Whisky Review Round Up: Five Lions/Claxton Independent Scotch Bottlings - The Whiskey Wash

Whisky Review Round Up: Five Lions/Claxton Independent Scotch Bottlings

To shortly introduce what will be a lengthy analysis, we’re going over a six-part collection of older Scotch whiskies provided to us as samples to review which all herald from independent bottlers and not the distilleries themselves.

The majority of them are from Five Lions, a United Kingdom-based independent bottler focused specifically on Scotch. In general, this bottler acquires what they consider to be extraordinary individual casks from Scottish distillers to bottle and sell under the Five Lions brand, essentially including the basic details on the bottle and not changing anything about the whisky itself.

The final sample comes from Claxton’s, a Yorkshire-based bottler that essentially does the same thing as Five Lions (acquiring casks of Scotch to sell under their own brand).

All of these whiskies are imported to the United States and Canada in limited quantities by Glass Revolutions Imports.

Glenburgie 20-year-old (image via Five Lions)

Tasting Notes: Five Lions –Aberlour 8-year-old, first-fill Oloroso Sherry

Vital Stats: The first and youngest is an eight-year-old Aberlour, a distillery in Speyside currently owned by Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard (of Chivas Regal if that wasn’t already clear). It was aged in Oloroso casks and bottled at 57.9% ABV.

Appearance: In a glass, this comes out a typical golden amber, perhaps a bit light compared to all whiskey in the world but about average for Scotch whisky.

Nose: Hits the nose with a nose with an interestingly sour mix of spice and citrus, like a tart with a lot of lemon, a punch of ginger and a hint of flowers in the background. That mellows out into a semisweet toffee with a note of coffee and touches of nutmeg and oak.

Palate: While the first sip hits the tongue like a pleasantly floral honey, that lasts for barely a moment before sharply snapping into a very potently spicy character, primarily with notes of clove and pepper. That blast continues through swallowing before eventually easing off into a spicy, earthy caramel aftertaste with an undercurrent of smoke. Subsequent sips become more manageable as the tongue acclimates to the higher ABV – taking on more character of the caramel finish – but it still has small sharp pangs of clove and pepper.

The Takeaway: This Aberlour is certainly an interesting dram once you get used to it, but it’s still difficult to get over the potency of this 8-year-old, especially for a sweet tooth like me. Even adding a few drops of water only slightly toned that down. So, while this is a great whisky, it would have been even better as a stronger ingredient of a more traditionally Speyside blend.

Score: 3.5

Tasting Notes: Craigellachie 10-year, first-fill bourbon

Vital Stats: This Scotch comes from the Speyside Craigellachie Distillery, owned by Dewar & Sons (which is in turn owned by Bacardi). The whisky spent 10 years in first-fill bourbon casks and is bottled at 55.9% ABV.

Appearance: Very pale even as far as Scotch goes. While still golden in hue, it comes off as appearing more like an alloy with some silvery element, continuing with the metal analogy.

Nose: Starts off very faint and delicate with just a hint of miscellaneous flowers wafting into the nasal passages. That eventually becomes stronger and gains a subdued caramel character with hints of oak and allspice.

Palate: Entry is once again very subtle with just a light touch of flowers and honey on first contact with the tongue. That lasts for a moment before a nutmeg-like spice begins to build, quickly ramping up to a moderate burn on the tongue. Swallowing once again strips that down to a rich caramel before a clove-like burn begins to build up again, growing to another moderate burn before easing back into the rich caramel with a touch of smokiness. That burn occasionally flares up again for another minute or so.

The Takeaway: I really appreciate that this one is able to take its imbiber on a journey between a very delicate honey-like character to a harsher than average spice. It still got a bit harsh for me at times, but variety of experiences is something I value much more highly in a Scotch.

Score: 4

Tasting Notes: Five Lions – Westport 18-year-old blended malt

Vital Stats: You won’t likely find much about a Westport distillery in Scotland because this whisky is a “teaspoon whisky,” meaning it is primarily from one distillery save for a “teaspoon” of another distillery’s whisky. This one was for 18 years in a first-fill sherry butt and bottled at 59.7% ABV.

Appearance: Darker than average among all whiskey and considerably darker than the other Scotch whiskies in this review, coming off like a deep-red copper.

Nose: The first sniff brings in the aroma of a rich molasses with notes of cocoa and condensed milk giving an added creamy character and hints of clove and smoke adding a bit of spice. That gradually eases into more of a rich, creamy caramel with more pronounced clove and smoke.

Palate: The first sip hits the tongue with a rich, creamy caramel with a bit of smoky character. Gradually it builds to have more of a spicy flavor lightly burning the tongue like cinnamon and clove. Swallowing strips the flavor back down to the caramel before the spicy notes slowly build back up to a light burn, which then gradually eases back to a smoky caramel finish.

The Takeaway: While it was rich, sweet, spicy this Westport just generally seemed to be both unobjectionable and unremarkable. It hit all of the of sweet and spicy notes a Scotch might be expected to touch on, but it did so without much character that would set it apart.

Score: 3.5

Tasting Notes: Five Lions – Glenburgie 20-year-old Single Malt Scotch

Vital Stats: This single malt was distilled in 1995 at the Speyside Glenburgie, an old distillery that saw many starts and stops in its history, including being shuttered in 2000, demolished, and rebuilt by 2004. This expression was aged for 20 years in second-fill American Bourbon Hogshead casks and bottled at cask strength of 53.7 ABV.

Appearance: A bit lighter than average, but still a golden amber that’s typical of Scotch.

Nose: Very delicate on the nose to the point of being almost indiscernible, the scents I could detect included a mellow, rich vanilla with vaguely floral notes. That eventually gains an earthy hay character with a very light touch of pepper to the mix.

Palate: As with the nose, the first sip is extremely delicate, coming off like a floral honey with just a hint of lilac setting itself apart from the indiscernible flowers in the mix. The honey remains the undercurrent while spicy notes of ginger and clove begin to tickle the tongue and gradually build to a moderate burn. Swallowing elicits a sharp pang of that burn before very slowly tapering off into to the floral honey from the beginning.

The Takeaway: While I was initially unimpressed with this Glenburgie on the nose, I found its subtlety very rewarding on the tongue. I appreciated not only the restraint of this whiskey, but also how it still managed to also hit the spicy and sweet sides of Scotch without going over the top. I’d pick this one up in a heartbeat if I ever come across it.

Score: 5

Tasting Notes: Five Lions ­– Burnside 22-year-old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Vital Stats: This whisky is a 22-year-old aged in a second-fill Oloroso Sherry Hogshead cask and bottled at cask strength of 55.5% ABV.

Appearance: A fairly standard golden amber, a bit darker than most Scotch but a bit lighter than whiskey overall.

Nose: Again, a very delicate vanilla that’s almost indecipherable. Eventually it develops and earthier dynamic with notes of sweet apple, cinnamon, and barley, though again very subtle.

Palate: Eases its way on the tongue like a delicate vanilla – this time fairly bright and sweet as opposed to mellow and rich – with a bit of an earthy, smoky character. That smokiness gradually gets stronger as the sip develops a spicy, nutmeg-like undercurrent that gently tickles the tongue.

The Takeaway: Since Scotch older than 12 years is a rare for me to encounter, it should come as no surprise that I found this 22-year-old is excellent. I appreciated that it was delicate and took me through specific stages of spicy and sweet. However, those stages weren’t as distinct as I’d normally like with this one, as opposed to the 18-year-old Glenburgie. While still great, it fell a bit short the high standard that the Glenburgie set for me.

Score: 4.5

Tasting Notes: Claxton’s The Single Cask ­– Cambus 25-year-old

Vital Stats: This one comes from the defunct Cambus distillery in the Lowlands, which ended production in 1993 leaving a plethora, albeit limited quantity, of barrels for others to scoop up. This release was aged for 25 years in a refilled sherry butt, specifically cask 1725-103028, and bottled at 52.1% ABV.

Appearance: Again, a bright gold that’s lighter, even for Scotch, but not the lightest of this whole grouping.

Nose: The first inhale is an assertive – but not overwhelming – wave of sweet vanilla, a slightly less-pronounced note of charred oak adding a bit of earthy smoke, and extra touches of banana and pine nuts. While those aromas remain, the bouquet quickly turns in a spicier direction dominated ginger, hay, and a more pronounced smokiness that makes the sweetness seem more like a crème brûlée crust.

Palate: Entry slides on the tongue with smoothness of a gentle vanilla syrup with a touch of flowers in the background, specifically lilac. That flavor rapidly develops spicier notes that grow as they remain on the tongue, primarily tasting of cloves, ginger, and a touch of oak. Swallowing wipes away all but a delicate, smoky mix of oak and vanilla before the clove flavor gradually resurges and builds into a light tingle throughout the mouth. After a crescendo to a mild burn, the flavor eases back into a smoky, rich vanilla that lingers as a coating on the tongue for a couple minutes.

The Takeaway: While some of the other whiskies in this collection might have been better as ingredients in a blend, this Cambus cask of 25-year-old whisky holds up great by itself. A dram is sweet, rich, earthy, and a bit spicy, without leaning too much in any of those directions. My only minor criticism is that the palate was at times a bit too delicate to detect much nuance, but this is still what I personally look for when I drink Scotch.

Score: 4

About the author

Aaron Knapp