I recently visited Scotland and stumbled upon Cadenhead’s, Scotland Oldest Independent Bottler. As it was a trip with my mom, who I may have mentioned would have been a prohibitionist if she lived 100 years ago, it clearly wasn’t a DOTW trip (and I hadn’t researched where to buy some great scotch). But, I wanted to make sure that I brought the hubby back a bottle or two of scotch that wasn’t available or readily available in the US. The hubby is a true whisky lover and while Scotch isn’t his first or second choice (that would go to Irish whisky and bourbon, respectively), he also is a scotch lover.
I lucked into Cadenhead’s. Staring at their board of scotch whiskies, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Instead of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it was Rachel and the Whisky Shop. I was in awe and yet overwhelmed. I was paralyzed by the choices and requested help. In my second stroke of luck that day, Mark Davidson, the Manager of Cadenhead’s, assisted me. Mark was one of the most informative scotch experts I have met. He spent almost an hour with me explaining the different styles and distilleries and I felt like we barely scratched the surface (as that is just what we did). Seriously, I could have talked to him all day and it left me with an overwhelming desire to return to Scotland, if only to spend more time with Mark. Check out Mark’s Scotch site at www.jollytopertastings.co.uk.
I ended up purchasing two single barrel Scotches that are not available in the United States. The first was the 13-year-old Glentauchers, a single malt that goes into Ballentine’s blended whisky. It was definitely a teenager – starting to mellow but still fiery. I loved it. The second was a 22-year-old Balmenach, a distillery that was started in the early 1800′s, mothballed in the early 1990′s and started up again in the late 1990′s. The Balmenach was showing its age, which is a good thing. It’s a mellow, easy-drinkin’ Scotch. As soon as I got the Scotch home, we cracked it open and tried both of them.
In addition to selling good whisky, Cadenhead’s has a really interesting story. It was started in 1842 and has continued since. Cadenhead’s remained in the same family until 1972 when it was sold to the Springhead Distillery who according to the story bought Cadenhead’s for their trove of glass bottles, which were allocated in the early 1970′s. In reading the story of Cadenhead’s – check it out here – my favorite part of the story was the eccentric sisters who ran the shop from the 1930′s until the early 1970′s. They stockpiled amazing booze but didn’t do such a great job selling it. I can totally understand that as I would have a hard time parting with it as well. But, some validation was given to the sister’s abilities as curators of hooch when Christie’s had one of the then most successful auctions of booze.
Today, Cadenhead’s is one of handful of independent bottlers that remain in Scotland and is the oldest. They bottle and sell a wide selection of single malt scotch and aged rums, a few bourbons and Old Raj Gin. And, it all lives in a very cool shop right on High Street in Edinburgh. High Street is the main street in Edinburgh that connects the two castles – Hollyrod and Edinburgh Castle. Cadenhead’s sits almost in the middle – a spot that is well deserved.
The next time you are in Edinburgh, check out Cadenhead’s, talk to Mark and buy a bottle or two or more of scotch to take back. I know that my limited visit has inspired me to go back and hopefully soon!