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Linlithgow (pronounced: lin-LITH-goh) also known as St Magdalene is considered one of Scotland's great lost distilleries. A victim, along with so many others, of the 1980s downturn, it has become a cult name synonymous with old school, difficult, yet charming and beautiful Lowland whisky. Occasionally also known as Linlithgow, it is one of these malts that should be experienced by any true whisky lover, especially before all stocks disappear forever or become too expensive. It is one of the best examples of a style of whisky that is no longer made in Scotland, it may have been a Lowlander by name and place but to taste it so often displays distinctly Highland aspects to its character. It was, and always will remain, one of the few true individuals of Scottish distilling.
Saint Magdalene (Linlithgow) Distillery
Stills: 1 Wash 1 Spirit
Water Source: Loch Lomond
1960-1983: A Lowlander In Highlander's Clothing (Or The Other Way About?)
St Magdalene had its stills converted to mechanical stoking in 1960 and then to internal steam heating in 1971 but other than that it remained a very old style distillery up until its death in 1983. It is one of those distilleries that blurs the traditional lines of regional distinction. Its character is one of elegant waxyness, with many mineral and petrol qualities, very much like a great Riesling, full on oiliness, farmyard and industrial elements and sharp white fruits are all typical hallmarks of St Magdalene. The best are rich, mineraled, oily, complex, subtly fruity and full of complex coal, soot, graphite, wax, hessian and many typically old school aromas and flavours. The most famous expression is the 19yo 1979 Rare Malts bottling, this is an immense whisky, thick with notes of petroleum, paraffin, diesel, blistering white fruits, rich mineral complexity, clean, thick malt, camphor and all kinds of oils. A stunning dram that is highly sought after, likewise the 1970 Rare Malts is equally stunning but harder to find and not quite as well known as the 1979.
There are too many other great bottlings of St Magdalene to go through them here but it is safe to say that excellent examples have been consistently bottled by Douglas Laing, Cadenhead's and Signatory amongst others. Generally those distilled before 1975 are thicker and ‘bigger' in nature and tend to be very old highlands in nature. While those distilled after 1975 are more elegant and focused on gentle white fruits, soft waxiness, white pepper and citrus.
It is well worth seeking out some of the (thankfully) many bottlings that exist from this wonderful lost distillery. They can be very difficult, typically unsexy and often demanding and hard to work with, but given time and patience they can become the most wonderfully balanced and complex examples of old school Scottish distilling. Examples of a time when things were controlled more by hand and instinct rather than machines, science and computers. As a result technical flaws become aspects of charming beauty, hints of humanity. St Magdalene is definitely a malt to try while you still can.