Imperial. A grand name for an ugly distillery that has been consigned to history without too much afterthought. Today the big catwalk distilleries dominate proceedings and the airwaves. Beneath the glossy upper echelons are various subdivisions, brimming with worthy contenders that lack a single malt presence or remain content to provide for its master’s blends.
During its lifespan, the distillery wasn’t a major player or a producer that attracted rapturous applause often associated with the Islay gang or the fashionistas of Macallan or its ilk. Even when relegated to the closed distillery league, Imperial didn’t receive much love apart from those who knew and sought out releases. Gazing across the long line of fallen distilleries, potentially it would be towards the back end of the queue. Arguably just a step ahead from Littlemill; until recently that is. Form changes, whisky in casks changes and fortunes can be revived even from the grave.
Lowland exponent Littlemill would have been Scotland’s oldest distillery and with a tarnished reputation. This was a reflection of various owners – who play a huge part in form as the team captain – shovelling out inept official releases. Seriously for a while, the old Littlemill 8 year olds were great for removing stains or dead flies from car bumpers. The whisky thing was only for the faint-hearted. Stuck in a bar with only Glenfiddich, Auchentoshan or Littlemill would result in a very difficult decision as to what was next. Then the spectre of demolition rolled into Bowling, West Dunbartonshire closely followed by the passing of time. Littlemill soon blossomed with the advantage of patience. Single cask releases bursting with tropical fruits and gorgeous undertones. Literally, it felt as if it was a new distillery or at least a fake bottle filled with Tormore. Soon that back end resident was up with the big boys, closed or otherwise.
For Imperial, I predict a similar resurrection. Sadly, not to the same degree of prosperity as Brora, Port Ellen and Rosebank that are being revived from the grave in some bizarre walking dead twist. These won’t be the same distilleries or the same whiskies. Rosebank has the greatest opportunity, followed by what’s left of Brora. Whereas Port Ellen is a total Disney recreation right down to the foundations.
Imperial, in contrast, will only live on in bottle form. Levelled as recently as 2013 only to be replaced by a new vision called Dalmunach, which is a pretty thing but not the same as the late 1890’s original. I’ve talked about this previously in the Van Wees Imperial 1995 review. And I did have the change to tour Dalmunach once, however, let’s say the T4 had a good night prior and it wasn’t happening whether I wanted it to, or not.
With scant production throughout the 1990’s and into the new millennium, there isn’t as much Imperial as there should be to go around. Blame those owners once again. What does sneak out of the warehouse remains impressive and a showcase for Speyside, sherry cask or otherwise? Imperial is rising in cost but then isn’t everything? I filled up the car with petrol the other day for £70! That’s like 2 bottles of Ben Nevis 10 year old gone in a matter of minutes!
So what am I saying here? Don’t write off the underdog, or runt of the litter if you’re thinking of Jura. Every dog has its day. Jeez, am I turning into some walking dictionary of pointless phrases like my mother-in-law? It’s happening? Help ma’ Boab. No, more like help me!
This 1975 Imperial forms part of the Scottish Castles range. Another tepid linkage to create a series. Bruichladdich did it with golf courses, actually, they came up with all sorts to bottle casks back then. Arran has its smugglers, Highland Park has its Norse gods. Come to think of it this Castles range is probably the greatest Scottish series of all time. Bottled for Jack Wiebers Whisky World in 2000, just 180 bottles were released at a strength of 40%. This whisky is currently available at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar and thanks to Phil for the sample.
Scottish Castles Imperial 1975 – review
Colour: golden toffee
On the nose: a confectionary arrival with vanilla marshmallows with fudge. Dried orange peel provides a twist in proceedings with a delicate cinnamon, nougat and sherbet. Not hugely layered but satisfying. Water brings lightness and tangerines with a hint of parma violets and milk chocolate.
In the mouth: apple pie, more orange notes and a leathery undertone followed by more fudge, almonds and liquorice on the finish that possesses a slightly drying quality. Digestives give a cereal basis, butterscotch appears now and then hazelnuts. Water sands down these qualities leaving toffee and nutty characteristics with a lingering peppery end.
Imperial continues to talk from beneath the rubble. A particularly tasty example of what this Speyside distillery is capable of and a moment for reflection on what might have been. We can be cruel and focused on financial gains when it comes to closed distilleries, but this is a whisky that can resonate with friends and enhance any evening.