Masters of Elusion No Longer: Kininvie and Ladyburn Come to the Fore


Kininvie and Ladyburn are two of the newest Single Malt labels offered by William Grant & Sons (WGS). Ever since their global introduction in 2014, the two labels have slowly permeated into the consciousness of the whisky-drinking public, thanks to the tireless work of Kevin Abrook and his team.

Kevin is no whisky ambassador – not in name at least. He holds the title of Global Whisky Specialist for Innovation. His department, in case you were wondering, is responsible for the new offerings in the WGS portfolio. In 2014 alone, Kevin – who was then Global Marketing Manager for the Innovation team – and his team introduced 10 new products. These days however, he travels the world to introduce WGS’ new labels to new markets. He is no ambassador; rather, a product specialist, marketing guru, and ambassador rolled into one. Someone at HR deserves a raise.

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“If you think about it, what needs most nurturing and education and performing? It’s the Innovation brands,” said Kevin. “If we go out and put the brand on the shelf, nobody’s going to pick it up if they don’t know about it.”

Which is why Kevin was in town to launch the Kininvie 23 Year Old and Ladyburn 1974 (40 Year Old). For Kevin and WGS, their objective was to make headway in the Asian markets, where they have a relatively small presence. Taiwan especially, was a key starting point, illustrated by exclusive launches of products like The Balvenie Tun 1858, and the Kininvie 23 Year Old (Batch 1). But now, the Kininvie 23 Year Old (Batch 3) has finally made its way to Singapore as a standard offering.

For a young fledgling brand(s) it was important that they start off on the right foot. “It’s important for new whisky brands to reach whisky enthusiasts, and over the long term, bring in new consumers – people who haven’t considered whisky before, but now the time is right for them,” said Kevin.

If you want to learn more about the Innovation brands and other upcoming labels, click here to read more.

Kininvie 23 Year Old (Batch 3, 350ml, 42.6%)

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Until 2013, all the whisky produced by Kininvie went into blends – that was when the 23 Year Old was first unveiled in Taiwan (Batch 1 Taiwan exclusive, about 7,000 bottles). It was soon joined by the 17 Year Old version (Batch 1, about 25,000 bottles), which was a Global Travel Retail exclusive and also Kininvie’s first appearance on a global scale.

Kininvie’s concept was that good things come in small packages, plus the fact that the spirit itself was rare to begin with. WGS typically doesn’t sell its stock to blenders and independent bottlers, which makes getting hold of Kininvie nearly impossible. Kininvie comes in a 350ml-size bottle, and sports a tasteful, minimalist facade. The elaborate nature of the interior and the number of steps needed to get to the bottle was deliberate, as it alluded to the distillery’s elusiveness. It’s perfect for the Travel Retail market as well, as it was designed ready-made for gifting.

Kininvie 17 Year Old is the Travel Retail exclusive, and is made up of 80 per cent first-fill ex-Bourbon casks and 20 per cent ex-sherry casks. On the nose, it is distinctly floral, which is no accident, as Kininvie was meant to be used in blends and blenders had expressed their want or need for a malt in that style. In any case, WGS saw no point in repeating a style from a business standpoint. Kevin shared that Brian Kinsman, master blender at Glenfiddich, categorised the new make spirit of Glenfiddich as grassy, the Balvenie as malty (both WGS brands), and Kininvie as floral. The floral nature apparently is attributed to the onion-shaped stills, as well as a shorter fermentation time of around 50 to 60 hours.

The Kininvie 23 Year Old interestingly, has the same composition by way of casks. As Batch 1 became more of a collectible than a drinkers’ whisky, and due to increasing demand, the 23 Year Old has now been repositioned a signature expression – at least where bottle labelling is concerned; the whisky is still produced in batches. Collectors who need their limited edition fix will have to turn to the newly launched single cask expressions, which, was first released last year in the form of the ‘The First Drops’ series. A total of 1,600 bottles were made available in total, of which Cask #8 was designated for Taiwan, Cask #20 for Europe, and Cask #21 for the UK. Not only does it celebrate the silver anniversary of Kininvie, it represents some of the first spirit to flow from the stills of the distillery.

Of course moving forward, expressions from the first casks will be “ring fenced” for special occasions, but Kevin teased that interesting ones are waiting on the horizon in the form of sherry and portwood single casks…

Tasting notes (official)

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Nose Rich and vibrant aroma with ripe, fleshy fruit notes overlaid with deep vanilla sweetness. A more fragrant, floral summer blossom note develops over time.
Taste Beautifully soft and mellow with a luxurious silky texture. The rich vanilla oakiness resulting from 23 years of maturation gives great depth of flavour and sweetness. Woody spices are layered with zesty citrus and candied orange peel.
Finish Enduringly sweet with a fragrant, floral backnote.

Available directly from William Grant & Sons Singapore for S$200. (Above pic is of Batch 2)

Ladyburn 1974 40 Year Old (700ml, 40.8%)

Ladyburn, which operated from 1966-1975, is a ‘ghost’ distillery. Championed by Charles Gordon, the great-grandson of the founder, the distillery was built essentially to provide a Lowlands style whisky for the Grant’s blend, WGS’ main staple blended scotch. In its short time in operation, it was the most advanced distillery in the world, and was built with many advanced features such as a purifier (condenser) with rectification plates so you could control the condensation even more to create an even lighter style.

WGS shut down Ladyburn because they felt they had more than enough stock – they still have 1966 stock by the way – plus there was a need at the time to expand their grain spirit production. As the Ladyburn stills were within the Girvan facility itself, it made sense to remove the Ladyburn stills to facilitate the expansion.

Perhaps the shortest-lived of all distilleries, there was much that was lost apart from the whisky. So unusual was its palate that apparently Brian Kinsman wished he knew how they made it back then, as there was so much he could not replicate.

The 1974 40 Year Old is a vatting of casks and is exclusive to Asia. Other variants exist of course; recently a 41 Year Old (vatted) was released for Europe and USA, while for the UK, The Whisky Shop has exclusively bottled a 40 Year Old Single Cask expression (Cask #74). You can still buy older official releases and some independent bottlings (mostly under the name of Ayrshire) online, but they are few and far between.

According to Kevin, they think they have enough stock for the next five years. Maybe not at this rate though…

Tasting notes (by Matthew Fergusson-Stewart, Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador)

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Nose Soft and gentle at first, then grassy notes give way to tropical fruits – papaya, pineapple, banana and with promises of rich chocolate and some spice on the palate
Palate A delicate caramelised sugar sweetness laden with tropical fruit and melons, layered with leather and tobacco and that promise spice, and perhaps a touch of white pepper
Finish A gentle oakiness envelops the tongue and puckers the cheeks, before the tropical fruits come through for a long last hurrah

Available directly from WIlliam Grant & Sons Singapore for S$2,140.