With the release of this month’s Cask G4.19 ‘Could solve any problem!’, we thought it might be a good time to analyse grain whisky a bit more, dispel some myths, and learn more about the history of the fascinating Cameronbridge distillery.
Grain whisky from Scotland is definitely Scotch whisky, but is not to be confused with single malt whisky. So what is grain then? The term normally means any whisky made, at least in part, from grains other than malted barley. This could be whisky made using corn, wheat or rye. Grain whiskies usually contain some malted barley to provide enzymes needed to kickstart the fermentation and are required to include it if they are produced in Ireland or Scotland. In Scotland (and Ireland) grain whisky is typically distilled in a continuous column still in a way that results in a higher percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) as a more refined and simple spirit. But while it might be ‘simpler’ in character at distillation, there’s still great merit in the complexity and content of that grain in providing a delicious end result.
Cask G4.19 is living evidence of that. A forty year old whisky from the largest, and oldest, grain distillery in all of Europe. The history of Cameronbridge is a tale from two of the oldest families in whisky: the Haig and Stein families. There’s records of Robert Haig being reprimanded in front of church elders as far back as 1655 for daring to distill spirit on the sabbath. Next time a distillery boasts about being early 1900’s, spare a thought for poor old Haig back in 1655! It wasn’t until 1751 however that Robert’s great-great-grandson married Margaret Stein, and the family history would continue in spirits. Four of their sons would go onto being distillers, with the eldest John founding Cameronbridge in 1824. This was a shifting time in Scotch whisky production. John borrowed the patent still design from his cousin Robert Stein (conveniently called the Stein Still) which ramped up production for the distillery, far outpacing the growth of the Lowlands at the time, until Irishman Aeneas Coffey came along after 1831 and changed the game forever with his famous Coffey continuous still, a design that is still in use today.
It was in 1865 that John Haig took Cameronbridge and eight other grain distilleries at the time, including Port Dundas (G6), Cambus (G8) and formed an alliance to ultimately control over 75% of ALL grain whisky production in Scotland. You have to remember this is peak blended whisky era, so that kind of monopoly is not to be sneezed at! This alliance a few short years later would end up being called Distiller’s Company Limited (DCL) which many years later would then be known as Diageo. Such is the versatility of grain spirit, that even a large portion of brands such as Tanqueray, Smirnoff, Gordon’s gin, and even David Beckham’s ‘Haig Club’. So to be able to access a 40 year old single cask from G4 is not only remarkably rare and so far removed from what their usual output is, but you’re drinking something from the Haig family history in many ways, and one we hope you’ll take the time to slowly enjoy in great company.
April Outturn goes on sale Friday 3rd April 2020, exclusively for members of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Australia. Keen to learn more? Become a member today and experience whisky like no other on earth.