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The Single Malts of Scotland Imperial 1997 Aged 23 Years

These days, we’re both taking and storing pictures at an unprecedented pace.

From time to time, we also look at these photos. We share them with a buddy or send them to relatives. After some time, or if the picture has been sent along to the appropriate parties in the nether sphere, I delete the photo. The pictures I keep are the ones that can no longer be replicated. A picture of someone or something that I’ll never see again. A fleeting moment, encased in amber.

But what if you could get one of those moments again? How much would you pay?

You may not realize it, but you’ve probably contemplated this question a few times already. If you’re a seasoned whisky drinker, I’m sure you have a memory of that bottle. Everything from how the bottle looked to what the weather was like. It’s that bottle that compels us to keep trying new things in hopes of finding it again.

I talked about a bottle like this in my first piece about Glenburgie. That particular tipple from the distillery compelled me to try a couple dozen different ‘Burgies in hopes of finding a moment like that again. sadly, none of them lived up to the first, but I enjoyed searching for a glimmer of it.

But what if a mysterious salesman found me and said, “I have what you’re looking for. How much would you be willing to part with to have it?”

I’d certainly part with $100, perhaps even $200. But what about $300 or more? How much value would I place on something I thought was lost forever? This is what gnawed at me when I tasted this expression of Imperial.

Whiskies like Imperial carry a certain premium, as they are truly finite. The fountain from which they once flowed is forever closed. Therefore, determining what is fair to pay for them is a little more complicated.

As I mentioned in my review of Compass Box’s Magic Cask, Imperial is my ghost whisky of choice… though it’s not necessarily the best ghost to chase. The distillery doesn’t boast a proud past like some of the more well-known ones. In fact, its history is plagued with poor timing. The distillery was on the map for a little over 100 years, but out of production for 60% of that time. It always seemed to reopen and get going just as the industry started to slow down.

Much of its production was thrown into blends so it never had much of an opportunity to establish itself as a single malt when the category became popular. An upside to all of this, is that it has a much lighter price tag than Port Ellen, Brora, or Rosebank. However, that doesn’t mean there’s ever been a lot of it to go around. So why punish myself looking for it?

If you’ve ever gone far out of your way to visit a particular taco truck or made a second trip to a foreign country for a single dish, then you probably already have a good understanding as to why I seek out Imperial. It’s creamy malt, vivid fruit, and overall grace, are deeply satisfying, and I’ve yet to find a contemporary equivalent.

This single cask expression was distilled in 1997, aged 23 years, and bottled (at 45.4% ABV) exclusively for the US market, by Specialty Drinks Ltd in 2020.

The Single Malts of Scotland Imperial 1997 Aged 23 Years – Review

Colour: Gold.

On the nose: It is gentle but evocative. Which, from my own experiences, seems to be typical for Imperial (and just my speed). Oatmeal, butter, kirsch, vanilla, and short bread cookies. All of these notes swirl around as if modestly fighting for center stage attention.

In the mouth: A nice lithe texture. A dense progression of flavors. The most prominent are clotted cream and white stone fruits: pears, peaches, and lychees. With aeration, subtler notes of blueberries and vanilla ice cream follow. The finish halts the parade of fruit with smoky wood char. After a few sips of this, I was surprised at how much sweetness had built up on my tongue. For a whisky that hasn’t seen the inside of a sherry cask, this could satisfy those of us with a sweet tooth. If you add some water the nose becomes more floral, and the aroma of butter is replaced with a scent of sweet cream. The water washes the char off the palate and sweetens the fruit flavors, so they are more sorbet-like.

Conclusions:

This whisky puts me at ease. The aromas and flavors reward the quiet and contemplative drinker. I am not always that drinker, but I’ll be happy to have this available when I am. That said, I’m left feeling a bit sad as well. While any whisky from a gone distillery is part of a swan song, this one seems to sing of a dying style. And not just of Imperial.

Quiet whispering whiskies don’t garner the same attention these days as those that are willing to bellow. When was the last time you saw a whisky advertised as, “…subtle and contemplative AF!”

Me neither. And in a whisky market of aggressive aromas and flavors, I find myself remembering those subtler whiskies of yore.

Have you ever felt the whisky industry uses nostalgia against us? Are you frustrated every time you buy your favorite standby bottle and the price has been ticked up a few digits (again)? How much more will it be the next time?

I know on Malt we’ve beaten this dead horse a few dozen times already, but I think it’s because we’re all wondering: when will we collectively reach our breaking point?

This was on the shelf for $235. I imagine if it was released a few years later the price would be closing in on $300. What about when it resurfaces on the secondary market? Will it sell for double or even triple it’s original price? How much Imperial will still be knocking around by then? How much for how much?

Is there no limit on the price of nostalgia? Are whisky drinkers doomed to constant price hikes to relive a sliver of what we remember? I try not to get bogged down in these questions, but some days it’s hard not to.

Perhaps the real value of ghost whisky isn’t the reminder of what’s gone…but instead, what’s in front of us.

We can never swim in the same river water twice. It’s a gift to look at a photo and reminisce, but foolhardy to think we can recreate it. That moment we’re chasing has gone downriver. We should let it go.

After all, we have the memory, which is often the sweetest of waters.

Score: 7/10

Photo courtesy of Wine Exchange.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Sam

Sam is from New York. He developed a taste for whisky at his first job after college. Since then his tastes have taken him to Scotland, France, and various parts of the U.S. in order to better understand what he's drinking.

  1. Graham says:

    Sam,

    Lovely write up. I recently found lychee as a tasting note in a whisky and it was a revelation. This Imperial seems like my kind of whisky.

    Cheers,

    Graham

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