In my opinion, there is no better spirit to remind us of the passage of time, and the opportunities that have come and gone, than whisky.
My own time as a – shall we say, “dedicated” – whisky enthusiast spans 14 years, back to 2008. And with the passing of those 14 years, I feel the net tightening a little more each month. We all have our own frames of context in relation to whisky. Here are mine:
In 2008 independently bottled whisky, or even anything with an age statement with more than one digit, would all date from the 1990s. Drinking whisky distilled in the 1990s was cheap, easy, and not given a second thought. It wasn’t special. It was just what was available.
In 2008, if you wanted a whisky distilled in the 1980s, it would require a little more effort and expenditure, and that distillation year might be closer to Reagan leaving office than taking office, but you could get it. Perhaps if I’d known now what I’d known then, I’d have stored away a few more of those bottles, but c’est la vie. Good whisky was drunk and good times were had. At least, that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.
Skip ahead a little to around 2015: at this point someone had hit fast forward on the whisky boom. Prices were accelerating and competition for bottles was heating up. It was about this time that whisky distilled in the 1980s perhaps passed me by, especially single malts. It was only after the fact I realised, this as I had several 80s bottlings stashed away in the cabinet and I did not feel the loss. By 2015 though, obtaining something bottled in the 1990s was more and more desirable and now represented a well aged-malt.
Now here we are in December 2022. I am comfortably middle aged and have the kids, mortgage, and financial responsibilities that come with that. However, even if I were still footloose and fancy free with my money, I’d balk at some of these prices. I regularly see cask strength single malt independent bottlings around 10 years of age – distilled from 2010 onwards – close to or exceeding $200, depending on the bottler and distillery. Indie bottles at this age, perhaps not at cask strength and from more reasonably priced producers, can still nudge up to $150. At that price point, one must ask oneself, “How badly do I want this?”
Perhaps that is why I have increasingly leaned towards blends, as a last stronghold of worthy value for money (if you enjoy blends that is. If not, the point is moot). When I started buying whisky in 2008, if the whisky club I was in suggested a bottle over $100, I would swiftly decline. Getting up to $80 seemed cheeky in those days, but doable.
In 2022, I accept that whisky from the 1990s – to say nothing of the 1980s – is now beyond my ways and means. Take this 23 year old 1998 Glenrothes from Lady of the Glen, which is selling for $299. Perhaps that price isn’t even bad, all things considered, but it’s more than I am willing to spend. I buy more and more bottlings with single figure age statements, distillation ages creeping forwards faster than the years are passing. Perhaps it is funny; the older I get, the younger the whisky.
All this is to give background as to why, when local Australian whisky outlet Nicks obtained a shipment of Signatory Vintage backstock, I jumped on a couple bottlings. Opportunities to obtain a bottle from the 1990s may not come around too often anymore, especially at what seemed reasonable pricings (I assume because these were backstock and had been passed around).
I was like a kid on Christmas morning flicking through the cask strength offerings in the email. First up, a 1997 Linkwood 20 year old, and then a 1993 Inchmurrin 23 year old, both available for $199. Still a lot of money, but compared to the Lady of the Glen above, you can see the value. Also, good value compared to newer Signatory Vintage cask strength bottlings, which usually go for around $220 to $240 down here at around 10 to 12 years of age.
Malt’s John did excellent summaries of both Linkwood and Inchmurrin. Linkwood is a Diageo owned distillery which is used in their blends, especially Johnnie Walker Green. Inchmurrin is the unpeated single malt produced from the increasingly popular Loch Lomond distillery. Indie Linkwood is around, but independent Inchmurrin is considerably scarcer, to say nothing of 23 year old Inchmurrin from 1993.
So, a couple of unicorn experiences for me in 2022. I hope the liquid lives up to the expectations.
Signatory Vintage Linkwood 1997 20 Year Old – Review
Distilled 30 June 1997 and bottled 8 March 2018. 226 bottles were produced from a hogshead at 54.1% ABV. Purchased for $199, but now sold out.
Colour: Warm gold.
On the nose: The benefits of time in the glass with a passive cask come to the fore as this is lightly vegetal, chopped green peppers, fresh mushrooms and then some lime. More of the greenery of aged flower petals, a certain mustiness with mashed up herbs and perhaps some tinniness.
This has needed the added time in the passive hogshead; I appreciate the natural presentation after all the turbo charged sherry cask whiskies I tend to drink, but the palate has ground to make up.
In the mouth: Soft in the mouth with a burn of alcohol down the back palate, and just a little of a dirty aftertaste. A second mouthful brings buttery scones, red liquorice, rockmelon, and paw paw. None of it especially pronounced, and now I’m getting candy canes. This dram is like riding a lazy wave back to shore. A certain chalkiness and day old bread to finish.
I think Signatory bottled this just in time. A dram that isn’t especially intellectual, and never hits any heights, nor plumbs any depths. I could add a point for value, but really, that price was a once-off fluke so will stick with my first instincts.
Signatory Vintage Inchmurrin 1993 23 Year Old – Review
Distilled 24 May 1993 and bottled 1 May 2017. 254 bottles were produced from a hogshead at 57.4% ABV. Purchased for $199, but now sold out.
Colour: Lighter gold than the Linkwood.
On the nose: This is a burst of life after the Linkwood. Blood oranges, all manner of citrus, menthol and lemon flavoured boiled sweets. This then fades into caramel notes and hot jam donuts fresh from the cart. Wood varnish, vinaigrette, and then freshly chopped green wood.
I am not sure what to expect on the palate after that riot of flavours.
In the mouth: Musk sticks, vanilla pods, rumbling along into milk chocolate and walnuts. Lemon spread, creaming soda (fine, Irn Bru), spiced rum, and Kewpie mayo. Finally, orange marmalade, burned marshmallows and brown sugar.
Better than the Linkwood, a whole different class of experience; the Inchmurrin feels like a true original.
Why is it that we lust after well aged malts? Is it because we think that a 30 year old single malt will by its very nature be so much better than a 10 year old? If the 10 year old is a 6/10 and the 30 year old is 8/10, is that worth paying 10 times the price? Possibly, if you have the resources. If the scores are reversed, are we then just drinking the 30 year old for the prestige? But there will always be a young, well priced 8/10 out there for the shopper who does their research and buys wisely.
Forgive me if this article finds me in a more ruminative mood than usual. After all, ‘tis the season for both reflection and to spoil oneself with the finest drops in our cabinet. Time moves on. The Mark P of 2008 isn’t coming back, and nor is the whisky industry he first encountered.
I bought these drams for a chance to experience whisky from the 1990s as the likelihoods of doing so grows increasingly scarce. I also hoped they might offer ‘knock me out of my chair’ flavour. Though they failed that brief, by and large, it was still worth it to have access to these time capsules from a world now in the past.
All prices are in Australian dollars