Anyone who is remotely interested in scotch whisky would be daft to turn down the opportunity to create their own bespoke barrel of whisky!
We are the Hamilton family from Edinburgh who have been friends of David Robertson and his family for some years.
I have always been interested in whisky since I worked in Oddbins as a student and David and I have had many discussions about the amber liquid; he even sourced a bottle of Shackleton’s whisky for my mother and I to take to the Antarctic as he knew we would be visiting Shackleton’s grave in South Georgia.
But our own barrel?
Robert and Fiona with their son
David was kindly hosting a charity whisky tasting for us and one of the attendees brought along a bottle of his “10 year old Reserve” from his own barrel to auction as a prize.
When the guest introduced his bottle of whisky, everyone in the room not only wanted to buy that bottle but I imagine more than a few were envious of the opportunity to have your own whisky; the charity did well out of that bottle!
On the way home, David said Holyrood were going one better than that island distillery and were offering not only the private barrel, but an opportunity to tailor the flavour profile to your own specifications. We were sold!
With such a wide variety of whiskies with an almost infinite number of flavours, how would we be able to choose something we all liked? My husband was new to whisky, always believing he didn’t like it, but had recently been converted by one of David’s earlier tastings.
Our son through working in some very upmarket establishments, had developed similarly expensive tastes and liked most whisky. Our daughter didn’t really know much about whisky or even if she liked it, but was keen to give it a go. Whilst liking a few mild peaty whiskies, I, like my husband, preferred a whisky matured in a sherry cask, probably because we also like a sherry!
The Holyrood Find Your Flavour session
After filling in an initial questionnaire about our likes and dislikes, we went to the Find Your Flavour consultation with a pretty definite idea of what we were going to go for – something like a Sherry Cask Macallan 12 year old – I mean what’s not to like about that?
However, the consultation was a bit like a tasting in reverse and a bit of a revelation!
Yes, we tasted lots of whiskies that displayed the various flavours that Holyrood offered, and we all realised that we liked a lot more than we thought we did. The way maturation in different casks makes a tremendous difference to the taste as well as the different yeasts and malting process.
The combinations that could be offered were vast and tasting the different whiskies cemented the choice that we were making the right choice for us. It was also a bit of a wake up call – a hogshead will yield around 250 bottles of whisky once the angels have had their share – that’s a lot of whisky.
Whilst we were all quite taken with the Japanese oak, we did stick to our initial choice of sherry cask. It also was fascinating hearing similar discussions taking place across the table from other budding cask owners.
Filling the Hamilton cask
It all started to seem a little unreal and a little bit mad that the Hamilton family were going to have their own hogshead of whisky, our heritage in whisky. We had a family trip to see round the distillery to see exactly where our whisky would be distilled and then after a bit of a wait to get our distillation date, it was time for the cask filling!
I’m not sure how many cask owners went to fill their own cask, but I do hope that most do. Sadly the distillery was not able to schedule the distillation for a date that would allow our daughter to make it from University and that was a real shame.
Once filled, the cask was rolled into the warehouse for the long sleep
It was on one of the coldest, snowiest and wildest days in February, we went along to fill our own oloroso sherry cask with our own bespoke whisky. This was our baby who would be sheltered, nurtured and protected in the warehouse for years to come.
We were all surprised at the emotion and excitement surrounding an action that was similar to filling one’s car up with petrol – we were warned the spirit (it cant be called whisky yet) was highly flammable. But there was an emotional connection, this was a piece of our family history in the making and we were all aware of it.
There is and always has been passion, emotion and perhaps a little bit of mystery associated with the whisky industry or maybe whisky just attracts people who are subconsciously on a similar wavelength, but everyone present on that wintry day in February, from the warehouseman to the master distiller, was excited about the birth of our whisky. What was almost most surprising for me, was that the spirit tasted so good especially at 63.5% abv.
Nearing it's final resting place...
Well we will leave our baby, cask number 50 of 2020, in the dedicated care of the Holyrood Distillery warehouse. We hope to visit it occasionally with some of the other cask owners and perhaps even swap samples and taste some their casks.
There is talk of some sort of giant multi-flavoured swap shop once the whisky is nearing maturity to enable bottles to be shared amongst cask owners. So who knows, I may be able to lay hands on a bottle matured in Japanese oak after all. Perhaps one day a bottle of Hamilton reserve may fetch a lot of money at a charity fundraiser!
Fiona & Robert Hamilton
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