Tag Archives: St Magdalene

Liquid Time Travel

Posted on Wednesday 18th of September 2013

That’s an odd title I have chosen, I could change it but I’ve started typing now and there are far more important things afoot on this post. If you are into whisky then I suspect you will, like me, take pleasure in the variety it offers, the peaks and troughs, the oddities, surprises and the occasionally sublime. Every now and then good fortune seems to come around in the form of an incredibly memorable whisky. Whisky can be memorable for all kinds of things, it’s devastating hideousness, it’s palpitation inducing beauty, the moment it captures, the company it is shared with or the memory it evokes. Emotion of some sort is inevitably wedded to these most memorable of drinking occasions. I’ve had technically sublime drams that just can’t quite match the slightly unbalanced yet wildly loveable personalities of other more unusual whiskies. Today we’ll have a few drams that, for me, are the epitome of what whisky is all about and why I love it. They stand for me as monuments to just how great, thrilling, delicious, emotional and truly valuable whisky can be. These whiskies originate with my friend and geek in law Phil, who recently purchased a rather epic stash of old bottles at a country house sale in Cornwall. The sale included the contents of the old cellar, amongst the rather stunning array of old Madeiras and wines from Berry Brothers there was also a stack of old whiskies, not to mention the odd bottle of sherry and rum as well. Phil dutifully sold one of his livers and bought all the spirits. Fast forward about a month and we sit during a quiet night at the bar in Dornoch Castle Hotel, the place is run by Phil and his brother Simon. If you’re a regular on facebook you may know them as the ‘Whisky Collector’, they are notable for their habit of unashamedly, and rather blatantly, flaunting every single old bottle of whisky that passes their way on the Malt Manaics page as well as their own. Not to mention the occasional bit of trolling on the official Macallan page, but the less said about that the better. Not all bottles have been opened so far and no doubt more notes will appear here as time passes and these bottles are opened, for now here are notes for the first bottles. Apologies in advance for any overtly sentimental gushing or excessive maltporn, you wish to have that brigade thing of Serge’s on standby…

Calvados, Rum, Cognac, Whisky...?

Calvados, Rum, Cognac, Whisky…?

Berry Brothers Whisky/Calvados/Armagnac/Rum??? Bottled circa 1920s. Driven cork. No label. Level was in the neck. 

This was the first bottle we opened. At first I felt it was a youngish blend that had benefitted heavily from such a length of time in the bottle. However, when we tasted them with our good friend Emmanuel from the Auld Alliance in Singapore who happened to be visiting Scotland a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that it may well be an old Calvados or some other similar wood aged spirit. So, the upshot is…we don’t know exactly what this is, not useful but it should make for an interesting tasting, lets see what gives with a fresh palate and open mind….

Colour: Orangey gold

Nose: I just cannot get this idea of Calvados out of my head now, the nose is laced with apples at first, when I had originally tried this we noted that there was a distinct green appley note, however I took this as a sign of a more pronounced grain component which is often typical. Now that the spirit has had time to breathe however this apple note is far more elegant and complex, notes of aged cider, baked apples in brown sugar then touches of nutmeg, demerara (could it be a rum?) a gentle but pronounced medicinal quality, like tiny notes of mercurochrome, germoline and metal polish. Goes on with beautiful notes of figs, raisins, coal fires, very delicate wax, wet leaves, hessian and pine resin with touches of camphor and lamp oil. I think we’ve ruled out rum. What a beautiful nose, so delicate but also balanced and wonderfully complex.

Palate: It’s amazing how much bite there is after almost a century. I think the proof is in the palate with this one, straight away we there are big, really biting notes of russet apples, demerara rum, brown bread, cinnamon, pear cider, touches of animal skins and leather with a very gentle meatiness. Seems to develop a hint of cardboard but then moves away and gets very minty and zingy with notes of blood orange, eucalyptus and citrus peel. Now a little dusty, waxy and metallic, typical OBE notes but all perfectly formed and present in a way that really informs and adds to the overall quality. This would probably have been quite a basic spirit when it was bottled, there is not a huge wood influence. Even though we know glass ageing softens woodiness this really does still bear the hallmarks of its inherent youth. Gets slightly salty and sharp with more apple peelings and touches of cinnamon.

Finish: Excellent length for such an ancient and fragile spirit. Leafy, drying, many apple notes, more stewed raisin notes, moss, wet earth, tcp and touches of mint.

Comments: My vote is with Calvados to be honest. The bite of the spirit on the palate is really reminiscent of a good youngish Calvados and those apple notes that rear their heads all over the place also point towards such a conclusion. Almost certainly no way to know for sure but I also don’t really care, the fragile beauty and elegance of this spirit is what really shines out. It’s amazing how you can sort of tell what parts were really enhanced by bottle ageing. Anyway, heartbreaking old stuff, and that was just the start, it’s about to get even worse…

Score: 91/100

Berry's Old Scotch Whisky circa 1914

Berry’s Old Scotch Whisky circa 1914

Berry Brother’s & Co. Very Old Scotch Whisky. Dumpy bottle. Circa 1914. Driven cork. Label destroyed. Level was in the neck.

This was the second bottle we opened. Berry Brother’s did not add the ‘Rudd’ part of their name until after 1914, prior to that it was Berry Bros & Co, so the label gives a good indication that this is indeed a very old high end whisky bottled around the time of the First World War. That would suggest high malt content blend or straight vatted malt distilled probably around the late 1880s/early 1890s. I know I know…I’m sorry.

Colour: Gold

Nose: Oh dear, where to begin… I suppose the first impression is a big canvas of wax, hessian, various oils, farmyard notes, camphor, wet earth, coal, clay, dusty phenols, old, metallic peat notes with tiny glimmers of green fruits in the background. These simmering peat qualities are actually reminiscent of a very old Ardbeg in some ways, like a lightly peated 60s Ardbeg perhaps. Goes on with really deft medical touches, linseed oil, tcp, bandages, iodine, old rope, metal polish and minerals. Ancient herbal liqueurs, a really old juane chartreuse, touches of caraway and orange bitters. It’s a heartbreaking nose to be honest with you, I should really stop writing…

Palate: Fat, glycerol peat, hay, straw, dust, metal polish, a ton of wax, coal, peat embers, muesli, wet grains, smoked fish like kippers and then little squeezes of lemon juice and wet pebbles. You can feel it has softened in the bottle but the presence, warmth and weight of this stuff in the mouth is really quite incredible, the closest thing I can compare it to would be the old 1930s White Horse or the 1940s Mackie’s. Other than that there’s not much to compare this stuff to, it’s a style even further removed from what we would ordinarily call ‘old style’. So beautiful. Goes on with touches of mint, jasmine, oriental spices and big orange liqueur notes. Still beautifully biting.

Finish: Long, metallic, minty, waxy, sweetly phenolic and resinous with this beautifully fat but complex peat quality, it’s a style of peat really completely extinct in any modern whisky of the last 50 years I’d say. Dried herbs, cured meat, some gentle spices and waxy old mineral notes in the end.

Comments: What can you really say about such Whisky. This is how they made them in the late 19th century I suppose. I couldn’t tell you if it was a blend or a straight malt, my feeling is that it is probably a high malt content blend but again, who cares, the complexity, elegance and mesmeric flavour profile are in another stratosphere from most of today’s malts. Hard to really find enough ways to describe the beauty and privilege that lies in tasting such ancient whisky. No doubt the +/-100 years in bottle helped it along but it’s remarkable how well intact it is.

Score: 94/100

Berry's Vatted Malt? The fragment of label that remains would suggest so.

Berry’s Vatted Malt? The fragment of label that remains would suggest so.

Berry’s Fine Old Scotch Whisky. Possibly All Malt? Circa 1914. Driven cork. Level top shoulder but had leaked in transit the day before. 

This one was a latecomer thanks to a mistake by the auction house and upon arrival it was apparent that it had leaked slightly so we dutifully shouldered the burden of opening it. (I know, I’m such a git) This is the one that is most likely to be 100% malt, although whether single or vatted? Who knows? The label fragment it still bears is almost identical in style to another Berry Bros & Co bottle we found from another auction so once again it dates this bottle to around 1914.

Colour: Light gold

Nose: The first impression is just a big fat nostril full of peat oil, pine resin and camphor. This fleshes out quite quickly into really fresh mint leaf, wet earth, dunnage, crystallised fruits, marzipan, touches of air freshener but in a really good way. Loads of oils, wax, old polished furniture, old books, leather, caraway liqueur, dried herbs, old chartreuse, coal fires and a little crusty salty note. Absolutely sublime and quite different to the others in many ways, this is much richer, fatter and more luxurious in its resilient, oily peat qualities. This certainly ‘feels’ more like a malt. There are no notes that suggest any grain component. These huge resinous touches are just astounding quite frankly. Also notes of fresh paint, a lovely mineral quality and hessian, butter and flints.

Palate: Huge attack, fat, farmy and full of greasy, oily phenols, camphor, olive oil, caraway, muesli. Touches of wax jackets, motor oil, leather, wood spice, wax, paraffin, tcp, some raisins, more mint, mentholated toothpaste, Madeira cake, liquorice and more ancient herbal liqueur notes. Quite bewilderingly beautiful. Metal polish, old coins, touches of OBE again but in the most beautiful way, a wonderfully complex and subdivided peat flavour. Some resinous citrus fruits, nervous notes of wildflowers, some grass, crushed coriander seeds and a little pancetta. This is huge, bold and completely different whisky, unlike anything I think I’ve ever tasted.

Finish: Herbal, resinous, waxy, long, minty, phenolic, peaty, thick, syrupy and full of honey, yellow flowers, chamomile tea, coal smoke and minerals. Beautiful.

Comments: I think this must be a malt, probably a vatted malt as would have been popular at the time but who knows. It’s not like any whisky I’ve ever tried before, the closest semblance of character lies in these other Berry’s bottlings but they too are of a truly ancient time. The only other thing that springs to mind is the old Lagavulin 12yo Spring Cap 1958 rotation. Not because they taste similar but because they are both so utterly different from any other whisky I could try. What a wonderful whisky and a unique privilege.

Score: 94/100


Who wants to stop after that…? Not me, lets have something else from a looooong time ago. We opened this one very recently as well.

Greer's OVH circa 1930s

Greer’s OVH blended whisky circa 1930. No strength or capacity stated. Stopper cork.

This was part of a parcel of 12 bottles we acquired as part of our wee drinking cabal known as the ‘Glug Glug Club’ (yes we know we’re cool). The company that produced this owned St Magdalene distillery at the time and it is most likely that this was the constituent malt for this blend.

Colour: Gold

Nose: Another sublimely antique cocktail of metal polish, old resinous peat, apple peelings, wax, crystalised fruits, smoked tea, minerals and lemon oil. Goes on with al the usual suspects of hessian, dried herbs, wild mushrooms, dunnage, kreel nets, tar and menthol. More compact and focused than the others perhaps hinting at a little more design in its construction maybe. It certainly feels more ‘blended’ although the grain component is incredibly quiet, it must have had a significantly high malt content. Or the 80 or so years in bottle have brought all the malt components to the fore and kind of subdued the harsher angles, who knows… It’s beautiful regardless.

Palate: Once again great weight and attack on the palate, their is a kind of dusty green apple not at the back which suggest the grain component is a little louder on the palate but for the most part its more of these wonderfully nervous notes of metal, wax, peat oils, drying phenols, minerals, pine resin, barley sugar, dried mint leaf, all kinds of other herbs, cereals and butter. Still very fat and weighty if a little lighter than some of the others. Develops notes of tincture and iodine, the peat is very distinct in this one. White fruits and touches of rapeseed oil now as well.

Finish: Not as long as some of these magnificent Berry’s bottlings but still beautifully resinous, gravelly, mineral, peaty, oily and even with touches of green fruits still after all these years. Incredible stuff.

Comments: What’s to say? Another stunning old blend. It’s nice to think that there was a fair old dollop of St Magdalene in this one. It’s amazing how great these old bottles can be if you get one with a decent level.

Score: 91/100

I should point out that all these drams can be tried by the glass at the bar in Dornoch Castle Hotel. Phil and Simon are running a ‘Whisky Deal For Whisky People’ this winter if you fancy snuggling up in a great Scottish whisky bar this winter. Apparently they have a few hundred bottles that need drinking up and they’re flogging them off at knock down prices. I will probably be along to hoover a few up at some point.

That’s probably enough madness for today. But we’ll return to the 19th century very soon…



Pre-Sale Tasting 3

Posted on Wednesday 27th of June 2012

Here are my notes for the third pre-sale tasting we held on Monday night. It was, as always, a wonderful evening. Thanks to everyone who came along and helped make it such a fun and successful night.

Cameron Bridge Single Grain. 1954-1989 35yo. Signatory Ink Pot label. Casks 1 & 2. Bottle 226 of 450. 46%. 75cl.

Colour: Rich amber

Nose:  That acetone attack of grain that I usually struggle with in most grain whiskies is relatively absent from this one, it is thin but there is also some beautiful fruit tones from the sherry in the form of damsons, prunes, apricots and then some wonderfully sizzling wood spice.  Quite elegant with some really pitch perfect aromas of wood and fruit, obviously this has been in quite a classy sherry cask. With time it becomes less and less grainy and more of these nervous, resinous fruit notes come through, baked bananas in brown sugar, tea, crystalised fruits, molasses and white chocolate. Quite a delicate and elegant nose.

Palate: The sharpness of the grain is much more apparent on the palate with quite a tart delivery all on under-ripe cider apples and red fruit. Once again the cleanliness and vibrancy of the cask is perfectly absorbed and expressed by the spirit. Thick notes of chocolate, vanilla cream, wood spice, nutmeg, sultanas, XO cognac, rancio, tobacco and hints of tar. This is one of these aged spirits that really starts to converge on old rum and brandy territory, these notes of raisins, brown sugar, demerara and dark fruits is something all three  sprits share at great ages. The palate really settles down with a little time and becomes quite wonderful. Very vibrant and lush.

Finish: Quite long and full of soft notes of dark chocolate, some very soft tannins, game, rancio, aged madeira and some really classy hints of something like great aged pinot noir. Great.

Comments: This is quite a wonderful grain in my opinion. None of the aggression that usually troubles most grain whiskies for me. This is clearly a case of the spirit being a perfect sponge for all the quality of the cask. It was also interesting how it reflected so many excellent qualities of other drinks, not only old rum and brandy but also various wines as well, and not it a vulgar way as is often the case with finishes. A great, flavoursome, drinkable and complex grain.

Score: 89/100

St Magdalene 1975-1999 23yo. Cadenhead. Bourbon Hogshead. 156 bottles. 42.1%. 70cl. 

Colour: Dark straw

Nose: It’s one of these delightfully fresh cocktails of butter, chopped parsley, grass, wax, minerals, honeysuckle, coal dust, wild flowers and hints of tropical fruits coming through at the back. Classic St Magdalene old style, distillate driven whisky. Lots of elegance and balance on display. These mineral notes of pebbles, graphite, linseed oil, toasted sunflower seeds and dandelions are just wonderful. A very savory whisky with only a touch of very natural sweetness keeping that underlying austerity in check. It’s a difficult style of whisky for sure but the elegance and freshness makes it instantly charming and approachable. The naturally low strength works wonders as well. These oxidative touches of tropical fruit and wax polish are just lovely.

Palate: A syrupy attack, all on toasted nuts, cereals, mineral notes, touches of smoke, honey, chamomile, dried herbs, marmite, liquorice and even some subtle hints of medicine. There is fruit as well but its very gentle and controlled, notes of greengages, pomegranate, orange juice and mango syrup all show face. There is also something cooling about it like cucumber and aloe vera, quite a soothing dram. More of these green, grassy and austere mineral qualities towards the end. A nice drying bite of wood, some natural vanilla, spice and well salted butter. Excellent, nervous and lively whisky.

Finish: Long, drying and sharp with notes of lemon juice, minerals, hessian, sea salt, more herbs, all kinds of oils, flowers and white fruits.

Comments: A fantastically drinkable, captivating and delicious old style Lowlander (not that there ever really was such a thing as a Lowlander as this spirit proves). Another top notch St Magdalene.

Score: 90/100

Oban 13yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1990. Screw Cap. 62%. 75cl. 

Colour: Straw

Nose: Neat this is a big hot pot of porridge, salt and honey, quite a little firecracker. Very glycerol in the nose with hints of farmyard, germoline, hay, cut grass, lime juice and white pepper. Quite closed and focused when neat and not a little tricky to navigate due to the high alcohol. Lets add some water… with water it becomes hyper coastal with some very pleasant cooling notes of eucalyptus and mint. More herbal notes come through like sorrel and parsley with more delicate peppery note in the form of watercress. More oily notes such as camphor and engine oil as well with the tiniest wee flirtation of vanilla in the background. Quite a greasy, salty big beast of an Oban.

Palate: Like the nose this is a big bonfire in a farmyard, hot, peppery and earthy with a tang of lemon juice and salt. Quite a difficult beast this one, not entirely pleasant either with a couple of hints of cardboard and plastic flickering in the background. Quite intellectual but not a little stubborn and austere too. Lets not hang around, time to add water. With water it softens out a bit but the core components of farmyard, seashore and oily muscle remain very much intact. It has a distinct dirty edge to it but it is evolving into the good, funky kind of dirtiness, like an old 1960s Jura perhaps. Excellent stuff. Increasingly vegetal, smoky, oily and resinous with some wonderfully delicate waxy and menthol notes beginning to emerge. A late bloomer so it would seem.

Finish: Ashy, acrid and gently smoky with good length, citrus, seaweed, boiler sheds, camphor, brown bread and peanuts.

Comments: An odd and quite extreme whisky with an undeniably masochistic edge. A powerful brute of an Oban that really needs time and water to be teased out of its shell, but the reward is a highly charismatic dram with great oomph and plenty of intricacy. A fascinating window into this often forgotten, overlooked and misunderstood distillate.

Score: 89/100

Oban 19yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1995. Screw Cap. 59.8%. 70cl. 

Colour: Straw

Nose: A much richer, and more obviously mature profile compared to the 13yo. This one is oilier and fatter with a much more up front and luxurious coastal quality. A wonderfully soft, sweet and oily peat quality with big notes of wax, creosote, sea salt, vinaigrette and dazzling white pepper. It shares a lot of DNA with the 13yo but this has extra dimensions born of age and probably slightly more active wood. The result is pretty excellent. With water: the peat softens and the saltiness blooms even more, the coastal qualities in this one are thick, fat and oily now with a wonderfully nervous, citrus edge running through it. More notes of hay and wildflowers bring yet more complexity.

Palate: It’s one of these big farmyard smoothies. Old sweetie shop cinnamon balls, caraway seed liqueur, seashore, wet pebbles, big mineral notes, hessian, green apples, white flowers, ripe plums, muesli and lemon rind. With water: the oiliness is magnified as are these wonderfully spicy notes of old sweetie shop cinnamon balls, mint, liquorice, cannabis and tar. Again, like the 13yo, this is a pretty uncompromising beast of a whisky. The flavours and full on, concentrated, direct and abundant. Fabulous stuff.

Finish: Long, fat, salty, oily, spicy and lively. Hugely mineral, waxy, floral, coastal and boisterous with curtain calls for all those big farmyard notes of stables and hay. Touches of green pepper and peat in the end as well with more cinnamon and toasted brown bread.

Comments: This baby, along with the official 20 and 32yo expressions shows just how utterly fantastic Oban can be when it is allowed off the leash of low strengths to properly shine. A great and uncompromising distillate is made at this small distillery, what a shame we so rarely get to see its full, blustery glory.

Score: 92/100

Glen Ord 16yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1991. Screw Cap. 66.2%. 75cl.

Colour: Gold

Nose: A spectacular mix of tinned tropical and green fruits in syrup with a huge, thick waxiness and mineral sheen over the whole thing. A fantastically concentrated nose which is remarkably approachable at such a whopping great strength. Notes of fresh herbs, wild strawberries, hummus, paint, green peppercorns in brine, lemon oil, flints and furniture polish. Wonderfully old style, a classic old highlands style aroma. With water: those syrupy qualities just get better and better now with more rich fruit notes, hints of cereal, a big saltiness, green tea, soft phenols and touches of green peat. Brilliantly old style.

Palate: Neat it is understandably a bit of a bulldozer full of wax, oils, minerals, vanilla, more of these fruit syrups and huge pepperiness.  Needs water quite evidently. With water: like the nose the fruit only becomes more excessive with water, notes of fresh tangerine, apricot, quince, lychee and damson jam all come through. There are some fantastically fresh and mouthwateringly dry coastal qualities as well, balanced by a touch of natural sweetness. The texture becomes even more syrupy and oily with time, like olive oil, mango puree and herb liqueur. Fantastic stuff.

Finish: super long, oily, waxy, drying, herbal, fruity and mineral. A wonderful mix of all of the above with fantastic complexity.

Comments: For me this is one of the real hidden masterpieces of the Manager’s Dram series. Huge, complex, totally old style and unsexy but very drinkable and very Glen Ord. I love it, if you like that old highland’s style you’ll adore this one.

Score: 93/100

Springbank 21yo OB. Tall bottle mid-late 1990s rotation dark vatting. 46%. 70cl.

Colour: Mahogany

Nose: Initially a perfect melee of dark fruits, sultanas, mulling spices, cloves, dark chocolate, salty bacon, mint creams, chocolate limes and black pepper. With time the fruit dominates more and the whole thing becomes more luscious and old-style Springbanky. Gets earthier and mulchier with notes of truffle, soy sauce, balsamico and leather, there is a distinct note of peat arising after a while also. Beautifully fresh, clean and rich. Those notes of meat, salt, aged wines and fruits are brilliantly combined and poised.

Palate: Big for 46%. Lots of aged madeira, dundee cake, stewed fruits, wood resin, coal, earth, hessian, strawberry liqueur, cassis, tar and creosote. A perfect streak of salt at the back with more meaty notes like game and salt cured beef. A big, old style Springbank that harks back to some of these brilliant 1960s sherry casks in style. Gun metal, motor oil, tcp, wet pebbles, seashore notes, sandalwood and some syrupy notes of flat coca cola and root beer. Final touches of medicine and peat flicker in the background.

Finish: Long, meaty, salty and rich. Packed with dense, dark fruits, compotes, tar, balsamico, liqueur notes and wax.

Comments: Remember how they always used talk about the 21yo getting topped up with whatever old casks they had lying around? Well I think this batch more than proves it. Spectacular old style Sprinbank with lashings of flavour and character.

Score: 91/100

Springabank 1965-1999 Murray McDavid. Cask 580. 46%. 70cl. 

Colour: Rosewood

Nose: Sweet strawberry liqueur, gummy bears, candifloss and fig paste on top of a blitz of tropical and green fruits. That sweet start gets more luscious and fresh with time eventually revealing more classical notes of lemon rind, sea shore, crystalised fruits and coal fires. A wonderful mix of dunnage, farmyard notes and seashore qualities with a wedge of marzipan and salted almonds driving through the middle. Grows a little teaish and herbal with time.

Palate: Once again a particularly sweet start up front with a sackful of hot spices, paprika, cloves, black tea, stewed fruits, mulled wine, honeycomb and some gentle medical notes as well. The sweetness fades to dry quite quickly as some very well balances tanning just start to nibble around the edges of the gums. Lovely notes of rosewater, turkish delight and dark chocolate begin to emerge with more of these dark, thick fruit qualities. There is a fantastically fizzy mix of spice and salt going on now, you could almost use this as a rub for a joint of lamb (although I’m not sure I’d go that far with 1965 Springbank). Goes on with hints of green pepper, caraway and demerara with increasing notes of menthol, mint tea and soft brown sugar. For once I think this is one oldie that is better on the palate than the nose.

Finish: Long and very warming, loads of mulling spices, tar, touches of medicine, sea salt, lemons, wax, a little chili pepper and a fade thats all on brown bread and toasted cereals.

Comments: I wasn’t that impressed by the nose, in fact globally it’s perhaps a little disappointing for a 1965 Springbank. That said, it’s a fantastic whisky in its own right, wonderfully spicy and warming and the odd twist with the palate trumping the nose is very unusual at this kind of age. A great and unusual old Springbank.

Score: 91/100

Laphroaig 1968 26yo Hart Brothers. 43%. 70cl. 

Colour: White wine

Nose: A wonderfully soft fresco of tropical fruits, metallic notes, minerals, iodine, aged phenols, all kinds of medicine and sea air. Just fantastic, utterly unmistakeable, old style Laphroaig, big as only Laphroaig can be as only 43%. Luscious, elegant and soft but powerful and balanced with it. Goes on with notes of white pepper, sea water, passion fruit juice, motor oil, hessian and all kinds of smaller tropical notes. Just brilliant.

Palate: Up front its the clearest, driest, most wonderful old style peat with all kinds of notes like metal filings, iron, wet pebbles, mercurochrome, tcp, euthymol toothpaste and herb liqueur. The tropical fruit is a little quieter on the palate but it’s still wonderfully bassy in the background, booming quietly away. Hugely coastal and farmy with a perfect mix between the two. SO much to say, so little point in saying it, great, extinct style Laphroaig.

Finish: Long and ridden with peat, antiseptic, dried tropical fruits, greengages, boiler smoke and a whole seashore of freshness.

Comments: A brilliant old Laphroaig, a style of whisky that everyone should try before it becomes totally impossible. This is by no means the best old Laphroaig, but in comparison to modern whiskies, it leaves them all spitting dust in the far distance.

Score: 94/100

Roll on september…




A Pair Of Number Ones

Posted on Thursday 24th of November 2011

I was fortunate enough to be in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Vaults in Leith, Edinburgh yesterday. Everything seemed pretty normal, it was exceptionally relaxed, there were legions of bottles behind the bar, there was Haggis on the menu, all as it should be at the SMWS. However something caught my eye, a line of bottles all familiar but a bit out of place. To cut all the nonsense short it was a a row of first bottlings from certain distilleries, the difference being these were not in the display case but behind the bar. First bottlings by the society are notoriously hard to track down. The early ones were almost all consumed and rarely collected or stashed away. In the early days I’m sure few people bought multiple bottles or thought to keep hold of their purchases. This makes finding the very early bottlings exceptionally difficult. So I was pretty excited to see these ones open and available. I got quite a bit more excited when I learned which distilleries two of them were from.

St Magdalene SMWS 49.1. November 1975-October 1987. 64.6%. 75cl. Screw cap. 

Colour: Straw Gold

Nose: Typically difficult, closed and unsurprisingly spirity at first. Not particularly aggressive, just very quiet, grumpy almost. After time it starts to show a little fresh cut grass and pin sharp notes of lemon juice. Starting to open up more now with notes of butter, old riesling and quite a wonderful silky waxy streak as well. Becomes also quite leafy and herbaceous with notes of sorrel, sage and bay leaf. With water: Now it’s alive with stone fruits, super lush notes of peaches, nectarines, plums, white flowers, greengages and green apples. There are also some light hints of eucalyptus, cereals and petrol, very rieslingesque this one. A really beautiful, old style nose that keeps dancing around.

Palate: Quite a buldozer at full strength but it carries some fantastic notes of lamp oil, wet pebbles, minerals, motor oil and old canvas. Then cocoa, over-stewed black tea, mints and something quite carbolic. Devastatingly unsexy and difficult but charmingly so, clearly needs quite a bit of time though, not to mention water… With water it becomes more about honey, wax paper, mead, more drying qualities, cereals, buttered toast and lots of ashy minerals. Something like smoked butter and burnt almonds as well. It’s not as glorious as the nose due to its extreme difficulty but it’s such a huge personality.

Finish: Long. All on toasted cereals, butter, dried herbs, mineral notes and oil.

Comments: It’s always a huge privilege to taste early society bottlings but to taste the first edition St Magdalene is on a different emotional plain entirely. This style of whisky is really up my street but it’s a hugely personal preference, the whisky itself remains excessively difficult and almost uncooperative. For this reason I won’t technically go above 90, but if you like this extreme old style then you’ll adore this one. It’s one of those cases where the beauty is in the mouth of the taster.

Score: 88/100

Brora SMWS 61.1. July 1976-January 1989. 63.6%. 75cl. Screw cap.

This was the first ever bottling of the Brora distillate that was made at the old Clynelish distillery from 1969-1983. Examples of this age are otherwise non existent so, needless to say, I’m pretty thrilled to try this one.

Colour: Straw Gold.

Nose: Hyper clean medicinal notes at first with a really elegant background farminess. Then big notes of bandages, tincture, oysters, lemon juice, mercurochrome and fresh limes. Super clean, pristine peat, the kind that draws in industrial, farmyard, coastal and medical qualities in perfect balance. A feat that only Brora seems to be able to pull of. Further notes of eucalyptus oil, petrol, dunnage and tar. There is also something incredibly fresh about it, notes of wet leaves and brine give it a kind of supercharged freshness. With water: It doesn’t change too much, it just seems to to soften slightly and become even more coastal. Notes of sea breeze, sea weed, lemon thyme, chives, smoked mussels and wet grains, a touch more smoke as well. Utterly stunning!

Palate: At full strength this is almost like peat jam! Hugely thick, oily, waxy and fat! Lots of motor oil, candle wax, tar and phenols, ashy, drying phenols and peaty sweetness as well. Very compelling. Coal soap, more tar, iodine, TCP, muesli, floral blossom notes, juniper, gin and then smoke and wood resin. This is powerhouse stuff that somehow manages to be incredibly drinkable at full strength. Let’s try with water all the same. With water: Oh God! Unbelievably the peat gets even bigger, but at the same time also sort of stretched out and more complex. It feels like a much bigger dram with water (which I wouldn’t have thought possible given its potency when neat). Fat, luscious minerals, flowers, tar, garden fruits, more medicine… lets stop this madness.

Finish: Have you ever seen The Neverending Story?

Comments: I can’t tell what a privilege it is to taste Brora at such a young age, evidently it was already in the realms of greatness in its early teens. This bottling is yet more proof, if any were needed, that Brora is probably one of the most distinctive and personality laden malts in the world. It is also interesting to note that they were clearly still producing very heavily peated batches in 1976. Anyway, this one is a magnificent whisky.

Score: 94/100

A huge thankyou to Nick from the Society for these drams.

If you get a chance to go to the Society vaults in Leith I strongly recommend you do, apart from the stunning array of bottlings to try there is also an incredibly useful and informative collection on display of all the first edition bottles from their archives. It really is worth checking out. What stuck me the other day, whilst looking at many of them for the first time, was that so many were in fact very young and super strong whiskies, like the pair above. It seems they didn’t begin to bottle much older casks until the late 1980s/early 1990s. In other words, great time capsules for those fortunate enough to try them. Keep your eyes peeled.

The elusive 1.1 (An 8yo Glenfarclas)

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