When you’re starting to build up a collection of birth year whiskies, there are some ‘go to’ distilleries who regularly bottle vintage years – Glenfarclas’s Family Cask collection seems an obvious (if oft-times expensive) starting point, but likewise other distilleries, such as Balblair, focus solely on vintage-based releases so might provide you with those all-important historic dates. If you were a child of the 70’s, 80’s or even 90’s one distillery which could be worth looking out for is the under-the-radar Knockando.
Whilst nowadays, Knockando feels like one of Diageo’s under marketed line of malts (there’s a full core range of 12-21 years – but I’ve rarely seen these on the shelves or indeed promoted at all), for many years the distillery, somewhat unusually, listed both the distillation and bottling years across all its releases. As such, if dates are important to you, older Knockando’s might be worth hunting out at auction – they’re regularly available - indeed, seven vintage releases (including today’s review bottle) are listed on Scotch Whisky Auctions as I type.
Knockando bottlings cover a huge swathe of potential birth years with their distillation and bottling dates. Whilst arguably not the most exciting of whiskies – remember these are in essence just standard releases of their time – they’re relatively well-priced compared to many other older bottlings. The 1978 Knockando, was the first birth year whisky I purchased (some time ago now!). It was bottled in 1993 and comes at an ABV of 40%.
Nose: Plenty of confectionery – Haribo gummies and Wham chew bars – rather the melting pot of sugary aromas. In amongst the sweetness, tart green apples, orange juice and pineapples (which seem a touch dusty and dunnage-y, so possible some OBE here). Deeper, hints of chocolate covered ginger-snap biscuits, cardboard and wallpaper paste. There’s an underlying grassiness throughout – freshly mowed with cut stems.
Taste: Quite a reasonable mouthfeel for just 40% - there’s a touch of gooey viscosity here. A lot less sweet than the nose suggests – arriving with heathery wild honey and walnuts, this heads quickly in vegetal flavours – mushrooms, ferns, wet leaves and some hints of charred wood. The mid palate unleashes some steely minerality, before prickly pepper and steeped tea sourness (with plenty of tannins) takes over.
Finish: Medium, with milk chocolate, pepper and sour tea.
Knockando 1978 is a bit of a mixed bag. There are joys to be had across all aspects of the experience, but each of them seems diminished in one way or another. The nose, with its combination of candies and fruits comes a cropper with stiffness from dry cardboard – the palate, starts with some refreshing sweetness and interesting ‘green’ flavours, but rapidly descends into the realms of astringent over saturated tea – acerbic and with some very grippy tannins. An easily obtainable birth year whisky, but only an average one alas - the score seems entirely appropriate today.