Old & Rare

Rare Batch 32

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Rare whisky reviews including Aberlour-Glenlivet, Fettercairn and Kilbeggan by Locke's

It’s easy to forget, notes Angus MacRaild, that old and rare whiskies are not all about stunning, speech-disabling (or enabling in many cases), heart-wrenching old glories. They can equally be quite the opposite. For this week’s old and rare tasting MacRaild has opted to explore the curious, the obscure, the weird, and the downright bad side of the old and rare cannon.

Kicking off this trip down the muddier path of memory lane is a bottling which has now become nonsensically expensive despite remaining relatively obscure – the Aberlour-Glenlivet Centenary decanter. Bottled in 1979 this ‘pale’ version has long been overshadowed by its dark, Sherried, single cask siblings – an identical presentation decanter and a now very hard to find ceramic sister cask, both of which are rightly considered mini Sherried masterpieces. This one on the other hand... well, maybe it was a flawed bottle, muses MacRaild.

A historic example of Irish whiskey follows the Aberlour in the shape of Locke’s Kilbeggan 34-year-old, a single cask (cask #35) from the last remnant stocks of the old Kilbeggan distillery, distilled in 1946 and bottled in March 1980. Undeniably a fascinating bottle, but is the whisky actually good? MacRaild thinks it raises some interesting questions about how we define value in whisky.

Finally a Sherried example from what MacRaild deems a Marmite distillery: Fettercairn. MacRaild's overall impression of the distillery is not a positive one, however this example is a rather obscure, slightly more recent bottling from 2007 of a 23-year-old single Spanish oak Sherry cask distilled in 1984. Surprisingly showcasing the distillery's ‘better qualities', MacRaid concedes that an open mind is necessary when it comes to tasting.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Aberlour-Glenlivet Centenary Decanter, bottled 1979, ‘pale’ version

    Aberlour-Glenlivet Centenary Decanter, bottled 1979, ‘pale’ version
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Hello in there...? Dusty cardboard, a glue pot rattling somewhere in the darkness and, for me, the most dreaded of aromas – a suggestion of soapiness. Perhaps some wood sap and gravel or a little chlorophyll. Overall shy, quiet and yet threatening.

    Palate

    Urgh. Pritt Stick. Lavender. Hand soap. A massive, frothy lather of soap all over the palate. Pass the spittoon! Totally flawed in my opinion. There are other flavours it seems but it’s extremely hard to get behind the soapiness and this ugly wood glue aspect.

    Finish

    Mercifully short but with a carbolic soapiness filming the enamel of your teeth.

    Conclusion

    In many ways it’s a fascinating dram. Given that the other whiskies Aberlour selected for its 100th birthday back in 1979 were so stunning, why on earth would they have made this one such a sloppy piece of work? Perhaps the bottle was flawed or something ‘occurred’ during its time in glass. If anyone has different experiences with this bottling please get in touch. It’s also a dram that goes to show why a 100-point scale is useful. I’ve given this one 50 as that’s the lower limit here on scotchwhisky.com. However, on the 100-point scale it would really be around 30-35. Ugly, but fascinating whisky.

    Right place, right time

    You suddenly recall you haven’t unclogged the drains for a while.

    Kilbeggan 34 Years Old, 1946, Cask #35, (Locke’s)

    Kilbeggan 34 Years Old, 1946, Cask #35, (Locke’s)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    42.3%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Ireland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Typically musty as I often find with older Irish Whiskeys. Some blood orange, rancio, a little stale spice and a slight mustardy bite. There are also some camphory aspects as well. Notes of hessian, long kept ointments, dusty books, paint and old newspapers. There are metallic characteristics as well: old coins, steel wood, rust – the impression of an old, vaguely oily tool box.

    Palate

    Slightly split personality. Oily and fat on one side with some rather pleasant and nervous crystallised citrus fruits. But on the other hand it’s still rather dusty, coppery and kind of ‘blunt’ with these unsteady notes of green wood, pencil shavings and rotting orange peel. A slight muddiness as well, with these stale spice notes.

    Finish

    Medium in length and drying with some herbal prickle and a gummy kind of sootiness. Cardboard again in the aftertaste.

    Conclusion

    It’s always a privilege to taste historic juice such as this. However, you find yourself struggling sometimes with these old whiskies to find pleasure in them. From a strictly technical perspective the whisky is obviously somewhat imbalanced and these slightly weird characteristics are qualities I’ve encountered in quite a few older Irish whiskeys. For the money there are far better drams available if you ask me: both Irish and Scottish. Still, it’s a fascinating thing to taste.

    Right place, right time

    The old librarian is still asleep, you chance another dram and re-attempt completion of page 13 of Finnegans Wake.

    Fettercairn 23 Years Old, 1984, Cask #241

    Fettercairn 23 Years Old, 1984, Cask #241
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Surprisingly clean I must admit. Plenty of the usual Fettercairn earthy and meaty qualities but here they are balanced by quite a bit of dark fruit, black coffee, almond milk, orange bitters and maraschino cherries. Water reveals freshly baked brown bread, ground black pepper and some decent haggis (should have had this one on Burn’s Night). A slightly smoky tea aspect now akin to Earl Grey and then some light lemony notes.

    Palate

    Burnt brown sugar, clove oil, gingerbread, roasted chocolate malt, crushed hazelnuts and a deep but soothing earthiness. Some bitter chocolate and slightly over-stewed black tea as well. With water it becomes oilier and a little fatter in texture but also softer in flavour, the meatiness is more gentle now and there are some very pleasant spicy and dark fruit qualities mingling with a little milk chocolate.

    Finish

    Decent length although a lick of cardboard upsets things ever so slightly. But on the whole it remains muscular and with a drying, dark fruitiness.

    Conclusion

    Fettercairn remains a frustratingly inconsistent dram and I can’t deny I approached this one with trepidation. There remain aspects of it which display the irrefutable ‘Fettercairn funk’ (a music genre just crying out to be realised), but on the whole it’s the better qualities of this distillery which shine out. A very pleasant surprise.

    Right place, right time

    You catch the darkness...

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