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Monday, July 4, 2016

Eighteen Old and Older Blends with The Malt Nuts

On June 16th, I attended my second, and possibly final, Malt Nuts event.  I had enjoyed the Mannochmore-themed May event, so as soon as I'd heard about the June event I made sure I could attend despite the onset of packing and moving exhaustion.  This tasting's theme was old and older blends, as in blended scotch bottled in the 1980s or earlier AND current blended scotch aged 20 years or older.  Since I spent many hours scouring Long Beach for good dusties and winding up with mostly bizarro semi-dusty scotch blends, this event was totally my bag.

We tasted eighteen blends.  That's a hell of a thing, so structure was required.  The eighteen whiskies were divided up into six categories, all noted below.  As before, these were all tasted blindly within their groups.  For more info, more photos, and a different take on the whiskies, see The Whisky Jug's recent post on this event.

Panorama shot!
PART 1: 1970s and 1980s blends

1A - Harvey's Blended Scotch, bottled late '70s, 40%abv
Review: The nose is quiet.  Vanilla, toasted oak, cherry candy.  Lightly soapy and buttery.  The palate is rough and dirty, burnt, hot, with some black pepper.
Comments: Off to a rough start with this one.  Struggled to find the nose, then wished I hadn't found the palate. It quickly proves that not all dusty cheap blends were better than current cheap blends.
Grade Range: D/D+

1B - King George IV, bottled '70s, 43%abv
Review: The nose is grainy, mild, lightly honeyed.  Hard to find, again.  On the other hand, the palate doesn't hide.  Lots of stone fruits, mint leaves, and musty Old Bottle Effect.
Comments: A decent palate helped offset another quiet nose.  This would be a welcome option in the $15-$20 range today.  Might be able to compete and top the current J&B and Chivas 12.
Grade Range: C

1C - Pinch 12 years old, bottled early '80s, 43%abv (my bottle!)
Review: Rubbery sherry, prunes, and musty old oak in the nose. The palate is fresh, malty, slightly tangy with some drying tannins.
Comments: With much more sherry and malt than most of the the dusties from this tasting, the Pinch was my favorite of the first group and such a happy surprise that it was my bottle!  I'm glad I have another bottle in the stash.
Grade Range: B-

1D - Catto's Gold Label, bottled '70s, 43%abv
Review: The nose is nothing but floral perfume.  The palate was Glenfiddich 12yo-like with pears, malt, and caramel.  It's also spicy with a bitter bite in the end.
Comments:  So three out of four of the whiskies in this group had much better palates than noses.  And I recommend leaving three out of the four of this group's whiskies on the dusty shelves if you find them.
Grade Range: C-/C

PART 2: Cluny vs. Cluny

2A - Cluny Blended Scotch, bottled mid '80s, 40%abv (my bottle!)
Review: Big pretty florals (flowers, not perfume) on the nose.  Peach skins and almonds.  The palate is all sugar, vanilla, and coconut.
Comments: I had tried this one with Florin (a prince) the weekend before this event.  It's essentially a grain whisky and may counter my theory that all older blends had higher malt contents than today's crop.  I look forward to reviewing this whisky more thoroughly later this year.
Grade Range: C/C+

2B - Cluny 12 year old, bottled '80s, 43%abv
Review: Mango, limes, and sugar on the nose.  Meanwhile, the palate is impressively malty with bursts of orange oil and chili oil.
Comments: A very respectable whisky.  Not only would I drink this again, but if I found this collecting dust on a shelf, I'd get a bottle.
Grade Range: B-/B

PART 3: Current 20+ year old blends

3A - Grangestone 30 year old, current, 40%abv
Review: Sneaker rubber, yeast, and urine in the nose.  The palate is a little brighter with vanilla extract and white fruits.
Comments: Lord, what a crap nose.  The palate ain't bad, but I can't believe this is 30 year old stuff.
Grade Range: D+/C-

3B - Grangestone 25 year old, current, 40%abv
Review: The nose has notes of rubber bands and halvah.  It's plenty nutty and grows fruitier with time.  The palate is malty and nutty with a good texture to it.
Comments: A leap better than the 30yo (though Whisky Jug felt the opposite), I'd get this Grangestone over the older one any day.
Grade Range: C+/B-

3C - Annasach Reserve 25 years old, current, 40%abv
Review: Peated manure, orange oil, and limes in the nose.  Sugar, vanilla, marijuana, cream soda, lots of fresh herbs, and a good bitterness in the palate.
Comments: Fun! This one was so much more lively, complex, and interesting than everything that came before it.  Allegedly there's some old Laphroaig in the mix too.  Wish they'd have bottled it at 43 or 46 percent, though, especially since it's three hundred freaking dollars.
Grade Range: B

PART 4: Two Cuttys and Two vatted malts

4A - Cutty Sark, bottled early '80s, 43%abv
Review: Burnt bread and butter and caramel in the nose.  Bitter herbs, milk chocolate, and caramel in the palate.
Comments: In my humble opinion, Cutty continues to be the worst current major blend in existence, all turpentine and disappointment.  Unsurprisingly, Southern California corner liquor stores are lousy with older bottlings of this delight.  The good news is that this '80s version is better than today's, a huge accomplishment.
Grade Range: C-

4B - Cutty 12 year old, bottled '70s, 43%abv
Review: The nose is very herbal, think cardamom and Ceylon cinnamon.  Quite aromatic.  Lots of rich caramel.  The palate is spicy, bright, and mildly sweet.  A light Old Bottle Effect note thoughout.
Comments: Then there's the Cutty 12.  I've actually polished off two bottles of this oldie myself.  This first was so-so.  The second was quite good.  The bottle from this tasting leaned much closer to my second one.  There's even a "yum" written in my notes.
Grade Range: B-/B

4C - Cadenhead Creations Rich Fruity Sherry Blended Malt, current, 46%abv
Review: The nose is all wet matzah and vanilla.  The palate has much more going on with some dirty peat, earth, and a light bitterness.
Comments: Um, I found neither sherry or fruit.  I wasn't the only one with this discovery during the tasting.  In any case I liked the palate but the nose just wasn't happening for me.
Grade Range: C

4D - Glen Turner 12 year old Pure Malt, bottled 1980s, 43%abv
Review: Not much going on in the nose.  Some malt and soap.  Weird milky papery note in the palate.  Cinnamon and bleh.
Comments: I wouldn't call this a mess, just kind of strange.  Some folks at the event liked it.
Grade Range: C-

PART 5: The Creative Whisky Company Blends

5A - Exclusive Blend 21 year old 1991, current, 46%abv
Review: Mothballs, plums, and oranges in the nose.  A dense, spicy, malty, "yummy" palate.
Comments: Much bigger than everything else that preceded it.  It's not complex, but it's a very good drink.  Recommended if you can find it.
Grade Range: B

5B - Exclusive Blended Malt 20 year old 1994, current, 46%abv
Review: Sherry and dark chocolate dominate the nose, followed by subtler savory and peaty notes.  A big loud gooey palate.  Loaded with sherry and dark fruits.
Comments: Winner.  Period.  Recommended.
Grade Range: B+

5C - Exclusive Blend 35 year old 1980, current, 46%abv
Review: A clean, grain dominant nose with moderate notes of flower blossoms, white fruits, and berries.  The palate has a nice combination of perky fruitiness and a sharper earthy note.
Comments: These Exclusive blends really won the day here.  I do prefer the 20yo blended malt, and it's a toss up between the 35yo and 21yo.  The 35yo is subtler, less immediate, but has a good balance to it.
Grade Range: B

PART 6: Ballantine's versus Ballantine's

6A - Ballantine's 12 year old, bottled '80s (that's my guess from what I noted on the bottle, though the folks there said it was from the '70s), 43%abv
Review: The nose is raw, rough, not noticeably whisky.  The palate is awful, all plastic and chemicals.
Comments: I'm going to guess/hope there was a storage problem with the bottle because this was just gross.
Grade Range: F

6B - Ballantine's 17 year old, bottled '50s (yup), 43%abv
Review: The nose is minty with pears and fermented apples.  The palate is very herbal and minerally, with a weird chemical bitterness sneaking in at the end.
Comments: I love the label much more than the stuff in the bottle.  The nose was fine, but the mouth was a bit wacky.  Most very old blends need 30+ minutes to wake up, I gave this one as long as I could (10-15 mins) but it didn't do much.  I like the current 17yo much better.
Grade Range: C

1. Exclusive Blended Malt 20 year old 1994
2. Exclusive Blend 35 year old 1980
3. Exclusive Blend 21 year old 1991
4. Annasach Reserve 25 year old
5. Cutty 12 year old (1970s)

I've long been biased in favor of old blends, so much to my great surprise, the current blends dominated the dusties at this event.  It did help that most of the current ones had some age on them and that the Exclusives were all bottled at 46%abv.  But other than the Cutty 12 and Pinch 12, I wouldn't recommend any of the dusty blends tried here.  It's about time I stop buying dusty blends, no?