Recreating a whisky, be it a single malt or a blend based on a lost recipe or from lost distilleries is not new in the whiskyverse. There are umpteen examples of such resurrections - essentially to recreate history. An approximation at best of what might have been with a massive helping of storytelling on the side. Nothing works like storytelling does as far whisky is concerned. Unarguably one of the most important weapon in the marketing arsenal, its usage remains a near constant even today. And of course this is not exclusive to whisky alone. Almost everything we consume has a story. Apparently there is a theory to it.
'Retrieving, reliving, or repeat-watching stories results in what Aristotle refers to as “proper pleasure”—a catharsis—that relates usefully to the work of Holt (2003) and Jung (1916/1959): Watching, retrieving, and telling stories enables the individual to experience one or more archetypal myths. An archetype is an unconscious primary form, an original pattern or prototype in the human mind; archetypes are not learned or acquired—they are with us from birth and are as natural and embedded in us as our own DNA'. Specific brands and products often play pivotal roles enabling consumers to achieve the proper pleasure that results in a consumer mentally and/or physically enacting a specific archetype—and reliving the experience by periodically retelling a given story.' ¹
This makes a lot of sense. Storytelling after all is an essential part and parcel of life. It's omnipresent. In fact it has been a fundamental form of communication since the dawn of civilisation, be it a cave painting, hieroglyphics, parables, folklore or social media; the mediums have changed but the stories continue. The very act of sharing a dram with friends is also about sharing stories - the whisky is just an effective conduit. Whisky marketing usually comes under heavy criticism. Over enthusiastic marcoms spinning cringeworthy yarns about the oldest, rarest, finest, purest etc at times even resorting to downright dodgy and disingenuous history. And the unsuspecting consumer usually falls for it. After all we love myths, legends and dinosaurs (I bet you all saw Jurassic Park at least once) though we may not fall for it over and over again. But I'd still say that storytelling, branding, marketing is essential. You wouldn't want your Ardbeg to come in a clear glass bottle with a post-it and wrapped in a brown paper bag. How boring would that be? And to all those who have raised their hands, no it will not make your favourite whisky significantly cheaper. Cost of production, spirit duty, VAT etc form a bigger more significant chunk of the MRP. While ultimately there is very little doubt that the juice needs to do the talking, when it is followed up with a good genuine story it certainly can elevate the experience.
For many of us who are overseas, a bottle, its label, the tube or a box is the only tactile connection with the distillery we'll ever have. Whether it's Made by the Sea or by Men of Tain the imagery and provenance certainly has an impact on how we connect with the whisky, the region and perhaps even the people. Never mind the fact that provenance can be neatly packaged bollocks as we've seen too often within the Irish, Bourbon and Japanese industry. With the good there will be the shallow. Thanks to the internet fact checking has never been easier than before provided one is inclined to do so. Yet there is a credible whisky history out there and not all storytelling is disingenuous. Especially when it involves people - real people (no AI trickery). Case in point, the blend I'm about to review - James Eadie's Trade Mark X Blended Scotch Whisky.
Many of you are already familiar with James Eadie the independent bottler. Established in 2016 they primarily release small batch single cask whiskies and are noted especially for their excellent wood management and accessible pricing. Their whiskies have been very well received by enthusiasts and critics alike. Rupert Patrick, founder and CEO is no stranger to whisky. He has over two and a half decades of experience working in various senior roles at Ian Macleod Distillers, Beam Suntory and Diageo. He is also the Chairman of WhiskyInvestDirect- a cask ownership program that lets one invest and trade in maturing spirit. There is nice interview on Malt review about the program which you can read here. Now as it turns out he is not just any indie bottler and thats where the history kicks in.
Rupert is the great-great-grand son of James Eadie (1827-1904). Young James worked as a tea blender with his uncle for a while, went solo into brewing, became a very successful brewer and built the James Eadie brewery in 1854, on Cross Street in Burton-on-Trent. His popular offering was an IPA which was much sought after, even receiving a mention by the legendary drinks writer Alfred Barnard in his book Noted Breweries of Great Britain & Ireland (Volume 2, 1889). Now James had in his possession a Scotch whisky blend recipe from his father which was described by Alfred Barnard as "an ancient scotch mixture that was dispensed to a favoured few". Needless to say he was one of them and it was in actual fact widely served in over three hundred James Eadie pubs. Soon the popularity of his blend soared and on 16th May, 1877 under the new Trade Mark Registration Act, James registered the big bold "X" as a logo which was a reference to the location of the original brewery on Cross Street. There were other products as well like the Gleneagles Blend, Eadie Gin, Brandy, Rum and Pale Sherry and Port which were imported from Portugal and bottled.
(Image courtesy-National Brewery Centre Archives,UK)
Black and white photograph of the Directors and Staff of JamesEadie Ltd., Cross Street, Burton upon Trent circa 1926. Front row, seated, Winfred Eadie, Grandmother Eadie, Jim Eadie, Chair, Dodge Robertson Director, Mrs Dodge Robertson. (Image courtesy & description-National Brewery Centre Archives,UK)
Eventually in 1930 the brewery changed hands and was bought by Bass. The blend continued to survive until the 1940's when the last of the bottles were produced and by the 1960's had faded into the annals of history. It was not until 2017 that Rupert chanced upon the original ledgers at the National Brewery Archive in Burton-on-Trent and with a few original bottles which had fortuitously survived within the family led to the revival of this long lost blend. You can checkout the video below which nicely captures this journey.
Now back to the present. The picture below is from a fairly informative pamphlet that was sent to me along with two branded glasses by Leon Kuebler who is their head of research. I was chuffed to say the least when the parcel arrived. It is very rare to receive merch all the way from the UK! Many thanks to Leon for that. I had bought the bottles almost immediately after the launch in 2018 and then had to wait for another two years till I found a whisky mule (God bless him!) who got them back to India. I think I paid £32/bottle.
As you can see it has malts from every region in the mix including single grain whiskies. Fortunately the twelve single malts used in the original recipe are still in production today and Rupert has managed to secure enough stock of the Cambus and Littlemill distilleries. How often does this happen? Not only do you find the ledgers but also all the component whiskies required to recreate it and most importantly actual bottle/s of the original blend within the family.
So let's turn back the clock and dive into the review.
James Eadie's Trade Mark X Blended Scotch Whisky @ 45.6% ABV
Natural colour|Non chill-filtered
Price paid £32
Available at MoM
Colour: Barley gold
Nose: Freshly cut fruit like sweet lime, apples and watermelon at a fruit vendor's stall with dhoop (frankincense) cones burning on the side to keep the pesky flies away. The peat is grassy and vegetal and the grain plays peekaboo with its rum and raisin notes which appear and vanish. Chocolate nibs and mildly roasted coffee beans join the choir of fruit and peat in unison. Water brings out flambe bananas, corn flakes and fresh dough.
Palate: Opens with the Islay chorus which is quickly joined in harmony by the sweet speysiders. The peat is more smoky - burning hay and hints of roasted green bell peppers on charcoal are joined by earthy notes of potters clay accented by white pepper. The fruits follow from the nose with a more citrus flourish like sweet lime and tangerines. The overall blend seems to be on the younger side and even though the mouthfeel is thin it is surprisingly oily. With time there is a sustained sharp bitter note, grain-bitter if you know what I mean that forms on the mid-palate and continues all the way to the back. Water brings the sweeter fruity/cereal elements to the fore while keeping the peat unchanged. Imagine a bread baked with a portion of peated draff and tutti fruity.
Finish: Long and drying. Soft peat lingers with hints of bitter dark chocolate.
Impressions: Even though the palate opens peat forward it is quickly complimented by the sweeter elements. The higher than normal ABV works - holding the overall structure in place and adding sharpness without making it too punchy. The grain and malt balance leans more heavily in favour of the malt except for that clingy bitter note which I found was quite loud and discordant. Water certainly helps in reducing it thereby improving the overall balance and delivery. Overall its not very complex but an approachable and cheerful blend. I think it could have done well with a bit more of the sherry influence which would have added richness and spices to the mix. Thats just a minor quibble though. It is still very well composed and by no means dull. It would be fun to serve this in a blind session and check if anyone can pick this up as a blend. Not many popular blends come to mind which have a combination of natural presentation, high ABV and an excellent price point.
Now coming back to the history, is this reincarnation a faithful revival of the original Trade Mark X which if you've seen the video differs a lot both in terms of its colour and the flavour profile. I asked Rupert this question and here is what he had to say.
"The main distinctive element of TMX, old and new, is the balance between the smoky/peaty whiskies and the more floral/fruity character of some of the Speysides and Highlands. We don’t know what the 19th century blend tasted like – I bet it would have been amazing – but our revival is based on a similar balance of the different whisky types. My ancestor clearly liked a peaty blend. The 1940’s ‘Special Old’ bottling was indeed heavily sherried and we didn’t set out to replicate it. Rather we used the experience of tasting that whisky as a part of the overall jigsaw puzzle in putting the blend back together. The tasting of the 1940’s bottle was a fantastic one-off experience but in our new blend we wanted something that would prove really popular with today’s whisky drinker, albeit leaning on the peaty/smoky side, true to the original."
Many thanks to Rupert for that insight. What I also learnt is that after the blend was created there was a further 'marrying' period of 4-6 months in casks. The second edition has received a longer marrying period of about a year which according to Rupert has mellowed the overall delivery without affecting the peat/fruit balance. What would be really interesting and exciting is a much closer recreation of the 1940's peat sherry forward blend. Who knows for it may actually be in the works and maybe we could all (and not just a favoured few) partake in the "proper pleasure" of reliving the glory of that Special Old Trademark X.
¹ When Consumers and Brands Talk: Storytelling Theory and Research in Psychology
and Marketing- Arch G. Woodside, Suresh Sood, Kenneth E. Miller