When a gentleman with an untamed beard and a kilt who self-styles himself as a Wild Scotsman takes the trouble to attend the IPCPR convention to announce his solidarity with cigars, he’s generally worth reckoning with. So when Jeffrey Topping asked us to taste some of the whisky he imports against cigars, we took him up on the challenge.
Topping visited a Scotch whisky distillery (Bladnoch) for the first time some 10 years ago and returned to the U.S. with enough enthusiasm to go into the business. Now, he is a whisky negotiant who buys casks from distilleries in Scotland and bottles them for marketing here. Distilleries he deals with include Bladnoch, Glen Grant, Royal Lochnagar and Mortlach, but much of what he bottles comes in the form of blended malt whisky. That is not to be confused with simple blended Scotch, which includes grain whiskies. Blended malts are marriages purely of pot-stilled malt whiskies from various distilleries. They used to be called vatted malts, but a change in Scotch Whisky Association regulations a few years back resulted in this decidedly down-market designation for these products, which can be exquisite.
Topping’s signature product is the Wild Scotsman Black Label Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, which he created “to compliment my enjoyment of a cigar.” He also promotes a Wild Scotsman Single Cask Series in small runs using casks remnants from his blended malt and private label bottlings. “It allows the consumer to appreciate the different flavors that inspire my palate much like eating next to a Chef as they are cooking a great meal,” he told us. This series includes Bunnahabhain 38-year-old, Caol Ila 27-year-old and something called North Islay 21-year-old ex-Olorosa Sherry Cask, a name made up because “due to the nature in which I bought the cask I was not allowed to use the distillery name. Just look at a map of Islay and all will be clear.”
It was also comments like that and one on his website that goes, “Leave the pomp and pretense behind for this site is about Whisky not Wine” that made us want to try his whiskies, which are produced without caramel coloring or chill filtering. The results ensue.
Wild Scotsman Black Label Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey (94 proof or 47 percent abv, $68.99)
APPEARANCE: A light Riesling gold color with fast legs of medium width.
NOSE: Starts with a modest peat smell that quickly turns to toast. Then comes honey sweetness and a bit of vanilla with traces of orange oil.
PALATE: After the softish nose, the whisky is surprisingly chewy in the mouth with a nougat taste before becoming toasty and wheaty notes, but not particularly peaty.
FINISH: That orange zest from the nose reappears at the finale.
PAIRING: For the front end of the pairing we chose an Oliva Serie 'V'
Special V Figurado (88 Points, June 2012 Cigar Aficionado), a
dramatically curvy figurado with a toasty, woody flavor profile that
also reveals hints of leather and cedar. With the Wild Scotsman Blended
Malt the smoke became even toastier and very nutty with a bit of
cinnamon. The cigar gave the whisky a wood structure, and from the two
seemed to arise a lemony, citric note, especially when water was added.
For the back end we chose Alec Bradley American Sun Grown Blend Gordo (88 Points, August 28 Cigar Insider), a large, dark cigar draws that is rich and nutty to start, before becoming roasted and wheaty.The whisky conferred licorice and cinnamon on cigar, which became chewier and richer. The cigar seemed to reveal both the peat and the sweetness of the Scotch.
Wild Scotsman 38-year-old Bunnahabhaim—Distilled 1973, Bottled 2011, Expert casked (100 proof or 50 percent abv, $269.99)
APPEARANCE: Color is between copper and amber, with a touch of green. The legs are thin legs with medium speed.
NOSE: Butterscotch and honey sweetness fill the head with surprisingly little peat considering its Islay origin. This may be a function of its advanced age.
PALATE: Toffee and nougat notes jump out immediately to be followed by almond and sugar.
FINISH: The end is sweet and buttery with a sense of praline or peanut brittle.
PAIRING: Oliva Serie V - This was not an ideal pairing. The cigar
seemed overpowered by the flavor in this scotch, and the two don't
contribute to one another.
Alec Bradley American Sun Grown - What a delight! The whisky made the smoke creamy and sweet with a distinct pepper note. The cigar returned the favor by sharpening the toffee, nougat and nuts in the Scotch.