Last Saturday I hosted a whisky tasting at the Good Spirits company in Glasgow. The premise of such events is to promote Whisky Online Auctions, educate people about old bottles that you can generally only find at auctions and for Good Spirits to get a bit of kudos for hosting the kind of tastings you can’t really go to anywhere else in Glasgow. The reality is that it was simply a good excuse to crack open a clutch of rather tasty old bottles. I wasn’t sure what to expect with quite a few of these once I’d put the line-up together but in the end I was pleasantly surprised. Here are some rambling and overlong tasting notes for your distraction and mildly informative amusement.
Haig Dimple. Spring Cap. 1950s. 70 proof.
Colour: Slightly orangey gold
Nose: Immediately pungent with notes of tyre inner tube, slightly stale camphor, tool boxes, old sheds and old copper coins. Typical old spring cap taint and OBE that is to be found in many of these old spring cap sealed blends from the 40s and 50s. Given a little time though there are some pleasant notes of hessian, hay, nice medicinal touches and a pretty old style phenolic character bubbling away underneath. One of those whiskies where you can feel there’s a delicious old dram in there, it’s just a bit buried by capsule taint and old bottle effect.
Palate: Less taint apparent in the palate; immediately there is a lot of peat, iron wool and various metallic notes but also resin, camphor and something pleasantly mineral. An old barn yard with a broken down Fergie tractor and tins of mysterious oils lying about the place. Very old style in its character and composition but also obviously quite a bit of OBE.
Finish: Very drying and spicy with some wood smoke, white pepper and more oil and mineral qualities. Medium length.
Comments: I really like these old blends from the 1950s and earlier where there was a considerably higher malt content than modern counterparts. After all these years in the glass the malt really shuts out the grain and gives you a great overall impression of the generic character of malt whisky in Scotland in the 1940s/50s. It’s just such a shame about the taint from the spring caps and the OBE, it really makes it kind of hard to score as you can feel there is a fantastic whisky just simmering away underneath. What’s also interesting is how for so long a lot of whisky aficionados raved about spring caps as the best type of capsule for preserving a bottle’s fill level. This may be true but after tasting quite a number of these bottles over the years I feel that corks are really the best for preserving the actual character of the whisky. Speaking of which…
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old. –
Stopper cork. Late 1930s (late King George V). No strength statement visible but probably 70/75 proof.
Colour: Light amber – an aged Sauternes.
Nose: Beautiful! This is quite a way from the Dimple. Bags of delicate phenols, resins, oils, wax, long aged yellow Chartreuse, light spices, some candied orange peel, camphor, little medicinal complexities, the list goes on… Just one of these perfectly preserved old, quite high malt content blends that shows little or no grain influence at all leaving you just an impression of a very old, pre-war style of malt whisky with a much bigger peat influence and much more pronounced balance between wood and distillery character. Goes on with notes of tea tree oil, aged cognac and dark rye bread.
Palate: There’s still bite and freshness about this even after nearly eighty years in the bottle. Lots of peat but it’s an older style, drier kind of peat, more on rootiness, herbal notes, camphor, minerals, wax and soot. A style that comes from more extensive use of floor maltings and deeper cut peat. Becomes more tarry as well with notes of gentian and Clacquesin (look it up!). Pure pleasure.
Finish: Good length, earthy, rooty and phenolic with all these little touches of wax, mead, hessian, tar and a lingering farmy quality.
Comments: An exemplary old blend from which the malt component really sings high and loud. Beautifully classy, old style and quite emotional considering this style of whisky is completely extinct in today’s industry. I think that when you can find these bottles with corks and decent fill levels then they can be a recipe for absolute drinking pleasure.
Glenordie 12 Year Old. 1980s. 75cl. 40%.
Nose: Straight away you get this beautiful and brilliant waxiness, lashings of minerals, stone fruits, slight coastal freshness, ripe pears, greengages and sandalwood. It’s a style which is very typically ‘old highlands’, quite close to nearby Clynelish from the same era and totally distillate driven; the wood in this one is very quiet. It’s not overly complex but the personality is big, direct and beautifully structured and poised. Becomes a little more buttery after a few minutes with notes of fresh herbs such as chives and parsley.
Palate: Good punch for 40% with more of a continuation of the nose than anything else. Lots of thick waxiness, slight phenolic notes, lemon skins, cereals, herbs, minerals, pebbles, little grassy notes, fresh brown bread, sunflower seeds, olive oil. Once again this is almost totally distillate driven, the wood has played a perfect supporting role but is in no way dominating, there’s just a wonderfully understated sweetness towards the back of the palate.
Finish: Not the longest but leaves a wonderful mix of waxes, breads, olive oil and mineral notes. Very refreshing and hugely drinkable.
Comments: A bottle of the old Ainslie & Heilbron Clynelish 12yo bottled around the same time as this one will set you back around £300-350 at auction; these bottles go for about £70-90 and are better whisky in my book. Although it is important to bear in mind that there were quite a few different batches under this label and not all are of the same quality. Old Glen Ord – distilled pre 1980 – is one of the real unsung treasures of whisky for me. I love this distillate driven style with huge personality in every part of the whisky, the fingerprints of the distillery are all over this one. It’s not a sexy style by any means and is probably an acquired taste for many, but it’s well worth seeking out as there are so few whiskies bottled these days that reflect this style.
(Would have been higher with a slightly longer finish)
Bruichladdich 1986 – 2001 15 Year Old.
Country Life. Oloroso Sherry Butt. Cask: 356. 800 bottles. 70cl. 46%.
Colour: Polished Copper
Nose: Immediately rich with dark fruits such as prunes, cognac soaked raisins and dates with lovely rising note of orange peel and a over-arcing saltiness. Beautifully clean sherry that really feels like it has come from a proper european oak sherry cask that has held proper Oloroso. Goes on with an elegant nuttiness like fresh hazelnuts and peanut brittle then notes of fresh, wild strawberries and brown bread. After a while some signature Bruichladdich green fruits begin to arise giving the whole thing a wider, slightly more complex profile. Very enjoyable.
Palate: Thick and syrupy at first with a big, stodgy sweetness of sherry up front which moves into a much more drying, slightly tannic profile towards the back of the palate with big notes of dark chocolate, all kinds of nuts, prunes, cocoa powder and nice biting spiciness from the wood. There’s not as much evidence of distillery character on the palate as on the nose but there is still a lean saline streak running through it which gives the overall impression of atlantic freshness. Becomes a little earthier with time and more herbal perhaps with a rich espresso note. Still mucho tasty.
Finish: Not too drying with good length and more lovely notes of nuts, cocoa, espresso and dark fruits, some maraschino cherries also.
Comments: A very satisfying dram, one I remember trying years ago not long after it had been released and liking it a lot. Trying it again I feel it’s better than I remember it. One of these great early bottlings of Bruichladdich by the new ownership team in 2001 that was later sort of overshadowed by the plethora of ‘stuff’ that got released. It’s worth remembering that this same batch of 1986 sherry casks went on to end up in Blacker Still so it’s interesting to try one of the batch at an earlier age. A very clean sherry cask that still holds pleasing glimmers of distillery character underneath and is overall highly quaffable.
Mortlach 10 Year Old.
Editor’s Nose. OB for Insider Magazine late 1990s. 70cl. 60.5%. A curious official bottling of Mortlach done for the 10th anniversary of Insider Magazine in the late 1990s.
Colour: Oaked Chardonnay
Nose: A not unexpected zing of alcohol at first sniffing, but despite this there is a very ‘Rare Malts’ feel to this. It’s immediately very austere and distillate driven with notes of pears, fabric, muesli, olive oil and touches of camphor. It really has something of this ‘United Distillers’ philosophy about it. A lot of the 1990s/early 2000s Manager’s Drams and Rare Malts really had a similar kind of oomhpy, very pure kind of profile that was heavily towards refill wood and distillery character. Lets add some water and see what gives… With water the glass quickly seems to overflow with minerals, citrus notes, more grassiness, more olive oil and some garden fruits.
Palate: Neat this is much in keeping with the nose: hot and austere. Very grassy, lean, mineral and quite punchy with an elegant natural sweetness about it like a vanilla laced honey. Slighty herbal and floral with a little more breathing and some very pleasant notes of cereal, buttered toast, fresh bread and sesame seeds. But generally this needs water… With water: herbal liqueurs, butter, caraway, lemon oil, green tea, green peppercorns, more muesli and cornbread.
Finish: Long, grassy, lemony and playful with little flashes of green fruits, buttered toast, mirabelle eau de vie and eucalyptus.
Comments: A big dram that needs to be wrestled to the floor a bit. The sort of whisky where you can have a lot of fun if you’ve got time and some water. There are probably about three or four different whiskies in a glass of this if you go drop by drop with the agua. There is pleasure to be had and the quality is high but it’s not an easy dram and it remained seemingly immovable in its austerity. A whisky for tories perhaps…?
Talisker 1989 – 1999 Friends Of The Classic Malts. 7000 bottles. 70cl. 59.3%.
Nose: It appears a pop-up kipper smokery has set up shop in this glass. Seriously kippers, whelks, seashore, fresh scallops, smoked mussels; basically a whole shellfish platter. Pretty typical Talisker with lots of pepper, huge coastal aspects and a wonderful undercurrent of rich, green fruitiness. Notes of seaweed, iodine, tcp, tar and various ointments. Hugely expressive even at cask strength. Very chiseled and sharp with a growing note of fresh lemon juice – you could do a great ceviche with this one – and thick tincture and mercurochrome notes. With water: it’s still lethally sharp with great poise and structure. The water does seem to merge the lemon juice notes with the medicine, pepper and peat though so that what you’re left with is perhaps even better balance and more immediate gluggability. Or a glass of Talisker 10 year old you might otherwise say.
Palate: A big lean slab of peat at first which quickly acquiesces to black pepper, lemon juice, smoke mackerel, tar liqueur (Clacquesin again – look it up), shore pebbles and more medical complexities. Pure, blade like, classic Talisker to be honest. With water: it’s fruitier with water, lemon juice becomes lemon oil and we get more little subtleties such as smoked tea, cereals, yet more tar, gentian eau de vie and a pleasing lick of white pepper. Once again we are left with a perfect glass of Talisker 10 year old.
Finish: Very long, focussing on minerals, citrus notes, pepper laced peat, tiny smoky notes, a kipper fanfare and more medicine. A toothbrush non-requirement whisky.
Comments: Basically a cask strength version of Talisker 10 year old, which is obviously nothing less than fab. Once again I do recall trying this one before quite a long time ago but I’m convinced it is better this time. Perhaps that is my perspective or time which has done that but I can’t help but feel the fact that this has now had over fifteen years in the bottle is a help. Cask strength peated whisky plus a good number of years in the glass seems to breed only complexity in my experience. Anyway, a very classic, delicious Talisker.
These types of old bottles are often found in our monthly auctions, so keep your eyes peeled and have a rummage.
If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!