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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Single Grain Whisky! Cambus 18yr 1991 (Signatory Cask Strength)

Grain whisky is the silent giant within the Scotch industry.  Blended whiskies make up 90 to 93 percent of the scotch whisky produced.  The blends are in turn made up of 60 to 80 percent grain whisky.  By doing some quick math, one can see that there's considerably more grain whisky than malt whisky being distilled annually.

To quote my Terminology post:
GRAIN WHISKY is distilled from a non-malted grain (barley, wheat, and maize) in a large column still.  Because it is not malted (though malt is sometimes added in for fermentation needs later) it skips the first parts of the process and the grain goes straight to distillation.  Unlike malt whisky's batch distillation process, grain whisky is distilled continuously.
Like malt whisky, grain whisky is also aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years.  The production of grain whisky is considerably cheaper than that of malt whisky and creates a product much lighter and (debatably) of a lower quality than its malted cousin.  Its flavor profile can fall anywhere between vodka and bourbon, depending on how it was aged.
Some sources say that Robert Stein created the first column still in 1826, but most sources agree that Aeneas Coffey perfected it later in the century.  Grain whisky distilleries are much more like factories than their malt distillery cousins, thus their production capacities are comparatively enormous.  For instance, Diageo's new Roseisle facility is has the largest capacity of any malt distillery, at 12.5 million liters per year.  As of 2008, Diageo's Cameronbridge grain facility can produce 100 million liters of spirit per year.

About 99.9% of all grain whisky production goes into blends.  That teeny remaining 00.1% (or possibly less) is bottled and released as a single grain whisky -- similar to a single malt whisky, but here it's only grain whisky from a single distillery.  In order to be chosen for single grain bottling, the whisky needs to have a substantial spirit character of its own and be matured well in an (usually ex-bourbon) oak cask.

I haven't been the biggest fan of the grain whisky I've tasted within cheap malts, but I didn't want to ignore an entire branch of The Whisky Tree.  So I sought out a few drams...

Names blurred to protect the unreported...

Distillery: Cambus
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 18 years (July 1991 - January 2010)
Maturation: Refill butt
Type: Single Grain
Alcohol by Volume: 55.4%
Cask: 55884
Limited Release: 507 bottles

Experiencing a Cambus whisky fulfilled two categories for me: 1.) It's a single grain whisky; and 2.) It's from a permanently closed distillery.

Cambus was built as a malt distillery in 1806 by John Moubray.  The pot stills were replaced by Stein stills in 1826, then by Coffey Stills in 1851.  John's grandson Robert brought Cambus into Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) in 1877.  DCL later became United Distillers.  United Distillers (now Diageo) closed the distillery during the whisky execution of 1993.  Located in the Midlands, the property has since been used by Diageo as a cooperage, cask filling, and maturation facility for their other brands.

While this particular dram was produced by a conglomerate, it was re-casked, matured, and bottled by my favorite indy company Signatory.  It was part of its Cask Strength releases a couple years ago.  I'm a big fan of this series and would have dozens of them in my collection if I could afford it.  Even the bottles are cool:
But does the whisky inside this bottle taste good???

Color -- Late harvest Sauvignon Blanc
Nose -- Vanilla, toffee, pencil shavings, grainy, lots of brown sugar/molasses
Palate -- Vanilla, prickly heat (from high ABV), a drying salty oceanic feel
Finish -- Extensive, salty, vanilla

Mild yet better than expected, let's try it again...

WITH WATER (approx. 43.7% ABV)
Nose -- Maple syrup, vanilla, milk chocolate
Palate -- Oakier now, actual wood pulp, sugary, subtler vanilla, very smooth like a 18yr single malt
Finish -- Moderate, more of those wood pulp notes

The answer:  Better than most of the blends I've had.  As per the notes, it got better with a spoon or two of water.  Though its texture was similar to a single malt of its age, it was a little shorter on characteristics, nose, and flavor.  I thought it was going to be very bourbony, but I'm happy it wasn't.  It's a pretty simple whisky, but it gave me hope for more single grains in my near future...

Availability - UK only and you'll need to do some searching
Pricing - 70-80GBP (ex-VAT, w/shipping)
Rating - 79

Stay tuned for more single grain whisky on Thursday!