Catching Up With A.D. Rattray

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One of my very best friends in this business is Stan Morrison from A.D. Rattray, son of Stanley W. Morrison of Morrison-Bowmore fame, and one of the proprietors of the new Clydeside Distillery in Glasgow. Over the years, I’ve purchased single casks from the Morrisons (my first ever a 27 year old Clynelish, I believe), and I’ve always been a huge supporter of their brands. Stan is pretty much the nicest guy I’ve ever met, we’ve always got along well, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to help him and his family. That’s why I’m going to start this post off with a few words from Ralfy, whose recent review of the Cask Orkney 18 year old was emailed to me this morning:

“This reminds me of Highland Park in the old days, when it was more elemental. It was less cushioned from the previous cask contents that you tend to get from modern whiskies. In fact, in the old days when people were sipping malts I think they were more tolerant of individuality and singular character; less so now, to a certain extent. I’m enjoying this more than I would be enjoying an official bottling.”

I cannot be trusted whatsoever to remain impartial about my feelings for this whisky because of my strong affinity for the Morrisons. I’m too big a fan of them as people and their work as bottlers. The new Cask Orkney 18 year old Limited Edition is yet another example, but I’ll give you two previous whiskies for context. The Stronachie 18 year (now discontinued) was perhaps the most overlooked value in the store when I worked retail; a stunning deal at under $100 for 18 year old Benrinnes. It wasn’t bottled at cask strength. It didn’t have the individuality of a single cask. It was just flat out delicious. Round, creamy, and always satisfying. The A.D. Rattray Cask Islay (take the initials C and I and I think you can figure out where this one is from) is another sleeper—nothing fancy, nothing new, just plain good. A balanced and tasty whisky that, again, was overlooked because of its anonymity. Now we’ve got a third winner: the 18 year old cask Orkney, from the legendary island producer.

Like Ralfy, the Orkney 18 reminds me of the old days, back when people drank whisky because it tasted good and gave them pleasure, rather than because it provided them with a new educational experience or the chance to acquire another collectable; when people were more tolerant to the idea of whisky for the sake of whisky. There’s absolutely nothing new going on in the Cask Orkney expression. There are no gimmicks here. There’s no cask finishing, no secondary wine or sherry maturation. It’s not bottled at cask strength, just a standard 46% with no chill filtering or added color. There’s no special story behind the bottling, celebrating the anniversary of a major event. It’s just 18 year old whisky that tastes absolutely exquisite, loaded with vanilla on the front end and a sweet malted barley note that goes on for a solid five minutes on the finish. There’s just a touch of peat smoke there, which is a nice accent note, but for me this whisky is all about harmony. It’s just so fucking balanced and accordant in every element. It’s perfect single malt Scotch whisky, calm and reassuring in its integrity.

Sort of like the Morrisons themselves, actually. Calm, easy going people with integrity. They are the ballast to my explosive extraverted existence. Maybe that’s why I like their whiskies so much.

Speaking of ballast (and I wrote that completely by coincidence I’m just realizing), I need to tell you about their new Ballast Club! More about that later.

-David Driscoll