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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Gordon & MacPhail Rare Vintage

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Time to bring out The Good Stuff. Gordon & Macphail have kindly released a set of five samples from their superb Rare Vintage range just for us lucky Tweet Tasters to tuck into.

Gordon & Macphail have been bottling whisky in Speyside for over a hundred years. A proud family-run business, their back catalog of casks is mind-boggling. More than most bottlers, they’re really able to produce some exceptionally unusual vintages that give us mere mortals the chance to taste whisky from distilleries we know and love but in a much different, older form.

We’ll be starting in 1985 and winding the time machine back through the decades, all the way to 1954. What a treat this is. We begin our journey in the Highlands…

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Balblair 1985

Casks: Two bourbon refills
Age: 30 years old
Distilled: 14th January 1985
Bottled: 27th January 2015
ABV: 43%

We start off with the youngest of the five, a mere whippersnapper at 30 years old. Fun fact – I was in-utero when this was distilled.

Balblair distillery is in Edderton and has been running since 1895. The distillery and production methods have changed very little over the years.

This bottling is the marriage of two bourbon casks, #245 and #246.

Nose: Dusty fruity sherbet powder. Creamy. Waxy green apples, limes, a strawberry fool. Grilled pineapple. Lots of sweet vanilla oak. Honeysuckle blossom. Wet peppermint leaves, and a touch of fresh basil. Very classy – clean, floral, and fruity.
Palate: Wafts of honey with an undertone of muscavado sugar and caramel. There’s a rising tingle of baking spices and a tang of pineapple juice with nutmeg and cream. Overall it’s very round and soft. Gentle.
Finish: Gingerbread and black pepper with fresh hazelnuts.

An absolute belter, this. I love old bourbon matured whisky and this has all the hallmarks with a sweet vanilla creaminess and some gorgeous fruit notes.

This is available for a very reasonable £192 from The Whisky Exchange. Cracking price for a 30 year old whisky of this quality.


screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-19-46-08Smith’s Glenlivet 1974

Cask: Bourbon and Sherry refills
Age: 33 years old
Distilled: 1974
Bottled: 18th February 2008
ABV: 43%

Our second whisky is Smith’s own “The Glenlivet”. This distillery came to typify Speyside so much that other distilleries added “Glenlivet” to their names for many years.

Nose: Dried apricots, sticky prunes, sandalwood, paprika. A completely different beast to the Balblair with a noticeable (but not overstated) sherry influence.
Palate: A lovely fruit progression: Freshly squeezed orange becoming soft mango, then revealing stewed plums that evolve into tart blackberries. Wow! Blackberry jelly with black pepper – very dark. Oily and custard-like on the tongue.
Finish: Dry tobacco, dark chocolate, and blueberries.

Poised and gracefully balanced. The sherry here really enhances the spirit, adding a lot of dark fruit notes to what seems to be a light and citrusy core spirit. Loverly stuff.

You can pick this up for £408 on The Whisky Exchange.


screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-19-48-29Glen Grant 1966

Cask: Four refill bourbon casks, 1 first-fill sherry
Age: 45 years old
Distilled: 1966
Bottled: 16th July 2012
ABV: 40%

Here’s a whisky that came off the still in 1966, the year The Beatles released “Strawberry Fields”, “When I’m Sixty Four” and “Penny Lane” and I believe also some important English sporting victory…

Nose: Loads of fresh fruit here. Fresh melon slices, kiwi, Golden Delicious apples. Lychee and fizzy oak. Car air freshener. A touch of celery in there, oddly.
Palate: This is insanely good. Like an oak-aged can of Lilt. Pineapple fritters, bon-bons, lemon sherbets, green tea, candied oranges and a ton of soft, creamy oak.
Finish: It lasts, and lasts. Fruit creams, white chocolate, brown sugar. Drying, ashy oak.

This is like an unpeated Port Ellen. Wow, wow, and wow. Easily, easily, the best whisky of the line-up for my money with some incredible tropical fruit notes and it’s oh-so-smooth and easy to drink. One word review: phwoar.

This is a total bargain at £585 from the Whisky Exchange, and I really mean that. You’ll not find a whisky pushing fifty years old of this quality for less.


screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-19-49-52Strathisla 1965

Cask: 1st Fill Sherry
Age: 50 years old
Distilled: 9th December 1965
Bottled: 20th January 2016
ABV: 43%

Onto the seriously elderly whiskies now with the Strathisla 1965 – a fifty year old that was filled into a single 1st-fill sherry puncheon.

You don’t see a great deal of Strathisla about – the distillery bottlings can be found in the shops but a lot of the output goes into blends, particularly Chivas Regal.

So how’s fifty years in sherry going to flavour the spirit?

Nose: Big, big sherry. Wax, chestnuts, crystallised ginger and wood polish. Supermarket cola, Medjool dates, dark rum, black liqourice, coffee beans and old waxed leather.
Palate: Raspberry syrup, herbal tea. Very, very drying indeed. Mince pies with a lot of cloves. Bitter marmalade on granary bread. Cocoa dust.
Finish: Cloves with oak and black pepper.

Great nose but bitter on the finish. Alas, I think too much time in the cask here, much as it’s a delight to taste a whisky of this vintage. It has to be the classiest and most important sherry bomb I’ve ever tasted…. yet.

Again, The Whisky Exchange comes to the rescue offering this ancient Strathisla at £658.


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’s the grand finalé – a staggering 58 year old whisky from Mortlach that was distilled in the year that rationing finally ended after the second world war.

Interestingly, the 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 but very different to the Strathisla. 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.

This isn’t a tired cask – it’s still kicking! And not your typical sherry bomb either; there’s a great earthy and savoury complexity running through the floral, fruity surroundings. Very impressive indeed.

If you feel like buying a whisky distilled when Churchill was still the Prime Minister then trot over to Whisky Online and pony up a mere £1,500 for a piece of liquid history.


Thanks!

Wow, what a journey this has been. Thanks so much to Gordon & Macphail for sharing these pieces of history with us and, as ever, thanks to Steve Rush for organising yet another triumphant tasting.

Three Old Dusty Cadenhead Caol Ilas

Very much following in the footsteps of Ben Cops, here’s three old and delicious Caol Ila bottlings from WM Cadenhead.

I’ve been saving the 30 year old for my 30th birthday and now that the bottle’s open it’s time to revisit last year’s 29 year old and get stuck into a taster of this year’s 31 year old release (again, thank you to Mr Cops for this!).

All three are full term Bourbon cask matured and great examples of how lovely Caol Ila can be when well-aged.

Caol Ila 29

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 16.08.10Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2013, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 55.5%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Sweet smoke, cloudy apple juice, paprika, Easter Egg chocolate, damp wood, tangerine and fresh honeydew melon.

Palate: Very rich and oily. Bitter oranges, poached pears, more cloudy apple juice, with a gentle woody smoke rising through the fruit.

Finish: Becomes waxy and spicy, with a Brazil nut undertone. Extraordinarily long and satisfying. Like a deep-muscle massage for your mind. It unlocks something in the brain that leads to fits of grinning, like some kind of serene whisky Nirvana.

Verdict: I love this whisky so much. A really active cask (I think a first fill) has given this a lot of punchy flavour. The citrus smoke element of Caol Ila has moved from lemon notes in the younger bottlings to orange and melon flavours. Utterly glorious.

 

Caol Ila 30

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 16.08.24Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 56.2%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Fragrant lime skin, earthy moss, sawdust, wood lacquer, sherbet, vanilla, orange pith, candy brittle.

Palate: Gloriously sweet shopp-y. Salty toffee, liqourice torpedos and sour zingy sherbet with a whole lot of fruit on the side – melon rind, guava, strawberries and tangerines. After the fruit there’s drying sweet tobacco leaf and a little Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons.

Finish: Oak and black pepper with wafts of soft wood smoke and black tea. That Brazil nut taste is there again, too.

Verdict: Different to the 29. Still fruity and smoky but there’s none of that cloudy apple juice or pickle juice character. Still wonderfully balanced between the fruit and zesty smoke. Elegant, juicy, delicious.

 

Caol Ila 31

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 08.55.02Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2015, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 54.3%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Spiced custard, wax crayons, marker pens, salty dust, marmalade, candied lemon and lime.

Palate: Zingy, sour and oaky with bitter pepper and more fresh citrus. Sherbet, chalky refresher sweets, green apples and redcurrants.

Finish: Mellows after the peppery bite of the palate leaving a long and lingering taste of ripe pears and smooth, buttery oak.

Verdict: I think this one’s got a lot more tanin from the wood but it settles down nicely to a lovely and unusual finish. The 29 and 30 had more going on in the middle but this is all about the long end.

Summary

Three fabulous whiskies here – really showing off both what Caol Ila can do over time, and what good cask selection you see from WM Cadenhead.

For me, the winner’s got to be the 29 – that juicy, punchy, fruity quality is rowdy compared to the more elegant dust of the 30 and 31 but it absolutely charms my palate.

The lesson? Taste old Caol Ila as often as you can – the chances are that you’ll be delighted.

Octomore Rivesaltes Cask 2008 (RABT)

Distillery: Octomore (Bruichladdich)
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 2008
Age: 6 years old
Bottles: 302
Bottler: Rest And Be Thankful
ABV: 64.1%
Cask: French Oak (Rivesaltes Wine Cask)
More Info: WhiskyBase

Oh, hello, Octomore. You smooth, sweet, delicately-caged tiger of a whisky.

For the uninitiated – Octomore is the super-heavily peated line of whiskies produced by Bruichladdich. They tend to have a complex character, with a lot of really interesting flavours coming out in spite of the very high ABV and PPPM.

It’s weird, but I find the Port Charlotte releases more in-your-face-peat-smoky than the Octomore – with a typical phenol level of between 160 and 260, this is a big surprise (PC is nearer 40, about the same as Ardbeg).

I’ve had the pleasure of several official bottlings, last year’s Feis Ile bottling, and even a generous measure of a Château d’Yquem matured 10-year-old at the distillery warehouse*.

This stuff is always an adventure to taste, so an independent bottling is very exciting news indeed. Aged six years entirely in a Rivesaltes French wine cask. I don’t know much about Rivesaltes as a wine, but I understand it’s aged for a long time so I’m hoping for some dry, tart, rich character to come through to the whisky.

Let’s dive in…

Nose: Salted butter, Hollandaise sauce, cured meats, icing sugar, wax, damp dusty wood, fresh leather, sherbet, pear skin, refreshers and fragrant resin.

Palate: Sweet and oily with pine resin, basil and honeydew melon. It develops into formidably drying earthy peat smoke, alongside toasted oak, sea salt, lime juice, ginger and vanilla cream.

Finish: The sweetness dies down to leave salty and savoury cheese crackers, with earthy peat. After a few minutes, it feels like you could pick it out of your teeth!

Wow! Like being at an old wooden amusement park at night, eating eggs-Benedict, while the children enjoy sweet candy floss and salty popcorn. Honestly, it’s like a three-course-meal of a dram. Loads of unusual savoury notes amidst the expected peat smoke and sweet, buttery fruit notes.**

My gosh, I loved this. At £185 it’s more expensive than the standard Octomores (usually somewhere between £90 and £150 on the primary market), but that Rivesaltes cask really works for me and it takes the spirit in a new direction – I mean, how often do you nose a peaty whisky and get Hollandaise sauce??

Quoth the Rivesaltes, “Octomore!”.

Bottles and samples on Master of Malt are £185 and £13.57, respectively. Rest-And-Be-Thankful are a mystery to me as a bottler, and I can’t find any information about them. If anyone knows anything, do give me a shout on Twitter!

* Yes, it was sublime.
**I didn’t add water – this really doesn’t need it, at all.