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.

Believe it or not, a few years later, we plucked this out again for a revisit. What did we discover?

  • Nose – Green fields of grass, pear, apple, floral… a bit musty, marigold and nasturtiums, caramel, salted toffee
  • Palate – Wonderfully mature and well rounded on the palate, sweet and smooth

In discussing its character, we thought of a stylish lady, sporting a classic Chanel, like Jackie O or Audry Hepburn. Understated yet significant.

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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Bowmore 16 year “The Prestonfield” Vintage 1972 43%

The more we explore the remarkable range of whiskies out there, the more we push into sometimes quite rare territory. Even expensive territory. And yet even highly acclaimed and coveted drams can sometimes lose their lustre. Old + rare + pricy doesn’t always = mind blowingly brilliant!

And every once in a while it is good to have that reminder.

After the truly dangerously drinkable and most enjoyable Bowmore 12 year distilled in the 1970s, we were primed to be transported to celestial levels with “The Prestonfield” vintage 1972 aka Bowmore 16 year.

Yet what did we find…..?

Bowmore 16 year “The Prestonfield” Vintage 1972 (28 Feb 1972-1988), Sherry Wood, CS No 1036 – 1039, Bottle no 9861, 43%

  • Nose – Phenoylic, like walking into an old Scottish hotel with the scents of an old rug, worn leather chair and the fire burning (promising but unidimensional)
  • Palate – Sooth – like sacred ash mixed with camphor, a weird peculiar ‘queerness’ like carbolic soap
  • Finish – Limited with an almost tallow or lard-like quality

So here is the thing. The nose was promising once past the carbolic acid, an initial sip was sooty yet bland, then had a strongly ‘off’ quality. I’ll admit. I made a face. Both times I sipped. Even a bit on the 3rd when I was braced for it and ready for something decidedly different. Something like the tallow from animal fat used to make candles, that had gone slightly rancid. The most complimentary description I could think of was raw bitter chokecherries.

I had to admit it didn’t work for me and tried to understand why Prestonfield whiskies are so highly rated if this was an example. What about that strange, frankly to me quite awful tasting quality, that makes it be deemed ‘good’? Just because its rare? Costs a lot? Sorry. Doesn’t cut it for me.

Speculation turned to whether this bottle could have gone off – yet there was no rust on the cap and the miniature was opened just before we tasted. So…?

Who knows. Perhaps something had indeed gone wrong between when initially bottled and our opening… after all, nearly 30 years had passed. Or perhaps there was some small drop of something else that got into the bottle when originally filled that turned it queer over the years. Or even still, it could be that much more discerning palates than mine found something remarkable in what to me was unusual to the extent of being not enjoyable.

Do I regret trying it? Absolutely not! Would I be tempted to try again? Perhaps… just to see if something happened to this particular miniature that was not representative of the original whisky. But not enough to put a lot of effort into tracking it down.

This 5 ml bottle was purchased by Krishna Nakula for £35. On Whisky-OnlineAuctions.com, the last available miniature’s bid closed at £45 in February 2015.

What do we know about Prestonfield whiskies? Here’s what La Maison du Whisky shares:

The Prestonfield range of whiskies is without doubt one of the most well-known among connoisseurs, and yet few people are aware of its origins. Created in the 1980s by the Symington brothers, the famous label with the drawing of the Prestonfield Hotel is now available exclusively through La Maison du Whisky. The whiskies selected for this range have always been some of the best but, from 2000, the decision was made to bottle them all at cask strength from a single cask. Almost exclusively single malts, these whiskies are extremely sought after, and often appear at the major auctions.

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection from July 2017?

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A remarkable 1970s Bowmore 12 year 40%

Much has been said about how whisky styles have changed over the decades. That opinion is widely shared by those who started their sampling journey in the 1980s where most single malts were distilled in the 1970s or earlier. Yet most of these impressions remain in memories rather than the opportunity to test the theory.

Today, obtaining a sample of such earlier styles is challenging… most are found in private collections or auctions. Which is where this lovely little Bowmore 12 year miniature from the 1970s came. A wee dark coloured squat bottle that simply stated its age, alcohol strength and that it was matured in sherry casks. No hint of further details as this was simply a standard issue bottling for its time.

Bowmore 12 year (1970s – 80s) 40%

  • NoseHing (asafetida), pomelo, passion fruit vying with grapefruit, smoke and peat yet quite restrained, subtle, as it continued to open more fruit like cashew, pineapple and mango
  • Palate – Just as hing was the 1st predominant aroma, cashew fruit was on the palate, intensely sweet and dangerously drinkable with just a kiss of peat, brilliant body for a 12 year as it really sits on your palate
  • Finish – Peaty, leather, chocolate

This may sound a bit fanciful, but it had a joyful character on the nose, bright and fruity, superbly accessible and enjoyable on the palate with peat most pronounced in the rather delicious finish.

Like the Glen Grant 60 year old just sampled, this Bowmore was matured in sherry casks – but clearly of a different calibre and character than today’s sherry. Again, much more restrained overall, even the peat quality was faint – leading to speculation of re-fill sherry casks and curiosity about how the “barely there” peat quality came into play.

It truly was such a contrast in style to any Bowmore sampled in the last few years – which are often quite bold in character. Whereas this wasn’t clamouring for attention by swaggering into our senses, instead gained exclamations of “Fantastic! Stunning! Superb!” for its much more nuanced dimensions.

For some, it was the clear favourite of the evening – no simple feat given its competition!

Krishna shared his opinion that this Bowmore 12 year has all the “beauty of the old style.”

He went on to regale us with the tale of the term “FWP” (French Whore’s Perfume) used to describe a shift in character – particularly pronounced from Bowmore post Suntory coming into the picture for a few years. First detected by some whisky enthusiasts, they identified a peculiar soapy quality that they felt ruined the whisky… later linked to the soap used to clean the stills!

Since corrected, another Malt Maniac Serge shares:

The original ‘problem’ originated in the 1980’s and was corrected at some point during the 1990s. The FWP spirit sort of worked its way through the system and you shouldn’t detect the unsavoury FWP trait any more in bottlings that were released in recent years.

This 5 ml bottle was purchased by Krishna Nakula for £8. For those interested, a 740ml bottle could be found on Whisky.Online.com for a mere £450.


What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection from July 2017?

PS you can contrast my sampling of a more recent incarnation of the Bowmore 12 year here.

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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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80s flashback – Lagavulin 16 year ‘White Horse’ 43%

Often when people of a peaty persuasion are looking for a reliable single malt to enjoy or gift, I will direct them to Lagavulin 16 year. This islay whisky is known for its ‘house style’ of well balanced peat, rich, dry and entirely dependable.

Lagavulin will officially turn 200 next year… unofficially it actually is a wee bit illegally older harkening back to 1795. So what a treat to sample an earlier incarnation of the iconic Lagavulin 16 year!

20151121_Lagavulin 16 'White Horse'

The third from our remarkable evening featuring rare malts… we tasted blind discovering:

  • Colour – Burnished copper (clearly sherry cask!)
  • Nose – Honey, vanilla, a very ‘classic’ feel, spice, sweet basil, light plum, saunf (fennel), a bit of nougat peeping beneath, mild pinch of peat
  • Palate – Oily, rancid, rust, copper, iron.. in short quite metallic, dry, chilly pepper, then starts to sweeten, cinnamon, a bit of chocolate, smooth and increasingly sweet with each sip
  • Finish – Sits there, doesn’t do anything in particular except for a bit of pepper

Comments included “has the smell of an old library” and the “taste of rust.” Which may not sound terribly pleasant however when you experience it, has a compelling quality.

With the reveal, it was considered the “dark horse” of the evening as it displays the classic roots of our familiar friend – the modern avatar of Lagavulin 16 year – with some distinctly different notes.

This particular bottle is a collectors item – part of the initial 16 year old releases in the 1980s under the ‘White Horse’ label.

Interestingly, Lagavulin was indirectly responsible for our evening… it was the ‘amazing discovery’ of Lagavulin whisky that sparked the whisky explorations that became Malt Madness – read the story here.

It also, in turn, transformed a regular working man on a trip postponing his flight back to India, getting a car and driving straight to the distillery to morph into India’s Malt Maniac.

It even brought together members of our Mumbai private whisky tasting group who 1st met at the Lagavulin distillery… A fitting note indeed to close our rare malt transport back in time to the flavours and feel of whisky from the 1980s.

This remarkable 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.

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80s flashback – Auchentoshan ‘Pure Malt’ 40%

Let me confess upfront… I’ve not been massively impressed with most mass market Auchentoshan...

Yes I get that as they are triple distilled, my palate should calibrate to something light, refreshing and more nuanced. Yes I also get that not all Auchentoshan’s are created equal. I remember being delighted with some special Auchentoshan’s sampled at the now defunct “Vault” in Singapore… followed by being universally uninspired ever since… until now!

We sampled this beauty blind at an evening which featured a trio of rare whiskies from the 1980s… providing a unique ‘flashback’ to single malts before the current craze that has whiskies flying off shelves around the world with the award winning pronouncements of one man!

Courtesy Krishna Nakula

Knowing absolutely nothing about the whisky before the unveiling, we discovered:

  • Nose – It kept evolving starting with apricot, dried peach, bannanas, lots of tropical fruits, fresh, bright, then some creamy vanilla, a little fresh curry pata (green curry leaves), fresh grass which morphed into dry hay, a dab of almond oil, ladies perfume, green bananas, light ash and finally a faint curd sourness creeping in…
  • Palate – Light, dry, bitter like watered down juice of kerela (bitter guord), the shadow of smoke without any direct peat, sense of being a “breakfast dram”
  • Finish – Some debate… some hardly found any finish, another described it as ‘present’ yet  ‘nondescript’… in short the finish was the only disappointing element of the whisky
  • Water – Absolutely does not need a drop

Leading up to the unveiling there was talk of it being an ‘old style’ whisky… clearly before the 1990s.

Sure enough – more than one sampler was surprised with it being an Auchentoshan. Krishna shared that the era of Eadie Cairns who rebuilt the Auchentoshan distillery completely after purchasing it in 1969.

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.

The night before, we were ‘wowed’ with a quartet of 1970s Glendronach grand dames from 39 – 42 years.

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Rare Japanese Whisky – Karuizawa 39 year 1973/2013 Cask No 1607 67.7%

I still cannot believe we sampled this near mythical dram. While I was intrigued but not blown away by the ‘entry level’ Asama, a mature Karuizawa whisky is valued in the $15,000 range?!

That is… if you can find it…

Image from Scotch Whisky Auction

Image from Scotch Whisky Auction

This vintage cask no 1607 release from Karuizawa was bottled exclusively for La Maison du Whisky at a cask strength of 67.7%. It was distilled in December 1973 and bottled July 2013, making it 39 years old, with only 138 bottles taken from the ex-sherry cask. To call it ‘rare’ is a bit of an understatement!

Here is what we found:

  • Colour – Deep rich burgandy
  • Nose – Like a fine cognac, hint of orange zest, grape, sugary honey
  • Palate – Fire, orange, chocolate
  • Finish – Cigar pipe tobacco soaked in cognac

The sample came courtesy of India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula and tasted together with the gorgeous quartet of grand dames – Glendronach 39 – 42 year whiskies.

My tasting notes simply do not do justice…. it is hard to put into words something that just wraps you up in so many layers of richness… It was a bit overwhelming to sample such mature, complex and yet still eminently enjoyable drams. Age doesn’t necessarily mean quality, but in this case it does!

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