Strathisla 12yo (40%, OB, 2013)

Old Strathisla 12yoStrathisla is famous for producing one of the best Sherried Single Malt Whiskies ever. Just have a go with some nice examples from an independent bottler with distillates from the sixties and seventies. Gordon & MacPhail have a huge range of Strathisla’s from those days that have long gone by, but also a lot of other independent bottlers have similar Sherried bottlings. Those Strathisla’s can easily compete with the best Longmorns and Macallans from the same era. Nevertheless, the owners of Strathisla themselves have never done a lot with the brand. In fact, only a 12yo has been readily available and the occasional 25yo. When visiting the distillery and additional 16yo can be bought, but that it! For a long time Strathisla was bottled in a flat dark brown, screen printed bottle, but since 2013, a new dumpy bottle was released. Now we would like to know if the Whisky has changed as well, since the ABV has been lowered to 40%. We also would like to know if the range will finally be expanded. Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) are the current owners of Strathisla and they could do lots more with Strathisla like they are doing with two of their other brands like The Glenlivet and Aberlour.

Strathisla 12yo (40%, OB, 2013)Color: Light orange gold

Nose: leafy, malty and dirty. Putty and highly aromatic. Hints of orange skin and vanilla. Creamy Whisky. Fresh cut grass and damp potting soil. Tiny hints of wood and tar and bitter-sweet chocolate. Smells of caramel coloring. Very funky altogether if you ask me.

Taste: Not really thin, but tastes watered down. Still warming though. Licorice. Sugar water sweetness and a distant hint of Sherry, killed by water and (burnt) sugar (coloring). Tree sap and bitter wood. Toasted wood. Hidden toffee-like sweetness. Again lots of notes I can only imagine coming from caramel coloring. A short warming boost in my throat, then a finish with not much staying power.

In essence this is the only official Strathisla on the market. It replaces another Strathisla 12yo, that was around for a long time. It is brought down to 40% ABV, and is still the only version released by the owners. Why not let it stand out more? Why water it down even more, and kill it with E150? Strathisla can be such a great brand, and there is so much you can do with it, so why even bother releasing this 12yo, which is pretty anonymous at best? Fire some managers for incompetence and take a look around and see what is already achieved by Bacardi with Craigellachie, Aultmore and Aberfeldy, with even two more in the pipelines. If that’s no inspiration, what about the achievements of Gordon & MacPhail with Benromach? Just do it people!

Points: 76 (I liked the screen printed bottle better)

Strathisla 30yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Pinerolo Torino, 75 cl, Circa 1980)

Happy new year! I wish all my readers a great year full of fulfillment, health and great drams. please don’t settle for mediocrity. Try to broaden your horizons for true beauty that can be put in your mouth, but do it in moderation, we don’t want to create modern drunks.

Well what would be a better start, than with an old Strathisla! In the past I tried some nice old Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla’s from this series. The review for the 25yo can be found here, but together with this 25yo I tried the 21yo and that was similarly spectacular. Mind you these are the old 80’s bottlings for the italian market, and whiskies with these labels were issued for a couple of decades, so every batch will differ (massively). The 21yo and the 25yo were quite dark, and hopefully not colored, and being from the early eighties, the distillate is early sixties or maybe even late fifties.

On the menu this time is the 30yo, which is certainly a fifties distillate (glass code SC999). Gordon & MacPhail have some vintage fifties bottlings and they all are lighter in color than the bottlings with distillate from the sixties, as is this one. There is a later version with glass code 4699 (75cl), that probably contains distillate from the early sixties again, since that one is definitely darker than the version reviewed here.

Color: Golden Honey.

Nose: Steam and a hint of coal. Definitively old style whisky. Yes just nosing it briefly already gives me goose bumps. Shure, no thick cloying first fill Oloroso Sherry here, but something that is just as good, just more elegant and stylish. It’s like comparing James Bond to Usain Bolt. Honey sweet combined with steam. Old apple compote with grandma’s toffee. Together with the steam there is a hint of smoke and a little bit of lemon curd. Thick and fresh at the same time. Wow.

Taste: The taste isn’t as thick as the nose suggested, nor is it as sweet as I expected, and the first sip is quickly gone. A short attack of very elegant wood. It’s wood as wood is supposed to be. Old books. Hardly oaky and hardly bitter. Waxy and some old candied yellow fruits, apricots, but not as heavy and thick as Caperdonich 72’s. Short finish. The 21yo and the 25yo performed better in that respect. Treat this elderly Whisky with respect, but be bold and take bigger gulps. The whisky itself, maybe is a tad fragile and subdued, but hey, the stuff was made some 55 years ago and along the way was reduced to a mere 40%, so give it a break will you?

Having tasted the 21yo and the 25yo earlier, as several other sixties versions too, this one (being lighter, and less heavy sherried), was actually a little disappointing. The disappointment however, lasted for 20 minutes at the most. I learned to look at this Strathisla differently, being a lighter fifties version, and I have to say that the second glass already showed me some heaven again that is so abundant in the 21yo and the 25yo versions. Wow again, but definitely different from its brothers or sisters from this series.

Points: 91

Strathisla 25yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Pinerolo Torino, 75 cl, Circa 1980)

And here’s already the second Strathisla by Gordon & MacPhail. This one has bottlecode SC999 and Gordon & MacPhail used these bottles roughly between 1981 and 1987. But if I would have a guess, this seems to be closer to 1981 than 1987. And thus this would be a late fifties distillate! (And the previous 15yo Strathisla, one from the mid seventies). That’s quite a difference and will probably be evident in the taste and smell. Also note that this 25yo is notably darker. Like the 15yo, this bottle was also bought for a ‘Genietschap’ Tasting. But this time for a tasting hosted in Switzerland.

Color: Copper, orange / brown.

Nose: Old Sherry. This is deep and spicy. It has some butter that fades quickly. Tarry, coal, old bottle effect and very, very appetizing. You just want to smell this as long as it stays liquid. Fabulous. No other word to describe this.

Taste: Sherry again, tarry and coal is in here too. Sometimes a whiff of sweetness passes across your palate. Laurel licorice and wood, which make it spicy. There are even some cherries in the finish. Again this is an old sherried whisky from the times they made this with steam or something, because for me again it has the traits of an old steam locomotive. It’s probably no coincidence that Jack Wiebers has a ‘Old Train Line’ series.

The Strathisla is warming, even when you think at the same time that the 40% isn’t enough. Imagine this at a higher strength or even cask strength for that matter. One thing is certain: they don’t make them like this anymore. Try to find it and dish out a lot of cash, because it’s worth it. Just have a go at this standard G&M, 25yo Strathisla, and find yourself a sweater made from those fabulous looking Strathisla sheep!

While the 15yo was initially considered a fake by the ‘Genietschap’. This 25yo definitively was not. It was considered the best of the evening.

Points: 94

P.S. If any of you turn out to be, Italian tax-band specialists, mine is Series EX, number 426944. Let me know if you know from which year this is.

Strathisla 15yo (70° Proof, Gordon & MacPhail, 26⅔ fl. ozs., Pinerolo Import Torino, Circa 1982)

I’m a big fan of old Strathisla’s. When I taste some from the 60’s or 70’s, I’m in heaven. With some old sherry cask bottles around, you can’t go wrong with Strathisla (and Longmorn, and Macallan, and…). Even 60’s bourbon casks are fantastic. So for this one, I certainly had high hopes and I paid some good money to get one. When I bought it at an auction, I thought it would be older than it turned out to be. Just look at that label with its 70° Proof and 26⅔ FL. OZS. The glass code on the bottom of the bottle (SD133) makes it from circa 1990.

I brought this with me on a ‘Genietschap’ Strathisla tasting. After I opened it, and we all tasted it, we initially thought is was a fake. We expected some old bottle effect but there was none, we may have been spoiled with our experiences with those old Strathisla’s but one thing was for sure, this was a disappointment then. Let’s try it again now and see what happens.

Color: Full Gold (Caramel?).

Nose: This smells to me like something that has been coloured with caramel. It smells very rounded out and smooth like toffee. A bit like a blend without the grain. Malty and musty. Dusty and elegant. Fresh, sweet, creamy and fruity and some fresh air from the sea. Candied apricots. Cream Sherry with a smoky and sweaty touch to it. Well it almost smells…old now, maybe even meaty for a brief moment.

Taste: Sweet with bitter wood. Fruit, apricots on vodka. Almonds. It’s a lemonade with some iron in the mix. The bitter component transfers from wood to something more waxy, earwax maybe. At times it tastes thin and easy and can be quite nice, but somehow the top of the taste doesn’t gel with the finish, hence its unbalanced, and that’s a shame for such an old bottle. Definitively some E150a in here.

The nose is balanced but alas the same cannot be said for the taste and the finish. It all breaks down in the mouth.Luckily it leaves you with a warm feeling, so I would say that it’s a whisky for a book at bedtime. Also I have to say that a big gulp tasted better than a sip. If you come across this, don’t but it at a premium price. There are also older bottles around. With a white cap and bottle code SC999. that should be a better bet than this one. Still it’s not bad at all. It’s very interesting and will reward you if you’d only want to work at it. Recommended for connoisseurs I guess. It’s an experience. Still, get one of the older versions!

Points: 84