Occasionally I get the chance to try some whiskies from a long time ago, back when I was wee. Sometimes I create these occasions for myself by buying a sample or a dusty bottle in a shop or an auction.
Of course, these are a bit of a gamble since it mostly is a standard bottling from a distillery that has been around for a while. There is a chance the whisky is going to be utterly boring because, for example, in the 1980 the trend was very light whisky. You never know!
What you do know is that it’s going to be different. Yeast strains have changed, barley varieties have changed. Probably some equipment in the process has been replaced in the last 25+ years. All things that influence the final spirit, even if some tour guides want you to believe it doesn’t matter at all.
Balblair 5 years old Single Malt, 1980s, 40% (750ml)
Upon opening the bottle I noticed a whiff of OBE (Old Bottle Effect) which makes it a bit heavier than expected. Lots of old grains on the nose with a crisp edge of fresh grass. Slightly waxy with a touch of pastry, salt and vanilla. The palate is a bit more intense with hints of ethanol. For a five years old is more mature on the palate than you’d think. Some oak, grain and spices. There’s vanilla and something crisp again and minerals. The finish is quite full with warm fruit and some caramel, chocolate milk (where does this come from all of a sudden?). Some grain, some oak.
This, honestly, is a surprisingly good whisky. I didn’t have (m)any expectations when I bought this but for the couple of tenners it set me back, I quite enjoyed it! Also, what this reminds me of is the new Wolfburn whisky. Some regional consistency right there!
Knockando 1976-1990, 40%, ‘By Justerini & Brooks’
You know, Justerini & Brooks that abbreviates to J&B, that massive brand of blended whiskies.
Knockando is not a whisky I review often, and which I barely ever drink. Contrary to Balblair for the previous one. Somehow there’s not much output going to single malts, and even less to independent bottlers. But, honestly, the ones I have had weren’t that interesting.
On the nose it’s quite thin to begin with. Watery with light vanilla, some barley and a very light whiff of spices. After that I get a hint of leather, cocoa and something dusty. The palate is smooth but has a bit more bite than the nose. Barley, with husks, some oak and a bit of vanilla. Spices, in an old fashioned way, but not ‘old’. The finish is slightly drier and smooth. Grain, oak, some white pepper. Rather classical and rather long.
Well, even though it’s from 1976, which is a magical year for many whiskies, this one is just rather boring. More gimmicky than good, to try a twenty-seven year old bottle…
Longmorn 1976-1994, Scotch Malt Whisky Society (7.13), 17 years old, 59.1%
Another 1976 whisky, from a distillery for which that year was a magical one. A lot of 1976 Longmorn is ridiculously good, but most of those are bottled fairly recently. This one is a LOT younger than that, since it was bottled 23 years ago. Surprisingly, if my guess means anything this comes from a bourbon barrel. Most of the single casks from that year are sherry casks.
I now realize that 1994 was 23 years ago and I am really getting old.
On the nose it’s very old fashioned with lots of oak and a very heavy spirit. Very sharp, with overripe fruits, grilled pineapple and the charcoal like scents of a bonfire. Dusty cocoa powder. The palate is very dry and very sharp, with lots of chocolate, dusty cocoa and tropical fruit. Pork crackling, dryness and alcohol heat. The finish continues the sharpness and shows oak, chocolate, bacon and fruit.
This is a belter. A showcase to why trying these oldies is ridiculously interesting, or at least can be. What a cracking dram!
Glenfiddich Pure Malt, 8 years old, 43%, bottled in the seventies
This one is from the era in which printing the ABV of booze on the bottle was not mandatory. Luckily I have the tube and that one was made generic and does contain that information. Also, for some reason people in the United Kingdom thought it logical to note the contents as 26 2/3 fluid ounces. Because that’s easy for calculation, like all those imperial units.
Anyway, I picked up this bottle a few years ago at De Whiskykoning, and have been quietly enjoying it since.
On the nose it has a truck load of grains and quite some oak. More than you’d expect for an 8 year old. Quite feinty with a hint of rubber and leather (sneakers?). Slightly bitter with pear peels. The palate is sweet and rich, with barley, husks, oak and tree bark. Dry with hints of pepper, pear, pear peels and a slightly syrupy texture. The finish is a feinty and dry one, with lots of barley.
A very barley-forward whisky, that packs a lot more punch than the current 12 year old (although it’s been a while since I had it). Very, very enjoyable!
Dalwhinnie 15 years old, 43%, bottled in the mid-nineties
The youngest one of the bunch, this one is one of the very first releases in 70cl bottles. The switch from 75cl to 70cl was made in 1993, if I’m not mistaken, so my guess is this is from 1994 or 1995. Anyway, quite an affordable single malt containing spirit that was distillery in 1980 or before. Sounds good to me!
This one is very light, and very crisp on the nose. To a level that you guess where they get the Winter’s Gold bottling’s idea from (don’t buy that, though, it’s not good). You know the scent of fresh snow? That. With light grains, straw and a bit of oak and sawdust. Minor baking spices later on. The palate is smooth and very dry. That crisp note is back too. Cold mountains streams, moss and rocks, grass, straw and oak. The finish is full with a hint of pepper towards the end. Oak and some spices.
It’s been years since I had the regular Balvenie 15, but I remember always liking it. I can see how, if this is what it tastes like. Rather different than most other entry level whiskies, and quite enjoyable. Luckily this was still priced rather friendly, which means I get to try surprises like this every once in a while. Very good, and much better than expected.