Peter Ranscombe tastes the first whisky from the society’s reserve cask selection.
WITH a name like “The Wine Society”, it may not be the first place you’d think to look for a bottle of Scotch.
But the society – or “The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society” to use its Sunday name – has form when it comes to whisky.
Up until 1992, the co-operative shipped sherry in barrels from Spain and bottled the fortified wine at its headquarters in Stevenage.
Once the barrels were empty, they were sent north to Scotland to be filled with newly-made spirit, which would age and become the society’s own label single malts and blends.
The wine club has worked with many big-name distillers over the years, including Bowmore, Glengoyne, Glenrothes, and Mortlach.
When master of wine Sarah Knowles took over as the society’s spirits buyer in 2017, she suggested bottling the best of the whiskies in those casks in a limited edition series.
First up is a Highland single malt, vatted from seven hogsheads and two butts, which had previously held a mixture of sherries, predominantly amontillado and palo cortado.
In a way, the malt is a blast true from the past – these are casks from the days when our whisky industry really did inherit barrels that had been used to transport sherry, as opposed to today’s custom-built vessels that are often simply seasoned with the fortified wine.
But, the most important question of all – is it any good?
Well, having tried the malt at The Wine Society’s autumn tasting in London last month, I can report that it is indeed something special.
What impressed me most about The Society’s Reserve Cask Selection Highland Single Malt Whisky 1989 (£95, The Wine Society) was its freshness.
On the nose, there are still fruity peach and lemon notes dotted in amongst the caramel, brown sugar and sweeter spun sugar.
Those sweeter honey, brown sugar and caramel flavours come to the fore on the palate, but there are still plenty of raisin, peach, Christmas cake and spicer clove touches.
Almost equally as impressive is the price – it goes on sale this evening at £95.
While it’s hard to make comparisons when the name of the distillery has been kept hush-hush, a quick internet search reveals other 1989 single malts ranging in price from £150 to £300 and beyond.
Being a co-operative, The Wine Society only sells to its members, which means it tends to have lower prices, with less pressure to make large profit margins.
Its membership fee is a one-off payment of £40 – with £20 off your first order.
Read more of Peter’s whisky, wine and beer reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.