One old blend to start before we hit a single malt trio.
Given the rising cost of pre-80’s White Horse, the next affordable old & rare-styled high-malt content blend you could look towards is Cutty Sark. I sourced a bottle online after enjoying a sample at a Malt n Copper tasting [WLP84], where I also give some info about the history of the brand.
- N: You can easily spot the grain element. With a trace of OBE, there’s a distinct breadiness, pear & apple tart and a metallic slightly butyric/peppery burnt barley oiliness. Despite how that reads, it’s not a bad nose.
- T: Here, the grain and malt appear fairly matched/proportioned. Slightly oily and bready, sometimes chocolatey/malty [with water in mouth], into a slight burned/toasted barley sugar sweetness and a pinch or two of white pepper. Let it sit, play with small amounts of water and an easy tasty slightly chewy mouthful ensues.
- F: Candid medium-short tasty finish with just a pinch of gingery/peppery heat to compliment the [still only slightly metallic], malty-easter egg chocolate and only slightly cardboard-y barley sugars. Just needs a little softening to bring out its more favourable side.
- C: Worth a punt when you find a largely ignored bottle at the tail of an online auction. I picked this one up for £21, a price point which creates stiff competition for some similarly priced often uninspired & uninspiring contemporary entry-level supermarket single malts.
Scores 83 points
As soon as I popped the cork and sniffed – bingo! – yet I subsequently found the neck-pour of this Nevis relatively simple and rather ‘bourbonised’ to taste. It took a couple of weeks to open up, and open up it did.
- N: There’s that ‘Nevis pong’ which it turns out is rather ‘Marmite’ for a lot of folks. As for descriptors, I’ll start you off with pongy rose water [memories of my pre-teenage self attempting to make rose-based perfume in a bucket of rain water], salty mineral-y raisin/sherry-sweet lemon-citrus > sawdusty < leathery fudge, a subtle floral-aromatic-herbaceous spice blend [an area well worth exploring], albumen-eggy pancake-bread with maple syrup, hollandaise-y sherry creamy sultanas …. and so it goes on. Whether you like this or not is one thing, but there’s no denying either the detail nor the character. Nearest distillery reference maybe Pulteney and Port Ellen no less, but there’s no other distillery that quite generates this malt style at this time.
- T: After an acute salty-citrus arrival, it’s briefly waxy/dusty/peppery < papery dry-as-a-bone before a wave of salty sherried chewy oozing [Inchgower-esque] toffee maltiness – sherry casks talking. There was a farmy/char-like suggestion on opening, but that’s now dissipated. Now only a dry wood-ash remains. The palate in detail: soft-acute mineral-savoury-citrus-sweet salty arrival quickly moving to citrus-sour chalky raisin > sultanas, date & walnut [stone] juice that candidly talks of sherry, [more] sweet=sour salty lemons, a suggestion of ash/dust as it dries with soft dried caraway > fennel [maybe even dill] and Caramac as it becomes more caramel-y,….
- F: ,… and a touch waxy sour-lemon to bitter [flower leaves] – sweet floral salty toffee, leather belts, a tempered/simmering pepperiness, suggestions of squid ink, relaxed waxy savoury-sweet sherry influence by the end with some dry earth at the death.
- C: A modern classic, coming to an old & rare show near you in 30 years time.
Scores 88 points
Initially disappointed by this bottle on opening [like the Nevis], I managed to drink most of it before taking a note. Clearly a session dram then!
- N: Let’s dive right into the descriptors. [Bourbon-esque] waxy husky > cereal-y and citrusy – zest & pith oranges > unripe lemons, but mainly in essential oil form. This leads to suggestions of syrup-ed apples, melon and [candied] bananas even, with a moreish huskiness surrounding them. Secondary notes bring almond macaroons served with a salty mineral-y funky-gluey [slight aspirin=detergent/Caroni-esque – in a good way] sage tea, sipped whilst sat on upholstered furniture whilst nearby is a jug of single cream placed on a teak coffee table, the room adorned with velvet curtains. I obviously got carried away by this one! Fringe notes include lychee and a touch of [walnut & chestnut]-dunnage-light vanilla oil. Excusing the emotional outpour, that secondary ‘sweet husky waxy gluey’ note rings true.
- T: Sweet-sour, bourbon-aged citrusy waxy almost gloopy spirit. Hard to pin down the citrus makeup given the husky-creamy vanilla-ey bourbon cask influence is driving so adamantly. Prickly at times [neat] with suggestions of crab meat – there’s a first – the conclusion talks of a fruity citrus waxiness in the main, seasoned with pepper from the mill.
- F: Salivatingly-dry, waxy and husky with mildly sweet=sour grassy runny/melted vanilla icecream. That fusty husky waxiness < remains,… then more buttery,…..
- C: The contemporary ‘bourbonisation’ of this classic expression was a little grating though all things improved as the bottle went down. Furthermore, it’s still one of the best entry-level malts from any Scottish distillery.
Scores 86 points
I fell for Deanston after a self-discovery of its revival in July ’17 [WLP]. I missed the boat when this Decennary was released but found a bottle reasonably priced on the secondary market. Technically only 10-11 years old, we know an age-statement here would have betrayed the true age that lies behind this vintage-laden, decades-tribute bottling.
- N: This is some kind of blending masterpiece. The four constituent parts that make up this ‘blend’, dance in sync. Even if the sum hasn’t necessarily transcended the parts, this is one beautiful concoction. It’s easy to detect the contemporary raisiny & orangey-tannin-syrup-ed sherry cask, the old fusty dunnage bourbon cask[s], and just enough of the sweet port contingent. The distillate isn’t lost in the mix either, so there’s quite some expectation for the palate.
- T: The PX sherry cask promotes a contemporary style, the well-considered port element harmonizing with ease. Slowly but surely, the age-related dunnage tones from the 1970s & 80’s bourbon casks sure-up the balance to seal the deal. The heart is a soft juicy fruity-syrupy combo of all those four casks. It doesn’t mind a little water, but just a few drops in the mouth will do nicely. Plenty of limelight falls over berry and orchard fruit syrups alongside an easily relatable red wine note with a slight fusty note on the turn. Quibbles? Possibly a touch too much resinous-raisin-y cask activity making those old [bourbon] casks appear a tad heavily ‘finished’ to push this bottling [score-wise] into the 90s, but there’s no need to over-analyse this one. Taste, chew and enjoy.
- F: After some light-yet-rich-enough [dried & crystalised, yet not too sweet ginger & orange] chocolate, the raisin & barley-rich oily mouthfeel perfectly pleasures the palate. Furthermore, the sherry syrup and savoury grape-sweet port tannins [a touch butyric], elongate the finish. The fusty influences from the two old casks linger downstage in the mix and play a larger role towards the tale.
- C: The conclusion [in part] goes to Dramned who says ‘almost a symphony in perfection without a dissonance’. I doubt this blending masterpiece will become an all-time classic [though OBE may have something to say about that], so get those bottles open and drink it up. Delicious stuff! I wish I could have afforded a case at the time.
Scores 88 points