As far as blends go, White Horse is of mythological proportions in the minds of whisky anoraks, as old Lagavulin and the legendary Malt Mill make up some of the malts in the older expressions of this blend.
Named for the White Horse Cellar Inn in Edinburgh, which was a point of origin for a coach line to London, this inn belonged to the Mackie family for centuries, and the blend was meant to celebrate that, as can be seen in this later label (Sometime between 1924, when Mackie & Co. (Distillers) became White Horse Distillers and 1952, when the royal warrant would have changed to “The Queen”) :
Indeed, the text tells of the 1754 eight day coach trip from Edinburgh to London and reads:
All that are desirous to pass from EDINBURGH to LONDON, or any other place on the road, let them repair to the WHITE HORSE CELLAR in EDINBURGH at which place they may be received in a STAGE COACH every Monday and Friday, which performs the whole journey in eight days (if God permits), and sets forth at five in the morning.
Allowing each passenger 14 pounds of weight, and all above, 6 pence per pound.
Peter Mackie was described by Robert Bruce-Lockhart as “One-third genius, one-third megalomaniac and one-third eccentric” and he likely fully earned all three descriptions.
At the time, the company owned Lagavulin and Craigellachie, which accounts for the “and Glenlivet District” on the label, but that’s not all. Peter Mackie was not only the owner of Lagavulin, he was also the agent for Laphroaig. The two distilleries are very close, and following a water rights dispute, Laphroaig withdrew Mackie’s contract. Well, Peter Mackie, being wholly unpredictable (his favorite saying was “take nothing for granted”), replicated Laphroaig’s stills and even headhunting their brewer. This “new Laphroaig” was called Malt Mill, and it operated within Lagavulin from 1908 to 1962. Not too long ago, the existence of a bottle of the last still run of Malt Mill, from June 1962 was revealed by distillery manager Georgie Crawford.
There are two known bottlings of Malt Mill and some vattings of malts with Lagavulin (you can see one of them here). There has been a bottling of ‘Mackie’s Ancient Scotch’ which states “Malt Mill Distillery” on the label, but Serge Valentin is sure this is a blend, so we’ll work with that assumption, leaving it as a blend.
In any event, this version of White Horse was bottled in 1922 (as the label actually states), and certainly has whisky from Lagavulin, Malt Mill and Craigellachie in it.
What’s it like? Let’s find out:
White Horse Blended Whisky, Bottled 1922 (40% ABV)
Appearance: Gold with thin and rather quick legs, leaving some residue behind.
Nose: Expecting a hit of Lagavulin, there’s really very little smoke on the nose, though it exists. Waxy with honey, and some furniture polish or wallpaper glue. A hint of fruitiness that increases with time, and some more sweetness.
Palate: Burnt wax, bitter citrus rind and a hard honey candy. There’s somewhat more peat on the palate than the nose suggests, but it’s much less “Lagavulin-y” than I would have expected.
Linger: Not very long, with some bitter spice and the burnt waxiness throughout.
I have no way of knowing if this is what the blend actually tasted like back in 1922 and if it deteriorated in the driven cork bottle, but this is good and fascinating stuff, besides being really a piece of history. I will say that if it deteriorated in the bottle, the original liquid was glorious indeed!
I want to thank the incredible group of people who find the most excellent bottles to share. This one was organized by Chris Miles, and we paid £390 for this bottle at auction. Thanks @chrismiles303