Gordon & MacPhail ‘Connoisseur’s Choice’ Ledaig 1996

*This week I’m reviewing an independent bottling of a single malt. These kind of releases are often single casks and limited to just a few hundred bottles. Of course, that means it might not be possible to obtain this exact expression anymore, however I still think it’s worthwhile covering these expressions, just to give you an idea of what’s out there. I’ll give a little background on the bottlers themselves as well as covering the distillery of origin. Hopefully you’ll find this useful.

When you first start to experiment with whisky the sheer choice on offer can be a bit intimidating. Having a little knowledge behind you can go a long way. To that effect, something you might want to look out for is whisky released by an independent bottler. These are a great way to further explore the world of whisky and often come at a reasonable price in comparison with official bottlings.

No two casks of whisky age the same way and distillers normally vat together multiple casks in order to get a consistent flavour profile from batch to batch. This vatting process leaves the customer safe in the knowledge that they’ll be satisfied with their chosen dram time and time again but on the other hand, perhaps something is lost… A cask that matured particularly well perhaps, or developed some quirks of flavour along the way… A cask unlike all the others… That’s where the excitement of single cask whisky begins.

Distilleries sell casks, sometimes just to raise a bit of capital, sometimes in a long standing deal with blenders and sometimes, because the maturation has resulted in something too ‘different’ to go into their core range. These casks often end up in the hands of independent bottlers who can release them without the pressure to stay true to a house style or to comply with a particular age statement.

A name I’m sure will crop up more than once on this site is Gordon & MacPhail. James Gordon and Alistair MacPhail founded their family grocers, tea, wine & spirits merchant in Elgin, Scotland in 1895. They bought casks of whisky in order to make blends to sell locally but before long they began to specialise in single malts, bottling whisky from distilleries like Macallan, Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Linkwood and Mortlach. Today they bottle single malts under many ranges which include The Cask Strength Collection, Connoisseur’s Choice and The MacPhails Collection.

I’ll be reviewing a bottle of Ledaig from Tobermory Distillery, bottled as part of the Connoisseur’s Choice range. The distillery was founded in the town of the same name on the Isle of Mull, back in 1798, making it one of the oldest commercially operated distilleries in Scotland. The original name of the distillery, Ledaig means ‘safe haven’ in Gaelic. Over the years Tobermory has had a few rough patches and was closed for 41 long years between the 30s and the 70s. It reopened in ’71 only to come very close to final closure in the 80s. It was saved then by current owners Burn Stewart and relaunched in 1993. The whisky that carries the Tobermory name is unpeated while that which carries the original distillery name of Ledaig is a peated version.

This particular release of Ledaig states that it was distilled in 1996 and bottled in 2013, making it 17 years old. This is one of the great things about Independent Bottlers… In my review of the Oban 14 year old, I mentioned that I like to see practical information on a label and this is exactly what I’m talking about – not only an age but a vintage as well. Furthermore, the label tells me that it was matured in refill American hogsheads and that it’s natural colour and non-chill filtered. This gives us an idea what to expect from the dram.

The nose is Smokey and Grassy with Salty Sea Air, Seaweed and Lemon. Maybe even a hint of Kippers. In actual fact it’s reminiscent of the Rock Oyster blended malt I reviewed in my previous blog. On the palate there’s Honey, lots of Salt, Pepper and Cigar Smoke that lingers. A lovely dram in all honesty.

My first experience with Ledaig was with a non-age statement distillery release which was nice but a bit young and feisty. The official releases have been improving steadily and the standard 10 year old is a fine malt and a good alternative to Islay for those who like it smokey. If this 17 year old from Gordon & MacPhail is any indication, Ledaig can also handle a bit of age nicely which bodes well for future releases from the distillery.

The ScoresAbout the scoring system..

Smell: 18/20. Much like the afore-mentioned Rock Oyster this just reeks of the coastline and casts up images of a storm brewing off some remote island. The smell of seaweed draped harbours and the ocean turning to froth on the wind. Wonderful.

Taste: 17/20. Maybe a bit light on the palate but a good, smokey, salty treat nonetheless.

Value for money: 9/10. If I remember correctly I paid around £45 – £50 for this. The average 10 – 12 year old (or more commonly these days, no age statement) single malts you find in supermarkets start at around £35 and are watered down to 40%. Here, for just a little extra you’re getting a good age, higher strength at 46% and no chill filtering. That’s why independent bottlers should be on your radar.

Total: 44/50

For more on Gordon and MacPhail

For more on Tobermory Distillery and Ledaig

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