Blends of yore – Hedges + Butler 21 year 43%

Without a doubt, this blend made our evening “remarkable“! It also prompted our meeting as I had brought it back from Germany where Krishna Nakula – India’s Malt Maniac – had bought it at an auction nearly two years earlier. As he just so happened to be in Mumbai for an event, we naturally had to catch up for a dram or two! Very generously, he chose to open this particular piece of history… Lucky us!

So what did we think?

Hedges & Butler Royal Scotch Whisky 21 year (1950/60s – 1970/80s) 43%

  • Nose – Rich and robust, think German cherry liqueur or a single rum, dark fruits – particularly plums, earthy and bursting with character, buttery milk chocolate with a heavy fruit liqueur
  • Palate – It has a velvety silky smoothness, well rounded and balanced, waxy with some mineral and tobacco, luscious juicy fruits and berries, a hint of spice and wood at the back, chased by bitters
  • Finish – Long and lingering with a hint of sweet spices

Superb and simply delicious! This blend provided clear evidence that they don’t make them like they used to! Very different – incredibly complex, rich, rewarding… a big full whisky. The nose and palate are outstanding… and very memorable. Lucky, lucky us to have an opportunity to try something like this!

It is hard to find too much in the way of exact details however based on the label and auctions, it is likely from the 1960s / bottled in the 1980s. The auction price was around EUR 88 however with taxes and shipping, came to EUR 105. I thought it quite reasonable, however Krishna shared such bottles earlier were selling for significantly less. As more and more people are now discovering that these mere ‘blends’ are in fact hidden treasures from a time when the BEST malt went into a blend, the price is also rising.

Hedges & Butler (aka H&B) is a brand of blends part of the Ian McLeod group. They trace their history as a wine and spirits producer back to 1667, relocating in 1819 to Regent Street, supplying the coronation banquet of King George IV with wine, port, and champagne. Their relationship with whisky began in the 1830s with blended Scotch whiskies – gaining their 1st of several “Royal Warrants” by King George IV, followed by Queen Victoria, then eleven different Monarch’s.

Fast forward to the 1960s, H&B was acquired by The Bass Charrington Group, then from 1998 the brand name has been owned by Ian Macleod Distillers.

Today you can still find H&B with a no age statement and 12-year version.

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Remarkable Random Range of Whiskies

What does a Scottish blend from the 1950 / 60s made for a Hamburg distributor and a German malt that barely qualifies as whisky have in common? Or what does a peaty coastal single malt bottled by an Indian distillery have to do with a sophisticated complex Island dram from a much-coveted Indie bottler? And how about the price range from an affordable entry-level Island OB in GBP 20s vs another over 150?! Or sourced from an auction some 40 years after bottling vs direct from bottler within hours of going on sale, to Le Clos Dubai duty-free or available exclusively in Bangalore only… Frankly speaking, they have practically nothing in common beyond a random sweaty evening in Mumbai where they just so happened to be tasted together!

A Remarkable (Random) Range

What a remarkable – if random! – range for a brilliant evening… which was revisited another night in Mumbai with more malt experts!

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A venerable Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965) 47.8%

One of the best things about a good Whisky Festival or very well stocked bar is an opportunity to try something that ordinarily you would never be able to buy on your own… That is exactly why at Berlin’s  Union Jack we shared a very clear brief – we wanted to end our evening with something truly exceptional and rare. Our preference was a discontinued distillery – something that we would otherwise never ever have a chance to experience….

My tasting companion mentioned interest in a Port Ellen however we were open to anything. Our whisky guide for the evening consulted the Union Jack owner and came up with a remarkable short-list: Rosebank 25 year, Glen Ord 1975, Brora 27 year (2015), Macallan-Glenlivet 1968/1983 (Berry Bros)… to which we also added the Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965), which my eye had spotted as soon as we walked in the door… A light sniff of each bottle made the choice very clear…

Obviously you can tell which one we selected!

We had earlier discussed the Glenglassaugh distillery and how challenging it is to have stock of remarkable old vintage whiskies produced before its closure vs a young upstart that was – frankly speaking – initially bottled before it was ready. I shared how malt maniac Krishna Nakula was so enthusiastic about the “old” and had once shared a sample of the “new” make spirit from the re-start.

For those not familiar, Glenglassaugh followed the path of many a Scottish distillery. Founded in 1875 until its closure in 1986. It was re-opened in 2008 and had a wee bit of a rocky re-start however understand it is getting its game together and was joined a few years ago by master blender Rachel Barrie.

However enough pre-amble… what matters most is what we discovered!

Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965) 47.8% (Murray McDavid Mission) Bottle 084/411

  • Nose – Simply superb, berries mashed and fresh, nuanced, like an Eaton mess – full of crunchy mirage, berries and cream, an antique quality opening up further to reveal a hint of coffee richness, a fruity compote, red liquorice, red candies
  • Palate – Exquisite, soft yet big, silky smooth, full flavoured yet elegant, more of that hint of coffee, so balanced with a curl of smoke sneaking up from behind, chocolate coffee cream
  • Finish – Gorgeous – such a long fruity fabulous finish

Having the great fortune of sampling a few venerable, I was poised for something a bit shy… instead this was an absolute delight. Classic and yet still full and flavourful, not a single off note instead it was pure indulgence.

There was such sophistication – from bursting berries to that hint of smoke… it was simply outstanding and well worth choosing as our grand finale.

What more do we know? The label shares it was matured in Sherry and Rivesaltes Casks. I’ll admit I had to look up “Rivesaltes” to find it is a sweet wine made from red or white grapes from the Languedoc region of France. Like sherry, it is a fortified wine of which there are several variations using Grenache, Muscat, Malvoisie with styles ranging from amber, garnet, tuilé or rosé. I will certainly keep my eye out for “Rivesaltes” in future as it clearly did great things for this particular whisky along with the Sherry cask.

The best quote of the evening came from our guide?

“I just cry that they don’t make whisky like this anymore.”

To put into perspective, the average value of this bottle in auctions is approx € 1755 though likely impossible to find now. As for us? It set us back a hefty EUR 80 for a glass however we both felt privileged to have had an opportunity to try.

Before this “penultimate” dram, we had  explored three sets of “pairings” which included:

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Dubai Dream Drams – SMWS “Busy buzzing bees” 38 years (1977) 49.6%

In our special “Dream Drams” evening in Dubai early 2019, we went from a lively and most enjoyable Irish whiskey to a completely different direction with a single grain.

And no ordinary grain, it was a Strathclyde bottled by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) from 1977, matured for 38 years, producing only 72 bottles from a refill ex-bourbon cask…

And in their trademark way, it was creatively dubbed “Busy Buzzing Bees” by the SMWS folks.

What did our merry tasting group in Dubai have to say about it?

SMWS G10.10 “Busy buzzing bees” 38 years (23 Nov 1977) 49.6%

  • Nose – It greeted us with fresh pepper, then mellowed in vanilla, nougat, eucalyptus, emerging a distinctive farm-like quality, cedar wood, light lavender
  • Palate – Honey and caramel, a few found it “buttery”, delightfully sweet
  • Finish – Bitter almond
  • Water – Beautiful and silky

How rare it is to have a grain whisky that has matured nearly 40 years… we were honoured to have such an opportunity.

What did the SMWS folks have to say about this whisky?

A light, sweet and floral aroma greeted the Panel. Sugar dusted fruit flavoured bonbons and candy corn were mentioned before a picture full of promise emerged; sitting in the garden sipping on a Lemon Drop Martini and listening to the bees buzzing in the laurel hedge.

The taste had honey-roasted peaches with lavender ice cream whilst the overall impression was one of an almost perfect balance between delicate, perfumed sweetness and dry wood spice.

A drop of water and a plate of seafood pasta in a creamy marinara sauce and a glass of chilled, slightly mineralic, Riesling Auslese was being served.

DRINKING TIP: Perfect to replace a dessert wine

For those curious to try, it is still showing as available through the SMWS for £278.40.

Here are a few more whiskies we sampled in our Dubai Dream Drams evening:

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