feasibility for any (many) more independent bottlers arising from scratch as the price of casks is too high. Alistair now sees buying and ageing new make as the last affordable arena (at this time).
- The distilleries are making so much money right now, selling everything they make. As a result, the independent bottlers are a nuisance to them, and yet, it’s the IB’s that are providing the (Aqvavitae’s) ABCD’s – Age statement, Bottling strength, [non]-Chill filtration, [no] Dye.
A fun night had by all. With thanks to Alistair and all at CYWL.
Further reading: alistairwalkerwhisky.com
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