One of the (many) things I love about whisky is the great profusion of choice we have, at this particular special moment in time. As you already know if you’re a devotee, the whisky market is in a kind of a golden age; more and more people are falling under its spell, and so sales are climbing and the range of whiskies available has probably never been greater.
Standard distillery bottlings are where most people start with whisky; they’re widely available, often affordable and generally of consistent high quality. However some (not all, but many) make concessions to the mass-market; they’ll chill-filter a whisky to avoid some unsightly clouding, or add caramel to make the spirit a more appealing colour for the store shelf. The spirit may be watered down to a set alcohol strength. In addition, without exception these standard bottlings are blended from many different casks to maintain a consistent flavour profile. This is essential for a distillery’s main product lines which the consumer can pick up from month to month, and year to year, and be assured that his whisky will taste just like that last bottle they loved. However the romantic notion of tasting a spirit “straight from the warehouse” is lost, or at least obscured, by all of these processes.
Luckily for the consumer looking for a more “pure” experience, alternatives do exist. Independent bottlers have an entirely different marketing strategy to the distillers; rather than keeping a bottling consistent over time, they commonly make their market in quality and novelty. A typical independent will buy a cask from a distillery, after which they may refill the maturing spirit into their own wood or simply let time take its course with the original cask. But the best part of the process happens before they bottle it, and that is often – nothing! Nothing added to the whisky for colouring or to reduce the natural strength; no chill filtering; no blending. (I imagine the whisky is still put through a coarse filter to stop you finding little chunks of wood, charcoal and who knows what else in it; it’s just not CHILL-filtered).
What we get from this process is a cask-strength non-chill-filtered single-cask whisky – as close as you can get to drinking right out of the barrel. Does such a whisky necessarily actually TASTE better than a whisky that’s been processed? That’s not at all guaranteed – the quality of the cask and the new-make spirit still rule supreme in the eventual outcome. Some will tell you that chill-filtering reduces the flavour of a whisky, or that caramel has a noticeable taste. I don’t know if I agree with either, but I do know that there’s something very attractive in the idea that I’m drinking nothing but the pure result of the craft of whisky-making.
All of this is my extremely long-winded way of saying that this Adelphi bottling is of such a beast – a single-cask whisky, cask strength at 53.3% ABV, uncoloured, non-chill filtered (not that a whisky this strong would ever be chill-filtered by the way; the high alcohol content prevents the clouding that chill-filtering was invented to remove).
Adelphi is a little bit unusual as independent bottlers go, in that they began life as an actual distillery in 1826. Sadly the operation was mothballed in 1907 after a short (in distillery terms!) 81 years. In the future they hope to open a brand-new facility near Ardnamurchan, a goal which I sincerely hope they realize… if they take as much care with their distillery operations as they clearly do with their independent bottlings, we’ll all be in for a treat.
This 27-year old Linkwood, distilled in 1984 when I was more concerned with The A-Team and BMX bikes than high-strength alcoholic beverages, is nothing short of wonderful. It’s actually my first experience with the Elgin distillery, and Adelphi themselves, but it has me eager to find more from both parties. Finished in a refill sherry hogshead, you can see even from my non-award-winning photo that the colour is absolutely luminously beautiful, and the minimalist bottle design shows it off to great effect.
I did find that this is one of the few whiskies that I actually prefer with just a bit of water. Without it, the nose is biting though deliciously promising with classic sherry influences, burnt sugar and a hint of apple. Tasting, it’s vibrant without being too fresh – it feels like this one spent the perfect amount of time in the cask. I get raisins, some lovely oak and even a bit of smoke on the finish. Speaking of the finish, I found it quite long, with some bitterness as it dried.
With a few drops of water things get even better. The nose opens up with more fruit; mandarin oranges and plums. There’s a change in the taste too, it feels like it has more depth, with spices and chili peppers in the forefront along with deeper layers of rich fruit. And the bitterness completely disappears from the finish, leaving you with a very pleasant and lingering fruity mustiness. Really outstanding stuff.
I should give a big thanks to Marlene Howard from Eclipse Wines and Spirits who really went above and beyond to help me find this bottle. Thanks Marlene, I really appreciated your help!