In reality several of us had travelled a long way for this tasting. The setting was a side room away from the hustle and bustle of the Whiskybase Gathering in Rotterdam. Safely encapsulated, all eyes were transfixed on the sight of the 5 bottles ahead of us.
Phil and his team from the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar and Dornoch Distillery had travelled and sailed a great distance to be part of this event. Whilst our room was full of various nationalities including myself and Malt scribe Noortje, sitting amongst friends we were all too familiar with these Dornoch institutions. Now more than ever, I was appreciative of the time and money my friends spend on a regular basis to visit Scotland consistently. Tickets for the tasting were an agreeable 95 Euros that hopefully offered enough reward on both sides.
The tasting itself was on familiar ground. Anything pitched around the topic of Closed Distilleries will be a popular event and especially the rare Inverness trio of Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor and Millburn. These are rare commodities indeed, arguably overshadowed by the illustrious presence of Brora to the north – soon to reopen – and Port Ellen on Islay, also funnily enough to be revived. There will be no such Jurassic Park resurrection of the Inverness distilleries given their sites are safely covered in tarmac, concrete and retail buildings. They are no more with the exception of Millburn that offers hotel accommodation and an average meal to sit within the walls of a minor and overlooked distillery.
During the Whiskybase Gathering there were several tastings ongoing throughout the day. Angus offered a selection from his impressive collection and Van Wees also dipped into their bottle bank to offer a budget option. These extra options were popular and well attended from what I could see. Away from the galaxy of bottles of the main floor there was something enjoyable about being ushered into a space that offered a slower pace and tranquil atmosphere. An hour to relax and explore whiskies in a more traditional tasting setting.
Leading this Inverness tasting was Phil from the aforementioned bar and distillery. Things kicked off with a bonus tasting of the current Dornoch Distillery new make spirit. They’re trying different styles and this edition was as pleasing as I’ve tasted. Around here I should disclose I have a cask at the distillery – a rather early filling – so I’m already impressed with its progress and what the team are achieving. It’s always good to hear what’s happening and their plans for the future.
Introductions aside, we were ready to delve into these lost whiskies. Phil took a backseat and let the drams do the talking whilst mingling with the attendees and talking all things Dornoch. A relaxed vibe descended that matched the Gathering itself and allowed onlookers to ask a variety of questions and put forward their own thoughts on these whiskies. Speaking of which isn’t it about time for the Malt verdict?
Glen Albyn 1976 Gordon & MacPhail – review
Bottled in 2012 making this around 36 years old, from refill sherry butts and at 43% strength.
Colour: white gold.
On the nose: gentle is my initial summary, a caress of lemon, orange peel and a light honey. There’s a cereal biscuit body and oiliness, a rather dry cinnamon, brown sugar and white chocolate.
In the mouth: very dignified on the plate, nothing robust of forceful here. A leathery aspect transfers into red apples, cranberries, golden syrup and white grapes. Some lemon on the finish once again, with hints of peppery orange.
Glen Mhor 1965 Gordon & MacPhail – review
Bottled in 2007, meaning this is around an impressive 42 years of age and a strength of 43%.
Colour: a pale honey.
On the nose: plenty of life and sparkle with a surprising amount of this due to the spirit rather than the wood. A varnish freshness, green apples, nutmeg, almonds with a hint of lemon.
In the mouth: quite original, a drying vanilla and coarseness. A sugary sweetness followed by olives, oily almonds and a little sourness towards the finish that displays a gentle honey.
Glen Mhor 1975 Cadenhead’s – review
Distilled back in February 1975 before being bottled in October 1992 at a vibrant 60.9% strength.
On the nose: sugary apples with some lemon juice thrown in and a spirit-like nature. A delicate assortment of nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon with no suggestion of alcohol.
In the mouth: boom its a flavour bomb arrival flush with more of those juicy apples and mangos. The alcohol strength is more noticeable now but there’s no astringency only refined power. An enjoyable textural coating on the palate with elements of olives followed by bursts of citrus sweetness and a relatively short finish.
Millburn 1983 SMWS 87.6 – review
Heralding from December 1983, before being bottled in February 2000. This SMWS release is 16 years old and at a strength of 57%.
Colour: pale gold.
On the nose: light and restrained with an element of hops to it all. White chocolate follows with poached vanilla pears, candy floss and white grapes.
In the mouth: more of that Highland sweetness with some worn out oranges way beyond their best, a black tea quality and a little ham hock element. However its the sense of sweetness that rides throughout the experience. Golden syrup and caramel endure as does a slight paper mache feature.
Millburn 1974 Cadenhead’s – review
Bottled in May 2006 after being distilled in 1974, this 31 year old resided in a bourbon hogshead with an outturn of 246 bottles at 52.3%.
On the nose: subtle oak with a juicy vanilla, barley sweets, pears and apples. I suppose it’s what many term an old school arrival. Nothing forceful, wine gums, a little pepper and tangerines. A little chocolate, cask char and apricots. Lovely stuff.
In the mouth: bursting with flavours more of those apricots and tangerines. Raisins, nutmeg, more orchard fruits and plenty of influence of oak. Hazelnuts, pine oil and a little waxiness towards the end when the all-spice and black pepper kick in.
A very enjoyable tasting not only for the atmosphere but the handpicked assortment of these lost Inverness distilleries. Reflecting on the whiskies now, my thoughts are more about the collective nature of the city and its lost producers. There’s a clear provenance between Millburn, Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn. Lacking the immediacy of Speyside and the earthiness of your Brora further up the coast. These are rugged whiskies with a style, flair and confidence of their own. It’s such a shame we cannot roll back time and correct the mistakes of the past.
Thoroughly refreshed and reinvigorated, we stepped back outside ready to experience the last few hours of the Gathering before exploring Rotterdam once again.