People assume that those of us privileged to work in the drinks trade spend our working hours constantly swigging free cocktails at trendy nitespots, before going home with supermodels, and only emerging from our dens of iniquity at two in the afternoon to sign the delivery forms for the next heaving batch of free samples to arrive at our luxury Kensington maisonettes. Meh.The truth, of course, is rather more mundane, and it’s a fact that working in the drinks industry is often a thankless slog with a routine procession of prosaic tasks and a mountain of irritating or idiotic emails to wade through, just like most other jobs. But it’s also a fact that the fringe benefits are, just occasionally, pretty amazing. And today is one of those days, as I’ve been allowed, in the interests of your vicarious pleasure, to wade into the collection of legendary malts Sukhinder keeps in his office.
Pride of Strathspey 1938
A bit of background required here first: Between the 1950s and 1980s, Gordon & Macphail were the de facto official bottler for Macallan, bottling countless expressions under license for sale both in the UK and for various markets abroad, particularly for Italian importers and agencies. During this time they were able to build up a huge stock of their own Macallan casks for future bottlings, many of which they still own.
However, at some point during the 1980s and early 1990s (hopefully some history buff can fill us in on the exact dates in the comments section), G&M’s license to botttle Macallan was withdrawn for a period of around 10-15 years and they were forbidden to use the distillery name on their bottlings. Undeterred, the company continued to bottle malts from the distillery under a variety of labels. One of these was Pride of Strathspey. All of which means that what I’m about to try is a Macallan 1938, bottled at probably around 40-50 years old. Nice.
What’s also nice is that this expression currently costs approximately a tenth of what the Fine & Rare official bottlings from the same vintage go for. You’re still talking about a grand, which is more than 99.9% of us could ever spend on a bottle, and it doesn’t look so fancy, but if ever a grand could be considered good value, this would be it. Particularly if you try and work out where the stock for all those F&R bottles might have come from.
Nose: Oh Lordy. Ginger snaps, dried autumn leaves, mixed peel, icing sugar, rich marmalade, barley sugar. A faint wisp of smoke in the background. Somehow elegant and pungent at the same time. Raspberry and damson jam, developing hawthorn, faint hazelnuts and exotic fruit: tinned peaches, strawberries, pineapple syrup, fresh mango (perhaps these latter from bottle ageing?) shortbread, golden syrup, oatcakes, honeyed flapjacks… [Editor's note - at this point Serge's Anti-Maltoporn Brigade interrupted proceedings to administer a healthy slap]
Palate: Medium-weight, with a very elegant delicacy. The oak is strong here, binding the nuts, sweetness, marmalade, fruit and bakery notes together, with cooked apple, balsamico, grapefruit and even sherry trifle flavours getting a look-in. This bottle is slightly oxidised as it’s been open a while, but the flavours are still intense, and truly beautiful. More assertive pepper than I expected, with delicious notes of polished wood and old bookshops.
Finish: Not particularly long, as is to be expected with a whisky of this strength and antiquity, but spectacularly pretty nonetheless. My tastebuds are tingling.
Comment: A privilege. Truly a glorious old whisky, in fact it’s easy to see that it was glories such as these on which the Macallan legend was founded. One can only imagine what it must have been like at cask strength, or even 46%. Yet this fabulous whisky has a true grace and drinkability at 40%. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.