You know the old saying, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to”? It’s an easy one to accept as true without having much opportunity to compare old and new. Usually, the past is viewed through the rosy tint of nostalgia and we remember everything great about the things we loved and forget the faults. That’s of course a powerful point to remember in how you live your life as well — don’t get caught up on the faults; you won’t remember them clearly unless you let them define you.
Recently, my friend Chris sent me a box of samples and one of them was intriguing – a 1950s bottling of Teacher’s Highland Cream. I realized I’d never had any Teacher’s – ever – though it had been on my list for a while. I also saw this as a fun opportunity to see how the Teacher’s blend had changed, if at all, in the last 60 years. After all, the line repeated without a second thought in regards to blends is that they strive for consistency above all else. Well, here’s a great opportunity to test that statement! Would the profile be the same after six decades of blending and sales?
One thing was immediately apparent: this wouldn’t be a 100% apples to apples comparison, even discarding six decades in glass: the 50s blend was bottled at the 43% ABV versus the 40% of modern Teacher’s. Yes, I could dilute, but with the small amount available to me, I couldn’t justify potentially wrecking what I had.
A word about the new Teacher’s before I continue. In doing some research on the blend, I found that there’s some back and forth right now about a perceived slip in quality/consistency of Teacher’s. It’s entirely possible that I got a bad bottle (not having a recent “good” reference point. The comments on Ralfy’s review of Teacher’s are not conclusive; hopefully when he re-tastes it we can get a better sense. I’ve heard of people mentioning slight ammonia smells which i absolutely didn’t get in any quantity whatsoever, so I’m assuming my bottle was on-profile.
Let’s start in the modern world before we go back in time. The modern Teacher’s has an unsurprising nose to me for a blend: it’s initially slightly piney, spirity and thin. There’s some watery maltiness, some light floral character and it’s somewhat dusty. There’s a second wave of aromas – buttercream vanilla and mint. There’s also some light peat on the nose.
The palate was a bit of a surprise – the mouthfeel was thicker than the nose would indicate. Gentle barley, lightly malty, and a nice peaty carpet that gave it some dimension. It wasn’t exceptionally strong nor was it exceptionally nuanced, but it wasn’t bad at all – just a little watery.
The finish, as I expect from most blends, was fleeting and light. Some light peat, some light pear notes and a bit of mint. All in all, it was very light. It was reasonably nuanced for a blend overall and fairly well put together, but just a little watery. That said, it’s one of the few lower-price blends that I would be willing to drink regularly.
Interestingly, days before I did my tasting I saw reviews from two guys in LAWS about a 1970s bottling of Teachers and was wondering if this was a case of the blend staying on profile more or less.
The only thing left to do was to pour the 1950s whisky into a glass. I gave my palate some time to settle down and clear, poured every last drop and prepared to see what happens in 60 years.
The nose was immediately more intense. There was peat and malt right upfront; some lemon and light grassiness followed. A gentle, agreeable wood presence permeated the nose with a little light grain as well.
The palate had rich peatiness. It wasn’t overbearing in the least, just added a lot of dimension. The peat had a slightly rubbery tang to it, but not heavily. The mouthfeel was full and, yes, even creamy. A little faint waxiness and heat asserted themselves. It was malty and biscuity; a little faint lemon and light pine rounded out the palate. The finish was warm and malty, with a little heat towards the end. It was a nice, long and very strong finish.
To say the two whiskies were night and day is an understatement. The older whisky, even allowing for a slightly higher ABV, seemed to have a much more pronounced malt content. There was just an intensely rich, very identifiable single malt quality to the mouth and palate. I’ll have to check out a modern Ardmore to see if it bears more similarity to the old Teacher’s (indicating perhaps a higher proportion of grain whiskies these days) or if it’s more like the new Teacher’s (tipping towards a change in the core malt of the blend).
This was a really fun tasting. It’s very easy to get caught up chasing the latest octave-casked, absinthe-finished, royal trampoline jump commemorative whisky. Digging into the history of a whisky is something I hope to do in the months and years ahead. Fortunately I have some interesting ones to write about that may facilitate this. I doubt I’ll unseat Sku’s fascinating Dusty Thursday series nor will I scratch the surface of the depth and breadth of Serge’s historical notes (and combinations). However, I hope to bring something interesting to the table, or at least share the journey.
Another brief note about glasses…
Not the kind you wear on your face! One of the most common searches that land here are on glass choice and selection, and they continue to be some of the more active links out of Scotch & Ice Cream. I’ve extolled the praises of the standard Glencairn glasses; they are absolutely phenomenal and my glass of choice when tasting. However, I know not everyone is strictly into nosing all the time, and even I like to just throw some whisky into an old fashioned glass and mix a cocktail or — horror of horrors — have it on the rocks. I’ve never been quite happy with the loss of intensity from the Four Roses glasses I’ve got, nor do I like a traditional straight-walled old fashioned glass.
This week I received two Glencairn Canadian glasses (scroll down to see on that page) that I’d ordered a few weeks ago. They address most of my complaints with the old-fashioned without compromising too much. They’re really great: wide enough to comfortably get some ice in; a nice larger capacity so you can hold more than 2oz comfortably, and the shape still gives you a lot of aromas concentrated at the nose. They seem durable and sturdy, which is high marks for me. If the traditional Glencairn or copita seemed a little too dainty, you might want to check those out.
At a glance:
Teacher’s Highland Cream (modern bottling) 40% ABV
Nose: Piney initially, very spirity and thin. A little watery maltiness, some lightly floral notes and a bit dusty. A bit of buttercream vanilla. Faintly minty. Very light peat on the nose.
Palate: Thicker mouthfeel than the nose would indicate. Gentle barley, light malt, and a nice light layer of peatiness to give this some dimension. It’s not very strong and it’s kind of watery, but it’s not bad.
Finish: Fleeting and light. A little peat, some light pears, some light mint.
Comment: Quite light. It’s got a reasonable bit of nuance and it’s better than most blended mass-market whiskies I’ve had. The notes seem fairly well integrated, just watery.
Teacher’s Highland Cream (1950s bottling) 43% ABV
Nose: Peat and malt upfront on the nose. Lightly grassy, a touch of lemon. Some gentle wood, but a little light grain on the top.
Palate: Rich peat. A bit towards the rubbery end. Full mouthfeel – lives up to the name. Faintly waxy. Nice heat. A bit malty, slightly biscuity. Faint lemon, faintly piney.
Finish: Warm and malty, with a little heat towards the end. Nice length and presence.
Comment: This is a really nice blend. There are single malts that I don’t think stand up to this. I’d honestly have no problems buying bottles of this if the modern was up to this standard (alas, it’s not). Very, very malt-heavy.