North British is a grain distillery. There is nothing very remarkable about it (if you would like to feel a little frisson take a look at the image on the top of this page on their site) except that casks of very old whisky distilled at North British in the 1960s have emerged recently, and some of them have been quite competitively priced (compared to very old malt whiskies).
Of all of those, the one I am tasting tonight was perhaps the most remarkable deal. Archives is the name of the label operated by the excellent Whiskybase store in the Netherlands. Menno and CJ, the lads behind Whiskybase (which has been around for a while as the most comprehensive crowd-sourced database of reviews and ratings online; the store opened much later), are whisky drinkers first and foremost, and their bottlings tend to be no-nonsense and exceptional values. In keeping with that let’s keep the preamble short and get right to the notes.
North British 50, 1962 (45.2%, Archives, Hogshead #29; from my own bottle)
Nose: Polished wood, a hint of over-ripe bananas, wood spice, cloves. Quite reminiscent tonight of a lighter, more floral bourbon (Four Roses, say). With time the woody character gets a little more assertive, but not overwhelmingly so. With more time a note of rye develops on the nose.
Palate: Toasted wood, toffee, light caramel; praline maybe. Soft and supple on the palate. A little bit of woody bite emerges late. On the whole, quite elegant but not very complex. With time the palate also gets a little spicier (cinnamon?), and and more bitter as well (just a bit). The initial sweetness gives way later to a sourer note (apricot, maybe).
Finish: Not very long, and not much development.
Comments: Remarkably free of oak influence, despite 50 years in the cask. Almost nothing tannic about this. Alas, also nothing very remarkable about it beyond the fact that it is very drinkable despite being very, very old. This is not to say that I don’t like it; far from it. It’s just that it doesn’t offer anything of its own that you can’t get in much younger whisky–the flavour profile is not a million miles away from that of one of my favoured stand-bys: the Balvenie Single Barrel 15 (and indeed it is not very far away from some middle-aged Glenrothes either–the 1985-2005, for example). It isn’t every day (or year), however, that a very good 50 year old whisky is within the means of middle-class drinkers. I don’t know that this makes me want to seek out more North British, or more old grain whisky generally, but I am glad to have gotten the opportunity to drink a whisky distilled way before I was (and indeed well before almost all of us at the tasting a few months ago where this was one of the star attractions).
Rating: 87 points for intrinsic merit + 2 points for the 50 year old experience = 89 points.