Old & Rare

Rare Batch 40

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Rare Batch 40: The 1887 Malt, Inverleven, Lagavulin

For this tasting, Angus MacRaild has delved once more into the more affordable and curious end of the old and rare whisky spectrum, this time coming up with a more disparate trio of single malts that veer from the excellent to the tough and from the peaty to the fruity, by way of the austere. 

First is an extremely obscure bottling called The 1887 Malt, a 30-year-old single malt bottled in 1999 to mark the takeover of Highland Distillers by The 1887 Company – a corporate entity formed by The Edrington Group to manage its new acquisition. There’s no information to say exactly what single malt is involved, but MacRaild finds it to be a superlative old Sherried dram. 

Next comes an old Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) bottling of Inverleven, the Lowland single malt which operated within the Dumbarton grain complex until its closure in 1991 (although its Lomond still is now used to make The Botanist gin at Bruichladdich on Islay). Bottled at a natural strength of 64.6% abv, the SMWS bottling is potent stuff that tends to switch between fruit and austerity. 

Rounding things off is an OB Lagavulin 12-year-old distilled in 1995 and bottled for the Friends of the Classic Malts – a bottling that MacRaild feels has gone under the radar these past years. Matured in ex-Sherry casks, it’s a textbook example of Lagavulin’s drier, peat-driven characters marrying well with good-quality Sherry wood.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • The 1887 Malt, 30 Years Old, bottled 1999

    The 1887 Malt, 30 Years Old, bottled 1999
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    47%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    n/a
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    It’s the kind of Sherry which is all elegance and opulence. Dried fruits, muesli, dates, walnut oil, some earthen floors and preserved dark fruits. There’s also these tertiary notes of quince jelly, old Cognac and gorse flowers. Beautiful old Sherry.

    Palate

    The good news is that it’s still wonderfully fresh and fruity. These notes of lemon jelly, quince (again) and herbal liqueur are underscored by a little black pepper, some old rum and Earl Grey tea. A little nibble of tannin and spice from the wood keeps things lively, but it’s all perfectly balanced by the fruits.

    Finish

    Long, undulating, waxy and velvety, with dense fruit characteristics like prune juice and fig jam lingering in the aftertaste.

    Conclusion

    There was much discussion about what distillery this might be when this bottle was opened. Bunnahabhain? Tamdhu? What’s certain is that it’s a glorious old Sherried malt. Well worth snapping up if you ever see it at auction.

    Right place, right time

    Watching the streets from your window on a stormy Sunday afternoon. Contemplation abounds.

    Inverleven 1979, bottled 1990, 20.2 (SMWS)

    Inverleven 1979, bottled 1990, 20.2 (SMWS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    64.6%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Lowland
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Understandably prickly at first. But underneath there are a few peaches, a rain-soaked jumper, some dots of hessian and some rather tough chalkiness. There’s also lemon blossom, a touch of sponge cake and some baking soda. Water brings cactus, bay leaf, a twist of orange peel and some young Muscat wine.

    Palate

    The alcohol is fighting, but not too aggressively. There are plenty of clean cereals, chalk, light ointment, hazelnuts, porridge and a little nectar; some white fruits, flowers and golden syrup as well. But globally it’s pretty punchy and peppery. Water really brings out an easier, sweeter side. Lots of simple honey and barley water notes, with a little lemon oil and residual chalky notes.

    Finish

    Quite long, with a resurgent drying quality. Peppery, chalky, limestone, flints and a little sour mead and dry cider.

    Conclusion

    In parts brutal and a bit tough, in others playful, sweet and quite appealing. One you could have a lot of fun with while using a pipette and some water – there’s probably about six different whiskies in here. I rather like it.

    Right place, right time

    Getting lost in a YouTube vortex at 3am.

    Lagavulin 12 Years Old, bottled 2008, Friends Of The Classic Malts

    Lagavulin 12 Years Old, bottled 2008, Friends Of The Classic Malts
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Immediately there’s this Lagavulin-esque density. Dried kelp, tar, peat oils and smoked meats. Hints of German rauchbier, salt-and-vinegar crisps and smoked mussels in brine. The European oak influence is spicy and layered, with some salted dark chocolate and a bassy, earthy note. Deep and inviting.

    Palate

    Syrupy peat oils slick across the tongue, but they’re balanced by a sharper preserved lemon salinity. There’s tree bark, iodine tablets, raw, gristy phenols and more dried seaweed. The Sherry lends it an almost leathery texture, and this earthiness is still prevalent. With time a growing, smouldering sweetness emerges.

    Finish

    Long, earthy and full of peat ashes, kippers, olive oil and smoked raisins (if such a thing exists).

    Conclusion

    A braw and bracing Lagavulin that has worked in harmony with some excellent European oak ex-Sherry casks. A big, meaty, thumping peat monster, but one that also displays complexity and class.

    Right place, right time

    Off on a mighty sea voyage to the tune of The Moldau...

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