Last tuesday saw the second pre-sale tasting at Mulberry Bank auction house where I work as the whisky specialist. As you will see below it was a step up from the last tasting we did, this time featuring eight wonderful drams and a break for some delicious Scottish cheeses. Like last time it was a thoroughly enjoyable night and I should take a moment here to say a big thank you to everyone who came and supported us and helped make the evening truly memorable with their fine company and delicious ‘bonus drams’.
Bruichladdich 1971-2010 39yo. ‘Liquid Gold’. Private Cask. Bottle number 54 of 88. 39%. 70cl.
As you may or may not already be aware, I already wrote some notes for this particular bottling. However, my notes came from a miniature sample, so lets see if there is any change in scores and impressions with the full 70cl bottle sample.
Colour: Rich gold
Nose: A thick and almost pungent fruit quality at first. Layers of melons, gooseberries, guavas, greengages, apricots, wet grains, toasted cereals, oats and a fantastic, fleshy mineral quality. Superbly coastal as well with bags of wet pebbles, flints, crushed sea salt, seaweed, lime juice, oysters and sandalwood. Hints of briny preserved lemons, wax, hessian, coal dust and touches of menthol. Just wonderful. I remember loving the nose on this one last time and that hasn’t changed a bit. Absolutely exemplary early 70s Bruichladdich character with minimal wood interference. Obviously from the best kind of tired old cask.
Palate: Soft delivery but not without bite. Quite a resinous combination of honey, salt, camphor, hints of tcp, eucalyptus sweeties, olive oil, wood spices and green tea. The palate is not as light as I remember it being, there is quite a lavish and textured delivery. Goes on with notes of lemon grass, chamomile, fresh melons, grapefruits, toast and graphite. Delicate, beautiful but a little short.
Finish: Sadly a bit short but there are still some beautifully biting notes of salt, old wood, herbs, tea, lemon oils and green fruits.
Comments: It’s pretty much as I remember it. The nose would be 90+ material but the undeniable shortness of the palate brings it down a little. It’s still a fascinating old whisky though. That naturally low strength allows all these fragile but really beautiful old organic, oxidative characters to shine through. The coastal qualities are quite spellbinding.
Score: 86/100 That’s two points up from the last time I tasted it. Does that mean the full bottles tastes better than the miniatures or is it down to fluctuations in the mood of my palate?
Bruichladdich 1970-2002. OB. Bottle number 739. 44.2%. 70cl.
Nose: This one is surprisingly similar to the 39yo but only much thicker, oilier and more focused on a big, crusty saltiness and layers of dense green and slightly tropical fruits. Bags of melons, guavas, pineapple, grapefruit, banana, greengages and cider apples. The freshness is quite remarkable with these huge seashore and fresh air qualities. Hints of vanilla ice cream, ginger bread, dried herbs, sandalwood, touches of tar and eucalyptus oil. A definitive example of this beautiful late 60s/early 70s Bruichladdich style. Almost unmistakable in some ways, no other distillery seems to display such a concentration of coastal qualities and these almost hyper-fresh green aspects. The age is worn so lightly as well, it’s pretty gobsmacking stuff.
Palate: A perfect delivery. An intense, biting but never overpowering delivery of thick, syrupy fruits and coastal zing that is almost like a beautiful clean and salty acidity drenched in minerals. So reminiscent of an aged Riesling. The attack is warm and alive, very punchy, mouth-coating and complex with layers of texture and a perfect equilibrium between all the various fruit, coastal and mineral components. The wood is virtually invisible. The best qualities of youth and age seem to have been preserved perfectly without any of the negative aspects of either. These smoky, buttery notes of flints, wet pebbles, salted almonds and ripe pears continue with toasted brioche, fennel seed and hints of ripe mango and pineapple syrup. This is devastatingly drinkable stuff, it just seems to get bigger and fruitier as time goes on.
Finish: Super long and bursting a the seams with freshness and bite. Tons of citrus, saltiness, cereals, butter, herbs and more of these endless fruit notes. Beautiful.
Comments: Probably my favourite Bruichladdich ever (so far anyway). The level of perfection in the balance and the poise of the flavours and textures is quite mesmerising. Not to mention the way that the age is almost indefinable but in such a way that it seems not to matter at all. I could drink litres of this stuff quite merrily.
Martell 3 Star. OB. Spring cap. Rotation 1930s. No strenght or capacity stated but almost certainly around 70 Proof and 26 2/3 fluid ounces.
It is worth noting that this bottle had obviously reacted with the spring cap seal as it turned quite a dark coca cola colour after it was opened and, as you will see from the notes, was not in the best condition.
Colour: Green cola (???)
Nose: A rich cocktail of metal polish, stewed raisins, aluminum filings, hints of butterscotch, quite a heavy old bottle effect in the shape of metallic notes, steel wool, blood and a sinewy kind of cured meat quality. There are also some very pleasant notes of jam, figs, blood oranges and rancio at the back but the metallic aspects really dominate. It seems that there really has been quite a reaction with the spring cap on this one (see photo). That metallic flavour and the resultant darkening of colour with a green tinge is something I’ve seen in old whiskies as well. Develops some more pleasant fruit syrups and spices like turmeric and stem ginger.
Palate: The strength is still quite vibrant but these metal notes of have become almost sour now with notes of cardboard, soot, oily rags, rotten fruits, over sweet candied peel and something slightly bitter and rancid at the back. It’s a shame because I’ve had other bottles from this batch which were quite spectacular but this one is really flawed. Not much point in going on.
Comments: It’s a shame because you can still get glimpses of how good it was without that odd infection from the spring cap. I suppose it goes to show that although spring caps were the best seal ever for maintaining a bottle’s level and remaining airtight they too had their flaws. You can see a picture of the broken inner seal below that shows how the metal decays and the card disc beneath reacts with the spirit. The solid tin spring caps they introduced in the late 1940s effectively eradicated this problem and were far superior.
Cognac. Vintage 1870. Bottled sometime in the late 1890s/early 1900s. Unknown producer. Bottled by Cockburn & Co of Leith & London.
1870 was another spectacular vintage across the majority of wine regions in France and Cognac was no exception. Produced only a few years before the Phylloxera became a full scale, recognised epidemic, this should be a stunning piece of history.
Nose: A rich concentration of dark fruits, madeira cake, fruit conserves, old pipe tobacco, rancio and demerara sugar. Stunningly fresh after such along time in bottle, brandy seems to survive so much better than whisky over the course of a century in glass. Further notes of quince, raisins, toasted walnuts, all kinds of fruit jams and compotes, touches of wild strawberries, leather and furniture wax. Quite a bewildering array of aged aromas all intermingling perfectly with the fruit qualities. The aroma is drier and more complex than the majority of modern aged Cognacs you can taste. Supposedly that is a typical characteristic of pre-phylloxera vines such as Folle Blanche that were typically used at this time. Now very fragile hints of spice, different kinds of wood, like polished hardwoods, the aroma of ancient hardwoods being turned on a lathe and finally hints of minerals, wet soil, hessian and damp sack cloth. A stunning, vibrant, fresh and endlessly evolving nose.
Palate: The strength and structure is quite magnificent after so long in glass. Pin sharp notes of fruit on top of thick truffle flavours, walnut oil, marzipan, dark chocolate, vandage tardive wines, balsamico, rancio, ancient madeira, the list of flavours goes on. The concentration in the mouth and the way it engages every part of the palate is quite astounding. Becomes syrupy, herbal and earthy with an unusually pungent green quality arising in the shape of aloe vera and eucalyptus oil notes. It is almost gloopy on the palate. This is undoubtedly up there with the two pre-phylloxera cognacs we had in Alsace a couple of years ago. This is a masterpiece.
Finish: Treacle, dundee cake all kinds of fruits, nuts, chocolate, gently drying herbs, toffee, different brown sugars, honey, never sweet or cloying, never too tannic, just long, lingering, fresh and stunning.
Comments: What an incredible drink. It seems to have benefitted from the perfect combination of wood and glass maturation, this was probably barely 30 years old when it was bottled and after a century or so of mellowing in glass it has become a truly profound liquid. Perfectly balances, endlessly complex and utterly beautiful. Glorious stuff.
Glen Grant 30yo. G&M. White screw cap. Rotation 1960s. 70 proof. 26 2/3 fluid ounces.
This one would have been distilled sometime around the mid 1930s.
Nose: It’s one of these unmistakeable pre-war aromas that seems to combine a completely unique style of peat with camphor, resins, rancio, dried wild mushrooms, metal polish, raisins, ancient cognac, coal dust and a bewildering array of different fruits. Citrus, glazed, stewed and tropical fruits galore. It first seemed a bit tired when I poured it but now it’s just growing and growing with more of these rich fruit notes and all those glorious old style aromas of leather, old books, boiler sheds, farmyards and that stunning, fragile metallic peatiness. It’s hard to describe this style of whisky, I would just urge you to seek it out and try it before it disappears forever, it is one of the true joys of drinking to smell something like this.
Palate: All kinds of oils, fruits, herbs, resins, fruit oils, huge waxy notes, honeycomb, dark fruits, metal notes, it’s like all these characteristics have been condensed into liqueur form. The peat qualities are just so beautiful and completely unique to this pre-1940s style of distillation. How they achieved these flavours and aromas is probably something we’ll never know for certain but it is a style that you won’t find in any distillate from the last fifty years. The whole thing is not too potent perhaps, the palate is a tad weak but only a touch, this is very much nitpicking in what is otherwise a small masterpiece of whisky making. The wood influence and the sherry are both quite luscious and stunning as well giving a delicate bitterness on top of these elegant fruit cake and tropical fruits that balance it out perfectly. I think we should stop now.
Finish: Long, delicate, warming, drying and beautiful. More ancient tobacco, metal, peat, fruit, oil and pre-war wonder.
Comments: I’ve said a lot about this kind of whisky before, I’m not sure it will do much good to reiterate those points here. Suffice to say you’re a madman if you ever pass up the opportunity to taste this kind of whisky.
Caroni Navy Rum. 90 proof. Bottled 1930s/40s.
Caroni was a Trinidad distillery that operated between 1918 and 1993. There are still bottlings of it to be found on the market todaay and, like many closed Scottish distilleries, there are still quite a few casks of it maturing. I’ve never seen an example this old before. This one was probably bottled sometime in the mid 1930s or early 1940s.
Nose: Elegant and soft at first approach, lots of those classic fresh brown bread aromas on top of bandages, antiseptic, ginger, fresh melon, lime juice and brown sugar. Heavy notes of mint, molasses, demerara sugar and treacle, very Mojito friendly. This was probably quite young when bottled at the time although with hot climate maturation it is hard to say. Given the style of the bottle this would almost certainly been considered a premium product at the time. the nose has a great richness but also feel quite gentle, probably due to the effects of such long bottle aging. Like the Cognac this seems to have weathered its time in glass exceptionally well. Goes on with hints of raw sugar cane, vanilla essence, wood spices and pot-pourri. Very sensual and aromatic, wonderful to nose.
Palate: The strength has survived on the palate exceptionally well but it is still remarkably silky and soft. Lots of geranium, cactus, bread, sunflower seeds, olive oil, all kinds of dark sugars, buttered toast, tcp, calpol medicine and brazil nuts. For all its history and age it is not so far away in character from many modern rums. Perhaps Rum, like Bourbon, is a drink that has remained relatively unchanged in it’s style over the decades. In comparison to Whisky at any rate, I may well be wrong, I’ll just have to drink more Rum from the 1930s, bugger! Becomes quite leafy with notes of tobacco, banana skin, raisins, cocoanut liqueur, toffee sauce and something oil and a bit industrial like camphor. The freshness and liveliness is quite impressive.
Finish: Quite long and very warming, full of delicate medicinal touches, spice, black pepper, oils, woody notes and more dark sugar notes.
Comments: A very pleasant Rum, not in the same league as some of the stunning single casks you can find nowadays but an excellent example of how bottle aging has almost certainly invisibly improved what was once probably quite a basic spirit. A wonderful time capsule piece.
Dalwhinnie 36yo. 1966-2002. OB. 15oo bottles. 47.2%. 70cl.
Nose: A wonderful attack full of wax, toasted breads, green fruits, wood spices, hints of tar, lots of menthol and fruit liqueurs. The perfect balance of bite, freshness and concentration of aroma. The wood quite restrained and gives way to lots of waxy fruit notes, farmy qualities such as various oils, wet earth and stables. Notes of greengages, dandelions, apricots and kumquats. Gentle, aromatic and quite beautiful.
Palate: The attack is rich and biting, more wood now as expected but also wonderful notes of brioche, toasted cereals, butter, vanilla cream, garden fruits, wild flowers, mead, honeycomb and simmering espresso. Ancient peat, metal polish, some wonderful notes of sarsaparilla, root beer, medicine and engine oil. There is almost a distant hint of something Ardbeggy about it in fact. Quite a stunning palate, unusually well in keeping with the quality of the nose. Develops along drying notes of wax, hessian, bonfires, wood lignins, pastis and wood resin.
Finish: Long but quite quiet and soft, all on herbs, wax, flecks of minerality, soft gummy peat notes, metal and green fruits.
Comments: I had tried this several years ago and though it was good but not spell-binding. I don’t know if something has changed in me or in the bottle during the intervening years but this is a spectacular dram in my book. Wonderful old whisky that walks a perfect tightrope and never lets the wood dominate all the other delicious, often very old school characteristics. Definitely the best Dalwhinnie I’ve ever tasted, well worth trying if you can.
Glendronach 1970. Cadenhead’s White Label series. Bottled mid 1990s. Cask number 25. Bottle number 263. 58.9%. 70cl.
I’m particularly excited about this one as it’s from a legendary era of production at Glendronach but also from refill wood so we should get a rare glimpse at the distillate in a more naked form without the usual cloak of dark sherry around it.
Nose: Neat it is a warm confection of butter, cream, soft vanilla, wax, all kinds of mineral notes, clay, paint, cactus and white flowers. This could have easily been a Rare Malts bottling, in fact it is very reminiscent of the Glenlochy 1969 we had at the last tasting. It develops along lines of white fruits but also some much earthier and farmier aspects such as hay, silage, earth and manure (in a good way). Fresh grass, parley, coal dust, charcoal, flints, wet pebbles and a tiny touch of antiseptic. The very definition of old highlands style in my book. Lets see what happens with water: an almost acrid burnt note seems to come out of it now, like smoke from an ancient chimney or something. More camphor, lamp oil, hessain and dunnage aromas with white pepper, tar, coal, little flourishes of mint and more white flowers. A truly uncompromising animal this one.
Palate: Up front it is very consistent with the nose, the alcohol is very quiet, in its place is a huge, thick fug of natural vanilla, drying minerals, wax, hessian, hay, stables, flashes of peat, motor oil, old boilers, herb liqueurs, cured meats and grass. Quite an astonishingly grumpy whisky, brimming with personality but, as was to be expected, very difficult too. With water: it becomes drier still as the water cuts through some of that fat oiliness, but it also produces more savory notes of bread, pastry and something like a ripe goats cheese. There are further notes of lemon juice, a rich saltiness, green peat, more grass, sorrel, parsley again and more pepperiness. This is a huge whisky that takes no prisoners with these constantly big, bold and difficult flavours.
Finish: Long, waxy, thick, drying, mineral, tarry, meaty and at the same time floral and complex. Quite a show-stopper.
Comments: It is a joy to get closer to that bold and boisterous distillery character. It’s little wonder that whiskies from the same year are still maturing so well in big, potent sherry casks. This is a stunning but undeniably difficult and totally uncompromising dram, full of grumpy personality, completely unsexy and old school to the end. I love it, some won’t but for me it is up there with all these old Clynelishs, Glenlochys and Millburn style malts with its big waxy and mineral profile. A great and rare privilege. Technically not as high as it goes emotionally but then what is…
This was going to be the end of the tasting but because the Martell was out of condition I decided to have a bit of a dig around in my stash and find something to make amends.
Aberfeldy 19yo OB Manager’s Dram. Bottled 1991. Sherry cask. 61.3%. 75cl.
Nose: A perfect sherry aroma! Bursting with figs, toffee, wet leaves, roast coffee, cocoa, dark chocolate, dried mushrooms, treacle sponge and guinness cake. The alcohol is there in the background but it is the wonderful sherry that does the talking up front. Super clean and fresh but with a big, heady scent of age about it as well. Wonderfully balanced in other words. Goes on with hints of old rum and molasses, cigar boxes, walnut oil, camphor and wet gravel. With water: it becomes earthier, direr and more rustic with more notes of dunnage, stables, motor oil, creosote, root beer, molasses, fig rolls and old tobacco. Endlessly rich and compelling.
Palate: Neat it is a powerhouse of strawberry jam, rich Americano coffee, brown sugar, cocoa, mead, rancio, chocolate, wet earth, balsamico, treacle, brioche, cinnamon and root beer. This is one of these perfect sherry profiles that balances the best of youth and age in one with immaculate cleanliness and complexity, it would give the best Macallans a good run for their money any day. With water: now it fleshes out even further and becomes spicier, more complex and softer on the tongue. Rose water, turkish delight, banana bread, walnut oil, strawberry liqueur, more earthiness and wood resins.
Finish: Looooong. Full of all of the above with bags of complexity, it hangs around forever.
Comments: This has got to be one of the unloved gems of the great Manager’s Dram series and my favourite Aberfeldy ever by a mile. It’s a huge whisky but the balance and poise of the flavours and the quality of the sherry are masterful. If you’re looking for a perfect sherried whisky for any occasion that demands one then you could do a lot worse than this beauty.
That is the end of the official lien-up that night. Needless to say certain other phenomenal bottles were opened and tasted. These bottles may or may not have included some Lagavulin White Horse bottlings and some 1970s era Glenfarclas (Glenfarcli?)
There will be another of these tastings on the 25th of June. If you are interested or would like a ticket then please feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks again to everyone who helped make it such a roaring success of a night.