Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Final Scotch Whisky Holiday Suggestion: Gordon & MacPhail's 'Linkwood 15 years'

Ok, suppose you are sitting on Santa's knee and he asks what you would like for Christmas?  What would you ask for?

I know what would be near the top of my list:  Linkwood 15 years, matured and bottled by independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail.

Never heard of Linkwood?  That's okay.  Linkwood is not exactly a household name.  The distillery does not have a 'visitor' building.  Matter of fact, it is not open to the public.  Why? The answer lies in where we find this malt.  You probably have already drank Linkwood and not known it, as it is a favorite malt of master blenders.  Think White Horse and the Johnnie Walker product line too.  In particular, it turns up in the discontinued Johnnie Walker Green Label.  It is a core malt of that pure malt bottling.

The distillery doesn't help raise its profile either by its habit of releasing little, and selling the vast majority of its output to blenders (in the Diageo stable).  However, Diageo mercifully permits the sale of some of its 'new make' spirit to independent bottlers.

Independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail take the malt and age it in their warehouses and make decisions about how long to age in various wood casks.  The result can be delicious, but generally not well known, because such players in the drinks industry lack the enormous production, marketing and distribution capacity of say a Diageo (who by the way are the owners of the Linkwood distillery).  Nevertheless, these smaller players do make gems and Gordon and MacPhail's Linkwood 15 years Speyside Single Malt  is a prime example.

Nose (undiluted)
Slight and whispy smoke and peat.  Subtle floral notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Lightly smoked with burnt toast and drizzled wild honey.  But that initial taste gracefully yields to bourbon, dark red fruits, raspberries and cherries.

Finish (undiluted)
Nice drying lemon zest, strawberry cakebread and the glowing embers of morning smoke of last night's beach bonfire.

General Impressions
Linkwood 15yrs by Gordon and MacPhail represents all that I enjoy in whisky.  It is light bodied, delicate, fragrant and very floral and of course complex.  This malt leaves you with delicious notes of salt and peppercorns weaved in with the malty and ethereal strawberry.

Do Not Add Water
There is no need for water.  This malt is truly best served neat and would make an excellent introduction for the novice to single malt scotch whisky.

Peer Group?
If you like Johnnie Walker Green Label, Cragganmore 12, Glenfiddich 15 yrs Solera, Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition, Littlemill and Clynelish 14, I think you will be very pleased with Linkwood 15 years.

Independent Bottlers
Independent bottlers like Gordon and MacPhail make a valuable contribution to the consuming public by bringing to market malts that might not otherwise see the light of day.  For example, they currently have bottlings from obscure distilleries like: Aultmore, Balmenach, Caperdonich, Coleburn, Convalmore and many others.

The skill of independent bottlers is their vision to see a modestly aged spirit of a distillery has the potential to become great with the right amount of aging and wood management.  Sometimes the reason other distilleries sell their new make spirit to the likes of Gordon and MacPhail is because they consider it somehow inappropriate for use in their mainstream bottlings.  Their loss is our gain!

Possible Replacement for Johnnie Walker Green Label?
As you know, Green Label is no longer being made.  This Linkwood 15yrs tastes enormously similar.  I would imagine 1/4 teaspoon of Talisker to a double pour would make it almost identical.  Try it!

Holiday Wishes
Happy holidays!  Relax, take it easy, enjoy your family and friends.  Wishing you the best!

Cheers!


Jason Debly

26 comments:

  1. Jason, thank you again for this latest suggestion. Last night I got a gift of The Macallan, fine Oak, 10 yrs old. Looking forward to trying it out.

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    1. Lemme know what you think of it after you have sampled it a bit.

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  2. Jason, A very enjoyable tasting note once again. Linkwood formed the fruity core of the JW Green 15. I enjoy this widely available whiskey regularly, perhaps more often than any other. It works so well in our warm SoCal climate. Releases have been very consistent for the past four years, which suggests some future reliability. Here it's priced around $75 US, roughly $25-plus higher than the JW Green. I'd call this Linkwood a string quartet to the JW Green's larger string section, and as such, very worthy of close attention for its own rewards (without added peat influence). It's been difficult for me to find similar delicacy of texture, complexity of fruit and aroma, nuances of refill sherry cask, all without even a hint of island peat. I guess kinda like it. JK

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    1. Linkwood reminds me of Littlemill. I asked Raith below if he ever had it. How about you? I think it is tremendous and similar to Linkwood.

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    2. Jason, Hmmm. I've tasted from three Littlemill bottlings only, Malts of Scotland releases all. Those seemed quite unlike Linkwood in general, and they didn't call to me much like the Linkwood G&M bottlings have for me. Those Littlemill examples were a bit chunky in terms of vanillan, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice wood effects. Current Littlemill prices for aged bottlings are pretty steep for another troll in that pond, for me, and the younger bottlings tilted too far to the sourly style to summon the courage again. JK

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  3. Gordon & MacPhail do a tremendous job; easily one of my highlights of 2012 was visiting their original store in Elgin. A fine selection of malts on display and I could have easily spent a small fortune.

    There seems to be a real upsurge in quality 3rd party/indie bottlings currently. New ventures and new finishes, its hard to keep up. Linkwood can be hit or miss as you rightly say its down to the bottler in most cases. Looks like this is a good one!

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    1. Raith,

      Have you ever had any Littlemill? Unfortunately as you probably know, the distillery has been mothballed, but there are a few bottles available by independent bottlers. What little I have tried was amazing. Just wanted to know what you thought of it.

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  4. There are some truly bad bottles of Littlemill but some of the recent bottlings show greater promise. It's a much derided distillery lacking consistency, quite often you are taking a chance with Littlemill. For one of the silent distilleries its well represented even today.

    I do have a bottle of Littlemill in the house bottled by whisky broker earlier this year. A 21 year old, nothing special but an enjoyable slice of whisky history.

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    1. I had a very nice taste of a mere 12 year old Littlemill in Manhattan this summer, and I really found it to be excellent.

      Unfortunately, all that I can locate lately is very expensive. Mind you that has not deterred me in the past, so maybe at some point I will pull the trigger.

      Wishing you the best during the holidays! Thanks for commenting. I always enjoy your insights.

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    2. Well, if there is a 3rd party bottling just let me know. I have such great access where I live. The last 3rd party release I picked up was the Master of Malt single cask Ardbeg 18 year old, which sold out in a couple of hours. Next time I'm down at Bladnoch I have a Deanston 19yr old set aside, which is meant to be sweet but wonderful. Really enjoyed my recent trip to that distillery.

      Hopefully the holidays are good to us all! I know I have a whisky tasting set featuring several silent distilleries, so it should be a great experience. Keep up the good work on this blog!

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  5. Jason, I just tasted the Dark Horse Whisky you recommended. I am sold!
    I will never doubt your impeccable taste and savoir again. Thank you for this discovery.

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  6. Hi Jason, this Linkwood is not bad at all but a bit one-dimensional in my opinion. I would like to wish you and the family a Merry Merry Christmas!
    Saude!
    Jan

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  7. Have you tried Muirhead's Silver Seal?

    I just recieved some as a gift and can not find a single review.


    -pointto

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    1. No I have not. Lemme know what you think of it, if it is good.

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  8. Your note about a replacement for Green Label made me wonder how we can make our own. Don't we also have to add some Cragganmore and Caol Ila? Anyone have ideas on the recipe with proportions?

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    1. I am afraid to mix too many single malts as the result may be a waste of great scotch.

      Cragganmore or Linkwood with the addition of a pinch (teaspoon?) of Caol Ila though may make for a great malt.

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    2. My understanding is that Green Label is made from only 4 malts: Linkwood, Cragganmore, Caol Ila, and Talisker. This is what makes (or made) it unique in the JW line. Not sure of the amount of each, though. I guess we'll have to stock up and only have memories of it when it's gone.

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  9. Jason, Our whiskey group gave up the JW Green home blend chase, which was fun for a while, but both expensive and ultimately never got us to the place we wished it to be. We went the cheaper route: we loaded up on the real stuff. We used up 15y plus versions of Cragganmore, Linkwood, Glen Elgin, Dailuane, Talisker, Caol Ila peated, Caol Ila unpeated, and (yes) Glen Grant all at once became, well, daunting in the midterm. Some of the more minor components we never identified well.

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    1. Ok, so you have all those wonderful malts. Now the question is whether you dare experiment to create your own vatted malt that is like Green or maybe something even more delightful?

      Inquiring minds want to know.

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    2. Jason, Exactly so. I love to putter around with combos, do so regularly. I can also admit when a terrific target like the Green flummoxes my blending skills completely. For example, I'm personally read that the Green contains both Clynelish and Dalwhinnie as well, but every time I added them, they took the batch in an unrecognizable direction. Diageo has more barrels than I bottles ! JK

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    3. Tonight, I added maybe half a teaspoon of Laphroaig 10 to a double pour of Linkwood and I really liked the result. The Laphroaig is so powerful and the Linkwood so gentle that I used less in a second dram and it was even more pleasant.

      Vatting ones own drinks can be a lot of fun. For me it is instinctual as what goes with what.

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  10. I recently did the Master Blender tour at Glengoyne which was great fun. The blend started with 60% grain (either North British or Invergordon, your choice) and from there you could select single malts from across Scotland to make up the remainder of your 100ml creation. That's probably how I'd approach making up your own blend at home now.

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  11. Very late to the party here buy hopefully someone can advise. This goes for a little over 100 in Eastern Canada, if you can even find it... Is there anything in the under 80 price range anyone can recommend that resembles this? Im speficially looking for a replacement for the ORIGINAL JW Green label. Clyenlish cannot be found and Oban and Scapa are both even more expensive... Talisker seems to have dropped in quality as of late, (seems a little more watered down imo). Any suggestions?

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