Scotch whisky is about as difficult to navigate as French wine varietals. There’s a huge array that varies depending on the location and production methods, which often feels like it requires an encyclopedia to decipher. William Grant & Sons wants to simplify this by putting the flavors pretty much right on the bottle with their new Aerstone release.
The Gloag family started as wine merchants in the early 1800s in Perth, Scotland, with Matthew Gloag purchasing wines and whisky from distillers around the country. When the queen visited Perth in 1842, he was asked to provide the wine for her banquet.
His son William took over the business in 1860 and, following the Great Wine Blight of 1875, they started looking into other ways of generating revenue. One of the ideas they had was to call on their contacts as a distributor of scotch whisky to produce a house blend that they could sell at a higher profit margin than the existing brands they were peddling. William’s nephew took over in 1896 and launched “The Grouse” as a blend offered for sale by the business for the first time.
In 1905, Matthew spun off a new corporate entity named Matthew Gloag & Son to manage the production and distribution of house blended whisky, moving to a completely new building purchased for that purpose. At the same time, the existing line of whisky was renamed to The Famous Grouse and Matthew’s daughter Phillipa designed the first label.
In 1870, following Matthew’s death, the company was sold to Highland Distillers (the same company that owns Macallan as of 1996). From there, the whisky has gained a much wider appeal, becoming the most popular whisky in Scotland in 1980 and being awarded a Royal Warrant in 1984.
William Grant & Sons, the company which owns a significant chunk of Scottish distilleries including Balvenie and even the smaller Tuthilltown Spirits in New York helped take the company private in 2000, where it remains today.
Aerstone is a brand created by William Grant & Sons to try and simplify the branding around scotch whisky. It isn’t a specific distillery — rather, its a blanket brand used to market whiskey produced by a handful of other distilleries.
For the Sea Cask version, WG&S selected a seaside distillery to produce the spirit. As a scotch whisky, the process would have started with malted barley which is distilled and aged in barrels for a minimum of three years, but in this case the spirit sits in the cask for a full 10 years.
The product gets it’s “sea cask” name from the fact that the whiskey is aged by the sea and absorbs some of the flavors of that area.
This is a very traditional configuration for a whisky bottle. The cylindrical body is straight sided with only a slight flare to the base and then rounds gently at the shoulder into a medium length neck. The bottle is capped off with a plastic synthetic stopper.
The label on the front is unnecessarily large, though, taking up pretty much the entire face of the bottle with very little to show for it. I dislike large labels in general, as they limit visibility to the spirit itself inside the bottle — but I especially dislike them when they’re large and obscuring for no reason whatsoever. Which is, unfortunately, the case here. It’s not like there is any remarkable artwork to display or even a ton of information — it’s a plain label with minor artwork that just happens to be massive. I’m not really a fan.
The aroma coming off of this glass is pretty great. There’s the honey and vanilla you’d expect from a scotch whisky, but also a good bit of malty richness that isn’t usually this well saturated. It smells like a honey flavored graham cracker, and I ain’t mad about that.
The flavor of the spirit itself is much more complex than the aroma would seem to indicate, though. The first thing I get is a good wash of apple and crisp pear, followed by some of that honey and vanilla sweetness, and finally a malty cracker-y flavor to bring it all together. In the end, though, it’s the crisp pear that fires the parting shot — it combines with a little bit of baking spice and briny sea salt on the finish to culminate in a bit of a spicy kick to the experience.
Strangely, with a bit of ice the drink actually gets a bit richer and darker. This is a departure from the norm, in which darker whisky notes have a tendency to drop out with a bit of ice.
The fruity apple notes are gone, and what’s left is closer to a very light and sweet version of Lagavulin. There’s some salty granite aspects in there, but also still a good helping of baking spices, malty graham cracker, and honey. There isn’t anywhere near the saturation that you get with Lagavulin, but you do still get some of the same aspects in a sweeter and more palatable packaging for those who might not be ready for the full force and fury of that dark bottled beauty.
I’m generally a fan of the stuff WG&S puts out, and this is no different. I like the idea — making scotch whisky more approachable for the average drinker — but somehow I feel like there’s a better way to message what’s going on here. Maybe something like a chart on the back of the bottle with all their Aerstone expressions, illustrating where this one falls compared to the others. That would really drive it home for everyone who didn’t look this up on the internet.
Overall, judged on its own, this is a pretty darn good spirit. There are good flavors in here that work well together, and there’s not a single bad thing I can say about the experience… except for the price. It’s not terribly expensive, it’s just a little too steep for a single malt that doesn’t even specify the distillery it came from.
|Aerstone 10 Year Old Sea Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky|
Produced By: AerstoneOwned By: William Grant and Sons
Production Location: Scotland
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 10 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $34.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
Darn fine and worth your time.