Linkwood 23, 1998 (Gordon & MacPhail)

One of the possible themed weeks I might do this month is “Unfancied Speysiders”. Though this review is obviously not part of that week, Linkwood too is an unfancied Speysider. It is one of many Diageo distilleries that, outside of the Flora & Fauna line, don’t get any but the rare official release. And when Diageo does put any older Linkwood out, it’s at a nosebleed price. As such, as with so many such distilleries, if we want to taste more of their output, and if we want to taste reasonably affordable iterations of their older malt, it is to the indie bottlers we must go.

In this case, to the giants of Elgin, Gordon & MacPhail. (Linkwood too is located in Elgin, by the by.) This 23 yo Linkwood was released in Gordon & MacPhail’s refurbished Connoisseurs Choice line. Older whisky drinkers will remember that a decade-plus ago this was G&M’s entry-level label, usually bottled at 40% or 43%, and no one got very excited about it. Of course, even before that many well-regarded older whiskies from the 1960s and 1970s had also been released under this label—usually also at 40%; the obsession with cask strength whisky is a relatively new thing, after all. Anyway, the Connoisseurs Choice label is fancy again, and now at cask strength—which is another way of saying “expensive”. Will this Linkwood, bottled from a refill sherry hogshead, prove to be a good value anyway? Let’s see.

I’m not sure, by the way, if this was a full-term maturation or if it is a Glendronach-style re-racked “single cask“.

Linkwood 23, 1998 (53.3%; refill sherry hogshead 13808; Gordon & MacPhail; from a bottle split)

Nose: Dry, earthy sherry at first but then it’s quickly shot through with first dried orange peel and then some sweeter fruit (pineapple, plum, mixed berries). Continues in this vein: a lovely mix of dry, earthy and sweet. With time, the earthier notes recede and the tart-sweet fruit comes to the front. With a few drops of water the polished oak emerges here as well and the berries beat out the other fruit.

Palate: Comes in with a fair bit of oak in the lead; the fruit seems coiled below. Tastes a bit hot—perhaps because of the oak; rich texture. On the second sip there’s more of the fruit; the citrus is lemon here and it uncoils as it heads to the finish. Continues in this vein but the oak is still quite present. As it sits the oak takes on some polish and begins to meld nicely with the lemon (which is now lemon peel). Okay, let’s see what water does for it. It emphasizes the lemon and the berries and gives the oak a little more bite as well.

Finish: Long. The oak continues here, easing into over-brewed black tea and then a leafy note. Develops as on the palate with the lemon catching up to the oak.

Comments: The sherry seems to have had less to do with this malt’s character than the fact that the cask was a hogshead. That is to say, the oak makes more of an impact on the palate and finish and other than early on the nose, there isn’t very much sign of the sherry. Early on the nose is where I liked it best, though it is a solid whisky in all respects. Those with higher oak tolerances may like it more.

Rating: 86 points.



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