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Old & Rare

Rare Batch 60

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Ballantine's 30 Years Old, Glen Albyn 10 Years Old, Smith's Glenlivet 8 Years Old, 1970s

Three high-scoring rare whiskies – one blend and two single malts – put a spring in Angus MacRaild’s step this week.

Beginning with a 30-year-old Ballantine’s blend bottled around the start of the 1980s, MacRaild discovers a typically thrilling old blend with a high malt content that offers many of the same flavours found in pre-war malt whiskies five times the price. ‘These old Ballantine’s 30-year-olds are always totally fantastic whiskies,’ he says.

He moves onto a 10-year-old Glen Albyn, bottled at cask strength in the 1960s for Italian collector and importer Edoardo Giaccone. MacRaild finds it to be well worth its reputation and offers a masterclass in power and complexity.

At the other end of the price scale, but not too far away in quality, is a humble old example of eight-year-old Glenlivet bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in the 1970s at 70 proof (40% abv). While expecting it to be a quality dram, MacRaild is still surprised by just how good it is and notes the phenomenally opulent and fruit-dominated, old-school Sherried style of the whisky. ‘About as good as malt whisky can get at that strength,’ he says.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ballantine’s 30 Years Old, Bottled c.1980

    Score

    92

    Ballantine’s 30 Years Old, Bottled c.1980
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Blended Scotch whisky
    Region
    n/a
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    A stunning and harmonious mix of precious hardwood saps, old workshops, furniture wax, pine resin, herbal liqueurs, chocolate orange, old Madeira, mint liqueur and notes of hessian, paraffin and dunnage. There’s so little difference between this profile and many of the pre-war single malts bottled by Gordon & MacPhail around the same time that if tasted blind, you’d struggle to pick this as a blend. Old wax, Bénédictine, cough medicine, lemon syrup and a very earthy, lean, old-school peatiness.

    Palate

    Wonderfully fat and resinous. Salty, nutty Sherry, toasted walnuts, balsamic, rancio, cough mixture, ancient medicines and embrocations, and freshly roasted coffee beans. The grain is a little more apparent on the palate with these wee notes of Granny Smith apple and smoked cereals. But the integration is pristine and on the whole is mouth-coating, oily, peaty and wonderfully, almost greasily herbal.

    Finish

    Medium length but still greasy, herbal, peaty and full of this kind of boiler smoke-accented mechanical belch that also incorporates old tools, machinery, oily rags and hessian sack cloth. Peppery, sweet peat in the aftertaste.

    Conclusion

    No surprises here, but old-school thrills abound all the same. These old Ballantine’s 30-year-olds are always totally fantastic whiskies. Full to the brim with ancient malts the likes of which you can only dream of.

    Right place, right time

    A fainting epidemic grips a Victorian manor house in the middle of a murder mystery; an elderly and steadfast member of the landed gentry administers suitably large restorative drams.

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    Glen Albyn 10 Years Old, Bottled c.1960

    Score

    94

    Glen Albyn 10 Years Old, Bottled c.1960
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Powerful and visceral at first. Metal polish, soot, black pepper, camphor, resin, wax, carbon paper, shoe polish, caraway, lime oil, almond flakes and salted marzipan. The kind of profile that builds and builds, layer upon layer as time goes on. The structure and the complexity just keep on unfolding. Gets slightly medicinal with time: hawthorne, wintergreen, lemon balm and cough syrup. Also limoncello, old yellow Chartreuse and pitch sealant. Immense and otherworldly stuff. With water it really begins to sing: softer earthy tones, sweet citrus fruit cordials, freshly chopped mixed green herbs and things like freshly baked breads and potent young Cognacs. Totally captivating.

    Palate

    Hugely fatty and instantly mouth-coating but at the same time extremely spicy. Many shades of pepper, earthy turmeric, cumin, hot paprika and then dried herbal qualities such as sage and bay leaf. Bouillon, tar liqueur, Maggi liquid seasoning, salty liquorice and jasmine tea. Again this combination of power and complexity is pretty devastating. Develops towards pure waxes, hessians, mineral oil, fabrics and putty. With water the texture relaxes slightly and in rushes this big surge of crystallised fruits, stone fruit eau de vies, flints, chalk, waxes, prunes and pears baked in calvados.

    Finish

    Superbly, thrillingly long. All on old citrus and herbal liqueurs, tiny hints of ointments, earthy, wet rags, sheep wool, medicinal touches and wood resin. Fading notes of green tea, lemon peel and verbena.

    Conclusion

    A whisky with a hefty reputation and deservedly so in my wee book. Giaccone may have had his pick of these sorts of drams back in the 1960s but he certainly chose well. A whisky which demonstrates a level of power, complexity and control which is truly otherworldly. I’m not sure there’s too many contemporary distillates which would be capable of developing this level of potency and sheer force of personality after just 10 years in plain oak. Magisterial, poetic distillate.

    Right place, right time

    Drinking wild drams with wilder Schneckies beside the River Ness, all the while being serenaded by roguish Italian opera singers from Venice and Modena.

    (Photo: whiskyauctioneer.com)

    Glenlivet 8 Years Old, Bottled c.1970 (Gordon & MacPhail)

    Score

    91

    Glenlivet 8 Years Old, Bottled c.1970 (Gordon & MacPhail)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A big waft of tropical and earthy Sherry initially. All on chocolate, camphor, tobacco, cigar boxes, dried mint leaf and game meats. A superb aroma – the epitome of old-school Sherry. Over time it really moves towards leathery qualities, leaf mulch, aged cigars and lots of soft, dark fruits such as dates, sultanas and fig jam.

    Palate

    Wonderfully soft, unctuous, leathery, chocolatey, rancio-drenched Sherry, and yet the 40% abv kind of works because it softens out any harshness, tannin or overly intense aspects, leaving behind super-lush tropical and dark fruits, damp, leafy earthy tones, cocoa powder, dark coffee and more soft tobacco qualities. The kind of old-school Sherried dram that just reeks of decadence.

    Finish

    Long, leathery, peppery, waxy, full of old crayons, clay, leaf mulch, espresso, pomegranate molasses and dried herbs mixed with pipe tobacco.

    Conclusion

    At the time this would have been a cheap and pretty basic offering from G&M. What a sensational whisky. Perfection of cask and distillate in harmony at the perfect age. And one of the very rare occasions when 40% abv doesn’t feel like a hindrance to the whisky. About as good as malt whisky can get at that strength I think.

    Right place, right time

    Alone with books you love. The afternoon city is just scraps of noise beyond the pages.

    (Photo: whiskyauctioneer.com)

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