Here is a review of the only bottle of very old whisky I have ever owned and very likely will ever own. By “very old” I don’t mean length of maturation but era of distillation. As per people who know far more than me about this sort of thing, this bottle of White Horse was released sometime between the mid-1950s and very early 1960s and probably in the late 1950s. I don’t know how this provenance is established and am only very slightly interested. In the EU bottles like this one circulate regularly–or did anyhow—at auction. How did I come into possession of this bottle, living in the US? Well, about five years ago a friend visiting in Israel emailed me saying he’d come across this bottle at his in-laws’ home and asking if it might be worth anything at auction. I made some inquiries and told him what the likely range of prices might be. It then transpired that in transporting the bottle from Israel to Berlin—his next stop—there had been some leakage resulting in the label coming a bit loose. All of this, I advised him, would probably drive the auction price down. His own interest in pursuing the auction market had dimmed at this point and he ended up offering it to me at the low end of the auction prices I’d initially given him—with a further discount once even more of the whisky leaked on its way to the US in his suitcase. I then wrapped the the spring cap up tightly and, as is my wont, forgot about it for a few years. I think the initial plan had been to save it for an unspecified special occasion. As I’ve noted before, during the pandemic I revised my definition of “special occasions” to now include almost any given day. And so about two months ago I decided to open it to mark the end of term. Here now are my notes.
The label does not note volume or abv, by the way. I expect the latter was either 40% or 43%. And it looks like a standard 700 ml bottle.
White Horse, 1950s Release (?%; from own bottle)
Nose: Mineral peat, copper coins, paper, a touch of brine. Behind these austere notes float some fruit (lemon, hints of something sweeter). No real change here to note with time. Let’s see what water does. It pushes the peat and copper coins back and brings out more of the lemon (not that this becomes lemony); a bit of dried orange peel too now.
Palate: More peat here—and there’s more char here than mineral notes—but otherwise as indicated by the nose. Very nice texture, even after all these years, at whatever low strength this was bottled at. The char expands with every sip: not exactly charcoal; instead closer to carbon paper (do young people know what carbon paper is?). With water there’s more acid here as well and it blends nicely with the char.
Finish: Medium. Quite a bit of char. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Well, I would love to say that this blew me away completely but it didn’t. It is very good whisky though—even after whatever length of time it’s been sitting in the bottle—with excellent texture and depth of flavour at what must be a fairly low abv. This latter it has in common with a number of the older blends I’ve reviewed—clearly production processes of the time resulted in whiskies with richer texture. The blends of the period also clearly had much more malt whisky in them than your current average blend. In the case of this White Horse that malt whisky—and source of the still very palpable smoke—was doubtless Lagavulin. As I will never get to drink a Lagavulin from this era or even a decade or two later, this is as close to that experience as I will come as well.
Rating: 87 points
I had a 1960s White Horse that I opened last year , and did a side-by-side with a modern day Lag16. I thought the modern day one was peatier, while the White Horse was a tad sweeter. I’m not sure if the older one was less peaty because that’s what people preferred then, or if the peat simply lessened in strength over time sitting in the bottle.
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