Linkwood is one of those names that resonates with some whisky enthusiasts. Rarely seen, almost shy in nature, it is home to a whisky that underlines the virtues of what makes Speyside so attractive and delightful.
There, finally at last I’ve typed out something positive about Linkwood. I know a couple of Dutch friends who’ll be delighted plus the Linkwood fan club that was offended last time I candidly wrote about the distillery and its 1972 Rare Malt bottling. A tricky situation I know, especially having to write about a distillery where very little exciting actually happens. In a certain way it’s reassuring that for every Banff with exploding casks or a rampaging fire, there are distilleries out there that quietly get on with the job at hand. Another dimension away from the catwalk hogging Speysiders of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and the Macallan.
Taking this onboard we’ll maybe return to the distillery to unearth some interesting facts to discuss later on. However, all of this started the pistons and valves rumbling in my mind about what Linkwood actually means to me. In reality, it translated into 2 aspects but both from the same world. Yes, I’m talking about the legendary Nintendo character Link and his forays into other worldly dimensions including forests, or namely wood. Link resides in the Legend of Zelda series that has been running for countless generations. As an imaginary world, there are few rivals and the engulfing gameplay meant many a few hours or days were spent within his company.
Now you’re probably thinking where on earth am I going with this? There is a method to my madness as until diving headfirst into the whisky realm, many moons ago the Nintendo 64 ruled my roost. There was one forthcoming game – or cartridge to be exact – in the runup to Christmas that everyone wanted. Europeans had waited patiently for the Ocinara of Time to hit retail in December 1998. This was a physical format that took time to build and ship unlike the CDROM’s that were used by other consoles. The demand outstripped supply to a staggering proportion. My own local videogame store in Edinburgh was only receiving 6 copies of the title.
Thankfully, I was amongst the chosen few being a regular customer. Never before or since have I purchased something that I feared would be snatched outside of the store itself. As for the game it remains a joy and the cartridge is still within my possession. 2017 has brought similar feelings by queuing for festival releases either successfully or unsuccessfully in equal measure. Competing with others to have that golden ticket opportunity to buy a Cadenhead, Macallan, Highland Park or so on is not something I’ve relished. The thrill of the chase is not something to be savoured if you actually intend to open, share and enjoy a whisky. Very few if any of these queues or releases have anything to do with Linkwood. It’s a distillery that operates under radar. In these heady times of investment and profiteering, it’s these unsung heroes that offer some respite from the ravaging market forces.
As for Linkwood itself it’s a distillery that has been adjoined by a sister unit. These arrived in 1971 and were imaginatively called Linkwood B. This is the dominant plant today as the original stills – amazingly referred to now as Linkwood A – chuffed and ploughed onwards until 1996 with sporadic bursts of production. Thereby to experience the true original Linkwood’s you’d have to track down a whisky prior to 1971. No mean feat and given the nature of distillery production nowadays we don’t know which plant either of these whiskies below came from. Except that here the general consensus is that Linkwood A closed during the late 1980’s meaning these whiskies are born of Linkwood B.
The ability in whisky to discover and compare are features that keep me interested. Whilst every care and attention would have been made by Diageo to ensure Linkwood retained its characteristics that are so prized by blenders. The new unit did mark a change with the use of condensers rather than traditional worm tubs. It’s a feature whenever I visit a distillery I’m always pleased to see still in use whether its new arrivals such as Ballindalloch or established workhorses such as Knockdhu.
When the Tormore4 were visiting Knockdhu earlier in 2017, we were taken around the distillery in finite detail. We were also shown a typical shell and tube condenser that had burnt out under 2 years and had cost around £60k, but had paid for itself within 6 months or so. Worm tubs in comparison are also prone to leaks that cannot be fixed with a metal plug as you see from the photograph below of the condenser with its various plugs. The tubs also require more cleaning, but through my experience do offer benefits to the final spirit itself. We know Rosebank will return with its worm tubs and I wonder if Diageo will seek to restore those at Brora.
Both of these samples were provided by Malt’s own Linkwood fan in Noortje who keeps sending me this stuff in the hope that just maybe I’ll be turned. Of particular interest is another in the collectable Manager’s Dram series. I’ve been fortunate to try a few of these bottlings and their quality has been very haphazard to put it mildly.
Cadenhead’s Linkwood 1989 – review
Bottled in September 2015 from a sherry butt resulting in 324 bottles at 50.2% strength
Colour: a heady caramel.
On the nose: the Linkwood fruits engage once again with pears, oranges and apples, but what I enjoy is at the crescendo or zenith of its arrival the spices step in with nutmeg and cinnamon taking it to another level. A crisp leaf mint freshness. Underpinning the fruits and spices is a melting pot of toffee and golden syrup. A little treacle and I cannot shake the sweetness of peeled carrots. A very good cask clearly.
In the mouth: oh, those fruits but it’s the texture that is truly inviting. Giving body, it doesn’t overwhelm the palate. Milk chocolate, plump raisins, a resinous aspect, allspice and cinnamon. Water brings more vanilla but at the expense of the fruit basket. It’s joined by ginger and a little lemongrass.
Linkwood Manager’s Dram – review
Bottled in December 1999, this 12 year old comes from a refill sherry cask at 59.5% strength.
Colour: bashed bronze.
On the nose: very fruity with added lemon peel and tinned peaches containing syrup. There’s a creaminess from vanilla marshmallows followed by lime cordial and a subtle cherry influence. Sherbet and toffee follow with pineapple and apricot.
In the mouth: those aforementioned fruits still poke through the sherry oaky shroud that adds dark chocolate, cloves and cardamom. Adding water reveals a nutty aspect with walnuts, almonds and pine nuts.
These Linkwood’s play to their fanbase and show the spirit has enough life to contend with a sherry cask. Upon reflection, both of these casks seem of above average quality. There’s a real lack of the forceful sherry notes dominating the experience. More harmony and the quality of the Linkwood spirit shining through. Now excuse me as I’m back off to Hyrule to dance with the fairies in the woods and play my flute.