Wine and cheese, steak and chips, salt and pepper; there are few pairings more iconic. However, there is one combination that makes these all seem insignificant: lost distilleries and independent bottlers.
The decision by UDV (now Diageo) to shut the Cambus grain whisky distillery in 1993 must have made sense at the time, but now seems like a massive error. Having been built in 1806, Cambus switched from malt to grain whisky in 1836, providing this principally to blenders until the distillery’s closure. The occasional and increasingly ancient casks of Cambus that emerge onto the market are now sought after by collectors and have attracted significant praise and high prices. Unfortunately, this popularity has come far too late: there is now only a finite and decreasing stock of the spirit.
The distillery is only one part of this pair, however. Berry Bros & Rudd makes up the other half of this dynamic duo. Unusually, this is a case of the bottler predating the distillery, with Berry Bros & Rudd having been founded in 1698. Impressively, they still have a presence at their original premises, despite now operating globally. Although more customarily associated with fine wines, they claim to use their years of experience to help select and bottle extremely fine casks of whisky: a claim that we can test today.
A recent visit to Royal Mile Whiskies in Edinburgh provided an excellent opportunity to get my hands on a bottle of 25-year-old Cambus: Berry Bros & Rudd had teamed up with several Edinburgh-based shops and bars to produce this bottling as a limited release. The perfect pairing was in place, the whisky was in my glass, and I was able to see what the fuss was all about.
Lowland Single Grain Whisky distilled at Cambus distillery 1991; bottled 2017 by Berry Bros & Rudd.
Cask no. 061971 (555 bottles)
57.1% ABV, the wood has not been declared.
NCF, no colour.
£89.50 from Royal Mile Whiskies (sold out); c. £120-160 at auction.
Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, desiccated coconut, hobnob biscuits, chocolate oranges, and ginger. Heavy sherry notes with raisins and cinnamon.
Palate: Initial creamy sweetness from vanilla fudge, toffee, and milk chocolate. There is fruit in there too: the citrus in the nose is joined by apple, raisin, guava, and a hint of banana. This is followed by lots of spice from cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Rich and creamy in the mouth.
Finish: Boozy sultana, pecan, and banana fade first, leaving ginger, cinnamon, and white pepper.
Opinion: This bottling of the Cambus 25-Year-Old is simply delightful. Berry Bros & Rudd have selected an outstanding cask and bottled it at just the right time. It is a whisky with great complexity, revealing more and more with every sip. It’s not overpowering as a cask strength but still packs enough of a punch to satisfy. If I had tasted this blind, I would probably not have guessed this was a grain whisky: this has all the characteristics of an excellent sherried single malt. The flavours are well-balanced and extremely pleasant.
I don’t think I’ve had many better drams for under £90 a bottle: it is tough to find fault with it at that price. This bottle competes well even at the significantly larger prices it is now commanding at auction. Cambus does now attract a collectors’ price tag, but in this case, that matches the quality of the spirit. Because Cambus is closed, the rarity, and hence price, of these bottlings will only increase. Unfortunately, being a single cask, this particular release is long sold out and surfaces only occasionally at auction. While its quality is indicative of the high standard to expect from any other Cambus bottlings, there is no guarantee that any other cask will be as good as this was.
This isn’t going to be for everyone: although well balanced, those who don’t enjoy hard-hitting sherried cask strength whiskies are unlikely to enjoy this and may want to look elsewhere. The finish, while very good, could also be a little longer and stronger. Otherwise, though, it’s difficult to identify much about the whisky that I don’t like.
All in all, this is an excellent independent bottling of a very fine whisky. I highly recommend it. My only regret is not buying another bottle or two.