Richard Bath meets Finn Thomson, who is continuing his family’s whisky connection by setting up his own independent bottling company.
I FIRST heard about Finn Thomson through a mutual friend, over a dram in a remote bar in Ardnamurchan. As someone whose day job includes being the editor of both Scottish Field, where whisky coverage is in our DNA, and specialist whisky magazine Cask & Still, my working life involves a significant amount of time contemplating Scotland’s finest export.
I’m lucky enough to have visited countless distilleries and tried some of the rarest drams on earth, so I’m not easily impressed. Yet despite the fact that there are now a huge number of independent bottlers – which is what Finn Thomson Whisky is – there was something immediately compelling about his story.
The backstory to the launch of his own company, as it was told to me, was about a magnificent array of casks collected by the Thomson family since Finn’s great-great-grandfather, Peter Thomson, set up a grocery and whisky business on the Old High Street in Perth in 1908. One of their staples was their own house blended whisky Beaneagles, which was cheekily named when in 1922 Peter heard of the impending construction of Gleneagles. As well as standard bottles it was also sold in small ceramic bottles in the images of curling stones, Nessie, birds of prey, and the like. Made by some celebrated pottery firms like Royal Doulton, these remain sought-after collectors’ items.
On top of that, the burgeoning company were also agents for some premium brands, such as local malt whisky Macallan, which has gone on to be the single most desirable and collectable malt whisky.
When the company was sold in the 1980s Finn’s grandfather Michael spent the next two decades salting away the young grain and malt casks that had been used in Beneagles, and any other interesting casks he came across. By the time Michael had finished, he had amassed one of Scotland’s largest private cask collections, much of which has now passed down to his grandson.
Spending a day in Highland Perthshire on the banks of the Tay with Finn, it was unsurprising that this enthusiastic and knowledgeable thirtysomething was keen to talk about his family history in distilling and selling whisky – after all, 300 years and eight generations is some pedigree. The day learning about the Finn Thompson Whisky range involved food and whisky pairing at the stunning Grandtully Hotel, a tour of his family sites – the highlight of which was a visit to the historic St Mary’s Church, with its amazing ceiling fresco – but, most importantly, some tasting of his launch range of whiskies.
The whole range will be expanded as more whiskies are acquired, but at the moment it is broken down into three categories. The Crown is their starter range, with the youngest a 2009 Inchgower, and the oldest a 15-year-old Caol Ila. The Rare range contains three whiskies: a 32-year-old Auchentoshan, and 34-year-old drams from Dufftown and the North British Distillery. Finally, the real star attraction is the single bottle in the Crown category, 127 bottles of an exceptional 50-year-old Glenlivet whose liquid is almost black and which has beautiful Olorosso sherry aromas – plus dates, figs and sultanas on the palate – from its time in a first-full sherry hogshead. It was exceptional.
After 300 years, the Thomsons could hardly have chosen a better time to launch themselves as independent bottlers and bring their family booty to market. Despite the current global financial uncertainty, there is still a lot of spare cash sloshing around the globe looking for a home, and with whisky prices rising fast the sector continues to see rising prices for its best drams. And make no mistake, the 50-year-old Glenlivet qualifies for that description, and then some…
The Finn Thomson Whisky range is available from Woodwinters, Villeneauve Wines, Freds Drinks, Oban Whisky and Fine Wine, Malts and Spirits, and the Aberdeen Whisky Shop.