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StrathIsla 40 Year Old (Gordon and MacPhail)

StrathIsla 40 Year Old (Gordon and MacPhail)   79/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on December 22, 2012

Gordon and Macphail (who own the Benromach Distillery) is an independent family owned and managed firm which acts as a retailer, a wholesaler, an exporter, and a bottler of Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This particular whisky, the StrathIsla 40 Year Old Single Malt from Gordon and MacPhail is of course sourced from the Strathisla Distillery which is in the City (town) of Kieth, in the County of Banff, and is located in the Speyside region of Scotland. According to the Gordon and Macphail website, the whisky was drawn from aged stocks of first fill and refill Sherry casks.

I opened my bottle of this whisky last June when my beloved Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Over the course of the summer (and this fall), I have slowly sipped and sampled away about half of my bottle, and I finally decided that a review was in order.

In the Bottle 3.5/5

The bottle presentation for Gordon and MacPhail’s 40-year-old Strathisla Whisky is pretty standard fare (pictured to the left). It would be a decent (but not outstanding) presentation for a 12-year-old whisky. But, for a whisky which is 40 years old and which costs over $350.00, I think the presentation is rather weak.

There are no tasting notes to help the consumer choose if the whisky’s flavour profile is suitable for his or her palate, and there is no indication on the display box or on the bottle’s label of the types of barrels used to age the whisky.  The only relatively useful information on the bottle is the that this whisky is bottled at 43.5 % alcohol by volume.

In the Glass 8.5/10

At the store where I purchased my 40 Year Old Strathisla, I was given a small sample of what I was told was a similar bottling (a 42 Year Old Strathisla from Gordon and Macphail). When I later poured out a small dram of the whisky I had purchased into my Glencairn glass for the first time and nosed the glass,  I knew I was not going to encounter anything that resembled the sample I had tried at the store before I purchased the whisky.

Having said that, I did not mind the nose which I encountered, a bit of floral peat welling up into the breezes with a strong smoky influence of dried fruit. This aroma is full of prunes and dates, and has a rather subdued oaky backdrop. The aroma is a little demanding, but not unpleasant, and my feeling while nosing of the glass was  that although I did not find what I expected, I suspected I was going to enjoy what I did find.

In the Mouth 47.5/60

What my nose did not tell me about this whisky was that a light, but consistent off note bitterness would hold the key to its flavour. The bitterness is in the form of an acrid sappy taste that seems to grow in the mouth the longer you hold the whisky there.

I also tasted the dried fruit and raisins of the sherry barrel influence and a bit of brown sugar sweetness, and there was also a mild peatiness in the whisky. But these flavours did not seem to hold the correct counterbalance to the lightly acrid taste of sap which dwelt within the floral peat and the heavier sherry smoke. The result is a whisky which dries out the mouth and puckers the palate and is strangely reminiscent of gooseberries and spruce bark. To call things pleasant in the mouth would be an overstatement of my enjoyment of the whisky.

So the question was (and is)…

What do I do with a $350.00 investment gone bad? As much as it hurt me to do so, I was forced to mix. To be honest, I did try a little ice first, and it does help the situation slightly. But, it was not until I added an equal measure of soda (Sprite if you must know) that any pleasure was found in this dram. The bitterness and the flavours of the gooseberries and the sap were tamed by the soda, and actually as a deck drink to sip on in the summer, this is not that bad. (Of course mixing deck drinks is not why I made the purchase, and my feeling towards Gordan and Macphail is that they have engaged in something akin to highway robbery charging this much for a mixer.)

In the Throat 12/15

Did I mention that this dram is slightly bitter? That bitterness finds its full force in the throat. Thankfully, that soda pop I mentioned earlier eases the bitterness and allowed me to take an occasional dram on my deck during the cool summer evenings.

The Afterburn 7.5/10

I purchased this particular bottle to open on a special occasion, and that occasion came about when my Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup after a drought of 39 years. It seemed rather fitting to me to open a 40 Year Old bottle of whisky for this event as the 40th year of the Bruin Stanley Cup drought was averted.

It turned out to be a bittersweet moment when my beloved Bruins hoisted the cup, as the so-called peace-loving citizens of Vancouver (my fellow Canadians) attempted to tear down their own city just because they lost. Though watching the news unfold that night was bittersweet, attempting to celebrate my Bruins’ Stanley Cup Victory with Gordan and MacPhail’s 40 Year old Single Malt Whisky was also not as enjoyable as it should have been.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

I am always asked what my numbers actually mean. In order to provide clarification, you may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

2 Responses to “StrathIsla 40 Year Old (Gordon and MacPhail)”

  1. Gabey said

    With all due respect, are you sure G&M should be held responsible for what is really a pretty negative review? In my experience they stand behind every spirit they sell. Their spirits are chosen carefully, and I find it hard to believe they would ever accept or bottle a spirit as you describe.

    Lastly, the older Strathisla’s in general are very well respected. Frankly, if you have an issue it is with your own palate, or with the shop who sold it to you. Honestly, if I ever experienced such a bad bottle, I’d return it. To keep it, then publish such a nasty review is in poor taste, sorry.

    • I think we will have to agree to disagree here Gabey.

      My review expresses my honest opinion of this whisky which is what a review is supposed to do. I am not holding G&M responsible for my review, I am merely offering honest commentary about their whisky which I found too bitter to be enjoyable without mixing. If I withhold my opinion on those whiskies which I find less desirable, then I do not believe that my website would be very worthwhile. If you have tasted this whisky, and want to offer an honest contrary opinion to mine, you are most welcome to do so.

 
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