Whisky that’s worth the wait

A fine single malt can be experimental and still be decades in the making

The Singleton 38-Year-Old
(Image credit: Diageo)

Silicon Valley is the spiritual home of the start-up “accelerator” – programmes that seek to support and advance early-stage companies. And now, one of these start-ups has brought us the “spirit accelerator”. Bespoken Spirits, a Californian company founded by materials scientist Martin Janousek and entrepreneur Stu Aaron, recently unveiled proprietary technology that they claim can reproduce the taste of a barrel-aged whisky, rum or brandy in three to five days.

The process involves exposing alcohol to “micro staves” of various woods under pressure, not unlike a “Nespresso machine on an industrial scale”. The results have already won Bespoken Spirits awards in blind tastings. But as Judith Evans notes in the Financial Times, “not all drinkers are convinced”. One reviewer at the Oregon-based Whiskey Wash publication said the bourbon was “not bad”, but that “there was very little that was exciting about this drink either”.

The older way to innovate

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That verdict should come as no surprise, says the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). Whisky that is sold in Britain and the European Union must be aged for at least three years. “Those quality definitions of whisky as a traditionally aged product, and other spirits produced with other techniques, should be labelled in a way which doesn’t take unfair advantage of that reputation,” the SWA states.

The Singleton 38-Year-Old

Three years is just the minimum. You can wait much longer and still call your whisky experimental – and the Singleton distillery has done just that. Just over a quarter of a century ago, the distillery’s master of malts, Maureen Robinson, sampled a 12-year-old single malt. She and her team decided to add a second maturation, placing the whisky in a number of experimental casks of used bourbon, Pedro Ximénez oloroso (sherry) seasoned casks and new American oak casks. Then Robinson left it for a while.

After 26 more years, the longest second-maturation in the distillery’s history, she deemed it ready. Talk about patience. The has “a thick, creamy texture and a vibrant, sweet start in which rich opening notes of fudge lead smoothly into a lightly spicy, intense and fruity taste suggesting cinnamon-spiced baked apple, drying gently into an autumnal peppery warmth that envelopes the palate”, according to the tasting notes. Just 1,689 bottles are being made available, priced at £2,100 (malts.com).

The rewards of patience

The 38-year-old whisky was “crafted in an era that was very exciting at The Singleton – a time of flavour experimentation and innovation across our whisky-making”, says Robinson. “I remember tasting... samples just three years into the secondary maturation and I was struck how, even at such an early stage, we could identify the richness of flavour the new casks had presented. To mature those casks for more than two decades further was an exploration of how it is possible to unearth exceptional flavour within whisky.” In other words, it pays to take your time when trying new things – even if it does take you 26 years.

Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus at Sotheby's

(Image credit: 2020 Getty Images)

Bagging a profit

Now is an auspicious time to be bringing out a new whisky. After all, “drinkable investment asset classes have always done well in a downturn, perhaps as their owners have looked to drown their sorrows”, notes Andrew Shirley in the October update of Knight Frank’s The Wealth Report. “Both rare whisky and wine have shown reasonable gains over the past 12 months.”

Rare whisky as a collectable asset, in particular, has appreciated by 12% in the 12 months to July. That was the second best of any collectable except for handbags, which have risen by a fifth in value, according to the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index.

And over the decade, whisky is still well out in front of the other sub-indices, with a 535% increase compared with 115% for handbags and 212% for cars. Cheers, indeed.

This article was originally published in MoneyWeek

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