I purchased this Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla 25 at the same time as this Glen Grant 21. Both used to be familiar sights in better American liquor stores some years ago. As with the Glen Grant, this was bottled by G&M at 40%. It’s quite striking that G&M continue to bottle older vatted whiskies at lower strengths; one would expect that the segment of the market that is willing to pay larger amounts of money for older whisky now wants and expects higher strengths and single casks (or at the very least vintage statements). Of course, they do release many in those formats too. I think I’ve mentioned before my theory that the older whiskies they release at the lower strengths and/or without vintage statements might be vattings intended to rescue casks that have fallen below 40% in their legendary warehouses. Well, even if that’s true, some of the resulting whiskies have been very fine indeed (see this Longmorn 40, for instance).
The Glen Grant 21 fell short of that level: it was very nice on the nose but underpowered on the palate. This Strathisla also fits that description but I liked it more on the whole. I’ve been drinking the bottle down steadily since I purchased it a couple of years ago but took these notes alongside the higher strength, single cask SMWSA Strathisla 25 that I reviewed last month. That one was from a bourbon cask. This is in the more familiar sherried style associated with older Strathislas.
Strathisla 25 (40%; Gordon & MacPhail; from my own bottle)
Nose: Raisins, maple syrup, dark honey, orange peel and just a hint of leather and cola concentrate. Lovely. Gets richer as it sits and the orange peel turns to marmalade mixed with apricot jam. With a few drops of water the leather expands a bit there’s some caramel too now.
Palate: Alas, much too thin on the palate: all the good stuff from the nose is here but it’s way underpowered and the mouthfeel is watery. With more time and air it does pick up and there’s more depth now: orange (peel and juice), brown sugar and raisins are the lead notes with just a hint of mocha at the back end. As sometimes paradoxically happens, water seems to actually improve both the mouthfeel and the depth of flavour. No new notes but it’s not as thin as before.
Finish: Medium. No new development here. The mocha that develops on the palate hangs around the longest and at the very end some oak spice emerges (cinnamon). Gets sweeter as it goes (brown sugar syrup). Longer with water with the brown sugar turning to caramel (think of the top of a flan) and merging with the mocha.
Comments: A lovely nose but underpowered on the palate. Would have been so much better at just 43% or 46%, to say nothing of cask strength. None of this is to say that this is not good: it’s still very good and dangerously drinkable at the strength. If I could get another bottle for the same price I’d probably do it. Oh and despite the fact that this is obviously from sherry casks there’s an obvious family resemblance with the bourbon barrel SMWSA 25 yo (in many ways this is a “darker” version of that one). Now, why in hell don’t we get more exciting OB options from Strathisla?
Rating: 87 points. (Pulled up by the lovely nose.)