Whisky was better in the old days.
That’s not a question. That’s a fact. Irrefutable. It must have been, because read whisky reviews and whisky blogs, speak to veterans of the whisky industry, or watch whisky videos, and you are told this time and time again.
Now we’ve established that, what else was better in the old days? Let’s run it down.
Movies, likely. In fact, almost definitely yes. Cinema peaked in the 1970s; The Godfather (both), Star Wars, Jaws, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall. I could go on, but don’t want to embarrass Marvel and Netflix.
Music: another strong yes. In fact, I’d contend the quality of music has declined every decade since the 1960’s. The Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Beach Boys. Beat that. You can’t.
Fashion: not sure on this one. Might need guidance and to do more research. The 1970s and 80s don’t seem to have been high points.
Television: back on firmer ground here and can comfortably assert television is better now than it has ever been. We might’ve passed the very height of peak TV, but I’ll take Mad Men, Succession, Breaking Bad and The Wire over anything you can throw at me from the 1960s or 1970s.
Medicine: may I introduce you to polio and smallpox? No need to dwell here, let’s lock in that medicine is better now.
Life in general: now we are on shakier ground. When I hear from older generations that things were better back when they were kids, I think “Yeah, you don’t say.” I, too, was happier when I didn’t have to work, pay bills, iron and clean and wash and fold and cook on repeat, day after day after day. We can’t spend our whole lives riding to the beach after school with mates.
So, whisky. I think at least part of the sentiment that whisky was better from around the 1960s to the 1980s was that whisky tasted different, and personal preference factors in at least a little. But there is some tangible reasoning: I’ve read that fermentation times were longer. Barrels weren’t used and reused until they were (and I use the scientific term here) knackered. Blends contained a higher percentage of single malt, and the grain whisky was older than the legal minimum.
Like movies and music, with whisky we can avoid the perils of nostalgia and judge the actual evidence: the final product. Old blends often turn up at auction, which is where I purchased today’s bottle from for under $100 Australian dollars. This is my second attempt at appreciating an older blend for Malt Review, after the Grant’s Special Reserve, which is collecting dust in my whisky cabinet.
In the auction description, this was described as originating in the 1970s and I have to believe it given that on the bottle the net contents are pre-metric, described as 1 Pint, 6 Fl Oz. There is no age stated or ABV. A tip of my cap to the beautiful bottle design. It has been heavily remarked upon by my children (who call all alcohol wine, but that’s neither here nor there).
There is some risk, I suppose, that the whisky has been tainted after so many years sitting in the bottle, but there is only one way to find out.
Haig Dimple Old Blended Scotch Whisky – Review
Colour: Dirty dark orange.
On the nose: Soft and vegetal, earthy and mossy, with raw mushrooms and rainwater in a warm forest. Also some sourness of white vinegar, mixed herbs, denim. Beef stock boiling away on the stovetop and a greasy skillet. If I am making this sound unpleasant, it really isn’t. It isn’t dynamic or overly inviting, either.
In the mouth: Initially a short and sharp alcohol bite on the front palate fades away to nothing much too quickly. I am eventually getting some bursts of sharp citrus, oranges, and limes. Patience and a good mouth coating softens up pleasant butterscotch notes, then bread and roasted malt. An uncommon viscosity when rolling this around in the mouth. Sweetness of a cream and jam scone or a jam donut in the finish.
It’s easy to say this beats the Grant’s Special Reserve into quick submission. There’s a fair bit to ponder here. Is this better than most 40% ABV blends you’d see lining supermarket shelves in 2023? In my opinion, yes. Has time in glass had a deleterious effect? Apparently not, but I’ll never really know what effect 45 years in the bottle has had.
Was whisky better in the old days? Here’s a news flash: the old days aren’t coming back. There’s plenty of good whisky out there, and at good prices if you look for it. Search my reviews and you’ll see my admiration for the blends coming from skilled independent bottlers.
There’s every chance this bottle contains whisky distilled in the 1960s, and I don’t take these opportunities for granted. I am willing to concede the point to those in the know that blends were better in days of yore. This Haig’s is a fine data point to begin the discussion with.
Dimple was not your typical 1970s blend – it was priced and marketed in Australia as a premium whisky, along with Johnny Walker Black and Chivas Regal. Black & White, Haig, Black Douglas, Dewars, J & B, Johnny Walker Red, White Horse, Vat 69 – these were the blends that ordinary folk drank. Nobody I knew talked about ‘age statements’, or ‘cask strengths’. Glenfiddich and Glenlivet were just beginning to make an impact as ultra-premium whiskies.
I can’t think of a contemporary equivalent to Dimple. There are expensive blends competing with single malts, but I can’t think of any that are widely regarded as the kind of stuff you’d find in the board room liquor cabinet. The diversity and quality of whisky available today would stun a visitor from the 1970s.
Thanks for reading Ken. This is all great information. The big difference I can’t get over is the lack of an ABV on the bottle. I didn’t know there was any period where that was accepted practice. This certainly tastes at least 40%. I’ll need to sample more just to be sure!
I won a bottle of dimple a few years ago in the UK, cost me £28 and was from around the 70s. The whisky was excellent but the thing that got me was the weight of the lid/stopper. Weighed almost as much as the bottle.
My bottle also did not have an abv and a few other blends ive had from that decade hadn’t either.