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