Rare bottlings

Rare Batch 9

by
St Magdalene Scotch whisky distillery

Another trio from the vault. This time Dave Broom has rummaged around to pull out two cult malts and one he feels has been ‘wrongly overlooked’. 

First up is a 12-year-old Clynelish, which the label suggests dates from the 1970s. As the current Clynelish opened in 1969, this would therefore mean that the whisky was actually distilled at the original distillery, which was renamed Brora in 1975.

He has also unearthed the sixth release from Port Ellen, dating from a time (2006) when the cult brand was just beginning to build momentum. It’s an example which shows the beginning of the slow shift that took place with Port Ellen, from the very flinty, smoky, maritime character which typified many earlier OB releases, to the more cask-driven and oxidative personality that has come to the fore in recent times.

The forgotten distillery hails from the Lowlands – St Magdalene (aka Linlithgow), which finally shut up shop in 1983. Not only do people overlook it because of its location, but bottlings can be frustratingly inconsistent, which is one of the perils of single cask releases. Broom believes, however, that this Rare Malts release shows the distillery at its very best. 

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Clynelish 12 Years Old

    Score 8.3/10
    Scoring explained >
    Clynelish 12 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A bigger and oilier Clynelish than you might be familiar with (or indeed a less smoky Brora… take your pick), albeit with that strangely evocative mineral, waxed fruit element, which here is married with drying adobe, banana and cashew. In time, a note like the smell of hot copper cooking pans comes out, with an added biscuity note, lanolin and then almond milk. But all the time there is this thread of minerality and fleshy fruits. With water it’s wax crayons, lipstick, argan oil and the smell of a hot, dry, sandy beach.

    Palate

    Suitably mouth-coating, with a little sharp acidity on the sides, rounded and lightly chewy. There are the gentle elements seen on the nose to the fore, but still with that mineral freshness balancing those squashed, soft fruits. Water allows it to spread, with a saline element now becoming the dominant player. 

    Finish

    Clean and waxy when neat, dry and mineral salts when dilute.

    Conclusion

    Imagine what might have happened if, instead of being a loyal servant to blends, Clynelish (or Brora) had been promoted as a key single malt brand. Sip on this and wonder. 

    Right place, right time

    Drinking Sancerre in St Tropez with Françoise Hardy.

    Port Ellen 1978, 27 Years Old, 6th Release

    Score 7.8/10
    Scoring explained >
    Port Ellen 1978,  27 Years Old, 6th Release
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    54.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Quite hot (interesting to compare that element with the higher-strength St Magdalene), suggesting there’s low cask influence. Some linseed oil and surprisingly low levels of overt peatiness. There are, though, some green tea elements and seaweed, with added levels of moss and green olive. With water, things turn more putty-like and while the smoke begins to filter out in a thin stream, the overall effect is a diminishing aroma making the effect slightly bald, albeit with light wormwood and gentian adding a green, dusty vegetal element, which ties back into the tea.

    Palate

    A very gentle and slightly lemon-accented start, which fools you into thinking this is how it will develop because it suddenly shifts gear and hits you with a blast of chilli flakes and light smoke. Then, equally as suddenly, the fire seems to die and you are left with glowing campfire embers. Water calms it all down and, while lengthening the experience, I prefer it neat when that intensity is retained. It also becomes slightly austere when diluted.

    Finish

    Singed turf and, again, clean acidity. 

    Conclusion

    There’s low cask interaction but, strangely, also very little oxidation. Things are just… numb. Of interest, but not the greatest example.

    Right place, right time

    Standing too close to a campfire, searing your lungs with the heat.

    St Magdalene 1979, 19 Years Old, Rare Malts

    Score 8.8/10
    Scoring explained >
    St Magdalene 1979, 19 Years Old, Rare Malts
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    63.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Lowland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    An unusually dense and fairly bold example, with a little of the grassiness that typifies many bottlings. This shows maturity and a distinct waxiness, but in a different way to that of Brora/Clynelish. Here it is beeswax polish and rosin, while at the back there are some ripe nectarines and fragrant, drying hay after a rain shower. There’s also a lightly dusty element which hangs in the air like the thinnest veil of coal dust. Water heats the glass up and brings out more perfumed elements – Dolly Mixtures, cherry blossom, pancake batter and baby oil. Lovely.

    Palate

    Gentle and really sweet with remarkably well-balanced alcohol for something of this strength. It continually flits between the fruit, drier cereal elements and acidity, making this a complete and complex package. The texture is rounded and umami-like. Water doesn’t dent the roundness or sweet elements but, by cutting down the alcohol, reduces the bite a little.

    Finish

    Fresh and acidic. 

    Conclusion

    A dreamy dram, with a cunningly sharp edge and another in the ‘what-if’ camp. 

    Right place, right time

    What else but Joni Mitchell and the Hissing of Summer Lawns?

Scroll To Top