The G&M Speyside Collection

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I really must start this review with an apology! Gordon & Macphail were kind enough to send me these incredibly ancient samples in early December and yet with the run-up to Christmas and various commitments I’ve really struggled to pin down the time required to really do justice to such prestigious whisky (I know, I know – talk about first world problems…).

Anyway! With the Betwixmas week upon us, I’ve had several days holiday to quietly and thoughtfully get to know these fascinating time capsules of liquid whisky history.

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Before I crank up the time machine, I really must salute Gordon & Macphail on their impeccable presentation. These six whiskies came with a huge amount of accompanying information and they do justice to the gravitas of the liquid inside the bottles.

One more note before we go – these whiskies have spent between 40 and 65 years inside oak barrels before bottling. That’s a very long time to be wrapped up in oak and inevitably the spirit takes on a lot of character from the barrel. This can make it a challenge to really appreciate the subtle aromas which have inevitably faded through the decades. So these complicated beasts take patience and an open mind to fully appreciate.

Let’s punch in 1972 to our controls and rev up our journey through time…

screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-17-27-03Linkwood 1972

Casks: First-Fill Sherry Hogshead
Age: 40 years old
Distilled: 17th November 1972
Bottled: 3rd July 2013
ABV: 43%

The time machine begins our journey in 1972, the year of the Watergate scandal. While this whisky was being made, David Bowie was busy taking over the world with his Spiders From Mars and those of us at home on the sofa were enjoying a brand new TV programme called “Mastermind”.

Linkwood‘s not a distillery you see many bottlings from. Diageo have released a Flora & Fauna bottling and a couple of Rare Malts editions but the vast majority of other bottlings are from independent bottlers and the 2.5 million litre per year output mostly ends up in blends like Johnnie Walker.

Nose: Witch hazel, menthol, honey, lemon. Granny Smith apples, fresh laundry, candyfloss, Big Red gum, redcurrants, honeysuckle blossom.
Palate: Malt biscuits, baked apples and toffee sauce. Drying with fresh basil and tingly black pepper.
Finish: Salt and pepper, chewy oak.

Great nose on this, lots of complexity. The finish is rather too woody, though – very dry indeed. Four decades in first fill sherry is a tall order for a gentle spirit like Linkwood.


screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-17-27-26Longmorn 1967

Cask: First-Fill Sherry Butt
Age: 47 years old
Distilled: 31st October 1967
Bottled: 21st September 2015
ABV: 43%

We’ve landed now in 1967. The Beatles have released Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band to a rousing success in the British charts. Muhammed Ali is the heavyweight boxing champion of the world (at least until he refused to be drafted to Vietnam and was summarily stripped of the title).

When this was produced, the Longmorn distillery still had its own floor maltings and used coal-fired stills so it’s interesting to see how that impacts on what we expect from the character of a modern bottling.

Nose: Pear flesh, dried flowers, cloudy cider, sea salt, Love Hearts, dried banana, toffee brittle, dry white wine, and a little vanilla fudge.
Palate: Tequila and lime in a sweet shop. Pear drops, lemon bonbons, sherbet, and cola cubes. Gets creamy when the sweets calm down to reveal white chocolate and raspberries.
Finish: Long creamy oak with white pepper and a touch of hot cinnamon bun.

This is very drinkable indeed. Lots of sweet shop character with great delivery that evolves each time you sip.


screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-20-03-03Mortlach 1954

Cask: 1st fill sherry butt
Age: 58 years old
Distilled: 27th January 1954
Bottled: 20th November 2012
ABV: 43%

Here we are in 1954, the year that JRR Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings” is first published, Roger Bannister breaks the four-minute mile, and rationing finally ends after the second world war.

Interestingly, the Mortlach spirit is almost triple-distilled (2.81, to be precise, because the distillery’s six stills are different shapes and sizes!). I wonder how that’ll effect such an extended maturation.

Nose: Loads of sherry here! There’s a lovely salty quality with musty damp wood. Some typical sherry dark fruits: plums, dates, figs. Honeyed ham, oil paints, cold ashes, mossy dry stone walls. Mint leaves and blackberry jam. Gosh… this is astonishing.
Palate: Oooh, yes. Dry and floral. Tobacco leaves with blackcurrant and strawberries. Sloe gin. There’s a core of violet petals lurking in there and it just jumps right out at you! A rush of barrel spice – nutmeg and sweet baked peppers.
Finish: Fruity smoke, cranberries and cured cheeses.

The core spirit is alive and kicking here. Even though the heavy oak influence makes its presence known, there’s a lot of interesting fruity intensity punching its way through.


screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-17-27-58Strathisla 1953

Cask: First-Fill Sherry Butt
Age: 58 years old
Distilled: 19th December 1953
Bottled: 20th November 2012
ABV: 43%

Back to 1953 and 25% of the population now owns a TV set and tune in to watch Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Meanwhile, Edmund Hilary reaches the summit of Everest with the help of sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

Strathisla is well known for being the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland having been operational since 1786. Mostly this ends up in the Chivas Regal blend but there is an official 12 year old bottling and plenty of independents too.

Nose: This starts out very sawdusty but after time in the glass a lot of interesting things start happening. Sour cherries appear with pine resin, pistachio ice cream, damp wood, a hint of Olbas oil. Tons of dried fruit but lighter than expected: dried sultanas, pineapple. A little tropical fruit in the guise of unripe mango. After a few minutes there’s just a little bit of hard cheese rind
Palate: A little closed and oaky to start with but brightens up with dark honey, blackberries, mint leaf and white pepper.
Finish: Very heavy oak here on the finish – it lingers and lingers with barrel spices of cloves, black pepper, cardamom and a little more blackberry and bramble fruits.

Unsurprisingly with the age, this is quite a challenging dram and it takes a long time to tease out those flavours from under the decades in the cask but the complexity is very rewarding when you take the time to make sense of it all.


screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-17-28-17Glen Grant 1949

Cask: 4 1st-Fill Sherry Casks and 1 refill sherry
Age: 64 years old
Distilled: 1949
Bottled: 6th June 2014
ABV: 40%

Back to the 40s. Colour TV has just been invented, the Federal Republic of Germany has been established, and George Orwell has published his infamous book “Nineteen Eighty Four”.

Glen Grant, owned by Campari, is the biggest selling single malt in Italy and is very popular the world over. What a treat to try such a well-aged bottle…

Nose: Ester-rich pear drops and board marker pens. Fragrant sandalwood and wood varnish but with a fruity edge of furry peach skin and tinned peach flesh with tangerine peel. Dry hay and flower seeds and a hint of salty coastal air. Very varied and interesting.
Palate: Golden apples, parma violets, bitter grapefruit. Soft oak in the background with a splash of black pepper amid sweet cereal and clementine.
Finish: Long, chewy oak with a little salt. Slightly vegetal – sweet fried cabbage.

Nearly a pensioner after 64 years in the barrel, the voice of this whisky has reduced to a soft whisper so you have to listen closely. There’s a lot of savoury going on here, balanced by fragrant fruity sweetness. With patience, this is very rewarding.


screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-17-28-45Smith’s Glenlivet 1948

Cask: First-Fill Sherry Butt
Age: 62 years old
Distilled: 11th February 1948
Bottled: 26th July 2010
ABV: 43%

Our final destination, 1948. The first stored-program computer “Baby” runs its first program at the University of Manchester (all computers in the world are descendants of this design). The Olympics is hosted in London this year and a small company called “Porsche” starts selling cars in Germany.

Glenlivet is one of the most famous malts from Speyside and you can find official bottlings all over the world.

Nose: Astonishingly light and fruity for a sexagenarian! Red apples, sweet cider, champagne bubbles. Sweet Scottish tablet, sherbet, waxed leather and potpourri. Wow.
Palate: Caramelised apples with a touch of cinnamon – someone’s liquidised a strudel! Oak-infused vanilla ice cream with clementines, mangos, and sweet red peppers (yes, I throw an odd dinner party…). There’s a cup of Earl Grey tea somewhere in the mix too.
Finish: Tingly and tangy black pepper with orange and grapefruit peels. Very long, creamy, and chewy.

This is an absolute gem. The oak wall is demolished by a bouncy, zesty tray of fruity desserts. This Glenlivet throws one mean tea-party!


screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-18-40-50Back to the Future…

Wow, what a journey this has been. Combined, that’s 329 years worth of time, care, and craft condensed into whiskies that are complex, fascinating and extraordinary.

Thanks so much to Gordon & Macphail for sharing these pieces of history.

If you’re feeling flush you can pick up the Speyside Collection on Master of Malt for a mere £10,495.95. There’s only 75 worldwide so if old, rare, collectible whisky is your thing then go grab a set. You have my infinite jealousy at being able to part company with five-figure sums to purchase whisky.

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Bruichladdich Laddie Five-O

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-20-13-18Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2013
Age: NAS
ABV: 47.7%
Bottled For: Feis Ile 2013
More Info: WhiskyBase

If you’ve ever been on Islay in May, you’ll know all about the reputation and buzz surrounding the Feis Ile bottlings from each of the eight distilleries on the island.

This bottling here represents something special – this is Jim McEwan’s liquid celebration of his fifty years in the whisky industry. Jim handed over the Bruichladdich baton to Adam Hannett in 2015 (and he’s doing a cracking job!) so bottlings like these won’t come by any more.

And given that it’s Christmas, I decided it was time to appreciate Jim’s legendary whisky talents. This is somewhat frustratingly released without an age statement but I’m confident it’s got some interesting older casks from the depths of the Laddie warehouses rolling around inside it.

Nose: A good mix of things here. Gingerbread, Scottish tablet, dusty wooden furniture, hard cheese rind, cherry skin, raspberries.

Body: Syrupy! Nice and viscous.

Palate: Tangy and sweet. Clementines, stem ginger, dark honey, cloves and cinnamon.

Finish: A soft (and slightly soapy) coastal tang with oak and marzipan.

Unusually, for a Bruichladdich special bottling, there’s nothing outrageous going on here at all.

However, what is going on is a really good solid, honest and well rounded whisky. It has all the hallmarks and core character of the distillery and it’s an easy sipping and classy flavour with enough complexity to keep it interesting.

You can pick this one up at auction or buy it on Amazon for £275.