Recently we were very lucky to be able to have a 'virtual' chat with Andrew Crook, the Managing Director of the Vintage Malt Whisky Company. We touched on the impending arrival of the Cooper's Choice 1994 Old Rhosdhu soon to hit our shores, and on his experiences in the Scotch Malt Whisky Trade. Here's a copy of our chat:
SSW: G’day Andrew. Thanks for your time. Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself and how you found yourself in the Whisky Industry?
Andrew: Thanks Simon. Well, The Vintage Malt Whisky Co Ltd is a family company started by my father in 1992. Dad had been in the whisky trade since the late 1970’s so I grew up surrounded by whisky. My father worked for Morrison Bowmore in those days and my earliest whisky recollections were visiting Auchentoshan distillery near where we lived in Glasgow and sometimes spending family holidays on Islay and Aberdeenshire at Bowmore and Glen Garioch distillery cottages. Around the millennium, our company was growing and Dad was looking for new blood to be involved in the business. Then lure of working with whisky seemed too good to pass up, and although it felt like a risk at the time, I have never looked back. I now have overall responsibility for the business but both of my sisters have major roles in the company too. It is a real family firm which is great to be part of.
SSW: Do you have a favourite distillery and style of malt?
Andrew: We don’t have our own distillery and I am fortunate to be able to sample and select casks from a great number of different distilleries each with their own unique style and charm. However, from day one of our company, we have been heavily involved in building brands using heavily peated, smoky spirit from Islay. I have certainly grown to love this style very much. However, in more recent years, I have developed a great love of old single grain whiskies. Very different to malt with huge coconut and sweet vanilla notes. Absolutely delightful and good examples are far too easy to drink.
SSW: Tell us a bit about the Cooper’s Choice range from The Vintage Whisky Company?
Andrew: Well the original idea for this range actually goes back to my fathers days at Bowmore distillery. Dad worked closely marketing Bowmore with the now world famous Jim MacEwan and they became friends. Jim was a cooper originally and felt strongly that the role of the Cooper in the whisky trade didn’t get the recognition it richly deserved. This idea stuck and when Dad started his own company he decided to establish a brand in their honour, The Coopers Choice series was born shortly after. They are all single cask bottlings and we try and represent all of the regions of Scotland. We are always looking for unusual casks, curiosities and closed distilleries, however, as any independent bottler will tell you, this is a great challenge nowadays. The most important aspect of any Coopers Choice bottling is quality. We are very fortunate that due to the stock holdings we have built up and supply relationships we have, we are able to be very choosy as to what makes it into Coopers Choice. Only the very cream of our inventory is selected after careful evaluation. Casks which don’t make the grade for Coopers Choice are carefully blended away into our other volume blended malt brands.
SSW: Personally I was originally drawn to the unusual finishes that many of the Cooper's Choice range come from. Where has this interest in unusual oak finishes come from?
Andrew: My father toyed with a few wood finishes in the early days of Coopers Choice but back then 95% of what we bottled was ex Bourbon or first fill sherry wood. Nothing wrong with that at all but as the malt whisky market has grown and grown and more and more bottlers and brands are being bottled, we had to look for a point of difference on crowded retail shelves for commercial reasons. Over the last half dozen years, we have been carrying out extensive reracking campaigns on a percentage of our inventory to create new and exciting styles and flavour experiences for our Coopers Choice bottlings. There is a great deal of experimentation involved in this as some casks work better than others but there is a huge amount of fun to be had. To date we have used, port, sherry, red wine, madeira, marsala, sauternes, muscat. With the relaxation of elements of the maturation laws governing scotch whisky in 2019, we have taken advantage and filled some stock into Calvados casks. This has produced some fantastic results. Ultimately, it is all about quality and flavour. As a small player, if you don’t focus on quality, you are doomed to failure.
SSW: Arriving shortly on Australian shores is a relative obscurity… a Cooper's Choice 1994 ‘Old Rhoshdhu’. What exactly is ‘Old Rhosdhu’? Where is it from and what is the style?
Andrew: This bottling is a classic example of the kind of casks we seek out for Coopers Choice. You described it as an “obscurity” and you are dead right. This single malt hails from probably the most versatile but largely unheralded distillery in Scotland – Loch Lomond. A large distillery which contains both pot stills for making malt whisky and column stills for making grain whisky. They also produce many different styles of malt whisky which are mainly used to create the different flavour profiles they seek for their own bottlings. It can be difficult to get 100% accurate information on all of these styles produced but my understanding is that Old Rhosdhu was a single malt made between the 1960’s until the year 2000 and had a fruity and floral style. Our cask is from 1994. In my experience, it is rare to see this malt on the market and that’s one of the reasons it was so interesting for Coopers Choice. Of course, rarity is only one aspect, and far from the most important one. Quality is paramount and thankfully this cask met with our approval.
SSW: And what about this particular malt? I note it is ex-Bourbon barrel. Is it a heavy wood influence?
Andrew: Yes a first fill bourbon cask which has imparted good colour and the lovely flavour notes which quality bourbon maturation provides.
Tasting notes as follows:
Nose: Fragrant tropical fruits and baked apple skins
Palate: Oaky spices and more fruit. Touch of walnuts, toasted oats and cereal notes
Finish: Cedar and spice. Medium length
SSW: Overall what are your thoughts on the whisky?
Andrew: A lovely dram which is very easy to drink.
SSW: Are there any Cooper's Choice whisky’s in the pipeline that you are excited about we should keep our eye out for?
Andrew: Covid 19 meant we were unable bottle any casks for a couple of months but we have 12 new releases coming up at the end of July. Proud of all our selections but we do have a stunning heavily sherried Mortlach coming up which I know will be popular with our customers. For Islay fans, a port finished Caol Ila should also be a big hit.
SSW: Thanks kindly for your time and we hope to see you in Australia at some stage soon!
Andrew: A pleasure and thanks for having me. I have travelled a fair amount but have yet to make it “Down Under”
Simon Spier is the founder and lead partner of Select Scotch Whisky. A passion for Whisky, and a love of wine has lead Simon to start importing and selling limited quantities of rare and collectable Scotch Malt Whisky.