Jul 04, 2015

Trash or Treasure? A Tax Stamped Scotch Tasting

The Whiskey Jug reviews a selection of the best scotch whiskeys on the market. Here's his verdict.

Tax-stamped Scotch tasting - SCWC 1

A few weeks ago the SoCal Whiskey Club convened to taste a bunch of old tax stamped Scotch and like the tax stamped bourbon tasting it was a fun and immensely educational event. If you live here in Los Angeles I highly encourage you to join the mailing list for events. If you aren’t located here in LA, and don’t have a club in your area, I highly encourage you to start a club of your own. They’re a lot of fun.

Whiskey clubs are a great way to share resources, experience, knowledge and get even more out whatever it is you’re drinking. If you don’t have access to old booze like this or rare & hard to find bottlings like we get for Malt Nuts and LAWS it’s not a problem. Even if you live in a very controlling control state like Utah you can still get a group of friends together, pool your resources and stalk the shops (in and out of state) to find everything you can to put together an event. Don’t have an “expert” in your group? No worries because you have the internet. Taste first, look up info later or vice versa. The only true goals of any whiskey club are learning something new and having fun.

But enough about my love of whiskey clubs. Let’s get on with the whisky tasting at hand and explore some old bottles of Scotch!

Tax-stamped Scotch tasting - SCWC 2

Glenlivet 12 – 1980s (43%)

  • Nose: Sherry, malty hay, rich dark sweets, dried strawberries and citrus.
  • Palate: Creamy sherry, malty, spicy, char and banana heavy tropical fruit.
  • Finish: Strawberries and cream, malty hay and a touch of char.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) For this one we had bottle of the latest Glenlivet 12 to taste side by side and we were all astounded at how similar they were on the nose. Damn near indistinguishable, but the palate was a different story and the older version easily won out with a richer fuller flavor. Good stuff.

Haig & Haig Pinch – 1950s (43%)

  • Nose: Sherry, malt, spice, caramel, grain and dried dark fruit.
  • Palate: Sherry, malt, spice, caramel, dried fruit, smoke and char.
  • Finish: Caramel, toasted malt, smoke and char -> hickory.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) It was a bit muted, but it’s also been in the bottle for 60+ years. What was there was great and this is one that I’m sure will unfold after being open for a while and could end up being a fantastic whisky.

Tax-stamped Scotch tasting - SCWC 3

Ambassador pre-1964 (43%)

  • Nose: Honey, apples, dried fruit, caramel and butterscotch.
  • Palate: Dried dark fruit, honey, spice, caramel and a hint of sherry and grain whisky.
  • Finish: Spice, honey, grain and caramel syrup.
  • Overall: B (83-86) Definitely on the better end of blends, but the grain quality keeps coming in and throwing off what would otherwise be a fantastic dram.

Ambassador 1970s (43%)

  • Nose: Apples, dark sweets, spice, citrus and grain.
  • Palate: Dark sweets, apples, grain, smoke and a nice bit of maltiness followed by a touch of grain towards the end.
  • Finish: Spice, caramel apples, smoke, grain and butterscotch.
  • Overall: B (83-86) The grain shows higher than in the pre-64 version, but the other flavors and aromas are also bolder to help even it out.

Tax-stamped Scotch tasting - SCWC 4

Big T – Early 80s Tomatin (43%)

  • Nose: Big grain, caramel, cinnamon, apples and butterscotch.
  • Palate: Caramel, spice, maple, dried fruit and dust.
  • Finish: Caramel syrup, grain, wood and dried herbs.
  • Overall: B- (80-82) It has an uneasy balance to it between the good and meh qualities that has me a bit perplexed. Would love to try it after it’s been open a few months, I have a feeling this one could open up nicely.

Cutty Sark – 1970s (43%)

  • Nose: Honey, green apples, spice, malt, touch sherry and dried strawberries.
  • Palate: Honey, apples, malt and butterscotch. Smoke and grain notes not found in the nose show up.
  • Finish: Apple, spice, grain whisky & smoke.
  • Overall: B (83-86) I liked this one. It doesn’t get cloying till the tail end of the finish and everything is nicely balanced. Definitely better than current Cutty.

Tax-stamped Scotch tasting - SCWC 5

Glorious 12th (40%)

  • Nose: Flat soda, spice and fish oil.
  • Palate: Super grainy with some expired caramel syrup and sickly herbal notes.
  • Finish: Tart, grainy and funky.
  • Overall: D- (60-62) No… just… no.

Cluny 12 – 1970s (43%)

  • Nose: Grain heavy aroma with notes of caramel syrup & maple.
  • Palate: Honey, maraschino cherries, caramel syrup and grain whisky.
  • Finish: Grain whiskey and caramel syrup.
  • Overall: C (73-76) Did not like this one. It was cloying and off.

Chivas – 1960s (43%)

  • Nose: Smoke, caramel, flat and citrus.
  • Palate: Caramel, butterscotch, malty, toasted and smoked notes.
  • Finish: Char, sweetness and caramel.
  • Overall: B (83-86) Wow, this was surprisingly good! Much better than the current Chivas for sure.

Cutty 12 (43%)

  • Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, taffy, maple syrup and spice.
  • Palate: Sulfury dark notes, dark sweets, malt, grain, citrus peel and spice.
  • Finish: Savory spice and caramel syrup.
  • Overall: B (83-86) I enjoyed this one quite a bit and have picked up 3 bottled of this since the tasting. So expect a full review in the near future.

I love tasting these old whiskies because it gives you a frame of reference for what people mean when they talk about “the good old days”. Helps frame the idea of what whiskey used to taste and smell like; witness firsthand the evolution of the category and see how things got to be the way they are. Blends being the perfect example.

Back in “the day” blends had a higher quantity of malt than they do today and created a reliable flavor at an affordable price that people could go back to over and over without worry. This, along with marketing, helped establish blended Scotch to be what it is today where it’s responsible for 90% of the Scotch market. Though over the years as demand went up the quantity, and quality, of malt went down and we find ourselves where we are today. From a single malt perspective it’s great to see the evolution of a brand and see how it it used taste and what turned it into a world wide powerhouse.

If you’re a fellow whisky geek then do yourself a favor and try to hunt down a few older bottles of whisky and taste them next to their contemporary counterparts. It’s a priceless bit of sensory education that comes with a taste of history.


Tax-stamped Scotch tasting - SCWC 6

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tagged taste, liquor reviews, whiskey