Driving south through the lush green hills and valleys of Perth and Kinross and over the Firth of Forth, my GPS took me to a part of greater Edinburgh that I had never seen. My destination was a big industrial complex in Broxburn, which lies to the west of the city and is far from the majestic sights of The Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. I was here to meet John Glass, Ian Macleod’s Master Blender, to taste through some cask samples.
Ian Macleod is a family-owned company whose portfolio includes the beautiful Glengoyne Distillery to the west towards Glasgow, the Tamdhu Distillery further north in the Speyside district, and the legendary and long-shuttered Rosebank Distillery, which they are now refurbishing. The company is also a very well-established blender and has dozens of blended malt and blended Scotch brands to their name; some of the more familiar to us are Smokehead, Isle of Skye, Pig’s Nose, Sheep Dip, and The Six Isles, all of which can be found on our shelves. And then they have brands that you and I have probably never heard of, which they ship off to every corner of the earth from Morocco to Mozambique and from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan and beyond. In fact the company produces and sells a mind-boggling 15 million bottles of spirits every year; it’s a big operation run by a dedicated staff who know the industry inside out.
After a remarkable behind-the scenes tour of the facility (of which I was not permitted to take any photos; while Ian Macleod is an independent company, they have blending and bottling contracts with some of the biggest drinks companies in the world, who like to keep a lid on things, so the best you will get is this picture of me in a funny hat and coat!), it was back to the business of single cask selection. Given that the company is a major Scotch whisky blending house, they have a massive inventory of aging malts from all over Scotland at their disposal. Master Blender John Glass had chosen a wide-ranging selection for me to taste, and it was incredible to taste with one of the best blenders of today’s Scotch industry and view the whisky through his eyes. And there were some wonderful whiskies on the table that day, from young peaty malts from the western isles, to delicate floral malts from the south of the country, to more robust Highlanders.
But there was one that stood head and shoulders above them all: a beautiful, old, heavily sherried whisky that came from another era altogether. I knew as soon as I inhaled its deep, heady aromas and tasted the rich, dark, fruity liquid that this whisky had to come home to Vine & Table, for opportunities to even sample a whisky of this magnitude, let alone buy the cask, do not happen every day.
Resting in my glass was a drop of true liquid history, a whisky from a virtually unknown distillery located in Scotland’s northern Highlands. John revealed that it came from the Teaninich (tea-ni-nick or chee-ni-nick) Distillery, which was founded in 1817 by Captain Hugh Munro, head of a local Highland clan. Like many distilleries at the time, its purpose was to provide malt whisky to the burgeoning blended Scotch market, which it did without much interruption for two centuries. And because its whisky was never bottled as a single malt (apart from a few independent bottles from time to time) it has remained firmly off people’s radar and shrouded in mystery ever since.
Distilled in 1982 and bottled straight from the cask just last week, this 36-year-old ball of malt is everything that a patiently aged old Highland malt should be. It’s a pure, old-style sherry bomb, the likes of which we rarely see these days. The nose is chock-a-block full of dates, figs, raisins, and black licorice, and a touch of charcoal emerge from the glass, revealing more and more as it opens. It is beautifully composed on the palate with notes of sweet malt (Malteser’s), black cherry, rich stewed fruits, and dark chocolate. It’s an incredibly complex whisky both on the nose and on the palate with multiple layers that reveal themselves over time, making for a magical sensory experience.
Our cask was awakened from its long slumber last week and sent to the bottling hall and will soon be on its way across the Atlantic with an expected arrival by mid-November. It has only taken thirty six years to get from cask to bottle, so another few weeks to get to Vine & Table should not be too long! Trust me when I tell you that this is a one-of-a-kind, never to be seen again whisky, and worth every penny. VIP Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo ticket holders will have an opportunity to taste this rare gem!