It’s possible that the independent bottler Murray McDavid may have passed under your whisky radar. Created in 1996 by Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin, and Gordon Wright, the bottler Murray McDavid in fact became part of the acquisition of Bruichladdich back in the days of the distillery’s renaissance.
Skip forward a decade. Two years ago, after Bruichladdich passed into the hands of Remy Cointreau, Murray McDavid was sold to Aceo Ltd, “cask whisky broker and supplier of related distillery services to the Scotch whisky industry”. The aim of the new owners was to continue the legacy of no chill-filtering, no added colour, and the tradition of Ace-ing casks. And now there’s a repackaged range of whiskies on the horizon…
When I was at the Midlands Whisky Festival a couple of months back – in fact, sipping a coffee beforehand – I met their brand ambassador, Dean Jode. He’s a top guy and was happy to answer my many probing questions of Murray McDavid, such as what did the new labels look like (a work in progress at the time), and how many casks were there (many thousands – they were looking for a new warehouse).
One of my questions was, naturally, “What’s in that large bag you’re carrying?”. The answer, to my delight, was: “Whisky samples”. I don’t know whether or not it’s part of the brand ambassador code to never leave home without whisky, but we soon started eyeing up and sniffing some of the samples. It wasn’t even 10am at the time.
Murray McDavid feels like a spiritual sister to Bruichladdich in many respects, as there was plenty of experimentation and wine-finishing going on in the forthcoming range. Personally, I adore wine cask-finished whiskies. So you could say I was rather excited when Dean let me go home with four of these samples. Except, he didn’t tell me what they were until much later.
So what does Murray McDavid have up its sleeve?
1R15-01 – T-Spooned malt
I know what’s in this blended malt, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Essentially a T-Spooned malt contains 99% one kind of malt, with a dash of something else – a teaspoon, you might say – added to it. Product name yet to be confirmed.
Colour: exceptionally pale. Pinot Grigio at best. On the nose: very gentle, grassy, vegetative, mossy. Young indeed, with lots of new spirit fruitiness. Hay barns. A little yeast. Very agricultural, rather than floral.
In the mouth: all of the above. Young, vibrant, full of mineral notes. Sweet baked apples, grassy. Cream cheese, maybe brie. A little chewy toffee. Not a lot to say about it, given the new spirit dominance. (As it happens I quite like young spirit, and could quite happily even drink it before it’s legally whisky.)
1R15-02 – Allt A’Bhaine
22 years old, distilled late 1992, refill bourbon cask.
Colour: a very bright yellow gold. On the nose: very strong white wine notes, almost like a Chardonnay or bold Sauvignon Blanc. Grapefruit and lime notes. Quite tropical, with pineapple and peaches.
In the mouth: I think the nose is more promising than what is delivered. The complex aromas give way to more herby, grassy notes. Plenty of grapefruit and peach still, but less of the others. I’m getting quite a lot of estery notes: apples, strawberries even. Straw and dusty barns. All in all I don’t think this one personally rocked my world, but there’s something very refreshing about it all.
1R15-03 – Bunnahabhain
Distilled 1997, refill sherry cask, finished in a fresh Petrus cask.
Colour: burnt umber, old oak. Blood red, almost! On the nose: Still quite peaty for its age, though it’s transcended into some ash, incense and unlit cigars. Stacks of old wood, pencil boxes, school desks, and a jammy, mulled wine combination. Really bold. Chinese Five Spice. Plenty of fruits, but you have to be patient to get them. Morello cherries and redcurrants.
In the mouth: Christ almighty. It’s absolutely outrageous. In a way it puts me in mind of Bruichladdich’s experimental Octomore releases. The peat becomes sweet again, and mingles with those old wood notes (the two are hard to pull apart as they’re so ingrained). Lovely texture becomes noticeable after the first couple of sips. Redcurrants, blackberries, tangy late-summer fruits rather than dried fruits. Dark chocolate, cherries again, with nutmeg and white pepper. Then the musty wood comes back. It’s not for the fainthearted.
1R15-05 – Tobermory
Distilled 1995, refill sherry casks, finished in French wine casks from the Allier region.
Colour: mahogany, henna. On the nose: ooh yes, now that’s lovely. Old pencil boxes, lovely classic dried fruits: sultanas, raisins, perhaps more delicate apricots. A thick, gamey gravy, of all things. Elderberry cordial. Barbecue sauce! Ripe tomatoes. Just keeps on going. Absolutely wonderful.
In the mouth: gorgeous texture, with a lush sweetness. Puts me in mind some older cask strength GlenDronach. Big dollop of classic sherry cask notes, but they’re richer, deeper. Dark berries, plum sauce. There’s a lovely touch of woodiness there, and an almost old Mortlachian meatiness. This really is an outstanding whisky.
I guess it’s hard for me to really comment on whether or not you should buy these whiskies when at least one might not be in this form (instead being re-racked into something else), and that they might not be available for a few months yet. I don’t even know the prices yet.
But, from this selection, I can say without hesitation that there are some seriously impressive whiskies in the hands of Murray McDavid. Going by these samples alone, I’d say: here is a brave bottler who’s not afraid to make a statement. In an industry crowded by so many new releases you’d think even the angels had started up a bottling business, it’s brave companies like Murray McDavid that make all the difference.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for a wine cask finish, but I’ll be first in line to buy some of these.
Stay tuned to their Twitter feed for more information. I think there’s a Twitter tasting coming soon…