“For auld lang syne my dear, for auld lang syne” – Robert Burns
Malt Review has been quite an important resource on my whisky journey. The obvious aspects are the interesting tasting notes and reviews and opinion pieces. Then there are the whiskies that I would not have bought without having read a solid review and score to support. Be that the Langatun Carideras or the Paul John Christmas Edition.
Malt helped me form some early opinions and gave me a greater appreciation of a diverse spectrum of whisky. Like many, I supported Malt as a Patreon, and admit to being concerned about changes afoot early in 2021. In February I certainly thought Malt may close. Clearly the dramatic end never materialised, and Malt continued ever forward.
I would like to celebrate this new direction that Malt has taken in 2021. Taylor navigated a very tense and tricky transition whilst also supporting new writers, home moves, supporting his own family, and his own writing, along with a day job. Personally, I found the support from Taylor invaluable and in 2021 went from writing “one last article ever” to surprising myself and enjoying contributing more regularly.
Taylor and Kat have brought a fresh perspective to Malt, provided hours of support to me and other writers, along with bearing the heavy burden of editing and formatting for the website. We’ve started to reset some relations with industry, which has resulted in a more varied content. Taylor and Kat have, as editors, supported writers delivering some more controversial content that would not have been seen on the Malt of old, such as my article on the Diageo Special Releases on embargo day, or the origin story of Bryan’s whisky glass development. Another stand-out example of what’s great about new Malt was Kat’s hilarious and considered reflection on “Bible-gate.”
I am very positive about the direction of Malt into 2022 as a source of independent, interesting, challenging, and surprising content. I also want to reflect on the greatness of old Malt. One of the most significant impacts on my whisky journey from Malt has been the championing of old vintage blends. These are a great source of liquid history, available on the secondary market. Hit, and often miss, each one is an experience that transcends the quality of the liquid. The research for each one provides an additional experience prior to opening.
If you are into old blends, then you need the Schweppes Guide to Whisky, not only championed by Jason across his writing but also celebrated in the fascinating interview with Philip Morrice. The Schweppes guide helpfully highlights the link between the blended whisky brands and companies that own them and the various distilleries, aiding in the quest to dissect the contents of a blend. Chapter 7 of the guide greatly assists the interrogation of whisky labels. Including the various phrases designed to set a level of quality including “special, old, matured, extra, ancient, reserve, Finest, supreme, cream… invariably are assigned to standard blends” whereas “De Luxe can usually be taken to indicate a better-quality blend containing a higher than usual amount of well-aged malts.”
Philip Morrice also goes on the acknowledge that, by the 1980s, within the UK the SWA had largely addressed the issues of quality and misleading information but this did not apply elsewhere in the Globe. As such, purchasing vintage blends with various import labels from global markets does also add some jeopardy.
As a result of this whisky guidance, I have tried some amazing blends. For example, Logan Deluxe from the 1980s containing Lagavulin, Craigellachie, and other malt whisky from the White Horse stable. I shared a cracking blend, bottled in 1974 for the Malt Distiller’s Association of Scotland, with members of the Capital Whisky Club (also reviewed below). I was disappointed by a Grand Old Parr that may have not been stored well. I sipped some fascinating peated Speyside malts distilled in the 1960s and bottled in the 1970s, as a time capsule from a bygone era.
The word on old blends has gotten out now, though. Auction prices are constantly creeping up with those blends from the White Horse brand now regularly going above £150. £30 is much more my price point, as there is no way of knowing how the bottles have been stored. Many will have languished at the back of a cupboard in a centrally-heated house for the last 40 to 50 years before being sent to auction by house clearance professionals, after the eventual demise of the non-whisky-drinking owners.
I was provided with an opportunity to take part in a seven bottle vintage blend split, and I’ve provided my thoughts on each below. Where I’ve been able to glean any further information I’ve added it to the conclusions but, if anyone can provide any more details on these, please drop them into the comments. Finally, I’ve added notes on the Malt Distiller’s Association of Scotland Centenary blend.
For auld lang syne, my dear…
Johnnie Walker Red Label (1960s) – Review
70o proof. £70.50 (auction price including fees).
Colour: Pale gold
On the nose: Gentle sweet peat smoke, creamy sweetness, fragile fruitiness – baked fruits, vanilla and pastry with some polished leather coming through.
In the mouth: Bottle aged dustiness, petrichor, dusty dry peat, sweet baked fruits, spicy oak, dried ginger, lovely spiced finish.
The 1960s were a good period for Red Label and the quality of the whisky here is a level above what you are likely to experience today with a bottle of Red Label. A well-constructed blend which tasted good but does not blow me away.
R Carmichael & Sons Coldstream Guards (1940s) – Review
86o proof (US, 43% ABV) £56 (auction price including fees)
On the nose: Gooseberry jam, orange marmalade, artificial caramel, petrichor, a bit of damp cardboard.
In the mouth: Artificial sweetener; sweet and bitter, buttery caramel, cheap vanilla fudge from a pick’n’mix, very short dusty finish.
According to Philip Morrice this brand was associated with Inver House Distillers by the time the Schweppes Guide was produced. Inver House was only created in 1964, therefore does not offer any provenance for this whisky 20 years prior. The whisky is altogether a bit off and not particularly enjoyable I assume this was a poorer quality blend to begin with and the 80 years in the bottle has not helped at all.
Williams & Williams Kit Kat Blend (1940s or early 1950s) – Review
Strength unknown. £62.70 (auction price including fees).
On the nose: Light fruity sweetness, spirity prickle, light smooth toffee, dusty vanilla, unripe peach and pear.
In the mouth: A flash of fruity sweetness falls away rapidly leaving only old bottle damp cardboard and a tingle of oak spices.
Beyond the amusing name of this blend and cat face on the bottle, there is not anything really appealing about this dram. It’s clearly degraded in the bottle to a point where it is impossible to assess the original spirit. But rare it is, and the chances of uncovering another bottle to compare are infinitesimally small. There is no information I could uncover about the brand or the bottle, both of which must have disappeared by the time of Philip Morrice.
A. Dewar Rattray Glenburn Scotch Whisky 12 Years Old (1970s) – Review
43% ABV. £34.75 (auction price including fees).
Colour: Rich gold.
On the nose: Rich stewed fruit and dusty peat – classic 1970s blend notes, lemon sherbet, ripe plum, bruised apple, a bit dank.
In the mouth: Apple crumble, microwaved damp cardboard, PVA glue, damp campfire, black pepper, Danish pastries.
Independent A. Dewar Rattray was established in 1817 as a licenced grocers. Operating on a modest scale as a whisky broker and wholesale spirit merchant by the 1970s, the company’s own brand of Glenburn was discontinued by 1982. Rattray was owned through marriage by the Stanley P. Morrison business that was to evolve into Morrison Bowmore in 1982.
At the time, Bowmore and Glen Garioch distilleries were owned by the group, and malts from these may have made it into this blend. Modern AD Rattray is separate from Morrison Bowmore and is an independent bottler again, reviving historic lines such as Stronachie and producing a decent contemporary output.
The “Glenburn” name has been used recently for a well-aged blend from AD Rattray that bears no resemblance to this antique version. As for this specific whisky: you can get over the dankness from its 50 years in the bottle and the blend behind is light and present. With the proud age statement, I expected a little more from this blend. There are indications of initial quality here but in current form it’s just…
John Buccleugh & Co Ltd Crown Thistle Deluxe (1970s) – Review
65.5o proof (assumed to be US proof so just 37.4% ABV) £39.20 (auction price including fees).
Colour: Rich gold.
On the nose: Bold, almost savoury, vegetal peat, sliced cooked ham, cola syrup.
In the mouth: Muted, similar to the nose, slightly sweet, decent mouthfeel, some vegetal peat spice, custard power and crème caramel.
Although muted, there is a poise and balance to this that I find pleasant. A bit more ABV might have helped this blend. Given the Deluxe moniker I did expect this to be a level above the other blends. There is nothing to be found on the bottler John Buccleugh & Co Ltd, Warrington, Cheshire that I can find unfortunately.
John Dewar & Sons Ltd Ancestor (1970s) – Review
No ABV or Proof on bottle.
Colour: Pale gold.
On the nose: Quite bright, white fruits, fresh ginger, fresh tobacco.
In the mouth: Bright again, fruity, inoffensive, dusty vanilla, peach melba gummies, dusty bookshelves but no cardboard thankfully, apple turnovers, a pinch of cinnamon.
Pleasant and unremarkable, like modern entry level NAS blends, to be honest. Chivas Regal comes to mind, plus a bit of bottle aging. Interesting to reflect on this idea that cost reduction in the 1980s pushed blends to have a greater proportion of grain, lower malt content, poor casks, quicker fermentation and distillation etc, etc… all the rose-tinted spectacle arguments against modern whisky when that style of whisky was clearly around in the 1970s already. Dewar’s was the first to sell whisky in branded bottles, the first to receive a Royal Warrant (displayed on this bottle, too) and the Ancestor brand was a longstanding core range. Aberfeldy distillery was owned by the group at the time this blend was bottled, so is likely to feature in the constituent parts.
Gavin’s Antique 16 Years Old (1940s or early 1950s) – Review
86o US proof [43% ABV] £67.20 (auction price including fees)
On the nose: OK, this is different! TCP, crepe bandages, really strong camomile lotion, something fruity in the background and eventually sweet caramel develops.
In the mouth: Really refined peat, sweet delicate peat, aged peat that I find in 30+ year old peated whiskies, a background fruit again, a caramel note, caramelised white chocolate, very dry ashy finish.
Glenmore Distilleries Company is a large bourbon and vodka distillers that is now part of the Sazerac Group. In the 1950s they imported and marketed spirit in the US. Less is known about Gavin Distillers Ltd, which may have been a small company simply to facilitate the export of the Scotch to Glenmore in the US. This whisky is definitely an experience; it does not really nose like whisky at all. Was this kept in a hospital for 80 years? But for all the strange notes, there are layers of flavour which are interesting and worth geeking out over.
Malt Distiller’s Association of Scotland 1974 Centenary Blend – Review
80o proof. £37.50 (auction price including fees).
Colour: 18 carat gold.
On the nose: Rich, sulphurous, and fruity, burnt sugar, slow to develop beyond that, then dusty bookshelves.
In the mouth: Comes alive here, dusty drawing rooms, old leather, cigars, toffee apples, not too sweet at all, lovely balance, some gooseberry and sour brambles, peppery oak spices, medium finish that evokes 1970s snooker halls.
The use of paxarette lasted about 100 years. Ralfy does a great summary of paxarette on his YouTube channel. I certainly suspect there were paxarette casks in the mix here. But paxarette may not have been a million miles from modern “sherry mix” seasoning that currently occurs. Certainly, the boiling of the liquid contributes to the distinctive burnt fruit sugar nose in vintage whiskies. Not a bad thing, but it does require a little getting used to. The Malt Distiller’s Association of Scotland is a trade body similar to the Scotch Whisky Association, but which seems to have gradually declined and been superseded by the SWA, but is not completely defunct.