Before the year ends there’s time to squeeze in four more whiskies from the ancient Elgin-based independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail. Not too long ago I reviewed a quartet of whiskies from Gordon & MacPhail and found three out of four to be rather nice indeed. In that review I talked about how Gordon & MacPhail represent very good value for drinkers and what we have today continues that theme. In the run up to Christmas, I suspect many of their whiskies will make perfect last-minute gifts or simply decent whisky to drink with friends over the period.
With that in mind, I have four more varied releases, which were very kindly sent to me by the folk at Gordon & MacPhail. There are different distilleries from different ranges. But all of them share one thing in common – they’re about £50 or less, which at this time of year is extra important. In fact, I’m starting to think that these sort of honest, indie bottlings at £50 or so are becoming rarer and rarer. Gordon & MacPhail’s pricing policy is stuck at around 2003, and I’m very glad about that – they continue to serve normal drinkers with realistic prices.
Glen Spey 2004 Connoisseurs Choice
Matured in refill bourbon barrels, and bottled 2013 at 46% ABV. A bottle will cost just over £40.
Colour: pale straw.
On the nose: clean, grassy, straw-like, with heaps of vanilla and toffee. Floral at times. Husky. It is quite simple stuff, with some very faintly soapy notes, almost fabric conditioner, in the distance.
In the mouth: very clean, very fresh – lightweight texture. Follows the nose with those huge grassy, straw and vanilla notes. Lime juice. Fresh fruit salad eventually showing itself, and with plenty of warming black pepper on the finish. Again, it’s simple stuff – more pleasant to drink than to nose – but it’s difficult to really find praise for this one.
Strathisla 2005 – Distillery Labels
Matured in first-fill sherry hogsheads, and bottled in 2015 at 43% ABV. A mere £34.
Colour: yellow gold.
On the nose: gorgeous aromas. Beeswax, honey and vanilla custard. Custard creme biscuits. Stewed apples. Pears. Dried apricots. Peaches and a few tropical fruits. Not complex, but a very nice combination.
In the mouth: very nicely textured. Quite oily, so lovely to swirl around the mouth. Heather honey. Custard again. Lime marmalade, and again with cooked apples and brown sugar, and nutmeg and cinnamon on the long finish. Delicious whisky and absolute bargain at this price.
Inchgower 2002 Connoisseurs Choice
Matured in refill sherry hogsheads, and bottled in 2016 at 46% ABV. Again, under £40.
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: massive dried fruits. Quite an intense aroma of raisins, sultanas, hazelnuts and dark heather honey. Absolute classic Christmas cake, with a splash of rum in there, and with enough dirtiness to make it feel like a Glenfarclas.
In the mouth: much of the same aromas from the nose – this is a classic example of the Christmas cake dram. It isn’t as heady as the nose suggests – the honey leads over the fruits. There’s just enough tannic, redcurrant tartness to balance out the sweeter notes too. A warming cinnamon finish. The only thing that doesn’t quite work for me is the lightness and thinness of the spirit’s texture, but I still think this is very good indeed. Perfect for Christmas drinking, especially at that exceptional price.
Cask Strength Caol Ila 2005
Bottled in 2016, matured in first-fill sherry butts and bottled at 57.3% ABV. This one costs just over £50.
Colour: old gold.
On the nose: punchy. You don’t even have to get your nose in the glass for it to be apparent. Now this is nice and filthy: burnt bacon covered in ketchup. A lovely dirty, maritime peat and dried fruit contrast. Tobacco and iodine. Burnt matches, but those heady, tomato-esque and balsamic notes balance it out nicely.
In the mouth: huge peat prelude, a nice dry, ashier peat rather than sweet – and it combines wonderfully with dried figs, strawberry jam and blackcurrants. Dark chocolate. A little oiliness that really does linger in the mouth as a chewy dram. Massive warming finish of black pepper and smoke. A winter warmer to say the least. This is a tremendous whisky – and one peat fans should definitely navigate towards.
Another Gordon & MacPhail round-up with a 75% success rate. Just the one didn’t work, but the other three were not only just good to drink, but exceptional value. If I was looking for a random cheap whisky purchase, I’d happily go for any of those three. And I’d encourage you to do so as well.