The whisky diaries: Tasting a very special 39-year-old
Some whiskies want to get you drunk, some want to challenge you, but The Singleton 39 Year Old is a super premium single malt that really wants to take you to dinner.
While the first release in The Singleton’s Epicurean Odyssey series, a 38-year-old single malt launched in 2020, tasted of baked apples and caramel, the second release is an oenophile’s dream, bursting with berries and the lavish intensity of continental red wines.
Maureen Robinson, The Singleton’s award-winning Master of Malt, is renowned for her expertise in the secondary maturation of high-aged whiskies, which she has developed over more than four decades working for Diageo and its predecessors. The 39 Year Old offered Robinson the opportunity to take her experimental vision to new heights.
This rare spirit has undergone The Singleton’s longest secondary maturation thus far. After a 12-year primary maturation in refill casks, Robinson transferred the liquid to an inspired assortment of more active casks, which had previously been used to mature port, red wine, Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherries. It remained in those barrels for 27 years, before it was finished with a tertiary maturation of just a few months in French Bordeaux casks.
The result of this long interplay between whisky and wine-soaked wood is bold fruits and pleasantly peppery spice. The absence of the overt oakiness or strong tannins that could have emerged over such a long period is a testament to Robinson’s skill and attentiveness.
Bottled at cask strength (46.2% ABV), the whisky is amber-red in appearance, and could easily pass for sherry. It’s gentle on the nose, but the aroma is complex, building in layers from initial hints of red wine to a hearty Christmas cake, full of almonds and candied peel. It’s sweet and creamy on the palate, with red berries and cloves. It becomes waxier on the finish, with notes of plum and cherry, the spice becomes more peppery-cool, with a nodding suggestion of After Eights.
Explaining her inspirations, Robinson says, “This whisky marries my work in Scotland and my own personal experiences of flavour recollections through vivid memories of visiting family-owned wine estates in France where I travelled years ago.
“I was adventurous in my approach over the years with this whisky, drawing on memories of tasting the ripened grapes fresh off the vines, and newly uncorked wine around a table with my friends. Tasting a dram takes me back to that time; a shared epicurean adventure and moment of indulgence.”
Those lucky enough to attend the launch of this whisky were able to share an epicurean adventure with Robinson in the form of a five course dinner from chef patron Ollie Dabbous and the team from his Michelin-starred restaurant, HIDE.
There was hot and cold beetroot, a smoked egg, a fish course of koji-cured sea bass, and rose veal in a shamefully rich black truffle and lardo dressing.
Each course was expertly paired with a wine by HIDE’s head sommelier, Julien Sarrasin; an experience that drove home the powerful influence of the wines barrels in the Singleton’s maturation. But the real show-stopper was the dessert – inspired by a tasting note embossed on the whisky’s presentation box – it was a compote of “succulent blackberries with muscovado crumble”, presented as mille-feuille, decorated with dozens of delicate, caramelised pastry leaves, and filled with The Singleton 39 Year Old.
You can buy The Singleton 39 Year Old by the dram from the bar or restaurant of HIDE, or purchase one of only 1,695 bottles for £2,295 from malts.com. There will also be a series of “The Course of a Feast” events where you will be able to experience The Singleton 39 Year Old yourself.