Oct 152019
 

Another beauty from the Lowlands. And another drop of liquid history in the glass. St. Magdalene (or Linlithgow as it has occasionally been known as) was a distillery founded on the site of a former leper colony. I may have mentioned that before. This is one of those lost distilleries that hasn’t quite caught the fancy of collectors to the same degree as a few others (whose names we’ve mentioned enough for now), but whose output unquestionably rivals some of those great legendary releases in terms of intrinsic quality. So the question, as always, is a frustrated ‘why?’ There are always answers, but none that are apt to satisfy the malt historian or closed distillery aficionado. Such is the nature of the game in an industry rife with peaks and troughs.

This uber scarce Mackillop’s Choice St. Maggie is a gem of a malt, though, so let’s simply enjoy the opportunity at hand, and not wax too nostalgic.

62.6% abv. Distilled in 1982 and bottled in 2001, so…a 19 year old. From cask #1336. And sadly, long gone.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Beauty. Soft creamy, fruit notes. Well worn and oiled leather. Honey on crackers. Soft threads of smoke and melted wax. Good pastry. Stewed tropical fruits as it develops. Peach cobbler. Moist tobacco.

Palate: Velvety arrival. High quality melted chocolate. Beautifully smoky. The fruit flavours are everywhere here: threaded throughout, drizzled on top and deeply resonant at the back end. Slightly wine-y (but in a pleasant way). Apple, with some ‘almost tropical’ flavours. Toasty clean oak.

Finish: Apple skins. Pear skins. Peach pits. Clean cereals and firm oak. Loooooooooong, oh so long.

Thoughts: All I can say is…please may I have more?

91/100

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Sep 242019
 

Another of the great lost distilleries. Dallas Dhu was one of the fallen soldiers in the rash of 1983 closures that permanently shuttered some of the most iconic producers in Scotland. Now…whether or not all of said distilleries would have been held in the same esteem they are now if they’d not had their lives shortened is a matter of some debate, but hey…a lot of…err…less than premier distilleries have survived the ages and are still kicking out juice, so who knows?

But let’s not confuse Dallas Dhu with some of the greats (port Ellen, Brora, St. Mags, Rosebank, etc). It’s stocks have never really been held in the same esteem by most connoisseurs. I have a personal bias in favor of this distillery, but I know others who are rather indifferent. I hate to say I’m right and they’re wrong, but…y’know…I’m right and they’re wrong.

The Rare Malts series contains some absolutely legendary bottlings, as many of you are probably aware. The absolutely stunning twenty-somethings Broras and Port Ellens are lights out malts. This DD isn’t quite of the same caliber, but make no mistake…it’s a gem.

60.54% abv. Distilled in 1970; bottled in 1994.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: An absolute fruit bomb. Candy and chewing gum. Grilled pineapple. Under ripe kiwi. Warm caramel. Meringues. Warm fudge-y notes. Crème brulee. Soft chocolate poured over peppered fruits. God…so much fruit here.

Palate: Again on those crème brulee notes. Grilled fruit (caramelized syrupy flavours). Sea salted caramel chocolates. Nice toasty malt and toasted oak tones. Less deeply fruity now than the nose lets on. Chocolate covered candied ginger.

Finish: Long and warm, with sot fruits and beautiful fade.

Thoughts: Yet another spectacular example out of the Rare Malts range.

92/100

 

 Posted by at 3:09 pm
Aug 232019
 

Rosebank sorta straddles that barrier between first tier and second tier when people discuss their personal biases and rankings for the much-mourned closed distilleries. No two ways about it, there’s a deep sentimentality out there for this iconic and quintessential Lowlander, but Rosebank will almost certainly never be held in the stead of Port Ellen or Brora. Especially now, as the eve of the distillery’s renaissance approaches. Another factor, of course, is that Rosebank closed in much more recent times than did the ‘Big Two’. Ten years later, to be exact.

But I think more than any other issue at play is simply the makeup of the malt itself. We’re a comparing a relatively innocuous (that’s not to say it wasn’t lovely, and occasionally even spectacular) light and floral dram with the enormity of the massive peat profiles from an era where homogeneity hadn’t yet become the de facto standard. Now, hear me out: brands don’t strive for homogeneity, of course, but when your grand pursuits are yield and consistency, it becomes inevitable that character will be the sacrificial goat. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s there were many more variables at play: a ‘by touch’ method of brewing and distilling, inconsistent cask policies, wild west wood policies, etc. Inevitably, this is what led to such fantastically singular casks slumbering away in some of these fossil distilleries we hold in museum piece-like awe. This is the very same reason that Springbank continues to climb the charts in drinkers’ esteem nowadays.

This 25 year old Rosebank is a near perfect example of what the distillery’s ‘house style’ could be considered. And though I still don’t find it a home run dram, I can’t argue the intrinsic quality. It’s there in spades. Lovely dram. One more please.

50.5% abv. From an ex-bourbon barrel that yielded 192 bottles. Distilled in 1991, just two years before the distillery closed, and bottled in 2017 for the 175th anniversary of Cadenhead.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Definitely soft and perfumed. White chocolate and a drizzle of warm honey. Toasted marshmallow. Rosehip. Gooseberry. Pineapple upside down cake with French vanilla ice cream. A very berry-heavy artificial sweetness. Also quite creamy.

Palate: Toasted oak, much more assertive than expected, and almost leaning toward bitter. Grapefruit pith, which also bitters a bit, but in a more pleasant way. Orange, mango, kiwi and lychee (yup, as it says right on the bottle).

Finish: Clean and oak-driven. Rather lovely, if maybe a bit anemic.

Thoughts: Really good example of the style and the distillery, but also a perfect example of why Rosebank will rarely be knock-out whisky for me. Very drinkable (not far off some good old Irish whiskey I’ve had, actually), just not my preferred style. Should also note that it just gets better and better with time in the glass. I probably had it a point or two lower than the score it’s getting before it ‘evolved’ with time.

88/100

 Posted by at 10:52 am
Aug 202019
 

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Dead Distillery Births Live Monster of a Whisky!

Yep. This one really is a true monster of a whisky. And I mean that in all the right ways. Towering, monolithic, hideously beautiful. This takes the concept of subtlety and pounds it into a bloody pulp of submission. And it’s that paradoxical contrast of refined maturity and overt, beastly aggression that makes me slaver over it.

I should be forthright and confess my personal bias here, so you know to take my score with a grain of salt. I love malts like this. They’re over-the-top, far from balanced, and almost not even whisky anymore. They’re also an utterly fantastic and welcome deviation from the mainstream. Shame about the price point (tickling the four figure mark), but it is fair. Relatively speaking, anyway. Caperdonich is, after all, shuttered for good, and the stuff in the glass is almost four decades old. If the occasion arises, do not miss out on this one.

In terms of drinkability…a slow, deep contemplative sipper.  A heavy, one-and-done, take-your-time kinda dram.  In terms of true appreciatibility (yes, I sometimes make up words; what of it?)…a near priceless glance at a bygone era.  The sort of malt I get sentimental about.

50.4% abv. 462 bottles.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Deep and rich and beautiful. And 100% over-sherried, but I love it for that. Polished wood. Old Cognac or Armagnac. Orange oils and morello cherries. Dunnage and old libraries. Rancio. Oily, dried tropical fruits. Sandalwood. Marzipan. Very high end dulce de leche. Licorice. Quite savoury, actually. A distant whiff of smoke.

Palate: Waxy with notes of old polish and that fine old Cognac or Armagnac again. Dried mango, fig, cherry and papaya. Kirsch. Apple skins. More of those savoury notes threaded through with a bit of mince. Moist trail mix (nuts, chocolate, dried fruit). All Sorts and Eat More bars. Tastes…well…old.

Finish: Long and pleasant. Less oaky than expected. Nice, slow-drying fruitiness, bordering on tannic, but not quite.

Thoughts: Alright, maybe a little long in the tooth, but this style works for me. It’s not a regular go-to type bottling (even if the price was lower), but it is a hell of an occasional experience. Ahhh, who am I kidding? I’d drink this anytime I was offered one.

92/100

 

 Posted by at 1:01 pm
Aug 182019
 

The 28 year old official bottling of Convalmore from 2005 was, if not a knockout in the traditional sense, definitely one of my personal favorites. Its simple and elegant, yet bold, approach to a very naked and traditional style won me over big time. It did the same for others I know, as well. I seem to recall Dave Broom had a particular fondness for it. Though I see eye to eye with Dave’s views less and less as the days go on (though, having shared beers with him, I can attest he is a lovely man whom I’d love to hang with more frequently), I do have to say I’m riding shotgun with him on that particular dram. If memory serves, the 32 year old was really quite fine as well. So let’s dig into the 36 year old now. All three of these OBs are, of course, Diageo releases.

Convalmore’s last spirit ran through the safe in 1985. The buildings are still intact, but the equipment is long gone. It’s malts like this that make us mourn these closed distilleries with a tear in our eye.

58% abv (Wonder what this was racked at, in order to still be sitting at 58% after nearly four decades.) Distilled in ’77; bottled in ’13. Only 2,680 bottles.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Great attack! Wow. Almost savoury. Extremely well-composed. Perfectly matured, clean ex-bourbon style. Crème brulee with a sprinkling of pepper. Crème caramel. Almost apple pie-like too. Lightly toasted almond. Saw-burnt wood (like when your tool gets bound up mid cut). Biscuit tones. Honey. Gentle fruit notes, nudging into tropical territory, though hard to pinpoint specific fruits. Most of the sweetness, though, is just clean, fresh orchard fruit tones.

Palate: Amazing arrival. Uber juicy. Slightly tart and furniture polish-y. Apple crumble this time, complete with that cunchy, crusty, awesome toastiness. Brioche. Deeper fruits now, much deeper. They’re starting to fight the wood by this point, and just barely winning. Bottled at the perfect time.

Finish: Fantastic slow fade. A perfect flavor marriage of all that came before it. Dies a slow death.

Thoughts: Beautiful old dram. Leaves me wanting another glass. And another. And another.

93.5/100

 Posted by at 9:25 am
Aug 152019
 

The Imperial distillery was a rather late casualty in the whisky world. It had an ‘on again, off again’ production cycle for most of its life and suffered sporadic (but lengthy!) periods of closure throughout much of the 20th century. The distillery managed to survive the worst rash of closures in the tumultuous early 1980s, but was eventually mothballed in 1985. Production resumed in 1991 – largely for fillings – but only for a few years, before the distillery was shuttered for the last time in 1998. The buildings stood intact until 2013, when they were razed to make way for the new Dalmunach distillery on the same site. A sort of phoenix act, I guess. That’s the quick and dirty for you. Well, not all the dirty. This particular whisky is pretty filthy in its own right. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense.

Did you check the abv on the bottle shot below? 70.2%. Seventy-point-two! To quote the great Billy Connolly, “Jesus suffering f*ck!” If I’m being dead honest, sipping this 11 year old neat is kinda like licking a flaming pool of angry bullet ants. I don’t generally add water to my whisky (generally, I said, before I get lynched here), but this whisky almost screams for it. Otherwise, the anesthetizing effect will simply kill your ability to suss out nuance.

Distilled in 1979 and bottled in 1991 for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Matured in first fill Fino. I never would have guessed that in a million years. Maybe the sherry is simply obliterated by the peat and scorching strength.

Final word on Imperial: while this is another of the oh-so-coveted closed distilleries, it’s definitely no collector’s darling yet. Give it time though. People will be scrounging for Imperial at some point. Buy while the prices are still sane.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting notes

Nose: Liqueur-soaked angel food cake. Chamois leather. Light smoke tied to some earthy notes. Herbal and ghrassy. Old ju-jubes. Apple slices in canola oil. Chocolate. A bit of a sweaty funk. Fino? Where?

Palate: The cereal shines through nicely here. More of those chocolate notes. A wee bit of peat. Orange oils. Dusty almond flour. Salty play-dough. Again, if there’s sherry influence here it is absolutely buried.

Finish: Long, of course. Takes a while for the initial heat to subside. Ebbing notes of cereal, peat and fruit skin. No wine.

Thoughts: I did drink this neat*, but holy hell…water is requisite here.

83/100

* One of the very few things I agree with the Fedora-sporting fella on: If I’m reviewing whisky, it has to be done neat. No two people will ever add exactly the same amount of water, so how can we compare apples to apples if we’re not tasting straight from the bottle?

 Posted by at 5:14 pm
Aug 142019
 

Yet another bit of absolute malt insanity. These are the sorts of whiskies I live for.

If you know your barley juice quite well, you may know that Ayrshire is another name for the infamous Lowlander, Ladyburn. With less than ten years production, Ladyburn is one of the scarcest malts in the whiskysphere. It’s also another of those uber-singular whiskies that was produced at a distillery within a distillery. There were a few of these anomalous set-ups, of course, but we’ll save the ramblings on the others for future days, lest we drag on too long here, only to spoil the narrative later. Ladyburn was produced within the Girvan distillery between 1966 and 1975. So, as you can tell by the photo below (or just by reading the review title), this particular ex-bourbon barrel was filled in the last year of the distillery’s existence. It was one of (at least) a couple of sister casks released by Signatory in 2007. Cool stuff, aye?

Enough preamble, though. Let’s jump into some tasting notes. That’s why we’re here, after all.

This 31 year old Ayrshire is a bit of a mishmash. It hits some very cool high notes, but they’re kind of outliers in a whole that seems a bit murky. And not just murky, but also sort of befuddled. It’s a malt that really has no cohesion, but has an intrinsic niftiness that keeps pulling me back in. Hard to explain. At its heart, though, its a whisky that matters more for just being here than for what it actually is. It ain’t pretty, but it in its own way it is actually sort of beautiful.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

47.7% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Doughy, with a slight cheesy note. Salty dough, actually. And kinda footy, to boot (bad pun, I know). Nutty and putty-like. Faint peat with some muddled fruit mixed in for good measure. Damp burlap. Real apple juice. Cold coffee grounds. But the nuttiness is omnipresent.

Palate: Very hot and woody. Anise. Bitter chocolate. Walnut paste. Maybe some almond. Buckley’s cough syrup. Earthy and organic dried peat notes (as if it’s only just been lit). Cereal. Drywall mud.

Finish: Quite tannic. Mostly apple skins.

Thoughts: Overall? Quite challenging. Points could go up or down by a couple depending on time of day and how sentimental I’m feeling about these spectacular closed distillery bottlings.

80/100

 Posted by at 9:12 pm
Aug 042019
 

I don’t even know if this is disputable anymore: Gordon & MacPhail have the greatest warehouses in Scotland. I think at some point we all just have to concede it. There are loads of brilliant independent bottlers all ’round the world – some, I’d argue, I even prefer to G&M when all factors are taken into account – but no one, I repeat, no one, has the depth and breadth of utterly mindboggling stocks that Gordon & MacPhail have been able to sock away throughout the decades. Especially when it comes to beautiful old Speyside malts.

But every great hero has his (or her) Achilles heel, no? For G&M, that has almost always been their propensity for high prices in return for criminally low bottling strengths. The high prices are easier to justify, in my mind anyway, as the quality is almost universally high (excepting some questionable wine-casking decisions). The low bottling strength? No pulling punches here: it’s greed. You can dress it up however you want, but at the end of the day it’s still lipstick on a pig. They’re stretching stocks. I’ve heard comments along the line of ‘we determined this was optimal drinking strength’, but that is – forgive me – bullshit. No one who is buying these sorts of great old ’60s, ’70s and ’80s whisky has ever preferred a chill-filtered 40% or 43%er to an oily, fully intact, 46% or cask strength offering. Read that last sentence again. Bold words, I know, but I stand behind them. Even if consumers opt to drink it at a lower strength, I can almost guarantee they’d prefer it was bottled at a higher proof so they could add their own water. You can always add water. You can’t add back the texture that you’ve been robbed of at 40% or so. It seems especially criminal with beautiful old drams like the one we’re discussing. Cutting it with water is simply dumbing it down.

Anyway, before this becomes an essay, let’s discuss Coleburn, another casualty of the downturn that gutted so much of the industry in the 1980s. Expressions of Coleburn are scarce, they’re dear and they’re really, really cool whiskies to try if the occasion arises. Unfortunately, it doesn’t very often anymore. So, instead we pause and take our time when a dram like this crosses our path. It took 34 long years to make, after all. The least we can do is let the clock stop for an hour or so while we enjoy it.

Last thought: Let’s just be grateful that this particular release was bottled at 46% abv. Maybe not left completely intact, but I can accept 46%.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A bowl of melons and papaya on a freshly polished sideboard. Old cigar box. Faded pressed flowers. Orange and dark chocolate. Waxed hardwood. Oily, dried tropical fruits. That truly singular antique-y style of G&M sherry wood. Scottish tablet. I could go on. And on. And on.

Palate: Very syrupy on the tongue. Velvety even. Tropical fruits meet freshly cut figs. Old and oaky. Mouthwatering, yet slightly tannic. Orange oil. Mango. Loads of grapefruit. Candied green walnut and griottines (boozy cherries). Brioche.

Finish: Long and warming. Barley and oak, as it should be.

Thoughts:  This is the sort of dram I could give up all others for. Beautiful.

92/100

 Posted by at 10:02 am
Jul 262019
 

Yes. For real. Killyloch. One of the most scarce single malt whiskies in the world. This 36 year old official bottling was a vatting of the last half dozen proprietary casks of Killyloch in the world. If you’re unfamiliar with the name (and yes, most of us are), Killyloch was produced at the Moffat complex in Airdrie. It was one of three single malts and a grain that were produced on site. The malts were Glen Flagler, Killyloch and Islebrae. The grain was Garnheath. All four are long gone now, of course, but Killyloch became the earliest casualty of the complex, when its stills – having only been christened in 1965 – were decommissioned just a few years later and absorbed by Glen Flagler. (Sounds a little like the Malt Mill / Lagavulin saga, aye?) In all, I’d guess there were maybe 6 or 8 years of production.

It’s a shame the abv on this 36 year old is a meager 40%, but the bottle actually says this is natural cask strength – and to be fair, it is quite decently oily – so let’s just assume honesty and transparency are to be taken at face value. And the whisky? Man…what can I say? This is the true definition of liquid history. It’s a relic, for sure. Tasting it nowadays is anachronistic to the point I kinda feel like I’ve stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone. Fantastic stuff, and spectacularly special to be able to try. Now, if only there were a drop of Islebrae to be found…

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Orange, peach and tangerine. Very fruity. Bourbon notes are strong here behind the rich, tropical notes. Cherry. Old dead wax. Polished church pews and other antique-y notes. A slight peatiness. White dough. White chocolate. A deep vein of spice running through the whole. Citrus oils.

Palate: Very soft arrival. Spicy, to the point of being almost rye-like. And yet, still sorta bourbon-esque too. A little peat (but soft). Lemon cream pie. Lemon Drops. A bit of licorice. Some marzipan. And more of those soft orange peachy tones.

Finish: Longer than expected. Lovely and creamy. Reminds of a creamsicle.

Thoughts: Stunned silence.

91/100 (could likely add an extra point or so just for the sheer enormity of what we’re tasting).

 Posted by at 10:19 am
Jul 232019
 

An absolutely iconic bottling from perhaps the most monolithic of closed distilleries. This 22 year old Rare Malts bottling (the earlier incarnation of Diageo’s official releases) is a towering example of what the Port Ellen distillery was capable of running off its stills in the late ’70s. Not to mention…1978 was a spectacular vintage (wink wink!).

These are the sort of drams we dream about. The kind that render preconceptions moot and make us recalibrate our systems for measuring quality (as subjective as that is, of course*). One simply can’t drink something like this and remain fundamentally unchanged. It is the sort of whisky that changes what we understand about what we understand, if that makes any since. The reasons are multifold. First, this is a volatile-compound-driven whisky. That means that the foremost flavor contributor is peat, and peat, by nature, is a volatile and changing component. It does not remain constant. In fact, it degrades. Those phenolic compounds we know and love will fade drastically given enough time in the barrel. Second, this was distilled in the late 1970s, a time when processes were different, yeast and barley strains were different, wood policies were not nearly so rigidly-enforced, etc. Third, this was produced at a time when demand was a mere fraction of what it is today, ergo vatting casks would have been a very different exercise. Fourth, the malt hit glass around the turn of the millennium. It has been sitting in a bottle for almost 20 years. Oxidizing. Let that sink in for a moment. For those that believe that maturation stops at bottling, think again. The whole concept of Old Bottle Effect (OBE) probably now has enough evidence out there to support the fact that it is indeed a reality. Cork breathes. Breathing, of course, is not just exhaling, but inhaling as well. The neck level of this bottle (and a substantial proportion of older bottles, for that matter) tells us that this whisky has been slowly evaporating over the years. So what fills that void in the bottle? (Because we all know nature abhors a vacuum, aye?) Oxygen. Exactly. And that is bound to change the whisky.

Where I’m going with this is, this is not contemporary peated whisky. It is a relic. A beautiful antique. Something from a bygone age, that, in all likelihood, will never be replicated. And it is utterly stunning.

The ‘Rare Malt’ appellation doesn’t even begin to describe this one nowadays.

60.5% abv.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

*Let’s not delve into Pirsig asides on the Metaphysics of Quality, my contrarian friends. And I know there are a few of you out there.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Peat and smoke, as you’d expect, and a fair amount, too. All of that expected oceanic brininess and iconic PE tarry character is in full effect here. Citrus (lemon, primarily). Notes of iodine and ammonia. Seared scallops and oyster liquor. Fuel (kerosene maybe? Not quite?). Fennel and tarragon. Salt licorice. Like sitting on the beach near the maltings, for those that have ever experienced that. Or like the morning air in the village of Bowmore when the breeze is blowing in off Loch Indaal.

Palate: Bombastic and fantastic. Smoky and salty, with threads of dark, oily vanilla. Herbaceous notes of green tea. Grapefruit and lime. Super fruity behind all the smoke. Some orange and melon. There is something almost ‘burnt tropical’ about it too. Slick and dark and wonderful.

Finish: Exquisitely long and throbbing (easy now, kids). Kinda seafoody.  Kinda lemony.

Thoughts: This is a knockout dram. Unquestionably one of the all time greats, and one of the best expressions of Port Ellen I’ve ever tasted.

93.5/100 (But is that enough???)

 Posted by at 3:08 pm