It’s always a privilege to bring you a whisky from St. Magdalene, or Linlithgow to give its alternative identity—particularly something from the Rare Malts range that has become the stuff of legend amongst investors. Sadly, such legends are only true if you managed to purchase at retail all those years ago.
For the rest of us living in the real world, these are bottles to be shared whenever possible, whenever with friends or experienced at establishments such as the Dornoch Castle whisky bar. Yes, we’re firmly navigating the realm of the unicorn today, which is aptly Scotland’s national animal. Nope, not the haggis or Nessie; just an everyday, commonly seen unicorn.
Very little of St. Magdalene resides within a cask nowadays. Companies don’t advertise their inventory, and out with Diageo, you’re probably looking at Gordon & MacPhail as the most likely source for any future release. There always remains the sickening prospect that it’s game over for a distillery, that the last cask has been rolled from its longstanding resting place, its contents disgorged and shipped across the world as the final sacrifice to the whisky gods.
St. Magdalene is arguably the least-discussed Lowland distillery, down to its lack of visibility as a single malt. Overlooked in favour of the nearby Rosebank in Falkirk, it still stands, with several of its prominent stone structures being converted into residential accommodation. I’d love to live in such a location and failed miserably to convince my better half to make such a move. The next best thing, other than taking a stroll along the boundaries, is of course to experience the liquid form.
To quote Private Hudson in Aliens, “That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the f*ck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?”
The Lowland style is being revived. Traditionists will note that originally this used to be triple-distilled, and as far as I can recall—keeping track of all the new distilleries is difficult—no Lowland distillery has confirmed such a technique other than the Rosebank revival. As Auchentoshan has done its best to devalue the Lowland region and triple-distilled methodology in recent times, reminding ourselves what these truly mean is important, and why I tend to look back.
There’s always a danger when faced with a whisky such as this St. Magdalene that rose-tinted glasses are adopted, and scoring starts at 88 if we use the popular geeky format. For the record, I’ve had as many disappointing whiskies from this distillery as memorable ones. An old nickname for its wares was canal water, which sums up how many remember it. Thankfully, time has been kind, and well matured St. Magdalene can be a wonderful thing.
This particular St. Magdalene was distilled in 1979, just a few years prior to its actual closure. Bottled at 19 years of age during October 1998, the strength is a eye-watering 63.8%, which is suggestive that the cask was filled without the spirit being cut. The likely reason for this is to save costs as outlined during my Cadenhead’s 2009 Glenrothes review, which talks about filling strength. By the 1970s many distilleries were showing their age and required sizeable investment. The writing was very much on the wall as global demand began to fall for whisky. For many distilleries within the DCL portfolio at the time, investment was not forthcoming, and inefficiencies were widespread. However, the quality of the distillate shines through on numerous occasions. Although the last St. Magdalene I actually tried—with Noortje in Dornoch—was very much a meh disappointment, let’s roll the dice again.
St Magdalene 1979 Rare Malts – review
Colour: light gold.
On the nose: obviously punch and with some spirit still evident. Limescale, marzipan, cider and camphor follow along with stewed – no – apple compote. There’s a sense of the whisky has been locked in and shrouded by the strength with a herbal dynamic and Kendal mint cake. Water will be beneficial without question and it is. More minerals now, a strong sense of petrichor, tinned pears, coconut and a hint of wax – beeswax? There’s more complexity with vanilla, honey and nectarines.
In the mouth: texture is the first impression, an impressive texture before the kicker of the alcohol strength, which a long and powerful finish. The apples remain noticeable alongside peaches, lemon flesh, wood notes and a touch of smoke alongside a creamy nature.
The addition of water showcases more citrus aspects, honeycomb and nutmeg. There’s green peppercorns, dry bark, balsa wood, a juicy vibe and marmalade with a long oily finish.
I hate to say it, but they don’t make ’em like they used to anymore. The strength initially hides the complexity beneath. Time and patience are key to unlocking the secrets of this whisky. Rush in and you’ll think this is very much an uncouth sample of canal water. Show it some respect and it’ll take you on a wonderful journey, revealing all of its treasures.
Unfortunately, this distillery and any associated releases are in the domain of the investor nowadays. The secondary market is pushing values beyond £800 towards a grand. While we wait for this bubble to burst they’ll continue to rise. If I was a member of a club that pooled resources to purchase such whiskies to open and enjoy; then this would be a good starting place. A fine dram to welcome a new addition to the family.
My thanks to Just Whisky for the sample.