WHAT was happening in the world back in 1963? In America, president John Kennedy was assassinated. In Liverpool, The Beatles released their first album. And, in a quiet corner of Speyside, on 2 November, a batch of spirit was distilled at Tamdhu.
That new-make spirit was placed into a first-fill European oak sherry butt at 71% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) and left to sleep. When it awoke, it would be Scotch whisky.
Fast-forward to 2010 and Tamdhu distillery – which traces its origins back to 1897 – was shut down by previous owner Edrington, the company behind brands including The Famous Grouse, Highland Park and The Macallan.
It didn’t remain closed for long though – the following year the site was bought by Ian Macleod Distillers (IMD), owner of the Glengoyne distillery north of Glasgow, and recommissioned in 2012.
To celebrate the distillery’s 120th anniversary, IMD has used that cask from 1963 to fill 100 bottles of Tamdhu 50 Year Old (£16,000), which was unveiled last night at a very special dinner held at Hamilton & Inches, the luxury jewellery store on George Street in Edinburgh.
“Craft” was the word on the lips of IMD managing director Leonard Russell and marketing director Iain Weir, who spoke about the craftsmen who created the whisky back in the 1960s and the artists who had helped to bring the new product to life, including glass designer Katy Holford, crystal maker Royal Brierley and the silversmiths at Hamilton & Inches’ workshop above its store in Edinburgh, who created the base, neck and lid of the Victorian decanter-style bottle.
Distillery manager Sandy McIntyre introduced guests to the whisky, guiding them through a nosing before letting them loose on the liquid itself.
So, what does a 50-year-old dram taste like? Caramel, toffee and dark brown sugar flavours were there in abundance, leading into chocolate and fig.
What surprised me most though was the freshness of the spirit – there were still lemon, orange and even redcurrant notes to be found in among the golden syrup and vanilla flavours.
Bottled at 55.6% ABV, a wee drop of water helped to mellow the warming alcohol.
Fifty years – or more precisely 53 years – is a long time to spend in wood, and the whisky certainly had a distinctive dry character, which stayed with me well into the evening.
Yet, for aficionados of older whiskies, that’s part of the attraction; this is Scotch that has aged for decades, giving it a different mouthfeel to a standard bottling.
A very special whisky, served in very special surroundings indeed.