We all remember the good old days; that time when you helped yourself to the bottle of Famous Grouse or Bell's lurking in the back of your parents' drinks cabinet. Then thought to yourself "this is gross" - or perhaps even had a wee bit too much of the stuff - and subsequently never drank whisky again for the next fifteen years or so.
Prior to the mid 1980s, there was no real single malt market and, today, folk aplenty reminisce about the time when blended Scotch whisky was truly great. It was for many, however, one they never really embraced as such at the time. And yet, the whisky enthusiast's need to nose and taste whisky from the past - a past they might never have really inhabited - doesn't seem to be waning. Scotch whisky nostalgia is huge and, with the current prices on the secondary market, old blends often provide the only affordable insight into whisky of yesteryear.
Hosts at tastings often make the same comparison (one I'm certainly guilty of myself): blends today are nowhere near as good as they used to be. For the most part, this is true. The single malt market today has made itself a far more valuable one on a per bottle basis. As such, today's blends often get a bad press and are seen by many as inferior in quality. However, from the time when work started on draining the whisky loch of the mid 1980s, I can't help but think that today's 'justifcation' for the superiority of single malts is simply the result of some kind of self-fufilling prophecy. And good old fashioned marketing too, of course.
It must, therefore, be quite difficult to sell a so-called 'premium blend'; the words themselves appearing as some kind of oxymoron against today's backdrop of Instagram fuelled, luxury lifestyle, single malt releases.
And yet this is exactly what White Heather is. The 15 years comes in at just short of 60 quid; the 21 years rocks up at twice that price. But that 15 years is worth every single penny. It's not often I become quite so effusive about a whisky but let me say that again: Every. Single. Penny. The 21 years is absolutely delicious and, if money's no object, don't hesitate to grab yourself a bottle. However, to be honest, if I had 120 quid to spend on whisky, I'd prefer to buy two bottles of the 15 years.
White Heather was owned by S Campbell & Son which was, in turn, a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard. The brand itself was discontinued in the 1980s. When Billy Walker, Trisha Savage and Graham Stevenson acquired GlenAllachie Distillery from Pernod-Ricard in 2017, they also acquired the White Heather brand name. And so, with a very distinct nod to the past, these two new White Heather releases have emerged.
Of course, the components will be different today; they have to be really. All we know re the 15 years expression is that the malt components are from Speyside, North Highland and Islay; the grain component(s) is/are undisclosed. The initial maturation took place in ex bourbon barrels and hogsheads together with sherry butts. After the whisky was blended, it was re-racked into PX and oloroso puncheons together with American* virgin oak casks to be matured at GlenAllachie Distillery.
Re the 21 years, we know that the malt components form 47% of the content and include aged GlenAllachie and peated Islay. Once again, the grain component(s) is/are undisclosed. Once blended, the whisky was re-racked and, as with the 15 years, its maturation continued at GlenAllachie Distillery in PX and oloroso puncheons together with Appalachian* virgin oak casks.
Both releases are non-chill filtered and naturally coloured; the 15 years is bottled at 46% whereas the 21 years is bottled at 48%.
Opened for a recent tasting with the Edinburgh Whisky Group, here are my thoughts:
WHITE HEATHER 15 YEARS - 46%
Nose: initial notes of red apple and chocolate orange; there's a slight damp note in the background with hints of pencil sharpenings; after a while in the glass, notes of Butterkist popcorn emerge followed by tinned pineapple; the nose on this is just lovely and so inviting.
Palate: delicious thick texture; initial notes of Werther's Original and Golden Syrup; vanilla fudge and pancakes drenched in maple syrup; there's a slight ashy note, together with hints of dark chocolate, into the finish which is so, so long (longer than I find with most blends).
Overall: this is not only drinkable but guzzleable (if that's a word). This is just so ridiculously and beautifully well balanced. If I had to choose just one whisky to drink for the rest of 2022, it could well be this one.
WHITE HEATHER 21 YEARS - 48%
Nose: initial hint of damp earth followed by Butterkist popcorn and toffee apples; surprisingly becoming quite fresh on the nose after a while in the glass; there are notes of tinned clementines with just the slightest hint of aniseed.
Palate: as with the 15 years, the texture on this is just beautiful - falling somewhere between syrupy and creamy if that's even possible; notes of red apple, butterscotch sauce, vanilla ice cream and waffles emerge after a while; there's a note of cinnamon rolls into the finish together with the slightest hint of fresh ginger and the tiniest amount of BBQ smoke.
Overall: again, just delicious. Even at a slightly higher abv than the 15 years, this is such easy drinking. Wonderful stuff.
If you think that blends aren't what they used to be - even if you never really drank them at the time - try these. If the White Heather 15 years doesn't change your mind, I'm not sure we can be friends ;-) Although the grain component is not known, it feels so much older than the 15 years on the age statement. These are both absolutely cracking whiskies but for 60 quid, the 15 years is outstanding.
* not sure what the exact difference is here.
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