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Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt

“You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
Say something once, why say it again?”
– Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”

I was reminded of this lyric recently when I spotted an announcement on Twitter. A whisky reviewer announced he’d be shuttering his blog. It got me to thinking about the past, present, and future of my own whisky journey.

I believe there are a limited number of things to say about whisky. If you hammer out reviews with any regularity (and, in the nearly five years that I have been writing reviews here on Malt, I occasionally worked at an expeditious pace) you can get through them pretty quickly. Some bear repeating from time to time, and one might stumble upon a novel insight once in a while, but for the most part what needs to be said can be said in a short amount of time.

Beyond that, one is writing mostly to enjoy the sound of one’s own voice. Taken to an extreme, this can become annoyingly repetitious (ironically, I’ve written about this before). Unless a writer takes pains to come up with fresh angles of approach, it’s nearly impossible to avoid becoming predictable to longtime readers.

Lately – as in, this year -I’ve consciously reduced my output so as to ensure that I was adhering to the spirit of the rhetorical question posed by David Byrne in the intro to this review. At times, this has left Malt bereft of content for days – and occasionally weeks – at a time. So be it. I’ve discussed this with my fellow contributors as well as some of our readers, and the consensus is clear. We’d rather skip a day, or a few days, than to pollute the site with halfhearted pablum.

Speaking of past journeys, the subject of today’s review was itself inspired by a journey of epic proportions. It was also part of my own whisky journey. Perhaps most interestingly, the story of how I got this bottle starts with a mild ethical dilemma which I will now invite your comments on, if you feel so inclined:

There’s a shop down the street from my house that has an above-average selection of whiskies of all types. Bourbon, rye, and Scotch are all well represented on the shelves, with a combination of commonplace bottles (think Wild Turkey 101) as well as some that can be a little harder to find.

Pricing is all over the place. For every bottle tagged at SRP, there is another with a ludicrous markup. I’m talking about Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year ($60 SRP) for $1,200. To some extent, that’s to be expected with anything in the Pappy family. But this isn’t limited to a single trophy bottle; rather, there are a number of bottles of varying rarity and prestige that are priced ambitiously.

The reason this became a consideration for me is that I dropped in recently and noticed a truly desirable bottle: Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad… but there’s quite the story behind this bottle. The detailed explanation is available on the site for this expression, but a quick summary is: Richard Patterson, the master blender of Whyte & Mackay, recreated the blended whisky that was discovered as part of archaeological work on Ernest Shackleton’s expedition of 1907-09.

For history buffs who are also whisky enthusiasts, the appeal of this is obvious. Who wouldn’t want to be able to taste what those intrepid men of the Nimrod used to fortify themselves? A first edition, called “The Discovery,” was enthusiastically received. In a move harkening back to Shackleton’s serial expeditions, it was followed up by a second edition (dubbed “The Journey”). Mark previously reviewed “The Journey” back in 2014. Please consult that review as well if you’re curious about more of the backstory.

I purchased a bottle of “The Discovery” from Berry Bros. & Rudd back in 2018, during a work trip to London. I loved it at the time, though I had tasted far less whisky then than I have now. I subsequently gave up on ever finding another bottle of either “The Discovery” or “The Journey;” the last five years have been an eternity in whisky terms, and it seemed improbable that a well-regarded release containing legitimately rare blend components would have sat around all this time.

That was my assumption, at least, until I entered the aforementioned store and noticed not one but five(!) bottles of “The Journey” in a glass case. Even more astounding – given the pricing practices mentioned – was that they were asking only $150, a roughly £7 premium to the SRP on release more than a decade or more ago!

Herein lies the ethical dilemma: even though this particular bottle was fairly (or even more-than-fairly) priced, buying it would mean supporting a store that gouges on other bottles. What’s a good-hearted whisky lover to do? As you already know, I took the plunge, but I’d be curious to hear what you think about that decision.

Whatever your thoughts on the propriety of having bought the bottle, you have to admit it’s astounding that it was even there at all. Maybe that’s the conclusion to my meandering meditations in the first part of this review. So long as interesting things happen in whisky, I’ll have interesting things to write about. I’m hoping that’s the case here, today.

I’m going to start with the remains of my first bottle of “The Discovery,” which I saved in a sample bottle. This comes to us at 47.3% ABV. SRP on release was £150 for 700 ml.

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt “The Discovery” – Review

Color: Medium yellow straw.

On the nose: Starting subtle, this draws the nose in with notes of candle wax and eucalyptus, married to a creamy, buttery aspect that is very appealing. There’s some gently fruity notes of ripe clementine in here, as well as a spicy nip of ginger. Intriguing.

In the mouth: Also a subtle start in the mouth, this meets the tongue with a hint of ash. Becoming very firm in the middle of the mouth, this is possessed mostly of a drying, stony flavor and texture at midpalate. The best moment is just after this reaches the crest of the tongue, when that creamy note from the nose reemerges. It vanishes soon enough, though. There’s a somewhat stale, desiccated feel to the woody notes on the finish, as well as a lingering aftertaste reminiscent of an ashtray full of cigarettes.

Conclusions:

I’ll caveat my notes and conclusions here with reference to the fact that I poured this from a half-full sample bottle that has been sitting in my cupboard for around four years. For comparison, here are the tasting notes I wrote when I first opened this bottle back in 2018:

Medium-light golden copper color. At first, this has an estery nose, with aromas of Meyer lemon. Some time in the glass releases rich and sweet smells of marzipan and caramel, with the meaty sweetness of egg yolk. This really shows its stuff on the palate; a smooth but intensely flavorful blend, with a crystalline purity at midpalate. There’s excellent concentration and really multilayered richness through the long finish, which has the lingering salted nuttiness of cashews, some iodine, and a deft touch of peat smoke creating a campfire nuance. I can see why this was the tipple of choice for Antarctic exploration. Worth seeking out for the rare blend components alone (now-demolished Glen Mhor, as well as a very distinctive peated Dalmore, to name but two), this is also fascinating as a historical curiosity. More than all this, however, it’s just supremely tasty whisky.”

Clearly my impressions then were much different than now. Did the whisky change, or did my palate change, or both? Without being able to say for certain, it feels most fair to hold off on scoring this.

Score: N/A

Moving on to “The Journey,” I noticed this interesting tidbit on the site for this expression:

“The Journey Edition of Mackinlay’s takes the same base of single malts used to create the original Discovery Edition and, still inspired by the original recipe, builds on them to create a noticeably different dram – a more elegant and refined interpretation.”

This also carried a lower SRP of £110 for 700 ml. Reading between the lines, I’m going to assume that whatever quaint and curious stocks of rare whisky remained available were augmented with less distinguished filler malts in order to either lower the price, increase the outturn, or both.

Regardless, there are no concerns about the integrity of this second bottle, as it was purchased and opened by me recently. It is also bottled at 47.3% ABV.

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt “The Journey” – Review

Color: Medium-pale straw.

On the nose: Immediately enticing, this jumps from the glass with intense aromas of citrus fruit (Meyer lemon) as well as – appropriately – a strong maritime character of seawater and iodine. This bounces between some floral notes at the alto end of the register, then back down to the bass notes of black licorice and tar. Some time in the glass reveals the gooey sweetness of marshmallows roasted over the campfire, as well as a spicy accent of lemongrass. This practically begs me to take the first sip, which I will now do.

In the mouth: Subtly stern to start, this is tightly mineralic on the tip of the tongue. This takes on a tingly mouthfeel that vibrates its way up the center of the tongue. In the middle of the mouth, this broadens out meaningfully, becoming possessed of a rich roundness of plump orchard and citrus fruit as well as a polished note of salted cashers. The coastal elements reemerge in more muted form as this moves into the finish. There, the whisky begins a slow fade as the flavors quiet down in unison. There’s a residual aftertaste of iodine, soap, and candle wax that persists in the mouth after the last swallow.

Conclusions:

The nose on this got me hoping that I would love this as much as “The Discovery” when I first tasted it. The mouth doesn’t have any flaws, but the presentation of flavors is not quite as forceful as the aromatic impression. Whether or not this would be recognizable by Shackleton and company as similar to their trove of 1907 bottles, it’s still a very nice blend, hence a score above the midpoint of the range.

Score: 6/10

Though my own journey pales in comparison to the travails faced by Shackleton and his crew, I do feel grateful for all the ups, downs, twists, turns – and even the dead ends – of the past five years. I can only speculate where the future will take me, but I’ll try my best to keep moving forward. Cheers.

Lead image author’s own. Other images courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesBlends
  1. Tony says:

    Hey Taylor, late to the party but finally catching up on reviews after a busy few weeks.

    I recently walked into a shop I had never been to, and was astonished to see a situation just as you described: exorbitant pricing on some bottles (Eagle Rare for $150!?) and outright deals on others (Drambuie for $36 and Pikesville for $50).

    I hadn’t planned on buying anything, but that Pikesville called to me and I never see it at my “95% of the time” local shop so I pulled the trigger. The clerk (store owner?) seeing my rye, pulled out a bottle of Col. Taylor rye and offered it to me. I declined without asking the price. If The Eagle was 5x msrp I didn’t want to find out what the asking price for EH was.

    So pretty much the same situation as you, with the same result. I got a good chuckle and story out of it, and maybe the shop owner will finally sell some of those whales. Better him than a flipper I suppose.

    1. Taylor says:

      Tony, welcome back! Chuckling is all you can do in many cases. It will be interesting to see how retailers adjust their prices, given reports of a rapidly softening “secondary” market. In any case, enjoy your rye in good health! Cheers!

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