Independently minded (Duncan Taylor)

Independently minded (Duncan Taylor)

Behind the scenes at one of Scotland's biggest independent bottling companies some of the world's rarest whiskies are stored. Our man joined Duncan Taylor Scotch's managing director Euan Shand in a bid to unearth some gems

Production | 01 Jun 2007 | Issue 64

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Duncan Taylor’s new shop premises in Huntley are the real deal. It’s packed with wonderful whiskies that will have any whisky enthusiast salivating and reaching for the credit card.But there’s another story to tell here, too. For behind the scenes old casks are crammed in to the company’s warehouses. It is whisky’s answer to Aladdin’s cave – a collection of old, rare and discontinued whisky Here you’ll find stocks from the old Banff Distillery, which was bombed by German bombers in the war spraying whisky across the field and leaving the cows tipsy for days.They say you couldn’t drink two pints of milk afterwards and safely drive a car. And there are stocks from classic and iconic distilleries such as Bowmore and Highland Park and from distilleries barely heard of but perhaps equally as good. Whiskies that were never given the support of their owners and were poured into blends rather than becoming iconic single malts in their own right.This is the legacy of Abe Rosenberg, a legendary and imposing New York businessman who was born in 1908 and who emerged from Prohibition as one of the great whisky dealers. It was he who built J&B in to the monster brand it is in America. But more importantly, he was a man of tremendous foresight who bought a Glasgow whisky broker by the name of Duncan Taylor and used it as a vehicle to create a malt legacy. He bought up stocks of the finest Scottish malt, stored it in distilleries across Scotland, and years before anyone else really predicted it, put aside special casks for the day that they would be in demand in their own right.What we have in these whiskies are, in short, hidden gems and shining treasures, and never was the expression ‘kid in a sweetshop’ more appropriate.So where to start?Where better than with Euan Shand, managing director of Duncan Taylor and the man who has inherited the Rosenberg legacy.Here are a few of his personal selections.Bowmore 1966
“This is an unbelievable whisky. What can you say? I can’t think of any other whisky to touch it. It has lost its peatiness over the years but it has left a kaleidoscope of flavours and tastes which change all the time. This is a second or third fill bourbon cask and the 40 years have allowed everything to breathe. As near to perfection as you can get.” Caperdonich 1968
Caperdonich is often somewhat lazily referred to as a back up to Glen Grant and it is sited across the road from it. But this notion of being an inferior partner is misleading and to Euan, downright rude. The whisky used a different water source and has a fuller, slightly smokier taste. It is currently silent and under the ownership of Pernod.“The great thing about this is nobody really knows anything about it. The people who worked at the distillery don’t know anything about it. It’s one of the great hidden malts. The distillery owners threw this in to blends and yet it is a cracking whisky in its own right. It’s got body, width and feel. Great.” Glendronach
“Glendronach was where I was brought up. I used to get up on a spring morning and the warmth would release the aromas of bourbon and sherry and it was wonderful. I used to play among the empty casks, hide with the other children among the peat, ride over the coal. I remember when I started work there we used to take a taste from one cask of Glendronnach from a 1932 sherry cask. The alcohol had reduced and it was probably under-strength but the taste had condensed and I remember the honey, then sherry and then strawberry. I think the current 15 year old is very good. This is a distillery that means a great deal to me.” Highland Park 1966
“I’ve enjoyed Highland Park ever since I was a young man. This is another great all-rounder but it has more of an earthy feel to it. I like going to the distillery and being somewhere where they make whisky in the old way, with the peat from nearby. Also when I smell it I’m taken back to when I went to see Led Zeppelin in Aberdeen and we went with some beer cans and a bottle of Highland Park because that’s what we thought rock stars did. It was a very long time ago. Robert Plant threw his plastic cup in to the crowd and I got it – and you could tell he had been drinking whisky and honey from it. It’s a very happy and clear memory.” Imperial 1965
“We were close to buying it but then the whole Allied deal happened. I think it’s terribly misunderstood. Someone described it as a third rate distillery and that’s just plain wrong.And other people have picked up on that and it’s stuck. It’s just laziness and ignorance. It’s another whisky used for blending but in fact it’s a beautifully sweet, mellow and drinkable whisky that can be enjoyed at lunchtime or in the afternoon. It’s not overpowering at all.” Invergordon 1965
“Grain is often seen as a poor cousin to malt but it needn’t be. It is a blank canvas. It has little odour and little taste but when it is put in to great casks it can produce stunning whisky.This has a wonderful array of flavours that are totally a result of the wood and the air.” Springbank 1967
“This has everything, another amazingly completed and rounded whisky. There is a little bit of smoke, then lemons, then other fruits. A bit like the Bowmore it changes and evolves. If you drink this over an evening it will change in to a totally different whisky from start to finish. It’s very special indeed.”
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