The Kinship Port Ellen 34 Year Old

Distillery: Port Ellen
Age: 34 years old
ABV: 61.7%
Bottler: Hunter Laing
Cask: Sherry Cask
More Info: WhiskyBase

In the wake of this year’s Feis Ile (The Islay Festival of Malt and Music), Hunter Laing have released a set of six extremely rare whiskies to celebrate Islay whisky – The Kinship range.

Hand-picked by legendary distiller Jim McEwan (formerly of Bruichladdich and Bowmore), these whiskies represent the best and rarest examples of Islay spirit. They also mark the creation of Laing’s brand new distillery “Ardnahoe” which is situated on the shores of the Sound of Islay, close to Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain.

I’m a massive Bruichladdich fan so I’m delighted that Jim McEwan will be production manager when the distillery goes into operation early in 2018.

Anyway, on with the Kinship whisky! The oldest and rarest in the range is this: a sherried Port Ellen that was distilled shortly before the distillery’s closure in 1983.

Let’s get it in the glass!

Nose: Thick candle wax, menthol, dried rosemary. New leather and citrus peel. Quite maritime in a minerally way – think chalky clifftops on a windy day. With water becomes more citrusy and a little soapy, like washing up liquid (but in a good way). Over time it gets sweeter and richer with vanilla cake sponge.

Palate: Lemon throat sweets, brown sugar, clove oil, sour cherries and gentle wood smoke.

Finish: Tingly, ashy and long. Creamy oak and a touch of vanilla.

Jim McEwan described this as “a tidal wave in a glass”. The nose is indeed a powerhouse and it transports me directly to being outdoors on the Scottish coast – much like Lagavulin 12 or a cask-strength Caol Ila.

The palate, though smoky, is a lot gentler – even at the full 61.7% strength – and you get to enjoy a deeply pleasant and life-affirming finish that lasts and lasts.

Frankly, I was a little concerned that this had spent 34 years in sherry. For my palate, that can really spoil a good whisky. Luckily, my fears are unfounded – this must’ve been a good quality refill cask and at the incredibly high ABV it’s had a remarkably slow and careful maturation over those years allowing the spirit to dominate the flavour, not the cask.

All in all, this is a really elegant and well-rounded whisky – classy, complex, and delivering all that coastal/citrus goodness you’d hope to get from a Port Ellen.

Many thanks to Nickolls and Perks for sending me this sample! Now bear with me while I weep at how badly I can’t afford whisky like this…

Currently, these Kinship bottles are available from the Ardnahoe Distillery Shop on Islay. The Port Ellen is £1,800 per bottle.

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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.

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.

The Half Century Blend

Bottled: 2016
Number of Bottles: 768
ABV: 45.5%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Far back in the mists of time, there existed an extraordinary era of whisky production where distilleries were unbridled by accountants and the constant demand for efficiency.

Whiskies produced in the 1960s and before display altogether different properties whether long-aged in barrel or in antique bottlings. The spirit production was slower with smaller yields but this more considered approach lead to a style of whisky that people are increasingly pining for.

To quote the chaps at The Blended Whisky Company,

“The result of all this inefficiency, waste and lost commercial-opportunity? Flavour, subtlety, poise, an incredible depth of fruit-character and a beguiling, ethereal quality sadly missing from many of today’s whiskies.”

This isn’t their first foray into exquisitely old and rare blends. Their Lost Distilleries blend and “The Golden Age” have each won multiple awards over the years so they really do know what they’re doing. This time around they’re decidedly tight-lipped as to the constituents. Maybe if we ask nicely they’ll give us a clue…

This blend is comprised entirely of whiskies aged for fifty years or more. That’s bonkers. You simply don’t get many chances to taste something like that. The challenging question is: is fifty years too much? Can the spirit stand up to that much oak?

God, I can’t wait to find out…

Colour: Amber – not as dark as you might expect for the age.

Body: Very viscous – thick beads and long legs.

Nose: Fruity and resinous. Apple blossom, brandied cherries, crème anglaise. Very clean, like fresh laundry, but with a spirity marker pen edge. As it opens up, there’s a little milk chocolate, sultanas, allspice, and fragrant wood resin. Cor, this is well layered.

Palate: Beautiful soft delivery with a promise of pepper that never quite stands up to the velvety oak. Yes, the decades in the cask has certainly left this feeling oaky but certainly not tired. There’s sweet satsuma, malty toffee, fiery gingerbread, warm strudel and viscous ice cream.

Finish: It just goes on… Warm, chewy oak with toasted coconut flakes and vanilla cream. Twenty minutes later and I can still taste it.

This is absolutely delicious. Very easy to drink (I found it needs no water) with a lot of classy whisky notes and plenty of character left after such an extended maturation. A tumbler of this in a wingback chair by an open fire and you’d be left wanting for nothing.

This stunning blend is available from today for the very reasonable price of £599.95 from those lovely chaps at Master of Malt. You can also find it at Amathus, Amazon, Harvey Nichols, Hedonism, and Ocado.