E-pistle 2007/064 – Old Friends & Older Friends

By Louis Perlman, USA

Old Friends & Older Friends – the older friends first…

Glenfarclas 50yo (50% est. cask sample)
Glenfarclas 35yo 1959 (52.6%, Whyte & Whyte)
Glenfaclas 32yo 1974 (57.4%, OB)

Two out of these three were samples I smuggled out of Whisky fest last fall.
The 50 year old was generously poured during George Grant’s seminar. It was estimated that a bottle could go for 10,000 GBP or dollars (I don’t remember which, not that it matters). The 1974 is the current top of the line GF in the US, superseding the 1968, which was bottled at 43%. The 1959 was born in the same year that I was, and in most years, I have a dram only on or close to my birthday.

So how did these old timers stand up? The 50 year old was a look back into time, but it had
obviously faded over the years. It was kind like looking at a 50 year old photograph. As such, it can’t in itself be described as a great dram, but rather shows just how the distillery has maintained its consistency over five decades. And kudos to George Grant and co. for sharing the 50 year old wit the general public, rather than turning it into a ornament for billionaires’ yachts.

The 1959 W&W is more typical of am older SMS.
More wood than desirable, but still a very luxurious dram. Which brings us to the 1974. At a mere 32 years old, it was clearly the best balanced on the group. There were layers of fruitcake, with all of the ingredients present and accounted for. perhaps not as rich as the 1968, but I am going on memory here. There was just one small imperfection, a slightly watery body, which is not expected at cask strength. So I would give a 93 points rating, as opposed to 96 points for the 1959. I see that both the Malt Advocate and Jim Murray in the 2007 Whisky Bible also rate the 1974 slightly below the very best malts.

And now for some old friends.
These are some of the malts that I got going with 10 years ago, so it’s time to see how they have fared over the years.

Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB ‘Port Ellen’)
Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB)

This was not a HTH per se, but I purchased new bottles of both last fall, so it makes sense to look at them together.
My story with Lagavulin is similar to that of so many SMS lovers, including our esteemed Editor. Once I finally tried the mighty Lagavulin, I totally freaked out over it, and went thru a bottle every six months for the next few years. My rating at the time was 93, two down from MIchael Jackson. That was because my  personal reference at 95 was the Springbank 21, and I felt there were two degrees of separation between the Springer and Lagavulin.

But then I moved on to other things, and it was a very long time since I had a dram of the Big L.
In the meantime, the designation on the bottle (and box) changed from White Horse to Port Ellen, and many Lagavulin fans thought that the quality took a step down as well. It didn’t come as a surprise then, that I agreed with this assessment. In the WH days, Lagavulin threw the peat, iodine, and seaweed at you all at once, in a marvelously complex presentation. Now, the iodine and seaweed were way in the background, and the peat was more prominent.

The comparison to the current Talisker was very interesting. As Luca observed on the MaltMenu, there is more vanilla sweetness and less pepper than before (the Talisker 10 used to be nicknamed ‘Scottish rocket fuel’). Still, I find the 10 to be well balanced, and very flexible. The comparison with Lagavulin was worthwhile. Bottled at a slightly higher ABV, the Talisker has less filtering, so it has a firmer body. But Lagavulin still has the edge in complexity. I have previously rated the Talisker 88 points , and I am going to continue to do so, and that is my new rating for the Port Ellen Lagavulin.

Just for fun, I threw the latest version on the Compass Box Whisky Eleuthra into the mix.
With only 20% of the malt being Caol Ila and the rest Clynelish, the Eleuthra doesn’t quite compete as a peat monster, (gee, maybe that’s why CBW also has the Peat Monster in it’s line). I am going with 87 as my rating, and the Eleuthra is still my favorite CBW creation.

And now for some un-peated malts;

Highland Park 12yo (43%, OB)
Balvenie 12yo (43%, OB Doublewood)

These were third and seventh ‘real’ single malt scotches that I knowingly purchased as such. The late, lamented, PLOWED page described Highland Park as ‘orgasmic’, and I had to agree. Smoke, heather, and honey, all combined in the perfect package. And the 18 and 1977 were even better. But once into the New Millennium, the distillery seemed to go downhill. I have sampled the 12 any number of times since then, and have come away underwhelmed. This includes the latest hip flask shaped bottle. The whisky is bland, there simply isn’t very much there. I had previously rated the HP 12 six points higher than the Glenmorangie 10 which I now rate 83, but the current HP definitely scores lower. I haven’t had the change to do a HTH, so I will issue a provisional rating of 81 points – I wouldn’t be surprised if it ultimately went lower.

It pains me to have to say this, as Highland Park was once considered a top tier distillery.
And now to close on an up note…

When I first tried the Doublewood a decade ago, I found it to be a pleasant dram, perfect for non-scotch drinkers.
The sherry casking was well integrated, but final product seemed to be a bit on he timid side, compared to the more exuberant 10 year old. Over the years, I found the 12 DW to be even less involving, until last year. It’s like someone at the distillery woke up and started to smell the whisky, because a bottle purchased in early 2006 was the best one I’ve tried yet. The finishing is nicely done, and dovetails well with the overall Balvenie honey and marmalade profile. This is a nice choice if you want a bit of sherry, but not all the way to the Macallan level. Another bottle purchased this year was just as good, so I’m gong with 82 points , as it’s still a step behind the Glenmorangie 10.