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Murray McDavid are an independent bottling firm founded in 1996 by the team that would later go on to revive the floundering Bruichladdich distillery on Islay. Known for bold finishes and secondary maturation in a variety of interesting casks, their range is divided into five labels…
“Mission Gold“ carries the oldest and rarest of their stocks whilst “Benchmark“ offers more affordable single malts. Spirit from undisclosed distilleries comes under the “Mystery Malts“ label, blended malts are known as “The Vatting“ and blended scotch is labelled the “Crafted Blend“. Finally, spirit distilled from grains other than malted barley is bottled as “Select Grain“ and it is one of these I will be investigating in this review…
Three years before Murray McDavid was established, the owners of Loch Lomond in Alexandria took the bold decision to install a set of column stills in their malt distillery, making it the only premises in Scotland at that time to have the ability to produce both malt and grain whisky on the same site.
The column still, sometimes known as the continuous, patent or Coffey still dates back to the early 19th century. Robert Stein pioneered a form of continuous distillation at his Cameron Bridge distillery in Fife before an Irishman by the name of Aeneas Coffey developed the idea further and patented it in 1825. Where malt distillation in pot stills was a time and energy sapping batch process, this new column still would allow for constant production of spirit made from far more affordable grains. Wash (beer) could be pumped in at the top and a steady stream of new make spirit would flow from the bottom.
The still worked by repeatedly transforming alcohol from liquid to vapour and back again, producing an incredibly pure spirit of high strength (column stills can achieve 95% alcohol by volume). When the wash was pumped into the still it would flow downwards to be met by hot steam rising from the foot of the column. The steam would turn the alcoholic content of the wash into vapour which would begin to rise towards the cooler summit, only to condense back into a liquid and sink again. This repetitive transformation ensured that only the lightest of compounds would eventually reach the top and travel onward to the condensers where it would be cooled to liquid form for the final time.
The perfection of this system utterly revolutionised the whisky industry, giving blenders a neutral spirit with which to tone down their more robust single malts, creating a drink far more in tune with the Victorian palate. So when the Phylloxera pestilence swept the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th century, this new blended scotch was ideally placed to step into the void created by the loss of Brandy.
Today, Loch Lomond distillery remains unique in the scotch whisky industry. As well as housing traditional pots alongside their column stills, they also utilise hybrids known as Lomond stills that look like a combination of each with a pot leading to a cylindrical column above. This incredible array of stills allow them to create 11 different new makes, each with a distinct profile of their own.
The result of the aforementioned column stills, this Murray McDavid bottling was aged for 22 years – first in an ex-bourbon barrel before being transferred to a cask which previously held Armagnac. Bottled at 50% it retails for around £90 a bottle.
*Full disclosure: I was given this sample by the fine folks at Murray McDavid so that I might share my thoughts with you, the reader. As always, I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Spirit heat leaps from the glass at first, in what can feel a little like an assault. Fortunately this soon settles down to reveal traditional grain notes like creme brulee, coconut and vanilla. Custard cream biscuits. Pencil shavings. There’s also a little toffee, some orange and an almost grape-like note.
Taste: Like the nose, the first sip is a little overpowering but subsequent visits reveal a complex whisky full of creme brulee and vanilla. Toffee. Tinned peaches. Orange zest and glace cherries. Shortbread. Pepper and a touch of dry oak. Satisfying creaminess on the palate.
Thoughts: Grain whisky can be a cost effective way of adding some age to your collection but whilst the spirit is nowhere near as inferior as it has occasionally been made out to be, such bottles can be a little bit samey. Fortunately, predictability isn’t something you can easily accuse of Murray McDavid, and their unusual Armagnac finish seems to have given extra depth to the dram’s character.
A rather unique bottling from the column stills of Loch Lomond distillery. It carries good age, decent strength and the armagnac finish is sympathetically done, adding subtle complexity rather than dominating the experience.
I don’t think I would have guessed the finish in a million years but there is definitely something different about this dram that becomes noticeable fairly early on. Another bold experiment from Murray McDavid that seems to have worked out well.
Visit the Murray McDavid website here.
Visit the Loch Lomond website here.