First up in our ‘no brainers’ set of affordable adult whiskies was an offering from Imperial distillery. Never heard of it?
That could be because it was closed much of its existence – four times, last in 1998 and then demolished in 2013. Rumour has it the owners of the brand (Chivas Brothers aka Pernod Ricard) have plans of opening a new distillery at the ill-fated Imperial’s site in Carron, Speyside under a new avatar – Dalmunach.
That could also be because it seems to have had only one official bottling – a 15 year – with the balance going into blends or limited independent bottlings. Such as the one we acquired from Signatory.
And why Imperial? The name was inspired by the distillery’s construction in 1897 which coincided with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Yet it was clearly a ‘no brainer’ as how often can you buy a cask strength 20 year whisky from a discontinued distillery for under $100 that also happens to be rather drinkable?
Imperial 20 year (1995/2016) 54.8%
Distilled on 18 September 1995, bottled on 04 Mar 2016 at cask strength, matured in hogsheads Casks No 50254 + 50256 and bottle 251 of 495, part Signatory’s Cask Strength Collection.
Here is what we found:
- Nose – Immediate impression of a light, refreshing, floral whisky, meadows, honey, yet slightly astringent, think pear drops… however the beauty of this whisky is it did not remain in that space alone… With water, the sweetness was dampened making way for hint of spice, gooseberry, citrus, light new wood like balsa… let it air even longer and more woodsy, malty elements emerges with cereals, leaves yet still a freshness
- Palate – Boiled sweets, all sweetness and light on the tip of the tongue with no depth, no body, no finish… initially… 2nd sip is a little harsher yet still sweet… then wait… as you settle in with this whisky is slowly reveals other dimensions, gently, a little tasty yet bitter sour quality emerged. With water, the almost too sweet candied element was dulled, making way for betel nut, lemon rind, dark bitter chocolate, toast and tea
- Finish – Most remarkable transformation… first sip and most confidently pronounced ‘no discernible finish’. However let it open, add a few drops of water and voila! A seriously long finish, slightly bitter with a mix of lemon zest and a woody quality.
Overall this is a very approachable dram, subtle, yet with enough going on to keep you company for some time. One that you may initially dismiss as being too lightweight and sweet when first opened yet give it time to slowly unfurl… and you will not regret your patience.
Our opinion was slightly divided with some preferring it neat, not wanting to mess with the sweet sweet sweet quality in its natural state… Others felt its complexity and true character only surfaced with a few drops revealing beneath the gorgeous sweet a more nuanced creature with bitter edges.
In short, a brilliant discovery, one only a few can enjoy with under 500 bottles in existence. If I was popping to London any time soon, this would be the kind of whisky I’d snap up and keep – perhaps grabbing the Gordon & MacPhail bottle or the a related Signatory if this Signatory Vintage Cask Collection bottle is no longer available.
It may not be the most remarkable whisky ever but it is more than just a decent dram and a unique nip of whisky history worth appreciating.
Here is what The Whisky Exchange folks have to say about a related bottle (ours was Signatory Vintage – Cask Collection):
Soft, sweet and floral whisky from closed Imperial – complex and perfect for relaxed summer evenings.
- Nose: Honeysuckle, candy necklaces, Victoria sponge, rose water, Battenberg cake and hints of freshly cut grass. Biscuity notes build – Nice and custard creams vie for attention – along with resinous and sappy touches. Spicy candied ginger sits at the back.
- Palate: The floral notes from the nose burst on to the palate, with a side order of toasted raisin bagels and creamy butter. Sharper and sweeter flavours develop, with autumn leaves, grass and bark balanced by golden syrup and lemon sherbert.
- Finish: Woody spices fade to green leaves and sweet earthy notes.
- Comment: Light, delicate and floral on the nose, with a kick of complexity on the palate.