James MacArthur's

James MacArthur’s is an independent bottling label with a relatively small output but a stellar reputation as having turned out some of the greatest Islay single malt whiskies ever bottled.

Founded in 1982, the company’s prevailing ethos (and...

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James MacArthur’s is an independent bottling label with a relatively small output but a stellar reputation as having turned out some of the greatest Islay single malt whiskies ever bottled.

Founded in 1982, the company’s prevailing ethos (and aesthetic) has been resolutely old-school from the beginning, with no-nonsense labelling and only two ongoing ranges over the entirety of the company’s history: the James MacArthur’s Old Masters series, and James MacArthur’s Fine Malt Selection.

When the label for James MacArthur’s Old Masters series was changed in 2007 the Burns quote “An honest bottle and a good friend” was added. They don’t come much more honest than James MacArthur’s. The whiskies are cask strength or occasionally 45% and I have not been able to find any record of any of their whiskies ever being wine finished or otherwise matured in anything other than bourbon or sherry wood.

James MacArthur’s most famous whiskies are from Port Ellen and Caol Ila and were bottled early in the company’s life - although for most of these legendary whiskies the exact bottling dates are not known, as for a long time MacArthur’s used only the age of the whisky on their labels. 

The two legendary Port Ellens - a dark sherry bottled at 59%, of which two labels exist, one for the German retailer Scoma; and a paler 12 year old at 62.7% - are both 12 years old with neither distillation or bottling dates. However, the back labels mention the distillery reopening in 1967 without mentioning that it closed again in 1983, leading some to speculate that they were bottled in 1982 or 1983.

The famous Caol Ilas were released around the same time or a little later, certainly in the 1980s, and comprise a half dozen releases all bottled at 12 years old and all with cask strengths over 60%.

One bottling in particular, from a dark sherry cask at 63% has gone down in legend and exists in a couple of different forms, most notably the ‘London Scottish’ label. This bottling is believed to be from 1974 bottled in 1986 due to the London Scottish bottling having the cask number 74.23.1. The other bottlings are much paler, presumably from refill bourbon casks.

Although these are the most famous bottlings there are plenty more superb whiskies from James MacArthur's, including Brora 1972 bottled in the mid-1990s, a Dalmore 1964 and Glen Grant 1959 both from sherry casks bottled in 1999, 1960s casks of Springbank, Longmorn, Macallan, plus rare gems from Convalmore, Pittyvaich, Kinclaith and many more.

MacArthur’s sadly has never been a prolific bottler - the company has released less than two dozen whiskies in the last five years - but their label is as sure a sign of quality as can be found in the whisky world. “An honest bottle and a good friend”, indeed.

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