N.1 was created around a single Octave cask from an Islay distillery.
Octave Casks are in the region of 50L, about an eighth of a normal barrel size. This means that there's loads of wood to spirit ratio, resulting in an intense flavour exchange between the two elements.
This octave had been seasoned with Oloroso Sherry before being filled with the Islay malt. We found the subtleties around the peaty notes in the whisky somewhat hidden beneath the sherry and wood, and it had all become a bit too much. Therefore the challenge for us as blenders was to draw out the original spirit character and tame the bold tannins from the wood.
Using a well aged Lowland grain whisky from an ex bourbon cask to temper the sherry notes, we were able to restore some of the lost vibrancy, allowing a wider profile to appear. Grain whisky is often thought of as a bulking agent used in blends, but we see good grain whisky as a source of texture as well as flavour. In this case it added a touch of silk to the experience as well as having a huge vanilla impact on the taste of the experience.
Now that we had light and shade to work with - the challenge became bridging them.
We chose two samples that had opposite textures. An Island Malt provided a grassy freshness, while a Campbeltown lent oiliness and weight. Still unfinished, we searched for a punctuation mark to add a final spark, and arrived at the decision to include a small amount of a renowned “meaty” Speyside malt, famed for its use of Wormtub condensers. The effect it had on the blend was astounding.
Whilst smoky whiskies will always be distinct, we found richness in the exercise of tempering smoke using texture, and as a consequence, found that the smoke reveals itself twice in tasting, almost as if in two different layers. Needing nothing more than time for everything to breathe and integrate, this was married in an ex-bourbon hogshead cask for around 100 days.
This final period of marrying allowed the different levels to integrate in a way that rewards time spent with this whisky in glass.