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*This week I’m reviewing a single malt bottled by independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail. By their very nature, bottlings like this are often extremely limited, coming from a single or small batch of casks. Obviously, this means they tend not to stick around for long, and tracking down the exact release could prove difficult. However, I still think such drams are worthy of review, as they will hopefully highlight the huge variety on offer when one is prepared to dig a little and perhaps even encourage a little experimentation with some lesser encountered distilleries.
When one first begins to explore whisky, the sheer choice on offer can seem rather intimidating but a little knowledge can go a long way. Even the idea of independent bottlers can be confusing at first but they offer a great means of exploration and are often sensibly priced when compared with official distillery bottlings.
No two casks of whisky age the same way and distillers 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 at the same time, it is possible that something is lost along the way… A cask which matured particularly well perhaps, or one which developed some peculiar quirks of flavour over the years… A cask, unlike all the others… This is where the excitement of single cask whisky comes from.
Distilleries sell casks, sometimes just to raise a bit of capital, sometimes in a long-standing deal with blenders and sometimes, because maturation has resulted in something too ‘different’ to be used in 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.
One name which I’m sure will appear frequently 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 and the MacPhail’s Collection.
This particular release however is bottled under the Connoisseur’s Choice label and comes from Tobermory Distillery on the Isle of Mull. The distillery was founded back in 1798, making it one of the oldest commercially operated distilleries in Scotland. Originally named Ledaig, meaning ‘safe haven’, Tobermory has seen a few rough patches over the years and even closed its doors for 41 years between the 1930s and ’70s. Production resumed in ’71 only to grind to a halt once more during the industry-wide struggles of the 1980s. Then, in 1993, Burn Stewart distillers took over and began producing an unpeated malt under the Tobermory name, reserving the original title of Ledaig for their peated spirit.
This G&M Ledaig was distilled in 1996 and bottled in 2013, making it 17 years old. In my review of the Oban 14-year-old, I wrote that I prefer to see some practical information on a label and this is exactly what I mean, not just age, but a vintage and cask history (refill American Hogsheads) as well, not to mention an assurance that no chill filtration has taken part. All of this information helps us to build up a picture of what to expect from the dram.
My first experience with Ledaig was 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 smoky. If this 17-year-old from Gordon & MacPhail is any indication, Ledaig can also handle a bit of age, which bodes well for future releases from the distillery.
Smell: Smoky and Grassy with Salty Sea Air, Seaweed and Lemon. Maybe even a hint of Kippers. In actual fact it’s very reminiscent of the Rock Oyster blended malt I reviewed in my previous blog.
Taste: Vanilla, Honey, Sea Salt, Pepper and Cigar Smoke that lingers long in the memory.
Value for money: Available for around £45 – £50. When you consider the average 10 – 12-year-old (or more commonly these days, no age statement) single malts found in supermarket chains start at around £35 and are watered down to 40%, this 17 years old, 46% Ledaig begins to look like great value.
Total: 86 / 100
A perfect example of independently bottled single malt Scotch which I hope highlights exactly why the likes of Gordon & MacPhail should be on your radar.