Nov 252015
 

There’s something about St. Magdalene’s that holds a special place in my heart.

The few St. Magdalenes I’ve had were all complex, and all left me with a desire to further explore this distillery.

This is one of the first wave distilleries, established in the 18th century (around 1765, although some accounts put it at 1798 after getting an official license in 1797), and was owned by the Dawson family until ownership passed to DCL in 1912. In 1914 the distillery was one of the five founding members of the Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd. (the SMD). The distillery is sometimes known as Linlithgow, after the town in which it was located, which is incidentally also the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. The name St. Magdalene is derived from the former owner of the grounds, the St. Magdalene’s Cross which was a convent that housed a hospital for lepers.

Old Aerial Picture of St. Magdalene Distillery Photo Credit: Diageo

Old Aerial Picture of St. Magdalene Distillery
Photo Credit: Diageo

Colin Dunn of Diageo shared some old photos of the closed distilleries tasted in his closed distilleries masterclass at The Whisky Show, and I had one picture of St. Magdalene which I didn’t use in the posts on the tastings, so here’s a great place to share it.

I’ll mention that Cadenhead bottled a 30 year old 1982 in 2012, in the same Authentic Collection series.

 

Photo Credit: abbeywhisky.com

Photo Credit: abbeywhisky.com

Cadenhead St. Magdalene 1982, 32 Year Old, Refill Butt Yielded 282 Bottles (58.1% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold with beautiful slow legs and a very long lasting necklace.

Nose: Dusty and sour notes with a grassy and floral undertone. It’s chalky with notes of honey and an even deeper sweetness with canned peaches, distant citrus and some lemon developing. Really complex! Water strengthens the lemon notes and brings out some perfume, and with some time more of the deep sweetness appears.

Palate: Bitter with light notes of honey, light spice and a chalky dryness. When held on the palate, a dusty spiciness fills your mouth, with the bitterness relegated to the finish. Water makes it a bit sweeter. Yum!

Linger: Dry spices on the palate, oak and a waxy coating on the palate. A lovely bitter note on the back of the tongue and the throat, with an overall dusty dryness.

Conclusion

Stunning dram! A classic old refill sherry with the sweet and dusty notes, together with the Lowlands spirit is just a winning combination. I don’t know how many more of these casks are still around, but WOW!

Nov 232015
 

Having reviewed the five other drams that were part of the `Gone But Never Forgotten’, we now arrive at my favorite dram of the flight, the St. Magdalene 20 year old, bottled for the 100th anniversary of Diageo Engineering  at the Ainslie & Heilbron’s buildings at 64 Waterloo Street in Glasgow, also depicted on the label.

Photo Credit: http://s50.photobucket.com/user/alexglass/media/ColtasBuilding.jpg.html

Photo Credit: http://s50.photobucket.com/user/alexglass/media/ColtasBuilding.jpg.html

Who are Ainslie & Heilbron and why is the Diageo engineering team in their building? By the end of the 19th century, Clynelish Distillery’s ownership passed to James Ainslie & Company, eventually merging into Ainslie & Heilbron, partially owned by DCL. They also owned Coleburn Distillery in partnership with John Walker and Company, as well as a large number of blends. The headquarters of this company was at the Coltas Building at 64 Waterloo Street:

Photo Credit: Robert Pool's Glasgow Collection on Flickriver

Photo Credit: Robert Pool’s Glasgow Collection on Flickriver

In celebration of 100 years of engineering at that location, Diageo bottled a single Oloroso sherry cask of St. Magdalene, the closest Diageo distillery to Glasgow.

St. Magdalene, 1935 Photo Credit: Diageo

St. Magdalene, 1935
Photo Credit: Diageo

The whisky was distilled on March 31st, 1978, was filled at 68.6% ABV and made it into the bottle after two decades at a very impressive 62.7% ABV. Said cask’s yield was just shy of 400 bottles, at 396. This one was a real treat, and took the top spot for me after a serious battle with the Convalmore (reviewed here).

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

St. Magdalene 20 Year Old, Waterloo St. Edition, 396 Bottles (62.7% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Mahogany with a strong necklace, almost not releasing droplets.

Nose: A bowl of fresh apricots, dry leather, toffee and mixed peppercorns (the kind that has black, green and red corns). There’s quite a bit of dryness on the nose.

Palate: Thick and viscous, spicy, leather, ripe red berries, dried fruit, wood spices with clove, nutmeg and a hint of cardamom. Again the dryness comes through.

Linger: Dry sherry on the tongue, spicy and dry on the back of the throat with some very pronounced tannic notes. The linger is VERY long and very dry. Yummy!

Conclusion

This bottle makes you feel sorry you didn’t go to Engineering school and worked for Diageo in 1998. It was tough beating out that beautiful Convalmore for the top spot, and I think it was the sherry that clinched it for me.

This masterclass was one of the real highlights of The 2015 Whisky Show, deftly led by Colin Dunn, who also sent me that old picture of the distillery in 1935.

 

May 302014
 

You’ve heard a lot about Berlin as Europe’s culture capital, the city revived by the wall coming down. Berlin also happens to be one of the most popular vacation destinations for Israelis, and I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon and come to Berlin for an extended weekend. Not being the clubbing type, my days will be dedicated to sightseeing and visiting museums. But my nights and my shopping time (when my dear wife looks for clothes, bags and shoes) will  be dedicated to the exploration of Berlin as a whisky lover’s destination. I’ve divided my investigation into two parts: Tasting and shopping.

Part I will discuss Berlin as a whisky tasting destination, and part two as a whisky shopping destination.

Part I – Berlin as a Whisky Tasting Destination

A quick word on my methodology: There is none! I was in Berlin for an extended weekend, I did some research on the internet ahead of time and found tastings and bars, but I’m sure I didn’t get all there is to see (in fact, I know there’s more because I obviously can’t review places who’s events were on other weekends, and there are such places). So after this caveat, I’ll get to sharing my experience:

The Big Bar

After arriving in Berlin at 10 am on Thursday and taking an obligatory swing around the city to get its feel, we headed to the very residential Steglitz area to visit Loch Ness bar, an absolute temple of whisky, with 731 (!!) open bottles of whisky. The bar is on a quiet residential corner, away from the center of the city and a few blocks of the main street. Yet, like anywhere in Berlin, it’s really easy to get to with public transportation, and the bus lets you off just three blocks away from the bar.

The Loch Ness is an affiliate whisky bar of the Single Malt Whisky Society, and besides a lovely selection of the Society’s offerings, members get a 15% discount on SMWS bottlings.

The Loch Ness

I prepared my visit in advance, so I knew exactly what I wanted to taste, as the bar has a PDF list of its offerings. I wanted to taste five expressions, and ended up tasting four there and buying one dram to take home with me in a small bottle I brought along. At one point, the owner, Christian, had a few minutes to chat and I had the opportunity to get to know him a bit. He also has a little sherry finishing project on the side, in which he takes a simple single malt and finishes it in the sherry cask he has at home. Christian was good enough to share a dram that whiskey with me and it actually added a nice character to the Glen Grant he used. The bar is not his day job, and that’s doubly impressive, especially when you see the extensive collection of whisky he has, some of which comes from buying retail, and some had to have come off an auction. This also explains the fact that the bar is closed both on Sunday and on Monday. On the side of the bar there’s a lovely outside area, and sitting there was really pleasant, until one of the patrons began puffing on his cigar, preventing my nose from working properly.

There is also a smallish food menu, I had a hamburger and potato wedges, which were decent – but one really doesn’t go to a whisky bar for the food. Obviously, the main show there is the whisky and not the food which is one show that the Loch Ness puts on very well.

I tasted the following drams, all of which will see reviews as One Quick Dram postings over the next few weeks:

St. Magdalene 28 years old , Old Malt Cask (50%)

SMWS 73.45 – Aultmore19 year (56.1%)

Port Ellen 26 year, Old Malt Cask (50%)

SMWS 29.109 – Laphroaig 20 years (59.2%)

And they took home a bottling of a Ben Nevis single cask which was bottled by local whisky shop in Berlin, named “Big Market” to celebrate their 35th anniversary. This selection too, will be reviewed as a One Quick Dram posting.

All in all my experience at the Loch Ness was extremely positive. The whisky selection is fabulous, the proprietor very knowledgeable in the atmosphere very pleasant and relaxed. Were I a Berliner, this would’ve definitely been my regular watering hole.

One thing you need to know about Berlin is that many places do not accept credit cards. At all. Additionally, the places that do, will require your PIN code.

A store, a train and an Island

Klaus of Cadenhead’s during the tasting

On the second day went to visit the Big Market store. More about the shopping experience there in the shopping blog post to follow this one, however the store does have about 400 open bottles from which you can either taste a wee bit or purchase a dram to enjoy on the premises. After getting on the wrong train and visiting Berlin’s outer suburbs (right platform, wrong train…) I made it to the Cadenhead’s Whisky Market shop for a tasting. The tasting was for beginners, but I did want to see a tasting and maybe take some tips for the tastings I conduct in Israel, so I figured the language shouldn’t really be a barrier.
It was nice to see that the crowd was mainly youngish (late 20s and 30s), with the sadly regular over 90% male participation.  Being the opening day for the Feis Ila 2014 festival, naturally the tasting concentrated around Islay whiskys. The first election was the Islay Mist blend. Scratch that, followed by the very forgettable Duthies regional selection from Islay and the first part of the tasting ended with Smokehead. After a short break three heavier hitters were brought out: the Port Askaig 12, the Finlaggen cask strength

And lastly, Celp which is an Islay single malt (rumored to be either a Laphroaig or a Lagavulin) with a branch of sea kelp inside rendering it, legally at least, not a Scotch whisky.

A semi tasting and a disappointment turned glorious

On Saturday, Finest Whisky, a store with a nice selection of rare and hard to find whiskys was holding a tasting. This tasting was of rarer whiskys than the tasting the night before but my wife did not want to come nor did she want to fend for herself that evening, so we just went to check out the store without staying for the tasting. This was a shame because the tasting offered some very interesting whiskys most of them well off the beaten path. The selection list I got by email included:
Tamdhu 10, Original bottlin (43%)
Ben Nevis 17 – World of Orchids – JWWW (50,5%)
Clynelish 16 – Douglas of Drumlanrig (56,2%)
Bowmore 17 – White Sands (43%)
Duncan Taylor “Auld Blended” 35yo – (46%)
Glen Scotia 1977 – 2011 Van Wees Rare Reserve (46%)
Bunnahabhain 40 – Sansibar Whisky (46,7%)
Laphroaig Highgrove 12 – 1999/2013 (46%)

Hannes, the proprietor, was kind enough to offer me a tasting of the 40 year old Bunnahabhain and of the Highgrove Laphroaig. The Bunnahabhain was good, but I don’t have detailed tasting notes for it or for the Laphroaig. I also bought a bottle of a van Wees Laphroaig I was looking for, a single cask expression.

The Union Jack

That evening I visited the small but well stacked Union Jack which was an easy walking distance from my hotel. This is a small place about half the size of the Loch Ness with about 400 bottles to select from. In the lists I found on the Internet this place had the 20 year Rare Malts Brora I’ve been after for a while.

I ordered the SMWS 38.20 Caperdonich 16 year old (57.4%), the Dallas Dhu 18 year (58.5%) and the Imperial-Glenlivet 16 year old in the Cadenhead’s authentic collection series. I now came time for the Brora. Alas, the Brora was finished and the bottle was totally empty. The proprietor, Schlange, offered me the Linkwood 26 (56.1%) which was absolutely glorious. The Union Jack has a nice cozy feeling and Schlange has a really nice touch as together with your dram, she brings the bottle to your table and leaves it there for a few minutes to enable you to read the label and take down whatever information you’d like to note. I’d like to see this happening in more places.

One small note on the Union Jack though: go there for drinks before or after you’ve had dinner. Do not count on the Union Jack for your culinary needs – it’s a whisky bar and it does that very well. It isn’t a restaurant.

My last night in Berlin was a Sunday in which everything (and I mean everything) is closed, so this ends the first part of our post-series on Berlin as a whisky destination.

Relevant addresses include:
1) Loch Ness Bar
2) Union Jack
3) Cadenhead’s Whisky Market
4) Finest Whisky

May 272014
 

St. Magealene 26 OMC

In that accursed year of 1983, 10 distilleries were mothballed, never to return to production. Among them are the legendary Brora and Port Ellen, but the eight others include two I was especially curious about:   St. Magdalene (Linlithgow) and Dallas Dhu. I set out to taste both of them during this trip to Berlin, and  I have.

Now, I’m not big on any of the modern Lowlands distilleries, as I don’t like triple distilled whisky so Auchentoshan isn’t on my drinking list, and the others are too gentle to get me excited about them. Nevertheless, I kept hearing about St. Mags – and had to try a dram. Boy, was I in for a treat!!

 

St. Magdalene 28 Years Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask (50% ABV, refill butt, cask 6810)

Color: Light straw, slow legs very well spaced out.

Nose: Lemon and green apple, fresh zestiness, honey, heather, licorice. The green apple takes over after a few minutes to dominate the nose. Vanilla ice cream shows up after a while with some sherry notes, dried fruit and more honey and the lemon takes on the character of the lemon scent of a freshly washed floor. just a few drops of water open nutty and floral notes. It’s worth noting that despite spending 28 years in a barrel, the oak did not make its way into the nose. When you finish the dram, the residual scent left in the glass is of cream.

Palate: smooth, sweet and mild all around the mouth. Spice, pepper, nutmeg, raisins and butter are prevalent. When held in mouth for a bit crushed peppercorns and nutmeg come to dominate, and they lead to the peppery finish.

Finish: Long warming in the belly. Sherry sourness on the inside of the cheeks and the peppery finish stay for a long time.

 

This is in the top five most complex whiskies I’ve had. The nose just keeps developing, the different aromas changing every few minutes and the interplay of dominance between the different aromas is fascinating. I’m awed by the magnitude of the loss in the closing of this gem of a distillery.