Spirits Embassy: Through The Decades [Duncan Taylor]

[At £75] I simply couldn’t resist this Spirits Embassy [Duncan Taylor] tasting presented by Fergus Simpson [video]. The older the bottle, the bigger it gets. Ironically, the sample sizes are the opposite. Let’s begin.

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Cragganmore 2000 18yo SMD Whiskies of Scotland 52.4% [20cl] WB85[2]

SMD = Single malts direct

  • N: Possessing a gamut of rounded all-sorts, this is an accessible, youthful, and pleasing savoury-sweet meaty-ish and salty dram. Lacking peatiness on the nose yet more earthy with slightly charred oakiness, this is sweet, fruity, jammy, and salty with some floral and fauna notes. The bourbon cask action is firm yet not overbearing.
  • T: With potential spirity indications on the nose, there’s none of it on the palate – arriving with ease. Much like the nose, this tastes like whiskies I was discovering 15 years ago at the beginning of my journey, and covers a broad spectrum of flavour. Slightly floral and citrusy – “fruit jellies”, a great note from our host Fergus – with a tasty balance between spirit and cask and a nice body to boot. Lovely easy chew also.
  • F: Zesty salty/wood spicy > honeyed > malty sugar-water citrus, slightly salty-woody-dry at the end, but that’s not a criticism in this case as it becomes more salivating and even more malty in the final furlong. Ticking all the boxes, this concludes long and clean, chewy fruity-malty-oaky-vanilla-y to the end – rounded. A touch of ash at the death? Yep!
  • C: Being such a well rounded whisky, this will please many a whisky enthusiast.

Scores 87 points

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Glenlossie 1992 SMD Whiskies of Scotland 49.6% [20cl]

  • N: A most enticing savoury-sweetness, a totally different kind of aromatic sweetness to the Cragganmore yet equally as desirable. Here, we’ve a soft fruity spongey nutty-straw-like-oily creamy emulsion-y runny salted toffee > malty earthy woody story that tells of a good cask[s].
  • T: With a little water, there’s a nutty and oily greenish barley juice arrival with more [salted] toffee, a touch of rum n raisin and a little spicy woodiness, but it’s the malty runny toffee and slightly green maltiness that wins through,….
  • F: ,… and through,… with a slightly dry/oily spiciness, a phenolic touch [perhaps from the Cragganmore?], with a malty toffee-d straw-like oily conclusion.
  • C: Yet another [rarely exceptional yet] highly dependable Glenlossie.

Scores 86 points

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Fergus runs through these so swiftly, I have to keep pausing.

Caol Ila 1984 SMD Whiskies of Scotland 47.6% [20cl] WB0

“Bottled around 2016, so 31/32 years old”, says Fergus.

  • N: Caol Ila is such a winner. I much prefer it to Lagavulin. I find it sharper, more focused and defined over its neighbour. With oyster sauce close by, a smouldering clean fresh vegetal peat fire to the right, just a hint of shoe polish and garage oil up top, then fruit juices, pear, Orangina?!, a squeeze of lemon juice, a little worn-in leather,… pleasingly vegetal sweet overall, a touch briny and a pinch of saltiness,… that should cover it.
  • T: Far softer than 49% abv would suggest, possibly understood by the formidable strength of the last two drams. Crisp-ish apple-y > citrusy slightly briny salty barley juice, a little soft and watery. Lingering a little, we are soon into the finish.
  • F: The slightly watery mouthfeel thickens [oily and waxy] into fruity smoky briny-ish caramel barley juice. 
  • C: Lovely easy drinker, utterly accomplished and vibrant.

Scores 86 points, all day long

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Glenlivet 1970 SMD Whiskies of Scotland 49.2% [50cl] WB0

“Forty years in the cask”, says Fergus

  • N: Instantly fragrant and floral, Glenlivet from the 1970s rarely fails to impress. It’s the amalgamated coppery malty waxed [peachy, orangey] malty raisiny thick honeyed custard-y fusty-chalky fruitiness that does it for me. With this whisky, the oaky-ish fruits are decidedly over-ripe and on the turn. I get not a great deal more.
  • T: Arrives with a waxy-soft < sharp citrusy fruitiness, the tropical fruits fusty & festering and certainly sweet < sour.
  • F: Little travel, little finish. Dry chalky fruit-sour, herbal-dry [“fennel”, says Fergus] finish, a touch bitter.
  • C: Good whisky, but a disappointment given some reasonable expectations. Who wants to travel through the decades to finish up with the lesser drams of the night? Even our host mentions it. A good example of old ain’t always best.

Scores 84 points

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Let’s hope we finish strongly.

Highland Park 1968 SMD Whiskies of Scotland 40.1% [50cl] WB91.67[3]

No doubt, the majority of this tasting’s budget went towards this one. It’s not often I get to try whisky from the 1960s, let alone Highland Park. In fact, only once before: a 1968 Duncan Taylor single cask #5643 [WB92.60]. Fergus reminds us that Highland Park notoriously loses strength very quickly as it ages and tells us this is presented at natural cask strength. No mystery as to why they [Duncan Taylor] bottled this now.

  • N: We’re not far from the 1970 Glenlivet on the nose, the fruits thoroughly stewed and cask-amalgamated – we are talking of [English country garden] orchard and tropical fruitiness – as well as a leather heathery honey light syrup & light hairspray note. We’ve plenty of dried fruits too, very consolidated vanilla, then almost dried sugary-sour berries. I’m guessing we’ve some sherry cask-action here, old school sherry casks, of course. Underside, we’ve some dirty mineral oily industrial undertones and a lively fungal note, and yet despite the ageing, we’ve clean spirit hanging on at 40.1%.
  • T: Similar to the nose, and after a swift fruit punch arrival, it soft-fades with an apple & pear [and dry tropical stuff] fruity fungal chalkiness,…
  • F: ,… into sour dry-fruit wood-creamy tobacco-ey dark toffee slightly sooty remnants and after-suggestions of many fellow distant relatives from the spirits tree – calvados, schnapps,,…  
  • C: For some, no better [perhaps] than any other dram here tonight, yet it is special in ways that only the years can bring.

Score 88 points

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END

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