1977, the year that gave us the energy and fury of punk: the album debuts of the Sex Pistols and the Clash. The same year that also saw the arrival of Fleetwood Mac’s epic Rumours album and a certain Apple II arriving at retail. It was a twelve-month melting pot and a change in direction for many.
1977 also represents the birth year of several friends and very important people in my life. It’s always the source of much amusement and aggravation when I do start to question whether it was a good vintage or not. Voices both close to home and from afar soon batter any sense of deviation out of my mindset. Ultimately, though, 1973 remains king for whisky.
For the Scotch whisky industry, 1977 represented a fall in demand within the UK, according to figures from our friends at the Scotch Whisky Association, with international demand holding firm. The previous year accounted for 48,438,000 litres within the UK and 16.9% off all Scotch produced by distilleries that year, whereas in 1977, this dropped to 40,248,000. It rebounded in subsequent years until it hit, ultimately, the last great bust in demand during the early 1980’s. The other slumps were the 1850’s, 1890’s and the 1920’s, each for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps it was a year to stop and take note: across the decade, in terms of figures, it is the year that seems out of place. A possible warning sign of things to come, and of the value in planning ahead a little? The same forward planning that has been missing from the industry across the last decade, with the resulting shortages of maturing stock? Demand is a chameleon and difficult to pin down, let alone to forecast. The problem isn’t specific to the whisky industry, as I know my own employer consistently gets it wrong year on year when trying to look ahead. The boom and bust cycle is one that every industry seeks to avoid, preferring orchestrated growth and stability, or predictability in the eyes of some onlookers. Ah yes, predictability, a word that has come to define today’s whisky in so many ways.
Today, with demand ramping up and new distilleries coming on stream, we’re booming majorly and excelling in selling ourselves. Glenlivet being extended for what seems the fifteenth time in a vicious fight to the death with Glenfiddich, you do have to ask: who is drinking or going to drink all of this stuff? Let us not forget the Macallan Teletubby theme park that will ensure more whisky is added to the loch that represents something more akin to an ocean nowadays. The lochs reside now within homes and auctioneers with a countless parade of unopened vessels trapped in time.
Of course, I jest, but the capitalism merry-go-round will eventually have to usher in some form of brakes. It is a question I’m regularly asked, as to when I think the industry will contract, and things come crashing down. Honestly, I don’t know, and I would have stated an earlier year than 2020 before now, so it shows how much I—or anyone—actually know when it comes to demand. A simple fact is that eventually, it will come, and only the healthy and well prepared will be able to survive. They, then, will survive partially because they have kept their regular customers engaged and happy: the same individuals who have supported brands and distilleries because they enjoy their wares … not the new money markets that will lose interest and move on to the next cash cow.
Even now, I hear rumours that Macallan isn’t selling as well as anticipated in North America. I wish I had figures to back up such speculation, but there’s one thing at which the Scotch whisky industry is adept, and that’s shrouding things in smoke and avoiding divulging figures, especially those that are negative.
Let us go back in time once again to 1977, specifically to Edrington, because this is the origin of this particular cask. I’d like to paint a pretty picture and take us deep into a dunnage warehouse. The air might have been thick with maturing stock, the workforce answering a demand from further up the chain of command: a request to vat several casks from the distilleries owned by the company at that time – some of which they retain to this day. Perhaps a project that never reached fruition, with the original aim to create a blend for a special Famous Grouse release, or commemorative bottling. I forget which, exactly, because details are kept out of the public domain, although I did have a roundabout conversation with someone in the know who confirmed the origins. Time erodes many things, including memory!
You’ll have seen many of these casks come to the market in recent times via the independent bottlers. I know Cadenhead’s have had their fair share. These releases have been from a variety of sources, all documented as being quite tasty. They are marked out by their excessive maturation and lack of detail. When selling on casks nowadays, these often come with terms and conditions around name usage and detail; another consideration with older casks is that the details have been lost to time. Ultimately, the final judgement comes with the asking price and the experience itself.
The label itself gives away a few details and confirms the use of only single malts within the recipe, as well as the fact that these come from Highland and Speyside distilleries. Again, this underlines the source. This has “resided in the finest ex-sherry butts from Jerez in Spain” – typical waffle, as that’s where the majority of casks come from; every cask, it seems, is the finest. This edition was bottled at a marginal 42.9% strength and released by the Creative Whisky Company, who sadly is no more. Rose joins me for her thoughts on this whisky.
Exclusive Blends 1977 – Jason’s Review
On the nose: waxed oranges, worn leather, Brasso and cherrywood. A rum fudge, with Chinese five-spice and a gentle layer of cloves. Some treacle flushed with pecans and black shoe polish. A warmed malted loaf, dried driftwood and maple syrup with cranberries. A rich blackcurrant jam, chocolate digestives; doesn’t require water.
In the mouth: a marriage of cask and spirit. Caught just in time; plenty of character resides. More of those cracked leathers, plum jam and a well-loved shammy. A fired shortcrust pastry, glazed cherries and a slightly drying oaky nature. Chocolate sponge, brown toast and dry roasted coffee beans, with aniseed on the finish.
This lacks the punkish nature of 1977 and instead comes across as harmonious as a Stevie Nicks vocal. Luxurious, decadent and distinctive, with a slight edginess to proceedings.
You have to display some patience with this whisky to allow all the flavours and aromas to come through. Water isn’t required. Employ suitable glassware, and most importantly, patience. This has waited four decades to be explored, so show it some respect: let it settle down and relax. Then you’ll truly appreciate the moment, and even amongst the abuse, you’ll leave thinking 1977 wasn’t half bad at all.
Exclusive Blends 1977 – Rose’s Review
Color: Melted Bronze.
On the nose: Burnt brown sugar and candied orange peels. Then a subtle waft of overly ripe and beginning to ferment grapes, freshly made bread dough. Honeycomb candy covered in dank chocolate, gooey salted caramels and a hint of marzipan. Candy apple and browning butter. Then at the end something pleasingly dirty.
In the mouth: Mmmmm marzipan cake with a sherry glaze…is that a thing? I think it might need to be now! Anyway, focus! Some really oily dirty leather with the leftover haze of bonfire ash, dripping in caramel sauce, vanilla extract. Some of the sweeter notes have subsided into the background. Finishes with a dusting of powdered cocoa, drying almost as if my tongue has been powdered with it. More damp woody dankness.
There’s something about this whisky that pulls me in. As if it softly and considerately sucker punches me in the face and then a gentle pat on the cheek. Like hey there, you awake? Not lacking anything at 42.9%, in fact surprisingly robust in my opinion. Vibrant and lively. For a 40 year old whisky, I feel like she drinks much younger. Maybe that’s just me getting attached though?
Sentimentality or fondness for a particular year aside. If this whisky was given to me blindly I have no doubt that there would be a tirade of inquires. I would need to know all the who, what, when, where’s and why’s, and if I could purchase it. Price is always a factor, sure. But I’d be pretty determined, even if it was one of those special bottles I’d need to save up for. Lucky for me, this was a really special gift from my husband, one that I truly savor every time I unleash it, and will until it’s last drop. I believe the bottle retailed for around about $350 and was purchased from The Whisky Shop in San Francisco.
My thanks to Rose aka From Where I Dram for the sample and photograph.