Old & Rare

Rare Batch 46

by
Old and rare whisky reviews including Aberlour-Glenlivet 8 Years Old, Bowmore Deluxe and Bruichladdich Centenary

For this old and rare tasting Angus MacRaild has dug up a hat-trick of official bottlings from the 1970s and 1980s that display freshness, power and the very best of their respective distillery characteristics. However, MacRaild says each one also remains something of a reminder that storage conditions and fill level can affect the liquid once an old bottle is opened.

First up is one of the old Aberlour 8-year-old ‘cube’ bottlings, a series released during the 1960s and 1970s by the Speyside distillery, often at an unusually high 50% abv – the series is considered a forerunner of Aberlour A’Bunadh with its punch, power and muscle. Dave Broom reviewed a similar bottling in 2017, but MacRaild has selected one of the series’ darker, more Sherry-driven vattings this time.

Next up is a one-litre bottling of Bowmore Deluxe, a no-age-statement official bottling produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s by the Islay distillery, in this particular instance for the duty free market at the old export strength of 43% abv. MacRaild freely admits to being something of a ‘sucker’ for this old 1960s style of Bowmore, which has opened up after spending some time in an open bottle.

Finally it’s the turn of a Bruichladdich 15-year-old bottled by the distillery to mark its centenary in 1981 – a cask strength version bottled at 53% abv for the Italian market. MacRaild notes that this Sherried, fruity whisky has divided opinion among whisky enthusiasts over the years due to excessive evaporation caused by an inadequate decanter closure. However, he remains impressed by its robustness of character.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Aberlour-Glenlivet 8 Years Old, Bottled 1970s

    Aberlour-Glenlivet 8 Years Old, Bottled 1970s
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    A clean and pleasingly muscular Sherry strikes first. All on hot earth, macadamia nuts, walnut wine, coal hearths and toasty wood embers. It’s surprising how close this is to some of the better A’Bunadh bottlings, which is nice considering these old, high strength cube bottlings were said to be the inspiration for the series. Underneath this initial Sherry sinew lies some dusty waxiness, stewed raisins, olive oil and some drying up old dessert wines. Leafy, clean, fruity and very lovely thus far...

    Palate

    The cleanliness and the power both remain well intact. More walnuts, some old balsamico, damp earth, camphor, black pepper, some rugged gristy qualities and meatier tones emerging – biltong and peppered ham. There’s also lots of sultanas alongside some fudgey, cookie dough sweetness and salted caramel. In time these bassy, tobacco-scented earthy notes really come to dominate rather impressively.

    Finish

    Long, leathery, earthy, peppery and wonderfully powerful.

    Conclusion

    There are many variations in this lovely old series; it seems a good rule of thumb that the darker ones are the best. That’s certainly the case with this big old Sherried beast. Not overtly complex but poised, beautifully structured and hugely enjoyable.

    Right place, right time

    A fight breaks out at the local tapas restaurant; you sip away over an ice cream in the corner, blissfully unaware.

    Bowmore Deluxe, Bottled 1980s

    Bowmore Deluxe, Bottled 1980s
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    You have to kind of bolster yourself against superlatives when you nose an old Bowmore like this, your organoleptic equipment practically quivers in the anticipation of tropical fruit. And, thankfully, we have indeed struck fruit. It’s one of these pre-1973 style Bowmores that exhibits this stunning combination of flinty, fragrant beach bonfire smoke, smouldering sandalwood and then, out from under this wispy fragrant smog comes passion fruit, guava, pineapple and some chunks of dried mango. There’s lemon rind, Earl Grey tea, seawater and hessian as well. A timeless aroma that I am a total sucker for.

    Palate

    Here there are more garden fruits initially, then a tart and cleansing gooseberry acidity comes ahead of a saline, beach pebble minerality. More fragrant teas such as lapsang souchong and chamomile. Then light earthiness, bandages and subtle medicines. A distant fug of blue peat smoke. Orange and lemon peels, more passion fruit, papaya, limestone and some rather luxurious olive oil. Gets brinier and leaner towards the end.

    Finish

    Long and superbly fresh and lively. Pure in its minerality with citrus and seashore vibrancy, lime oil, bay leaf, briny peat smoke, wood ash and a final twist of fragrant smoke and tropical fruit juices.

    Conclusion

    This was a bottle I opened on Islay back in May. I’ve (as you might imagine from reading the above note) since consumed the majority of the bottle with friends. This final inch, however, is showing the whisky at its freshest and very best. When first opened this one displayed a slight but inescapable tang of OBE (old bottle effect). It’s a timely reminder that such bottles really can benefit from being left with a little air for a while. Either by having a couple of drams and waiting a month or two on the rest, or decanting into a bottle with better headspace for a few weeks. This one is really singing as a result of a little air and patience.

    Right place, right time

    A wild skinny dip. A beach bonfire. A scatter of langoustine and scallops above the coals. A clear summer night, and a few worthwhile folk to share it with... and no midges!

    Bruichladdich Centenary 15 Years Old, Bottled 1981

    Bruichladdich Centenary 15 Years Old, Bottled 1981
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    53%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A mentholated, earthy and herbal Sherry, with some fairly classical Bruichladdich green fruitiness underneath in the form of melon, apple and ripe banana – flambéed bananas in fact! Pear eau de vie, caramelised brown sugar, some salty old Sherry with a nervously citrus and coastal edge in the background – preserved lemons and some slightly sooty, charred notes. Water unlocks a lean and saline meatiness, along with some pipe tobacco and herbal extracts.

    Palate

    There’s a rather concentrated, raisiny and Sherried sweetness at first. Fruit loops, wine gums, Cognac-soaked sultanas and a stray Flying Saucer (traditional sherbet-filled sweeties). Then some brioche, menthol tobacco, finger limes, gingerbread and lemon icing. With water there’s a softer, more herbal side that’s fragrant in a rather enticing way. Digestive biscuits, lemon oil and some rather elusive notes of old herbal liqueurs. A black pepper nibble towards the end.

    Finish

    Medium length. A pleasing balance of wood spices, citrus oils, herbs, salty Sherry and dark fruits.

    Conclusion

    This is an interesting bottling which has divided opinion on more than one occasion among different tasters in the past. I suspect that your experience with this particular bottling may well depend on the filling level in the decanter at the time of opening. The choice of such a daft decanter was quite unfortunate as they tend to be quite prone to evaporation and the levels can fluctuate wildly from bottle to bottle. The level on this one happened to be the best I’ve ever seen and as a result the whisky has remained punchy, fresh and pretty damn good. Certainly better than previous bottles I’ve sampled in the past.

    Right place, right time

    A furtive tug from the hip flask while attempting a detailed discussion about terroir’s place in whisky during a mild Atlantic gale on Octomore farm. 

Scroll To Top