Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review - Haig Club

Haig Club was one of the biggest and most talked about whisky releases of 2014.  It is a single grain whisky and launched the genre on a global scale with unprecedented coverage.  The term 'single grain' refers to whisky that is made at one location and from a grain other than barley.  This is usually maize or wheat.  The brand has been the subject of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, celebrity links in whisky history with the use of David Beckham and this has brought it much attention from media and consumers alike.

Haig Club is produced at the Cameronbridge distillery, which is the oldest single grain distillery in Scotland and was founded in 1824 by John Haig.  It was the first to use the column still method for whisky distillation and is located the town of Leven in Fife, which sits to the north of Edinburgh about half way between Kirkcaldy and Saint Andrews.  It is named after the nearby village of Cameron Bridge.

The majority of the current distillery was built in the 1960s and it is home to three massive column stills.  These produce a staggering 120 million litres of single grain spirit each year.  This is used across Diageo's portfolio of blended Scotch whiskies such as Bell's, J&B, Johnnie Walker, Vat 69 and White Horse.  The distillery also produces neutral grain spirit for brands such as Gordon's gin and Smirnoff vodka.

Cameronbridge distillery from the ground and above - Images © Diageo

History shows a distilling heritage in the Haig family as far back as the 1620s when Robert Haig (John's great, great, great grandfather) had studied the art of distillation in Holland.  John Haig founded John Haig & Co Ltd in 1802 and his blends became so popular that the decision was taken to build Cameronbridge to aid the further development of the brand.  In the 20th century, their whiskies became some of the biggest selling brands in the world with the memorable "Don't be Vague, ask for Haig" slogan.  The regular Haig Blend and premium Dimple 15 years old version continue to be popular.

A Haig poster from 1951

The addition of Haig Club to the range is designed to introduce the brand and whisky to a new audience.  There have been many brands that have tried, or are currently trying, to succeed with this strategy but few, if any, have done it with such a bang and across multi-media formats.  The decision to involve ex-footballer and fashion icon David Beckham, and his business partner Simon Fuller, in the development and marketing of Haig Club has been viewed as inspired by some and controversial by others.  Beckham is the face of the brand and this has got many potential consumers thinking or talking about whisky for the first time.

The launch was last Autumn and was completed with much fanfare.  This included big showbiz events, including in London and Changi Airport in Singapore, plus much promotion about the whisky's versatility and use for cocktails.  The innovative bottle design mirrors Haig's heritage, which saw the brand introduce the iconic Dimple bottle in the 1890s (as seen on the right of the 'Don't be Vague' poster above).  The Haig Club bottle is made from cobalt blue glass, which refers to the colour of glassware used by blenders when assessing whisky, and stands out from competitors on retail or bar shelves.

The Haig Club bar at Changi Airport, Singapore

Haig Club is constructed of different aged single grain from Cameronbridge and these have been matured in a combination of three different types of cask - re-fill American oak, first fill ex-bourbon and rejuvenated oak.  It is bottled at 40% ABV and has a recommended retail price of £45.  Haig Club is available worldwide in both domestic and travel retail markets.

Our tasting notes
The colour is pale golden yellow and the nose is light, delicate and sweet.  There is an initial freshness and zestiness, which is most reminiscent of lemon zest, and subtle aromas of vanilla and honey.  These are backed up by plenty of butterscotch and background aromas of bittersweet cereals and dried grass.

On the palate this again feels light and delicate, almost understated.  The background cereal notes on the nose are stronger, as is the dried grass.  This gives a warming, bittersweet and mouth watering quality to the whisky.  After this initial hit, plenty of sweetness comes through.  There is plenty of butterscotch (think of warm butterscotch sauce in particular), fudge and vanilla essence.  This is backed up by a hint of golden syrup and wood spice (especially cinnamon), plus something slightly metallic.  With water the whisky becomes softer and creamier as the sweetness comes to the fore.

The finish is short, especially once the sweet butterscotch and vanilla notes disappear.  Some warming wood spices and the bittersweet grains remain but again they disappear shortly afterwards.

What's the verdict?
Haig Club is a simple, clean and easy drinking whisky that seems perfect for what Diageo are aiming at - to introduce new consumers to whisky, and Haig and single grain in particular.  It is not designed to be the most complicated whisky on the market.

Many within the whisky world have criticised Haig Club on various levels - the quality of the whisky, the bottle design, the involvement of David Beckham - but we like it and what it is trying to achieve.  It is light and pleasant to drink on its own but comes in to its own when mixed in a cocktail.  Here the sweetness becomes almost exaggerated and stands out well. 


Whisky Waffle said...

The advertising works! I'm convinced that I will look like David Beckham in a suit if I drink this whisky!
That's what they're trying to say isn't it? No? But... but... I wanted to look like David Beckham in a suit!
Oh well, I'll just have to return to drinking Laphroaig and looking like Prince Charles in a light aircraft...
Keep on waffling,

Fenrir767 said...

Good call this stuff is garbage