Some tastings require fanfare and commendation.
Others slide on by.
Ian Stopher’s tastings require fanfare and commendation. His Multifunctional Madness tasting definitely requires them.
The reason participants love Ian’s tastings is because of a lot of factors. The offering, the whiskies, and the bonhomie – but most especially for the breadth, width and depth of Ian’s knowledge.
It would take a book to describe Ian’s research into the whiskies he produced from the darker reaches of his collection.
His eight (or maybe ten, depending on how you count) Multi-functional Madness whiskies had no Madness, but rather were quite logical and sane. This tasting centred around distilleries that are or had been multi-functional.
My rather too brief tasting notes are below, along with some of the stuff I’ve managed to discover about the drams and the distilleries from they came from. Note that, unsurprisingly, Ian had all this stuff at his fingertips.
Start the Evening
Ian gave a Starting Choice choice of Welcoming dram – either
- Glen Flagler Single Malt, Distillery bottling. 100% pot still whisky, bottled as a 7yo in the 1970s at 40% abv, or
- Aerstone 10 yo from the Ailsa Bay distillery. A 40% Single Malt, Land Cask, from William Grant and Sons.
The Glen Flagler had a visible similarity to the look of ginger beer. I didn’t try that one – the Aerstone hove into my view first.
Then into the really serious stuff. In order of tasting:
Dumbarton, 30 yo Single Grain, 48.7% abv, SMWS bottling G14.3
From a refill ex-bourbon barrel cask, releasing 174 bottles.
This was distilled in 1986 and bottled as a 30-year-old in 2016. It’s now 2022 so the dram was distilled 36 years ago.
Nose: Soap, with vinegar
Palate: Soft and buttery.
Dumbarton distillery was closed in 2002. It has been demolished for a housing development.
Gordon & MacPhail Kinlaith, 27yo Single Malt, 40% abv.
Distilled 1968, bottled 1995 – distilled 54 years by the time we got to taste it.
Nose: Sweet, medicinal, baby sick.
Palate: Very watery!! Not good.
Finish: Sourish, a slight mint flavour.
This whisky has a Whiskybase score of 87.91.
Ian’s post-match comment: “I think it lost some spirit through the cap during the time in the bottle. Even so, I find it hard to believe the rating of 87.91. If it was this good I suspect they would have found a way to keep the distillery going.”
Before its demolition, Kinclaith was the oldest malt Whisky distillery in Glasgow. It closed in 1975.
Garnheath 35yo, Woodwinters bottling, Single Grain, 55.5%.
180 500ml bottles. Distilled Feb 1973, bottled 2008. Distilled 49 years at time of this tasting.
Nose: Baby sick (again).
Palate: Hot, wide mouth, quite well balanced
Finish: Sweet, then souring.
Garnheath, a Lowland grain distillery, was developed to produce both grain spirit and grain whisky at a time of increasing demand for blended whisky. With five continuous stills, it had a capacity of 15 million original proof gallons, one of the largest grain distilleries at the time.
Garnheath stopped production ion 1986.
Ayrshire, 31 yo Single Malt, 47.7% abv. From the Ladyburn Distillery
Bourbon barrel, 182 bottles. Distilled Feb 75, bottled Feb 2007. Distilled 47 years at time of drinking.
Nose: Alcohol kick, cheese
Finish: Buttery end
The Ladyburn distillery was an expansion of the Girvan distillery built in 1963 by William Grant & Sons Ltd. The Ladyburn malt whisky distillery was created in 1966 with the addition of two pot stills. The malt portion of the distillery was closed in 1975 and demolished in 1976.
The independent bottlers Signatory Vintage and Wilson and Morgan have released Ladyburn single malt under the name “Ayrshire”, after the council area of Scotland in which Girvan is found.
Comment: This Signatory Vintage bottling was in a light blue tube, an unusual tube colour for a Signatory bottling.
Ladyburn and Inverleven, Ghosted Reserve, 26yo, Blended Malt, 42% abv
Bottled 2015, 4100 bottles
Palate: Not startling, but good
Finish: Citronella candle, tongue feel
Ladyburn (part of the Girvan distillery) operated as a single malt distillery from 1966 until 1975.
Strathclyde (Cadenhead bottling) 30yo, Single Grain, 54.5%
Distilled 1989, bottled 2020. Distilled 33 years at time of tasting. Sherry and Bourbon Cask. 360 bottles
Finish: The nutmeg stays. Really nice.
The Strathclyde distillery was founded in 1927 by Seager Evans and Co. The first spirit was produced in 1928. Today Strathclyde is part of Pernod Ricard.
Inverleven (Cadenhead bottling). Single Malt 15yo, 58.1% abv
Distilled 1987, bottled 2003. Distilled 35 years at time of tasting. Bourbon Hogshead. 294 bottles
Palate: Hot, sweet, wide-mouthed.
Finish: Tongue heat, with grapefruit. The finish drops away quickly.
A little bit of trivia. from Ian. The Cadenhead bottling calls it Dumbarton (Inverleven Stills) so some people at first glass would assume it is a Single Grain, but it obviously isn’t a grain
Girvan (Douglas Laing bottling) 25yo 51.5% Single Grain
Distilled 12.1993, Bottled 2.2019. Distilled 29 years at time of tasting. Refill barrel. 227 bottles.
Palate: Nutmeg, Heat rises, lemon peel
Finish: Fades to medium
Girvan distillery was built in 1963, with the installation of its first Coffey still the same year.
In looking at the real age of some of Ian’s drams – the total distance between distillation and consumption – I wondered about the effects such a long time in the bottle might have on whisky.
I came across a condition known as OBE – Old Bottle Effect.
OBE Effect on wine
The issue of wine aging in the bottle is fairly well known.
In reds with cork corks, the colour starts to fade through oxidisation as air enters through the porous cork. Synthetic corks are reputed to increase this effect.
Screw caps are reported as a better seal, effectively stopping the oxidisation process and keeping the wine fresh – a helpful point when you want the fresh fruit notes in whites or light reds. But the lack of oxidation can work against the wine by increasing sulphur compounds.
OBE Effect on Whisky
From www.scotchwhisky.com comes an explanation.
The higher levels of ethanol in whisky are an important difference. Ethanol absorbs the oxygen and reduces oxidative effects.
OBE typically returns descriptive notes of smooth mouth feel, wax, peaches, and low tannin.
When comparing an old whisky (Expression A) to its more recent expression (Expression B), you should consider what changes occurred in distillation processes and methods since Expression A was bottled versus Expression B.
From scotchwhisky.com: “Think of the possible variations which could have happened at a distillery over the decades: peat may have been used in the past, barley varieties have changed, while wort clarity may have been altered if a traditional mash tun was replaced with a lautering systems; then there have been changes in yeast strains, and possibly fermentation regimes, direct fire may have been replaced by steam coils and worm tubs by condensers; then there are the cask types used, the quality of the wood and the conditioning of the casks.
“Because we are not dealing with a liquid which has been made in an identical fashion … it is impossible to say whether the OBE effect is driven by ageing in the bottle, changes in distillation, or a combination of the two.
“The only way to test this would be to take a whisky being bottled today, analyse its production methods, run a gas chromatography and sensory analysis and then leave it for 20 years in an unopened bottle to see what changes might have occurred.
“So, the conclusion? Something happens but it happens slowly. What it is precisely? We are still not sure. Maybe time will tell.”
Searching for a collective word to describe people who like whisky, I kept coming back to the word “bibulous”.
Bibulous (adj): something that is highly absorbent that soaks up liquid well, like a towel or a sponge.
Bibulous comes from the Latin word bibere, which means “to drink.”
As it applies to people, bibulous means “likes to drink alcohol.”
The saying is that when you get to the bottom of the hole you should stop digging. Sometimes you don’t recognise the bottom of the hole, so you dig on.
From Heinemann’s New Zealand Dictionary comes a rather more strident definition:
Bibulous: adjective. Addicted to drinking alcohol.
Bottom of the hole, right there! Stop digging.