In the light of the new spirits fair Just Whisky Hamburg, alcohols importer Prineus GmbH held a brilliant tie-in event. At the classy premises of top-quality Vietnamese restaurant Hoi An in Hamburg-Harburg, the company ran an exclusive Lindores Abbey tasting. Its host was Cask Castodian Elliot Wynn-Higgins, who came all the way from Scotland to sip some drams with us that weekend. As he told me later, his main responsibility at the distillery is to look after, and expand, the private cask program. So, if – like me – you had no idea what exactly a Cask Castodian would do at Lindores Abbey, now you know it.
Upon arrival, we were given a refreshing and easy sipping welcome drink: Aqua Vitae with ginger ale, orange zest, and red currant. While we sipped it, Elliot told us about the history and philosophy of the distillery he works for. The given backgrounds and shared explanations are important to understand why Lindores Abbey does certain things a little different: Around five years ago, the unit was built on the very ground where ancient monks had put to record the very first production of “uisge beatha” (i.e., water of life) on Scottish soil – way back in 1494! Right from the start, Lindores Abbey has fully embraced the lore and story of its home turf in all they do. That is, for example, also the reason they offer Aqua Vitae (i.e., new make enriched with herbs) rather than gin to the mixology and cocktail crowd.
The four-piece line-up of whisky, that we drank in the following, provided a great overview of Lindores Abbey’s excellent range. We started with their only core range expression at the moment, labeled MCDXCIV. It is a thick and savory single malt Scotch whisky with well-balanced notes of apple, pear, honey, fudge, zest, and herbs. I have been a big fan of this dram from day one and also have a bottle of it at home. Next up came a limited release: Casks of Lindores STR. With this series, the distillery deconstructs its MCDXCIV bottling. Each entry into the Casks of Lindores series is made exclusively from one of the three wood types used in the recipe of MCDXCIV: ex-Bourbon, ex-Sherry, and STR. For the STR variety, the Lowlands-based whisky makers vatted about 40 red wine barriques, all of which got the full STR treatment before (which means that they were shaved, toasted, and recharred before filling). The result is a mouth-watering drop that provides lots n’ lots of brittle, fruit, berry, stave, peel, cream, and also a pinch of spice. In direct comparision to the opener, Casks of Lindores STR felt a bit more vibrant and electrifying; it comes with a slightly higher ABV and also has a few more edges – which especially become apparent in the strong, expressive finish.
Dram number three was a special one. After all, the 4-year-old single malt Scotch whisky that Elliot and the Prineus team had selected for us is not officially available; and it has an exciting backstory: In 2019, Lindores Abbey hosted a world-class chess tournament. As they did not have any fully matured whisky at that time, they produced an alternate bottling for the event, namely a blend of Aqua Vitae and a 2-year-old young malt from a virgin oak cask. They called this one-off experiment Thabill. What we drank in the tasting, however, was not Thabill, but the rest of the virgin oak cask, which later was transfered into an ex-Bourbon barrel from Heaven Hill. There, it rested for another two years before Lindores Abbey bottled it in a minute edition of 60-or-so pieces. As said, these are not for sale, but only poured at special tastings and other events. The whisky was absolutely sublime, offering rich smells and flavors of vanilla, toffee, cocoa, baked banana, brittle, and clove. It culminated in a wonderful finish that – for a wee moment – made me feel as if I was standing right in the middle of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory!
Our fourth and last whisky was Prineus’ much-celebrated Exclusive Cask 2018/2022 with a double maturation in port and sherry casks. This drop, which Elliot called “a perfect accident”, was especially close to our host’s heart. After all, the port pipe, in which the spirit spent its initial two years, was the very first cask that Elliot ever filled at Lindores Abbey Distillery (later at Just Whisky Hamburg, he also showed me some photos from that special occasion on his phone). At one point, however, the vessel began to leak, so the content was moved into Oloroso sherry cask for its final two years. The result is mind-blowing! The reddish-black Lowlands whisky brims with dark berries, tobacco, licorice, cassis pudding, and charred wood. Underneath, there is also a touch of mint creme and a fine layer of sulphur. If this were the first time I tried it, I would have bought a bottle in an instant … yet, I already had it in the glass a few month earlier at Kiel Whisky Fair. I liked it so much that I took a bottle home from there.
Besides the whisky, there is one more thing that deserves extra-high praise, namely the fingerlicking good food we received from the friendly and attentive Hoi An team. In between the drams, they served us two delicacies. One was a traditional Pho soup – the national dish of Vietnam. As we learned, this one is also a reliable indicator on the quality of a Vietnamese restaurant: If they make a good Pho soup, you can rest assured that the remaining items on the menu will be good as well. In case of Hoi An, the Pho soup was not just good, it was excellent … and so was the other treat they had prepared for us: Wantons stuffed with chicken and shrimp mousse; pepper leaves filled with minced meat; and rice noodles, salad, and different sauces on the side. This was, without exaggeration, some of the best food I had this year! The dishes were not just a nice accompaniment to top-notch drams, they were a highlight of their own. Just a few bites in, my wife Dini and I both agreed: We must go back there someday soon! Maybe we can even bring a sample of Lindores Abbey and sip it alongside our meals, thus revisiting this fantastic event one more time.
Lindores Abbey MCDXCIV (Single Malt Whisky / Lowlands / diff. Casks / 46% / EUR 40)
Casks of Lindores “STR” (Single Malt Whisky / Lowlands / STR / 49.4% / EUR 65)
Special Cask Sample (Single Malt Whisky / Lowlands / Virgin Oak & Bourbon / XX% / not for sale)
Lindores Abbey 2018/2022 (Single Malt Whisky / Lowlands / Port & Sherry / 57.4% / EUR 80)
Lindores Abbey @ Web: https://lindoresabbeydistillery.com/
Prineus @ Web: https://www.prineus.com/
Hoi An @ Web: https://www.hoian-restaurant.de/
Elliot Wynn-Higgins @ Insta: https://www.instagram.com/whisky_elliot/
*** I was kindly invited to the event by Prineus. Thank you. ***