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Strathisla (pronounced: strath-EYE-la) is one of the great Speyside distilleries that, along with Glen Grant, Macallan, Mortlach and (arguably) Linkwood, has given us a liquid glimpse into over eight decades of incredible Scottish distilling practice and history. Being one of only a handful of distilleries who's product has been (realistically/affordably) available to us from every decade since the 1930s, Strathisla is a fascinating distillery to explore and enjoy. Much of the credit must go, again, to Gordon & MacPahil on this one. Strathisla was one of the distilleries that they bought bulk amounts of stock from since before the 1930s, and as a result they have been able to offer a stream of excellent bottlings of Strathisla at a wide variety of ages. In recent decades other bottlers have joined the charge and the result is a seemingly endless plethora of top notch examples from this great distillery. If you want to know how what great Speyside whisky should taste like then this is one of a handful of distilleries you absolutely need to get to know.
Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit
Water Source: Fons Bullien's Well
Capacity: 2.4 Million Litres
Owners: Pernod Ricard
1930s-1965: The Glory Years
As with any whisky that has been available since before the 1960s, that stock is inevitably where the best bottlings come from. This is certainly true of Strathisla. Aged bottlings by G&M that hail from the late 1930s through to the latter 1940s after the war are generally all stunning drams, examples of truly old style distilling and fascinating glimpses into history. They are rich, sherried whiskies that show wonderfully soft, complex phenolic and peaty flavours with lush green and tropical fruits on top of farmy, industrial and metallic old style oiliness and earth notes. Further aged notes of mead, menthol, rancio, dried mushrooms, pipe tobacco and cocoanut are all common to varying degrees as well. There are examples from these years ranging from 30-50 years of age, although they often have prices to match their quality they can still be found for exceptionally good prices considering their provenance and quality. The Macallans are already mind bogglingly expensive and the Mortlachs are also expensive and more difficult to obtain but the Glen Grants and Strathislas are equally as brilliant and can still be found fairly readily, so if you want to try pre-war whisky these are your best bets.
The examples from the fifties are more similar to the old school 1940s style of whisky making than at most other distilleries, they still show interesting phenolic notes and quite some farmy, metallic qualities. However, by the early 1960s the style had morphed into a classically lush Speyside style of distillate, as is evidenced at all the best Speyside distilleries from this era. Bags of green fruits, minerals, baled hay, grass, cereals, honey, soot , all kinds of tea, wax, tropical and white fruits as well, some of the bottlings of Strathisla that hail from this era are utterly stunning drams. There are several bottlings by G&M from refill wood that are pretty mind blowing drams, such as the 1960 Book Of Kells bottling, a fruit bomb in the true sense of the word. G&M have also done many, many brilliantly priced aged bottlings from around this time, many of these have been from very active sherry wood making them rich, nutty, waxy, gloriously fruity, mineraled, leathery and intense drams. They are some of the best priced aged whiskies you can find, and amongst the cleanest, most luscious examples of sherry cask malts around these days.
1965 Present: Honey, Luscious Fruits and Wax
In 1965 Strathisla was expanded with a second pair of stills, these new stills were steam heated but the original pair remained direct fired until 1992. Other than this not much changed production wise. For the first ten years or so of the new expanded set up the whisky produced was of a similarly stunning, intensely fruity quality, there are numerous examples of this quality from Duncan Taylor, G&M, The Whisky Fair, Samaroli, The Daily Dram, Jack Wieber and Alambic Classique.
It was not until the mid seventies onwards that the level of fruit began to diminish, with more cereal, citrus and honey notes starting to take its place. To this day Strathisla remains a brilliant whisky and one of the all time great Speyside distilleries. Oddly enough it is still not promoted officially to a great extent as a malt whisky. The OB 12yo is a fine, younger style Speyside dram with lots of cereals, malt, garden fruits and delicate honey notes, however the majority of stock seems to be earmarked for blending. If this continues it seems that independent examples of Strathisla may dry up in the coming years, as older stocks are exhausted and less and less of the recent distillations are released to second and third parties.
Whatever happens, Strathisla remains one of the all time great distilleries and there are enough stunning old bottlings of it stretching across more than four decades to satisfy any malt lover for a long, long time to come.