Coleburn 1981 Gordon & MacPhail (2015) Review

I don’t even know if this is disputable anymore: Gordon & MacPhail have the greatest warehouses in Scotland. I think at some point we all just have to concede it. There are loads of brilliant independent bottlers all ’round the world – some, I’d argue, I even prefer to G&M when all factors are taken into account – but no one, I repeat, no one, has the depth and breadth of utterly mindboggling stocks that Gordon & MacPhail have been able to sock away throughout the decades. Especially when it comes to beautiful old Speyside malts.

But every great hero has his (or her) Achilles heel, no? For G&M, that has almost always been their propensity for high prices in return for criminally low bottling strengths. The high prices are easier to justify, in my mind anyway, as the quality is almost universally high (excepting some questionable wine-casking decisions). The low bottling strength? No pulling punches here: it’s greed. You can dress it up however you want, but at the end of the day it’s still lipstick on a pig. They’re stretching stocks. I’ve heard comments along the line of ‘we determined this was optimal drinking strength’, but that is – forgive me – bullshit. No one who is buying these sorts of great old ’60s, ’70s and ’80s whisky has ever preferred a chill-filtered 40% or 43%er to an oily, fully intact, 46% or cask strength offering. Read that last sentence again. Bold words, I know, but I stand behind them. Even if consumers opt to drink it at a lower strength, I can almost guarantee they’d prefer it was bottled at a higher proof so they could add their own water. You can always add water. You can’t add back the texture that you’ve been robbed of at 40% or so. It seems especially criminal with beautiful old drams like the one we’re discussing. Cutting it with water is simply dumbing it down.

Anyway, before this becomes an essay, let’s discuss Coleburn, another casualty of the downturn that gutted so much of the industry in the 1980s. Expressions of Coleburn are scarce, they’re dear and they’re really, really cool whiskies to try if the occasion arises. Unfortunately, it doesn’t very often anymore. So, instead we pause and take our time when a dram like this crosses our path. It took 34 long years to make, after all. The least we can do is let the clock stop for an hour or so while we enjoy it.

Last thought: Let’s just be grateful that this particular release was bottled at 46% abv. Maybe not left completely intact, but I can accept 46%.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A bowl of melons and papaya on a freshly polished sideboard. Old cigar box. Faded pressed flowers. Orange and dark chocolate. Waxed hardwood. Oily, dried tropical fruits. That truly singular antique-y style of G&M sherry wood. Scottish tablet. I could go on. And on. And on.

Palate: Very syrupy on the tongue. Velvety even. Tropical fruits meet freshly cut figs. Old and oaky. Mouthwatering, yet slightly tannic. Orange oil. Mango. Loads of grapefruit. Candied green walnut and griottines (boozy cherries). Brioche.

Finish: Long and warming. Barley and oak, as it should be.

Thoughts:  This is the sort of dram I could give up all others for. Beautiful.


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