...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, October 3, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Usquaebach Old-Rare blended whisky

First off I'd like to thank JLR for this sample.  We did a sample swap in May of 2013 when we were both experiencing very difficult personal circumstances.  But since then, between our two families, we've had three tremendous little blessings.  As I write this Mathilda rolls around in her crib, trying to swallow her feet.

Until today, I had no idea that this Usquaebach Old-Rare was a $130+ whisky.  Yeah, it has a curious flagon and all that, but what the crap?

The scarce amount of online information about this whisky and its company is odd in the current whisky climate.  Partially it's a good thing because most whisky producers are larding up the whisky internets with marketing, marketing, and marketing.  But it's also not a great thing because this is a $130+ blend with no official description or explanation.  Only large well established brands can sell mystery malarkey for three figures.  So why would someone want to buy this whisky?  For its flagon?  You can get a handmade flagon for less at Etsy or Flagonland (not a thing).

Go ahead, google "Cobalt brands" and/or "Usquaebach Old Rare". Cobalt Brands is a New Jersey importer who may (or may not) be getting help from Douglas Laing with the blending part of things.  The whisky had somewhat of cult-ish following back in the '70s and '80s but that was when it was owned by a different now-defunct company.  Cobalt, who bought the brand not too long ago, sent John Hansell a press release in 2009 full of weird errors which they appear to have never addressed.  Overall, the company and whisky information is all kind of jumbled and I'm still not sure why the whisky is so expensive.  Because it's "Old-Rare" and 225yearsoldohmygod!  Sorry, I'm reaching.

Brand: Usquaebach
Ownership: Cobalt Brands
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: not stated (no, it isn't 225 years old)
Blend: malt and grain whiskies (there might be 41 Highland malts involved)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtered? ???
Caramel Coloring? ???

HIGHBALL ...... nah, I'm not going to make a highball out of a triple digit (price, not age, dude) whisky.

The color is yellow gold.  The nose starts with anise and mothballs, then limes and lemons.  The oak seems more toasted than charred, likely American by birth.  There's an herbal twist, maybe coriander/cilantro and mint.  Cassia "cinnamon" sticks.  After some time in the glass, the whisky develops floral perfume notes and hints of papaya.  Overall it's maltier than any of the non-Green Johnnie Walkers and the caramel note is mostly under control.  But there's also a substantial chlorine note that then carries over into the palate, where it expands further.  There's some alcohol bite that follows.  A brief stone fruit sweetness gradually becomes orange candy, then there's a bit of bitterness and some spearmint.  Vanilla ice cream from the big clear plastic buckets.  But the biggest note I keep finding is a dusty moldy mothball waft reminiscent of an old lady's closet.  The medium length finish stays in the old lady's closet -- a peeping tom of a whisky?  The chlorine returns.  Vanilla and caramel emerges.

Hmm.  Again, the nose wins.  It shows off the possibility of the presence of mature Highland malt, though not that old unless the casks were eighth-fill.  But at the same time, there's a lot of super young stuff floating around (thus the lack of age statement), especially the chlorine and cinnamon.  So, while there may be old whisky in the blend there's also a definite quantity of young whisky which tosses the blend out of balance.

So why the high price?  The vessel must be the excuse.  The whisky inside is as completely unknown as the company who put it in there.  The drink isn't a complete mess; as already mentioned, the nose is good, almost great.  And there definitely seems to be a high malt content.  If they could sort out the chlorine and naphthaline issues this could be a successful mid-level blend.  But at a luxury price, I don't see it flying off the shelf.  And after someone purchases one novelty flagon, is he or she ever really going to go back for a second?  Unless Usqueabach starts releasing flagons of different colors......

Availability - Some specialty retailers
Pricing - $100-$140
Rating - 76