Dream Drams – Mosstowie 35 year (1979) 48.1%

Our Dream Drams evening in Mumbai with Malt Maniac’s Krishna Nakula, continued with this Mosstowie 35 year from Signatory Vintage‘s mature cask strength series.

Krishna shared the distinctive feature of this whisky is it was produced using Lomond stills.

Founded in 1964, it was “closed” in 1981 with the Lomond stills removed from the Miltonduff Distillery. These stills were built in the 1960s with the idea of using the 3 adjustable rectifier plates to play around with “the position and temperature of the plates the reflux of the ‘boiling’ whisky could be controlled. The angle of the ‘lyne arm’ at the top of the still could be modified as well to influence the character of the whisky further.” (Malt Madness) The thinking was this would produce exactly what blenders needed and hence would be in demand.

However this innovation fell into disfavour as the maintenance and cleaning was very labour intensive. And more importantly, the demand from blenders did not come close to expectations… Hence while the distillery Miltonduff remains, you won’t find much Mosstowie single malt these days.

What did we find?

Mosstowie 35 year (30 November 1979/15 May 2015), Bourbon Barrel Cask Mo 25756, 48.1% (Signatory Vintage Cask Strength) 171 Bottles

  • Nose – We were greeted initially with sweet varnish, then as that subsided, citrus creamy spice took over, some star anise, lots of oriental spices, sour cherry, cork, fermented sour dough starter, desiccated coconut, kopra, nuts… there was a ‘bourbonesque’ quality, with old wood furniture… one even suggested smelly socks!
  • Palate – Lovely coating, wonderful mouth feel, a dash of salt and almost too much honey, yet settled into something both enjoyable and sufficiently complex to be interesting
  • Finish – Dry, again a bit salty, very sweet, a bit of beeswax, muted but very much there
  • Water – We found it dampened the nose, sweetened it even more, made it less multi-dimensional, only advantage was it gave the finish a nice spicy pick-up

We concluded this whisky had a very interesting complexity. A wee sample bottle of this made it home and was revisited a few weeks later. If anything, it was even more exceptional.

Tasting notes by the chaps at Master of Malt:

  • Nose: Oily toffee, marmalade, vanilla, ginger and cocoa.
  • Palate: Smoky wood spices and honeycomb with touches of menthol and kumquat.
  • Finish: Malty and warming.

This bottle was purchased at The Whisky Exchange in London in 2016 and is no longer available through them. However it was last seen on WhiskyBase.com for € 429.50.

What else did we sample?

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Dream Drams – Lochside 1981 43% (Gordon + MacPhail)

Years ago I tried in Singapore at The Auld Alliance a Gordon + MacPhail bottling of Lochside 1981 at cask strength 51.2%.

To say it was superb was an understatement. Til date it remains in my mind as the singularly longest finish I’ve experienced.

When asked by folks to share one whisky I’m dying to try again… this came top of the list.

Unbelievably, during the last London jaunt, a slightly different avatar of this beauty was tracked down at The Whisky Exchange, now reduced in strength to 43%.

Trusting the gents over at Gordon + MacPhail that they know what they are doing and haven’t ruined this lovely dram watering it down, my whisky sampling companion took the plunge and made the huge sacrifice to his wallet to acquire the bottle.

It was saved for a very special evening – Dream Drams – held with Krishna Nakula with the balance carefully preserved to share with the Whisky Ladies.

Lochside 1981

Lochside 24 year 1981 (bottled 2005) 43% (Gordon + MacPhail Rare Old)

  • Nose – Lovely old furniture, stewed fruits, amarula fruity Bailey’s, fresh eucalyptus, bitter almond, fish oil, old leather, fresh brioche or french toast with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, maple syrup, light citrus spice, milk chocolate, beeswax, truffles, salted caramel, zesty citrus, and behind cinnamon spice… it all keeps evolving
  • Palate – An absolute show stopper! Spices dancing, unctuous, simply delicious, honey sweet, spice and bitter, causes mouth watering salivation
  • Finish – A fantastic long finish with incredible staying power. Herbal, bitter almond, puff of smoke that still lingers

In short, this whisky is completely stellar. It is very complex, pronounced by Krishna Nakula as an “old style whisky”, with a gift of aromas, flavours and finish that keeps on giving.

After sitting with it for some time, it continued to evolve… coming back, it was like sniffing a fruit salad of pear, apples, nestled in custard creme… such a beautiful whisky with a delightful sweet spice.

The Whisky Ladies concurred with the original assessment and added a few of their thoughts:

  • Nose – Lovely with so many elements. Soft, sweet to piquant and herbal, nutmeg, cotton candy, slight salt
  • Palate – Warm spice, light leather, so smooth, yet also tingles then back to just silky smooth. Truly beautiful with such complexity and nuance, a fully body experience of delight!
  • Finish – What a finish! It keeps changing, starts with a warm spice, then dark raisins, sweet spices of clove and cinnamon, then fruits, simply stays and stays and stays

In short. A complete stunner.

Here is what the folks over at Gordon + MacPhail have to say:

Without water:

  • Nose – Sweet, oily and herbal aromas. Some dry grass, with cereal notes.
  • Taste – Sweet, rich fruits flavours and a touch of green grass/leafy flavours. Spices and a hint of plain chocolate.

With water:

  • Nose – Some fruit, oiled wood, earthy and sweet toffee aromas all present. Hints of smoke on the edge.
  • Taste – Sherry wood with sweet, nutty flavours. A touch of smokiness.

If you are curious to know more about the Lochside Distillery, Gordon & MacPhail has this to say:

Lochside Distillery began life as a brewery in the 1890s. After closing in the 1950s the site was bought by Joseph Hobbs, who also ran the Ben Nevis Distillery and converted it into Lochside Distillery. The new distillery contained 4 pot stills and a 21 metre high Coffey Still. Lochside Distillery was one of a few distilleries which produced both malt and grain whisky. Following the death of Joseph Hobbs, his son, also Joe, ran the distillery until it was acquired by Destilerias y Crianza, of Madrid, in 1973. The main purpose for the distillery was to produce Scotch Malt to blend with their own Spanish spirit. After years of industrious production Lochside Distillery fell victim to the drinks industry over-production problems of the early 1990s.

PS This whisky was purchased in 2016 at the Whisky Exchange in London for an unmentionable price. A different bottling recently sold for £450.00. This one can no longer be found…

Other whiskies savoured in our “Dream Drams” evening:

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Dream Drams – Mortlach 1976, Lochside 1981, Mosstowie 1979, Aultmore 2007

There are tasting experiences that collectively push the bar to a completely different level.

On this particular monsoon evening in Mumbai with Malt Maniac’s Krishna Nakula, none were standard distillery drams. All but one would qualify as ‘adult‘ whiskies, representative of an older style… From Gordon & MacPhail‘s rare old collection  of closed distilleries to Signatory Vintage‘s mature cask strength set to a unique Master of Malt single cask series, these were no ordinary single malts.

These were the drams that dreams are made of… prompting a few of us wonder… are we truly worthy?

What did we sample?

You will simply need to be patient over the coming weeks as I catch up with all the marvellous malts enjoyed. Trust me… it will be worth the wait.

And a HUUUUGE thank you to our host, whisky contributors who made such an exceptional evening possible! You know who you are.

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The mighty Karuizawa 12 year (1999/2011) 58.9%

Another highlight at Whisky Live Singapore‘s Collector’s Room was the increasingly rare Japanese discontinued distillery – Karuizawa.

2016-11-12-karuizawa

Karuizawa 1999 12 year 58.9%

Bottled 24 Oct 2011, Single Cask #867 with 204 bottles

What did I find?

  • Nose – Lots of dark fruits, dusty
  • Palate – Spice, gorgeous complex character
  • Finish – Long yet quite subtle, lots of figs, dry and bitter

The challenge with dark, rich, intense whiskies is they can become a little too overpowering. This was not the case here… it held back from overwhelming. While it had a lovely nose, it was the taste and finish that really stood out.

While I doubt I will have a chance to try something like this again, am glad I had this opportunity.

Other rare Japanese whiskies sampled:

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BMC Blends – Berry’s Speyside + Islay, Ghosted Reserve 21 year

I’m not going to suggest that the Bombay Malt & Cigar gentlemen are snobs but… they do enjoy the finer things in life. Our sessions began with an unspoken assumption that only Scottish single malts of a certain age and pedigree were worthy of our palates.

However a clear shift has begun… August’s ‘Affordable Adults‘ broke the £100 barrier (as in below). October’s ‘Blind Surprise‘ shook things up more by including an American (Westland Sherry Wood 46%) and Indian (Amrut Bourbon 62.8%) whisky.

However one member remains rather discerning in his whisky preferences. To have him come up with theme of blends? To say it was rather… ahem… uncharacteristic was putting it mildly. Hence why he kept all three bottles carefully covered in champaign covers to keep us fooled until the reveal…

Lest you think these were standard desi cheap blends, rest assured these were ‘proper’ Scottish whiskies… just not single malts.

Berry's Islay, Speyside + Ghosted Reserve 21

Berry’s Islay, Speyside + Ghosted Reserve 21

What did we try?

I had been keeping an eye out for the last one – the novelty of a marriage of three discontinued distilleries Ladyburn, Inverleven and Dumbarton was a lure I was curious to explore. Our host shared this blend was his starting point and rather than add to the mix other well known vatted malt’s like Monkey Shoulder, opted to explore offerings from Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Berry Brothers & Rudd are known as ‘royal retailers‘ and trace their origins to 1698, operating from the same premises in London’s St James’s Street. So while these were blends… the pedigree clearly remained…

And to top it off, the whiskies were paired with $400 cigars… no joke. Me’thinks the perception of ‘upper crust’ remains intact!

Psst – You will simply have to be patient over the next few days to read the tasting notes…

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Affordable Adults – Imperial 20 year 54.8%

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

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.

Imperial 20 year closeup

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.
Thanks Duncan at The Whisky Exchange for the recommendation!
Others in our ‘Affordable Adults‘ evening included:

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Winnipeg’s Cabinet Rosebank 21 year (1990/2011) 53.8%

One tradition of the Winnipeg Whisky Cabinet is to offer the guest an opportunity to chose from the open bottles an ‘appetizer’ whisky to warm up the palate for the evening goodies.

Neatly written in alphabetical order by distillery, the list was impressive with a range of affordable familiar friends to one that made me go  ‘I can’t believe you have this!’

Clearly that was the one I selected…

The Cabinet Whisky List

Discontinued distilleries have a certain mystique about them. Even if not brilliant drams, the very fact that what you try today will be gone tomorrow and never to be replaced, adds a certain bittersweet element to the equation.

My past trysts with Rosebank have been mixed. However a softer, more delicate dram isn’t such a bad way to start an evening… particularly if we would be continuing with a peaty theme…

What were some of the impressions from our Cabinet evening?

Rosebank 21 year (1990 / 2011), Bottle 1789 53.8%

  • Nose – Sweet perfume, quite herbal, drizzle of honey, yet also salty with a clear alcohol chaser, a bit of malt started to push forward
  • Palate – Hot and sour then mellowed into a solid yet soft whisky
  • Finish – Lightly citrus with little else

Overall, it had a bit of a muted “burst of sunshine” quality. It may be relatively simple yet it is well crafted. I couldn’t help but wonder how it was when first opened…

Rosebank 21

What does the bottle have to say?

Light-bodied, this pale gold 21 year old comes from a last golden age at the distillery. Soft, fruity aromas on the nose give way to a delicate, even rose-scented, floral character. The palate is tongue-tingling, clean and fresh, becoming silky with a little water before a soft, flowery sweetness and lemony acidity lead to a round, drying finish.

Here is what the Cabinet lad’s shared:

Carissa selected the Rosebank 21 year old, a lowland whisky from a now shuttered distillery. This is a fiery cask strength whisky with the classic lightly herbal and floral lowland profile backed up by a solid malt core. It is not special in that is in no way complex or exciting, but it is special in that the distillery no longer exists. We drained the last few drops from the last bottle we will likely ever have. The sensation was somewhat akin to eating a baby northern white rhino.

Just curious, I took a peak at auction prices for this bottle… which are currently averaging around US$650. Far steeper than my whisky indulgence budget so am all the more grateful to have sampled a dram courtesy of the Cabinet.

Also quaffed at the Winnipeg “Cabinet” evening:

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80s flashback – Port Ellen 26 year 1982/2009 50%

Oh the elusive allure of sampling from a discontinued distillery!

Once upon a time, Port Ellen was home to innovation, industry and experimentation. Established in 1825, a shrewd early owner Ramsay pushed Port Ellen to become the 1st distillery to secure the right to export large casks to North America, set up a bonded warehouse system that remains in use today, part of creating continuous stills, established an Islay steamboat, imported Sherry and Mediera to Glasgow and even tried his hand at politics!

Though his family sold their interest in the 1920, Port Ellen continued to operate maltings and the bonded warehouses, re-opening with two more stills in 1966-67.

However by 1983, a choice had to be made… to close Caol Ila or to close Port Ellen? Caol Ila fans remain ever so grateful their distillery was given new focus and life… whereas many industry pundits bemoan the absence of new Port Ellen offerings with its versatile style.

As the folks over at The Whisky Exchange share:

Some sherry-casked Port Ellen can be beautifully rich, spicy, sweet and leathery; bourbon and refill casks often show a more austere, peppery medium-weighted style. Common characteristics, though, are a high level of peatiness and, in the best examples, a phenomenal complexity which Islay fans adore. For these reasons Port Ellen has become one of the most sought-after of the lost distilleries by collectors, investors and aficionados.

This particular Port Ellen was aged 26 years… part of the last batches laid in September 1982 and bottled in July 2009. There are only 712 bottles in existence released by independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co as part of their Old Malt Cask series.

Courtesy Krishna Nakula

Here is what we found:

  • Nose – Gorgeous smoky bacon, peat, dry fruits, blue cheese, mustard, lots of those umame notes, sweet, iodine, over-ripe fruit, spoiled apple
  • Taste – Smokey cigar, baked pie, cinnamon spice candies, chewy black pepper, a little nutty, wet cardboard, burnt oak, creamy
  • Finish – Smokey spicy bacon, ashes, salt
  • Water – Kicks up the spice level initially – especially the black pepper then settles into a harmonious marriage of warm peat and cinnamon spice

The presence of peat is unmistakable yet it is restrained in the most enjoyable way. In short, an absolutely beautiful dram!

A discussion ensued about all the elements we discover in a whisky. As Krishna Nakula put it:

“Whisky tasting is a metaphor… How does bacon, vanilla, fruit come to us? From the esters during the fermentation process.”

Yet it is how our senses interpret that makes appreciating a complex, interesting whisky so special!

The folks over at Douglas Laing & Co shared on the bottle their tasting notes:

  • Nose – Opens creamy with a sweet baked style + peat fire in a kiln
  • Palate – Phenolic with burnt oak, sweet tar + creoste + ashes
  • Finish – Long + salty rock pools, burnt toast + more damp ash

This remarkable rare malt came courtesy of India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula at an evening organised by The Secret Supper Project and The Vault Fine Spirits in celebration of 20 years of Malt Madness.

Other discontinued whiskies sampled:

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80s vs today whisky styles

The 1980s was a time of pac-man, tetris, Apple computers, big chunky jewellery, hair that defied gravity, caked on make-up, and some very bad pop hits.

For some of us, the 1980s was also a time where we shouted “ban the bomb” and “anhilitate apartheid!”, where we stood firm with our brethren in Tiananmen Square, the Palestinian intifada, watched the wall come down and yes… had funky spiked hair, grunge clothes and hung out at punk rock gigs.

If you haven’t figured out which camp I belonged to… pop over to Everyday Asia and check out the photographic evidence in “How I got ‘hooked’ on going away.”

However, the 1980s didn’t happen to be a time that I could afford whisky! I was far too deeply buried into heavy academic tomes to surface to sniff, swirl, swish and swallow a single malt.

Rumour has it that the 1980s happened to produce many rather good drams. More than a few whisky experts around the globe speak of how whisky styles have changed between ‘then’ and ‘now’, noting that with the increased demand for single malt growing globally, production methods, quality controls and shifts in palates have created differences in whiskies produced 30+ years ago with those matured today.

After sampling the remarkable Glendronach grand dames and then the rare Karuizawa 39 year from 1973 with whisky stock laid in the early 1970s, we had another exceptional evening that sampled whiskies from the 1980s… There is indeed something ‘different’ about these drams!

1980s whiskies

1980s whiskies

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Lochside 1981 51.2% (Gordon + MacPhail)

The next up in our The Auld Alliance Singapore sampling suite simply stays with you! Lochside 1981 remains one of my all time favourites til date.

20150604_Lochside 1981

Lochside 1981 / bottled 2010 51.2% (Gordon & MacPhail)

  • Nose – Peat, meadow, grassy, fresh, hint below of spirit, from the nose alone a sense of some age, tropical fruits
  • Taste – Unbelievably smooth, silky with the nicest peat, absolutely no harshness, bursting with raisins, berries, a big swell of delicious spice, juicy
  • Finish – A gorgeous gift. The kind of finish that simply keeps on giving, shifting from berries to smoke to a savoury sweetness.
  • Overall – Had a sense of maturity, very well-balanced with the kind of finish that simply commands RESPECT!

In short, this one made us stop. We turned to each other and realised our evening could just end on this whisky – a true show stopper. One sip would last 15 minutes. This is the kind of whisky you wish you had in your cabinet. The kind you want to share with special folks who truly appreciate a quality dram. Without fanfare, it slipped into the class of one of the most memorable whiskies sampled til date.

From the discontinued Lochside distillery – known to be one of the ‘ugliest’ distilleries – Arun from The Auld Alliance shared it also used to produce beer. Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, the label noted the whisky is matured in refill sherry hogshead.

Their notes indicate:

From the closed, and now demolished distillery, this Single Malt has hints of subtle spices and is laced with ripe, tropical fruits.

All I can say is, if you can try this whisky – just do it! It was last seen on WhiskyBase.com for € 350 however is no longer available. For more information about the distillery, you may find this post from WhiskyIntelligence of interest.

Other whiskies sampled as part of our Scottish quartet included:

If in Singapore, check out The Auld Alliance at:

  • 9 Bras Basah Road, RendezVous Hotel, Gallery #02-02A, SINGAPORE 189559 
  • info@theauldalliance.sg Tel: +65 6337 2201

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