Chieftain’s Final Batch—Last Chance at Single Casks from an Iconic Brand – at K&L California – Scotch Whisky News

Final Releases from a Cherished Single Malt Bottler
“There may never be another grouping of casks quite like this one.”
— David Othenin-Girard, K&L SoCal Spirits Buyer

Chieftain’s, one of Scotland’s most inspired bottlers, has decided to end its single malt program. This is disappointing news for the legions of fans this iconic brand has garnered over the years. With a history of offering some of the rarest and most exciting whiskies in the market, Chieftain’s has proven time and again it knows precisely what makes for a world-class single malt. Based on our past success with Chieftain’s and our utter adoration of the brand, we sought out the best of their remaining casks. This swan song set is arguably the finest we’ve encountered from this treasured bottler. Caperdonich, Benriach, Laphroaig, and Ledaig are all represented and are pitch-perfect renditions from these distilleries. While Chieftain’s may come at a premium, what you get are some of the very best single malts to be found in all of Scotland. We urge you to scroll below to learn what makes each of these bottlings so special. We are selling these on pre-arrival, offering you the opportunity to lock in the bottles you want (these are sure to disappear quickly) for significantly less than their “on-the-shelf” price. If you’ve never enjoyed a bottle from Chieftain’s, you simply must add these singular expressions to your collection.

For more on this iconic brand, check out David Othenin-Girard’s recent On the Trail post.

1997 Ledaig 21 Year Old “Chieftain’s” K&L Exclusive Cask Strength Single Sherry Butt Island Single Malt Whisky (750ml) (Pre-Arrival)

The odd and wonderful Tobermory distillery is one of Scotland’s most picturesque and divisive. Only the Jura Distillery has more disparate opinions of their products. But something that almost every peat lover can agree on is the fact that the distiller’s peated line, Ledaig, is an absolute dream. And it’s remained in relative obscurity until recently. We’ve had a good deal of independents offer us Ledaig over the years, but it’s almost always young stocks in very quiet hogsheads. That’s simply because the mark is only produced a few weeks out of the year and is turning out to be pretty sought-after by drinkers across the world, so we’re not seeing high quality older expressions very often. When we do, it’s NEVER in sherry. This distillery needs these barrels for their limited releases and rightfully so – there’s nothing better than an old, smoldering Ledaig in an active sherry. No cask this year will offer more deliciousness for your dollar. Old, peated, cask-strength sherry butt from a tiny distiller for under $150.

David Othenin-Girard | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: October 15, 2019

This absolutely gorgeous Ledaig is easily going to qualify as one of the best buys of the year. It’s hard to argue that Ledaig isn’t one of the most exciting spirits coming out of Scotland these days, but the distillery bottlings are getting more and more expensive. That the Tobermory Distillery has also been closed for the last two years doesn’t do anything to ease the price pressures of this small operation. Regardless of the incredible price compared to distillery bottlings, this cask will almost certainly be a total sleeper. Not because it lacks merit in any sense, but simply because it’s not as flashy or obvious as the rest of the line up from Chieftain’s. Nonetheless, those who take the plunge will be rewarded with one of the most complex whiskies in our portfolio this year. A nose of smoldering cigars and high-end soy sauce. It’s not so abruptly peaty on the nose, but deeply umami with a wide range of savory aromas that make you instantly salivate. The sherry is definitely there, but we’re on the sweet roasted orange peel side of the spectrum rather than the raisins and roasted nuts. On the palate, the saltiness starts to take over, and there’s definitely more obvious peat. Smoked fish, smoked herbs, smoked meats, salty, dense sooty and savory. Some dried citrus, nut butter, and sweet barrel spice to balances out the absurdity of it all. This one may not be for everyone, but it’s damned delicious and absolutely unique.

1997 Benriach 21 Year Old “Chieftain’s” K&L Exclusive Single Rum Barrel Aged Speyside Single Malt Whisky (750ml) (Pre-Arrival) ($149.99)

We could once bottle wonderful casks of BenRiach distillery directly at extremely reasonable prices and with no trouble. This unusual distillery has always been a favorite of ours, filled with experiments left over from their corporate past and their adventurous new owners. It’s one of the few Speysides to still boast a malt floor, and it was always exciting to see the unusual experiments that were hiding in the old warehouses at BenRiach. But at some point in the last five years, the prices climbed into the stratosphere, and when the distillery sold to Brown Forman, our hopes of seeing reasonably priced, old single casks dwindled. Honestly, you can’t really blame them for raising their prices, but it is difficult for us to justify continuing to purchase single casks at significantly higher prices. Our customers are too savvy for that. Not to say there isn’t a market for it, but we simply can’t sell 20-year-old malt for $500 unless there’s something seriously special about it. So, it’s particularly satisfying to see exceptional casks work their way out of the system. This wonderful BenRiach, aged for 21 years and finished in fresh rum barrel for more than 3 years, is our cask strength answer to the Balvenie 21 year. The malty beast that is BenRiach is trained into perfect submission after years in an old rum barrel. The resulting whisky is extremely polished, supple, and packed full of tropical fruit. The price is astonishing, but this whisky is about more than just value. Only 220 bottles available.

David Othenin-Girard | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: October 10, 2019

This lovely cask of Benriach is the first we’ve bottled from the distillery in some time. While it’s nothing like the densely sherried monsters we once bottled, it is one of my favorite Riach’s to date. An incredibly fresh nose of clean roasted malt and tropical fruit. Tiny drop of water to start. There’s no rum esters funk, which I was kind of hoping for, but instead more of an agricole quality. Around that, a buttery creaminess that is unbelievably decadent. Massive bouquets of yellow flowers, honeysuckles, and sunflowers, papaya and pineapple. On the palate, rich and textured, full of malt and fruit. The oak surprisingly takes a back seat despite more than three years in rum casks. It’s hard to say exactly what the rum did or didn’t do here, but the ultimate result is absolutely dreamy.

2005 Laphroaig 13 Year Old “Chieftain’s” K&L Exclusive Cask Strength Single Sherry Butt Islay Single Malt Whisky (750ml) (Pre-Arrival) ($149.99)

The magical distillery on the south shore of Islay is quite unlike any other. But Laphroaig has a certain place in the hearts of the hardest core peat lovers. They’re the last distiller down there to malt a portion of their barley on site. Their complex system of tiny stills creates the most peculiar and enticing peated spirit in the world. The quality and consistency of their casks is second to none. But over the last decade, what was once a staple in the independent bottling repertoire has completely disappeared. Laphroaig is simply not selling casks any longer. And when we do find casks, they’re usually in very inactive hogsheads and declassified to their trade name, “Williamson.” Now that’s not a huge problem, because Laphroaig always tastes good. But bottlers can’t replace even those few casks, so the prices have gone absolutely bonkers. Signatory recently bottled Laphroaig from the fall of 1997 for $700, from a sister cask to those we sold here just three years ago for $200. And by god, those bottles sell. But a beautiful butt for a not completely abhorrent price? We jumped all over it. Thank the Lord of the Isles that we did, as it’s a complete and utter masterpiece. Some purists eschew the idea of Laphroaig in active sherry, but much of the experience is limited to low-proof distillery bottlings and finishes. It’s truly a stupendous find and is going to be one of those casks that people remember for years to come. Collectors and drinkers alike take note.

David Othenin-Girard | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: October 10, 2019

Laphroaig is one of those incredible things that is both polarizing and unifying, sometimes between the same people at the same exact time. I personally adore almost everything I taste from this special distillery. Yes, there are some underwhelming distillery bottlings that might feel a bit over-manipulated, but the whisky is never bad. The great heights that can be achieved by Laphroaig are truly unbelievable. Nor do some of the very best of this special distillery need to be old. Some of the very best Laphroaig I’ve ever had the great pleasure of tasting are no more than 10 years old. And for years, Laphroaig felt like a bit of a secret that you weren’t sure you wanted to share with everyone you knew. That was particularly true of the special single casks that we’d come across in warehouses and whisky shops throughout Scotland. But in the current climate, where the distillery itself has no need or use for trading or brokering excess production, what was once a special secret to find and share is now an endangered species completely. So, when we get offered casks like this, we expect them to be unfathomably expensive. But even if this were twice the price, I’d still have bought it. This is that perfectly idiosyncratic Laphroaig. Deep, wafting peat, a mix of bitter herbs, salty ocean trawler, candied apricots, and diesel engine. Old leather furniture, Seville oranges, not quite tropical, but not so severe as it might be. On the palate a building sweetness envelopes the powerful smoke as it wafts toward the olfactory system. Dark chocolate, salted plums, menthol and magic. A total dream and a secret that deserves to be kept.

1995 Caperdonich 24 Year Old “Chieftain’s” K&L Exclusive Cask Strength Single 2nd Fill Sherry Hogshead Speyside Single Malt Whisky (750ml) (Pre-Arrival) ($349.99)

The enigmatic Caperdonich Distillery is extremely rare, built in 1897 and named “Glen Grant #2,” Caperdonich by J. & J. Grant in the town of Rothes. Only five short years later, the Pattison whisky crisis shuttered the gleaming new distillery. It lay dormant for 60 more years before Glenlivet rebuilt it and resumed production. The name Caperdonich, meaning “secret well,” was adopted due to new regulation prohibiting multiple distilleries from sharing the same name. It was purchased again in 1977 by Seagrams, who sold it to Pernod Ricard in 2001. Pernod ultimately closed the relatively small output distillery the following year along with Braeval, BenRiach and Allt-A-Bhainne. Those three siblings would find second lives in the subsequent whisky boom, but Caperdonich was not so lucky. Eventually demolished completely in 2010, Caperdonich has not really achieved cult status in the whisky collector’s pantheon because of a complete lack of availability. It’s so rare that few modern collectors have even had the chance to taste it. In its short life, it never had an official bottling, but certain casks have become legendary. When we tasted this, we knew we had to have it. On the label, the cask type is listed simply “Hogshead,” but the dark color and heady sherry notes can’t be missed. Caperdonich and sherry are an absolute match made in heaven, and this is a very active 2nd fill hoggie here. You won’t regret becoming part of Caperdonich’s hidden legacy.

David Othenin-Girard | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: October 10, 2019

I was not expecting to see what I saw when we received this sample. When I saw old, expensive Caperdonich on the list, I figured it would be just like the other handful of Caperdonichs we’d seen over the years. That is to say, subtle and overpriced. The ones that tended to pop up were in 3rd and 4th fill, and while they were often delicious, they were too ethereal to merit those high prices. But when I saw the color on this monster, I knew we’d stumbled on something else completely. This bad boy is absolutely packed full of dark, roasty flavors. Big, bold spice, smoldering embers, high quality pipe tobacco, caramelized apple, and burnt citrus peel. This was a very active cask, indeed. Big, oily, rich, and long in the mouth, with lots of peppery and sweet, raisin-y stone fruit. The finish has a savory quality that’s hard to pinpoint – maybe some wasabi or habanero in the tiniest, most perfect addition to the massively complex package. Of course, many will balk at the price, but this is a rarity that actually justifies the inflated price point. You’ll be one of only 150 people in the world to experience and what is undoubtedly one of the last Caperdonichs we’ll ever see.

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