New Whiskies

Batch 168

by
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare, Linkwood 30-year-old and Longmorns from Valinch and Mallet, Cadenhead and Private Collection editions from Gordon & MacPhail

A quartet of old Longmorns is heralded this week by a limited edition Johnnie Walker and a 30-year-old Linkwood, as Dave Broom gets to grips with a batch that lands at the premium end of the pricing scale.

First up to bat is Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Ghost and Rare Port Ellen Edition. A mix of the eponymous Port Ellen and other single malts, plus grains from Carsebridge and Caledonian distilleries, Broom finds it’s a stellar example of a harmonising blend.

On to Cadenhead’s first bottling of the batch, a 30-year-old Linkwood distilled in 1987, and Broom finds a relaxed age straight away. It’s all lean and rangy, ‘like brushing desert dust off your trousers’, and still slightly hot considering it’s rich in years.

Broom then ventures into Longmorn territory, coming across a 23-year-old bottling (another Cadenhead) that is better on the palate than the nose, with ‘poached pear and a chewy texture’ rising to the fore. It’s spent between three and four years in Guadeloupean rum casks, and it shows itself with vegetal and pineapple notes.

Valinch and Mallet’s 28-year-old Longmorn doesn’t quite hit those heights, but still gives a good account of itself, with a ‘lovely and fuzzily warm’ nose that soon gives way to something more grown-up. ‘A lovely rich nose with classic Longmorn elements,’ says Broom, although the palate is dominated by parma violets.

A pair of lofty single cask Longmorns from 1961, bottled as part of Gordon & MacPhail’s Private Collection, finishes this round off. Cask #508 offers a rich, nutty nose and an extremely grippy palate overtaken by wood. Although water lifts latent flavours out of the whisky, in Broom’s words: ‘nothing can stop the relentless thrust of the tannins’.

Cask #512 fares similarly, with big fruitcake elements and a leathery scent giving way to a biting palate reminiscent of old tomato vines. Wood domination is to be expected after so long, but it’s not a style for everyone. ‘It’s a matter of choice’ Broom concludes.

The soundtrack is distinctly and appropriately fogey-ish this week, from a little old-fashioned blues from the Alabama Shakes to modern dad-rock courtesy of Jack White.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Ghost & Rare Port Ellen Edition

    Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Ghost & Rare Port Ellen Edition
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Blended Scotch whisky
    Region
    n/a
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    It begins with gentle, vanilla-accented tropical fruit that itself has touches of rancio. The sense is of gently smoothed-out fruits, but with mature depths shown when, in time, some savoury elements emerge from beneath this placid surface. Slowly there’s sultana, baked custard and an extra generosity to the fruits, along with a tiny touch of smoke. Water brings out butter melting in a frying pan and, not for the only time this week, a mineral element.

    Palate

    A very soft start that moves to a tongue-coating and unctuous feel, along with a waxy element from the mid-palate onwards. The fruits remain ripe – especially in the centre of the tongue – with an added beeswax element, light creamy chocolate, orange peel, and quince. The tannins are soft and supple, adding just a tiny touch of balancing grip as all the elements cohere. It’s probably best with water on the side. Dilution brings out apple core, currant leaf and orchard fruits, but everything remains calm and restrained.

    Finish

    Fades slightly with a hint of smoke and a whisper of salt crystals.

    Conclusion

    You could bulk this up and make it showy, or you could pump up the smoke. Instead, everything here is about harmonising elements, and that’s what blending does. It’s a mix of five rare single malts, plus ‘ghost’ whiskies from Port Ellen, the Cally and Carsebridge, and while the attention will be on the first, I have a hunch that the grains are the crucial element to that balance.

    Right place, right time

    Tell me Port Ellen, what are your Matrimonial Intentions?

    Linkwood 30 Years Old, 1987 (Cadenhead)

    Linkwood 30 Years Old, 1987 (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    There’s some evident age and a cool, lean, wiry quality like brushing desert dust off your trousers. In time, some old apple skin and a hint of grassiness. It opens slightly when water is added, offering up slightly more wood, though this is never obtrusive. The fruit skins continue – dried banana now, along with rose, dried herbs and an overall, slightly faded, floral delicacy.

    Palate

    As with many Linkwoods, the nose gives little away. All the action is on the palate. Things are suddenly mouth-coating and slightly hot, yet still sweet and vibrant. There’s some elderflower, but the effects of time and air are more apparent in the way that the fruits seem compressed with their oils seeping out. It takes water well, which helps to sweeten things and boost the soft, fat quality of the fruit. Overall, generous and ripe with a retention of acidity.

    Finish

    Drying out, then apple along with some pear and a little floral touch.

    Conclusion

    This has the enigmatic, relaxed style which is akin to last week’s Miltonduff. Airy, relaxed, and fascinating.

    Right place, right time

    A saunter through a Flower Garden?

    Longmorn 23 Years Old, 1994 (Cadenhead)

    Longmorn 23 Years Old, 1994 (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.6%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A light lemon element to open with, along with silver birch sap and a white vermouth-like herbal quality. It is a little hot. The rum element (this has spent between three and four years in Guadeloupean rum cask) adds a light vegetal element, then pineapple, yellow and green fruits, and a touch of angelica. Water makes the mature and oily fruits come through alongside wet canvas and a more apparent sense of oily maturity (flax oils) and a real minerality.

    Palate

    This is another which performs best in the mouth, big and quite silky with the ripe fruits you want from Longmorn, with stewing peaches to the fore. Things are pretty ripe, with some poached pear and a chewy texture. Water triggers more rumminess: cane sugar, a slight phenolic edge and tinned pineapple.

    Finish

    Tingling (this never stops being hot) then old paper.

    Conclusion

    The second period in rum casks has given a slight twist, though one which never obscures the distillery character.

    Right place, right time

    Sugar Babe come dance with me.

    Longmorn 28 Years Old, 1989 (Valinch & Mallet)

    Longmorn 28 Years Old, 1989 (Valinch & Mallet)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    45.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    A lovely and fuzzily warm nose that’s all cooked fruits, warm fruit sponge and the sense of being face down in a pile of cuddly toys. As it opens the toys are put to one side as more mature notes emerge, along with light cherry (stone and fruit) and heavy florals – an old-style perfume. Heady and rich. Just as the fruits (stewed apple especially) begin to take charge, out comes a whiff of leek and potato soup. When diluted there’s a little more wood, baked fruits, and a light perfume.

    Palate

    While there’s certainly fruits in there, it’s a wildly floral aroma of parma violet which dominates to almost overpowering levels (this isn’t too bad if you happen to like parma violets, which I do). It has a positive, thick and juicy feel albeit with a slightly bitter catch on the end. As it develops, so the violet elements become slightly soapy, but water brings out maturity, a touch of attar of roses and, finally, marzipan. The perfumed element is both reduced and shifted further back…

    Finish

    …to the finish where it mingles with a touch of maraschino liqueur.

    Conclusion

    A lovely rich nose which has classic Longmorn elements.

    Right place, right time

    Lots in the heady perfume of Wildwood Flowers.

    Longmorn 1961 Private Collection, Cask #508 (Gordon & MacPhail)

    Longmorn 1961 Private Collection, Cask #508 (Gordon & MacPhail)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    45%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Richer and more concentrated than #512, with classic European oak notes of walnut and ripe, dried fruits, plus the savouriness that only comes with time. As things progress you can pick out coffee, then light rancio and prune as it moves towards old Armagnac territory. There’s even some silken waxiness and some red fruits. Water moves things towards the more wooded end of things. Polished.

    Palate

    The grippiness given by oak and time is initially just about held in check by those concentrated fruits, but as the wood takes control so things become tight, quite dry, and slightly astringent. A drop of water lifts some tobacco and rose petal out, but nothing can stop the relentless thrust of the tannins.

    Finish

    Tight and bitter.

    Conclusion

    Without wanting to seem facetious, this is one of those aged whiskies which is best to smell (or even wear as all its elements are so concentrated).

    Right place, right time

    Black Water Rising.

    Longmorn 1961 Private Collection, Cask #512 (Gordon & MacPhail)

    Longmorn 1961 Private Collection, Cask #512 (Gordon & MacPhail)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    To start with, there are some fruit cake elements alongside soy which then move towards cedar before things begin to lift, giving glimpses of red fruit (cherry once again). Though dry, there’s some polished leather and the rich fruited elegance you expect from Longmorn. Water softens things and brings out rancio, raisins, smoke, and hinoki.

    Palate

    All of the promise of the nose gives way to a bitter start, with gripping tannins. While the savoury element is in evidence (old tomato vines) there is also dryness and a chicory extract-like bitter bite. A drop of water makes it slightly less astringent and briefly brings out more of the cherry before it starts to grip once more.

    Finish

    Drying and tight, with some coal smoke.

    Conclusion

    The nose expands, but the palate contracts. The whole exercise this week shows how important the cask is. It can help, dominate, or sit back. Some of you will prefer one style, others a different one. It’s a matter of choice.

    Right place, right time

    A Killer Diller from Elgin.

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