Whisky Review: The Exceptional Grain, 2nd Edition - The Whiskey Wash

Whisky Review: The Exceptional Grain, 2nd Edition

image via Whisky Kirk/The Whiskey Wash

This blend of high quality grain whisky was created by Sutcliffe & Son. It contains a barrel of 14-year-old whisky from North British Distillery, along with a no age statement barrel from Loch Lomond distillery. Finally, a third barrel of 33-year-old whisky from Carsebridge distillery adds both distinction and gravitas.

All three of these signature barrels were combined with an unspecified number of first-fill Oloroso sherry casks from an unspecified distillery. The resulting grain blend contains both wheat and corn. It’s a welcome departure from typical American-style bourbon.

Don Sutcliffe, managing director of Craft Distillers, and Willie Phillips, former managing director of The Macallan, joined forces to make this small batch grain whisky from Scotland. Both men had been dreaming about putting together a series of small batch creations since autumn of 1987.

In the spring of 2010, they decided to make their dream a reality. First came sourcing and selecting barrels, and then it was time to figure out how all of the puzzle pieces should fit together.

Three editions of The Exceptional Grain have been released. My bottle (currently under review) hails from the Second Edition. It’s also worth mentioning that two other variations on Suffcliffe’s and Phillip’s small batch theme were subsequently released: The Exceptional Malt, and The Exceptional Blend.

Tasting Notes: The Exceptional Grain, 2nd Edition

Vital Statistics: Sufcliffe & Son’s “The Exceptional Grain”; 750ml; 43% ABV / 86 proof; prices vary widely from $70 – $110.

Appearance: Deep copper color with widely spaced thin legs caused by conspicuous beading. I might go so far as to call them “daddy long legs.”

Nose: Caramel, marshmallow nougat, Elmer’s glue, cream sherry, doughy yeast, Scottish short bread, and a faint oak whisper.

Palate: Restrained yet elegant sweetness evokes raw marshmallow, raspberry, lemon zest, unsalted peanuts, caramel, and a creamy swirl of Oloroso.

Finish: Medium in length, it lingers primarily with notes of caramel and roasted cashew. A tracery of semi-bitter oak helps to balance the final impression of blended grain. In all fairness, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that balance is the weakest link in this chain. At times it feels flat, at times grainy, and the rest of the time, well…not bad at all.

Final Thoughts and Score:

Speaking of clocks and sun dials…time in the glass helps to bring out more of The Exceptional Grain’s complexity, especially in the nose. I feel no compulsion whatsoever to add water. 86 proof is right at the edge of acceptability for me, but I don’t find it lacking too much oomph.

On the bright side, the Elmer’s glue note that I mention in my tasting notes does eventually fade. Patience is a virtue with this dram, as with most other drams of obvious quality. C’est la vie. Mr. Sutcliffe and Mr. Phillips can be fairly proud of their eccentric yet pleasing blend of Scottish grain. Even though this older, 2nd Edition, is hard to find now, a 3rd edition is available for the boutique blend-curious.

May I speak bluntly? Resting all of the barrels in this blend together, for longer, would have contributed to a more balanced and consistent end product. If The Whiskey Wash offered half stars, this one would be rated at two and a half, rather than three. And since we are on the subject…in all honesty, for the same price, I would be more apt to buy a bottle of (single cask) single grain Scotch whisky rather than this small batch blend.

Yes, it’s true that Scottish grain whiskies are hard to find in the USA, and usually more expensive than they should be. In Europe, however, they are fairly plentiful, and often quite reasonably priced. Such bottles can tickle a buyer’s brain cells, especially when they are at least twenty years of age.

Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed a run of luck with 30+ Year Old single grain Scotch. One or two bottles have even been good enough to put all of the 2016 Pappy Van Winkle and Parker’s Heritage to shame (at a fraction of the price). However, it’s worth mentioning that the secret is out. Prices for rare Scottish grain whiskies are going up faster than gold bullion. A few years ago, they were dirt cheap. No longer.

About the author

Whisky Kirk

Whisky Kirk is a writer who specializes in fiction and nonfiction dealing with the supernatural, cultural programming, and the entertainment industry. He also plays drums in rock, jazz, Latin, and ancient native forms of music. Kirk lives in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches creative writing at the college level as his “day job.” For him, whisk[e]y is an obsession that spans decades.