Category Archives: whisky Shop

Crabbie 30 Year Old Single Malt

The name of Crabbie has remained famous throughout its long history in the Scottish drinks trade but latterly only for the company’s peerless Green Ginger Wine, an essential ingredient in the Whisky Mac cocktail, and more recently for a successful alcoholic ginger beer.

This was not always the case.  The Crabbie company can trace its roots back to 1801, when Millar Crabbie first established an upholstering company in Edinburgh. Millar Crabbie soon switched to grocery and from there to import and export of spices, blending and distribution of cordials and eventually, under the control of Millar’s son, John Crabbie, blending whisky.

The company flourished and by the middle of the 19th century had acquired extensive warehousing and bonded premises in Leith and the Haddington distillery in East Lothian which produced grain spirit for the company’s products until the middle of the 1860s.  Subsequently, in the 1880s, Crabbie was involved in the foundation of the North British grain distillery alongside Andrew Usher and William Sanderson, and became the first chairman of the board.

Crabbie 12-year-old from around the fifties

The Crabbie company continued producing blended whiskies throughout the 20th century but its fortunes dwindled following its acquisition by Diageo forerunner Distillers Company Limited in the 1960s. Production of the company’s own brand whiskies ceased in the 1970s and the Crabbie brand was sold in the 1980s to MacDonald and Muir, owners of the Highland Queen blend and Glenmorangie distillery.  

Halewood International acquired Crabbie in 2007 and set about reviving the brand, first with the previously-mentioned ginger beer. The new owners have ambitious plans for Crabbie, last year announcing a proposed new Edinburgh micro-distillery to produce both gin and whisky.

In the meantime, to continue the brand’s renaissance Crabbie have introduced two new sourced whiskies, an 8 year old Highland dram and a single cask 30 year old Speyside single malt bottled at natural strength from a refill Oloroso sherry butt.  Just 330 bottles of the 30 year old have been released for the UK, but luckily we’ve managed to secure a small parcel of stock, and of course we had to try it. Here’s our tasting notes:

Crabbie 30 Year Old Single Speyside Malt, 48.6%

Nose: A symphony of oak and fruit straight off the bat: the kind of really, really classy polished old wood and hints of raisins and cooked apples that lets you know straight away that this is a great whisky. There’s pretty much everything you’d want: autumn leaves, damson jam, sponge cake and a wonderfully floral edge of orange blossom and honeysuckle. Develops more on patisserie with fruit cookies, then fine milk chocolate, coffee ice cream and roast hazelnuts. The integration and balance are absolutely fantastic, nothing dominating, everything intertwined.

Palate: Medium-full in weight but very full flavours. Big but not overpowering oak attack initially, then hints of marmalade. A flash of dusty bookshelves, faint bonfire smoke, then fruit buns, burnt raisins on the edge of a fruit cake, apple pie, icing sugar, chocolate again, dried figs – absolutely textbook refill sherry. The balance is very good and water isn’t really necessary, but a very small drop lifts a tinned fruit syrup flavour. Gets more nutty with time in the glass.

Finish: Warming and very good length. Cinnamon bark, malt loaf, fruit leather and cracked black pepper on a slow fade.

Comment: Majestic stuff.  This nigh-on perfect refill sherry cask is the epitome of an autumnal whisky, begging for a comfy chair and a fireplace – it’s really got the long-matured, oak-reactive X factor that only a long time in a cask can bestow. There are big, soft-edged tannins and it’s quite warm on first tasting at full strength but the fruit always wins out and the oak is finely-poised but never too dusty or bitter. Just fantastic whisky.

Although we can’t reveal which distillery Crabbie 30 year old is from, we can promise that if the distillery name was on the bottle it’d be cheap at five times the price of this bottling, which is available for £500 here. We suspect there could be a rush on this product once word gets out, so don’t hang around if you want one!

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A Brief History of Connoisseurs Choice

You might already be aware that independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail has just announced a revamp of their ranges, with their Connoisseurs Choice line getting a smart new facelift.  What better excuse for a quick trawl through some of the bottlings in this historic series?

The original Connoisseurs Choice range was the brainchild of George Urquhart and was first introduced in 1968, so 2018 is the fiftieth anniversary of the range. The first CC bottlings had a simple black label featuring a golden eagle or a barrel.  These whiskies, some of which are the first known bottlings from their distilleries, are very highly sought after now and command very high prices. We have several of these legendary bottlings, including this 1963 Glenugie and one of the most famous Gordon & Macphail bottlings, Mortlach 1936 43 year old.

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The fabulous Mortlach 1936 43 year old

The black Connoisseurs Choice labels were replaced around the turn of the 1980s by a short-lived label utilising various shades of brown.  These labels are less rare than the black ones but are still very desirable as they include some of the greatest ever bottlings under the Connoisseurs Choice name, with gems from many now-lost distilleries such as Lochside, St. Magdalene and one of the rarest single malts of all: Kinclaith.

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A true unicorn whisky: Kinclaith 1966

The brown labels were themselves replaced by what is known among collectors as the Map Label.  These bottlings began around 1988 with cream labels and a thumbnail map of the relevant region in the centre – good examples include a series of Ardbegs from the classic 1974 vintage.

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…And even older vintages such as this incredible Ardbeg 1964…

The Map Label was tweaked in 1996 with a colour-coded background label for each region, and redesigned again in 2008, with a return to cream labels with colour-coded banding and the map in the top right of the label.  The previous year, 2007, had seen the standard bottling strength for Connoisseurs Choice increased to 43% from its previous regulation 40%.

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The classic 1996-era map label on a famous Brora 1972 bottling

More changes were to follow: in 2012 the range got another revamp, with embossed G&M bottles, another label tweak and, most significantly of all, another bump in the standard bottling strength to 46% and the dropping of chill-filtration and caramel colouring, delighting the range’s millions of fans.

 

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The post-2012 version of the map label

This 50th Anniversary upgrade is a big new step in the evolution of Scotland’s most long-lived and iconic independent bottling series, with the final departure of the map from the label, a very handsome new bespoke short-necked bottle and the introduction of cask strength bottlings into the Connoisseurs Choice range.  You can check out all our G&M Connoisseurs Choice bottlings, past and present, including a great selection from the new out-turn here.

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Clynelish 2005 from the new Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength range
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Macallan 18 Year Olds – Tasting Notes

Following on from our triumphant appearance at Old & Rare Whisky Show in Glasgow, we thought it’d be a good idea to publish some tasting notes on some of the whiskies we had on offer at the Show, so that those of you who couldn’t make it can get an (online) taste of what you missed.

First up is a trio of Macallan 18 year olds from different eras. We’ve got a recent Macallan Fine Oak 18 year old, then a 1982 18 year old bottled at the turn of the century and a 1973 18 year old bottled in 1991.

 

Macallan 18 Year Old Fine Oak Edition – often regarded as the best of the bunch from the Fine Oak series, which was met with, shall we say, a mixed response from whisky fans when they first appeared in 2004. The negativity at the time was a reaction against the fact that the Macallan had abandoned its previous principle of only releasing single malt from sherry casks, blending the Fine Oak range with both bourbon and sherry cask-matured spirit. However, let’s let the whisky speak for itself.

Nose: Biscuity initially, with polished wood notes and some honeyed porridge. Classic lighter Speyside character. Develops older ‘church pew’ aromas, apple peelings and hard icing sugar with time in the glass but overall this is quite a restrained nose.

Palate: Mediumweight, with a slightly hot mouthfeel. Classic toasted barley notes and well-integrated flavours from the nose, particularly the apple note. Flapjacks, dry Weetabix, then a cooked lemon sour note.

Finish: Medium length, drying. Tart apples. A little warm but quite gentle nonetheless.

Comments: Fascinating to taste more distillate-driven Macallan, and this is textbook Speyside, but while considered in isolation it’s a perfectly decent whisky, it’s also easy to see why the sherryhead hardcore Macallan fans wanted nothing to do with it. It’s an elegant whisky but lacking in what was considered the Macallan character at the time.

Macallan 1982 18 Year Old – Bottled in 2000 and originally sold at a retail price around £40, although auction prices are now well north of £1000.  1982 is of course the vintage of the famous Gran Reserva bottlings from the early 2000s that were a huge factor in the Macallan boom. Bottled from 100% sherrywood, naturally – the Fine Oak range was a good few years away when this bottling came out.

Nose: Wow, this is definitely more what you expect from Macallan (or at least what you used to expect). Really glorious sherry profile, sweet wood and dried fruits – mixed peel, prunes, dates, dried figs, treacle, cooked raisins, stewed apples. It’s the subtle, perfectly-balanced old oak notes that really kick this up into classic territory, though. One of those achingly gorgeous noses it seems almost a pity to destroy by actually drinking the whisky.

Palate: Medium-full but powerfully flavoured. Yes, this is exactly what you want it to be. All the fruity Dundee cake flavours from the nose, plus the supporting foundation of polished old bookcases. The difference is that the wood is more prominent here, a constant note rather than flitting in and out as on the nose, adding cinnamon and dusty vanilla notes to the swirling dried fruit palate. You’d never call this too oaky though.

Finish: Good length for the relatively light weight. Cooked oranges, cloves, fading cinnamon.

Comments: Absolutely wonderful. One weeps to think that this could be had for £240 a case. Certainly one of the first stops on my (sadly imaginary) Time Machine Supermarket Sweep.

Macallan 1973 18 Year Old – Released in 1991, when whisky was just something you bought and drank rather than collected or invested in, this is sherry-matured Macallan from the distillery’s golden era. This is a fascinating chance to try a relatively younger version of the spirit that would cause such a storm when bottled as a 25 or 30 year old in the late 1990s and early 2000s and was one of the major contributors to the worldwide explosion of  interest in single malt whisky. Auction prices for this bottle are creeping up towards £1500 now.

Nose: Still very sherry-dominated, obviously, but right from the start it’s clear that this is a very different beast to the 1982.  There are many of the same elements, but it’s bolder and with big differences in emphasis. Very upfront burnt raisins, dark toffee, rich marmalade, a little rum fudge, faint (acceptable) sulphur, Christmas pudding, orange liqueur, malt loaf, burnt gingerbread.

Palate: Medium-full. Mouthwatering sweet sherry oak, and for that reason it’s closer to the 1982 than the nose, but there’s still the same big differences in emphasis. The raisins, marmalade and Christmas pud steal the show, but there’s also cocoa powder, rum’n’raisin fudge and orange liqueur.

Finish: Great length for the strength. The intensity of the flavours fades very slowly, leaving the tongue tingling.

Comments: Where the 1982 was exquisite, balanced and elegant this is mostly all about knockout sensuality, with some hidden depths. It’s Audrey Hepburn vs. Rita Hayworth, Monet vs. Picasso. A fabulously expressive whisky.

 

A fascinating mini-flight, and it’s very tough pick a favourite. Macallan 18yo was always sold as a classic after-dinner malt and if I’d just put away a big steak in a nice restaurant I’d be going for the 1973.  Reading a book or staring into the fire on a winter’s evening, though, it’d be the 1982 every time for me. In such exalted company the Fine Oak doesn’t get much of a look-in, but that’s to be expected and it’s a perfectly drinkable whisky in its own right.

Hope you enjoyed our tasting notes – stay tuned to the blog, we’ll have more updates very soon.

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Whisky-Online Exclusive | Ardmore 1993-2015 Tasting Notes

 

A while back we figured it was high time that Whisky Online had another bespoke bottling done. After much dallying about we went to see the good folks at G&M. A week later four cask samples arrived then a couple of months after that this rather delicious bottling of Ardmore arrived. So, without much further ado here’s Angus’s tasting notes for it.

The Whisky-Online Exclusive bottles are up for sale in the shop right now, £100 a pop, when they’re gone they’re gone.

Ardmore 1993 – 2015 22 Year Old. Gordon & MacPhail Whisky-Online Exclusive. Cask number 5750 a Refill Bourbon Barrel. One of 176 bottles. 70cl. 49.9%.

Colour: Gold

Nose: It is quite immediately Ardmore which I love, this wonderful mix of limestone, gravel, clay and minerals with a very delicate ashy peat and slightly drying phenolic tones – reminiscent of a gentler, latter 1970s Ardbeg. Behind all that there’s lemon skins, citrons, dried herbs, muesli and gorse. This is the perfect kind of wood presence to my nose: shy and retiring with quite a structured and complete feeling of maturity that gives a loud voice to the distillery character. With water… oh nice, white flowers, beeswax and honey on buttery brown toast. All these lovely notes of sunflower seeds, sorrel and more mineral aspects. Just great.

Palate: A tang of wood sap at first gives way to some beautiful and quite elegant tropical fruit syrups – more fruity than your average Ardmore I’d say – then sandalwood, coastal notes of tar, salted liquorice and little touches of gentian. Further notes of orange bitters, greengages, delicate peat oils and more slightly ashy mineral notes. The mouth is almost perfect at this cask strength but lets add some water anyway… it becomes almost bigger with water, the peat and phenols are magnified and almost medicinal now, sort of at the expense of the fruit but it’s no less beautiful for it.

Finish: Long and warm, full of briny, ashy, citrusy, mineral and phenolic qualities. Leaves a big tingle all round the mouth. Quite brazenly Ardmore – which I totally love.

Comments: Not much to say, I love the balance of fruit and peat along with all the other tertiary aromas. I love the fact that the cask plays a perfect supporting role to the shining distillate and I love the fact that it is very much an Ardmore. Really delicious, and a strong swimmer to boot.

Score: 91/100

Whisky-Online Exclusive Ardmore

 

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Glenfarclas Family Casks new 2015 batch

The Glenfarclas Family Casks are always very welcome additions to the shop but on this occasion we’ve put together a rather tantalising selection of almost every vintage from 1963 to 1999 including many releases from the new Spring 2015 batch. As you’d expect there are loads of interesting and juicy casks to choose from. Some of our favourites are the more left-feild choices such as the curiously light 1965, the 1973 from a ‘plain butt’ at a naturally low cask strength of 41.6% and the two 1990 cask from refill sherry butts. Given the age and quality of many of these casks we think they represent great value for money in today’s market for anyone looking for serious, top quality aged malt whiskies. So don’t hang around if you want one…

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