The end of the year is a good time to do things for the first time. This is apparently my first Strathisla review. I could have sworn I’d already reviewed the official 12 yo but apparently not: I guess I finished my bottle before I started the blog. I should have a large reference sample stashed somewhere, however, so you can expect that review in the new year. In the meantime please excuse the obnoxious fact that my first review of a Strathisla is that of a 25 year old iteration.
Strathisla is one of those distilleries known for a somewhat unremarkable, young official release (the aforementioned 12 yo) and highly celebrated older whiskies from sherry casks. Most of these are independent releases and some of the most famous ones are Gordon & MacPhail’s licensed bottlings from the 1960s and early 1970s. I don’t have any of those lined up but next month I should have a review of the more easily found G&M Strathisla 25—the one without a vintage statement. This one is from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and is from a refill bourbon barrel.
Strathisla 25, 1989 (56.1%; SMWS 58.15; refill bourbon barrel; from a bottle-split)
Nose: Honey, wood glue, orange peel, honeycomb, toffee and a bit of light maple syrup. All of the above as it sits, but more intense. A little metallic note develops with time and air in the glass. Water knocks that metallic thing back and pulls out a creamier note along with some apricot and then some teasing hints of muskier fruit (fried plantain maybe?).
Palate: Very much as indicated by the nose but sweeter at the start; the citrus is brighter too—somewhere between lemon and orange. The citrus gets more acidic as it goes and the wood spice starts emerging earlier, giving it some tannic grip. With more time there’s some bright apricot jam to go along with the citrus. With a lot more time it’s really quite syrupy but there’s also a note of roasted malt along the edges. Unfortunately, that metallic note shows up here too. And, also unfortunately, water doesn’t seem to get rid of it here and nor does it bring out muskier fruit. It does intensify everything that was there before though.
Finish: Long. The sweetness gets a peppery edge and then the wood spice finally emerges giving it a slightly astringent counterpoint (a good thing). Longer and more syrupy with water.
Comments: A lovely nose; on the palate it seemed like dessert in a glass at first, almost cloyingly so, but then the wood put a nice frame around it. Very nice, and quite reminiscent in some ways of older Longmorns from an earlier era; with more of a tropical fruit turn this would be in that league. Just that metallic note keeping it out of the 90s as it is; it might just be my palate tonight—I have half this (large) sample saved and will revisit again soon.
Rating: 89 points.
Thanks again to Andrew for setting this up.