Ledaig is something of a rite of passage for whisky enthusiasts. Its innate spirit character is rarely far from what you’d consider as accessible – or sometimes even normal. To a non-whisky lover, tasting notes of burnt rubber, farmyards, cheese and fruity meats often raise more than an eyebrow. It’s not a bottle I’d ever reach for as an introduction. But, it you are a devotee of Tobermory’s gloriously perverse and idiosyncratic peated spirit, you owe it to yourself to seek out at least one example from what many have considered to be the spirit’s zenith – the early 1970’s.
Tobermory has had a troubled history with numerous periods of silence, including one following Prohibition and the Great Depression which saw it shutter its doors for nearly four decades – the space being used as a power station and food canteen. It was not until 1971 that the distillery reopened under the moniker of Ledaig (the distillery’s original name).
The particularly strange partnership between a Liverpool shipping company and sherry producer Pedro Domecq resulted in a rather curtailed rebirth. Production flowed for just four years before storage issues and a woefully delayed warehouse construction forced the distillery to close (at the loss of 12 jobs) once more, and bankruptcy to be filed for. However, it was during this short period that the distillery would produce some of Ledaig’s most well regarded and sought out bottlings.
Not all 1970’s Ledaig are the same, and you should note that there’s far from an abundance of bottlings available – by my count, a mere 61 different expressions (most of which were bottled by independents) were produced across the whole period of 1972-1975. Indeed, talk to fans of the distillery further and you’ll also find that the quality of the spirit seems to directly track that of the fortunes of the site – the earlier bottlings (particularly those from 1972) being deemed as much more remarkable than those produced towards the end of 1974/75 up until the site's closure once more.
This Ian Macleod Ledaig was distilled back in June of 1973 in a single hogshead (#2800), and left to slumber for 32 years before being bottled for the Chieftain’s Choice series at the end of 2005. 240 bottles were produced at an ABV of 45%. 70’s Ledaig is never cheap, and far from a daily drinker – you’ll pay £850 for this baby from Whisky Exchange.
Nose: Remarkably bright despite being born over 45 years ago – wild honey, lemony polish and ancient orange liqueurs are joined by a profound pungent funk which cloaks together barnyard earthiness and Italian sausages with sage seasoning. A backbone of golden maltiness is supported by a vein of anise and ginger alongside plenty of angelica root. After a period of resting, cinnamon sprinkled rolls push through with a more pronounced ashy peat. Wafting, and somewhat primordial. Reduction introduces minerality with seashells, iron filings and squid ink together with yeasty bread, toast and ever growing maltiness. Deep and multifaceted.
Taste: Oily and fulsome with great weight and mouth cling. Out of the blocks, booming preserved lemons and an abundance of highly polished and lacquered old woods – Chesterfields and bookcases galore. Brine and dirty machine oil follows – greasy, saline, but at the same time restrained enough to not ride roughshod over the austerity taking place. More development – ginger and cinnamon sprinkles apples into surface cleaners and chamois leather. Ever onwards – reduced pan fats, coal dust and ground quartz. Reduction adds bright fruits – peaches, lemons and limes before the mid-palate takes on some musty earthy cellar qualities and sharply polished mahogany. Dilution – yet more fruitiness – apricots, dried mango slices – and yet more ashiness.
Finish: Medium in length and pitching medicinal funk against glorious well aged malts and woods. The cask starting to exert itself with pepperiness and honey eucalyptus lozenges.
This Chieftain’s Choice 1973 Ledaig is nothing short of remarkable. It walks a tightrope of bright fruitiness and aberrant funkiness (though without any rubberiness you might observe in modern bottlings) like a true acrobatic master – exemplifying balance, poise and profound depth from start to finish. It’s quite the shapeshifter, offering distinctive shades and gradations both rested (which its venerableness frankly deserves) and diluted – none of which ever detract away from its confident elegance, nor underlying distillery profile. Outstanding. This is 1970’s funk with real soul.