A growing number of the people are turning to independent bottlers, looking for expressions of liquid that can push the boundaries of the category a bit. One of our grand gold revelations of 2019, Finlaggan Islay Single Malt, Cask strength” did just that! A bombastic Islay malt packed with peat and underlined by everything that is good (Vanilla, Honey… Both a bad boy and a refined gentleman… Few whiskies can match these two characteristics so flawlessly…
Established in 1992, the “Vintage Malt Whisky Company” was the brainchild of Brian Crook and currently under the guidance of his son, Andrew Crook and daughters Caroline and Kim ( a true family company). It started with a singular but ambitious goal; bring Islay whiskies to the world. Today, their Single Malts and blends are available in more than 30 countries with a total volume of about 500,000 bottles per year, chief among them are their Finlaggan brand, currently enjoying a bit of buzz, closely followed by The Ileach.
I spoke to Andrew to pick his brains a bit about spirits competitions and to generally chew the fat about the company and their future.
- Were you expecting this award? What does it mean to you?
We do not enter a competition with any expectations, but rather hope. Generally, our products do quite well but it is always a surprise and a pleasure to receive them. Awards raise the profile of our products and are a small pat on our backs. They have a positive impact on our reputation as we get quite a lot of congratulation messages and give us something positive to communicate about as well as a good excuse to reach out to our partners. Another positive that is important to us is that we see an uptick in our followers and engagements on our social media platforms. We are also able to reach a new audience through the followers of the said competitions.
Unfortunately, we are currently in a situation that makes it difficult to assess the impact on sales as there is a definitive downturn in the market, but we are hopeful.
- What makes this whisky so special?
Islay is currently a “hot” region, and because my father was quick enough to sign supply agreements with the best local producers before it boomed, we have a lot of great stock to work with. Today, it is considerably more difficult for independent bottlers to get their hand on Islay malts, there are only a small number of distilleries to collaborate with, and the demands outstrips production. We are therefore in an extremely comfortable position, and we have the freedom to use this liquid and age with barrels of our choice, blend it to our criteria and according to our ideas with all the freedom that a family company enjoys. Thanks to this situation we can release whiskies such as our Finlaggan Cask strength. This expression is from a “distillery-that-must-not-be-named” but that is known for its quality, and thus it generates quite a lot of speculation about its origins, which is certainly part of the appeal.
As for specific details, Finlaggan Cask Strength is aged for around 5 years mainly in fresh bourbon casks and re-charred barrels. We also use a small percentage of sherry casks in each batch. Lastly, we bottle in small batches between 4000 and 6000 bottles.
- Where can one purchase the revelation 2019?
France is historically one of our biggest market and we work closely with reputable cavistes across the land, however, being a very price sensitive market, the 40% expression fares better than our cask strength. Germany is also a strong market. We are predominantly an export company with 95% of our sales being in export and 60% into the EU markets. The Ileach also does very well in Sweden, where we are one of the strongest whisky brands within the Swedish Systembolaget (Note, sadly we do not sell Finlaggan in Sweden).
- What are your distillery’s projects for the future?
We have invested a lot in laying down stock and are expanding the Finlaggan range with some interesting single casks, which we had hoped to release this year; however, considering the current downturn we will probably release them next year. We also released an extension of Finlaggan aged entirely in 100% Rioja casks. This follows the two current finishes that we have: The Port and the Sherry finishes.
We are also considering expanding into the distilling business; we have ideas and plan for a small-scale distillery, but we are keeping the details secret at the moment.
The small Zoom conversation was a true pleasure; even though we were miles apart, it was very clear than Andrew was very proud of the accomplishments of their portfolio, and there were more than a few smiles of anticipations when we talked about their future projects! The enthusiasm was truly contagious, and as we switched the zoom off (or rather, as my computer powered down because I was too interested to plug it in), I immediately went online orders a couple bottles of Finlaggan Islay Malt, Cask strength to keep me company during this lock down.
I know that I will be in good company with this whisky and it will certainly go a long way to raise my spirits and make our current long evenings much more enjoyable and bring me back to Fenyan for a few golden moments.
On this note, I wish you all great health and patience for the coming weeks, if you can, grab a bottle of this liquid and let the aromas and its personality transport you for few moments.
With all my heart,