Regulars here will know that my local city is Edinburgh and it’s a hotbed of whisky shops, events and tastings; most of which I tend to ignore. Even those nice invites to launches or other industry type events that so many seek out and splash across social media. Ignored, and rightly so.
There are minor exceptions when it comes to tastings, as I’ve written a couple of times during the 7 years or so of life here at WR, about Mark Davidson’s Jolly Toper tasting events. A veritable fountain of information and whisky, Mark delivers tastings throughout the year with the emphasis on value for money and an intoxicating array of drams. It’s very much an Edinburgh institution with each evening comprising of deranged regulars and shell-shocked tourists who have stumbled across this gathering of bitter enthusiasts tossed aside by today’s industry in pursuit of the millennial demographic. I jest, but seriously the older age bracket have paid off their mortgage, are enjoying life and appreciate a decent whisky; surely more disposable income? A sinister industry tactic targeting the unaware youth of today, with little knowledge of previous standards perhaps? Easily led by marketing and the power of suggestion and brand ambassadors? Thankfully, what ensues during a Toper evening is a fun packed few hours and some marvellous conversation with attendees from across the globe.
Recently, I’ve decided to shift my pursuit of an expanding closed distillery tasting and refine the focus. Deep down, I just knew that bottle of Killyloch was always going to escape me and in the future would have meant a choice between an extension to the house or that bottle. That’s the rising price of such rarely seen liquid in the coming decades, or the investment indexes would fan the flames of such expectation. Seriously though, there came a pivotal moment when you realise what is actually the point? It’s not the love of money or liquid assets on my agenda, and whisky is there to be enjoyed after all.
Going forward for my own amusement it’s all about the trio of closed Inverness distilleries, with particular attention to Glen Mhor. I intend to keep sticking one finger up to the investment brigade by organising memorable tastings for each special birthday. This will commence with my 50thand thereafter every decade until either I drop, or the bottles run dry. These hopefully will be incredible events and memorable experiences for everyone involved. Yes, I realise my 50th is decades away but lets set the anticipation rolling. What’s a whisky without hype these days?
I rarely organise and host tastings, as I prefer to be in the trenches with the other degenerates and the Jolly Toper does such a fantastic job, so why bother? It was a recent discussion with Mark about whisky where things turned towards closed distilleries and lost distillates. During this, Mark admitted that he thought he’d never do such a tasting again, given the scarcity of the produce and bottles are traded like trophies rather than opened. This frankly is a sad state of affairs. Inspired, I raided my trunk of funk. Within this time capsule plenty of delights still reside including bottles I had forgotten about. I expect the majority of readers may have bottles for special occasions stashed away, or those whiskies they want to share with others who will truly appreciate the experience. Overall, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Affordability was another central premise. This wasn’t about making a small fortunate and in my view any proceeds would go towards perhaps a wee Glen Mhor for that 50th tasting or beyond. That’s a symmetry I’d like to complete across the decades. Mark felt that a ticket price of £50 for the 5 drams below would be more than fair and I was quite happy with this. Last year at a bar, I paid £35 for a dram of GlenIsla, so this gives you some perspective.
The 8th June was selected fairly early on and prior to the gambit of our beloved Prime Minster deciding to hijack the tasting with a general election. The venue as always is the Kilderkin (65/67 Canongate), which offers a solid bar selection and a fine assortment of inventive pizzas. Situated just down the road from the Scottish Parliament, so if anyone was tired of politics, they could in theory escape, if only for a few hours at least.
These for the record have been acquired through various means over the years. Some purchased at retail, others at auction and a couple via those trades that the currency of bottles allow. I’m sure Mark sold me the Glenlochy several years ago, so it seemed a perfect inclusion given the overall theme for the first of several closed tastings. Unsurprisingly, this event was sold out meaning 28 whisky enthusiasts were about to embark on a voyage into the realms of lost distilleries and distillates.
Mosstowie 1979 Signatory – review
Distilled on 6th February 1979, bottled 12thJanuary 2012 at 32 years of age. This Signatory bottling from a bourbon barrel that yielded 211 bottles at 51.5% volume.
Colour: a light golden tan
On the nose: initially woody this gives way to toffee and a light peach aspect. There’s a buttery aspect with a touch of char. Noting also a strong spice feature with cloves and black pepper. Syrup and a Hovis brown loaf round off a promising opening whisky.
In the mouth: very honeyed but there’s also the noticeable presence of ginger. Vanilla with a leathery aspect and notable waxiness. A surprising earthiness with aniseed and a nutty topping before a drying finish.
Overall: a very positive welcome for this lost distillate that offers plenty of flavour, especially when you compare it to many of today’s whiskies. Most of Mosstowie went into blending but thankfully there are still casks like this Signatory release out there to be discovered.
Glenlochy 1977 Cadenhead’s – review
Distilled during October 1977, bottled September 1995 at 17 years of age. This Cadenhead bottling from a cask at 61.8% volume.
Colour: a very pale white gold
On the nose: very sandy and floral, with green apples and gooseberries (thanks Justine) moving into white grapes. A buttery oily aspect with a citrus current of lime and mint.
In the mouth: initially this was dusty when opened and the trickiest of the bottles to unlock. That dunnage aspect has evaporated, the dram relaxing and giving us more apples, a creamy note with almonds and pine nuts. It’s light and a touch of a metallic quality to it.
Overall: a very interesting distillate, despite its strength the alcohol was only on the fringes giving us a palate cleanser for the next whisky.
Carsebridge 1982 Douglas Laing – review
Distilled December 1982, bottled September 2015 at 33 years of age. This Douglas Laing bottling from a refill hogshead that yielded 253 bottles at 44.9% volume.
Colour: a rich rum fudge
On the nose: its a formidable bombardment of wood and spices initially. A superb marriage of spirit, wood and patience. I’m typing this in December but even if it was summer you’d be thinking of Christmas cake with marzipan and the assortment of orange peel, lemon and a raft of spices. Then I’m taken back to fig rolls and a Black Forest Gateau with cherries and dark chocolate. It’s an intoxicating bouquet, the Helena Christensen of whiskies.
In the mouth: more sweetness here with sticky toffee pudding including dates and lashings of toffee sauce. A little pepper, stewed plums and more Christmas spicing. Dark chocolate, charred wood and blackberries with hints of citrus as well.
Overall: a top-notch grain whisky from a fallen comrade. Wonderfully agreeable and affordable if you can track it down.
Craigduff 1973 Signatory – review
Distilled on 4th April 1973, bottled 3rd November 2005 at 32 years of age. This Signatory bottling from a sherry butt that yielded 557 bottles at 53.9% volume.
Colour: dried tobacco
On the nose: toasted almonds with a light gentle tobacco airing. Dried nectarines with traces of cinnamon, ginger, coconut and raspberries. Elements of caramel.
In the mouth: more of that light tobacco but assisted by honey, copper, dark chocolate and a hint of rubber moving into worn leather. Water is beneficial but I wouldn’t mess with this as many struggled to pick its strength during the post whisky test.
Overall: you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of cask in this final delivery. A lovely dram, balanced, flavoursome and with a wonderful delicate touch. Gentle and refined, its a style that to me screams old distillate and 1973 is always a great year for whisky and thus the trend continues.
Glenisla 1977 Signatory -review
Distilled on 7th July 1977, bottled 11thNovember 2011 at 34 years of age. This Signatory bottling from a hogshead that yielded 274 bottles at 44.3% volume.
Colour: blanched almonds
On the nose: farmyard notes littered with a lime freshness and a young white wine. Very sugary almost Turkish Delight with a minty feature and then more fruits with apples and strawberries then a drop of rosewater.
In the mouth: zesty and minty all at once but then a real dirty earthiness pushes above these strong flavours. It’s a bit smoky but lacking the full scale assault that the other Glenisla I’ve had offered. Chalky, almonds, a very sweet white chocolate, talcum powder and a drying finish. Somehow you want to go back for more but no need for water.
Overall: a real oddity, something off the scale in so many respects but one the room enjoyed. I must have been having a chat with someone about Macallan, as I have Macallan stripper written in my notes which I don’t think applies to the Glenisla! On the nose its fresh and light, airy almost.
As I type this its the day after and I have so many fond memories of last night’s event. Amongst the 28 or so attendees (even more if you count the carryout options that couldn’t make it), there was an international flavour of with Italians and Americans to highlight just but 2 nationalities. All united by the love of whisky brought together for an evening of discovery.
Early on in the tasting, it may have been the Glenlochy, Mark asked who had never tasted a whisky from this distillery before. Almost every single hand shot up and it was a persistent trend across the evening. This underlined for me how liberating and motivational sharing these whiskies had become. I’m very fortunate to quaff some special whiskies from rare bottles and maybe at times we take such things for granted? Seeing the reactions from everyone as they nosed and tasted these historical oddities was empowering. Whisky isn’t about money, investment or a trophy collection. It’s about people and enjoyment.
Prior to the event Mark and I had opened and tasted the whiskies and I’ve kept the above reviews in my envisaged order however the wildcard was the Carsebridge that actually swapped with the Craigduff. Even from the initial tasting we both realised that there was a high standard of whiskies here including the Craigduff that can be variable. Styles of whiskies that are no longer made and have been lost to time. After being poured and covered prior to the event it was noticeable how the drams opened up.
I tend to keep a low profile but midway through the event it was obvious to many who had provided the whiskies. Folk coming over exclaiming how much they were enjoying trying these whiskies and how great some of them were carried through to the post-event drink. Where I was shaking more hands and talking with previously complete strangers about these whiskies. One fella was blown again by the Glenisla, his friend the Craigduff and everyone seemed to have a great experience for a realistic price. Another person in raptures about Carsebridge asked if he could have the empty carton, which was a simple gesture from me and one he really appreciated.
I have my whisky moments whether its pouring from the cask at the illustrious Bowmore warehouse or the antics of the Tormore4 or emptying a mashtun at Dornoch Distillery. They all have a fond place and this is another. I have no hesitation now in looking ahead to future tastings albeit these bottles would be hard to replace, but I have some nuggets to hand. I was asked by a friend today what was my favourite whisky of the evening? Difficult because they are all so different. The Mosstowie had bags of flavour as did the Carsebridge. The Glenlochy was very light and fresh, but enduring, whilst the Glenisla has a great story and a unique character that many were taken with. I actually thought the Craigduff was my dram of the evening, just, a wonderful sherry cask clearly old wood that just added a delicate layer without the forceful sherry nature we see from casks today.
My thanks to all those involved in organising this event and making sure we kicked off on time and of course everyone that turned up and made it such a special event.