Founded in 1933, Ian MacLeod Distillers are one of the unsung independent distillers and bottlers in the UK, despite being the 10th-largest Scotch whisky company in the world. This may be because much of the company’s business is behind the scenes – they are one of the largest suppliers of own-brand whiskies to bulk markets and some of their biggest brands are marketed mostly overseas.
In the UK, the company has a reputation among whisky cognoscenti as a reliable source of high quality, great value whiskies. Ian MacLeod have a diverse range of proprietary and independent bottlings, with Smokehead, Chieftain’s Choice and Isle of Skye among the most prominent. The company is not just involved with whisky – they produce a variety of other gins, vodkas and rums and in 2016 they acquired Spencerfield Spirits Co, producers of Edinburgh Gin.
Ian MacLeod & Co. became Ian MacLeod Distillers in 2003 with their acquisition of the Glengoyne distillery; Tamdhu distillery was purchased in 2011 and relaunched in 2013. In October 2017 it was announced that Ian MacLeod had acquired and were rebuilding the lost Lowland distillery Rosebank – a stunning coup that gladdened the hearts of whisky fans the world over. It’ll be a while yet before there’s any new Rosebank to be tasted, so we’ll be focusing on Tamdhu and Glengoyne today…
Nose: Hot-buttered brown toast and a rich brown sugar aroma, then raisins, flapjacks, oatmeal, Digestive biscuits. Develops a pleasant leafiness, and prominent vanilla and biscuity aromas never allow the sherry to dominate.
Palate: Medium-full; a very clean, generous, soft mouthfeel with a little tingle. The flavours sync clearly with the nose: bready and biscuity with the fruitcake sherry sweetness again prominent without being too dominant – the balance is excellent, with a really crystalline barley edge rounded out by a hint of soft vanilla and chocolate cake.
Finish: That clear barley edge with a generous, warming, spicy tingle. The balance here is flawless. The sherry and spices fade slowly to reveal a delicate chocolate note.
Comment: Clearly, I don’t drink enough Glengoyne. This is a brilliantly put-together whisky and while the wood is impressive – obviously excellent casks – it’s the punchy, unpeated barley character that really impresses me. In short, the distillate and the oak complement each other beautifully, and that’s down to great cask selection and masterful blending.
Nose: Big sherry, a much deeper oak presence than the 18 year old. Gingerbread, cinnamon biscuits and rich Dundee fruitcake. Develops malt loaf, cooked raisins, muscovado sugar, homemade wholemeal bread, old church pews, cookie dough, old soft leather. In these days of ‘wood technology’ and various techniques designed to pimp the whisky, it’s an absolute joy to encounter a more old-school sherry-cask character – and not even the slightest hint of the dreaded sulphur.
Palate: Follows on perfectly from the nose – a big hit of brown sugar sweetness initially, then settles down into lovely fruitcake and patisserie notes. A strong nuttiness – brazil nuts, hazelnuts, noisette – then milk chocolate and Ovaltine, before the cooked fruit returns with a spicy overtone.
Finish: Lingering fruitcake, candied mixed peel and growing spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, faint white pepper. Again, the balance is exquisite. Nothing feels overblown, the sherry and spices sit beautifully together and there’s enough clear barley punch to keep the whole thing rounded.
Comment: I don’t understand why so many whisky companies – some of whom have far vaster resources than IMD – waste so much time and money trying to game the system with ‘wine-treated’ or ‘sherry-seasoned’ casks that aren’t really sherry casks, or multiple re-rackings, red wine finishes and so on. The formula is simple: make the best distillate you can, put it in the best bourbon or sherry casks you can afford and you’ll most likely end up with a very good whisky. This is Exhibit A – a great after-dinner option, especially with Christmas coming up. This could easily steal the show on the big day.
Two absolutely cracking drams from Glengoyne, so the stablemate Tamdhu has a lot to live up to! Onwards…
Nose: Once more, there’s a big sherry hit straight off the bat. There’s a big emphasis on rich brown sugar character initially, then milk chocolate, walnuts and hazelnuts, vanilla ice cream, chocolate milkshake. Becomes earthy, with notes of autumn leaves or compost, old bookcases. I have to assume, given the lack of an age statement, that this Tamdhu is a relative youngster, but whatever the actual age is, this is a nose of admirable character and maturity.
Palate: Full-bodied but not too hot or punishing to the tastebuds. Remarkably palatable at full strength. A huge initial sweetness without being cloying, then plum duff, sugared almonds, nougat and chocolate cake. Once again, as with Glengoyne, the barley edge of the distillate comes through strongly, providing a counterpoint to the generous sweet oak. The fruitcake, chocolate and dried nuts are all here, with faint vanilla custard and bark. Very intense, well-defined flavours. With water: Swims well and can handle plenty of water without losing its shape. The water brings more old oak character to the fore alongside chocolate milk and golden syrup.
Finish: Very long and satisfying finish. Young, sherried, cask strength drams can be very bitter at the death but there’s none of that here. It’s strong, sweet and spicy, certainly, but never goes over the top.
Comment: With a NAS whisky bottled at 58.3%, you might expect a certain brutality, but while this is a powerful dram it’s certainly far from vicious. As with the Glengoyne, there are clear signs here of an adherence to traditional standards, excellent wood policy and serious skill in the cask selection and blending. Long may this dram confound our expectations. What’s clear is how criminally underrated both of these distilleries are.