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Private Barrel Co – A Single Cask Whisky Offering from Checkers

Checkers LiquorShop Private Barrel Co whisky

When I received my invite to a whisky lunch with Checkers LiquorShop, highlighting their new Private Barrel Co single cask range, I must admit I was a bit sceptical. My perception of Checkers ties back to my youth. Growing up in a small town, Checkers was where we went on the weekend to get all the grocery shopping done. It could hardly have been called a glamorous experience. But I have to give Checkers their dues. They have stepped up their game over the last few years, working hard to position themselves squarely in front of high income consumers, highlighted by their extensive cheese and wine offering.

The Private Barrel Co range of whiskies available at Checkers LiquorShop

Now they’re testing the waters with single cask whisky under their Private Barrel Co label. Four hand-picked single malt casks, each resulting in no more than 600 individually numbered bottles. An interesting move as this kind of product would on the face of it be better suited to a smaller, more specialised, liquor retailer surely? And I believe that was the initial response from distilleries in Scotland. Uncertain of how their products would be packaged, bottled and marketed by a grocery chain, the distilleries politely declined and Checkers ended up turning to independent bottlers to source their whiskies.

At the end of last year, Checkers Liquor did a soft launch of Private Barrel Co, with single cask bottlings of Highland Park, Bowmore and Mortlach appearing on shelves in their stores without any fuss or hype. And those bottles have sold. Head of Checkers LiquorShop, Joseph Bronn, talked us through their selection process for their second batch, like a proud father showcasing his progeny. The single malts selected for the current release include Mortlach, Glen Grant, Glenlossie and Benrinnes.

Single cask Mortlach, Glen Grant, Glenlossie and Benrinnes

I like what they’ve done here. They’ve targeted distilleries that have little or no exposure in SA. Glenlossie and Benrinnes are used mostly in the production of blended whiskies, with a minuscule amount making its way onto the shelves as a single malt. Mortlach doesn’t see the light of day either as a single malt, with the few that have been released all coming from independent bottlers. Glen Grant is available in SA, but not a 17 year old expression. These are definitely whiskies that will pique the interest of the whisky connoisseur looking for something a bit different.

A tasty 4-course meal was paired with the whiskies

Back to the lunch at L’Ancienne Residence – 4 courses paired with the 4 whiskies being launched, namely Benrinnes 15 Year Old, Glenlossie 15 Year Old, Glen Grant 17 Year Old and Mortlach 14 Year Old.

Being a clever chap, I decided to record the presentation given by Jonathan Miles of Whisky Academy and capture my tasting notes too. If I was really clever I would have made sure that the phone’s battery was fully charged. It wasn’t, and all I got was the first 5 minutes, so here’s the official tasting notes with what I can remember of my notes:

Benrinnes 15 year old Bourbon Cask

Benrinnes 15yo - Private Barrel Co Nose: Sweet dough and raisins

Palate: Sugared almonds with apricot and some maple syrup

Finish: Lovely and elegant with light notes of sweet tobacco

Private Barrel Co Benrinnes 15yo flavour profileMy Impression: A very light style, and I couldn’t quite shake an overripe fruit note. It does pair nicely with seafood dishes though, like our hot smoked Koch Duart salmon cocktail with vanilla bean mayonnaise and salmon caviar presented with a lot of smoke as can be seen in the photo above. Quite a talking point around the table.

Glenlossie 15 year old Bourbon Cask

Glenlossie 15yo - Private Barrel Co Nose: Fresh and summery with gooseberries

Palate: Pineapple with some subtle spice and honey

Finish: Long and smooth with hints of dark chocolate

Private Barrel Co Glenlossie 15yo flavour profileMy Impression: One again, a subtle whisky. I tend to prefer bolder, stronger flavours, but this is ideal for our summer conditions though. It’s the kind of whisky you could open up on a pleasant afternoon with friends and end up finishing before the sun had set. Go easy on adding water here. Too much and it flattens the flavours. A nice accompaniment to the slow roast pork belly and sweet potato fondant.

Glen Grant 17 year old Sherry Cask

Glen Grant 17yo - Private Barrel Co Nose: Butterscotch, chocolate and pears

Palate: A lovely palate of ginger, peppered spice and roasted nuts followed by some banana and pear drops

Finish: Long and very warming with a velvety texture and traces of liquorice

Private Barrel Co Glen Grant 17yo flavour profileMy Impression: This is a very enjoyable whisky! Rich and fruity, with a great mouthfeel. I prefer it to any of the standard range of Glen Grant available in SA (Major’s Reserve, 10yo & 16yo) and it gives the new Glen Grant Five Decades (reviewed here) a good run for it’s money and at half the price of the Five Decades it definitely wins when it comes to “bang for your buck”. I finished my dram before even touching the dessert, an equally brilliant butterscotch crème brûlée and toasted almond mille-fruille with a spiced fresh pear compote. I could have easily eaten three of those 🙂

Mortlach 14 year old Sherry Cask

Mortlach 14yo - Private Barrel Co Nose: Fruity with smoky vanilla notes

Palate: Treacle, chocolate and maple syrup notes flow into some spiced ginger and fudge

Finish: Deeply satisfying with some chocolate and ending with a hint of tobacco

Private Barrel Co Mortlach 14yo flavour profileMy Impression: It’s good. Very, very good. So much so in fact that I didn’t even touch the final course of handmade dark chocolate orange truffles and calissons. Mortlach produce such character-full whiskies and this one is no exception. With such intense flavours you might be mistaken into thinking this was a peated Islay whisky, but it’s not. This is the second batch of Mortlach released by the Private Barrel Co and it turns out it’s from a cask that sat right alongside the first batch of Mortlach they released last year. I simply have to track down a bottle of the first batch to compare to this one. Side-by-side review coming soon!

All in all Checkers LiquorShop have done well with this addition to their House of Fine Whisky selection. In fact they’ve even impressed the distilleries that were initially reluctant to release any of their casks. So watch our for some single cask Glendronach and BenRiach expressions sourced directly from their respective distilleries appearing under the Private Barrel Co label in early 2014.

In the meantime, there are 4 expressions for you to enjoy which should be on the shelves mid-November, so keep an eye out for them. The range will on show at the Whisky Live Festival in Sandton with whisky guru, Marsh Middleton, present to walk you through the entire Private Barrel Co range. Well worth a visit!

Slàinte!

5 Comments

  1. Andries Andries
    October 25, 2013    

    How does the prices look like on these whiskeys?

    • Mark Mark
      October 28, 2013    

      Hi Andries, they’ll start at around R550 a bottle – not too bad considering what you’re getting.

  2. Eugene Els Eugene Els
    November 11, 2013    

    The Private Barrel tasting was most enjoyable. Credit must go to Checkers on a bold initiative, but product availability is a challenge

  3. Natalie Natalie
    December 11, 2013    

    I must agree, finding these whiskeys are a major challenge. Some stores don’t even know about this range! I drove to multiple stores and finally got the 17yo Glen grant and 15 yo Glenlossie. Haven’t tried it yet….! Good luck finding them, not sure why sandton store doesn’t have liquor outlet. Perfect place to stock these. Also haven’t seen the other two in stock as yet.

  4. Sipho Sipho
    July 19, 2014    

    I have been enjoying the 12 Year Old, not featured here but it is amazing. I have very fortunate to find or see the range in most Checkers Liquor shops around Cape Town northern suburbs, even found the 12 yr old in Randfontein.

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