Right, Strathisla is arguably the Right Said Fred of the whisky realm. With its gorgeous exterior and catwalk perfect manicure it’s almost too sexy for distilling. Those evocative curves and splendid historical flashes ooze quality and Siren-like lulls any whisky enthusiast into a fall sense of security.
Underneath the surface, as is the case with most things in life, the truth awaits. Sadly, Strathisla as a whisky distillery isn’t anything special when it comes to the benchmark that matters. The whisky itself is a fairly average and tepid affair that proves to be a reject store of fashion offcuts to its luxurious high-end packaging.
By the way, there’s been the odd memorable Strathisla with the independent sector offering some substance and value. A Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling from a few years ago strikes a faint bell of hope in the vast emptiness of my memory. Officially there is the 12 year old expression with the prospect of periodic support from a distillery exclusive and you’re able to bottle your own at the distillery. That’s something on my list to do as it’s the only avenue to discover a worthwhile and untampered Auchentoshan – so hopefully Strathisla can surprise. Gordon & MacPhail can be the source of evocative Strathisla’s over the years including that memorable 50 year old Strathisla from 1965.
Exploring the tables at the Glasgow Rare & Old Show I finally met Billy from the Whisky Exchange. It’s always hard to fathom what someone is like in real life – I’m sure I’m a disappointment to many even saddled with my poster boy status – and Billy is exactly the good guy he comes across as. That’s a nice surprise in today’s world and when faced with someone harbouring such whisky knowledge that’s responsible for the Whisky Exchange stand, you have to ask what’s worth purchasing?
Now, the easiest answer, if money was no object, would have been the impressive discovery and subsequent opening of a Kraus Bros & Co bottling of Ardbeg from the 1930’s at £200 for 1cl. However Malt isn’t like other websites supported by a parent company with a slightly muddy purpose. We’re self-sufficient and as I write this piece still resisting the temptation to promote our Patreon page. Priced at £5 a dram this 21 year old was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail (staunch supporters of the distillery) in the 1980’s at a lowered strength of 40% ABV.
Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla 21 year old – review
On the nose: gorgeous arrival almost hints of rose amongst the oranges, dark chocolate with a slight herbal almost mossy character. A decadent caramel, brown sugars, cinnamon and flashes of treacle. Lemon peel cuts through some of this with plum jam and roasted nuts.
In the mouth: more gentle on the palate perhaps reflecting the lower strength. Vanilla bark, white chocolate, Highland toffee and roasted coffee beans. Raisins follow with more nutmeg and mace before a short finish.
This Strathisla has that lovely old school whisky vibe, partially thanks to quality sherry casks with a gentle maturation. Yes, the lower strength takes away some of the gloss on the palate and the punch is somewhat timid. As such, there isn’t really a requirement for water. A very tasty whisky to polish off over the course of an evening.