Tag Archives: Gordon & MacPhail

Office NickNacks

Posted on Wednesday 4th of July 2012

I am fortunate enough to have gathered a fairly substantial shelf full of tasting stock in my office over the past few months. Time to wirte some notes for six of them before they get totally consumed.

Bell’s Royal Reserve 20yo. Rotation early 1950s. Missing front label. 

Colour: Straw

Nose: A burst of butter, linseed oil, wild flowers, minerals, flints, all kinds of gentle wax notes and beautifully metallic shades of peat. One of these delicate but complex old style whiskies that is completely unlike anything produced today. Goes on with fragile wood spices, tcp, more gentle metal notes, olive oil, furniture polish and something like green fruits and truffle shavings.

Palate: A big slurp of motor oil, canvas, hessian, dunnage, wet earth, wild mushrooms, tar and ancient, simmering peat. Something undeniably Ardbegish about this one with its concentration on all these old style phenols and peat notes without much in the way of over fruitiness. The fruit is there but its gentle and restrained like dried apricots, tinned pears in syrup and touches of rosewater and lychee. More floral notes of dandelion and fresh herbs with thick liqueur aspects becoming louder and thicker.

Finish: Long, tarry, honeyed and herbal with notes of old chartreuse, kummel, bitters, wood sap, phenols, metal and greengages.

Comments: There isn’t a shred of grain in this one, it’s just like drinking a great old style single malt. Of course this was bottled in the days when premium blends such as this one probably had upwards of 70% malt content, which over the years in glass would probably just completely assimilate, Borg style, any pesky grain floating about inside. A cracking dram, one that can still be found quite cheap if you’re careful.

Score: 91/100

Glen Grant 1936-1974 38yo. G&M. Screw cap. 70 proof. 26 2/3 fluid ounces. 

Part of a series from the same vintage that also includes an utterly incredible 42yo and the ‘as yet untasted’ (hint hint) 45 and 50yo versions. Big thanks to Wayne for this one.

Colour: Amber

Nose: Welcome to the 1930s! Where do we begin? In no particular order: leather, rancio, old pipe tobacco, metal polish, an ancient, extinct variety of peat and phenol aromas, every kind of fruit you can think of, enough shades of medicine to keep an old folks home going for a month and the kind of perfect, glistening, saline, fatty sherry aroma that most modern malts can only dream of. Honestly, if you’ve never tried one of these old pre-war malts then do whatever it takes because an aroma like this really demands to be experienced. It leaves almost all other malts in the dust in terms of elegance, subtlety, balance and depth.

Palate: Perfectly in keeping with the nose, massively oily, fatty, fruity and thick with a kind of jammy peat quality and all kinds of notes of metal, fruit, peats, smoke, tobacco and wood jumbling about the place. Goes on with softer notes of red fruits, balsamico, date liqueur, dried herbs, brown sugar, molasses and medicine. Masterly stuff.

Finish: Long, decadent, extravagant and unique to this pre-war style with all these aspects of fruit liqueur, tropical juice, peat, mead, metal and wax.

Comments: These old pre-war masterpieces are getting scarcer and scarcer, until someone starts making whisky like this again I’d recommend making the effort to taste these masterpieces. It really is a totally extinct kind of whisky, each one is a true privilege to taste.

Score: 93/100

Bowmore 30yo OB ‘Sea Dragon’ ceramic bottle. 1990s. 43%. 70cl. 

Colour: Amber

Nose: A sumptuous platter of tropical fruit, smoky bacon, seashore and peat oils. Very soft on the nose, quite wide and lazy with a tropical swagger to its gait. Feels like a few more degrees of alcohol would have focused it a bit more but as it is it’s still beautiful. These fragile notes of smoke, seaweed, mineral and marzipan start to come through now with soft touches of hessian, marmalade, orange bitters and apricots.

Palate: A lovely, even, drying delivery all on salt, toasted cereals, fresh tropical fruits, peat smoke and fragile hints of medicine. The fruit is quite loud with some wonderful drying qualities and a really appetising bitter edge full of salt, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, touches of lavender and sandalwood. Quite a fragrant smokiness hangs about the whole thing as well, like a small beach bonfire.

Finish: Not overly long but full of blustery peat, tropical fruits, boiled sweeties, manure (the good kind), minerals and camphor.

Comments: A wonderfully drinkable and rather broad example of old style Bowmore, it effortlessly encompasses the lushness of the early 1960s distillates with the more pristine smoke and coastal qualities of the 1969/1970 style. A little lazy at times but super delicious and effortlessly charming.

Score: 92/100

Bruichladdich 10yo ceramic flagon. OB for USA. Rotation 1980s. 86 US Proof. 75cl.

I’d never seen this bottling before I found it in a collection on Islay.

Colour: Yellow

Nose:  A whole meadow and a seashore at first. Lots of oils, fresh butter, chopped parsley, seaweed, grass, wild flowers, chamomile, touches of sweat (in a good way), turmeric and some lively green fruits. A really big and impressive nose full of character and hugely invigorating with its freshness. Hints of crushed nettles, lavender, natural sea salt, preserved lemons in brine, coal fires, tarragon and buttered toast. A real live wire of a nose. There is even something kind of farmy and slightly dirty in quite a sexy way, a few greasy phenols hanging around in the background there. Great stuff.

Palate: It’s big for the strength, full of butter, herbs, spices and minerals with bags of salt, coastal freshness lemon skins, lime juice, white fish and crab meat. It goes on with a wonderfully direct and lively white pepper note on top of hints of quince, salted dark chocolate, lemon curd and more toast notes. A lot of flavour and character in this, it’s a really big whisky.

Finish: Super-long, coastal, green, zesty and becoming increasingly tropical as well with notes of papaya and mango. These slightly salty, farmy, sweaty notes keep coming back.

Comments: A wild Bruichladdich, full of distillery character, charm and personality. That rarest of whisky that is both old style and still quite sexy, it seems Bruichladdich is one of the few distilleries that can (or could) do that. A wonderful smorgasboard of character.

Score: 91/100

Glenfarclas 1970-2001 30yo. Cadenhead’s Chairman’s Stock. Bourbon Hogshead. 132 Bottles. 70cl. 53%. 

Colour: Copper. This must have been quite an active bourbon hoggie to give it such a colour. Either that or they made a mistake on the label.

Nose: Pin sharp wood polish, wax, super lush fruit and a wonderful mix of berries, fruit compote, citrus peel, stewed dark fruits and background notes of creme brulee and fresh vanilla cream. Really classy, lively old whisky that displays a great balance between fruit and wood characters. It also seems that the label was right as there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of ‘sherry’ character. It’s obviously just taken quite a bit from the wood in terms of its colour. Goes on with notes of wet hay, buttercups, fir trees, toasted walnuts and coriander marmalade. With water: quite typically its all wild mushrooms, wet leaves, forest flora and wet earth now. Hints of soy sauce, figs, root beer and cocoa all come through as well.

Palate: It’s a big jammy delivery full of mint juleps, coal dust, rancio, old tobacco, shoe leather, wax, mead, fresh parsley and mulling spices. A great big concentration of flavour that engages every part of the mouth really well, very thick and mouth-coating. With water: quite a bit dryer and more savory with these wonderful notes of brown bread, touches of Gueze beer and then tropical fruits like dried mango and papya. Brilliant with water, great development, it even acquires a slightly salty and lemony edge. It really dances all over the place this one. Like a cocaine fueled kitten in a box full of mice.

Finish: Long, earthy, leafy and drying with a wonderful streak of pipe smoke, brown sugar, nutmeg, cereal and coal dust. It just seems to get younger as you go this one.

Comments: With water it’s almost like it reverted back ten years but in a good way. Super fresh, lively, nervous, complex and full of surprises, both on the nose and the palate. A really fun Glenfarclas, great cask selection by Cadenheads (as usual). My mouth feels like I just smoked a cigar.

Score: 92/100

Random Cask Sample. Bottled early 1960s. About 8-12 years old. Somewhere near Elgin. 

There is a great story to this bottle. I was visiting an elderly lady in Elgin who had quite a substantial stash of utterly incredibly old Macallans that I was attempting to persuade her to sell in our auction. Thankfully she did. When I asked her how she came to acquire such spectacular old bottles she told me they had belonged to her father. He had worked in the off trade in Elgin during the 1940s and 1950s. You can only imagine the whiskies he must have tasted at the time. After this we were (when I say we I mean me) rooting around in her drinks cabinet to see what other ‘old bottles’ she had squirreled away. That’s when I saw this one poking out at me. It was black, almost completely full, had no ring seal on the screw cap and was almost identical to the old Campbell, Hope and King bottles. When I asked her what it was she told me it had been given to her as a gift by a friend of her fathers when she worked in the bank in Elgin during the early 1960s. She said I could have it seeing as she was never going to drink it (I know, jammy doesn’t even cover it). She had no idea what was in it but the bottle is exactly the same one that was used frequently by Campbell, Hope & King to bottle their Macallans. Does that make it Macallan inside, who knows or cares. What’s for sure is that it is, as you’ll see, a spectacular dram, probably about 8-12 years old at the time it was drawn from cask and a complete, beautiful, unrepeatable oddity that I’m eternally grateful to have encountered. Thanks Mrs S!

Colour: Soy Sauce

Nose: This is one of those old sherry casks that just don’t exist any more. The cleanest, most vibrant, abundant and spectacular array of dark fruits, balsamico, tobacco, rancio, wood spices, hints of wild mushrooms, tar, leather polish, old books, raisins stewed in cognac, wet earth and just a hint of farmyard in the form of cow sheds. Goes on with roast, ground coffee beans, hints of old medicine, eucalyptus and green peppercorns in brine. It’s a kind of concentration that you just don’t really find on modern young whiskies. With water: it gets earthier and a tad more floral with water with some wonderful notes of heather, wet bracken, leather, violets, camphor, rice pudding and touches of dark chocolate with sea salt. Just epic.

Palate: Yowee. This is definitely at cask strength. Hot, thick and super rich, a melee of dark fruits, dates, prune juice, all kinds of jam and fruit compote, soy sauce, ancient balsamico, espresso, dark chocolate, old green chartreuse, molasses, ancient dark rum, XO cognac, ,more notes of stewed raisins and sultanas and herbal toothpaste. An utterly old school sherry monster that just keeps slugging away at your palate with layer upon layer of flavour. With water: wild strawberry liqueur, roasted chestnuts, chocolate raisins, banana bread, walnut oil, more notes of rum and cognac and then something like chocolate sauce coated marzipan. Utter joy!

Finish: Endless and bristling with all of the above.

Comments: For me this is the definition of the perfect sherried whisky. Powerful, rich, decadent, fresh and overflowing with flavour but at no point tiring, hard work, over powering, overtly chalky, tannic or imbalanced. Just a small, unrepeatable masterpiece from the kind of cask that must make the current directors at Macallan weep nightly into their pillows (or it bloody well should at any rate). What a shame its finished, but what a privilege to have acquired and shared it with friends. It’s because of bottles like this that I’m into whisky.

Score: 94/100




A Trilogy of Longmorn

Posted on Sunday 21st of November 2010

It’s no great secret in whisky circles these days how brilliant Longmorn can be. An oily and rugged distillate that benefitted from direct fired distillation until the year 2000, it can develop over time the most glorious fruit character. I think it is among a handful of distilleries that are capable of serious aging and if you get a chance to try some of these older Longmorns from the early seventies or before then go for it because they’re almost all brilliant and will inevitably, one day, be gone.

Longmorn 1964-1994 30yo. Signatory. Cask 324. 150 bottles. 43%. 70cl.

I did an on the hoof, somewhat over enthusiastic (possibly tipsy) video review of this one for the good folks at connosr when I was at the whisky show in London a few weeks back, lets do it some real justice today.

Colour: Straw

Nose: Very old school, smells like some of these old 8 and 10yo malts bottled in the early seventies and sixties, think old G&M Longmorn 10yo or dumpy Aberlour 8yo. I wonder if this has gathered some OBE since being bottled in 1994. Lots of minerals and all kinds of delicate fruits, greengages, guavas, dried mango, white flowers and a little gentle lamp oil and camphor. This is very delicate, I suspect that it was reduced to 43% before bottling. Now some cereal and hessian notes with elements of muesli, honey and buttered toast, obviously a breakfast whisky this one. Great flickers of clean flints and stones.

Palate: Really soft delivery full of minerals, a little vanilla cream, some very pleasant metallic notes (quite OBEish really). Caraway seeds, liquorice, cumin, green bananas, nutmeg and rice pudding. Really gentle texture in the mouth, this one tip toes across the palate. It has a really attractive dry, floral austerity about it. Like an old riesling that’s just at the end of its prime before it starts to decline. Fresh butter and olive oil now, beautiful.

Finish: Medium to long with lots of green tea, dried fruits, tropical fruits and more metallic mineral qualities.

Comments: This one is tough because it feels a tad weakish overall, I suspect that time in the bottle has done that to it. However it is beautifully understated, perfectly balanced and the flavours are pure, old school class. I love it but I suspect that bottles may vary, some may be even better than this one if they’ve kept their intensity a little better. Anyway pretty much same score as in London, minus one point in the cold, analytical light of day.

Score: 91/100

Longmorn 1964-2010, 46yo. G&M Private Collection. Fresh sherry Hogshead. Cask 1534. 164 bottles. 51.9%. 70cl.

Colour: Very dark treacle.

Nose: Immensely polished, pure and intense sherry at first, it doesn’t cloy the nostrils though, rather it sort of bathes them in a thick fug of dundee cake, stewed fruits, concentrated dark treacle, dark rum, caramelised brown sugar and high quality furniture polish. Further notes of antique shops, old books, old leather, cigar tobacco and big dollops of chocolate, resin, mocha, cocoa and freshly chopped walnuts. This is a pretty stupendous sherry cask, the kind that almost certainly doesn’t exist any more. Now we get down to fresh earth, leaf mulch, mushrooms, hints of cannabis resin, black tea and rancio. If you like sherry you’ll probably die for this nose. With water there are a few more fresh leaves and notes of espresso, more chocolate and caramel.

Palate: Very big arrival, massive notes of apples baked in cinnamon, treacle, bitter dark chocolate, tobacco, prunes and big clean woody notes. Very tannic round the sides of the mouth, this is a stupendous sherry cask but it’s maybe a bit active for my liking. Lets try with a little water… that’s softened the tannins quite a bit and brought out lots of roasted coffee beans, more dark chocolate, truffle oil, concentrated dried fruits, candied peel and orange muscat.

Finish: Long and packed full of dark chocolate, aged tokaji, espresso, mixed nuts and some big tannins.

Comments: Well you have to like sherry. I’m not the biggest fan of immense sherry in the world but this is very impressive, the cask is absolutely flawless and it really is a great whisky. I’m not sure I could drink too much of it as the tannins become just a bit too cloying after the first dram. If you like your sherry big, dark, polished and intense then this is for you. The nose is stupendous neat but the palate is better with water so pour two glasses, one for sniffing one for sipping.

Score: 91/100

Longmorn 1978-2010, 31yo. Speciality Drinks, ‘Masterpiece’ Series. Bourbon cask. 135 bottles. 58%. 70cl.

Colour: Amber

Nose:  This is not as distinctively Longmorn as some of the early seventies casks floating about, it’s more a low key, very well aged highland style nose. Vanilla, damp sackcloth, old books, caramel, creme brulee, some dried herbs and a few hints of petrol and minerals with a little background waxiness. With time some white flowers and Longmornesque green fruits begin to emerge, greengages, pineapple, bananas and notes of buttery digestive biscuits. With water it becomes much oilier and fruitier, it’s much more recognisable as Longmorn now. Hints of fresh butter, candle wax, spice, Cointreau, candied peel, strawberries and cream and some confectionary sweetness.

Palate: Big notes of hessian, sweet vanilla, woody spices and several kinds of oil. Quite pleasantly sweet with some very nice supple fruits in the background balancing things out a bit. Toasted cocoanut, chocolate McVites, marshmallows, apple sourz, mandarins, orange marmalade, coriander seeds and a bit of alcoholic prickle. With water there’s big spice, baked bananas, fresh custard, flowers, sweet oak and some hints of old dessert wine.

Flinish: Medium to long and focused on these reduced characters of old desert wine and dried fruits.

Comments: I tasted these in ascending order of strength but the first two were pretty stellar whiskies and I feel this may have suffered a tad by latter comparison. Having said that this is a very good whisky and an interesting snapshot into the life and times of latter seventies Longmorn. I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, but it is damn good whisky. Excellent cask selection methinks.

Score: 88/100

…such drams as dreams are made of…

Posted on Sunday 7th of November 2010

I spend a lot of time thinking about whisky, until this morning I didn’t consider this unhealthy. You see I had a dream last night, it was a whisky dream but not what you might imagine it to be. Sadly I was not gently bobbing around Laphroaig bay, born aloft the back of an old sherry butt navigated by two of the stunning mermaids from the old Bowmore ads. I was not drifting with the wind in my hair, sipping a large dram of the Laphroaig 19yo 1966 G&M for intertrade. Not avidly enthralled as an old warehouseman spun great yarns about days gone by while pouring lashings of Malt Mill into an ever expanding magic tasting glass. No this was a much darker kind of whisky dream. I dreamt that I was in an unnameable but familiar and claustrophobically busy whisky festival and I was in a heated debate with none other than Richard Patterson about the influence of polyphenols on whisky in wooden solera vats. Scary stuff but it doesn’t stop there. The problem was every point I tried to argue I always picked the wrong side, I knew I was wrong, I was screaming at myself inside my own crazed dream head that I was talking baloney, Richard was getting increasingly angry with my belligerent arguing and the more I tried to get away the tighter the crowds moved in around. Before I woke up I was trying to persuade Dream Patterson that Bourbon casks were made of charcoal and he proved me wrong by taking me inside a giant hogshead that he pulled from his pocket. I think the moral of this story is that it is maybe not a good idea to drink too much cask strength Dalmore at a fancy dress party before going to bed when you have a twelve hour shift the next morning.

Killer Distiller? Or, Bill the Blender? Daniel Day-Lewis takes on his toughest role yet.

Anyway Whyte & Makay have evidently been operating some kind of whisky version of the film Inception (in this film Richard Patterson will obviously be played by Daniel Day-Lewis) and they have successfully sown the seeds of today’s tasting, namely Fettercairn. Old Fettercairn is a distillery that has seen more than it’s fair share of hatred, there seems to be very few who have much in the way of praise for it but there are seemingly quite a few interesting independent versions coming out these days, many of them pretty delicious. So with this in mind I thought it was time to have a crack at the new(ish) official releases which were launched last year with a nifty makeover. Lets start with the Fior.

The Fior is a mixture of mostly 14-15yo sherried and bourbon matured Fet with a dollop of heavily peated 5yo thrown in for good measure. Let’s try it.

Fettercairn Fior. OB. NAS. 42%. 70cl. Limited to 1500 cases bottled 2009.

Colour: Maple Syrup.

Nose: It’s the sherry that comes through initially. Lots of nuts and dried fruits with a something a little leafy as well. Something a little aggressive and acrylic on the nose, like a tang of acid in the nostrils. This is quite a meaty distillate with hints of beef stock and oxo cubes, there is a nice suggestion of something oily and farmy as well.

Palate: It’s a little insipid at first, grassy, slightly waxy and a hint of butyric. Then nice notes of tobacco and cereal start to emerge, some jam characters from the sherry and more earthy meaty qualities. It feels like the peated stock has given it an extra slightly rustic dimension which I quite like but on the whole it’s not particularly inspiring. Hints of gunpowder and bonfire towards the end.

Finish: Medium to short in length with some more dried fruit and a whiff of peat.

Comments: It’s decent whisky, not brilliant but certainly perfectly drinkable and a good introduction to the basic Highland style for beginners.

Score: 77/100

Fettercairn 30yo. OB 2009. 43.3%. 70cl.

Colour: Golden Syrup.

Nose: Completely different, very intensely honeyed at first, quite sweet aromas of honeysuckle and good demerara rum. Changes into fruit syrups and lots of green fruit and lychee aromas. Candied fruit, lemon cheesecake and lime curd. Very nice nose, simple but fruity and expressive.

Palate: This is wierd. There is something beautifully mentholated trying to shine here but it is surrounded by lots of wet cardboard and dank flavours of rotting orange peel and old erasers. This lifts after a while and there is more fruit character but that sense of mustiness and dead wood never really leaves. Honey and lots more meatiness, this meat quality is a really a Fettercairn trademark. Still really wierd.

Finish: Long with more dankness and honey competing, meat, bitter oak and drying astringency.

Comments: Hard to call, I don’t think it’s a flawed whisky I think it’s just that Fettercairn can be a really weird distillate. A big shame in many ways because the nose promised so much, though it isn’t undrinkable by any means.

Score: 73/100

Fettercairn 40yo. OB 2009. 40%. 70cl. Matured in Apostoles palo cortado sherry casks. 463 bottles.

Colour: Bronze.

Nose: Well even after 40 years there is still a distinct meatiness, along with lots of lovely fresh, clean sherry as well thankfully. Nutty and chocolatey like a Snickers bar, or a Marathon Bar as they would have been called back then. Old tanned leather and more oxo cubes with old dried fruits that you’d find in muesli. Little flourishes of mint and eucalyptus belie the age of the whisky but also the quality of the wood on display here. Some nice hints of spice come through with the oak.

Palate: A little tired, has some of the same dank qualities of the 30yo but it’s all much more restrained here. Lots of old darjeeling tea and mint leaf, some cannabis resin oddly enough (maybe they were smoking something when they distilled these whiskies) and some sweet sticky PX style raisiny notes. A nice but very fragile smokiness starts to emerge and blossom very nicely with the fruit. It feels like a very delicate dram on the palate, over the hill I suspect. Big meatiness again towards the back along with quite a few tannins round the edges. Like an over-cooked Chateau Musar or something, this might be nice with a game dish if you’re into whisky and food matching.

Finish: Long but fragile, lots of mint, meat, leather, cold tea and some struck flints.

Comments: While this is very nice whisky I get the impression that Fettercairn’s big, meaty distillate doesn’t really age too well. It reminds me of some of those old G&M CC bottlings from the seventies that are so fragile from big old bottle effect. I think this and the 30yo both have elements to their respective characters that makes them feel like whiskies that have suffered some detrimental bottle aging effects. Which is very odd seeing as they were both bottled last year. Anyway I know some people really rave about this bottling so maybe it’s just me, I must be dreaming!

Score: 83/100

Sweet dreams…

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