When you think about the rules and regulations surrounding the Scotch whisky industry, you might assume that they are rigid, well defined and so old that they were scribed with a quill. The answer to this is both “yes” and “no”. Let’s average that out and say “sort of”. Prior to 2009 there were quite a few vague rules that could be exploited by distilleries regarding what was in the bottle, how expressions could be named and so on.
Although tighter regulations were probably being discussed behind the scenes, one distillery in particular blew all of this into the open. That distillery is Cardhu, and its owner, Diageo.
The Cole’s Notes version of this brouhaha starts in the early 2000’s when the Cardhu 12 year old single malt became roaringly popular in the Mediterranean region and particularly in Spain. It sold so well, that stocks at Cardhu were being depleted at an alarming rate. Because the distillery comprised an important component in Diageo’s popular Johnnie Walker blends, there was simply not enough Cardhu to go around. What to do.
The answer, with no communication to the whisky-buying public whatsoever, was to blend in single malts from some of Diageo’s other distilleries, call it Cardhu Pure Malt instead of Single Malt and hope that no one of any consequence would notice. They did.
Previous to 2009, the term pure malt was loosely defined enough that it could be used to describe a single malt…and blended malt. This is what landed Cardhu in hot water. The howls of protest came from all sides, but most notably Glen Grant & Sons who accused Diageo of hoodwinking the public. Because pure malt could mean two different things, there was a concern that Cardhu’s actions might erode public trust in Scotch whisky regarding what was really in a bottle.
To cut a long story short, Diageo eventually backtracked, renamed the expression back to Cardhu Single Malt and stopped blending in other distillery’s whisky into it. Finally, in 2009, the Scotch Whisky Regulations were passed and the distinction between single malt, whisky made from 100% malted batley from a single distillery, and blended malt (same definition, but whisky from two or more distilleries) was codified into law.
Thus, a loophole was closed, but a new opportunity presented itself. Both independent bottlers and distilleries alike took advantage of the new blended malt definition to produce some truly excellent concoctions. Some chose to release blends that originated from a single region such as the Highlands or Islay. Others used the whole of Scotland as their canvas. The benefit to the consumer was a new whisky avenue to explore at a pretty affordable price. In the end, everybody benefited.
Recently, Bimber distillery, based in London, brought back the term pure malt for their Apogee 12 year blend. However, unlike certain other distilleries of days past, they were completely transparent about what was contained within. This is a blend of single malts from undisclosed Speyside and Highland distilleries aged at least 12 years. The blend was then finished in casks that previously held Bimber’s own single malt whisky (which we will cover in later reviews). It’s bottled at 46.3% abv and is sitting in my glass, just waiting to be tasted. Let’s dive in!
Nose: Incredibly orchard fruit-forward right from the start. Crisp red apple like a Pink Lady or Ambrosia. Poached pears in syrup as well. Lovely, rich barley sugar sweets appear after nosing past the fruit. Plenty of cinnamon shows up, but it mingles well with the fruitiness. Over time, the apples are cooked down. With the cinnamon, it’s like apple pie filling. Now the tropical citrus flavours come forward. Orange zest and some candied pineapple. There’s gotta be some Sherry casks in here, because I’m getting a whiff of Christmas cake.
The character of Speyside and Highland whiskies, combined with the Bimber cask finish is delivering an unsurprisingly fruity experience thus far. Very interested to see how this evolves through the rest of the experience.
Palate: Very sweet on the entry. Almost too cloyingly sweet. Sweetened orange cream, vanilla and toffee mostly. Very mouthcoating though. The development brings back that poached pear and apple pie filling, the latter with the crust as well. The sweetness gets tamped down slightly come mid-development as the baking spices from the cask start to take hold. Clove and a touch of ginger appear alongside the cinnamon. A faint black liquorice note comes in at the end of the development. I’m not a fan of liquorice by itself, but in spirits, it helps to add an extra, darker depth of flavour.
Finish: The fruitiness starts to fade a bit, but liquorice and baking spices remain. A sponge toffee sweetness starts to make itself known early on. I usually get that note much earlier in the experience. The finish is on the medium side.
With water added
The pears are fresh and ripe now on the nose, rather than poached. The cinnamon remains along with a bit of dried ginger. Quite a bit of vanilla too. The sweet entry doesn’t last as long and is slightly thinner. Barley sugar appears initially during the first half of the development, but nutmeg is presented alongside the other spices to tip this close to the Christmas cake edge at the end. That liquorice note is still present on the finish, even with the extra baking spices.
This is quite a sweet whisky from start to finish and it nearly becomes too much so here and there. That being said, for the rest of the experience, there are some lovely rich, dark flavours that help to pare the sweetness back a bit. It will be interesting to taste the Bimber single malts that I have yet to review to see which of these flavours are coming from the cask finish. In terms of price, this is on Alberta shelves for less than $90, which is an excellent price considering there’s a 12 year age statement on it.