Good whisky comes in slightly different forms to different people. The Thompson Bros believe that, to find the best-tasting Scotch, one must take a time machine back to the 60’s and 70’s. Those are, according to many Scotch devotees, the golden years of Scotch-making.
Whisky made during the 60’s to 70’s are generally richer in texture, with more intense flavours and complexity when compared to commercially mass-produced whiskies of today. It is said that these flavours are lost due to the use of modernised equipment, high-yield yeast strains and other more efficient production processes.
Dornoch Distillery represents the brothers’ efforts to bring back whisky from this era. By reverse-engineering vintage bottles of whisky, the brothers seek to re-create the style of whiskies found back in the 60’s by using the proper equipment and proper ingredients. We have recently written a more detailed feature on the Thompson Brothers you can read here.
Today, we cover Dornoch Distillery’s inaugural bottling- the Dornoch 2017 Cask No. 001. The back label indicates detailed information. This is a 3-year-old. Scotch fully aged in a first-fill ex-Oloroso cask. The barley used is organic Plumage Archer, a species of barley said to be used by Scottish distilleries since the early 1900s.
This comes in at a generous cask strength of 59.4% ABV.
I must say, I am counting my lucky stars for being able to try a dram of this stuff at a bar. Dornoch Distillery's Cask 001 is so heavily anticipated around the world because everyone is dying to have a taste of the brothers’ work! With a mere 893 bottles, each 50 cl, there’s barely enough to go around.
In the glass, the liquid is a deep gold colour. Rather slow legs that really cling to the walls of the glass upon swirling, indicating some viscosity and oiliness in texture.
On the nose, rich, syrupy and well-rounded and surprisingly effortless. I could throw caution to the wind and stick my nose right into this without getting stung by alcohol. Remarkable friendliness and gentle interaction with the alcohol considering that this is almost 60% ABV.
Pickled Japanese plums or Umeboshi are a sweet-and-salty garnish added to rice in Japan. They are also thought to have potent medicinal properties that give samurai warriors extra energy boost to fight in cold weather.
The aromatic notes are yet more unusual and never quite seen before in the vast majority of mainstream whiskies. The initial note is an immediate syrupy tartness with sweet pickled Japanese sour plums filling my nose. The aroma of Japanese sour plums is so incredibly distinct I could just as well be nosing a glass of Choya umeshu (梅酒) (Japanese sour plum liqueur). I haven’t smelt a more plum-heavy whisky as this one.
I could just as well be nosing a friendly glass of refreshing umeshu.
The plummy aromas develop to reveal sweet raisins, sultanas, sweet dates and a very light drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. These sweet and sour aromas are rather predominant and really take centre stage on the nose.
After a minute or so, the aromas start to open up to more complexity. Bright lashings of Manuka honey, followed gently by darker notes with scatterings of smooth milk chocolate, roasted walnuts and a slight earthiness.
The palate is a little more straightforward with subtle Oloroso-cask notes with a hand full of dried fruits and roasted nuts.
Moving to the palate, I get no more of that Japanese plum sensation. There is a more subtle sweetness balanced by some dryness on the palate- a little more straightforward and familiar to regular Scotch drinkers. As soon as the dram touches the tongue, the notes from the Oloroso cask make themselves better known with lots of fresh figs, apricots and a lovely nutty almond nougat note.
At 3 years of age, the texture is somewhat oily and viscous, and it’s evident that several more years of aging would give this a really rich and thick texture.
Moderate degree of heat starts to gradually grow on the back palate, developing into a sensation of black pepper and spearmint. There is also a very minor component of cinnamon and star anise.
As spices fade, the palate is left with a mild dryness and leatheriness.
I took the liberty to add some water which reveals more distinct fruitiness, maltiness and light peatiness. Another sip brings out more bright notes of strawberry jam on toast, a mild English-tea like bitterness and some earthy mushrooms that I was not able to pick out earlier. This is giving me vibes of a simple Sunday cafe brunch- rich strawberry preserves slathered on a slightly burnt toast with sauteed mushrooms and English tea.
The finish is medium length with a lot more maltiness, dryness and fading sweetness. More dominant notes of bread toast complimented by lashings of golden syrup, and a sliver of burnt caramel. The moderate notes of slightly dry English tea give us the last hint of smoke.
Dornoch Cask 001 is only 3 years of age and already has a nice mouthfeel that I tend to experience in whiskies of around 12 to 18-years of age. It is also remarkable that this dram is smooth and relatively friendly on the palate despite coming in at a hefty 59.4% ABV and only aged for the minimum of 3 years.
This dram is really enjoyable to me but I acknowledge that certain aspects of its flavour profile is a little unorthodox. The nose is particularly memorable and intriguing because I have not quite come across a whisky that smelt so much like umeshu (which for the record, I am personally fond of outside the whisky bar). On the other hand, I do think that a more complex palate would have really elevated this bottle. But in fairness this is an exceptionally promising 3-year-old that has already exceeded expectations. I would imagine that a decade more of aging would turn this into a rich and complex masterpiece.
Good whisky comes in different forms to different people. My favourite whiskies are the ones that take me on an adventure, make me question my reality and show me a slightly different perspective of what of what whisky could be. I personally enjoyed Dornoch’s inaugural bottling. This is friendly, has a great mouthfeel and plays notes that are slightly different from the standard Scotch melody. I suspect that a Scotch purist might be less excited the sour-plummy notes in the nose, but who cares as long as I know what I like?
This is friendly, has a nice oily texture and plays notes that are slightly different from the standard Scotch melody. We award Dornoch Cask 001 the dodo bird badge and woolly mammoth badge for its attempt to resurrect an extinct species (Scottish single malts from the 1960’s).