Travel retail, the artist formerly known as duty free, is a strange place. From the ridiculously high-end to the cheap and cheerful, you normally have to do a bit of digging to find something that is both of interest and in your price bracket. It’s a useful place for companies to try out new ideas, and I tried one of those on my most recent trip through Heathrow. It was part of the new Secret Speyside range of whiskies from Pernod Ricard: a rare official bottling of Caperdonich 18 Year Old with a twist – it’s peated.
What’s a Caperdonich?
There’s a long trail of closed distilleries across Speyside, and Caperdonich’s story is fairly typical – built during the boom years and closed when demand started to fall, surplus to requirements. It does hold a fairly unique position in that it got hit by the boom-bust cycle twice.
The distillery was built in 1898 on the other side of the road to Glen Grant. It opened under the name Glen Grant #2 and helped meet the worldwide demand for Glen Grant’s whisky, which was becoming hugely popular. However, this was the year of the infamous Pattinson Crash and the distillery was already living on borrowed time. With the whisky market slumping post-crash, it soldiered on, but eventually closed in 1902 – a mere four years after opening.
In 1965, with the market buoyant again, it reopened, taking some of the pressure off Glen Grant, which had become Italy’s biggest selling single malt. In 1977 it was named Caperdonich – regulations had been passed that enforced the uniqueness of distillery names – and was sold to Seagram’s. It happily pootled along, producing whisky for the company’s blends, including Chivas Regal.
However, the boom didn’t last, and while Caperdonich survived the culls of both the early 1980s and 1990s, by 2000 things were looking dicey and Seagram’s was on the rocks. The distillery was sold to Pernod Ricard in 2001, and they closed it in 2002. The buildings were sold to the distillery’s next-door neighbour, still maker Forsyth’s, in 2010. In a vaguely ironic twist, Forsyth’s tore down the buildings and built new workshops, needed due to the number of orders coming in for stills from new distilleries around the world.
Secret Speyside Collection
Pernod Ricard, as Scotland’s second-biggest whisky maker, owns quite a few distilleries, but they mostly produce whisky for blending. In a move to expand its single malt offering, the company has launched a new range – The Secret Speyside Collection.
The initial launch was a set of 15 whiskies, bringing together two of its less-secret distilleries – Longmorn and Glen Keith – with two less well-known – Braes of Glenlivet and Caperdonich. It’s a travel-retail exclusive for the moment, hitting the general market in mid-2020.
It’s the biggest range of official bottlings of Caperdonich that’s ever been released – six whiskies, three peated and three unpeated. Whiskybase only shows one older bottling and more recently Pernod Ricard has trickled out occasional single casks and small batches. It looks like Pernod has more Caperdonich in its warehouses than we might have thought.
While the more modern tradition in Speyside is to make unpeated whisky, there have always been a few distilleries that have bucked the trend. Along with them are the distilleries who made a bit of peated spirit, bolstering their parent company’s smoky stocks for blending and trading. It seems that Caperdonich was part of this latter group. I’ve not seen any smoky whisky from the distillery before and was surprised to find any.
What does it taste like?
Nose: Orchard fruit with a touch of gravelly minerality and smoke – smoky chimneys in a cold, stony country village. Gentle char notes develop, with waxy apples and fragrant wood following: sandalwood and a touch of musky incense. Fruit builds: pears, apricots and sherbet lemons.
Palate: Soft and earthy peat smoke with some cracked stone minerality following. Dark liquorice and anise notes build underneath, with fruity dark chocolate and gentle spice on top. A dark and zingy mix of chocolate brownies, lemon Lockets and earthy peat are joined by meadow flowers and barley sugar notes, all with a background of fragrant smoke. Tarry touches develop with some time in the glass.
Finish: Earthy spice hangs around, with a quick flash of menthol fading away to leave chocolate and barrel char.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this does what it says on the tin – it’s a smoky Speysider. While I am not a believer in regionality in modern whisky making, this does combine the more traditional fruity style of Speyside with gentle peat smoke.
The 18 years of maturation have given the smoke time to soften and allowed the fruity spirit to make itself known. It’s not got the fruit and smoke oomph of Caol Ila 18, but it does nod in its direction before adding in a richer, darker and tarred background.
But most of all, it’s evidence that not everything in travel retail is boring. It does feel like the exception that proves the rule, but it also shows it’s still worth having a look around when you’re wandering through an airport.
Many thanks to the folks at Heathrow World of Whiskies for letting me have a try – bottles are £122 each.