It was a surreal moment. There this humble writer was, sitting centrally amongst a field of bottles as far as the eye could see and unable to move without fear of creating a domino ripple effect. The rays of sunshine struck a chord with several of these ancient vessels, creating an ethereal spectrum of colours. Ok, we embellish a little here, but stick with me. This was the rare occasion where we tried to ascertain what closed distillery bottles had collected over the years and just as importantly what distilleries or lost styles of distillate had evaded the collection so far.
The assortment was as impressive as it was sizeable. Bottles from lost distilleries, styles of whisky no longer produced from eras when it wasn’t just about yield efficiency and wood aggression. Various colours of glass, distinctive bottle shapes relegated to oddity status and a tapestry of labelling styles. These were whiskies to be savoured, enjoyed and shared. The realisation that Malt would be forever chasing ghostly apparitions in the form of Kinclaith or Killyloch was not a prospect we relished.
The nature of collecting and to possess seems fraught with danger and temptation. The underlying truth is that you’ll never be satisfied and the end goal of completion will always remain frustratingly out of reach. This has been underlined with various discussions we’ve had with fellow collectors. Regardless of their passion, universally all were still chasing legends, ghosts and when these spectres did materialise, financial limitations would step in for the kill.
Shortly after all of this Malt decided upon a momentous decision. To clear the decks and show a little more focus. We’ve been extremely fortunate to experience many fine and rare whiskies over the years and will continue to seek these out. However it was time to move on and open some of these delicacies and give in to pressure from other collectors who asked about XYZ over the years. Regulars will note earlier in 2017, we provided the content for the Closed and lost distillate tasting in Edinburgh. The piece sums the liberating experience better than letters can just now, but the lasting legacy is shaking hands with many attendees who were visually thrilled by the experience of tasting these lost styles.
What distillery to focus upon and hopefully satisfy any enduring collecting urges? Pittyvaich would be an easy choice to stockpile – given its dust gathering status at retail – but you’d run the risk of falling foul of the United Nations Weapons inspector’s programme. Other options however tempting were financially ridiculous such as the enduring majesty of Brora. A factor in the final choice was also availability as well as price. There’s no point picking out an oddity of a distillery to complete your collection after 4 or 5 bottles! No, the thrill of the hunt had to remain a central premise and that of discovery.
Based upon my experiences there was an obvious candidate. At times a perplexing malt, subtle and yet full of complexity and Highland tradition. Yes, Glen Mhor.
We’ll talk about this distillery in future articles as we continue our own personal journeys. For the purposes of this review, Malt found myself in the bar at Cameron House, which is situated on the banks of Loch Lomond. For readers who ask me about travel plans occasionally, it is a lovely spot, but the hotel itself is rather tired and geared up for the international crowd.
The bar itself is furnished in the fashionable Highland lodge tweed style with private bottle lockers acting as a central piece on the rear wall. For a fee you can have your own bottle stored here for any future visits and to display your wealth and greatness. Disappointingly money doesn’t translate into taste, as the assortment of bog standard bottles or the odd slightly older age statements left an onlooker such as myself disappointed. The staff were youthful and polite but clearly lacking in any detailed whisky knowledge. A standard menu of whiskies was available on each table and this offered a standard selection but the true interest lay within the leather bound encyclopaedia of choice that had to be requested. The beacon amongst the bottles laid out in meticulous detail along the central divide was the blue bombshell; an early 1990’s Tormore. Good to see this example in such a location however my familiarity ensured we moved deeper into the leather clad listing. Target acquired. A Gordon & MacPhail bottling of Glen Mhor. Malt has had the pleasure of several of these releases over the years and they’re always entertaining. The complexity of the label may have reduced as time clocked onwards – originally the drawing of Inverness dominated the main label – only to minimise and then eventually vanish in a puff of smoke.
This example was distilled in 1979 before being bottled in 2000 at a strength of 40%, which is often a disappointment given just that little bit more would allow greater expression and therefore appreciation. However, distillates of the 1970’s or prior, often harbour wonderful orchestral flavours somewhat missing in today’s digital whisky age. Armed with the target, we set about trying to locate the said bottle across this broad spectrum of Scottish whiskies. The atmosphere was dominated by a handful of American tourists – loudly – proclaiming their love of Scotch and the fine malt they were drinking out of tumblers. My selective wife-hearing mode had already been engaged – thereby reducing any distractions – from memory it was the Glengoyne 15 year that was causing the commotion. The Glen Mhor was finally sighted and almost empty. Catching the attention of a bar worker, asking for a Glen vor – Mh is a silent v, so next time you see someone called Mhairi its actually pronounced Vairi. A moment of utter bewilderment swept across the bartender’s face, we’re sure he wasn’t taking in my stunning good looks, but rather what whisky is this gorgeous man asking for?
Eventually we directed him to the Glen Mhor and he started the ritual of pouring a dram. Only to be interrupted with a sudden thrust of a hand across the counter. No tumbler please, we’d prefer a vessel more conducive to appreciate the whisky itself. After much searching a small Glencairn was produced. Really? A hotel such as this that prides itself on offering a fine experience is lacking the appropriate glassware? What does this say about its management and the customer base that lets them away with such nonsense? Fortunately there was some luck amongst the glass-gate situation. The bottle was almost dry so the dregs were emptied into my dram and we retreated to the comfort of a tweed encrusted gents chair for the experience.
Glen Mhor 1979 Gordon & MacPhail Review
Colour: a light honey
On the nose: the lightness delves into the aromas itself with slightly ripened red apples assisted by tinned peaches. The fruit levels are high with pear drops, a twist of lime and the familiarity of barley sweets moving into icing sugar. The gentle addition of water reveals an oily aspect.
In the mouth: a lovely oozing texture that is gentle and lingers beautifully. Far from forceful with many of today’s whiskies, there’s a delicate majesty at work here. A gentle vanilla presence unfolds followed by liquorice, then camomile and forest fruits. Towards the end of this voyage a touch of bitterness steps forth before a dry finish takes us into the score.
The laid back and refined atmosphere of the bar was a perfect setting for this Glen Mhor. Being taken down to 40% may on paper be a step too far but these older styles of whiskies can take the hit. This 1979 expression isn’t the best example from this distillery or even a Glen Mhor from Gordon & MacPhail however there remains plenty to saviour.