Cadenhead’s a Scotch whisky institution

This iconic whisky producer and retailer sets the standard at all levels – and has done so for almost 200 years

cadenhead whiskyPORTLAND, Ore. July 15, 2016/ Troy Media/ – For Scotch whisky aficionados, Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop and Tasting Room has always been more than iconic whisky retailer or a famed specialist bottler of rare whiskies.

The company, with outlets in London and Edinburgh, boasts an impressive list of historic milestones in the evolution of the Scotch whisky industry.

The company was established by William Cadenhead in 1842, when the modern Scotch whisky industry was still in its infancy. Scotch whisky had been growing in popularity following the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, and his enthusiastic endorsement for whisky from the region of Glenlivet in the Highlands.

At the time, Scotch was sold by distillers to grocery shops where, in turn, it was usually blended with whisky from other distillers. It was illegal until 1860 to blend malt whisky with grain whisky. So the blends being offered by the grocers would have been a blend of various single malts from different distillers.

Initially, whisky would be sold directly from the cask. Starting in the 1840s, it would also be bottled by the grocers for sale to their customers. This is how an obscure grocer in Kilmarnock named Johnnie Walker first got into the Scotch whisky business and went on to create an iconic brand that has become the world’s best-selling blended Scotch whisky.

William Cadenhead believed that Scotch whisky from a single distillery bottled directly from the cask was far better than a blend of single malts. Cadenhead was, in fact, bottling single malts more than a century before the practice caught on in the rest of the industry. He was also the first to offer single-cask bottlings, and by extension single-cask-strength bottlings, making him the very first specialty Scotch whisky bottler.

The first Cadenhead’s Whisky store didn’t open until 1971, in Edinburgh. The London store opened in 1995 and was that city’s first specialty whisky shop. It’s hard to believe that the London store has only been in existence for just over 20 years, as it has rapidly become a global icon for the world’s Scotch whisky enthusiasts.

About the time that Cadenhead’s was expanding into retail stores, it accepted an offer to merge with independent Scotch whisky producer J.&A. Mitchell. Cadenhead had a long-standing relationship with the Mitchells, having bottled specialty offerings of their Springbank distillery for many years. The union of two historic independent Scotch whisky companies would usher in a period of rapid growth at Cadenhead that would further transform it into a Scotch whisky institution.

The company now has 12 retail locations across Europe – three in the U.K. (London, Edinburgh and Campbeltown, also in Scotland), two in Germany (Berlin and Cologne), and one each in Denmark, Austria and Switzerland. The stores are locally owned in what Cadenhead management describes as a sort of franchise arrangement, and carry a broad assortment of Cadenhead’s bottlings and other spirits from around the world.

The company bottles five distinct ranges of whisky.

The Authentic Collection consists of single-cask bottlings of particularly rare whiskies. Only a few hundred bottles are produced and these are only available at Cadenhead stores. The typical store only receives an allotment of six to 18 bottles, depending on their size. They typically sell out on release.

The 1842 Casks are quarter casks maintained in the three British stores. Bottles are filled on demand and dated to the exact day they were bottled. Each cask is a blend of single malts from the specified region. The casks are refilled when they reach the halfway point.

The Islay, Campbeltown and rum casks are usually refilled every two weeks, while the other casks usually take four to six weeks to reach the halfway point. Each refill is based on a unique blend, based on the single malts available. The contents of each cask can vary quite dramatically from month to month. Given how quickly the casks’ contents turn over, each bottling is in fact a unique expression of that particular region’s whiskies.

The company also bottles two small batch lines of Scotch whiskies. The Small Batch Black Label typically involves one to three casks, while the Small Batch Gold Label are single-cask bottlings. Both lines feature unique bottlings, although not as rare as the Authentic Collection, and both are in very high demand.

Cadenhead has also announced a new line called the William Cadenhead range. These bottlings do not indicate the distillery where the whisky was produced. Presently, the range includes a single-cask Irish whiskey, a single-cask Islay whisky and a Solera 12-year-old sherry cask blend.

The firm’s most prestigious line is The Vault, a selection of ultra-rare whiskies that have been sourced from the aged stocks of distillers. The bottlings in The Vault range rarely make it to the store’s shelves as they are typically sold out on release.

As Cadenhead closes in on the start of its third century, it continues to be a trailblazer in the Scotch whisky industry, adding to its impressive lists of industry firsts. For the Scotch whisky enthusiast on a visit to London or Edinburgh, a visit to a Cadenhead store is not to be missed.

Be forewarned, however, that you can spend hours discussing the finer points of a Scotch whisky with their knowledgeable and hospitable staff. Their weekly tastings, as well as their innovative food and whisky pairings, are legendary. The tastings are in high demand, however, and a reservation well in advance of a visit is recommended.

Cadenhead’s is not just a whisky store. It’s a shrine to Scotch whisky and a living part of the Scotch industry’s history.

Joseph V. Micallef is an historian, best-selling author, keynote speaker and commentator on wine and spirits. Joe holds the diploma in Wine and Spirits and the Professional Certificate in Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (London). Bottoms Up is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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