A small head-to-head today from Nc’Nean distillery. One the one hand we have the N’cNean Organic Cask Strength. Most websites will tell you this is the first cask strength version ever, but that’s only true if you ignore the single casks like AON #17-257 for instance.
For the maturation they used 55% STR wine casks, 43% bourbon casks and 2% Oloroso sherry, roughly the same composition as their cornerstone single malt. The youngest component of this whisky was distilled in 2019, but there is slightly older spirit in there as well.
Nc’Nean Organic Cask Strength (59,6%, OB 2023, Batch CS/GD06, 4998 btl.)
Nose: stingy alcohol with lots of porridge notes. The winey STR stands out first (a bit too much in my opinion) and later more rounded fruity notes come out. Apricots (half-dried), baked apples and hints of red berries. Wood shavings and candied ginger as well, with some sherry spice in the background. Reasonable depth but it’s fairly rustic.
Mouth: hot, sweet and woody. Less fruits than on the nose. Firm grainy notes again (rye bread) with a light sharpness and a nice citric side. Then hints of grapefruit (peel), a little oak char, some aniseed and other earthy herbs. White pepper and a hint of red wine tannins too. Adding water brings out sweet fruits and more roundness – in fact the whisky gets much better if you dilute it considerably.
Finish: medium, with some woody heat, peppermint and zesty citrus.
Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of a cask strength whisky, if it improves significantly after dilution? I simply find the strength a bit unpleasant at such a young age. Also the STR casks are loud and I find € 100 exaggerated for a 4 year old, especially since extra alcohol is basically the only difference with the standard expression.
Then we have a Nc’Nean 2018 that is the first release in the Westie Sponge series from Decadent Drinks. It celebrates single malts of the West Highlands and Islands. Two hogsheads were selected, one made with Anchor and Fermentis yeast, the other with Anchor, Fermentis and DistilaMax. They’ve been combined for a few months and then put back into the same two casks. Half of the mix is released now, the remainder is re-racked into refill wood for the future.
Nc’Nean 5 yo 2018 (55%, Decadent Drinks ‘Westie Sponge’ 2023, two first-fill hogsheads, 340 btl.)
Nose: so much fruitier. Still a lot of lemons and oranges, but also wine gums, a little nectarine and strawberry notes. Hints of frosted cake, candied ginger and bright meadow flowers. The porridgy side is a subdued – more of a fresh muesli note.
Mouth: creamier than expected, showing vibrant peaches, apples and oranges with hints of floral honey and honeysuckle. Light hints of green tea, as well as nutmeg and aniseed. Then vanilla takes over towards the end.
Finish: medium length, with vanilla, lemon candy and some pepper.
So it’s time to phase out the STR casks: this may be less complex, but it’s more vibrant and pleasant, showing the intrinsic quality of the spirit. Much smarter and cheaper from an independent bottler too. Still available from Decadent Drinks or retailers like The Whisky Exchange. Score: 84/100