The Spirit Guide Society promotes education and enlightenment about various liquors so that whiskey enthusiasts can be better informed while they imbibe. A new podcast episode is available every Tuesday and Friday.
Sutcliffe, a 35-year industry veteran, joined Pedro on the podcast to discuss his brand, The Exceptional Whisky. Sutcliffe and Shanahan deconstructed Sutcliffe’s three Exceptional Whisky offerings – The Exceptional Grain, The Exceptional Malt and The Exceptional Blend – during a 55-minute podcast.
A History Lesson
Don Sutcliffe found his passion more than 30 years ago:
“I really just got engaged with Scotland at that time. I decided in 1987 after my first trip there, that somehow or other for the rest of my life I was going to be engaged with Scotland – and hopefully whisky,” he tells Shanahan.
“To me, complexity is the one thing that was always missing in scotch whisky,” says Sutcliffe, who believes only exceptional blends can approach a single malt in complexity and satisfaction. “If you’re going make to large quantities, you can’t make complex whiskies.” Now, he endeavors “to buy whiskies that have interesting characteristics” and blend them in small batches as part of The Exceptional Whisky brand.
The Exceptional Whisky brand is the result of a renewed a partnership with an old friend, Willie Phillips, the former managing director at Macallan for 23 years – who he met while they were introducing the venerable scotch whisky into the U.S. in the mid-1980s.
The Exceptional Grain
The Exceptional Grain was the distillery’s first release, in August 2013. This blend, finished in first-fill sherry casks, includes a barrel of 30-year-old whisky from the long-closed Carsebridge Distillery.
“To me, the best whisky, the most amazing whisky, is old grain that has been aged really well, because it has this ethereal characteristic to it, which is a combination of light and airy, deep and complex at the same time,” Sutcliffe says, emphasizing the “depth and complexity” of the Exceptional Grain.
Pedro Shanahan notes “some florals, but also I get a nice leathery tone, some citrus … lemon and rose,” upon his first taste. A moment later, Shanahan added: “beautiful vanilla tones.”
The Exceptional Malt.
Don Sutcliffe explains the differences between the prior grain sample and how it’s made as he and Pedro Shanahan sample the Exceptional Malt.
Shanahan expresses how “full-bodied” it is: “The sherry comes through … It’s rich, it’s long, it lingers.”
The Exceptional Malt is a complex and balanced blend from Glenfarclas, Ben Nevis, Alt-á-Bhainne, Auchroisk, Clenallachie, Westport, Speyside, and a 30-year-old Macallan, finished in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks.
The Exceptional Blend
With a 60-40 balance of grain to malt, this blend lives up to the Exceptional name. Mature grain whisky from North British, Strathclyde and Cameronbridge distilleries blended with selected barrels of aged, malt whisky from 11 distilleries, including a 30-year-old Macallan give this spirit a deep-layered complexity.
“The grain is more nuanced and gentle and the malt is more robust and flavorful complexity. The blend, to me, is the best whisky we make,” Sutcliffe says. “The grain really lifts it. It’s electric.”
Almond butter, grilled pineapple and some graham cracker are the scents Shanahan detects among the “beautiful scents on the nose” he inhaled. The depth of flavor and texture are what stand out to Sutcliffe.
To hear more about The Spirit Guide Society and the whimsical banter between Pedro Shanahan and his guests, listeners can access the full hour-long podcast “The Exceptional Whisky with Don Sutcliffe”.
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