To start with I can tell you that the tasting was held in Finnish capital of Helsinki by our whisky club, The Fellowship of Whisky (VYS, Viskin Ystävien Seura), and this was the 14th tasting in a series called “The Rare and Old”. We did a similar tasting about two years ago, with the title “War Time Whiskies”, which constituted of four whiskies distilled around or during World War Two. These were a 1939 Macallan, 1939 Linkwood, 1940 Glenlivet and a 1945 Glen Grant. And personally that tasting was a real high-water mark for me and I never thought that we could ever again do anything like this. The profiles of the whiskies produced in this era are completely different to the modern style, and it is truly stunning to time travel with these malts.
These Malts really are nosing whiskies, there’s no question about it. The complexity, depth and balance that you can find in the nose of these whiskies are just unbelievable. We spent quite a fair amount of time both times simply enjoying the nose, comparing the legs of the spirit and managing the expectations.
On Saturday night the 18th of April hopeful people began pouring in for anticipated event, all seats of 35 were occupied and more would have come. Our chairman Jarkko Nikkanen hosted the tasting with a steady hand as always. Anyway, enough chit chat, let´s get to the whiskies, first out was a 42 YO Glen Grant released 1978 which would make it a 1936 distillate.
The whiskies were:
Glen Grant 42 YO 1936 70 Proof
You just couldn’t miss the European Oak and sherry influence on the nose in this dram. There was even the slightest touch of faint cigar smoke.
On the palate there really is no question about it, sweet sherry notes and really integrated spices. It starts on sherry, dries in between to the switch to something going on eucalyptus. The aftertaste is long and really balanced, although a bit drying, but leaves you wanting more.
Strathisla 1937 70 Proof
The next dram, the Strathisla 1937 which was bottled somewhere mid 70s is the youngest one in the line-up.
The nose on this one is, at least to me, totally stunning. Berries and even fruits, to be more precise Blackberries and lots of them, like chewing on a whole bunch of blackberry leafs. Oh wow, really crisp and really something even reminding me of some wine matured whiskies. This really is very similar to the Bowmores from the 60´s to the early 70´s. Really long legs in this one, I really had no hurry to get to tasting this, because I was so caught up in the nose.
But when I finally tasted it, it delivered bigtime, really fruity and vegetal, even quite some subtle peat. On the delivery there is like a moment of chili appearing for some time, the the drying starts going on more to mint and even some chocolate. Oranges, Berries, Wine in a magnificent balance with the peat.
Again there is no question about the maturation, clearly sherry. Nothing exactly new in the aftertaste, but the blackcurrants re-appear to deliver a very enjoyable sherried finish.
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 1938/1985 (40% ABV)
Starting off on beef stock and teriyaki sauce with a texture that is really oily. Totally balanced nose with the heaviest of sherry notes, with even some hints of peat, wood and hay and a note of menthol appearing on the nose.
The palate is really salty and oily, it has a intense start feeling quite young and vibrant going on currants for a while until the beef stock returns. Some syrupy touches here also. In this one at least I can’t detect any peat. The aftertaste is the most complex of them all, going on vanilla, mocha, leather and beef stock combined with the sherry.
Wow, what a whisky, really versatile and the flavour profile is really broad, changing throughout.
Pride of Strathspey 48 YO (Macallan Distillery) 1938 (40% ABV)
The fourth Bottle was the Pride of Strathspey.
So this is a 48 YO Macallan from 1938, and you’d have big expectations from it. This was, however, the only one with a big natural cork in a crystal decanter. And the cork actually is so big in these bottling it touches from time to time surface of the spirit, and here the cork and the really intense wax seal had over time changed the flavour profile in an unwanted way, and i don’t see any point in going through the notes in detail.
A shame, but when you deal with bottles of this age, with natural corks, you have to live with the possibility it could affect the spirit.
Linkwood 1939/1987 (40% ABV)
Here the nose is lighter, some barley, quite sweet. Could this be bourbon matured? It´s quite fresh, a little medicinal and some camphory notes.
But really not quite living up to the first three on the nose, and definitely not to the heavily sherried 1939 Linkwood we had two years ago.
The palate is creamy going on vanilla, after a while a sweet peaty flavour comes through, even some fruits appear, apricots maybe?
It has a medium long aftertaste going mainly on fruits, somehow this could have done with a few years less maturation. Not quite in the class of the first three, but really enjoyable.
So if I have to sum up the night, this really was the high-watermark so far. Some of the whiskies that still have survived from this era takes you on a real time travel, and the best thing with them is that they are so honest and different in profile to the current malts. Personally the Strathisla and Mortlach are in the top five of whiskies I have ever tasted, and if I would score these they would be well above 90 points.
Sadly enough there probably won’t come another chance to taste them, but I am so happy I have gotten a chance to taste them once.
This story and tasting description is published as a guest writer for Malt and Oak.