The Dark Half.

Taste Review #147 – Linkwood 19 y.o (Darkness – Atom Brands)

As we approach the New Year, memories come back of the years past, of preparing your house for the Hogmanay to come. The lazy Susan would be loaded with peanuts and crisps, the cocktail sticks would be loaded with small pickled onions, cheese, pineapple chunks and perhaps cubed ham. As kids we’d be sent to bed early evening to get ready for being awake late at night. The cans of MacEwans Export and Tennents (with the swimsuited ladies) would be loaded into the fridge and your mum would be frantically baking, so all she would need to do was throw some frozen sausage rolls into the oven when the moment required it.

A festive regular from the 70’s and 80’s (@copmoustache)

The next day usually consisted of a visit to relatives, with the parent the least hungover elected to drive to meet your aunties and uncles, and endure more drinking while you were landed with at best coke and crisps. If you were lucky, the Advocaat and lemonade was shared. Not that it is advisable nowadays to admit that you enjoyed drinking snowballs at New Year parties. Those who know, know.

And such was the Hogmanay process repeated throughout the 1970’s when I was a kid. In a quieter moment, somebody would get maudlin and perhaps come out with something what they think was far reaching and insightful.

Fit’s for ye winna ging past ye.

some twee bollocks.

For those who don’t speak Doric as a native language, that translates to “what is for you, won’t go past you.” It was a favourite of my Scottish Granny to say this, but to be honest I don’t think she had bottles of whisky on her mind when she was saying it. And saying to that to a person who is chasing a bottle that they are unlikely to get isn’t really that helpful, for that person is determined to get it, perhaps at any cost.

By this time the more sensible amongst is should know that whisky chasing isn’t a sport for the mentally healthy. In my view it can quietly be as destructive as many other habits when you consider the anguish of not getting what you want, the obsession in finding it, resulting in you spending a large part of your time online, trawling through retailer websites, obsessively looking at each auction or constantly leaving posts online via whisky social media to find out has anybody got the bottle you desire. Many will find this behaviour pretty disturbing and unhealthy, but I confess that this has been me.

I have a problem.

For those of you who know me or have met me personally, then you may beg to ask “what problem is it this time?” as it could be argued that I exhibit one or two behaviours that may often be classed as, to be succinct, ‘odd’. I personally don’t see anything wrong with having a few eccentricities, which is how I prefer to think of things. I mean, who doesn’t have or need a talking spanner? Let me introduce to you my mate Tommy Threequarters-Inch (to give him his Sunday name). Tommy was introduced to me upon a disastrous project in India this year that was supposed to be only 6 weeks long and became close to 4 times that.

Tommy in India

The initial idea behind Tommy was to feign madness and therefore be removed from the vessel and spend some time at home with loved ones. It’s a risky manoeuvre, as you risked getting painted with the looney brush and never stepping on an offshore vessel again, but seeing as half the people I work with seem mental at times I was prepared to take the risk. And I was off the ship the very next day…


…only due to visa issues, but Tommy was always kept in the back pocket so to speak when things were getting a little too much. Not so much as to get off the boat, but to provide a little light relief amongst the shift. Those who work offshore will understand. It’s not so much madness but just a dark humour. If we didn’t have a laugh, we’d be bashing each other’s heads in. Turns out that actually happened recently.


Tommy rises again. This time in the Congo.

Madness can be described as trying the same thing over and over again, still expecting a different result. While during my career I’ve seen plenty of others do this, on this one occasion when I’ve had the urge to keep on trying to find a Linkwood 19 from the Darkness range, I’ve done my initial searches and given up. I’ve had the odd look online to see if anything similar turns up and did look on a few auction sites, but as I mentioned in my review of the Auchroisk 9 a couple of weeks ago, I knew I’d eventually find something similar. While I think I did with the Auchroisk, it what was to happen next sort of stunned me.

So, let me introduce you to a Scotty’s Drams follower called Billy. A fellow whisky drinker and offshore worker, Billy contacted me to let me know that he had found a Linkwood Darkness bottle I wanted in Germany and could through various means get this to me. This was in March of this year and of course I said that I would be happy to pay what he wanted for it. I did wonder if he’d give change for my first born, but I’d have happily paid in hens teeth – an easier denomination to count out.

Fast-forward to the end of June when both of our schedules met up, and I was able to travel to the east coast of Scotland to pick the bottle up. I could not believe that I had found a holy grail of whisky that I craved. And it didn’t cost me payment in offspring but some good hard cash. Billy and I had a great chat over a coffee, mostly about whisky and collecting. It was great to think that whisky is the thing that can bring likeminded people together. We don’t need to imbibe as much as possible. We don’t need to be drinking the most expensive whisky available. We just need to drink what we enjoy, and know why we are enjoying it.


Linkwood 19 y.o

Region – Speyside Age – 19 y.o Strength – 48.5% Colour – Tawny 1.4 Cask Type – Bourbon / PX Octave finish Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – toffee, coffee, hint of apricots, honey, ginger. Palate – rich toffee, instant coffee, raisins, sultanas, ginger bread and clove. Ginger snaps Finish – Sweet coffee, chocolate, cream, ginger. Medium – long finish.

Conclusions

Was it as good as when I first tasted it in London? No. It wasn’t.

That may come as a surprise, but don’t let me fool you, this was still very very good and I enjoyed it very much. While some people may see £120 for 50cl as expensive (it is), Master Of Malt are selling younger whisky in 50cl bottles for more than this. But it’s the way it makes you feel when you drink it that should be the deciding factor. When I first drunk this dram, it was on a night out and in a place that I was not familiar with, and if being honest, perhaps that coloured my judgement, as I was having a great time. But whilst I still found the same notes that I remembered from before, they weren’t as vivid as I prefer to romanticise about in my mind.

The common sense reaction is to remember that this had been a bar bottle that I first drank a nip from and my bottle hasn’t been open nearly as long. So this one will remain ungassed and we will see how it matures with a little bit of oxidation.

Or perhaps this is just my memory playing tricks on me, or it’s similar to taking statements from accident witnesses: – if you don’t take them quickly, it’s been proven that people often unconsciously embellish their testimony based on what they thought they saw, and other experiences are starting to colour the real version of events. But for me, what it does do is highlight the points I made before in my Auchroisk 9 review, where although I thought these things were very similar, they are in fact quite different if you compare tasting notes. Our memories can’t always be relied on, therefore it is often crazy to chase a bottle, especially the rarer or expensive when something else will give you a similar or cheaper ‘hit’. Only perhaps when we examine in fine detail will we find differences but at that point to be it stops being enjoyable and more of a chore to drink. Just get it down your throat and enjoy responsibly.

To prove a point, I had another dram of each and placed them side by side. While there were slight differences in colour, by tasting alone, I found the differences hard to pick out, yet when looking back at my notes, they are demonstrably not the same. A trick of the mind or memory?

The Auchroisk 9 and Linkwood 19 side by side.

It’s hard to say what it was, but it further reinforces my belief in that it is pointless wasting time, energy and money on chasing a whisky to drink based on what you have tasted before. You are always going to find something that gives you the warm and fuzzy feeling that another whisky has given you in the past. To chase it just because you haven’t had it or need it for your collection is also a form of madness.

But I’ve been there before. More than once as well. Why not join my club? Plenty of room on the helicopter that flies over the Cuckoo’s Nest.


POSTSCRIPT.

It just so happens that despite my advice on chasing bottles has been put to one side. Jealousy got the better of me when I saw that someone on Twitter got 2 Mackmyra Grönt Te, a whisky I reviewed as part of my dabbling in world whiskies. I liked it, but as it had sold out by time I tasted my sample, I knew chasing that was pointless. That didn’t stop me looking.

Anyway, a quick Google found it for sale at CASC in Aberdeen. I ordered two and hoped for the best. These turned up on the 29th of December. One for opening and one for opening at a later date – maybe.

Alls well that ends well.

A lucky second happy ending for 2022.


And thanks to Billy for sourcing the Linkwood bottle. Legend.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Cocktail Hedgehog – @copmoustache (Twitter)

All Other Photos – Authors Own

So Where Were The Spiders?

Taste Review #96 – Linkwood old vs new

As I continue to move through my series of old versus new bottlings of Scotch whisky, we are eventually coming to the point were my supply of minis is starting to run out and I am going to have to start cracking into the full sized bottles. I’ve had both these miniatures for quite some time now and I feel that it is time to perhaps submit to the fact that they need to be opened. Plus it gives me a great opportunity to drink again yet another Flora and Fauna bottling, as well as a first go of a Gordon and Macphail distillery label dram from this distillery.


Linkwood old vs new

Linkwood is quite a old distillery, first being established in 1821 on the outskirts of the Morayshire town of Elgin, although now the town is starting to encroach around the distillery site. The distillery became fully legal on the passing of the 1823 Excise Act. It has been rebuilt twice, the first time in 1874, and with a second plant being established on site in 1972. By 2012, much of the old distillery had been demolished and rebuilt, with only the Malting Kiln and what I assume to be the former malting floors or warehouses alongside surviving. I remember having to drive past it often in the early 2000’s as I used to court a girl who lived by Elgin. Just as you approached the town on the rural Linkwood road, the carriageway narrowed quite a bit as you had to negotiate a partially blind bend with the distillery buildings forming the edge of the road on the way into Elgin. With the demolition of the buildings, that has now become sadly a thing of the past.

While the need to expand and change things is necessary to ensure enough production, one of the former distillery managers was quite adverse to changes. Roderick Mackenzie, who was manager between 1945 and 1963 felt that any slight change could alter the quality of the whisky, so he forbade any unnecessary changes, even to the point that spider webs were left intact in the rafters. Pretty eccentric behaviour I suppose, and when I was thinking about how to title this article, the line from the David Bowie song ‘Ziggy Stardust’ came into my head, although I am more likely to be listening to the Bauhaus cover version. One has to wonder what happened to the webs during the regular upgrades? When the distillery was being upgraded in 1962, Mackenzie ensured that the stills being manufactured were exact copies of those already in use. Perhaps that is not so eccentric, as Macallan did exactly the same when they were building their new distillery in Craigellachie.

In another little bit of trivia, the 70cl Flora and Fauna bottling has a bit of incorrect data on it. It says that it stands on the River Lossie. I can assure you that if this was true, then a large part of Elgin would have to be flooded, as Linkwood is on the east side and the River Lossie is on the west side, some 1.75 miles away.


One of the 1st Edition Linkwood White Cap Flora and Fauna 70cl – incorrect location data included.

Linkwood is used heavily for the Diageo blends Johnnie Walker and White Horse. It is apparently very popular with blenders for adding complexity to blends, but very little is actually released as single malt. The only regular official bottling is the Flora and Fauna, but it is seen as an independent bottling as well as a Diageo Special Release.

The bottles that I have for this review come from two different sources. The older Gordon And Macphail bottle was obtained in an auction bundle and I don’t have an accurate date or price for it. However from research I can see that this bottling was produced in the 80’s and 90’s, so is likely to be somewhere between 20 and 30 years old. It is in good condition with an excellent fill level. The newer dram, because I don’t want to open a full sized bottle, was bought from The Whisky Exchange and is a 3cl Perfect Measure Sample. I have had this for some time I and it probably cost around £4.

G&M Linkwood 15 (old)

Region – Speyside Age – 15y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – not known, but suspect a mix of bourbon and sherry. Colouring – not known Chill Filtered – not known, suspect yes Nose – Fruity, sherry notes, but quite light – dried fruit, almonds, powdered chocolate. Palate – fruity and sweet, oily mouth feel, raspberry, pink nougat, vanilla, Finish – medium / long – slight smoke, fudge, sweet floral (parma violets) with a hint of freshly podded green peas.


G&M Linkwood 15 y.o from 80’s/90’s

Linkwood 12 Flora and Fauna (new)

Region – Speyside Age – 14 y.o Strength – 43% Colour -Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – not known, suspect bourbon. Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sweet, floral, vanilla, light honey, crisp green apple, light tobacco smell – like the inside of an empty cigarette packet. Palate -sweet initial hit, but soon turns sour. Has a medium body, slightly oily mouth feel, dry cider, lemon, minerals Finish – Drying, short to medium length. Almonds, lemon peel, slight malt. spicy wood, quite gingery. Addling a bit of water enhances the lemon peel in the finish and adds intensity to the wood spices.


Linkwood 12 y.o Flora and Fauna

Conclusions

When we look at it, these are two completely different whiskies, and while I enjoyed the 15 year old more, I also really enjoyed the Flora and Fauna one too. I feel that the older sample had much more ‘tah-dah’ about it, more stronger flavours and it was easier to engage with, despite the lower abv. It’s length of time in a small bottle hadn’t really affected it either. Of course it has matured in a different cask style or had a different vatting recipe compared to the 12 y.o. The Flora and Fauna came alive with a bit of water and it was still quite easy to engage with but not as easy as the older sample, While it does not have the extra three years in a cask, and I also feel that the G&M bottling has more of a sherry component within it, the Flora and Fauna bottling does have the advantage of the extra three percent abv, nor has it spent over 2 decades in a bottle.


The two drams together

It is easy to say that the older one wins in this review, but that is doing the newer dram a great disservice. It isn’t really fair to compare an apple with a watermelon, as both were good drams, I already have a few Linkwood Flora and Fauna in store and would definitely ensure I had a drinking bottle. The 15 year old G&M bottling from the 1990’s I would also buy if I saw it was available and would certainly recommend if you saw it at auction to buy it. Gordon and Macphail now release this at 43% so could be good value if you see it at a decent price.

In the interests of fairness, I have to call this a draw in the debate of old vs new, but if I only had money for one bottle, it would be the G&M one

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own