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

May 9, 2020





Angus's Corner
From our Scottish correspondent
and skilled taster Angus MacRaild in Edinburgh
Closed Distilleries
There’s increasingly a lot of emotion tied up with these now familiar, and in many cases loved, names. It can complicate the process of tasting them as we increasingly involve memory, presumption and common shared experience.


However, I would also argue that the process of common intellectual recognition and cumulative consensus of opinion are an intrinsic part of reaching a deeper shared understanding and agreement about things like fine alcohol. It’s what has underpinned some of the most profoundly successful wines - and helped ‘de-throne’ others. While in whisky, it’s also what has helped us recognise the divergencies between ‘old style’ and ‘modernity’. A process which has only enriched our understanding of just how varied whisky can be.



However, it also makes tasting certain specific whiskies quite tricky sometimes. There is a perfect example in today’s line up: St Magdalene 1979 Rare Malts. As Serge mentioned in yesterday’s post, and as has been discussed in a few forums online recently, it’s a bottling which holds powerful sway over many folk who got seriously into whisky around the turn of the millennium. Indeed, I remember it was one of the first whiskies to get super high recognition when Johannes Van Den Heuvel (founder of Malt Maniacs and online whisky chatter in my view) scored it 97 points. There’s a common mystique built up around this bottling about it being a pinnacle of a very specific and certain style that you could perhaps most succinctly characterise as ‘whisky for nerds’. How much of that is to do with the rosy wash of nostalgia; the memory of simpler (cheaper?) times and the susceptibility of a ‘younger’ palate to being overwhelmed by a whisky of uncharacteristic power and depth of quality? As has been noticed and lamented by a few folk recently, including Serge, there are no notes for this whisky on Whiskyfun at the moment, so let’s remedy that today. But let’s work up to it with a few other silent still distillates…



Macallan-Glenlivet 35 yo 1938 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Pinerolo import)
As you all know, Macallan distillery sadly closed in 2018 ;) Colour: amber. Nose: it shares quite a lot with these bottlings of pre-war single malts (Glen Grant, Strathisla, Mortlach, Linkwood) that G&M were issuing like a discarded firehose in the 1980s. That is to say: coconut, dried exotic fruits, precious hardwood resins and long aged herbal liqueurs with a thready backbone of peat running between everything. However, here there feels like extra depth and fatness. You get waxes, putty, lime oils and highly glossy rancio thickness. Harmonious and, frankly, stunning! Mouth: fantastic power at 43%, that’s what so many of the bottlings by G&M from this era lack at their measly 40%. Here you get wood spices, mushroom soup, tarragon, heavy pipe tobaccos, leather, natural tar and herbal medicines. I would say though that the fruits seem to evolve away from the exotic and more towards crystallised citrus peel and dark stewed fruits such as dates, fig and sultana. Light notes of Dundee cake soaked in stout ale. There’s also vapour rubs, hessian, dried herbs and a rather fatter peatiness. Finish: long, leathery, waxy, many dried fruit notes, teas, herbs and medicines. Comments: As with many old bottles, these have long since built and kept their well-deserved reputations. This one shows freshness, power and complexity that I suspect are sustained by those extra three degrees of alcohol. Beautiful old, and ‘old style’ Scottish single malt that displays the kind of poetic elegance that unifies the very greatest aged spirits. A quiet library in a glass.
SGP: 653 - 93 points.



Rosebank 26 yo (48.5%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company ‘Batch 1’, 321 bottles)

Rosebank 26 yo (48.5%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company ‘Batch 1’, 321 bottles)
Is Rosebank still a closed distillery? I have to say, those folks at Ian MacLeod appear to have just gone and breathed new life into that lost lowlander without a single thought for poor Whiskyfun’s cataloguing system! Colour: gold. Nose: beautifully syrupy and honeyed with a whole punnet of green and sub-tropical fruits such as star fruit, green melon, lemon and golden syrup. Also soft herbal notes of verbena, dried parsley and tarragon. I find it beautifully inviting and ‘whole’, while giving the impression of being quite textural and layered. An extremely appetising nose. Mouth: the arrival is all on the warmth of white pepper, bay, tarragon, lime pith, sunflower oil and the lightest kiss of soot. There’s also a kind of waxed canvas and baking parchment vibe going on which adds weight and texture. Again this syrupyness and sense of runny honey and heather flowers feels nicely consistent with the nose. Some lemon jelly, putty, fragrant waxes, citronella and white flowers. Complex, elegant and yet with just the right amount of nibble and sway from the wood. Finish: medium, rather punchy, herbal, bitter lemon, quinine, herbal teas and hints of new leather. Comments: I love the tension between freshness and fruits from the distillate and pepperiness, warmth and bite from the wood. Holds your attention well and feels on the whole quite playful.
SGP: 651 - 90 points.



Rosebank 15 yo ‘Triple Distillation’ (58.2%, Glencara, 1990s)

Rosebank 15 yo ‘Triple Distillation’ (58.2%, Glencara, 1990s)
I don’t know much about this bottling, except to say that it’s pretty scarce and was bottled quite some time ago (not exactly the encyclopaedia Brittanica I know). There would also appear to be 12 and 14yo versions in existence that were matured in sherry casks. Hopefully one day I’ll manage to stumble across some samples of those. Colour: straw. Nose: raw barley and freshly squeezed lemon juice. You could also add fresh churned butter muddled with chopped chives and parsley. Pure, austere and rather ‘extremely’ lowland in style. As so often with Rosebank, I’m actually starting to be reminded of Daftmill. There’s also chalk, fragrant bath salts, meadow flowers laden with pollen and many shades of sandalwood and various fabrics. I find it pretty superb and very specific in style. With water: doubles down on plain, crisp cereals, lemon peel, butter, grass, hints of ointments, freshly chopped herbs and vitamin tablets in soda water. Mouth: citrus, chalk and petrol. Purity, precision and power. There’s also baking soda, crushed aspirin, sunflower seeds and mineral oil. Also wee things like oily sheep wool, struck flints, even saltiness. Treads that perfect line between charisma and austerity that really seems to be idiosyncratic to many lowlanders. I also haven’t mentioned this kind of massive grassiness that pervades everything, but there, I’ve said it now. With water: becomes beautifully fat and mustardy now. There’s a shred of waxiness too, you could almost think of a lighter version of Banff. Some dried banana chips, heather beer, salty pasta water and many wee tertiary complexities. Impressive stuff! Finish: long, dry, austere, chiselled and showing a rather brittle minerality with touches of white flowers, petrol and sandalwood. Comments: Quite a ride! This is serious, grown up and complicated malt whisky that falls on the fascinating side of austerity. I love this coy, almost evasive profile that commands your attention. Although, I would say it’s absolutely not whisky for beginners.
SGP: 352 - 91 points. 



Good, I think we’re ready…



St Magdalene 19 yo 1979/1998 (63.80%, OB, Rare Malts)

St Magdalene 19 yo 1979/1998 (63.80%, OB, Rare Malts)
Colour: deep gold. Nose: the word that always sprung to mind with this whisky for me was ‘petrol’, and that is still very much the case here. It’s also immediately clear that there is rather deep and challenging complexity about the nose. This petrolic, hyper-oily and mineral profile which evolves towards linseed oil, paraffin, waxed canvass, putty and various animal furs and fats. It’s this rather imposing brimming of oils, faint embrocations and brusque, flinty minerals which is so impressive. Definitely whisky for nerds! With water: develops this beautiful freshness that seems to straddle wet forest as well as coastal. This mix of undergrowth, wet moss, sea greens and myrtle. Still plenty of mechanical oils, canvass, ink, dried herbs and putty. Mouth: you can see why so many good whisky folk were transfixed by this whisky over the years. It is indeed a style of its own. Mechanical, yet also organic and close to its base materials. Petrolic, flinty, mineral and yet with these very subtle honeyed and glazed fruit notes. Has the fatness of an oil slick in the mouth. With water: wider and slightly easier and more generous. Picks up all these tiny wee candied fruit peel notes, along with waxes, putty, lemon infused olive oil, eucalyptus and lanolin. What I find amazing is that despite all these various tertiary tangents, it never looses sight of its raw materials. There’s always this natural malty richness underpinning everything. Finish: very long and plainly fatty now. Bacon fat, white flowers, chalk, mineral oil, aspirin, white pepper and this wonderfully thick, residual oiliness of texture. Comments: It remains an unequivocally superb whisky. However, I think its technical brilliance is probably a few edges sharper than its pure pleasure factor. It’s true that it is probably at its most enjoyable when being discussed amongst true whisky fanatics round a table late in the evening. And it is very much the kind of whisky that you really could spend two years and a whole bottle getting to know. For me though, I don’t think it’s quite in the upper echelons of brilliance where some folk place it, but I understand why they do.
SGP: 462 - 93 points. 



Time for a break I think. Maybe an old episode or two of Doctor Who…



Lochside 37 yo 1981/2019 (48.6%, The Auld Alliance)

Lochside 37 yo 1981/2019 (48.6%, The Auld Alliance)
Colour: amber. Nose: a lovely mix of old copper coins with many dark fruit preserves, apricot jams and linseed oil. In time it becomes much earthier and full of tobaccos, salted dark chocolate, miso and wee bundles of dried herbs. Some mushroomy notes too. Really a big pot of bouillon and meat broths with added preserved fruits. Mouth: here the ‘Lochside’ fruits really come to the fore. By which I mean much more exotic fruit characteristics, dried tropical fruits, green banana, papaya and mango. All wrapped up with cocoa, hessian, tobacco, camphor and muesli studded with sultanas and chopped dark fruits. Luminous and very attractive, if not the most powerful or complex old Lochside ever. Finish: good length, full of bitter lemon, dark chocolate, dried herbs, wee cured meaty notes and more of these preserved exotic fruits and tobaccos. Comments: terrific and at times genuinely beautiful. It’s perhaps just a couple of years too old and starting to lose a little oomph here and there. Still, it’s retained a wonderfully clear distillery character.
SGP: 651 - 89 points.



Convalmore 30 yo 1962/1993 (46.5%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection)

Convalmore-Glenlivet 30 yo 1962/1993 (46.5%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection)
Colour: gold. Nose: it’s really one of these ones that almost scratches you with hessian cloth and other rather industrial fabrics. Some rather scented notes of pine resin, fir cones and a textural blob of furniture polish and beeswax. Almost takes this very old school kind of profile to extremes. Although, given time, there is some balance provided by crystallised fruits, quince jelly and things like rosewater and Turkish delight. Quite immense and very direct. Mouth: you still have this very textural feel of waxes, puttys, orange oils, camphor and linseed oil. Despite the modest abv the impression is one of distillate power and force of personality. The kind of whisky that simply does not exist today. More clay, putty, cough medicines, anthracite and bitter herbal extracts. The epitome of old highland style in my book; close to old Clynelish absent the more coastal inclusions. Finish: long, leathery, herbal, syrupy and pleasantly warming. More of these piney and beeswax polish notes. Comments: A style of distillate that could shine at 5 or 35 years of age provided some suitably restrained wood. Everyone should try this kind of whisky if they can, it’s really an extinct but very beautiful and quite profound style.
SGP: 572 - 93 points.



Millburn 35 yo 1969/2005 (51.2%, OB, Rare Malts)

Millburn 35 yo 1969/2005 (51.2%, OB, Rare Malts)
One of the latter day glories from that just absolutely wonderful Rare Malts series. However, while the St Magdalene 1979 is often lauded as one of the series’s great triumphs, I think this Millburn remains of its hidden gems. However, I never wrote proper notes, so lets officially double check that proposition… Colour: deep gold. Nose: like someone just unfurled a hessian quilt in a dunnage warehouse. One of these sublimely old school aromas that unspools you enough deceptive rope (organoleptically literally in this case) before reeling you in on a wave of camphor, natural tar, wood embers, precious hardwood resins, pine cones, vapour rubs and wonderful notes of spiced fruit preserves, dried figs, sultana and quince jelly. The nose quivers with this sense of texture you could stand a spoon in. With water: stunning development, all on exotic spiced teas, complex waxiness, earthy notes, tobacco, old leather and bitter orange marmalade. Mouth: Millburn often gets lumped together with the whackier flights of fancy from its sibling Invernetians: Glen Albyn and Glen Mhor. However, I think these older (pre-1975) examples really belong more to some kind of Glen Ord / Clynelish ‘highland triangle’. This is swollen with wax, herbs, hessian, sandalwood, fruit jellies, dried mango chunks, pollen and the most wonderful, complex wood spice - almost incense! Just beautiful. With water: now it moves more towards all these wonderful preserved fruit and jam notes. Apricot, quince, yellow plums and spiced apple. Still retains this wonderfully broad and sinewed ‘highland’ style fatness of texture. Finish: long, waxy, slightly drying and revealing a touch of mineral-flecked austerity. More wood resins, teas and spices. Comments: Totally stellar whisky. It’s a world away from the St Magdalene, but what comes to mind is that, while the St Mag has the edge in terms of technical brilliance, there’s perhaps more ‘obvious’ and easy pleasure to be had here. Anyway, who cares! What a gorgeous old Millburn.
SGP: 562 - 92 points.



I have more samples from closed distilleries to taste, but we’ll get to them next time.



Big virtual hugs to Edward, Jon and Dave and Sam.










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