There are whisky tastings that look fantastic on paper but in reality miss a certain something. The extra layer of detail and emotional involvement. When all things come together you truly have a memorable experience. Such was the occasion with the Enrico Gaddoni Italian independent bottlers tasting as part of the Whiskybase Gathering.
Enrico like so many involved in whisky has a lifelong passion with the spirit itself. Heralding from Italy, he has worked in the UK before returning home. A smart move given that Italy itself has a long love affair with whisky and potentially a fertile hunting ground for whisky. This particular tasting was a theme close to his heart and showcased some of the famous Italian bottlers from the 1980s and 1990s.
Noortje and I, could have merely sat in the room and documented each measure in the glass. Clearly whisky is more than just liquid. For the tasting, Enrico layered each whisky with stories about the bottler and the state of the Italian market at the time. In reality, the lack of a market beyond Macallan and Glen Grant. Famous names indeed, but a cluster of Italian bottlers sought out casks from Scotland. Often forming friendships with distilleries themselves such as Bruichladdich, or building business relationships with Scottish names such as Gordon & MacPhail.
It was a fascinating few hours in his company. And whilst we have mere photographs here I would direct you towards my Instagram post with a handful of short videos from the tasting. It is these stories that bring the whiskies and period to life. The tales and facts that could be lost to time, if someone didn’t actively go out and acquire this knowledge. The anecdotes and details that underline our love of whisky which unites us all.
Enough of me and Enrico. Let’s get into those whiskies!
Turatello Morlach 1970’s – review
Distilled on 4th May 1970 and bottled on 7th August 1991. This Gordon & MacPhail bottling for Turatello Italia is cask strength at 56.7%.
Colour: A ginger biscuit.
On the nose: Elegant and classic Mortlach. This has levels and then some. The rich honey that greets you before cascading into caramel, a hint of solvent and freshly plucked honeycomb. A really sweet joyous raspberry jam nature behind the wood and a concoction of spices. Resin moving into varnish and a new car smell with a shammy thrown in for good measure. A vanilla cream appears if given time in the glass. A surprising twist of lime and a floral vibe round off a welcome refresher on what Mortlach can offer.
In the mouth: Old school in the extreme. The power of Dufftown comes through but is well matched with old oak, leather and a stunning dried fruit finish that just goes on. I’m perfectly happy at cask strength. Robust and malty with a touch of salt, more dried fruits and some salt. That classic meaty, chewy aspect. A dram for all occasions with something for everyone.
Samaroli Glenlivet 1976 – review
Bottled in 2001 at 25 years of age and 45% strength, this resided in sherry cask #5521.
Colour: Burnt toffee.
On the nose: Bursting with sherry influence. Orange peel, dark chocolate, fudge, dried fruits and cinnamon. There’s also new leather, honeycomb and those fig biscuits I used to enjoy as a youngster. Time in the glass reveals a hint of smoke and tobacco.
In the mouth: Not as forceful with the sherry as the nose suggested. This has an elegant characteristic. Dark chocolate orange, vanilla custard, walnuts, honey and a rich toffee. Plenty going on here. Pleasant and refined in my book, as the cask takes over. Very wood driven with a chocolate eclair, treacle and ashy finish.
Moon Import Bruichladdich 1983 – review
This was bottled in 1995 at 50% strength and comes from an oak cask of all things, with an outturn of 1050 bottles.
Colour: Rubbed bronze.
On the nose: Very different and interesting! Not what I would have expected. Sour green apples with icing sugar and Kye Lime pie. An abundance of olives and a real herbal nature with tarragon, fennel seeds and sage. Dirty as well lending itself to liquorice and brambles. Oily and bizarre but captivating.
In the mouth: As mental as the nose in all honesty. Very fresh initially and light, approachable with pecan tart and a pleasing bitterness. A dry finish. Oddly seaweed and green olives with a fine Chinese green tea paired with more herbs in the form of tarragon and thyme. A touch of rubber adds to the overall mystery.
Sestante North Port 1974 – review
Bottled at 43% this is also seen in a cask strength edition. Here this 15 year old was bottled in 1989 and is from sherrywood.
On the nose: Very oily with lemon peel, peaches, lychees, apricots and Kiwi Fruit. A nice layer of cereals and a decent finish. Returning there are honey and a noticeable smoky element assisted by tobacco.
In the mouth: More sherried than the nose, backed up by hazelnuts, praline and toffee. Vanilla pod, brown toast, caramel wafers with smoked hickory and that oiliness resurrects. More lemon and some thyme before the gentle caress of smoke lands once again.
Wilson & Morgan Bowmore 1981 – review
Distilled in June 1981 before being bottled in July 1995 at 15 years of age. This is a cask strength offering at 57.1%.
On the nose: Peated peaches and a subtle sensibility that lacks any in-yer-face Islay rugged features we see on every street corner nowadays. Smoked almonds, fresh haddock, honey and lime. There is a floral twist and hemp with pork scratchings. Dried oranges, sea salt, caramel and a fresh vanilla.
In the mouth: A sweet peat layer with some tropical fruits. Thankfully no French perfume. It levels out midway before more coastal flavours sink in. A gentle saltiness, vanilla cream, juicy apples and smoked bar nuts.
The Mortlach delivers a knockout blow from the off. Underlining why so many of us truly value and appreciate this distillery. Yes, it’s current form is a pale shadow of what went before and the recent changes and attempts to premiumise the brand were a magnificent failure for Diageo. And at what cost? A tarnished name? Bottles unsold? A distillery battered in more ways than one? Expenses run up and all for what? The underlying message is simply if something works don’t mess with it.
Not my favourite North Port but fun nevertheless. A reminder of what this distillery could produce and the hands-on ethic of a lost generation. Tasty and very pleasing. Sadly this is something we’ll never see again, so track down those last drops while you can. The Bruichladdich is truly bonkers but in a mesmerising way. Full of character and cheek, it reminds you of what this distillery is capable of producing without fanfare. Easily one of the most enjoyable examples from this distillery I’ve had the pleasure in trying. There, Rose, I said it so saviour the moment. Now, let’s forget all about that and instead try more of these Bruichladdich’s from the 1980s or prior.
The Bowmore whilst really enjoyable confirms in my mind just how good the post-2000-distillate truly is. Very comparable and full of flavour, if anything I’d say the current incarnation has the edge. Nevertheless, this Wilson & Morgan is tasty stuff. The Glenlivet suffers the same fate as many sherried examples I’ve had from this distillery in recent times. The cask has taken over the show and whilst a really good cask, it is very sherry focused.
Overall, what a wonderful liquid and informative experience from Enrico. Bottles like these are not opened every day. Nor do you have a chance to engage with a passionate expert on the subject of each, who has researched the period and spoken to several of the individuals who owned and built these Italian independent bottlers.
Times have moved on, but this is liquid history brought to life with personality and a youthful vibrancy. Personally, a real highlight of the Whiskybase Gathering weekend and I eagerly await their 2019 event schedule.