Two years ago, when I moved to Madrid, I noticed a ceramic decanter of this Glenfiddich 18yo ‘Ancient Reserve’ in a local bar named La Toja. I asked the waiter if I could have some, but he didn’t know the price. Neither did the owner, because it turned out to be on the shelf for about 20 years. The cork broke into a thousand pieces while opening and apparently Spanish waiters solve this by pouring the bottle down the drain until there are no more pieces of cork left… Sacrilege!
Glenfiddich 18 yo ‘Ancient Reserve’ (43%, OB, late 1980’s, black decanter)
Nose: very rounded and gentle. Fruity, with big notes of blood oranges, kind of a malt version of Cointreau. Some banana too. The lightest hint of smoke. Whiffs of heather. Quite simple but very enjoyable. Mouth: malty sweetness, lightly sherried with hints of plums. Caramelized apples with cinnamon. Honey. Very light oak. Still those oranges mixed with vanilla. Finish: not too long but perfectly smooth.
A Glenfiddich that scores with an impressive smoothness rather than complexity. The smokey hints tell you it’s not a modern malt. My brother in law, who shared this dram with me, said “if all whiskies were as gentle and balanced as this Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve, more people would drink whisky”. Well said.
Modern 18yo versions (in the triangular bottle) are said to be a bit flatter and less impressive. If you find an old decanter, be sure to try it. There are several versions of the decanter by the way (green, blue, black), worth around € 130.
This Brora 21y 1977 RM generally gets better reviews than its 1982 RM brother. The two 1972 versions in the Rare Malts collection seem to be the best though (SV scores them 96 and 97 and other MM seem to agree).
Brora 21 yo 1977
(56,9%, Rare Malts 1998)
Nose: it shares a similar profile with the Brora 20 yo 1982, but this one is slightly more exotic with banana and coconut. Some juicy yellow grapes. Quite a few floral hints. It’s less austere with more spices. Wood chips. Hints of heather. No farminess and still relatively low peat levels, but complex. Mouth: very powerful, sweeter than the 1982 version, more honey and vanilla with more oak as well. The same fat, oily mouth-feel. Soft, sweet peat. A salty edge (seaweed). Spices. Lemons. Slightly nutty. Finish: a very similar peppery kick with a slightly woody / salty aftertaste.
In line with the Brora 1982, but slightly more complex and more powerful in all directions (bigger fruitiness, sweeter, more oak, but a more alcoholic character as well). Very rare now and more valuable than the 1982 version. Around € 300 unless you find an occasional bargain.
Johan, who provided my sample (thanks) has tasted a lot of Rare Malts Brora. If you understand Dutch, check out his notes.
According to Ulf Buxrud’s RM website, there were 10 Brora’s in the Rare Malts series and most of them get high scores (although they have different characters). I bought this Brora 1982 on eBay a couple of years ago. At that time, I wasn’t very familiar with the distillery but I really enjoyed it and the level in the bottle quickly lowered.
Together with the Glenury Royal 23 yo 1971 (IWSC Gold Medal 1996), this Brora is one of the few Rare Malts releases that received an award (IWSC 2004 – Best Cask Strength Whisky).
Brora 20 yo 1982 (58,1%, Rare Malts 2003)
Nose: very attractive Highlands style, fruity (peach, apple, lemon), a bit perfumed even but slightly austere at the same time. A few salty notes (sea-air, iodine, oysters). Some smoke and peat but quite subtle and on par with the fruitiness. Hints of shoe polish and paraffin. Some leather. Very balanced, you can just sip this and enjoy or really get into it and unwind its complexity. Mouth: malty and spicy, with a firm kick at cask strength and an oily texture. Bittersweet with a touch of vanilla. Lightly peated again. Tobacco and dark chocolate as well (sweeter than other Brora). Finish: rather long and warm, slightly peppery, drying and smokey.
Certainly different from the 1970’s Brora style. I miss the farmy notes and the peat is quite subtle, but overall the 1982 still has a very nice coastal profile. What a shame my bottle is going to be finished soon. Quite rare now. Expect to pay around € 200 for a bottle.
This Glenury Royal 1971 was part of the first Rare Malts releases in 1995. Two other bottlings would follow. In recent years, mostly spectacular versions have been released, like a 50 year-old and a couple of 36 year-olds. The distillery was closed in 1983 and later demolished, just like most of its neighbours (Glenesk, Lochside, Nort Port).
Glenury Royal 23 yo 1971
(61,3%, Rare Malts 1995)
Nose: delicately fragrant. Sweet nectar. Apples, pears and Seville oranges followed by spices (cinnamon, hints of ginger, nutmeg). Quite sweet and fruity but there seem to be delicate drops of peat in the background. Good balance with the waxed oak, which is definitely present but not overpowering. Some vanilla. At times it even had a medicinal edge (iodine? menthol?). Complex and quite unique. Mouth: mouth-coating, with even more wood influence now, very warming. Some honey and plenty of jammy fruit. Lots of spices again. Still hints of peat but overall maybe a little less convincing than the nose. Finish: slightly drying (wood you know) with lingering spices (cloves, salt).
A high quality malt with a full, fruity and spicy presence. Very rare. Worth around € 250-300.
Mortlach distillery uses stills of different forms and types, some of which are really uncommon and weird. They were never changed though, because the results were surprisingly good and complex.
Apart from a couple of Rare Malts versions and a 1971 vintage bottled in 2004, there is just one official release, a generally highly regarded 16 year old bottling in the Flora & Fauna range, although that one’s hard to find sometimes since there’s not much 16yo stock available. Most of the production is used for the Johnnie Walker Black label blend, which means it’s uncertain if and when there will be a single malt Mortlach again.
Mortlach 22 yo 1972
(65,3%, Rare Malts 1995, 75cl.)
Nose: interestingly different. Grainy, with hints of freshly baked bread, and very waxy. Something that reminds me of bee pollen. Some flowers. A bit buttery. Mashed potatoes. Yeast. Rather smokey for a Speysider. Complex and very nice. Mouth: rather dry at first. Flowery citrus and lots of nutty flavours. After a few seconds, it suddenly gets sweeter (honey) and a whole lot hotter. Develops on apricot jam, spices (nutmeg, pepper), honey. Great evolution. Finish on caramel and slightly nutty, smokey notes. Again quite grainy.
A good one. Certainly not the sherry bomb we now from the Fauna & Flora release. Multi-layered and very warming. Currently worth around € 350.
This Banff 21y is the only official expression, as far as I know, before the distillery was demolished in 1983.
Banff 21y 1982 (51,7%, RM 2004)
Nose: clean and nutty, with notes of citrus and new oak. Something of dry straw as well. Overall quite acid and a bit metallic, but this is better when it warms up. Mouth: agressive attack, quite alcoholic and sharp. Starts on oranges and malt. Vanilla notes. Develops some really interesting notes of cape gooseberries (physalis fruit), too bad they fade quickly. Finish on marmelade, becoming more bitter, with some walnuts in the end. Light smoke in the background. Too bitter in the end, starts to taste like aspirin…
Well, it’s not a bad whisky, but it isn’t the most balanced either. It shows more or less the same flaws as the previously reviewed Banff 25y 1980 by Duncan Taylor. We’re convinced this distillery made much better stuff. For example, the absolutely stunning Banff 36y 1971 which was released by Douglas Laing in 2007.
Do I really need to introduce the Rare Malts Selection?
It was launched by Diageo (named United Distillers at that time) in 1995 for Tax Free markets but later on, it became available through regular retail shops as well. The aim of the collection was to present rather uncommon single malts. All of the bottlings had to be of high quality but also had to represent a typical distillery style.
The Rare Malts were not single casks, but small batches with a yield between 2000 and 6000 bottles (occasionally up to 12.000). Releases may have occurred at different times in different markets, sometimes also with a different alcohol volume. It’s difficult to say how many Rare Malts bottlings there are, but it should be somewhere between 100 and 125. Nowadays, most of them are true collector’s items. Check out Ulf Buxrud’s website for detailed information.
The Rare Malts series was discontinued in 2005. Over the next ten days, I’ll review a bunch of Rare Malts: Banff, Mortlach, Glenury Royal, Brora…