Is there any point in reviewing a whisky bottled and shipped in 2004 and only recently found all dusty and alone in a liquor store 10 years later? I often wonder about this kind of thing when I see reviews of a whisky of which only 30 bottles were ever released (Wow! Murray gave it 96 points!), or reviews of some $16,000 50 year old Glenfiddich. Really? Are you gloating? Boasting? I suppose not all reviews are buying guides, but, still…
On the other hand, when I opened this dusty bottle of Bladnoch and realized how good it is, I found another bottle within days. And a quick look online has uncovered other bottles of this dazzling juice in other states that are still available for sale.
And there’s something else… Since early on in life, starting when I was maybe 13 years old, I’ve been fond of books (my Mom was a librarian), and I always loved the search, the quest. I would read one book and find, in the notes or the bibliography, another book, or several books, on the same or a related subject that I would then set out to find. Once I had my driver’s license, crawling along the shelves of old used bookstores quickly became my calling, and, though I seldom found the books on my list, I would find other books and read those books and those books would send me off searching for yet more books. It was a satisfying, purposeful cycle to lose oneself in. A smiling Ouroboros. I’ve crossed many a state line in search of some obscure monograph (and, later, for old vinyl jazz LPs, but that’s another story altogether), and this whisky quest is similar.
The internet has robbed us of a mode of thinking that justified devoting days and weeks and endless miles in search of an old commentary on the Song of Songs or a few original Saturn pressings of the one and only Sun Ra.
And yet, though used record stores and books shops are now few and far between, there are many old liquor stores just waiting out there, some in plain sight, some off the beaten path, and the dust on the shoulders of the bottles one will sometimes find in such places is the same compelling, provocative dust that once settled on those books and long playing records so many years and decades ago. And with good whisky, as with good music and good books, it’s not just the quest, the love of the hunt, that keeps us going – it’s the potential rewards and wonders inhering in those things we find…
One rarely sees independent bottlings from McGibbons Provenance in my neck of the woods. I was happy to find this one and even happier when I saw it contained a thirteen year old Bladnoch, a Lowland distillery I knew of but had never seen nor tasted before. This particular juice was distilled in 1991, just two years before United Distillers closed and decommissioned the distillery, which did not go back into production (under the management of Irishmen Raymond and Colin Armstrong) until the year 2000. Alas, just a few weeks ago, the distillery was closed and liquidators called in. If you’re looking to buy a Scotch distillery, you could do far worse than Bladnoch, the southernmost whisky maker in Scotland with beautiful buildings, dunnage warehouses, well-kept grounds and a visitors’ center, all about a mile outside the village of Wigtown, which, incidentally, has 30 active bookstores (with more than 250,000 books altogether, or about 250 books per Wigtown resident) and is known as ‘Scotland’s Book Town’. I’m not sure if there are any used record stores there…
In color, this dram falls somewhere between sunlight in a wheat field and petroleum jelly. Pleasant enough, but it doesn’t exactly glow like some Nectar of Apollo. It doesn’t have to, of course. Untinted by the evil E150 and un-chillfiltered, it looks just a bit hazy after adding a few drops of spring water. A very good sign. And though it is not bottled at cask strength but rather at 46%, rolling it in the glass leads to an even coating that soon dissolves into dozens of thin but alluring legs. (8/10)
The nose on this is glorious! Sweet, fresh malt, a pure nectar-like sugariness that carries all kinds of floral scents with it. Imagine a gourmet pear jellybean – that’s in there. And fresh blueberries? Fresh blackberries? Celery, crushed celery seed, on a fresh, buttery pastry. Surprisingly, I’m also getting dried basil and caraway (really, I went to my spice rack to be sure). Also some nougat and something lightly chocolaty, like a sweetened chocolate powder. First I thought lemon, then I thought meringue, then I remembered the pastry and thought lemon meringue pie! There’s also a hint of oak spice and a whisper of cereal – Rice Krispies, in fact. Finally, though it is among the first things I smelled, there is something my dear whisky friend Marco didn’t get at all when he and I shared a dram of this soon after I found it: Grain whisky. Just a wisp, but, more specifically, something vaguely reminiscent of the wonderful Nikka Coffey Grain whisky. This is not a detriment whatsoever. Not at all. There is a nearly perfect nose on this elixir of light. (19/20)
Malty sugars cascade over the tongue, making for a wonderful entry. There are not-quite-ripe pears and apples but, even more, a suggestion of black currant juice. The dark berries are gone, but there’s another fruit in there, a melon of some sort, almost cantaloupe but something slightly more tart. The spice arrives as ginger with a bit of oaky astringency. And the sweet barley is everywhere, undergirding everything. Though not quite as complex as the nose, every whisky enthusiast I know would take his or her time savoring a dram of this one. (18/20)
Sweet, rounded malt drying fairly quickly to a light lemon-pepper, velvety broth, with ginger and some oaky tannins extending the finish to great lengths – and depths, right down to the chest. And there is still a presence of fruit, unripe apples and that tart melon again. While not this whisky’s strongest feature, the finish does not disappoint. (17/20)
While some aspects of this delectable libation might be more impressive than others (the nose is near perfect, and yet the contrasts to other aspects are slight), the balance in the nose, palate and finish is superb, with every note of sharp spice or astringency matched by a sweet counterpoint of malt sugars and fruit, Lowland floral characteristics balanced by an almost Speyside fruitiness, all carried on a breeze of ginger and oak. Unquestionably, this whisky was tended by a master and matured in a superlative, giving cask. (19/20)
Quality of the Buzz
A delicate, sweet Lowland copita of light would hardly be the conspicuous choice of the brooding philosopher drinking to prune the sharper confrontations from yet another dark night of the soul. Still, the quality of the inebriation here is not all sparkle and sunshine. Yes, there is some energy and easy intelligence in this buzz, but it is also relaxing, calming – pleasurable and even sensual. This doesn’t add a dark, sweltering humidity to one’s thoughts, nor does it incline one to ponderous melancholy nor to improvising half-assed bivouacs in the abyss. I’m not sad, not particularly happy, but I’m at peace, enjoying the texture of the evening as it passes by my consciousness, in a mood to surrender to whatever thoughts and impulses arise as the rain that falls outside my windows gently washes the hours away. (9/10)
Total points for this whisky: 90
Peace with substance…