The first time I had caught wind of the Whyte & Mackay portfolio was while browsing the internet and stumbling across a couple of YouTube Videos of their Master Distiller, Richard Paterson; a very passionate, enthusiastic and hands-on person. Probably one of a handful of Master Distillers who love devoting ‘on screen’ presence spreading whisky etiquette with so much passion and interest. The second was when Liquor baron, Vijay Mallya had bought a controlling share of the Scotch brand. I still remember how the news surprised many as it wasn’t always that an Indian conglomerate would swoop in and make front page news.
The event to us indians was truly euphoric (*at least at the time*); trumpets sang and whisky doors opened; golden elixir flowing out from the heavens. The purchase meant better and cheaper access to Scotch which could now be introduced into a vast untapped whisky thirsty country; considering most of what was available were just blends of un-aged grain spirits made from molasses mixed with a wee bit of actual scotch.
Months later began the next phase of heavy branding, associations and sponsorship. One such sponsorship was with Vijay’s (*no brainer here*) newly inherited Formula 1 team, Force One. Not only was the brand splashed across their jerseys, jump suits and F1 cars, but Richard Paterson also went on to create custom blends for each of their team drivers.
A lot can be said from a label, and the Whyte & Mackay does touch a little bit on its history. The distillery was founded in Glasgow in the year 1844 by Charles Mackay and James Whyte, who started initially as whisky merchants and later worked their way in introducing their first blend, the ‘W&M Special’. And like many other distillers, its popularity has been nothing but sinusoidal with many highs and some really rough lows.
Its admiration spread beyond borders to the UK, Americas and much of Europe; however things gradually went downhill with the advent of Prohibition and later World War II. Although the distiller did survive the turmoil it was cash strapped with very little resources to keep production high and meet overseas demand. They were forced to focus locally and expanded to offshore markets as their bank accounts gradually swelled. I personally feel the change in ownership at various junctures of its lifetime helped bring that much wanted innovation and branding that helped it penetrate regions it had no ‘store presence’.
This blend in specific is made of a mix of 41 malt and grain whiskies that are married for a period in sherry casks. From what I understand, the “Double Maturation Process” is their signature approach to re-marrying the already aged and blended mix for as much as a year producing what we know today as the Special.
Eye: Deep Gold
Nose: Sweet caramel, with a lot of grain and raisins. Faint traces of lemon zest, pineapple and butter with very little smoke hitting the nose.
Taste: Plenty of sweet caramel and glucose to start with. Winey and grape-like with bits of char and bitterness accompanied by a mild burn from the spices.
Finish: Warm, spicy, synthetic and mildly dry
The Whyte & Mackay seems darker than most amateur blends which indicates the possible use of E150 coloring, or at least seems to be the case. The whisky is light in nature with borderline peatiness. It does exhibit traits of being aged in European casks but in some ways lacks some of those trademark flavors and aromas. The palate is more aligned to the grain while the nose is more malt-affinite.
Verdict: The whisky being rather rough might be best used as a mixer in a cocktail and not chugged neat!