Google Malt Mill for Christmas Eve

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

December 24, 2018


Six-hand tasting
Malt Mill for Christmas Eve

By Angus, Emmanuel and Serge.

Malt Mill did not always possess the kind of iconography and ultra-cultism that it does today. Indeed, for a good few decades after it closed it was a rapidly vanishing footnote in the hefty shadow of Lagavulin. However, the upswing of interest in single malt whiskies of the 1990s, the rise of the internet and the way it proliferated knowledge and interest in malt whiskies; and in particular Andrew Jefford’s book Peat Smoke And Spirit which discussed Malt Mill in some depth, all helped elevate the name of this elusive malt. 


<< When Lagavulin was sporting two chimneys...

It is commonly said to have been founded in 1908 after an acrimonious fallout between Peter Mackie and the owners of Laphroaig. This led to Mackie losing the license for Laphroaig and so, in characteristic ‘single bloody minded’ fashion, he decided to make his own Laphroaig at Lagavulin. Oral history records that - as you might assume - he didn’t succeed. However, the resultant whisky was said to be notoriously heavy and intensely peaty. It functioned quite happily churning out distillate for blends such as White Horse, Mackie’s Ancient Brand and Logan’s until 1960 when it was dismantled. The general trend of the time was for less peat character and overall lighter styles in the blends, as evidenced elsewhere by Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain switching to unpeated makes in 1960 and 1963 respectively. Some reports state it ceased production in 1962, however this refers to fillings labelled as ‘Malt Mill’ but which were actually distilled at Lagavulin - into which the Malt Mill equipment and stills had been incorporated. So the flask of new make at Lagavulin stating ‘Malt Mill last filling June 1962’ is technically Lagavulin, and any true Malt Mill should be from 1960 or earlier. 

Malt Mill's last 'filling' (at Lagavulin Distillery) >>


<< Casks of Malt Mill being loaded onto the famous puffer 'Pibroch' in the very early 1960s. Screen capture from a wonderful documentary by the Scottish Television.

It’s not surprising that the name has garnered such fascination. Its story is elusive. It’s an Islay whisky. The legend of its massive peatiness is painfully intriguing to whisky nerds of all shades. And on top of all that it has proved frustratingly persistent in not appearing in any authenticated bottlings and no casks have surfaced. Its legend was sufficient for it to be chosen for inclusion in Ken Loach’s film The Angel’s Share, co-starring Charlie MacLean as whisky expert Rory MacAllister (who’s 100% the real Charlie, actually). Perhaps what really is surprising is that almost no cask samples or anything have ever shown up. Almost... 

part des anges
French (of course) film poster for Ken Loach's movie The Angel's Share, by famous Alsatian compatriot Tomi Ungerer. >>

The one bottling that has surfaced from time to time in discussions about Malt Mill is the James MacArthur 10 year old miniature purportedly from a sample bottle found on Islay distilled in 1959 and drawn in 1969. It was sometimes dismissed as a fake; however, if you know the history of James MacArthur and their links with the UK Mini Bottle Club then it makes sense.

They would often decant other companies’ bottlings of elusive names such as Killyloch in order to have a set of minis from all these distilleries within their range. So a lab sample was said to be found on Islay in the early 1990s by miniatures collector Mike Barbakoff, naturally during a discussion with an ex-Lagavulin Distillery worker in a pub in Bowmore. That sample bottle was then tasted with another famous mini collector and friend, Alex Barclay (who’s the President of the Mini Bottle Club by the way), and then brought to usual bottling partners James MacArthur, who reduced it to 46% vol. and decanted it into only four miniatures for the Club, of which only a couple have surfaced at auction over recent years. It is said that those four minis have actually never been sold outside the board of the Club.

Peter Mackie
Sir Peter Mackie >>

But are they really genuine? The story from today back to that famous meeting in that pub in Bowmore sure is, but was it really Malt Mill in that sample bottle? No way to know for certain, but naturally, we deeply hope, and would actually believe it’s the real deal, even more so since this very bottle that we’ll try today seems to stem from Alex Barclay’s own collection that got auctioned earlier this year. And what’s sure is that no other non-fictional bottle, however big or small, ever came closer to being ‘the real deal’, not even Mackie's Ancient Scotch that's said to be a blend even if it doesn't say so on the label (whereas Mackie's Ancient Brand does). Until another old sample bottle is found in the family estate of an old Ileach, that is, who knows!

Let’s add that the only reason we’re able to try this is thanks to our great friend Emmanuel who was kind enough to crack one of these elusive minis open. For ‘research’ purposes. Needless to say, big thanks Manu! 

Malt Mill 10 yo 1959/1969-1995 (46%, James MacArthur, Fine Malt Selection, 5cl)

And with that, let us try that  extremely rare little ‘Malt Mill’ that got the whole whisky community very excited earlier this year… As well as in 2012, when Ken Loach’s film came out.

Malt Mill 10 yo 1959/1969-+/-1995 (46%, James MacArthur, Fine Malt Selection, 5cl) Five stars
Colour: straw. Nose: starts with a very fat and grassy peatiness, with touches of powdered parma violets, medical tinctures and sea salt, which reminds Emmanuel of the famous Bowmore 18 yo pear shape. We’re also finding notes of celery stalk, floated wood and preserved lemons. Angus also notices beach pebbles, bath salts and miso soup, while Emmanuel would add flints and myself, some moss and fern.

Mouth: feels stronger than 46% vol, and it might well be stronger indeed. Starts with cigarette ashes and potash, as well as a feeling of salted grapefruit and tequila joven, while it would remain clean and herbal all along. Angus says it’s got a raw herbal liqueurish character, reminiscent of the old-iodine pre-tropical fruit style of Islay whiskies, so rather raw, austere and brutal. It fits the anecdotal character of Malt Mill as based on historical records, that is to say an uncomplicated and raw malt. Angus would even add that it’s the best Malt Mill he ever tasted – a little joke that both Emmanuel and I found very funny. Quite. Not. What’s sure is that the whisky tended to become saltier and brinier by the minute. Finish: long, salty, with more acidic citrus and an almost Ardbeggian profile at this point. Bitter almonds in the aftertaste, as well as a little fennel.

Back label

Comments: clearly better than expected, according to the three of us, and certainly not the exotic side of Islay whisky. It started more like a grassier Laphroaig and then got a little tarrier, so more Lagavulin. But it did have its own style, it’s not a ‘copy’ of another distillery, even if Angus thought it was a tad reminiscent of old Caol Ila (1968 Intertrade, adds Emmanuel, but without sherry). I for one found it rather dry, quite farmy, rural and definitely rustic, with obvious echoes of Mackie’s Ancient Brand/Scotch, that old blend that used to shelter a lot of Malt Mill. 
SGP:367 – 91 points (Angus 91, Emmanuel 91, Serge 90).

With heartfelt thanks to Emmanuel Dron (and, indirectly, to Alex Barclay and Mike Barbakoff from the UK Mini Bottle Club, and to Arthur Winning of James MacArthur).


<< Some last comment by Rory ‘Charlie’ MacAllister:








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