Friday, 2 January 2015

Hankey Bannister

Whisky Discovery
Back at the end of October I had my first introduction to the Hankey Bannister range of blended Scotch whiskies. Whilst I had heard of the brand before, having seen a few press releases over the course of my journey, there was no mention on the 'Liquid Log' and I don't think I had actually even seen a bottle in real life. That all changed when I was invited by Inver House Distillers to a Masterclass held in Ruffians Barbers, an award-winning barber shop and store, in Edinburgh. Yes, you read correctly, a whisky tasting in a barbers shop, and another first for me. I don't think I've set foot in a barbers shop for quite a few years now, difficult for you to imagine I'm sure, but this fine grooming is all my own work!

The evening started off with being sat in an old fashioned barbers chair and given a facial. A hot towel wrap and head/shoulder massage and another first too. (although I could tell you a story or two about some 'salon experiences' from my time working in Thailand). Once we were suitably relaxed our Hankey Bannister masterclass, started with an opening introduction from Brand Manager, Lynne Buckley before Master blender Stuart Harvey took us through three core expressions starting with their 'Original blend', followed by the 12 Year Old and then the Heritage Blend. I was in great company too, as alongside Lynne and Stuart were our hosts for the week, Lukasz Dynowiak and Digital Brands Manager Samantha Peter, and fellow tasters Annabel Meikle a.k.a. The Whisky Belle (@thewhiskybelle), Mr. Whiskycast himself Mark Gillespie (@whiskycast), Chris Hoburn (ChrisHoban1) from the esteemed Edinburgh Whisky Blog (@EdinburghWhisky) and Dave Alcock, The Whisky Dramalista (@whiskyrepublic)
Whisky Discovery
Chris Hoban and I settle down to our Facial at Ruffians
I thought I'd be clever on this masterclass, and brought along a small dicta-phone so I could record the whole experience to save me from writing notes through the evening and so I could revisit later in order to write an informed blog post. I should have spent a little more time reading the instructions as when I went beck to review the evening I found I had recorded absolutely nothing. It was definitely a case of the 'bum on the machine' and not the machine on the bum. So without my audible notes I've had to request all the information from Lynne and Samantha again, sorry!

Mark Gillespie's recording equipment didn't fail him (well he is a professional!) and you can listen to his interview with Stuart Harvey in this podcast here: Whiskycast Episode 506

You can also read Dave Alcock's version of the events on his blog post here: The Whisky Dramalista
Whisky Discovery
Three core expressions for our Hankey Bannister Masterclass

Hankey Bannister - the Story
The Hankey Bannister brand originated way back when Beaumont Hankey, a sophisticated socialite and a man of distinction teamed up with astute businessman Hugh Bannister to establish a wine and spirits company in 1757 which lead to the creation of the Hankey Bannister Blended Scotch Whisky. It's popularity grew and and noted drinkers include The Prince Regent (King George IV) King George V receiving a Royal Warrant under his reign and war-time Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

In 1988 Inver House purchased the brand from International Distillers & Vintners, and in 2009 the brand was repackaged and became their core blended whisky brand globally. Since then they have had double digit growth year on year which is a fabulous achievement. It's now available in over 100 countries, with key markets being Global Travel Retail, Russia, Ukraine and Mozambique where they're continuing to build brand awareness. Whilst the UK market strategy is under review, I was told that they'll be continuing to focus on independent stores and smaller wholesalers to slowly spread the Hankey Bannister cheer by word of mouth.

Whisky Discovery
Stuart Harvey in action
Stuart told us that all five of the Inver House single malt distilleries; Old Pulteney, Balblair, Balmenach, Knockdhu (anCnoc) and Speyburn, are used in the make up of the Hankey Bannister blend and these are combined with other selected single malts and grains. The single malts from their distilleries along with the others and the grain whiskies sourced from a number of suppliers, are brought together in their blending facilities in Airdrie and placed into holding tanks. Casks are filled for maturation at Airdrie and a recently installed state of the art automated cask filling machine can fill up to 500 casks per day. Last year 125,000 casks were filled purely for blending.

There are currently 32 warehouses at Airdrie, with both racked and palletised styles giving a capacity to store a total of half a million casks. A further 18 warehouses are under way increasing maturation capacity by a further 212,000 casks. An automated process for 'dumping' casks allows 500 casks to be processed each day. The malts selected for blending are treated the same as single malts, the strength is reduced and chill filtered before blending commences with the malts combined with grain whiskies, usually 60-85% grain whisky to 15-40% malt whisky, left to marry together before bottling. In June 2009 a state of the art bottling facility was opened in Airdrie and they currently bottle around five million bottles per year.

Whisky Discovery #1073

Hankey Bannister Original NAS 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
Circa £17.00 70 cl
Whisky Discovery
Official Tasting Notes
Colour: Creamy toffee with a golden hue.
Nose: A light aroma with a spiciness which gives extra depth.
Taste: A light, subtle blend, clean, sweet and spicy with honeyed tones and a pleasant lasting finish.

So What Did I Think?
I think we were all pleasantly surprised on first sipping this, especially when told the price. I must admit I'm not a fan of sipping Johnnie Walker Red Label, however was quite happy to sit and sip this. The nose is quite light, yet rather punchy. There are notes of winter spice and black pepper with a touch of caramel. The palate is quite fresh and crisp with medium-body. There are notes of buttery biscuit and toffee fudge with cereal sweetness and a creamy mouth feel. The finish is of good length with a fudge sweetness.

Verdict: Whilst this probably won't appeal to hardened single malt drinkers, we all found this to be an easy drinking blend, and like I said, far more appealing to me that a Johnnie Walker Red Label, so if that is your tipple, I'd urge you to give this a try.

Whisky Discovery #1074

Hankey Bannister Regency 12 Year Old 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
Circa £25.00 70 cl
Whisky Discovery
Official Tasting notes
Colour: Golden amber with reddish highlights
Nose: Slightly sweet aroma with hints of vanilla and oak
Taste: Medium bodied, well-balanced with sweet soft vanilla and a slightly smoky finish.

So What Did I Think?
I fully understand the necessity of consistency of colour within blended Scotch whiskies and so the 12 Year Old has the 'mit farbstoff' on the label. It certainly has been used sparingly and not day glow orange as some blends appear these days! It's quite tame on the nose initially but give it some time and some lovely aromas develop. With a fairly high grain content it's hardly surprising that ripe, plump soft grains were the first notes I was picking up. It comes across as a very clean nose with green apple skins and a touch of citrus which seem to sweeten with honey as time goes by.
On the palate it's smooth and velvet like. Initially sweet, again with citrus flavours; a weak orange juice or satsumas and a touch of honey again. The spices are fairly gentle in their approach and bring a hint of ginger in the finish which goes on to leave a butterscotch flavour for me.

Verdict: This is an easy drinking, inexpensive Scotch with and age statement. I took a bottle of this along to one of our club nights (The Bedford Whisky Club) and it was very well received by everyone I introduced to it.

Whisky Discovery #1075

Hankey Bannister Heritage Blend 46% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
Circa £25.00 70 cl
Whisky Discovery
This was the most interesting of the three expressions showcased in our masterclass. Interesting because of the story behind it. Two years ago an extremely rare bottle of Hankey Bannister Fine Old Liqueur Scotch Whisky was unearthed. The bottle was dated by the address on the label and the bottle/paper production clues and put it somewhere between 1924 to 1928. Remarkably the seal was still intact and the whisky within perfectly preserved. Upon tasting the liquid a very different style was revealed when compared to the current original blend, it was much sweeter, with a pronounced peaty note. Full analysis was undertaken and Master Distiller Stuart Harvey was tasked with recreating this piece of whisky history. 

Whisky Discovery
The inspiration for Heritage Blend
Using the Original Blend as a starting point, Stuart added the necessary profiles to come up with the modern equivalent. This expression has a very high malt content and a peated malt of 0.5 - 0.8 ppm and gives a a fascinating insight into what Hankey Bannister was like some 90 odd years ago!

Just 5,000 cases of this recreation were initially produced, however this expression will become part of the core range going forward. Stuart had brought along the bottle, which was sadly empty, to show us. 

Official Tasting notes
Colour: Golden Amber
Nose: Sweet smoke, with traces of burnt orange and green apple, spicy notes of vanilla and caramel.
Taste: Full bodied with hints of honey and butterscotch, with a long complex finish.

So What Did I Think?
I was really impressed with this blend, perhaps it was the history behind it that sold it to me, but more likely it would be the passion shown by Stuart to recreate something from this point in time. I didn't scrawl any tasting notes during the evening thinking I'd be able to rely on my recording of the event, but from my recollection we were all suitable impressed by this expression and I'm fairly certain it was everybody's favourite of the evening.
Verdict: This is definitely something I want to revisit and will be one of my next purchases....OK I've just ordered a bottle!
Whisky Discovery
The original seal
After the official tasting and finished we all went out for dinner together and a bottle of their 21 Year Old was opened for the table and became my next Whisky Discovery.

Whisky Discovery #1076

Hankey Bannister Partners Reserve 21 Year Old 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
Circa £75.00 70 cl
Whisky Discovery
I've not been able to find this to buy in the UK yet, but it should become available sometime next year hopefully? Again no notes were taken during the evening but I'm very grateful to the Inver House Team for sending me a review sample after the event.

Official Tasting notes
Nose: Soft and smooth creamy toffee with slight vanilla overtones.
Colour: Dark honey with bronze highlights.
Taste: Aromatic with pleasant malty overtones and a warm lingering finish.

So What Did I Think?
This has a very soft gentle nose, there's a hint of lime within the creamy vanilla notes. On the palate it's quite sweet, silky smooth and very easy drinking. There's a good malty feel to this blend and quite chocolatey which continues right through to the finish.
Verdict: I wrote in my notes 'I really like this' 

There was another Hankey Bannister discovery registered on the Liquid Log that week (No. 1100) but as yet I'm not able to tell you anything about it at all (what a tease!) The next two Hankey Bannisters we enjoyed at Whisky Discovery HQ

Whisky Discovery #1125

Hankey Bannister 25 Year Old 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
Circa £250.00 70 cl
Whisky Discovery
Again I've I've not been able to find this to buy in the UK yet, but it should become available sometime next year hopefully, however I did managed to beg a sample for this post. Specially selected by Stuart Harvey, the spirit is matured for at least 25 years in American oak ex-sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks.

Official Tasting notes
Colour: Deep Golden Amber
Nose: Citrus Green Apple overtones with vanilla and toffee notes and a hint of leather rising in the background
Taste: A truly rich and complex palate with refreshing lemon, orange and green apple, perfectly balanced by velvety toffee and honey, with hints of vanilla and coconut. The finish is incredibly long lasting and spicy with just a trace of leather.

So What Did I Think?
As you'd expect the profile of this 25 Year Old expression would be fairly similar to the 21 Year Old. Again a soft and gentle nose needed some time for it to open up, and I was finding butterscotch and chocolate limes. The palate too was similar, again quite malty, which I enjoyed, smooth, creamy and very nicely balanced. There was also a hint of orange juice and more spices came through. The finish did seem to go on for a very long time.

Whisky Discovery #1126

Hankey Bannister Regency 40 Year Old 44.3% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
Circa £625.00 70 cl
Whisky Discovery
The 2013 release of Hankey Bannister 40 year old, the 2007 bottling of which won Best Blended Whisky in the World at the World Whisky Awards. The blend includes some 1967 and 1970 sherried Highland whiskies combined with Lowland grain. Only 1480 decanters of this expression exist. Whilst I knew this was one of the Dream Drams at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show, and was on my list of drams to taste, I missed it completely so was very pleased to receive a sample for this post

Official Tasting notes
Colour: Dark Copper Gold
Nose: Sweet home baking aromas, brown sugars, vanilla cake dough, butterscotch, with notes of spiced caramelised bananas
Taste: Incredibly rich and complex, spicy and peppery, yet with fruity notes of figs, dates and cinnamon. The finish progresses through subtle traces of autumn spices to the tinges of bitter chocolate and honeycomb toffee with the tannins lingering long in the mouth

So What Did I Think?
As you'd expect with a blended whisky of this age there is a lot going on in this. I was picking up notes of new leather, Christmas spices, brown sugars, malt loaf and sugared cinnamon doughnuts. On the palate it was quite spicy but this worked perfectly with the rich chocolate flavours. I found a hint of Cherry Liqueur too and the wood spices follow that reminded me of a pencil box. It starts to become drier towards the end with tannins and grape skins. The empty glass on the following morning has a wonderful minty chocolate note
Verdict: This indeed is very special!
I love my Hankey Bannister top hat - next mission is to add the bowler to my hat collection!
In Summary
I've thoroughly enjoyed my Hankey Bannister experience, the vintage blends were superb although not easily obtainable in the UK (and beyond my normal whisky budget). For everyday drinking the 12 Year Old is a great session whisky but my personal favourite is still the Heritage Blend. 

For more information why not check out their website and you can find them on Facebook too here Hankey Bannister FB

Slàinte! Dave

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