Unless you possess a money tree, collecting whisky from your birth year can be a bit of a hint and miss exercise. There’ll invariably be a handful of well-regarded and sometimes legendary bottlings – everyone (regardless of when they were born) will be chasing these. So, what’s left is a large swathe of unassuming original and independent bottlings that were simply a product of their time.
These vintage year whiskies are in essence largely the same as the bottlings you’ll see being produced today (unless the distillery in question underwent dramatic changes in production/casking regimes etc) – whilst I’d argue that older blends were of higher quality, my experience to date has not convinced me that as a rule, whisky produced in the past was always of better quality. I’ve collected a fair few examples of these (then) everyday bottlings distilled back in 1978. They’re invariably a stab in the dark.
Today’s 1978 bottlings both come from Aberfeldy distillery. One was produced by Gordon & MacPhail and the other by Cadenhead’s. We’ll be reviewing some exceptional 1978 whiskies this month on The Dramble – today’s are not those.
G&M’s Connoisseur’s Choice was introduced in the late 1960’s and throughout the last 50 years has offered whisky enthusiasts a regular, dependable range of single malt whiskies from a staggering number of different distilleries. The newly relaunched Connoisseur’s Choice range comes not only in smart, redesigned bottles, but also with plenty of pertinent information on label. Travel back in time to the 1970s and 80s and the old style map labels of the Connoisseur’s Choice series presented customers with a lot less detail on what they were consuming. No precise distillation or bottling dates, no indication on the type of cask or its number. Likewise, many bottlings were delivered at 40% as opposed to the higher strength of today’s range.
Our 1978 Connoisseur’s Choice bottling hails from Aberfeldy. It was bottled in 1998, so, depending on distillation and bottling months will either be a 19 or 20 year old single malt. As with much of the range at the time, it’s delivered at 40% ABV.
Nose: Light, verging on shy – resting offered no improvement in expression or definition. Gentle green apples and golden malts are paired with pine needles and straw for a fresh, but rather unassuming nose. In the background, slight yeasty bread and old wallpaper. All-in-all inoffensive, but there’s not much going on here.
Taste: Thin on arrival, but at least more pronounced than on the nose. Apple crumble, steeped black tea and a touch of dusty pineapple (OBE?) all provide interesting flavours, but they’re delivered in a slightly anaemic manner. The development (if one could call it that) is swift and rather hollow – in the mid to back-palate, some banana bread, straw and hay alongside a touch of raw coppery spirit and dried grasses and hay.
Finish: Short to medium, again with spirit rawness. There’s a pleasant sense of dryness with both a sprinkle of pepper and a touch of boot polish.
Unfortunately, there’s just not much going on with this Connoisseur’s Choice 1978 Aberfeldy – Whilst technically without fault, the whole experience is both devoid of complexity and likewise oddly youthful for the time spent in cask. Remarkably forgettable. You can’t win em all.
Another 1978 Aberfeldy - this time a 17 year old from the ever-reliable Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection. Fairly pokey – this is delivered at 57.9% ABV.
Nose: Opening with pronounced florals (daisies, dandelion and cotton sheets), this skirts the line of seeming almost soapy like washing powder. There’s plenty of zingy citrus alongside gentle touches of baked goods – buns and rolls. In the background a slightly odd aroma akin to wet potters clay. Reduced with water, there’s both more sweetness from honey and more sense of weight with creamy custard. However, there’s also a rather bizarre note of Crayola crayons.
Taste: If there was a global lemon shortage in 1978 I now know why –they’re all inside this bottle. I cannot stress enough how tarty citrus this is. The arrival is a wave of lemon juice so strong that it nullifies the ability of the palate to detect and appreciate both the 57.9% ABV and many other flavours. It’s bitingly sharp and quite quite silly. Once the faculties have gotten over this initial shock, there are other nuances to take on board. Pancake batter (laden with sugar, and of course a ton of lemon juice), vanilla and crumbled limestone (again – odd!). The mid palate, bitterness steadily builds, developing into a potent herbal mixture of dried grass and slight menthol. The addition of water results in a strangely wonderful transformation – the arrival is heavily diminished (a good thing), resulting in tinned tropical and stone fruits. But, come the mid-palate, the tsunami of lemons return with vengeance – sharp, tart, and now overly sweetened. Just plain barmy.
Finish: Medium to long with (wait for it…) lemons and moisture sucking dryness.
To say that this Cadenhead’s Aberfeldy is left-field is to almost do the ludicrousness of the experience an injustice. On the positive side, this is certainly spirit-forward and even though there’s some strange outlying aromas and flavours, I don’t find them overly jarring when taken in wider context of the composition of the whisky. However, the level of lemon influence here is completely berserk – it’s utterly unapproachable without dilution and even, there’s no escape from the citrus onslaught. Almost flawed, but perversely fun at the same time.