The year: 1983.
Then, as now, it was a tumultuous time. The globe had been in the grip of recession, the middle east was unstable, and if you wanted to take a Tylenol to just deal with the headaches day-to-day life brought, you still were a little wary of the recent potassium cyanide poisoning.
And the whisky industry was in the height of the whisky glut. The whisky industry faced its own set of austerity measures: A severe cutback in production, with many distilleries closed. We’ve seen some come back since then, but ten distilleries were shut and are unlikely ever to return, especially with a trend towards consolidating production at mega-distilleries.
Over the next several weeks, I will be looking at a sample of each whisky. I’d planned this tasting a couple years ago (and fortunately at that time many of these were cheaper to acquire). As the time drew near to do this tasting, it seemed wasteful and gluttonous to hoard this whisky strictly to myself. Several friends have gotten in on this tasting and you may hear other impressions from them as this tasting progresses.
The ten distilleries that were lost in 1983 that we’ll likely never see a new whisky from are Banff, Brechin (North Port), Brora, Dallas Dhu, Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor, Glenlochy, Glenugie, Port Ellen, St. Magdalene (Linlithgow). Some of these are relatively common (though increasingly pricey); some of these have all but vanished. I’ve had some of these before and some will be new.
This is not an exercise in flash, superiority, or any sort of whisky elitism. It’s a theme tasting I’ve wanted to execute for a while, and the time has come. My goals for this will be twofold: To have, if nothing else, a “last word” on some of these for myself (accepting that I may already be priced out of future editions), as well as to try and compare these to modern malts as a base of reference. As we know, distillery character can be very distinctive and some distilleries are just one of a kind.
Distillery #1: St. Magdalene – Lowland
Ultimate fate: Converted to apartment buildings
Also known as Linlithgow (for the town it is located in), St. Magdalene is unique in this tasting as the only Lowland distillery. The bottle representing St. Magdalene is the 2009 Dun Bheagan bottling, distilled in October 1982. It’s 26 years old, and comes from cask 2219. Many reviews of this bottle exist online and, yes, you can still find this bottle for sale.
The nose on this is light and somewhat floral, with a touch of confectioner’s sugar. It’s got a certain white wine sourness to it which dissipates after some time in the glass. It has light wood influence, peppery spice, and some lemony notes emerge. With even more time in the glass, vanilla starts to come out a bit, as does a very faint touch of leather. All in all, a relatively light nose for a 26 year old whisky.
The palate enters a touch bitter from the wood; it gives way quite quickly to a general maltiness and some white pepper. There’s a faintly floral top note and then the heat picks up. Subsequent sips reveal some lemon curd and ginger – actually probably the most distinctly gingery taste I think I’ve ever gotten from any whisky.
The finish is dry initially with a touch of wood, some white pepper and plenty of malt. A little vanilla is there; there’s a hay quality to it and some straight-up barley. It goes to a slightly root-vegetable note at the end, in a long and lasting finish.
This whisky isn’t one I’m particularly crazy about; the sourness on the nose and the questionable cask influence didn’t work for me particularly well. Other bloggers have noted this whisky is one that can be hit or miss from session to session. I can certainly believe it – I wasn’t enjoying the bitter and winey notes, but the lemon and ginger (and overall quality with substantial time in the glass) were nice.. just not nice enough to overcome all the negative qualities I perceived.
What’s like this? Hard to say, because I haven’t ever had anything with quite a pronounced (to my palate) ginger note. I’ll keep looking; unfortunately this one seems fairly unique to me. I’d love to hear what anyone thinks about this one.
St. Magdalene is regarded as one of the better closed distilleries, and I must confess after my first contact with it that I’m not entirely sure I get it. I have at least one other bottle in reserve for the future, so that may be the eye-opener.
Next week, the 1983 series moves to the Highlands.
At a glance:
St. Magdalene – Dun Bheagan 10-82 – 2009 (26y) #2219 50% ABV
Nose: Light, somewhat floral with a touch of confectioner’s sugar. Also a bit white wine-like. A little wood, some light peppery spice; lemony notes emerge. Over time more vanilla emerges; a faint touch of leather too.
Palate: Enters a touch bitter from the wood; gives way rather quickly to maltiness and some white pepper. A faintly floral top note and the heat picks up. A little lemon curd and a touch of ginger.
Finish: Dry initially, a touch of wood, some white pepper and plenty of malt; a touch of vanilla, a little hay and some straight-up barley. Has a slightly root vegetable note at the end. Quite lasting.
Comment: This benefits greatly from some time open in the glass. To me it starts a bit sour and weird but the air really brings it into focus. While it does develop nicely, it also doesn’t quite develop enough.