Something I have noticed through the few years I’ve been drinking whisky is how much my taste buds have changed. At the very beginning, I favoured smoky flavour bursts that took away the more alcoholic notes acetone that abused my then-delicate palette. The intense peated flavours were more welcome than the burn I felt as I drank these spirits at 40%+ ABV to which I was not accustomed. (I was more of a red wine girl back in my student days, you see…) As my taste buds matured and I got used to the punishing punches, growing able to pick out other flavours, I fell in love with the viscous sherry bombs. Even so, they can sometimes have an unpleasant effect, and I feel slightly peaky from their saccharine characteristics. Inclusive of bourbon-matured examples, the vanilla can be quite persistent, and have the same effect on me.
Nowadays, I like most of all to seek out whiskies that have that something unique, something that makes it stand out from the crowd—be it good or bad. These are the guys that interest me the most: the ones that stick out and leave an impression with which I can associate a feeling or experience. There’s nothing better than sharing a few drams with friends and having that moment of “oh my goodness this is amazing,” or equally, a laugh about how bad something tastes. A shared participation and conversation is where I have the best times when drinking this fine stuff. One such experience that comes to mind was at a tasting I went to not long ago.
A 1986 Miltonduff 36-year-old bottled at 53.7% was the standout dram sampled at a North Star Spirits whisky night. It was fifth in the line-up, so it had a lot of time to oxidise, and I had prepared my palette with the various whiskies beforehand. In all honesty, I hadn’t heard of this distillery until I tried this dram—don’t shoot me—but I had heard lots about North Star Spirits. An independent bottler headed by Iain Croucher, they’ve had a lot of good press, and being in my general locale, they get a big thumbs up! As for Miltonduff itself, I had to do some research, but will confess that I got bored really quickly. After reading up on it for a wee while, all I can tell you is that it is not open to the public. Don’t try to visit them!
North Star Spirits Miltonduff 1981 36 Year Old – review
Colour: Burnt orange.
On the nose: Up front, it is surprisingly delicate considering the ABV, with an icing-sugar sweetness, fresh white grapes, and hints of oranges. Every so often, there comes a wafting of desiccated coconut. White pepper tickles the nostrils with undertones of rich wood resin. I get a wave of nostalgia from the scent of discontinued ice cream flavoured Chewits from my childhood; creamy and full of vanilla pods. There is also a hint of soya, like tofu or edamame beans and you can almost inhale the waxy texture. Bitterness from citrus rinds is also present, but subdued.
In the mouth: The mouthfeel is waxy and slightly drying, yet it goes down like silk. The sweetness is there, with a white-pepper heat. There is lactic-honeyed yoghurt that gives that dry-mouth feeling with a slight sourness. It is tannic and oaky, but hints of delicate white-fleshed fruit come through… think Far-East delights like lychee and longan. The mix of harsh oak and delicate fruit creates quite an interesting balance. The finish: is not too punchy and has a lovely long linger; the white pepper is warming, but not overly heated. However, there is bitterness from the oak that comes out to play every so often to remind you that it is still there, and urges you to sip a bit more.
Considering this is bottled at 53.7%, it is surprisingly well-mannered. It seems that maybe the oaky tannins could be from leaving the whisky in the cask for slightly too long. Saying that, it must have been distilled at one hell of a percentage, if after sitting in a cask for so long, the ABV is still so high! However, I quite like it. It originally went down like a refreshingly smooth fruit juice, but has an almost adult feel to it with the bitter and tannic notes. I could sit all night with this dram, and I don’t mean nursing it. I could pour myself one after another and I reckon it would be just as good, if not better, the more I drink. I do feel that this effect is probably because I had warmed up with a few drams beforehand. If this whisky had been the first dram in the line-up, I reckon the woodiness would have been slightly too harsh. As I have said before, there is a time and place in which each whisky is at its best, and the day I drank this, it was top-notch.
Lead image kindly provided by Abbey Whisky.