Category Archives: Coleburn

Coleburn 21 y.o. Rare Malts Review

Only the second Coleburn review on ATW. Tsk tsk. For shame. It’s almost like some strange factor is limiting access to malts from this Speyside distillery. Hmmm. Oh…right.

For the record, Coleburn was yet another casualty of that devastating extinction event that claimed so many distilleries in the early 1980s. The distillery was a bit of a Frankenstein’s lab throughout a fair chunk of its existence, used mainly for production experimentation, and largely dedicated to providing malt for the Diageo family of blends. Seems a shame in retrospect, as we begin to realize the long term ageing potential the malt had. We say that far too frequently of late, I realize. I also concede we sentimentalize a bit too often as well. Such is.

This 21 was one of the iconic Rare Malts releases that sits in high stead and coveted pride of position for many malt drinkers. And rightfully so, I’d argue. We may see more nuance and subtlety through other ranges (and bottlers), but for pure bombast, it really is hard to pip the Rare Malts.

Coleburn was founded in 1897 and shuttered in 1985. RIP.

59.4% abv. Distilled in 1979, bottles in 2000.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Sour and just slightly cheesy. Sour Ju-jubes and quality eau de vie. Greengage. Orange, apple and cranberry. A wee bit of smoke. White chocolate. Honey. Riesling and green grape skins.

Palate: Oh, wow. Great arrival. Enormous, actually. Malt and rubber. Grapefruit zest (and a bit of pith too). Kinda makes it a bit weedy and bitter. Adds complexity. Rubber bands. Vegetal notes. Crunchie bar. Band-Aids. Reminds a bit of old Ledaig (a ’72 Cadenhead, in particular). Kinda dirty.

Finish: Drying, with firm tannins (though not overly aggressive). Let’s call it a ‘fair’ wood presence at the back end. Somewhat grassy. Some rubber. Vaguely industrial or chemical-y. In a great way.


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.