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I’ve written many times in the past about my appreciation for independent bottler, Murray McDavid. Their bottlings seem to have a sense of fun that I often find missing from some other ranges. Whether it be through bold cask finishes or creative blending processes, they seem to find a way to offer the market something a little bit different.
I was chuffed therefore when I received a sample pack containing an array of forthcoming releases. The pack contained a dram from each of their six categories: Mission Gold, Benchmark, Mystery Malt, Select Grain, The Vatting and Crafted Blend.
To prevent my article from being too long, I’ll be publishing it in two parts. In Part 1 I’ll be looking at the first three drams to come out of the pack…
*Full disclosure: I was given the samples featured in this article for free. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Mission Gold 33 Year Old from Invergordon
This 33-year-old single grain whisky has been finished in 1st fill Port and Pedro Ximenez casks. Bottled at 48.5% it retails for £185.00.
Smell: Interestingly, it was a rather typical grain character that drifted out to meet me when I first lifted the glass to my face but after a few minutes in the glass, some of the previous contents of the finishing casks began to make an appearance. First there was vanilla and creme brulee with cereal and honey. Then came raspberry and raisins and maple syrup. There’s also some oaky spice and a touch of coffee.
Taste: Lots of summer fruits up front. Plenty of berries. Beneath that is the same maple syrup like note from the nose. Some raisins and prunes too. The finish actually seems more dominant here. Coffee. Oak tannins. Vanilla pods. Some gentle woody spice towards the back of the tongue before the creamy creme brulee comes back for the finish.
Thoughts: Regular readers will be aware that I’ve recently expressed a little frustration with the amount of old grain whiskies on the market at present. Not because they’re bad but simply because they all offer pretty much the exact same thing. Not for the first time, however, Murray McDavid have stepped up to the plate with something a little bit different. It’s still a single grain with an impressive age statement but it’s been finished in 1st fill Port and Pedro Ximenez casks. That definitely isn’t something you see everyday.
A few more drams like this and I won’t be complaining about single grain anymore. The finish/s are bold but the character of the grain isn’t lost. Somehow, what seems an odd combination comes together to create a rather luxurious and tremendously exciting whisky.
It’s hard to talk about value for money when the whisky is just short of £200 but when you consider the price of similarly aged malts it begins to look more reasonable.
Benchmark 12-Year-Old Glenallachie
A 12-year-old Speyside single malt from the increasingly popular Glenallachie distillery. Aged in a sherry butt before finishing in a 1st fill Cognac cask. It’s bottled at 50% and retails for £85.00
Smell: The nose is nutty with vanilla and warming spice. Caramel. Apple and pear. Peach. Waxy orange peel. Some gentle oak notes. The overall impression is of a whisky older than 12 years.
Taste: More of that waxy, fruity character on the arrival. Lots of apples. Pear. Orange. Peach. Sumptuous mouthfeel. Caramel and butterscotch. Vanilla. Cinnamon. The finish is subtle but lasts well.
Thoughts: £85 is a fair old price for a 12-year-old whisky. That said, it’s a rather excellent dram. It’s wonderfully weighty and luxurious on the palate and the flavour is intense and complex. Glenallachie is run by Billy Walker, formerly of Benriach. Like Benriach, Glenallachie is proving to be something of a chameleon. A solid malt that can adapt to a variety of different cask types. You don’t see too many cognac finishes around. Based on this evidence, that is a crying shame. Pricey but worth it.
Mystery Malt “Safe Haven” 6 Year Old
The origins of this single malt are unknown, or undisclosed at any rate. In truth, the name gives more than a little hint as to the distillery that made it. There’s a distillery on a Hebridean island whose Gaelic name translates as Safe Haven.
The whisky was matured in bourbon hogsheads before being finished in a PX sherry cask from Ximénez- Spínola in Jerez, Spain. It is bottled at 50% abv and retails for £44.00.
Smell: Lots of peat and more than a touch of coastal brine. Seashells and seaweed. Charred oak. Walnut. There are some dried fruits like raisins and sultanas. Water brings out some honey and more fruit, fresher this time. There are apples and lemon and orange zest.
Taste: Straight away there’s a lot of smoke and a little bit of struck match. There’s also some fizzy sweets before the sherry character makes its presence felt. A bit of maple syrup. A touch of oak. Orange. Some lighter spirit character comes through when water is added. Long smoky finish.
Thoughts: This single malt has been bottled young in order to take full advantage of its peaty intensity. The only problem with that is the dominance of the smoke when you first encounter it. It’s especially noticeable because the PX finish appears to have been applied with a subtle hand. If you’re dealing with a delicate malt, it makes sense to hold back on the finish but I wonder if this peat monster could maybe have taken on a bit more of that PX and held its own. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it though. The PX influence may be subtle but it’s there and it adds an extra layer of flavour to the experience. Worth commenting on the price too. £44 is a great price for a 50% bottling. Sure it’s young but there’s bags of character. So long as you’re a smoke head, of course.
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