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Delva Special Brand Old Scotch Whisky

Today’s whisky is, I believe, the oldest whisky I’ve had by year distilled—which, as a first-time contributor, will mean absolutely nothing to you! With such an old whisky, it can become one of those you pause a bit before opening, wondering if there might be a special occasion for which to save it. However, one of the benefits of a bottle share group with friends is that you can share special whiskies that would normally go beyond your own budget. Therefore, you don’t feel the same need to save special whiskies for “the perfect moment.”

An interesting aside is perhaps asking: are bottle shares one of the reasons for whisky prices increasing? As prices have gone up, it seems more normal to share bottles with friends to reduce the hit to the wallet, while still being able to taste a wide range of whiskies. By doing this, however, we find it easier to pay more, as we’re not buying a full bottle, and so can buy bottles at a higher price. If enough people do this, does it result in driving up the cost of our drams?

To give a bit more context for the review, my whisky journey started “properly” around 2012, when as part of the stag party for a great friend, we visited Glengoyne distillery. Up to then, it was just the occasional dram. Since then, some of the old whiskies I’ve been lucky enough to try have formed some of my best whisky experiences, though they have by no means been the only ones; a huge amount depends on the company (and location) at the time, which can elevate a decent whisky to a very special moment!

Some highlights: a 1961 Glenfarclas straight from the cask at the Spirit of Speyside festival a few years back. Another sharing the 1981 Glenugie Jason reviewed with my family at Christmas, as well as surprising a few strangers by giving them some to try when on a couple of distillery tours after. Joining a friend at a bar where we had several 1960’s Glenglassaughs for bargain prices (the bar charged the original cost, instead of massively hiking prices to current market values) constituted another. Overcoming (mostly!) the language barrier with some friendly strangers in a tiny Japanese bar in Tokyo over some fantastic drams.

In contrast, an old 1966 Glenturret miniature was the worst I’ve ever had, tasting of distilled fairy liquid. Even when I shared it later with a group of nine people as a curiosity, we were not able to finish the 5cl! Others have been left too long in the barrel, resulting in an experience like drinking liquified wood (I suspect; I’ve not actually done this!).

Getting back to today’s whisky: where will this one land, as a gem or a disappointment? Perhaps an introduction should merit a mention that it saw and survived the rise and fall of the Nazis, the Cold War, and even 90’s pop. One of those events played a large role in its history, and without wanting to spoil the ending, the story is in many ways better than the taste! (And thankfully, than 90’s pop.)

During the early part of the Second World War, as part of the North Africa campaign, the famous German General Rommel and his Afrika Korps came across a huge wine and spirits cellar. This contained a million and a half litres of top-quality Scotch whisky, Jamaican rum, London gin and French cognac. Perhaps not surprisingly, the soldiers were thirsty and helped themselves to a large amount of this trophy of war. However, more than 1 million litres survived, which were then shipped across the Mediterranean in wooden oak casks to Italy, ending up in the village of Nettuno.

Some time passed, and the tide of war turned against the Axis powers. In 1944, the Allied armies stormed the beach near Nettuno, and after some horrific fighting, took the area on their way to Rome. They also liberated 250,000 gallons of alcohol from Nettuno, which was taken to the local Delva distillery for bottling after presumably more sampling by the soldiers. Eventually, the remaining stock was taken to Austria. There it entered storage, with some used for wining and dining guests after the war.

More time passed, and in the 1970’s following negotiations, some of the bottles received a new label and were put on sale, which is where the story ends for the captured alcohol as a collection. One bottle, in particular, was put into a whisky auction which a friend bought and opened, and a sample arrived at my house shortly after. Thus, after an unknown distillation date and over 74 years waiting in the bottle, it’s finally time for it to be drunk!

Delva Special Brand Old Scotch Whisky – review

Colour: Pale gold, with a rose tinge.

On the Nose: Different! This is not like any whisky I’ve had before, more like an aftershave or perfume. Sweet, flowery – lavender and camomile, antiseptic – mouthwash perhaps – although not minty, a little soapy, fake strawberry flavour from pic ‘n mix sweets. Bizarre stuff! Picking up the glass the day after, it smells of red fruit tea.

In the Mouth: a weak start, some taste of chemicals, oranges, lavender, somewhat more herby—parsley, nutmeg, overripe fruit, white pepper, wood and cardboard in a somewhat dry finish that continues remarkably long, considering the starting strength. I wonder how much of these flavours are original, and how much are from storage over the years in likely varying conditions. It could be interesting to compare different bottles to see.

Conclusions

Not sure this is what you’d typically call whisky! The nose is the most powerful part of the experience, but somewhat unusual, and not really what I’d call very pleasant. However, certainly… interesting! Once the whisky hits the tongue, it’s almost pleasant, but the floweriness and chemical note in the background stop it from being fully so. One of the interesting things is that the new labels in the 1970s were put over the top of the original from 1944. The original had the text “Chemical tests carried out on Delva Liquors showed all to be within standards of purity prescribed for use by Allied Military personnel.” I wonder if this is still the case, given the taste?!

I suspect it’s one of the first times on Malt, but considering the taste, price and the historical background, it’s only recommended to buy as a collectable for the history if you are into that sort of thing, if one assumes that this bottle is representative of the others. Otherwise, just try as a small sample if you find an open bottle and want to experience something different. It may not be the best, but surely one of the main reasons for trying different whisky is this: to find those different experiences?

Score: 2/10

Thanks to Whisky Auctioneer for the photographs and remember to open your bottles!

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Jeremy
Jeremy

As late 1980's release from Scotland you might assume I got into whisky as a wee bairn. However after a slow maturation period it took off properly around 2011 alongside a good friend when studying geology. Now living in Norway I enjoy most types of whiskies, ranging from brand new international distilleries to the well established Scottish ones.

  1. Avatar
    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    Last year I opened my bottle of a 1940s distilled Haig George V label, which was gifted by my grandfather. I was expecting a Brora like awakening experience, but instead it felt like licking a spoon of sugar. Overly sweet, unidimensional, probably designed to go into cocktails. As bad as it was, it gave a window into what folks liked back in the 40s. It did make me wonder…knowing that tastes changed so dramatically since, we can probably predict taste will change in the next 50 years or so too…making our valued possessions of hoarded Broras, Hanyu, and Port Ellens probably not so valued

    1. Jeremy Watt
      Jeremy Watt says:

      It’s an interesting point about evolving taste throughout time. I think this one might not have been great to start with, then add in all the transport/storage time etc and it had a high chance of being poor. You’d presume with better knowledge on storage that the original taste would be retained more for current bottles. However even looking back to say the 80’s, I’d say in my experience there’s an evolution from lighter, more typically for blending style, to far more cask driven big flavours in the present day. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves further with time. I won’t be surprised to see a step back at some point, to something more balanced in the future.

  2. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Oh dear oh dear, that made me laugh. The story of the origin of this drink made me highly suspicious of its quality. Nevertheless, you are quite correct to say that we try these things for the experience. There is great history to this bottle and that is part of that experience. These days it’s normal for wine retailers to put a disclaimer when selling ancient bottles because there’s a fair chance it will taste like rancid dishwater. It’s part of the risk and it’s part of our drinking adventure. It goes into the experience locker. Well done for giving it a go. It could be a classic next time. WT

    1. Jeremy Watt
      Jeremy Watt says:

      I thankfully hadn’t been expecting much before tasting it! As you say, for old bottles (rather than old whisky bottled recently) then there’s a huge risk of bad storage. Or it was just poor to begin with! It certainly was different, and you do see just how wrong whisky can sometimes go!

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