ICONIC DECANTER SLIMMED DOWN
I first tasted Something Special in 1977 in Poona. It was an exquisite experience and I decided to carry out detailed research on this Blended Scotch. I found that it was an illegal and raw blend first bottled in 1793 from what was to become Bon Accord Distillery in 1855. The SOMETHING SPECIAL website claims that Hill & Thomson Wines and Liquor in Edinburgh started the production and sale of an excellent blended Scotch whisky in 1793 and that it was granted a Royal Warrant by King William IV in 1838. This is a hoax, as William IV died in 1837. The whisky and distillery are not named*. Moreover, blending of malt and grain whisky was permitted only in 1860 for distillers; other traders, like grocers, were permitted such blending in 1863. The term Scotch came from 'Scottish' and was first used in the mid-18th century (1855, Gavin Smith).
It came out as a 12 YO Premium Whisky thereafter, not an 8 YO. Bon Accord distillery, renamed to North of Scotland distillery in 1898, was taken over by the Longmorn Distillery Company in 1893, and the whisky was bottled soon thereafter as a Grant's Distilleries' product. The website also claims that it was granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria, who died in 1901. This is most probably another hoax, as no distillery was given the prefix ‘Royal’ in that period. In 1877 Hill, Thompson & Co. offered the role of export salesman to William Shaw. In 1902 he established the Queen Anne blend, which soon became the company’s flagship whisky.
Grant's Distillery was destroyed by a fire in 1910, but was repaired and running in 1911. A new blended whisky, named Something Special, came out with great fanfare in 1912, quietly burying its dubious past. The website states that the business was still owned by Hill & Thomson and advertised as “A Scotch for a Special Occasion.” It quickly became popular in the United Kingdom and around the world.
The iconic decanter was first produced in the distinctive diamond shape in 1959 and heralded around the world as a visible statement of quality and originality.
In 1972, the Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries Ltd amalgamated with the blending concerns of Hill, Thomson and Co.Ltd and Longmorn Distilleries Ltd to become The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd. Something Special was then bottled by Hill, Thomson and Co.Ltd, Paisley, Scotland as a 12 YO at very good prices [$12 for a 75 proof 43% ABV 750 ml decanter(86 proof in the USA)]. The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd. was then purchased by Canadian drinks and media company Seagram in 1977. The website claims Something Special™ whisky was launched in new markets across Latin America and Asia in 1985, where discerning connoisseurs were demanding high quality Scotch whisky. This is a part lie, as Something Special™ was freely available across India, even in its Military Canteens in the 70s. I bought my first bottle in 1982 in Bhuj, a back-of-beyond city in Northwest Gujarat.
Seagram's was owned by a Canadian Jew, Samuel Bronfman, and his company was barred from using the Islamic middle-east gateway to the liquor demanding market of South-central Asia. He was unable to get his personal baby, Chivas Regal, going in a huge and lucrative market. He then routed his supplies via Singapore. But Something Special, strikingly similar to Chivas Regal 12 YO, didn't cede its market share to Chivas Regal. Phipson's Black Dog and Johnnie Walker Red and Black labels were making rapid inroads into this market. This is why Something Special was withdrawn from the Indian and Asian market, to make way for Chivas Regal. Once sale in India and most of Asia was stopped, its primary market became Latin America and Italy. A bottle or two is often found in odd locations. Seagram's was taken over by Pernod Ricard in 2000 and a fresh market analysis led to the release of their 15 YO in 2006, focussed on in Latin America with a few bottles trickling over to Asia as rarities. All barriers to trade via the Middle East were lifted.
The archives paint a very different story. In 1709 Andrew Thomson inherited the business of his father–in–law,
Mr Brown, a brewer and vintner in Grassmarket, Edinburgh.
About 20 years later the business was moved to "The Vaults" in
neighbouring Leith, which were bought by the company on 29 July 1782.
The firm of J G Thomson & Co was founded by James Gibson Thomson in
1785 at the Vaults to supply goods like whisky, brandy and wines. James
Gibson Thomson Jr, the son of the company’s founder, was associated
with the company from 1820 to 1876.
In its early years the major part of the business was in the import and distribution of wines from the continent. Later it traded in wines and spirits of all descriptions, both imported and local. The company’s wholesale business was carried out under the name of J G Thomson & Co and all private trade under the name Thomson Lauder & Co.
Two rare Blended Scotch whiskies bore the name Lauder's. These were The Lauder's Finest and Lauder's Queen Mary Special Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky named after the schooner that docked regularly at Glasgow. In 1884 the firm acquired Glen Garioch Distillery in Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire and owned it until 1908. In 1890 it took over the Leith firm, Scott & Allan, and its two clippers, which brought cargoes of wines and brandies into Leith. Scott & Allan were also cork cutters. In 1905, J G Thomson & Co became a limited liability company.
The company went into voluntary liquidation in 1921 and the buildings and stocks were taken over by J M Hogge on behalf of the new company, which was a private company without a stock exchange quotation. By the 1930s, J G Thomson & Co was supplying wines to most of the top hotels in Scotland and had become one of the country’s leading independent whisky blenders, with a prosperous overseas trade. By 1959 it owned three bonded warehouses and large duty paid warehouses. The company acted as agent, stockist and distributor in Scotland for many famous and internationally known brands of wines and spirits. It also functioned as a very large exporter of whisky to all parts of the world, especially to the USA, and was involved in the blending of whisky. The company maintained a large transport fleet with depots in Leith and Glasgow, and it maintained its own cooperage.
After the Second World War many private hotels amalgamated into larger chains or were acquired by breweries. This effectively removed J G Thomson’s principal outlets. In 1960 it was bought by Charrington United Breweries Ltd of London. Three years later Charrington acquired the Glasgow firm J & R Tennent Ltd and in 1966 J G Thomson became a subsidiary of Tennent Caledonian Breweries Ltd.
By 1972, Lauder's had been acquired by Macduff Distillery and its portfolio expanded by three additions. These were Lauder's Oloroso Cask Blended Scotch Whisky, Lauder's Ruby Cask Blended Scotch Whisky and Lauder's 15 Year Blended Scotch Whisky.
SOMETHING SPECIAL RETURNS TO INDIA IN 2020 BUT AS NAS EXPRESSION
Something Special is still a premium Blended Scotch whisky, the no. 1 Scotch whisky in the Dominican Republic, the no 2. in Colombia and overall no. 3 premium Scotch whisky brand in South America. It’s considered an outgoing and sociable whisky that celebrates life, an optimistic attitude and everyday success. As may be seen in the photos at the top, it is an NAS expression today and the decanter, while retaining its diamond cut, has been slimmed down a mite. The decanter of its newest release, the Something Special LEGACY, is unique and quite a collector's item.
Surprisingly, Something Special made its debut in Latin America in 2004 as a 12 YO Blended Scotch whisky. The award-winning 12 YO blend contains fine Speyside malt whiskies and is sculptured around the outstanding Longmorn single malts, embellished by classy single malts from the Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Laphroaig and Allt A Bhainne distilleries, among others, which are melded together in Strathclyde Single Grain whisky to give it its unmistakably smoky sweetness. The hint of peaty character is imbued from a single malt produced at the Allt À Bhainne distillery in Keith, Speyside. The Islay contribution is made by an unpeated whisky from, surprisingly, Laphroaig, a distillery well-known for its unmistakable pungent, medicinal and smoky spirit. This expression is said to age in Bourbon and Sherry casks but the Sherry influence in this blend seems minimal. With Longmorn stock running low, Something Special turned both slim and NAS in 2010. It is now carried by Allt A Bhaine, Glen Grant, Strathisla, Aberlour and The Glenlivet.
It is deep gold in colour with E150A caramel additive, chill filtered and blended in Scotland. It is bottled in both Scotland and India. The Scottish version is at 40% ABV in a 70cl bottle; it is at 43% ABV in a 75cl bottle in India.
Nose: When you pour this blend in your glass you immediately get peat and light smoke that remind you of a light Islay whisky. However, on inhalation, the peat and smoke prove evanescent and are driven back quickly to the back of the glass and grain, wood, sundry dried fruit and malt come into play. After a while in the glass, earth and wood tones begin to dominate. There isn’t much sharp alcohol, which is good but this blend would benefit from some more fruity tones.
Taste: Sweet (Sugar, Honey) and Spicy Oak. The sweetness becomes syrupy if swigged after a chillied momo.
Finish: Not overly long and quickly getting dry. Some Cocoa powder, nuts and wood.
If you add four or five drops of water, the peat on the nose withdraws to the background. Floral and mineral tones appear. The palate however just gets watered down. So you can nose this blend with and without a few drops of water but it is best sipped neat.
Eagerly awaiting the release of the SOMETHING SPECIAL LEGACY.
* The whisky was probably The Cock O The North Malt whisky and the distillery The Union Glen.