Last week I used the fact I turned 30 this year as a thinly veiled excuse to open a silly amount of old bottles I’d been stashing away these past few years with all my whisky pals. The brief was pretty simple, everyone turn up to the great Dornoch Castle Hotel for a few days and we’ll methodically open and taste the lot of them. This we did with much passion and vigour. Needless to say we had a lot of fun. So, over the next few weeks for purposes of fun and posterity, I’ll post my notes for all the bottles we opened and shared in the order they were tasted. First up:
Grant’s Strandfast. Bottled 1930s. 70 proof.
This is most likely a high malt content blend and was the ‘house brand’ for William Grants for quite a number of decades.
Nose: It’s worth pointing out that the level on this bottle was totally perfect, just around the middle of the neck and the cork was aged but in very good condition. No wonder then that it is immediately so fresh but also classically pre-war in style. A beautiful and elegant mix of all kinds of fried herbs, waxes, shoe polish, minerals, steel wool, wood spice, old Chartreuse Juane and the lightest of phenols. Not too peaty this one. Goes on with tiny dancing notes of tincture, wood sap and hessian and resin. Beautiful.
Palate: The strength is light but the attack is good and rich with wonderful tertiary notes of forest flora, earth, leaves, some soot, various oils and waxes, more herbal notes of old herb liqueurs, green tea, some lemon oils and noticeably more peat now. Great thickness and presence in the mouth. This share many obvious similarities with quite a few other old 1930s era blends but is quite a bit more complex than most others. Goes on with a little green fruit, some delicate, dusty old phenols and a little paraffin.
Finish: Soft, waxy and herbal. Really delicious and in sync with the nose and palate if not the longest.
Comments: Emotional and genuinely beautiful stuff. If this had been bottled with even just three more degrees of alcohol it could easily have been up to 92-93 for me. As it is it’s still a solid…
Grant’s Liqueur Scotch Whisky. Early 1930s.
No mention of blending on the label (although there were none on the Standfast either) and no statements of strength. The capsule, bottle and label suggest a slightly earlier bottling and more a expensive one. This could possibly be a straight vatting of Glenfiddich and Balvenie, lets see…
Colour: Gold, quite identical to the Stand Fast.
Nose: This shares quite a bit of DNA with the Stand Fast but feels also immediately richer and more punchy. Some bigger and more assertive notes of wool, hessian, wax and caraway with something a bit tarry underneath. Some top notch olive oil, brown bread, butter and ripe green fruits. The nose feels kind of simultaneously fat and delicate – like a sumo wrestler with a hangover.
Palate: Oily and full of herbs, earth, tinned fruit syrups, wax, hessian and camphor. I feel this is possibly still a blend but if it is the grain is almost silent after so many decades under the weight of all that big, fat malt. Juicy cereal notes, more oils and waxes, more buttery, herbal notes – engages the whole palate gently but firmly. A farmyard quality arises after a little time along with more spices and notes of stewed apples.
Finish: Longer than the Stand Fast with a green fruit and grassy note alongside all these usual characters of wax, oil and spice.
Comments: Another beautiful old high malt content blend. Probably quite an expensive bottling back in the day and also probably around 70 proof much like the Stand Fast. The two share a lot of real similarities, it’s just a shame that the level on the Liqueur was fair bit lower when opened compared to the Stand Fast, if they had both been in the neck it would have been even more intriguing. Still, two totally beautiful, highly emotional ancient bottlings.
Old Angus. 1930s.
I was looking for one of these for quite a few years and finally found a bottle last year that had a good level just a whisper above the base of the neck. Once again no statement of strength on the label.
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: POW! Totally stunning peat. Really just a wonderful mix of iodine, peat oils, tar, embrocations, seashore, little drizzles of lemon juice and pebbles. This could be an old Lagavulin White Horse or 1960s Caol Ila, seriously! When we opened this everyone remarked about the peat but this has opened up tremendously. Not a shred of grain on the nose anywhere, just light citrus and green fruits wrapped up in a whole bag of stunning, old style peat aromas. Glorious.
Palate: Snap. More of this wonderful peat character, very in sync with the nose. Medical complexities, peat sap (is that a thing), tar, rope, old kreel nets, smoked kippers smothered in lemon juice, some smoked grains and plenty camphor and hessian. A mouthful of Ardbeg’s dunnage warehouse from the 1950s. It’s just an endless cavalcade of all these various flavours and characters in all kinds of continuous combinations and varying degrees of intensity. Great poise in the mouth, never overpowering, always elegant and well structured.
Finish: Long long long (as George Harrison said), beautiful mineral, ashy peat oils and smoke. Kippery, tarry, medicinal and lightly fruity. Just delicious.
Comments: I will now drive myself mad attempting to work out what malts went into this. Lets just say an equal vatting of 1920s Malt Mill and Laphroaig and leave it at that. Of course if could quite easily be Highland Park or Talisker or any number of old, long closed Campbeltown distilleries. Were they using cheap brands like Old Angus to dump excess Campbeltown stock into in those days? We’ll probably never know. On the rear label it says ‘A noble Scotch. Gentle as a Lamb’, I’ll not argue with that. Although it’s not like any Angus I’ve ever met. If I didn’t know the provenance of this bottle and someone poured it to me and told me it had been refilled with an old Lagavulin White Horse I wouldn’t have even blinked, not a shred of grain in sight, no doubt comprehensively slaughtered by all that peated malt inside the bottle over all these decades.
Stay tuned for Angus’s Birthday Bash Bottles – Part 2. In the meantime If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy these:
• Old & Rare Whisky Tasting at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society
• Good Spirits Whisky Tasting – Hosted By Whisky-Online Auctions
• Dornach Castle Hotel Welcomes all Whisky Enthusiasts!