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.
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.
Oban 13yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1990. Screw Cap. 62%. 75cl.
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.
Oban 19yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1995. Screw Cap. 59.8%. 70cl.
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.
Glen Ord 16yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1991. Screw Cap. 66.2%. 75cl.
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.
Springbank 21yo OB. Tall bottle mid-late 1990s rotation dark vatting. 46%. 70cl.
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.
Springabank 1965-1999 Murray McDavid. Cask 580. 46%. 70cl.
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.
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.
Roll on september…