Single malt whisky - tasting notes

14 Sep 2011

Whisky Round Table

Tasting notes by Ruben Luyten - Posted in * News

Whisky Round Table - september 2011I’m hosting the September edition of the Whisky Round Table. Here’s what I asked my fellow Knights:

If you could reopen a mothballed or demolished distillery, which one would it be and why?



Neil + Joel (Cask Strength)

Brand new Roseisle distilleryOur answer is that we wouldn’t. For the simple fact that no matter what you did it would always be different to the original and in the large majority of cases, always deemed as inferior. No amount of money could buy you back Brora, Port Ellen or Rosebank, so why bother!
The scenario is like a band reforming, after their catalogue of albums has suddenly become revered. Yes, technically they’re all there on stage (with the exception of the dead drummer) but something isn’t quite right – the singer isn’t as exciting as he used to be, with a lot less hair and more wrinkles- and the fans know it deep down. The zeal of the original can never be repeated or surpassed. Time to move on folks.
Could we use the money to open a brand new distillery instead?


Chris (Nonjatta)

Karuizawa distilleryI would restart the Karuizawa distillery in Nagano Prefecture, Japan.

I just found out that Karuizawa had sold all of its inventory to the No. 1 Drinks company in the U.K (via a middle man). While delighted that a responsible and creative company like No. 1 Drinks got it, the news effectively confirmed what all Japanese whisky watchers had suspected in the back of their minds for months/years: the Kirin conglomerate has abandoned Karuizawa, one of the most historically significant of Japan’s distilleries. Of course, Kirin have a much better idea than I do about the real state of Karuizawa and its stills. No doubt their decision to concentrate on their much more modern, large-capacity distillery at Fuji-Gotemba makes good sense from a business point of view, but the abandonment of Karuizawa, based in an area which is renowned for its beauty, is a great pity. Karuizawa has produced some really special malts and has a better international single malt reputation than Fuji-Gotemba. It would make an ideal small-scale distillery if only I had the first clue about making whisky.


Joshua (Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society)

Glenugie distilleryI think that many people/whisky lovers would love to see Port Ellen rebuilt as resume operations.  Perhaps that’s the most obvious of choices.  Being the type of person who always tries to go against the grain and root for the underdog, I’d say my choice is Glenugie.

I’m guessing there are a lot of people out there who never even heard of Glenugie.  Glenugie was a Highland distillery, originally built in 1831, that has gone through many different hands; has been through many silent periods; and was part of the large group of distillery shut downs in 1983.

So, why Glenugie?  Quality of taste and character.  Truth be told, I’ve only had 4 or five Glenugies and only officially reviewed just one of them (an Old Malt Cask bottling which can be found here).  Of those 4 to 5 expressions I’ve tastes, each one of them was wonderful – from start to finish.  Sadly, it’s tough to find a bottle for less than $150 (but $225 – $1600 is more like it).  Soon, every drop will be drunk.  Or worse, stuck on someone’s whisky collection shelf never to be enjoyed…


Keith Wood (Whisky-Emporium)

Convalmore distilleryRe-open a mothballed or demolished distillery? Oh dear, what choices I have, can I really only reopen the one?

Well, one of the first to come to mind would be Glen Mhor. I mean who the hell wants yet another bloomin’ Curry’s electrical store?

I have to say that I haven’t been overly impressed with some of the younger expressions of Glen Mhor that I’ve tried, but when it comes to older ones, say around 25 years old or more, they have been absolutely stunning. If only the distillery had continued to produce and stash away more of that wonderful spirit until a ripe old age.

Oh, hang on a minute; what about Banff, Brora, Caperdonich, Convalmore … ahh yes, Convalmore, wonderful whisky or at least the ones I’ve tried have been. There again, the thought of some really grand old Hillside or Glenesk makes the mouth water too. Millburn, how could I possibly continue to survive without ample supplies of this one? Don’t mention Port Ellen, I said don’t mention it …..

So many possibilities, especially as I have great soft spots for the ones I’ve mentioned, so can I really only choose the one? Well, my final shortlist would probably comprise Glen Mhor, Millburn, Convalmore & Brora.

Time machineNah, wait a minute, I’ve a better idea; I’ll take a substantial lottery win and a time machine set to sometime in the 1960’s which should allow me to buy a large number of casks from the right distilleries at decent prices, then fast forward back to today and have all the supplies I need.



Gal (WhiskyIsrael)

Port Ellen distilleryI think I’m not going to be very original in my response. The one I’m choosing probably is going to be very popular, and you guessed it: Port Ellen. Why?

First, Its an Islay distillery, and i think there are not enough of those (ok,you may disagree) but something is magical about that island. And as a peat loving malt drinker, i would love to see PE release new bottlings.

Second, I tasted only a few drams of PE, and those i did were wonderful. I hate to think that in a few year’s time it will be so expensive, and the casks will be to oaky, or too weak in ABV% to bottle them as whisky. We must allow future generations to taste the wonderful PE profile, and i would love my kids to be able to afford some. currently by the time my wee boy is 18, no way he will be able to afford a wee dram of that nectar.


Karen (Whisky for Everyone)

Littlemill distilleryWith an official founding date in 1772, Littlemill would be one of the three oldest distilleries in Scotland. The distillery ceased production in 1992 and was then destroyed by fire in 2004. The distillery featured a unique still set-up that combined pot and column still elements; copper pot stills cladded in aluminium and fitted with rectifying columns instead of the customary swan-necks.

After being surprised by the 12 year old (currently the only distillery bottling available) with its delicate, gentle, sweet and malty notes, Karen really fell for the well-worn soft notes in the classic Lowlands style and this inspired her to try the likes of Bladnoch – a distillery that has benefited from being re-opened.

Up until the early 70s the distillery produced three different malts, the classic lowlands style of the current release, a full-bodied lightly peated style and, unusually for a Lowland distillery, a heavily peated style. It is the unique approach to production and house styles that makes us think this is a distillery that would produce some impressive whisky if re-opened.


Matt (Whisky for Everyone)

St. Magdalene distillerySt. Magdalene (or Linlithgow as it is sometimes known) was also one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries when it was closed in 1983. It was founded in 1795 and was located in the town of Linlithgow, which lies between Edinburgh and Stirling. The buildings are still standing but are now converted in to a block of apartments.

The reason for Matt’s choice is simple – being relatively new to the world of single malt whisky he has only ever tried three or four examples of St. Magdalene. Naturally, because of the time passed since its closure these whiskies have all been of significant age and they are getting extremely rare. They have also been some of the finest whiskies he has tasted to date.

Therefore, if re-opened it would give Matt (and other recent converts to whisky) the opportunity to taste some younger versions of St. Magdalene and to see how the whisky develops into the excellent whiskies that you can still occasionally buy/try today. Sadly, it seems we will never get this opportunity.


Ruben (WhiskyNotes)

Thanks fellow Knights for your answers!

Some time ago I already wrote a similar piece for Connosr about the Glenugie distillery, so I won’t cover that one again. Back then I also mentioned Brora, Port Ellen, Caperdonich and St. Magdalene as possible subjects for a similar article.

Just like Neil + Joel and Keith, I wouldn’t re-open a lost distillery per sé. I’m convinced that, when restored, they wouldn’t produce the same type of whisky as they did in their heydays.

Some of the most legendary whiskies were produced by accident, because the still man was drunk and forgot to stick to his instructions for example. Stills were directly fired and controlled by humans. The possibilities for errors (or should we say experimentation) were much bigger than they are in today’s computer-controlled environments. So wanting to re-open a distillery is like claiming we understand exactly what led to all this great whisky. And obviously we don’t, because I’m sure someone would scientifically re-create the profile of Brora or St. Magdalene if they knew how to do it.

In fact you don’t even need a closed or lost distillery. I would like to re-open Ardbeg in the 1970’s, or Longmorn in the 1970’s, or Bowmore in the 1960’s, or Clynelish, or Glen Garioch… In a way all of these are lost distilleries as well. They’re still working but they’ve evolved and we’ll have to wait and see whether they’re able to produce the same jewels as before…

Whisky Round Table Ruben Luyten 2011-09-14
  • MARS

    I was thinking at first about brora but after reflexion it is lochside. With the grain part of the distillery for make some single blend at bird!
    Anyway, I love lochside.

  • Ruben

    Yes, Lochside, another good choice. You’re hoping for more 1981 distillations, right?

  • Mark Dermul

    Interesting read. I must agree with Ruben, Neil and Joel. I don’t want to kick the hornets’ nest here, but I think if distilleries like Port Ellen had NOT been closed, they would not be so revered now. They would be appreciated as good distilleries by most (e.g. like Ardbeg today). I think a more interesting question (well, maybe not) would be: ‘If you could CLOSE a distillery today, which would it be?’ How’s that for opening a can of worms?

  • Ruben

    Hehe you’re right that’s an interesting question but the problem remains… Port Ellen has been closed because short-time maturation (for blenders) was not good enough. Who could have predicted it would be great as a single malt at older ages?

  • kallaskander

    Hi there,

    Glenury Royal.

    As to Littlemill… production ceased 1992/93. Plus 12 years comes out as 2004/05.

    The whisky was not kept in stainless steel. And Glen Cathrine said, they will not bother to make a new label for a malt from a demolished distillery just because it is so much older now.

    At the price they sell it it is a steal.


  • bakerman

    Tough competition!

    Brora was my first thought, but I would go for St. Magdalene. After a ’66 from GM I tried to stock up as much as I could to be safe for the coming years. Also working distilleries have become very much diluted in the lowlands, which may serve as a second argument. However, I believe it will be tricky to convince the flat owners to move…

    Jumping at Marks comment they should close down Glenkinchie – and what about short-time maturation there?!? – and re-open St. Magdalene, Rosebank and Littlemill instead (with the last being probably re-built rather than re-opened….)

    By the way, does anybody know where the St. Magdalene stills have ended up?

  • johnm

    With my main interest being in Irish whiskey, I’d have to say the John’s Lane Distillery (Powers) or the Bow Street Distillery (Jameson). Two powerhouses in world whiskey in their day.

    There are hundreds of malt whisky distilleries, but only one or maybe two pure pot still distilleries.


  • Steffen Bräuner

    IT*S A NO BRAINER : Caperdonich :-)

    and I’ll take my chances on it not being the same any day :-)


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  • Billy Abbott

    I’d have to jump on the Lochside bandwagon (well, agree with the other two people, anyway). I’m only a recent convert but from the 3 or 4 expressions I’ve tried so far I can see why it has a bunch of fans.

    That said, I’m not sure whether I’d want to reopen it or just magically create more stock from The Olden Dayes…



  • Stuart Robson

    If I could re-open a distillery but under the condition that it would be run as it was (close anyhow) in the 60/70’s then it would without question have to be Brora. From the “Pre Brora Broras” (White label E&E Clynelishes etc) there is little doubt that the spirit would be incredible and even alowing for the barley variety/yeast changes etc I can only believe it would still be great. Without the luxury of keeping direct firing, ferment times etc of old then maybe Lochside, everyone must wish the 81 style stuff to be still produced today, it’s a great shame that it will disappear in time.

  • MARS

    Lochside made also incredible stuff in the 60′ but it is more difficult to find and also more expensive.

  • Stuart Robson

    @MARS Absolutely, Truely amazing stuff. I would still choose Brora if we are talking 50/60/70s style make, for it’s sheer individuality if nothing else :-)

  • Peter

    A great question, Ruben, I wish I’d had the time to write a decent reply this month. For me, I’d like to see any of the long closed Cambeltown distillies come back…I love the “style” as well as the history of that region. Ultimately, tho’, I agree with Neil & Joel by way of Thomas Wolfe, “You can’t go home again.”

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  • Bailey

    These are all great answers. Very nice roundtable.

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  • Chef Ari ~ Gemstone Catering

    For this Texan whisky lover, it is a no brainer……Dallas Dhu!

  • cColin Dunn

    For me it would be Cragabus on Islay. Charles Maclean speaks about it in his book Malt Whisky (Page 107)

    Now if I win the lottery…



November 2015
« Oct    

Coming up

  • Lindores 2015 festival bottling
  • Amrut 2009 (cask #2701)
  • Glenlivet 1981 (#9468 for TWE)
  • Lagavulin Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Talisker Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Laphroaig 32 Year Old
  • Glen Grant 65yo 1950 cask #2747 for Wealth Solutions
  • Mortlach 1959/1960 (G&M Royal Wedding)

1930 notes by Ruben

WhiskyNotes - Ruben LuytenThis blog is my personal collection of impressions, written while searching for the ultimate single malt whisky.