Finn Thomson has found himself in a very unusual position. He knew that his family had a long history in the whisky trade and that his grandfather sold the family business in the 1980s. What he didn’t know, however, was that his grandfather had secretly held back some of the casks he had in his collection. Now, for the first time, Finn is revealing them to the public under the name of his new company, Finn Thomson Whisky.
“Even when I found out, which was when I was a late teenager, I didn’t quite understand what that means. I heard ‘whisky barrels’ and thought ‘Great, maybe we can try one at my 21st’,” he tells Elite Traveler.
In actual fact, what was hiding in the cellar were some seriously impressive casks, with age statements posing an amazing opportunity for the current day Thomson family. Three years ago they decided to maximize on it. “I had a chat with my dad and we decided to try and relaunch the family company and turn it into an independent bottling brand,” Finn explains.
In relaunching his grandfather’s whisky business, Finn discovered that actually, the Thomson whisky line went back much further than he initially thought. “I’ve realized that my family has been involved in whisky since 1772, going back nine generations to James Thompson who was an illegal distiller,” he explains.
The family’s story mirrors that of Scotch whisky itself, from illicit farm distilleries right through to established brands, which is what became of the Thomsons in 1908 when Peter Thomson – Finn’s great-granddad – launched his eponymous company. While Finn is now acting as an independent bottler, Peter Thomson’s Ltd was in the business of blending, with the signature Beneagles blend at one point being the 10th best-selling whisky in Scotland.
“I like to call it Scotch whisky’s untold story,” Finn says.
The brand relaunched this year with eight whiskies, split into three categories. Core will be made up of casks Finn has purchased himself. Rare is where you’ll find old casks from his grandfather’s collection, originally intended to make up the Beneagles blend. Finally, Crown will be home to a finite number of showstopping one-offs – including the headline bottle of the first launch: a 50 Year Old Glenlivet.
Naturally, a lot has changed in the 100-plus years since Peter Thomson first launched his business, and the new and improved Finn Thomson Whisky arrived on the market armed with a highly polished look.
Every single detail is a homage to the family business. Each liquid is housed in a nine-sided bottle, designed to symbolize the nine generations of Thomson, and sealed with ceramic-topped corks that are a nod to the fully ceramic bottles once released by the original Peter Thomson’s as a collectible edition. The signature font used on each was taken from an old postcard sent from a Peter Thomson’s delivery driver back to his family in the early 1900s.
Even the color of the Crown range’s grand presentation box was chosen in reference to the original Peter Thomsons delivery vans, known for standing out among the Scottish landscape thanks to their bright yellow hue.
Finn is very clearly determined to keep the story of the Thomson family at the forefront of the brand. “Nowadays, people want to know not just what the product is, but the story behind it, especially when it’s a luxury product,” he explains. “So many of these luxury brands are faceless and they’re nameless and it can feel very corporate. But that’s the last thing that we are. We’re a small family company and people need to know who [we are] in order to trust what the brand is.”
This family-first ethos remains ingrained into every part of the business: “It might be my name on the bottle, but a lot of the decisions are made as a family. My mum and my sister are involved as well as my dad.”
Even his granddad, who at one point looked to be the last whisky-selling Thomson, is still involved to an extent. “He’s quite happy to let me do my thing, but I’ll always run things by him before I do it. He’s given really good advice along the way,” Finn says.
However, while a great deal of time and care has gone into sharing this story, it’s almost as though Finn doesn’t want to shout about it. “You don’t need to tell people up front, it’s something that people can discover themselves. And it also means that we’ve got a brand that is entirely based on meaning and it’s got thought behind it. It’s not just whisky for the sake of it.”
While the slick presentation was clearly a priority in the relaunch, the liquid itself remains the real star. “For me, whisky should always still be about whisky,” Finn explains. “You could spend all this time and effort creating something that looks beautiful, but if the whisky isn’t good, then it will never work.”
And good whisky he has. Naturally, the knockout of the first release was the Glenlivet 50 Year Old. Presented in an oversized charred oak case made by Scottish carpenter, Joachim King, and priced at an impressive £15,000 (approx. $17,100), the whisky was aged in first-fill sherry hogshead, resulting in a gorgeously dark color that Finn quite rightly likens to cola.
On the nose, the whisky’s age is immediately apparent with a mustiness that only the oldest liquids benefit from. It’s like sticking your nose into an old book at the back of a library. The first sip reveals signature Glenlivet fruitiness, but 50 years in a sherry cask means richer dried fruit flavors are front and center, too. A slightly more bitter finish – dark chocolate and tobacco – rounds off a complex palate. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have an old whisky like that. It’s very, very special,” Finn says.
Although Finn has launched with just one bottle in the Crown collection, rest assured there are a few more big hitters hiding in his granddad’s well-preserved collection. “We’ve got stock from the seventies, and we’ve got casks from some of the big names in the industry,” Finn shares. “Their time will come. These big releases will happen every few years, it’s not going to be an annual thing. It will be special one-off releases when the time is right.”
While the big age statement is the lead act on the bill, the supporting bottles deserve plenty of attention too. “I hope people talk about the younger stuff as much as the old stuff. They’re the future of the business, and they’re where I get to make my mark,” he says.
One place where Finn has really flexed his muscles as master bottler is the 2009 Inchgower, aged in ex-red wine casks. Like everything else in the business, this decision has a story behind it.
“Although Peter Thomson’s had its own whisky blend, the vast majority of their business was as an importer of wine and spirits from Europe … and one of the brands they distributed was Torres [wine],” Finn says.
Aiming to reignite his granddad’s relationship with the winery, he got back in touch with Torres, who sent over eight barrels. “We put an Inchgower into one and it was a bit of a gamble. I thought it could go very wrong. I tasted a sample after a week, and it was all over the place – more wine than whisky.”
But by spring 2022, it was just right and the result is undeniably whacky. Beautifully pink in color, you’d be mistaken for thinking it was a rosé at first glance, with a bounty of fresh red fruit and sweet wine on the palate.
“It’s an amazing whisky. It tastes so different to what people expect … but at the same time, I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea because some traditional whisky drinkers will try that and say it’s dreadful. It will be divisive but as an independent bottler, it’s all about celebrating things which are quite weird and quite wonderful,” Finn says.
With the combined promise of big age statements and the master bottler’s bubbling creativity, all signs point to an exciting future for Finn Thomson Whisky.