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Old & Rare

Rare Batch 65

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Balblair 34 Years Old, Distilled 1964, (James MacArthur); Pulteney 34 Years Old, Distilled 1964, (Douglas Laing); Tomatin 41 Years Old, Distilled 1965, (Jack Wiebers)

This week’s rare whisky tasting sees Angus MacRaild focusing on a trio of northern Highland malts, all distilled in the mid-1960s.

First up is a Balblair distilled in 1964 and bottled at 34 years of age by James MacArthur. This is a rare bottling, and MacRaild adores its concentration of fruits and the way it balances Balblair’s raw, exotic distillery characteristics with a rich and spicy wood-derived profile.

Not quite up to the same standard but still holding its own is a 34-year-old, 1964 single malt from Pulteney distillery. This whisky was bottled by Douglas Laing as an early entry in its Old Malt Cask series (a brand now owned by Hunter Laing). MacRaild finds it a tad too unusual, but deems it a fun, perplexing option for pouring blind for friends.

Rounding things off is a divisive example of Tomatin distilled in 1965 and bottled in 2006 by Jack Wiebers as part of The Cross Hill series. MacRaild finds it bitter and intense, but in a thrilling way. This whisky is not for everyone, but it is a dram worth trying if given the chance.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Balblair 34 Years Old, Distilled 1964 (James MacArthur)

    Score

    93

    Balblair 34 Years Old, Distilled 1964 (James MacArthur)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A big, oozing magma of lime-infused oils, very old Chenpi (Chinese sun-dried tangerine peel), potpourri, waxed hardwoods, furniture oils, beeswax, mint liqueur and many tertiary complexities, such as saffron, jasmine tea, herbal ointments and blood orange. Pretty fantastic and aromatically dense old stuff. Water unlocks pulpy, exotic fruits in the form of jellies and syrups. Dried mango chunks, ripe guava, star fruit and papaya. All draped in a veil of waxy hessian.

    Palate

    The nose suggests the wood would dominate, and while it is loud it arrives with such wonderfully spicy, complex heft that it’s an asset rather than a flaw. Superbly rich notes of smoked teas, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, dried fruits, old Cognac, more dried citrus peel notes, lanolin and hessian. Wonderful complexity; you could sit and note down wee flavours all afternoon. With water it detonates into a total fruit bomb. Quince jelly, mango, more exotic spices, passion fruit, lime leaf, medicines – stunning.

    Finish

    Wonderfully long. A lingering thread of spices, fruits, oils, medicines, old hardwoods, pressed flowers and herbs.

    Conclusion

    The wood threatens to dominate at points but it never does. I had it scored at around 92 but with water it just goes to another level. This one swims like an Olympic gold medallist being pursued by a hungry orca. The complexity, development, balance, control and sheer brilliance are totally thrilling. It is that rarest of thing: an old whisky that just gets better and better with each stage of development.

    Right place, right time

    Sailing into Antarctic waters with David Attenborough and recreating that scene from Titanic at the bow of the boat. He’s Jack – obviously. 

    (Image courtesy of whiskybase.com)

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    Pulteney 34 Years Old, Distilled 1964, Old Malt Cask (Douglas Laing)

    Score

    86

    Pulteney 34 Years Old, Distilled 1964, Old Malt Cask (Douglas Laing)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Rather lemony and elegant at first. Delicate notes of bandages, lemon barley water, wet rocks, sheep wool and olive oil – perhaps some lemon bonbon sweeties. All very subtle and gentle, but very nice. There’s also the expected herbal aspect as well in the form of gorse flowers, sage and parsley. Quite a curious and gentle old thing. Water seems to enhance its chalky, mineral and floral elements. Some pear drops, more wool, a little ink. Curious stuff, getting increasingly rummy.

    Palate

    An unusual arrival with bubble gum and old Bourbon notes – would make an interesting (if expensive) Manhattan. Some upfront notes of varnish, hand cream, lanolin, wood spices, Tiger Balm and dried flowers. There’s still a sense of something slightly artificial about this one, but overall it’s pleasant. Water brings out this strange side and its now really moving towards rum – almost pure agricole with these notes of brake fluid and esters.

    Finish

    Longish, and very much still on rum with notes of fermented banana, olive oil, sardines, light tar and embrocations. Some chalky mineral notes are still sloshing about in the background.

    Conclusion

    Old Rumney? A strange Scottish/Caribbean/Irish hybrid that exhibits some unexpected qualities, but having said that, it’s still pleasant and rather a lot of fun. One to open blind and confuse your pals with.

    Right place, right time

    Mixing a Mojito on Fair Isle for Saint Patrick’s Day.

    (Image courtesy of scotchwhiskyauctions.com)

    Tomatin 41 Years Old, Distilled 1965, The Cross Hill (Jack Wiebers)

    Score

    93

    Tomatin 41 Years Old, Distilled 1965, The Cross Hill (Jack Wiebers)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    If you took some kind of liquid incense and mixed it with several very expensive fruit preserves, you might get something approaching this. A huge, dense, unapologetic mush of long-aged demerara rums, ancient Armagnac, marzipan, sultanas, banana liqueur, caraway eau de vie, some salty, old Madeira wine and bitter chocolate and toasted pistachios. I’d better stop, or this could go on and on if I’m not careful. Over time it moves towards rich mocha, balsamic and the best dark chocolate. Totally thrilling stuff. With water added, it is pure chocolate sauce. Leather, tar, ointment, balsamic, salted almonds and prune juice. Add a pouch of strawberry pipe tobacco for fun.

    Palate

    Dense herbal extracts, dried-out tar liqueurs, rancio, hessian, walnut extracts, herbal-infused medicines, ointments, bandages, red fruit teas, maraschino cherry juices, salted Dutch liquorice, the sharpest, most zingy espresso and some 100-year-old VORS oloroso Sherry. I think the word is ‘mental’. With water it’s very much all of the above, but the concentration, the fusion and the intensity of flavours are just perfect.

    Finish

    Immensely long, wonderfully bitter, sharp, herbal, minty, menthol, rummy, medicinal, nutty and salty.

    Conclusion

    I suspect this is a whisky some people would just hate. But for me the bitter intensity teeters on a knife edge and lands on the side of brilliance. And on top of that the density, precision and immensity of flavour is wonderful. Finding something this crazy and surprising and fun is exactly why I love whisky.

    Right place, right time

    Sheltering in a cave, telling tales to the grandchildren about the Great Brexit Civil War.

    (Image courtesy of www.scotchwhiskyauctions.com)

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