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Issue 87 - The dram of time

Whisky Magazine Issue 87
April 2010


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The dram of time

Dave muses on the world's oldest whisky released recently.

What was happening on October 15th 1938? Germany had just annexed the Sudentenland, in Nigeria Mr and Mrs Ransome-Kuti were celebrating the birth of their son Olufela Olusegun Oludotun and in Dufftown a stillman in charge of the the most fiendishly difficult distillation regime in Scotland started to collect the middle cut at Mortlach.

The stillman, well versed in the ways of the clearic, would never have give its future life a second thought at that moment. His interest was whether the spirit was right at that moment, how the coal fires were looking, the routine mechanics of his job. He lived in the present. It's us as whisky drinkers who now invest that day with relevance – because the spirit he collected has lain in cask for 70 years and has now been bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.

Every sip of whisky we take is in some way consuming the past, the living present of the stillman coupled with the small accretions of time which we perceive as flavour. And what has happened to this Mortlach?

It's picked up a bright amber colour. Not the opaque hue you expect when you hear the age, or when it's revealed that the cask is a first-fill sherry hoggie, maybe an old American oak solera cask that's been cut down to size. The lack of woodiness is remarkable.

Then there's the smoke which comes across first: sooty, reminiscent of having the lum cleaned, a wee nod to the peatier days of the past and to the coal fires that would have sat under the Mortlach stills. But leave it for a wh...

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