It became possible to travel by rail from London through to Scotland by the late 1840s, and a train from the south by both West and East Coast routes would come to be known as a ‘Scotch Express,’ Perhaps the most famous began running to Edinburgh in 1862, although it was not until 1924 it officially received the title ‘Flying Scotsman’. The early trains at first did not run to fast schedules, and it was only towards the end of the 19th Century the term ‘Express’ could properly be applied.
Regardless of how quickly they got there, the new influx of visitors to Scotland helped to bring about a great expansion of the Scottish railways, with six major companies bringing services to all corners of the country until they merged with the British network in 1921.
Each bottle in the Scotch Express series pays tribute to a classic Scottish railway operator, with beautiful artwork by Robin Barnes bringing new life to the locomotives that once ran these rails. Our whiskies are sourced from distilleries along the routes – the expansion of rail having brought new connections to these Scottish industries, and opened them up to the world.
“These bottles celebrate the routes that brought people and whisky together”
The Highland Railway
Constructed piecemeal from a number of smaller branch lines, the network that emerged as the Highland Railway in 1865 eventually spread its rails out from Inverness to connect to the east, west and north coasts of Scotland, with a crucial link heading south as far as Perth.
Rails were built on very challenging terrain, where steep inclines and inclement weather would challenge the sturdy engines that ran along the routes. The cold and windy pass of Druim Uachdair near Dalwhinnie remains the highest point in the British rail network even today.
Pushing through the challenges, trains enabled rapid trade to flow south from the Highlands, allowing livestock, raw materials and, of course; whisky, to find their way to markets. At the same time, passengers who were eager to experience the land of Sir Walter Scott were able to make their way north in relative comfort.
In its heyday, the Highland railway was served by a variety of 4-4-0 locomotives, designed by the engineer David Jones. One of these, the ‘Strath’ class, features as the locomotive pictured on the bottle, beautifully painted by Robin Barnes.
The ‘Jones Goods’ class was also brought onto the Highland Railway for heavier goods hauling, notable as being the introduction of the heavier 4-6-0 class to the British Isles. Jones Goods 103 now resides at Glasgow Riverside museum; the last extant locomotive of the Highland Railway.
Award Winning Whiskies
Taking away not just one, but four, prestigious industry awards at the 2018 International Wine & Spirit Competition, 2018 Independent Bottlers Challenge and 2019 Spirits Business’ Luxury Masters for the first two releases in their Scottish Folklore inspired whisky series, Edinburgh based Scottish whisky broker and independent bottler Cask 88 have quickly gained recognition for groundbreaking expressions that are in a league of their own.
Where our folklore series took inspiration from the myths and legends that shaped Scotland’s culture, our Scotch Express series looks at the historic modernisations that brought Scotland’s culture to the world.
“Cask 88 has become known around the world for delivering award winning single malt expressions, including three gold medals in 2018, and another in 2019”.
Railway Artist Robin Barnes.
A 1940s childhood passed within sight and sound of a busy main-line railway on which every train was hauled by a steam locomotive, many of them bearing names to grip the youthful imagination – Golden Eagle, Royal Lancer, Sayajirao, Irish Elegance, Jingling Geordie and Wizard of the Moor, for example, though there were many others – led inevitably to a fascination with trains and railways, which over time broadened into a wider interest in other forms of transport too, on the sea and in the air. Throughout his life he has put pen and brush to paper, albeit (he emphasises) with varying degrees of success, and in his adult years has contributed illustrated articles to enthusiast publications, written and illustrated three books and undertaken commissioned work for a number of patrons at home and abroad.
Now he has brought his intricate watercolour skills to the locomotives of Cask 88’s Scotch Express series, highlighting the beauty of the locomotives that served on historical Scottish railways and helped Scotch whisky in its meteoric rise to fame.
“Artistically, in relation to transportation generally, his preference is to tackle the more unusual and
less-often illustrated subjects”.
The Blair Athol Distillery
The Blair Athol distillery is located in Pitlochry; 6.5 miles from the town of Blair Atholl, which does indeed have a second ‘l’ in its name. This is a set up that’s ripe for misunderstandings. Luckily, if you wanted to visit either location, they are both served by the Highland Railway, one stop apart, as it climbs its way through the glens on route to Inverness. This rail route has been the backbone that connected the Highlands with the Lowlands and allowed smooth passage for whisky destined to slake the thirst of populous southern markets.
Blair Athol distillery is quietly nestled in the lush Perthshire landscape, and has taken full advantage of local water and agriculture to be one of Scotland’s longest serving distilleries. It opened in 1798 under the name Aldour distillery, and was renamed to Blair Athol in 1825 – just after the excise act. It is known for producing a distinctly nutty and malty character that works equally well with bourbon casks as sherry.
We’ve sourced a wonderfully rounded Blair Athol single cask whisky which has been maturing in ex-bourbon oak for 10 years. It’s a classic of the Highland style, and exactly the kind of thing that may have once travelled by rail to a very appreciative and worldly audience.