The relationship between Scotland and France – the Auld Alliance, as it’s fondly known north of the border – is one of history’s greatest bromances. It was forged around a mutual distrust of England. Legend has it that William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, even went to France to fight the English there, a sort of medieval hooligan’s holiday. Two centuries later, Mary Queen of Scots grew up in France, then illuminated Scotland with Gallic glamour before the English rather unkindly cut off her head.
But now we live in more civilised times, and relations with the Auld Enemy are somewhat less murderous. Franco-Scottish relations need a newer, nicer sense of purpose.
Glenlivet, one of Scotland’s most storied distilleries, may provide an answer with their new Captain’s Reserve. It is a marriage of classic Scottish single malt with Cognac, a spirit so quintessentially French that Napoleon took barrels of the stuff into exile.
The process for making Captain’s Reserve is much like any Glenlivet at first, using American Oak and sherry casks. The twist comes with final months of maturation in Cognac-steeped barrels, imparting a richer, complex finish. Although this technique is common with bourbon and sherry casks – and similar examples involve port, rum, madeira, and even IPA – Glenlivet are the first major single malt distillery to offer a Cognac finish.
The Prickle can report that the experiment is a success.
We first tasted it with a few drops of water. The nose exudes honey, vanilla, dried apricot and raisins, giving way to a taste of rich jam, cinnamon pastry, even a faint hint of aniseed. Finally, the finish lingers, nutty and deep – unmistakably elevated by the Cognac. It’s good stuff – certainly a cut above Founder’s Reserve, Glenlivet’s (perfectly respectable) entry level Speyside – tasting more luxurious than its lack of age statement might suggest.
Ignoring purist tuts, Glenlivet encourage the use of their single malts in cocktails. To prove the point, they treated the Prickle to a dazzling concoction from Bobby Hiddleston, mixologist-patron of Swift Bar, mixing Captain’s Reserve, plum sake, Poire Williams and even a delicate spray of homemade lemongrass spritz. For those of us with simpler tastes – or less exotic drinks cupboards – the Captain’s Reserve could also form the basis of a cracking Old Fashioned. But you can’t go wrong the even more old-fashioned way – whisky with just a little cold water.
Captain’s Reserve is named after Captain Bill Grant Smith, a grizzled Highlander who fought in France in WW1 – the French link that inspired Glenlivet to use Cognac casks -before directing the distillery from commercial wilderness to global success. This oaky-sweet marriage of whisky and Cognac would surely have pleased the Captain. And even Mary Queen of Scots herself. But at £45-48 RRP you won’t need a royal budget.
The Auld Alliance seems alive and well – and now we have a drink with which to toast it.