Though the distillery was officially founded [by John Robertson & Son SW] in 1896 [MM & McM] or 1897 [SW], its first [semi-] official release didnt occur until 2000 when Diageo presented a 21yo as part of its Rare Malts series WB. Contrary to this however, Whiskybase also has a 1902 pure malt Ob. listed WB.
A small number of independent bottlers have released Coleburn as a single malt WB, but historically its whisky was used exclusively for brands & blends. These included Yellow Label [the founders blend] Usher’s & Johnnie Walker – the latter of whom owned the distillery outright by the 1920s. Like many distilleries, it changed hands a number of times, soon ending up in the DCL stable.
Coleburn was mothballed in 1985 with plans over the years to convert the site into new homes, or currently, a leisure park.
In the meantime, Aceo [one of the biggest whisky brokers in the industry & owners of Murray McDavid] are currently based at the distillery. [blog]
Ive only tried four Coleburn expressions, so its definitely time to improve on that – by three. Im starting with the GM New Map 1972, as the Brown labels always have the better juice. Ill finish with the later vintage because its a good Cadenhead bottling i believe. Finish with the best i say.
Coleburn 1972 GM New Map 40%
- N: Apple orchards, barrelled cider, sweet apple juice and tart yet sugary apple pie – can really smell that short-crust pastry along with shortbread and a few suggestions of other vintage things. Though both share similarities, here i get lemon & pear drops in distinct comparison to the Brown Label. Later there are notes of sweet chocolate-ish wafer, vanilla icecream spoilt by sawdust, an old crumble topping flavoured with cloves & crystalised ginger – all really murky, dried-out stuff from the far back top shelf of the larder. Settles nicely with a desirably sweet creamy lactose note that develops later. All good so far, what could possibly go wrong?
- T: Thin/weak arrival, fruit-tannic becoming woody and very drying. I read stale vanilla<honeyed biscuits to represent knackered old spirit from knackered old casks. With water, a little soapy OBE with a relatively more desirable dry, mouthfeel.
- F: Further woody bitter dryness.
- C: Totally non-offensive, poor presentation, yet easily drinkable [if needs must]. From an era when NAS malts were [sometimes] a vehicle for using up old/tired stock. Hasnt that trend almost totally reversed?
Scores a near miss
Coleburn 1972 GM Brown label 40% WM80
- N: Similar profile initially to the New Map yet with more potency, that is before the differences begin to show. Sure we have orchard fruit sweetness etc., but this Brown Label has a quality of something decidedly more rum-like with light bilious funk and mineral hues, rubber tyre, petroleum, rubber sap, fermented apples & brown banana skins [dunner notes – perhaps this is rum?],…. I imagined the ‘funk’ would dissipate, but really only slightly – not such bad news. Later, it settles down more towards malty fruit juices and a little dry vanilla.
- T: A far firmer & full bodied arrival than the New Map, as expected. A honeyed & slightly creamy mouthfeel quickly develops. Speaks of malt & grain [blended] and a little fruit juice. Add water for a straight-ahead pure honeyed malt. Plenty of dark bitter oak on the turn, and fudge malt with time + water.
- F: Controlled malt/grain ginger-spicy freshness. However, adding water trumps all that with a dark putty-woody maltiness and more honeyed sweetness to the last. Again like the New Map, becomes rather dry but more cope-able.
- C: Decent old-skool ‘slugger’ – no more, no less.
Scores 80 points
Coleburn 1978/1995 17yo Cadenhead single cask 62% WB91
- N: Allowing for the abv, heres a robust and astringent malt with a lovely old-skool vintage [bourbon] cask that delivers candied waxy fruits, lightly dusted with flour>sawdust, sweet limes/lemons, pineapple cubes & pear drops, some chalky-dried coconut, bubblegum, rum n raisin icecream, ripe bananas, creamy papaya, something firm & lactose and dried herbal notes also – rather vintage Bunna-esque. I liked this from the off, and its growing on me further. A few drops of water helps promote the richness of the oily ethanol with notes of rose apples, dried mango slices, honeyed coconut ice, rice paper, sweet dunnage/mould,… and theres an earthier side to explore. ‘Aah’ provoking.
- T: Excellent arrival neat or otherwise. Really shows off some super bourbon ageing [from a wunderbah refill surely?], with a light fruity, vanilled & honeyed-sweet dunnage putty profile. The lasting memory however is just how full-bodied a fruity, oily-malty almost carbolic mouthful it provides. Some joyous sweet-sour at play.
- F: Not too long but those pear & pineapple drops do hang around just as actual fruity honeyed lozenges would. Satisfying waxy/dryish, dunnage-y sweet-bourbon finish that is sure to evoke a few ‘dad noises’.
- C: Falls just short of the 90s due to being a little uptight, but compared to the two 1972s – leagues apart. Super decent astringent-sweet>herbal bourbon-led single malt, one that gives me ideas for a Mannochmore & Bunnahabhain blended malt combo.
Scores 89 points
Now the once underrated Convalmore has had its status upgraded, is Coleburn next in line for a promotion?