Blending and bottling Scotch whisky is a tradition nearly as old as whisky itself. Long before single malt popularity, independent bottlers, and blending houses were more the rule than the exception. While some of these names are familiar (Douglas Laing, Gordon and Mcphail, Ian Mcleod, Murray McDavid, and Cadenhead all come to mind), newcomers such as Compass Box, Blackadder, and now, Mossburn are reimagining the market.
Mossburn began operations in 1992, blending and bottling a variety of spirits, including whisky. Then, in 2017, it released its first bottling under the Mossburn moniker. It also opened its first distillery, Torabhaig, on the island of Skye. Torabhaig is the second distillery on the tiny island (Talisker being the first) and the first to open in two centuries. Whereas Torabhaig produces Islay-centric single-malt Scotch whisky, Mossburn can produce a variety of whiskies, single-malts, and blends sourced from distilleries throughout Scotland.
I recently had the opportunity to sample whiskies from both – Mossburn’s “Island” Blended Malt and Torabhaig‘s “Allt Gleann.” Both are traditional Island whiskies – spicy and smoky – and I suspect Mossburn includes a healthy dosage of Torabhaig. Blended Scotch has come a long way, or perhaps more accurately, come full circle, since the less notable blends of the sixties and seventies. Typical blended Scotch includes both malt and grain Scotches, but blended malts must be 100% malt only. Blended malts are usually of higher quality, though many quality whiskies (see Compass Box) include grain in their DNA.
Mossburn labels provide a unique insight into the liquid’s cask bill. The Island expression maturation includes RB (re-use bourbon barrels), FB (first-fill bourbon barrels), and HT (heavily toasted hogsheads) in a 5:2:1 ratio. I’m not sure how useful that information is to the average Scotch drinker, but it’s interesting to us whisky nerds. Like most “vatted” malts, it lacks an age statement or component sourcing – facts I would find informative.
The elegant blend is nicely married, exhibiting a more restrained Island profile – one more representative of Skye than typical Islay. The initial aroma is mildly smoky and peaty, with notes of spice, vanilla, cocoa, and savory herbs. The overall impact is muted, requiring intense swirling for full effect. At 46% ABV, the initial sip was slightly hot, which I tamed by adding a few drops of water. This is not a smoke monster, but it’s present and pervasive- like damp campfire coals. The mouthfeel was soft, slightly thin, and somewhat salty. Vanilla forward, I also detected notes of baked Granny Smith apples, toffee, bitter chocolate, black tea, and hints of canned kippers, all backed by oak and barrel spice. The finish revealed savory herbs, black pepper, more vanilla, and a moderately long finish with the campfire ask resurging. My overall impression is one of “muted elegance.” While it ticks many “Scotch characteristic” boxes, none particularly stands out as noteworthy. It’s a good dram – no more but certainly no less.
Torabhaig’s Allt Glean single-malt Scotch is quite reminiscent of the Mossburn, although the smoke and youth are equally more prominent. It pours a pale straw, immediately opening with noticeable smoke. Malty cereal leads to waxy vanilla chew aromas – like the old Brach’s vanilla toffees from the grocery store. Cigarette tobacco, fresh lemon zest, and cut hay lead to hints of wet flint, cocoa powder, and distant butterscotch. Like the Mossburn, prickly heat and an initial burst of ethanol are tamed with a few drops of water. Earthy peat and light smoke lead the flavor profile, with brine opening into a sweetness that releases more vanilla chews, caramel, tea biscuits, cooked cereal, and hints of winter spice. The finish accentuates the malt, followed by more sweet caramel and a distant reminder of smoke. Despite its youth, it’s a nicely soft and enjoyable dram.
While neither of these whiskies makes an earth-shattering impression, they’re both good, and I can recommend either (or both) without equivocation. Would I put either up against my list of favorite drams? No. But they certainly earn a spot in the collection – maybe not at the top, but there, all the same!