Bladnoch, SMWS 50.77 “Good old days”, 25yo
(Distilled 26/1/1990, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 114 bottles, 57.0%)
It had been a strange, upsetting and tiring day when I first tried this whisky over the SMWS bar in London. And the reason I mention this is that it got me thinking about how context-driven taste is: I don’t think, really, the experience of returning to this whisky now – at home, quite content and with a cat sleeping on my lap – is going to be much like that first quick dram grabbed in the half-hour I had to kill before heading to Euston. It did cheer me up, though, a bit.
It’s not just the immediate circumstance, either. Everyone, I think, has reference points for taste locked in from past experience – whether those be those vivid childhood memories that I find myself referencing all the time in tasting notes (I’ll be doing more of this in just a moment!), or the more considered reflection of, for instance, having tried a bunch of 1990 Bladnochs and having a rough idea of what to expect with this one. We’re all built of both our innate prejudices and the weight of our pasts, us humans, and thoroughly irrational to boot.
So, having established the total subjectivity of this enterprise, let’s try a bit of whisky!
Nose: Very Bladnockian to start, with a combination of lemon, old-fashioned shaving soap and buttermilk. It’s a Lowlands thing. After a second to breathe it’s sweeter: like a sponge finger soaked in an orange and ginger syrup, with some old dusty chocolate in the background. There are hints of a darker fruity note too, like blackcurrant or damson. It’s pretty great, really.
Taste: Starts on baked apple with cinnamon and raisins, then goes a bit darker again. I remember sitting in Greville Street trying to remember what it reminded me of, before noticing that whoever writes the SMWS tasting notes was there already: Dominosteine! Gingerbread with a slightly tart fruit jelly, dark chocolate and either praline or marzipan. Another childhood thing, see, or at least the German bit of my childhood. With water it becomes tarter – Bramley apple and some peppery spice. It’s not unpleasant, but you do have to be careful and only add a few drops.
Finish: I’m doing the British side of childhood now and thinking of Cornflake Cakes: golden syrup, chocolate, butter, cereal. There’s even a hint of rum baba in there too, I think, and maybe it’s the mallow cream from inside a Tunnock’s Tea Cake? Apple puree, too, a bit. There’s a touch of heat here too, but again it’s touchy with water and gets somewhat tannic and woody with more than a small splash.
Despite all the childhood stuff, this isn’t a sweetie shop whisky, but rather a very grown-up dessert whisky with the gloopy richness undercut by some pleasantly bitter notes. We’re talking a nice high-cocoa chocolate here, rather than a Kinder Egg. It’s got quite an autumnal feel, too, and if we’re talking context then a dram of this on a cold October night would be just about perfect.
It does lose a few points though for that slightly hot edge, and how temperamental it is with added water. Proceed with caution there. It’s perhaps just a notch below the average quality of Society 1990 Bladnochs, but then that’s a very high benchmark and I’d suggest that everyone should have at least one on their whisky shelf.