Imperial is/was a Speyside distillery that seems to have spent more time being closed than open. Malt Madness has a sketch of its checkered history. Most recently it was closed in 1998. There were rumours for a while that it might reopen but the buildings were completely demolished this year. There will apparently be a new distillery constructed on the site–and it will likely bear the same name–but I am not sure if the stills etc. will be from the old distillery. If not, it may literally be a case of the distillery reopening in name only.
In recent years I’ve seen a few signs of some whisky geeks trying to make a case for Imperial as a hidden gem. My (admittedly limited) experience with the malt would suggest there is something quixotic about this. But who knows, it is entirely possible that if casks of Imperial sit undisturbed for another 20 years it too might emerge as another Caperdonich or Port Ellen.
Imperial 15, 1995 (57.4%, Signatory for Binny’s, Hogshead #50314; from my own bottle)
Nose: Apples everywhere before I even put the bottle down after pouring: tart apples, fresh-pressed apple juice, apple cider. Quite a lot of acidity too (champagne vinegar) and some salt. There’s a malty-biscuity note under the fruit/acid and also a hint of something musky: melon? I wonder if water will draw these notes out. A little bit of white pepper too. The apples disappear with time. Water does draw out some musky/malty notes but it’s still rather bright and sharp.
Palate: Thick mouthfeel. Malty sweetness first and then indistinct acidicity. Rather hot and closed at full strength. I’ll give it some time but I think this needs water for sure. Yes, it doesn’t open up in the glass by itself. Well, a few drops of water make it more approachable for sure but I don’t know that it makes it more interesting. Where are those apples that were on the nose? Okay, with a little more time the acidity becomes more distinct (lime) and there’s also some sweetness. And with more time, and a touch more water the acidity recedes and there’s a mellower limey quality that’s quite nie.
Finish: Acidic heat and salt. With water and time the finish mellows too but there’s no interesting development.
Comments: I had a rather nice Imperial 15, 1995 from Van Wees last year that was at 46%. I don’t have notes but I have a higher score recorded for that one. It may be that this needs just the right amount of water. I don’t think I added enough on my first go-around, and it got better with a little more on the second. It’s a freshly opened bottle too, and may change with time. I’ll revisit the review if it develops any new qualities, but on the first couple of pours it’s just a middling malt, I’m afraid.
Rating: 83 points.