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Old & Rare

Rare Batch 63

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Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur's Choice Ardbeg 1975; Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 59 Years Old; Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur's Choice Glen Albyn 19 Years Old

Bottling strength is the theme of this week’s tasting, in which Angus MacRaild explores three very different single malts bottled over the years at 40% abv by Gordon & MacPhail (G&M). It’s a strength MacRaild finds old fashioned and unflattering to a whisky’s best characteristics – especially with more mature and complex drams.

Yet with the first whisky, a 1975 Ardbeg bottled in 1997 under the Connoisseur’s Choice range, MacRaild discovers that the lower abv can still illuminate aspects of a bigger whisky’s character that might otherwise be hidden at higher strengths. MacRaild finds this one an excellent and easy-drinking example of ‘70s Ardbeg, even if it does lack a little ‘oomph’.

Next up is an earlier entry in the Connoisseur’s Choice series, a 1963 19-year-old Glen Albyn. MacRaild is not overly impressed with this one, finding a fair bit of old bottle effect (OBE). However it is quite an easy whisky for the normally tough Glen Albyn, he notes.

Rounding things off this week is a ‘beautiful’ 1954 Glen Grant bottled in 2014 by Gordon & MacPhail under its Distillery Labels range. While finding the whisky a delight from start to finish, MacRaild can’t help but wonder how it would have fared with even a few extra degrees of alcohol behind it. On a lesser note, he also ponders whether there’s any excuse for bottling such a venerable old whisky at 40% abv in this day and age.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ardbeg 22 Years Old, Bottled 1997, Connoisseur’s Choice (G&M)

    Ardbeg 22 Years Old, Bottled 1997, Connoisseur’s Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Tarry hessian at first nosing, soft medicinal embrocations, sea breezes, ozone and bitumen. This is where G&M’s lower bottling strengths can reveal interesting facets of normally more powerful makes (see also Brora 1972s). Lots of lemon rind, crushed seashells, beach foam, dried seaweed and miso. That Ardbeg peat ember/old rope character is there, but it more readily assimilates with lighter, more elegant coastal accents in this example.

    Palate

    Oily, leaning towards medicinal embrocations and antiseptic. Mouthwash, herbal medicines, iodine tablets, burning heather, some old dark shilling beers and freshly kilned malt. It is really a lighter style of ‘70s Ardbeg, but the core DNA is well intact. Some oily sheep wool, salted porridge and things like lanolin, carbolic soap and eucalyptus tea.

    Finish

    Good length. Getting rather salty and returning to that hessian/dunnage note. Some preserved lemon notes, TCP and lighter ashy notes.

    Conclusion

    It’s excellent and emblematic old Ardbeg. But, as ever, you can’t help but feel even a few degrees more alcohol would have propelled it comfortably past the 90 mark. Other versions at 43% abv show a bit more muscle and grit. On the other hand, it’s extremely quaffable stuff that would grace any Islay shoreline gathering pretty neatly.

    Right place, right time

    Diet peat.

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    Glen Albyn 19 Years Old, 1963, Connoisseur’s Choice (G&M)

    Glen Albyn 19 Years Old, 1963, Connoisseur’s Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Typically dusty and full of things like metal polish, steel wool and oily rags in old workshops. Very ‘Connoisseur’s Choice’ with these soft OBE characteristics. Soot, some dried mint, lemon marmalade and a touch of cardboard. Not particularly thrilling but perfectly pleasant and approachable. Easy going for a Glen Albyn, I suppose.

    Palate

    Tea-ish, a little cardboard, some candied peel and glazed fruits. White flowers and hints of hessian and porridge. The ‘difficult’ side of older-style malt whisky, although it’s typically the problem of lower bottling strengths and G&M’s rather brutal filtration practices from this era. No doubt there’s some caramel at play in this one too. Some putty and citrus peel as well perhaps.

    Finish

    Pretty short; tea-ish again, some biscuity sweetness, cereal and more vague porridge notes.

    Conclusion

    Not one of the greatest. It’s a shame as G&M bottled other excellent ‘63 Glen Albyns, notably for Sestante. This one is a bit of a lame duck though. Imagine this series at a stronger abv...

    Right place, right time

    Daydreaming about what might have been...

    Glen Grant 59 Years Old, 1954, Distillery Labels (G&M)

    Glen Grant 59 Years Old, 1954, Distillery Labels (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    The kind of stupendous mix of ancient beeswax and luscious dark fruits stewed in 100-year-old Cognac that only these kinds of super-aged Speysiders can bring. Blood orange, acacia honey, sultanas, long-aged Calvados, roasted walnuts, balsamic and Marmite mixed with orange oils and herbal liqueurs. The kind of majestic and poetic nose that these old Glen Grants have, turned into something of an art form. Scented, spicy, herbal, deep, fruity, rich... it inspires no end of superlatives.

    Palate

    Concentrations of bitter chocolate, five spice, aged plum wines, liquorice, jasmine tea, damp earthen wine cellar, umami paste, black olives, pine liqueurs, herbal extracts and ointments. A superb whisky, though the palate is not as thrilling as the nose, but still alive and in some kind of harmonic equilibrium with its tannins. Mushroom powder, dark liquid seasonings, tar extract and pure balsamic reduction.

    Finish

    Long, profoundly earthy, and a slight salinity from the Sherry and bass-like rancio beats into the distance. All kinds of wee dark fruit notes – black cherries, dates, fig jam and sultanas – pop and burst in between everything.

    Conclusion

    Totally superb. But as with all such bottlings from G&M, why the hell did they do this at 40% abv? In the 1970s, it was understandable in the context of that era. But in 2014? No excuse. It doesn’t show respect to the whisky.

    Right place, right time

    Composing a sternly worded letter on vellum to Gordon & MacPhail in an ancient library using a quill.

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