Old & Rare

Rare Batch 47

by
Findlater's Mar Lodge 8 Year Old, Hedges & Butler Royal Malt and Samaroli No Age

For this week’s rare whisky tasting Angus MacRaild has delved once again into his stash of more affordable old bottlings and selected three blended malts from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Known as ‘vatted malts’ for many years, MacRaild points out, these types of Scotch are an excellent way to experience the character of older style malt whiskies without breaking the bank.

Kicking things off is a 1970s bottling of Findlater’s Mar Lodge Eight Year Old. MacRaild finds it a rich and surprisingly enjoyable example of a fatter and more fulsome style of malt whisky that has plenty to recommend it.

Following is a bottling called Royal Malt by Hedges and Butler from the 1980s. This too MacRaild finds to be a fine and pleasurable example of older, distillate-forward styles of malt whisky. Like the Findlater’s – and unlike many blended whiskies from the same era – it displays very little ‘old bottle effect’.

Rounding off this session is the very first of Italian bottler Silvano Samaroli’s ‘No Age’ series from 1992. Samaroli was moved to create the series after experiencing difficulty sourcing casks of whisky which exhibited his preferred characteristics – a decision which displayed remarkable foresight in 1992, as MacRaild notes. The result is a sumptuous and pretty thrilling peaty success.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Findlater’s Mar Lodge 8 Year Old, Bottled 1970s

    Findlater’s Mar Lodge 8 Year Old, Bottled 1970s
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Blended malt whisky
    Region
    n/a
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    A brief initial cloud of dust, but it blows away pretty swiftly. In its place lies damp but nourishing maltiness, a soft and sooty kind of smoke and some rather nervous, twitchy aromas of assorted citrus peels and struck flints. Further notes of metal polish, some animalistic, leathery qualities and hints of tool box and mechanical greases. Good, characterful stuff.

    Palate

    A rather immediate and satisfying richness. Lots of plump wax, plush earthiness, dried herbs such as bay and sage and a further lemon peel aspect. Still slightly dusty and sooty in a fairly typical old bottle way. Some dried mint leaf and Earl Grey tea along with a touch of pine liqueur and digestive biscuits. Feels like there were more than a few well-muscled malts poured into this one.

    Finish

    Good length, firm, well-spiced and peppery with a satisfying oiliness developing.

    Conclusion

    One of the rare sorts of old bottling that’s still pretty cheap at auctions. A cheerful and instructive delve into older styles of Scottish malt whisky for those keen to join the ‘dark side’.

    Right place, right time

    Trials and tribulations in the Death Star canteen...

    Hedges & Butler Royal Malt, Bottled 1980s

    Hedges & Butler Royal Malt, Bottled 1980s
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Blended malt whisky
    Region
    n/a
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Surprisingly sooty, oily and waxy. A curious but pleasing mix of hessian, cornflakes and milk bottle sweeties. There’s also starched linen, bath salts and white pepper. Some chalky minerals and white flowers as well. Clean, simple and compellingly fragrant. In time a few very light tropical fruits emerge.

    Palate

    A mustardy prickle, slightly briny, trodden bracken and green ferns. Grassy olive oil, plasticine, clay and limestone and a big rush of various cereals and toasted seeds. Trail mix full of cashews and sultanas. Some grapefruit pith and soda bread as well as a yeasty, sourdough tang.

    Finish

    Medium in length, all on bitter oranges, lime zest, sandalwood, light ointments and soft waxes.

    Conclusion

    Another good surprise. Many of these old, obscure vatted malts from the ‘70s and ‘80s are well worth checking out. Despite the occasional stinker, most can be very enjoyable and offer a budget window on these older, more fulsome styles of malt whisky. Also a surprising amount of body given the low strength.

    Right place, right time

    Cooling off after a particularly heated porridge food fight.

    Samaroli No Age Pure Malt, First Edition, Bottled 1992

    Samaroli No Age Pure Malt, First Edition, Bottled 1992
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Blended malt whisky
    Region
    n/a
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    A pine forest at first, then earthy, subtle peat smoke, gently tarry, mushroomy and with a certain creaminess about it. A natural, resinous sweetness that includes various fruit syrups, honeys and natural nectars. In time it opens to become more bready and savoury with notes of herb-infused pastries, salted flatbreads and strong, grassy olive oil. Also a coastal, lemony edge like preserved lemons in oil and brine.

    Palate

    It’s said that Samaroli was chasing an ‘old style malt whisky character’ when composing this vatting and indeed, he seems to have succeeded. There’s this wonderful mix of soft, phenolic peat smokes, earthy herbal qualities, waxes and more oily, mineral and sheep wool notes. Underneath there are these savoury aspects again – old style heather and bitter ales, mineral oils, camphor and sooty coal scuttles. Quite excellent.

    Finish

    Long, coastal, oily and brimming with soot, black coffee and smouldering waxiness. Vibrant, stylish and really terrific.

    Conclusion

    Anyone who thinks Silvano Samaroli was someone who just happened to be into whisky at the ‘right time’ should look to a bottling like this. There’s a level of understanding of character and skill going on with a marriage of flavours like this that’s really quite impressive. Says a lot about the dedication, passion and understanding of the man that he would not only chase a style like this, but recognise that it was a style which was vanishing in Scotch whisky – back in 1992! Still relatively cheap compared to most Samaroli bottlings these days, totally worth chasing down and trying.

    Right place, right time

    Feeling rather like A Salty Dog.
    (Photo courtesy WhiskyAuctioneer.com)

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