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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Blend It Like Beckham - The New Haig Club Grain Whisky

Well, sometimes prophecies do come true it seems.

In January, we looked into our crystal whisky glass and thought long and hard about what was going to happen in the whisky world.

Our first prediction was that the world of grain whisky would get a lot more popular with several major players entering the market place with new products.

Our second prediction was that there would be the unveiling of a huge celebrity endorsement whisky.  At that point, the waters went cloudy and we couldn't quite make out just whose face was disappearing back into the haze -  but they looked familiar, fairly handsome and in possession of a decent haircut.

Today it seems that both of these predictions have proved to come true.

The whisky world has entered another realm of celebrity with the announcement of Haig Club -  a brand new grain whisky partnership between Diageo and none other than football's favourite son, David Beckham.

Beckham and his manager, the show business mogul Simon Fuller are familiar to millions around the globe so make no mistake, this is quite a big deal. What is surprising, but equally very pleasing, is that the whisky in question is a grain; the bedrock of any blended whisky and the spirit that really drives the Scotch  business forward. Without it, the world domination of whisky simply wouldn't have occurred. Brands like Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark and any of the many other ubiquitous blends would not be welcoming sights in back bars from Alaska to Zurich.

So why Haig Club?

Well, the Haig family has a long seated presence in the grain whisky world. The Haig family are arguably the first distillers of Scotch whisky on record, dating back to 1655.  In 1824, John Haig established the Cameronbridge distillery, which has now become one of Scotland's largest grain distilleries producing around 120 million litres of spirit every year.  From Smirnoff vodka- to Gordon's and Tanqueray gin, through to a host of blended whiskies you will have tried, the large proportion of the grain spirit within these famous brands is made at the Cameronbridge distillery.

Haig is the name on another hugely successful blend - Dimple, which for all those Breaking Bad fans, was Walter White's favourite tipple of choice, shortly before cooking up a bad-ass batch of Crystal Meth.

Now it seems that Haig has reinvented itself again -  this time with a new global icon at the helm.

David Beckham and his team of business advisors have clearly entered the whisky market at the right time, given its continued global expansion. With the Far East becoming more switched on to Scotch whisky of all kinds (premium single malts and blended whiskies) and also South America (particularly Brazil) developing a healthy appetite for whisky, it is undoubtedly hot property. But the fact that Haig Club is solely a grain whisky is doubly clever. Unlike malt whisky, grain has a softer profile, lighter in style, making it easy to mix and certainly easier on the palate than heavier, more robustly flavoured whiskies.

Until recently, when William Grant & Sons released their Girvan series of whiskies (essentially becoming pioneers in opening up a new grain whisky market) there was little consistency around grain whiskies, with most coming from independent sources: some were excellent, some were truly terrible. Grain whisky has clearly always been an untapped resource and now it all lots set to change once again from being a team player within the confines of a blend, to becoming a real star player on its own (sorry, we couldn't resist that)

The new Haig Club whisky won't carry an age statement and will be made from three distinct styles of casks: refill - used whisky casks, rejuvenated casks (which give a greater level of spiciness to the flavour) and first fill bourbon casks. With grain whisky intended to be easy to mix with pretty much anything:  from soda, tonic, lemonade and cola, it is not going to be as complex and structured as a single malt - but that's the point. At the moment, there is no RRP, but the whisky will be released later this year, so we shall see if it will come with a price tag as lofty as a premiership transfer fee.

We were invited to try an advanced sample of Haig Club a few months ago and here's our tasting notes:

Haig Club - Grain Whisky -  40% 

Nose: Fresh coconut, milk chocolate, rich Madagascan vanilla, chopped hazelnuts, honeycomb and a hit of banoffee pie and a little fresh pine aroma too.

Palate: Coconut, pineapple and banana come to the fore, backed with a delicate undertone of blackcurrant, a hint of raspberry and more fresh vanilla. This is a sunny tropical fruit salad of a whisky, but there is a solid foundation of oak underneath.

Finish: Milk chocolate truffles, more coconut and a hint of oak-led spice which gives some real uplift to the finish

Overall: This is not a flighty, flavourless grain but one which has taken on a good balance of both tropical fruits on the top end (giving a mouth-watering flavour) yet with a strong foundation of vanilla and spice. No doubt, it will be a real game changer, like the man who has lent his name to the project.