In the before times (which is now my favourite annoying inside joke we all have), for my birthday I did a few whisky related things: I’d go out to a pub with a good whisky selection, and I’d review any birth year whisky samples I had.
I won’t bore you with the extreme details, however suffice to say we had some delays in celebrating my birthday in this fashion. Maybe we’ll get back to that, maybe the world is on fire and we’re just staring at the flint and steel.
Nonetheless, as part of my comeback to normality, I picked up a few of the birthday samples I had squirreled away. Sadly I drank these so no tree to grow and drink from. Perhaps I beat that metaphor to death.
So what did I put aside for myself? Simple put the best Lowland distillery ever reviewed, some St. Magdalene/Linlithgow.
I started reviewing before I could easily try this distillery. Sadly the distillery is now home to some posh homes and probably only contains whisky that looks nice on the shelf and there it will stay.
But let’s not get to that: What we have today is a side-by-side of St. Magdalene or Linlithgow. This isn’t normal. Granted there is no new normal. So who ended up with a nicer barrel of the legendary Lowland, Gordon & MacPhail or Murray McDavid? Let’s see, shall we?
St. Magdalene 32 1982 Gordon & MacPhail Rare Old was laid down in 1982 and then pulled in 2015, almost like they didn’t want it aging after the shitshow that 2016 was. Could have affected the dram if it had to go through Brexit and Trump. Also probably other terrible things.
But enough about being a doomer: What we have is a bottle from the Rare Old series from Gordon & MacPhail. And after 32 (maybe 33 years, but not according to the information I’ve found) years in a cask, the spirit is buried under the cask, aged based on someone checking on it, and deciding when it’s the best it can be.
That said… It’s one of the “legendary” whiskies from St. Mags, right? And after 30+ years, it must be extra legendary. That’s how that works, right?
Not to mention I, the reviewer, are trying this as a birthday dram. And I love Lowland whiskies. I’m not saying all of this to discredit my review: Merely that I’m human (and you can’t prove otherwise) and I will be biased on this one.
That said… I am a cynic at times (if my wife is reading this she’ll tell you “at times” is being charitable and that I’m a big ole grumpy puss). So perhaps I have less bias than I think? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: £ 1000.00
Bottled: February 18, 2015
Cask number: RO/15/05
Number of bottles: 431
Colour: 10Y 8/6
Nose: Fresh grapefruit (think super fresh and you paid extra for it), fried plantains, apple strudel, lime blossoms, being in a Rainforest pavilion at a zoo, ruby chocolate
Lots of fruit, vegetal, rain/grass notes, and this lovely chocolate/plain note. It jumps from sweets to fruit and back again, hitting all variations in between. Lots of acidity, lots of buttery/starchy notes, and this lovely floral note too.
So I’m in Heaven, as I’m that guy who always wants to add just the right amount of citrus to what I’m making. Also I’ll eat your flower garden. For once that’s not an euphemism.
Taste: Lime, shiitake mushrooms, brown sugar, floral salt, caramel
Watery, and sadly all that amazing complexity from the nose hurts it. Because you smell the nose, and it’s pretty awesome, and then you try the taste, and other than the earth being complex, it’s pretty simple.
Here’s where it’s tough to beat up on this. I liked drinking this. But it’s not that crazy level of the nose, which is what you expect from the distillery, or the price tag, or the age, or really anything.
Did water hurt this? Did the taste just not grow with the nose? Hard to say, I wasn’t babysitting it, what with being born when it was distilled and all.
Finish: Lime zest, violets, oak, cocoa, prickly pear
Long finish. Picks up more complexity on the floral, earth, and interesting pear notes. Still hurt by how amazing the nose is compared to it.
Again, hard to criticize here. Blinders on I’m loving this whisky and having no issues. Blinders off and I know how old/where it’s from? Tisk tisk. Lovely to have the finish, but I’ve had better finishes from similar whiskies.
Conclusion: Sadly very, very watery. There’s a reason we used to skip Gordon & MacPhail releases. Watering this down is like walking into a wall instead of using a door for a dollar: I get why you did it (money), but it hurt a lot.
The nose is amazing. You open it and pour for most people who aren’t trying to quantify their love of something due to a writing problem, they are happy. Heck I’m happy with it. You don’t end up with whiskies like this on a regular basis. Even on a special occasion it’s pretty awesome.
But damn I wish they hadn’t mucked with it. Which I’m guessing because after 33 years they ended up with 400+ bottles and it’s a perfect 46%. Could have been lower. Wish I could try it higher to see if that would help.
Linlithgow 25 1982 Murray McDavid Mission Gold was distilled in 1982 and then bottled in 2007, seemingly to avoid the global economic collapse. And here I am, reviewing it on the eve of the newest once-in-a-lifetime economic collapse. Which by my count I’m onto my fourth, so maybe that means I eventually get to have more rare Lowlands?
The difference here is we’re at cask strength, we’re working with those crazy nuts over at Murray McDavid, and we have a Cognac cask finish.
So the red flag here is we have a rare, amazing whisky that has been finished in a high-end cask. That said this is the same company (at the time of this bottling) that owned Bruichladdich, known for using unconventional casks to an amount that most of us would say “a lot”. So it’s not a surprise.
So was this a dud that needed a finish? Or a good whisky made better? Or just another whisky, but from a big amazing company? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: £ 950.00
Cask Type: Bourbon and a Cognac Finish
Number of bottles: 1,800
Colour: 7.5Y 8/8
Nose: Cotton, mango, grapefruit, dandelion
Very shy nose. Really have to pull more and more out of it. A shallow glass will be your friend here. Or a larger pull, depending on your current household income.
Once you jam your nose and some of your face in the glass you’ll find grass/vegetal notes along with tropical fruit and acidity. But it’s very shy.
Taste: Smarties, brine, lemon pudding, grassy/arugula, anise
Here we go, opens up right away. Bright sugar eventually goes to a good mixture of balanced acidity, lovely grassy/peppery notes, and spice.
I have no idea what the Cognac cask is doing, if anything. Perhaps it was neutral and helped bring out the taste? Perhaps I’ve had too few Cognac/brandy casks to say. Was expecting some orange and brown sugar notes.
Finish: Limoncello, limestone, brown sugar, dry apple/oak, fresh sourdough
That lemon at the end is amazing. Wow, the finish is amazing. I feel like the earlier comment on the Cognac cask all happened at the end. Like they were trying to amp up that nose and just amped up an already amazing taste.
Well developed cereal, lovely complex minerality, and seriously who doesn’t love Limoncello? No one, good day sir.
Conclusion: Shy nose, turns itself around on the taste and finish. Which I loved. So I have to ask: If I didn’t love the nose here but loved it above, and then had something that had a better taste and finish, how does that impact my score?
Hard to say, really. With this one I felt that a light, if simple nose was good, the taste was getting interesting and unique, and the finish was great.
So what we have is an improvement. Is it a vast improvement? Arguably no. It’s a really, really good finish and a noseless whisky. The other is an amazing nose on what I’d come to expect from a reasonably priced 18-year-old whisky. So I’ll up this by one more point, and then determine how I can get more Linlithgow/St. Magdalene in my face hole before it joins the dodo.
Scotch review #1417-8, Lowland review #58-59, Whisky Network review #2097-8