After a week off, here is the latest installment in my slow-motion series of reviews of old blends (blends released a long time ago, that is). (I have previously reviewed a Dewar’s White Label from the 1940s/1950s, a Hudson’s Bay “Best Procurable” from the 1950s, and a King George IV from the 1940s/1950s.) This is a Haig & Haig 12 yo that was released sometime in the 1940s. It is a 12 yo, and I think it may have been an US release. I assume its marketing back in the day included David Beckham’s old timey equivalent. I know very little about these old blends so can’t really shed any light on the subject of the importers of these whiskies back in that era or what the market as a whole was like. Frankly, I’m not even sure how people date these old blends to particular decades, but I do trust the source of this bottle split (who is also the source of all the other old blends I have reviewed, and will be reviewing in this series).
Haig & Haig 12 (43.4%; 1940s release; from a bottle split)
Nose: Malty, mildly rubbery, farmy. Some dried orange peel emerges after a bit. The malt moves more and more in the direction of malt biscuits as it sits and gets more intense. Water pushes the rubber back a bit.
Palate: Surprisingly smoky (soot, coal smoke), getting tarrier as I swallow; some pepper too. Very nice texture at 43.4%. With more time the malt and mild rubber from the nose make it into the palate as well and work quite well with the smoke. 40 minutes later, the rubber has gotten a little plasticky and there’s a vegetal bitterness now. Less of the rubber/plastic and less astringent here too with water.
Finish: Long. The smoke slowly fades out.
Comments: This started out very well but took a bit too much of a plasticky/vegetal turn for my liking. Still, far superior to most contemporary blends—though I’d probably take current Johnnie Walker Black over it. I’m really struck by how thick the texture of most of these old blends is at lower strengths. I have to imagine it had to do with different distillation methods in that era.
Rating: 83 points.
Distillation will play a part, with direct firing of stills being an obvious way to add brawn to a spirit. Also vital is the malt to grain proportions, doubtless much higher than is found today, but also and perhaps most crucially, filtration. I don’t know a lot about practices of the 1940s, but today’s filtration systems do a pretty effective job of removing all fatty acids, oils, proteins and various other more interesting compounds which might lend something to mouthfeel. Maybe technology was less intensive back then, or perhaps the average blend drinker during WWII cared slightly less about cloudy whisky.