A Few Precious Sips of Kubla Khan: A.D. Rattray’s 34 Year Old Cask Strength Glenlivet 1978 Single Malt Scotch Whisky

IMG_20140522_222233_594The great, too little read Robert Browning, in his poem “Andrea del Sarto” from the collection Dramatis Personae, has the painter speak this line:

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

Something about this single malt, the very small amount I received and the manner in which I received it, calls that line to mind, especially the concept of a reach exceeding its grasp. You sip and savor here of this golden, nigh perfect elixir, in awe of the focused drive behind the long patience exhibited in all those years of attentive maturation. I feel I have exceeded my grasp by taking so much time with so little juice that I have become profoundly smitten with a potion I will likely never see nor taste again. And the attendants to this wondrous water of life, drawn in and mesmerized as I was, no doubt, may have unintentionally allowed this whisky’s reach to exceed, just slightly, its grasp on time. There’s an oakiness in the palate and finish here that suggests this liquid marvel might have been better served if bottled one or two or a few years earlier than it was. But, still, this is exceedingly fine, grand stuff.

I came into possession of a few sips of this long-oaked sunshine thanks to the wondrously generous David Catania of Burke Distributing in Randolph, MA. Invited to his office, which is basically three walls of booze-laden shelves and one wall of illustrations, explanations and calendric prognostications, all pertaining to the spirits industry, I spotted, among many like it, the nearly empty sample bottle of this single malt – labeled simply “Glenlivet 34yr 106.4pf” – and asked about it. “It’s really wonderful,” David said: “Take it, but wait until tonight and take your time to savor it”. After sampling many and sundry spirits, with David enthusiastically elucidating each one’s reason for being there, I did just that – I went home, carefully poured the contents of the sample bottle into a Glencairn glass, arranged my pen and pad, sat back and eagerly took my time…


Oily in the glass. Medium gold in color. Firm, fine malt and a malty sugar sweetness, honeysuckle in a flower patch, vanilla, peach, mango, apricot, strawberries and blueberries in fresh warm cream with some very fine sugar dusted on top, and the dusty sweetness and minty-ness of a pulverized wintergreen Necco Wafer. These, I’m sure, are just the first chapter of the tome this nose has to offer, and yet, with thirty minutes or so elapsed, so little in my glass and my mouth watering in yearning anticipation, I recklessly push on…


Surprisingly powerful with conspicuous oak, an elegant maltiness and candied lemon up front. There is also a pleasing flow of vanilla and wildflower honey blending with malt sugar and nicely balanced but mild floral, fruity, waxy tastes.


The finish is long and warm with pronounced oaky woodiness, wax, thin honey, rose petals, some kind of nut oil (not peanut) and lemon and orange zest for spice.

To offer a confident take on balance and structure would really require more juice in my glass. I will say there was a nice arc from the gloriously multi-faceted nose to the powerfully pleasing palate to the long, warm, satisfying finish, with surprises and new discoveries at each turn. The woody oak, present in the palate and unmistakable on the finish, was not by any means a fatal flaw. If I saw a bottle of this rare potion and had sufficient funds available to me, I would buy it in a heartbeat. The woodiness and waxiness, from what was probably a year or two or three or four of over-maturation, manifests more as curiosity than blemish. Overall, this is a profoundly interesting, quality whisky and I highly recommend it.

Rattray Glenlivet 34
Check out the bottler: http://www.adrattray.com

Many thanks to the generous, very personable and well-informed David Catania of Burke Distributing.

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