We’re more than halfway through spooky season here at Thirty-One Whiskey, where we’ve been facing our fear of the bottom shelf of the liquor store. Today’s bottle seems meek and unassuming: a blended Highlands scotch whisky designed to appeal to the more budget conscious drinkers. But did their cost cutting also slice right through the quality control? Only one way to find out.
Thomas S. Moore was born in 1853, and his family moved shortly thereafter to Bardstown, Kentucky. He later dropped out of school at the age of 11 to start working to support his mother and his sisters, after his father died suddenly. One of his sisters eventually married Charles Willett, whose wealthy family had made a fortune in the distilling business.
At the age of 22, Moore married Jennie Collings and went to work for his in-laws, the Willetts, at their distilleries. There he met Ben Mattingly, who would go on to marry one into the Willett family, as well. The two became fast friends and colleagues, and in 1876 John Willett (head of the family and head of the company) handed Ben and Tom ownership of one of their distilleries south of Bardstown to operate under the name “Mattingly and Moore”.
Mattingly would rather quickly sell his shares in the new company to a group of investors, but Moore would stay on for eight more years until, in 1899, he purchased around 100 acres of land directly adjacent to the old distillery and constructed a new facility in his own name. The old Mattingly and Moore distillery company kept operating until 1916, when it went bankrupt. Moore swooped in to purchase the assets, tearing down the buildings and constructing new facilities.
The Tom Moore distillery produced 10 barrels of whiskey per day in its time and was quite profitable until it was closed down by prohibition in 1920. Moore retired at that point, but he lived long enough to see prohibition repealed and his son take over the old distillery, bringing it back online and restarting production.
The distillery was sold in 1944 to a Chicago liquor merchant named Oscar Getz who changed the name to the Barton Distillery, a name he reportedly picked out of a hat. Under his ownership, the distillery produced some notable brands such as Kentucky Gentleman, Tom Moore, and Kentucky Tavern among others.
Over the years, the company expanded to include a large number of brands and varieties of spirits, more than were just produced at that single distillery. But when they sold their Canadian whiskey venture in the 1970s, things came crashing down quickly, with more expenses than revenue and unable to pay their bills. The brand was sold to a number of owners, eventually ending with the Sazerac Company where it remains today.
This specific bottle of whisky is not produced by Sazerac, but instead is sourced from Scotland where it is bottled and then imported by Barton Brands for distribution in the United States.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
Blending whisky is a tradition as old as whisky itself in Scotland. Since the beginning of the whisky trade, the most recognizable brands have come from bottling and blending houses rather than individual distilleries, which is a trend that has only started in the very recent history.
This is a specific bottle of whisky that is at least two legal entities removed from the people who actually distilled the contents — which means that getting a straight answer about what went into making this spirit is going to be next to impossible. Add in the fact that this is a blend of different strains of whisky and you may as well ask what glacier that drop of water in your cup came from.
What we do know is that this is a blended scotch whisky, which is one of the least restrictive labels that you can put on a bottle of Scottish spirits. Whiskey is always made from grains, and with Scottish whiskey the normal expectation is that you’d get some malted barley as the majority source of your spirit. But with a “blended whiskey” you really don’t know what you’re getting — this could be 100% corn for all we know.
Whatever the source of the whiskey, the grains are milled and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid. That liquid is then distilled to concentrate the alcohol, and then placed into oak barrels for a period of at least three years. Once properly matured, the spirit is mixed with other barrels to create a specific flavor profile and then blended with the spirits from other distilleries to create the finished product we have today.
Wow. They really spared no expense here, eh?
The bottle is shaped like any other whiskey bottle in the world, with a cylindrical base, rounded shoulder, and medium length neck. There are all sorts of manufacturing marks on the bottle from the production process and which don’t seem to have been buffed out or covered (including an aggressively apparent seam where the mold for the glass forming process came together). The bottle is capped off with a plastic screw-on cap.
Adorning this work of art is a label whose color can best be described as the color of someone’s teeth after about three decades of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Pale yellow background, with black lettering on the front. There’s a crest on the front bearing a lion and a unicorn like the crest of the United Kingdom, but the shield doesn’t match what you’d expect for that emblem.
All in all, it looks like something that would be right at home in a speed well at a bar and never actually seeing the light of day.
One other note here is that I could only find a one liter version of this product. It doesn’t seem to be sold in any smaller denominations.
The bottle describes this as a “pale” whisky, and that’s definitely correct. I’d call this a light straw color or a dark gold, definitely a bit darker than some of the quality single malt spirits I’ve seen but lighter compared to an American bourbon.
I’m not getting a particularly complex aroma coming off the glass; it’s mainly honey, apple, and a touch of marzipan. Unfortunately, things get even less complex when taking a sip, with the biggest flavor components being honey, sourdough bread, and just the slightest hint of floral blossoms on the finish.
While there isn’t much complexity, there also isn’t anything to complain about really. The flavors are good and there’s no bitterness or bite here… just mediocrity.
With the added ice, pretty much all of the aroma and flavor drops out of the running in this glass. All I’m getting for an aroma at this point is just sourdough bread, and that’s exactly what I get in the flavor department as well. No honey, no floral blossoms, no apple… nothing.
The good news (I suppose) is that, since this is the flavor I most closely associate with malted barley when I’m tasting a spirit, they must have actually used a good bit of that in the production process. Which means this may well be some quality strains of whisky blended together on the cheap. It doesn’t make up for the lack of flavor overall, but it is some solace I suppose.
One trick they teach you when starting to do blind tastings is that, to identify a blended scotch whisky, the aroma might be enticing but the flavor is disappointing. And that’s a perfect way to describe my experience tasting this whiskey.
I do want to point out that, while this isn’t complex or flavorful, it does provide a good “simple” version of a Highland whisky. Those flavors I was able to taste — the honey, sourdough bread, and floral blossoms — are the building blocks on which other (better) Highland spirits are built. And even all on their own, they still are a pretty enjoyable thing to sip on.
The saving grace of this whisky is that it is dirt cheap. Like, so cheap that I could only find one liter bottles of this stuff. If you adjust the math for what you’d pay for a 750ml equivalent, we’re talking about paying less than the price of a pumpkin spice latte for an entire bottle of booze.
I don’t think I’d keep a bottle of this stuff stocked on myself personally, but I wouldn’t be afraid of grabbing a glass in the future.
|Barton Brands Highland Mist Blended Scotch Whisky|
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $6.85 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
A dirt cheap bottle that succeeds in providing the hallmark flavors of a Highland scotch whisky.