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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Single Malt Report: Imperial 15 year old 1995 Signatory Vintage for Binny's

Time to do a Taste Off between a pair of 1995 Imperials.  Both were bottled by Signatory for individual retailers.  Before this pairing, I'd had only two Imperials (both Duncan Taylors) and found them to be solid B-ish-grade fruity Speysiders.  So I was looking forward to trying more.

It might be my imagination, but 1995 Imperials seem to suffer from "1997 Clynelish Disease".  Certain bloggers/experts/writers have noted that 1995 was a good vintage for Imperial, like 1997 was for Clynelish.  But, like 1997 Clynelish, that perceived higher quality may be due to availability and familiarity.  Per whiskybase, out of the 309 Imperial releases distilled between 1962 and 1998, 111 are from 1995 (or 36% from that year alone).  In fact, since 2010, more than two-thirds of the Imperials released were distilled in 1995 (106/158).  So what we're buying and drinking is almost always from the 1995 "vintage", thus that's what we're most familiar with.  So, BAM, I hope you like how I just knocked the f*** out of that Straw Man.

Anyway, lots of 1995 Imperials out there, about a third of which were bottled by Signatory.  This first one was bottled for Binny's in Chicago, though since it was bottled more than three years ago it's now sold out.

The one on the left today, the one on the right on Thursday
Distillery: Imperial
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Retailer: Binny's
Age: 15 years (Oct. 9, 1995 - July 5, 2011)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask #: 50314
Bottles: 219
Region: Speyside (Central)
Alcohol by Volume: 57.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Sample from a swap with MAO, thanks MAO!, see his review here

Its color is light gold.  The nose feels a little tight.  At first there's some vague citrus, butter, and pencil shavings.  Once it's aired out, the nose picks up some more fresh fruit (maybe apricot and mango), more butter, and a hint of spice (cumin and pepper?).  There are also some smaller notes of orange peel, chlorine, brown sugar, and lemon cleaner.  The palate is tight as well.  And very hot.  There's some of the nose's fruit in with the butter.  Irish soda bread and more butter.  Tart lemon candy, caramel candy, cinnamon candy.  The finish has bread and butter, spice and ethyl heat, salt and malt.  Sorta plain.

WITH WATER (approx. 46%abv)
The nose gets brighter.  Apple and pear skins.  Lime and butter.  Hints of band-aids and orange pixy stix.  A tart fruit tart and other baked confections.  The palate is sweeter, pleasant like a good blend.  Roasted nuts and grains.  Some orange and peach.  It's still on the hot side of things, but at least it's pretty malty.  The finish is tart, toasty, and lightly grassy. There's a salted lemon in there too.

This is like a cask strength blend, inoffensive aside from being much too hot when neat.  It's also considerably better when reduced to Signatory's UCF series' 46%abv strength.  But while it's decent enough, it's also not much more than that.  In his review from the same exact bottle, My Annoying Opinions has some similar conclusions about the whisky, specifically regarding how closed and hot it was.  Again, this bottle has been sold out.  But if you have one in your stash and the whisky seems a bit off in its first pour, add a little water to your glass.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 81 (with water)


  1. I barely remember this one--I think I might still have a large'ish reference sample left. Maybe I'll try it again sometime soon and see if it's mellowed any.

    And yes, I recently noted the Clynelish 1997 syndrome as well: http://myannoyingopinions.com/2015/01/26/clynelish22/

    For whatever reason, whisky geeks seem to be very attracted to the idea of magic vintages.

    1. Yeah, we're on the same page with the magic vintage syndrome. There's something pleasant, reliable, and even romantic about whiskies having great vintages. And I would like to buy into the romance, but it's a theory that doesn't hold up. Think of all the stuff that would have to happen in synchrony:

      Unlike grapes for wines, whisky's barley comes from all over the world and from different climates. Strains of yeast and barley can change during a year. The water itself changes in different seasons. Different people are operating the stills at different times, and in the days before automation every still run was not identical. Plus every single cask is different.

      I could buy into good whisky eras (due to good management), or conversely a good whisky day (if an enthusiast was obsessive enough). If someone out there who's reading this can explain how a magic vintage would work logistically please do share. For instance, Laphroaig 1998?

    2. Yeah, it doesn't add up. Speaking of adding, I did mathematics too on this subject! This post conveniently contains most of my annoying meditations on the subject:


    3. Yes, your maths still hold up! 1976 is still the distillation year with the most releases for Tomatin. With 66, it's more than the #2 and #3 years combined. We may have started our whisky sample amassing 10 years to late, because it would be great to blindly compare similarly casked '75, '76, and '77s. There are folks with the ability to do this on their blogs and it would be genuinely informative if they did so.

  2. Imperial is noted for having really large stills which isn't a big deal when you are Glenmorangie but a major issue when you produce blend filler. So it sounds like 1995 was just a year Imperial produced a lot of whisky and the owners sold the product to the independents once their blend requirements were met.

    1. Yeah, I'm assuming the same thing happened with Clynelish in '97. Most distilleries seem to have a year like that in the '90s. For instance, Laphroaig in '98 (which has also been dubbed a magical vintage).