Advertisement
Old & Rare

Rare Batch 54

by
Laphroaig 40 Year Old, Karuizawa 50 year old, Royal Brackla 60 years old

In the last rare whisky tasting of 2018, Angus MacRaild has gathered a trio of rather special drams to mark the closing of the year.

The first is Karuizawa 50 Year Old, of which only two bottles were produced by Elixir Distillers. One was sold in a special charity auction last month to benefit the Plastic Oceans charity, fetching a hammer price of £100,100. The other was retained in the Elixir Distillers archive, never to be sold. MacRaild finds it no less than an astonishing whisky.

Hard on its heels is a Laphroaig 40 Year Old, distilled in 1960 and released in 2001, it was, and remains, the oldest Laphroaig ever bottled. Despite garnering something of a reputation over the years, MacRaild feels it is slightly underrated as a whisky in its own right. Even with the high price tag it now commands at auction, this is still a beautiful, old, fruit-driven Laphroaig, he surmises.

To round things off is a 60-year-old Royal Brackla, distilled in 1964. One of a small number of very early super-aged official bottlings released in the 1980s, this has since become something of a cult whisky. Thankfully, MacRaild discovers that it measures up to its reputation — and with a ‘nose to die for’.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Karuizawa 50 Years Old, Plastic Oceans Charity Edition

    Karuizawa 50 Years Old, Plastic Oceans Charity Edition
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    65.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Japan
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    The initial aroma is hot and peppery. However this subsides reasonably swiftly towards some rather palpable exotic fruit characteristics, although these are more like dried fruits: dried mango, papaya, banana and guava. Another minute or so and it evolves further towards an almost bewildering syrupy quality. Tropical syrups, cannabis resins, precious hardwood saps, exotic teas, jasmine, potpourri, chamomile, furniture oils, soy sauce, ancient balsamic and tiny wood spices. A rather astonishing level of complexity. Another one of these aromas that you could just sit with for hours trying to unpick it all. A tapestry of aromas. In time there’s also mustard powder, fir trees, rancio, white truffle, saltiness and rather thick camphor notes. Almost overwhelming. Water seems to focus it towards these notes of incense, sandalwood, menthol, warming spices and hardwood saps. Still totally sublime.

    Palate

    Holy smokes! Liquid furniture hosed down with strawberry shisha smoke. Paprika, raisins, clove oil, green banana, fruit loaf, ripe papaya, dried mint leaf moving into ancient mint liqueur, black pepper, cinnamon bark, lime peel, chestnut. It’s hard to keep up with this one; the complexity of the palate matches that of the nose which, at this age, is truly remarkable. There’s toffee sweetness, peppery, leathery peat, pressed wildflowers, juniper berry, precious ointments, pine resin, aged cigars, menthol extracts, more exotic teas and game meats. With water we are really moving again towards beautiful notes of sap, tobacco, wood oils, waxes and herbs and spices. Could be a very ancient Boal Madeira with these salty and rancio qualities.

    Finish

    Extremely long and echoing with liquorice, menthol herbal notes, some hints of grated galingale, lime leaf, caraway and menthol toothpaste. Plenty of residual exotic fruitiness but the fruits remain dry and almost crystallised. Warming, lingering and quite astonishing.

    Conclusion

    I’ve seen this compared with old Bowmore, which I suppose I understand with these tropical fruit aspects, but for me it’s a very different style of whisky to old Bowmore. It’s a singularly ‘old Karuizawa’ style and should be celebrated as such. I am often a little dismissive of Karuizawa given the hype that surrounds it — especially quite a few of the later bottlings. However, these older ‘60s casks were undoubtedly stellar and this one in particular is a dram for the ages. In fact, given it’s 50cl it should slot nicely into a Christmas stocking, I think I’ll just pop online and buy a couple... oh.

    Right place, right time

    Breaking into the Elixir Distillers archive to nab a few drams of bottle number two...

    Advertisement

    Laphroaig 40 Years Old, Bottled 2001

    Laphroaig 40 Years Old, Bottled 2001
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    42.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Strikingly close to some of these older Bonfanti import 10-year-old Laphroaigs from the 1970s. This same mushroomy tropical fruit quality emerges first. There’s also the most delicate and elegant medicinal aromas, things like bandages, embrocation creams, antiseptic diluted with seawater and lighter ointments. Beautifully aromatic and complex on the nose. Seashore freshness, beach wood, crushed seashells, mineral salts, hints of farmyard in the background as well. Also quite a bit of soft waxiness and camphor — an old pharmacy. Then you get more of these very typical passion fruit, lime and guava notes mixed with hessian and menthol. Totally beautiful old-school Laphroaig that holds its distillery character aloft even after 40 years in cask and nearly 18 more in bottle.

    Palate

    Retains amazing freshness. That Laphroaig iodine is still there, alongside salty lemons, seawater, mussels in white wine, chopped herbs, silky peat smoke, preserved tropical fruits, more very soft menthol notes and oyster sauce. A fragrant beach bonfire smoke along with hay, lightly smoked cereals and a saline mineral aspect. More medicinal balms and embrocation ointments with some chamomile and Lapsang Souchong tea. Real power at such a naturally low abv.

    Finish

    Long, thrillingly coastal, pin-sharp saltiness, citrus and tropical fruits, TCP, green tea, lingering peat embers and black pepper. Totally brilliant.

    Conclusion

    I remember when this came out the consensus was that it was very good but not great. I really wonder if we weren’t just a bit spoiled in those years with the sheer abundance of great drams available at more accessible prices? Or, perhaps this one has just evolved spectacularly well in the bottle? Either way, this is definitely a truly great Laphroaig. Evocative, coastal, peaty and superbly fruity and fresh. Everything you want from this distillery. And it wears its 40 years with bewildering finesse.

    Right place, right time

    Visiting a perverted Dutch dentist in Maartensdijk for Hogmanay.

    Royal Brackla 60 Years Old, Bottled 1984

    Royal Brackla 60 Years Old, Bottled 1984
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A stunning concentration of linseed oils, coconut, ancient Borderies Cognac, crystallised tropical fruits and an almost leathery kind of pine sap. One of these extremely old whiskies from top-class oak where the wood forms a kind of resinous, spicy and warming fusion with the fruits in the distillate. There’s all kinds of exotic teas, precious hardwoods, espresso, dried mint, herbal liqueurs and the most stunning expression of rancio. Sultanas, raisins, banana bread, mint syrup, cough medicines, maraschino cherries... the kind of nose where you could just go on forever picking out tiny wee aromas. But I won’t. Suffice to say it’s something of an aromatic vortex down which it would be easy to get lost.

    Palate

    It’s woody but it’s pure, leathery, spicy, clean and highly polished wood. Full of fruit resins, saps, precious oils, nectar, lime pith, bitter chocolate, very old sweet Vouvray, expensive black coffee, subtle dried herbal notes and hints of tar. Also bags of red and black liquorice, some TCP, bitter pollens, fruit chews, more coconut, more heady rancio notes, chestnuts and praline.

    Finish

    Not the longest but the tannins remain in check and there are some beautifully raisiny and chocolatey notes in the fade.

    Conclusion

    An old glory still fighting to the end. What’s amazing is that even after all these years the wood remains just about in check, the tannins are still this nice mix of spicy and creamy and there are still some glorious fruits to be found. Although globally it remains a dram of two halves. The nose was 94-point material whereas the palate wasn’t quite so bright – which is so often the case with such aged drams. Still, beautiful and humbling ancient whisky.

    Right place, right time

    Watching Monty Python & The Holy Grail with the Queen on Boxing Day.

Advertisement
Scroll To Top