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Tuesday 28 February 2017



Blended malts are, as the name suggests, a combination of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies – unlike blends, there’s no grain whisky here. Instead, you have some of the most innovative Scotch whiskies around, from Islay-influenced smoke and seaweed to the typical Speyside character of rich, spiced fruit.

These whiskies are big business in Taiwan, which remains by far the world’s biggest blended malt market. There’s no limit to the number of single malts you can use in a blended malt: while Monkey Shoulder combines only three, Wemyss The Hive comprises no fewer than 16, many of them from Speyside. You might think you’re firmly rooted in Islay when tasting Peat Monster from Compass Box – but peated Speysider Ardmore is a crucial part of the mix. A very large percentage of these expressions are NAS.

Here is my order of priority. The Odyssey is far too expensive to buy, so it's your choice. A bottle every month or two would be fine if there is a well-stocked bar close by.

-Islay Pillaged Malt 2003, with Single Malt whiskies from Ardbeg, Bruichladdich,   Bowmore,  Bunnahabhain, Caol  Ila, Lagavulin & Laphroaig distilleries, bottled at   Bruichladdich.
-Celtic Pillage 2005, a cask strength vatting of 12 YO Jura and Bushmills   (Northern Ireland).
-Three Isles Classic Pillage, a 10 YO vatting of Ardbeg, Jura and Tobermory.
-Buchanan & Co's Strathconon 12-Year-Old.
-Ardbeg Serendipity NAS, marketed by Glenmorangie
-Chivas Regal Ultis NAS, with SMs from Allt a'Bhainne, Braeval, Longmorn, Strathisla and Tormore
-Johnnie Walker Island Green Label NAS
-Cardhow (Cardhu) 12 YO, run entirely by women. Production stopped in 2009
-Bowmore 12 YO Blended Malt Whisky
-Bell's 12 YO using SMs mainly from Blair Athol, Caol Ila and Glenkinchie
-Clan Denny, both versions, Sweetly Spiced and Heavily Peated
-Johnnie Walker Green Label 16 YO
-Famous Grouse Vintage Malt Whisky 1987
-Wemyss Peat Chimney 46% ABV with Islay Malts
-Angel's Nectar Rich Peat Edition with Highland Malts, NAS 46% ABV
-Highland Journey NAS from Hunter Laing 46.2% ABV Highland Malts
-Poit Dhubh 12 YO Uisge Beatha Albannach. An 8 YO is also available
-J & B Exception 12 YO using Speyside Malts
-Big Peat 54.6% ABV NAS, an all Islay BM with whiskies from Ardbeg, Bowmore,   Caol Ila and   Port Ellen
-Shackleton's Discovery NAS 47.3% ABV
-Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza NAS
-Glenleven 12 Year Old
-William Grant Ghosted Reserve 26 YO 42% ABV
-Compass Box The Peat Monster NAS 46% ABV
-Monkey Shoulder NAS with SMs from Kininvie, Glenfiddich and Balvenie
-Berry Bros & Rudd's Blue Hanger 11th Release NAS 45.6%
-Smokey Joe Islay Blended Malt Whisky NAS 46% ABV
-Sheep Dip 8 YO with 16 SMs from Whyte & Mackay


Friday 24 February 2017

The MacKinlay Whisky's Journey on Shackleton's Expedition

From The Ice Below Shackleton's Hut To Skilled Recreation:

This Is A Story To Savour In The Telling

46 Cases of Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt

In June 1907, the Glen Mhor distillery in Inverness received an order from the famous explorer Ernest Shackleton for a total of 46 cases of Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt – one of the more indulgent items included among the provisions designed to sustain his British Antarctic Expedition of 1907.

The Discovery

In February 2007, after almost a century entombed in thick ice beneath Shackleton's expedition hut in Antarctica, three crates of this long lost whisky were discovered by a team from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. The team was carrying out a full programme of conservation work on the aging expedition hut at Cape Royds when they made their stunning discovery.

However, in line with international protocols agreed by the Antarctic Treaty Nations, the crates could not be removed from Antarctica unless it was for conservation or scientific reasons. The Press Release of Friday 5 February '10 can be read using this link.

In early 2010, one crate of the whisky was removed from the ice by the Antarctic Heritage Trust and flown directly back to Canterbury Museum for careful thawing and stabilisation. Eventually, this crate was returned – and became one of over 14,000 expedition artefacts which the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust cares for across this frozen continent.

Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt

In Canterbury Museum, the temporarily liberated crate of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt was slowly defrosted in a purpose-built cool room. Over a two-week period in mid-2010, while captured in the increasing glare of worldwide media interest, the temperature of the crate itself raised extremely slowly from around -20ºC to 0ºC.

The team of conservators were able to examine the contents and were eventually delighted to recover 11 bottles, 10 of which are perfectly intact, still wrapped in protective paper and straw. With the whisky finally freed from the frozen crate, the museum conservators were able to complete their detailed analysis of the packaging, labels and bottles. However, the global spotlight was intensely focused on what these precious artefact bottles contain – a Highland malt whisky that was already well over 100 years old.

Indeed, never before in the history of whisky experts had access to a century old bottle of whisky that had been stored in a natural fridge well beyond human reach. So it was arguably only a slight exaggeration when this rare and valuable malt was described as ‘a gift from heaven for whisky lovers’ by Richard Paterson, Master Blender at Whyte & Mackay, the owners of the Mackinlay brand. And, with the bottles now ice-free, plans were made to undertake an analysis of the whisky so that it could be re-created in all its long-lost glory.  

The Return Journey

In January 2011 three bottles of the Mackinlay’s whisky finally began their return journey to the Highlands of Scotland. The bottles were deemed so rare that the Antarctic Heritage Trust refused to let them travel unaccompanied or in the hold of a plane. So they were personally collected by Whyte & Mackay company owner, Dr Vijay Mallya, and flown back to Scotland onboard his private jet.

Arriving home in Scotland, for the first time in more than 100 years, the whisky was transported to W&M’s Invergordon Spirit Laboratory for detailed scientific analysis. Richard Paterson, and his expert team led by Dr James Pryde, spent several weeks in the laboratory nosing, tasting and deconstructing the whisky to reveal its true heritage.

February 2011: Analysis

The analysis of the whisky first determines its strength at 47.3% alc./vol. The team described the whisky as light honey in colour, straw gold with shimmering highlights, and with an aroma that is soft, elegant and refined on the nose. Indeed, detailed nosing revealed delicate aromas of crushed apple, pear and fresh pineapple with notes of oak shavings, smoke and hints of buttery vanilla, creamy caramel and nutmeg. And, finally, the tasting revealed a spirit that has plenty of impact on the palate; a tantalising array of flavours that is both harmonious and exhilarating.

Analysis of the cask extractives indicated that the spirit was matured in American white oak sherry casks, while testing of the phenol content, which was lighter than expected for a whisky of this period, revealed that the peat used for the malting originated in the Orkney Islands.

Indeed, documentary evidence supports this, recording the supply of peat to both Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn distilleries in Inverness from the Isle of Eday in Orkney during the early 1900s. Final examination of each bottle delivered almost identical spirit profiles, suggesting that these far-travelled bottles may be representative of all whisky made at Glen Mhor.

Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt - The Journey


The 2007 discovery of whisky left in Antarctica by Sir Ernest Shackleton during his famous expedition in the early 1900s led to Richard 'The Nose' Paterson using all his skill and experience to recreate this historic whisky, raising £250,000 for the Antarctic Heritage Trust in the process.

Approached by the charity and Alexandra Shackleton (Ernest's grand-daughter) to produce a second edition of his blended malt to coincide with Tim Jarvis' Shackleton Epic (the first authentic re-enactment of Shackleton's extraordinary Antarctic survival journey of 1916), how could Paterson refuse?

Digging out another rare cask of Glen Mhor (an even older one, this time from 1980), as well as some heavily-peated Dalmore(!), he once again recreated the Shackleton whisky, also using malts from Glenfarclas, Mannochmore, Tamnavulin, Ben Nevis, Aultmore, Fettercairn, Pulteney and Jura.

The resulting masterpiece of blending offers something different, whilst clearly coming from the same lineage as his first lovingly recreated malt. A new and critically-acclaimed interpretation of a truly classic whisky.

Thursday 23 February 2017


World Class Single Malts From India

India produces two well-known Single Malt Whiskies that are in demand globally. They come from the Amrut and Paul John Distilleries and are so named. We were lucky to get the former at Rs. 1475/- (US$21.70) per 750 ml bottle, at 43% ABV or 75 proof. The latter is not as easy to obtain and costs a fair amount. There are numerous versions, all NAS (No Age Statement) and at much stronger ratings, like 55% ABV. That said, a few expressions are available at 46% ABV, but not as classy as the stronger versions.

Paul John Distilleries are based in the Cuncolim Industrial Estate, South Goa, an area subject to very high day temperatures and intense humidity. This raises the Angels' share to as much as 10-12% and no barrel under maturation can withstand such high losses per year. Paul John whiskies are mostly in the 4-7 year range, with the odd 3 and 9-year old.

Paul John whiskies are made from only Indian ingredients. They use six-row barley, unlike Scotch whiskies that are made from two-row barley which has very high carbohydrate but low protein content. Six-row barley offers a distinct tannic character to the spirit. The alcohol yield is also much lower.

At Paul John, after grinding where the malted barley is mashed into coarse grist, the three-stage hot water wort creation process is replaced by a single hot water process (70° C). They use eight stainless steel washbacks that hold about 18,000 litres of wort each. They cannot use wooden washbacks as is done in Scottish distilleries because the high humidity and proximity to sea causes the wood to rot, requiring continuous maintenance. 

The only import is of two types of Scottish peat, used specifically for kilning (heating) and to increase the phenolic content of the spirit. One type comes from Aberdeen which has a marine and grassy character and the other is from Islay which has obvious high phenolic properties. The raw spirit is made using both these peats and blended according to the desired recipe. 

In India, Customs officers go by the final bottling rather than the spirit output at the distillation point. The spirit safe is thus kept unlocked. This helps the blender to gain a real feel of the cut he is going to make. The entire middle cut is done by actual organoleptic senses and by constant monitoring. Paul John extracts the middle cut at 63.5%. In Scottish distilleries, the human element has been gradually removed and the middle cut is made by computer diktats re timing and monitored by a spirit meter. 

Paul John produces malt whiskies matured only in imported American Oak barrels and stored in two warehouses, with a total capacity of 10,000 casks. Bottling is done in situ and the whiskies are not chill filtered.

Tasting Notes: Some Paul John Whiskies

Paul John, Edited, 46%, NAS– Gentle on the nose. You get barley sugars but with hints of orange marmalade and peat. The peat is not blatant, but gentle, suggesting that the malting was done with Aberdeen peat. After some time you get green capsicum, wet chalk and vanilla. On the palate, it is much rounder and peat reappears with sweet and honey flavours. Medium finish. 

Paul John, Classic, c.s 55.2%, NAS – On the nose you get those complexities immediately. Lots of sugars and tannins mistaking it to be a sherried whisky. Some lactones with a feel like asafoetida followed by a mix of citrus notes. On the palate it is dry and you get some tannins with a wholesome feeling of a full bodied whisky. Very sweet. Finishes long with a mix of spices.

Paul John, Bold, 46%, NAS – On the nose you get some smoke with definite peat notes. Vanilla and lemon, spices with green peppers. On the palate it is very sweet. Finishes with long peaty notes.

Paul John, Peated, c.s 55.5%, NAS – Bonfire smoke and peat. Sweet and honeyed and mild medicinal notes like any Islay whisky. Lots of complexities, green grass juices, vanilla and citrus notes. On the palate you get those dry tannins but the mouthfeel is very full and wholesome. Sweet and syrupy. Finishes very long with a satisfying feeling. 

Tasting Notes by Krishna Nukala




The Cutty Sark is the world’s last remaining clipper ship. It was built on the Clyde, in Glasgow, in 1869 for the China tea trade, and was one of the fastest clippers ever built. 

I’ve been on it; it is narrow and, except for the top deck and the Captain’s cabin, there is no headroom. The average height of ceilings reduce progressively as you descend four decks, from 5 feet to 3’9”. 

Edrington PLC, a company whose head office was located ten miles from where the famous ship was built, used the name for a whisky it launched on March 23, 1923. Cutty Sark was the first light coloured, blended whisky. Launched at the height of the “cocktail culture”, it was designed to be mixed and was aimed squarely at the American market. It started as a 3 Year Old whisky during Prohibition in the US (1920-33); immediately after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the 5 YO hit the market. Current blends are 8 YO. 

During Prohibition, Cutty Sark gave rise to the term “the real McCoy.” The whisky was bootlegged by the legendary Bill McCoy, an American smuggler based in the Bahamas. McCoy, a nondrinker, guaranteed his contraband was uncut and unadulterated. The quality of his whisky gave rise to the expression, “the real McCoy”, an expression that remains a synonym for integrity and authenticity. During Prohibition, “ordering a real McCoy” became slang for ordering a Cutty Sark.

Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the impeccable reputation of the whisky led to a surge in sales and Cutty Sark became one of the best-selling Scotch whisky brands in the United States. It remains one of that country’s most popular blends. Bill McCoy died a multi-millionaire in 1948. 

In 2013, Edrington released Cutty Sark, Prohibition Edition, a 50% ABV blended Scotch, to commemorate Bill McCoy and the 90th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. A 12 Years Old version is also on the market, priced higher than JW Black Label.



I first tasted SOMETHING SPECIAL in 1977 in Poona. It was an exquisite experience and I decided to carry out detailed research on this Blended Scotch. I found that it was an illegal and raw blend first bottled in 1793 from what was to become Bon Accord Distillery in 1860. The SOMETHING SPECIAL website claims that Hill & Thomson Wines and Liquor in Edinburgh started the production and sale of an excellent blended Scotch whisky in 1793 and that it was granted a Royal Warrant by King William IV in 1838. This is a hoax, as William IV died in 1837. The whisky and distillery are not named. Moreover, blending of malt and grain whisky was permitted only in 1860 for distillers; other traders, like grocers, were permitted such blending in 1863. The term Scotch came from 'Scottish' and was first used in the mid-18th century (1855, Gavin Smith).


It came out as a 12 YO Premium Whisky thereafter, not an 8 YO. Bon Accord distillery, renamed to North of Scotland distillery, was taken over by the Longmorn Distillery Company in 1893, and the whisky was bottled soon thereafter as a Grant's Distilleries' product (1897). The website also claims that it was granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria, who died in 1901. This is most probably another hoax, as no distillery was given the prefix ‘Royal’ in that period. In 1877 Hill, Thompson & Co. offered the role of export salesman to William Shaw. In 1902 he established the Queen Anne blend, which soon became the company’s flagship whisky.

Grant's Distillery was destroyed by a fire in 1910, but was repaired and running in 1911. A new blended whisky, named SOMETHING SPECIAL, came out with great fanfare in 1912, quietly burying its dubious past. The website states that the business was still owned by Hill & Thomson and advertised as “A Scotch for a Special Occasion.” It quickly became popular in the United Kingdom and around the world. 

The iconic decanter was first produced in the distinctive diamond shape in 1959 and heralded around the world as a statement of quality and originality.

In 1972, the Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries Ltd amalgamated with the blending concerns of Hill, Thomson and Co.Ltd and Longmorn Distilleries Ltd to become The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd. SOMETHING SPECIAL was then bottled by Hill, Thomson and Co.Ltd, Paisley, Scotland as an 8 YO at very good prices [$12 for an 75 proof 43% ABV 750 ml decanter(86 proof in the USA)]. The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd. was then purchased by Canadian drinks and media company Seagram in 1977. The website claims SOMETHING SPECIAL™ whisky was launched in new markets across Latin America and Asia in 1985, where discerning connoisseurs were demanding high quality Scotch whisky. This is a part lie, as SOMETHING SPECIAL™ was freely available across India, even in its Military Canteens in the 70s. I bought my first bottle in 1982 in Bhuj, a back-of-beyond city in North Gujarat.

Seagram's was owned by a Canadian Jew, Samuel Bronfman, and his company was barred from the Islamic middle-east gateway to the liquor demanding market of South-central Asia. He was unable to get his personal baby, Chivas Regal, going in a huge and lucrative market. He then routed his supplies via Singapore. But Something Special, strikingly similar to Chivas Regal 12 YO, didn't cede its market share to Chivas Regal. Phipson's Black Dog and Johnnie Walker Red and Black labels were making rapid inroads into this market. This is why Something Special was withdrawn from the Indian and Asian market, to make way for Chivas Regal. Once sale in India and most of Asia was stopped, its primary market became Latin America and Italy. A bottle or two is often found in odd locations.  Seagram's was taken over by Pernod Ricard in 2000 and a fresh market analysis led to the release of their 15 YO in 2006, focussed on in Latin America with a few bottles trickling over to Asia as rarities. All barriers to trade via the Middle East were lifted.

The archives paint a very different story. In 1709 Andrew Thomson inherited the business of his father–in–law, Mr Brown, who was a brewer and vintner in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. About 20 years later the business was moved to "The Vaults" in neighbouring Leith, which were bought by the company on 29 July 1782. The firm of J G Thomson & Co was founded by James Gibson Thomas in 1785 at the Vaults to supply goods like whisky, brandy and wines. James Gibson Thomson junior, the son of the company’s founder, was associated with the company from 1820 to 1876.

In its early years the major part of the business was in the import and distribution of wines from the continent. Later it traded in wines and spirits of all descriptions, imported or home produced. The company’s wholesale business was carried out under the name of J G Thomson & Co and the private trade was carried out under the name of Thomson Lauder & Co.

In 1884 the firm acquired Glen Garioch Distillery in Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire and owned it until 1908. In 1890 it took over the Leith firm, Scott & Allan, and its two clippers, which brought cargoes of wines and brandies into Leith. Scott & Allan were also cork cutters. In 1905, J G Thomson & Co became a limited liability company.

The company went into voluntary liquidation in 1921 and the buildings and stocks were taken over by J M Hogge on behalf of the new company, which was a private company without a stock exchange quotation. By the 1930s, J G Thomson & Co was supplying wines to most of the top hotels in Scotland and had become one of the country’s leading independent whisky blenders, with a prosperous overseas trade. By 1959 it owned three bonded warehouses and large duty paid warehouses. The company acted as agent, stockist and distributor in Scotland for many famous and internationally known brands of wines and spirits. It also functioned as a very large exporter of whisky to all parts of the world, especially to the USA, and was involved in the blending of whisky. The company maintained a large transport fleet with depots in Leith and Glasgow, and it maintained its own cooperage.

After the Second World War many private hotels amalgamated into larger chains or were acquired by breweries. This effectively removed J G Thomson’s principal outlets. In 1960 it was bought by Charrington United Breweries Ltd of London. Three years later Charrington acquired the Glasgow firm J & R Tennent Ltd and in 1966 J G Thomson became a subsidiary of Tennent Caledonian Breweries Ltd.



SOMETHING SPECIAL is still a premium Blended Scotch whisky, the no. 1 Scotch whisky in the Dominican Republic, the no 2. in Colombia and overall no. 3 premium Scotch whisky brand in South America. It’s considered an outgoing and sociable whisky that celebrates life, an optimistic attitude and everyday success. As may be seen in the photos at the top, it is an NAS expression today and the decanter, while retaining its diamond cut, has been slimmed down a mite. The decanter of its newest release, the SOMETHING SPECIAL LEGACY, is unique and quite a collector's item.  

Surprisingly, SOMETHING SPECIAL made its debut in Latin America in 2004 as a 12 YO Blended Scotch whisky. The award-winning 12 YO blend contains fine Speyside malt whiskies and is sculptured around the outstanding Longmorn single malts, embellished by classy single malts from the Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Laphroaig and Allt A Bhainne distilleries, among others, which are melded together in Strathclyde Single Grain whisky to give it its unmistakably smoky sweetness. The hint of peaty character is imbued from a single malt produced at the Allt À Bhainne distillery in Keith, Speyside. The Islay contribution is made by an unpeated whisky from, surprisingly, Laphroaig, a distillery well-known for its unmistakable pungent, medicinal and smoky spirit. This expression is said to age in Bourbon and Sherry casks but the Sherry influence in this blend seems minimal. With Longmorn stock running low, SOMETHING SPECIAL turned both slim and NAS in 2010. It is now carried by Allt A Bhaine, Glen Grant, Strathisla, Aberlour and The Glenlivet.

It is deep gold in colour with E150A caramel additive, chill filtered and blended in Scotland. It is bottled in both Scotland and India. The Scottish version is at 40% ABV in a 70cl bottle; it is at 43% ABV in a 75cl bottle in India.

Nose: When you pour this blend in your glass you immediately get peat and light smoke that remind you of a light Islay whisky. However, on inhalation, the peat and smoke prove evanescent and are driven back quickly to the back of the glass and grain, wood, sundry dried fruit and malt come into play. After a while in the glass, earth and wood tones begin to dominate. There isn’t much sharp alcohol, which is good but this blend would benefit from some more fruity tones.

Taste: Sweet (Sugar, Honey) and Spicy Oak. The sweetness becomes syrupy if swigged after a chillied momo.

Finish: Not overly long and quickly getting dry. Some Cocoa powder, nuts and wood.

If you add four or five drops of water, the peat on the nose withdraws to the background. Floral and mineral tones appear. The palate however just gets watered down. So you can nose this blend with and without a few drops of water but it is best sipped neat.

Eagerly awaiting the release of the SOMETHING SPECIAL LEGACY.






The Original Mackinlay- A Jura Connection


The beginnings of this particular story are typically enshrouded in a bit of mist, as there was a Johnny Blue, cousin to the daughter of the great-grandfather of Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America. Johnny Blue and his family lived in Kintyre in the 19th century, plied the nearby waters for lobster and was a reportedly well-known character on the west coast of Scotland. He was also a distiller who had a business partnership with a blacksmith and cooper named Donald Mackinlay. Johnny Blue rapidly became famous for his two grades of distillation - moonlight and daylight. The difference between the two grades was that the former had twice the strength as did the latter. 

Donald Mackinlay had rather ingeniously devised specialised barrels for slated butter that had an inner compartment for the whisky. Such deception permitted the evasion of the watchful eye of the exciseman. Cargo was shipped in this manner regularly through Grogport on the Mull of Kintyre to Saltcoats in Ayrshire where the local miners readily consumed it. 

In 1809, Charles Mackinlay was born in Ayrshire. In 1815, John Hunter, a tea, wine and spirit merchant was trading at 109 High Street, Edinburgh. In 1824, at age 15, Charles Mackinlay became indentured to John Hunter. The document attesting to this relationship is in the possession of Charles’ great-great-grandson, Donald, and was witnessed by two merchants, a writer and a surgeon. After some lack of success in the original venture as well as in normal trading, John Hunter joined Walker Johnston & Co., Cassell’s Place, Leith. Somewhere between 1825-1826, Walker Johnston & Co. relocated to 4 Great Junction Street, Leith. At the same time, Charles Mackinlay was accepted as a staff member. In 1830, Walker Johnston & Co. moved again to 104 Constitution Street, Leith and, much later (1960), to Salamander (then, it was Bath) Street. 

Charles Mackinlay married Isabella Caverhill in 1834, and following the deaths of both George Walker and Robert Johnston, Charles assumed as partner in 1839. In late 1842, Walker Johnston & Co. was dissolved by mutual consent, partnership was established with William Deans, and the business was renamed, Mackinlay & Deans. This partnership was dissolved in July 1847. 

Thus, in 1847, Charles Mackinlay & Co. was born. It is said that young Mr. Charles used to enjoy a round of golf on the nearby course at Leith, and it was to match this sporting spirit that he conceived The Original Mackinlay. Charles was appointed a Baillie of the Leith town council in 1849. He was later offered a provostship but declined owing to ill health. Having built a highly successful distilling company, Charles died, aged 58, at 14 Pilrig Street, Leith in 1867. 

Charles son, James, who had apprenticed to Buchan & Johnston, Chandlers, Leith as well as to Lawrie Son & Nephew, London, assumed responsibility for running the Company. He took in his brother, Charles W. Mackinlay, as a partner, with James handling sales and Charles W., the financial duties. During the same year, the Edinburgh & Leith Wholesale Wine & Spirit Association was formed, with James Mackinlay as Secretary.

In 1875, brand Mackinlays Vatted Old Benvorlich Scotch whisky was registered. In the late 1870’s, London offices were opened, first on Queen Victoria Street then to Crutched Friars. Thus, Mackinlays Vatted Old Benvorlich, probably one of the first blended Scotch whiskies to be marketed, was introduced to London. An early account was established with the Refreshment Department at the House of Commons. Whisky was still being provided there as late as 22 December 1885, according to a letter from Alexander Gordon & Co., Ltd, Pro & Es. 

Charles Mackinlay & Co. purchased Corbett Borthwicks Warehouse, East Old Dock, Leith, in 1875. Notable Mackinlay & Co. employees included James Buchanan (1879), Thomas Dewar (cashier, 1881) and James Watson (1891). In 1885, James Buchanan left the Company to found Black & White Scotch Whisky and became Lord Woolavington. James Mackinlay and John Birnie built the Glen Mohr Distillery, Inverness, trading as Mackinlays & Birnie, Ltd. Working with a Frenchman named Saladin, this distillery became the first to install a Saladin box (during the 1950’s), which was to revolutionise the malting process.

In 1894, Charles Mackinlay & Co., Ltd, acquired several important agencies:

  • Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman, Oporto
  • Sancho Romate Hermanas, Jerez
  • Bruninghurst, Beaune
  • Louis Olanier & Co., Cognac
  • Pinet Castillion & Co., Cognac
  • Ayalia & Co., Champagne.

Sadly, Charles W. Mackinlay died in Inverness in 1896. The same year, James Mackinlay took into partnership both his eldest son, Charles, and Thomas Dewar. 

Charles Mackinlay married Edith Crabbie, daughter of John Crabbie of John Crabbie & Co. Ltd, Great Junction Street, Leith, in 1898. In the same year, James Thomson left Mackinlays for a wholesale firm in London but returned to Mackinlays as their London manager in 1903. 

In 1905, the Mackinlay Company built a new bonded warehouse, Charlotte Street, Leith, for bottling. In 1907, Sir Earnest Schackleton, explorer, asked the Company to supply the official Scotch whisky for his Antarctic expedition to the South Pole. This momentous trip began aboard the S.S. ENDURANCE. Empty bottles of The Original Mackinlay were discovered by a later expedition, still standing on Schackleton’s base-camp desk. 

In 1908, James Mackinlay was called to present evidence to the Royal Commission constituted to report on Scotch whisky and other potable spirits. Also this year, the London office of Mackinlays moved to Mark Lane. The Port of London Authority bought the Crutched Friars property. 

In 1910, Sir Robert Usher resigned as Chairman of the Edinburgh & Leith Wholesale Wine & Spirit Association. James Mackinlay was appointed Chairman, Thomas Hutchinson became Secretary. (Thomas Hutchinson, then a Director, J. C. Thomson & Co., later was Knighted, and eventually Sir Thomas Hutchinson became Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh.) At a function in the Queens Hotel, Leith, James Mackinlay was congratulated on his 43 years of service as Secretary - an event reported in the Leith Observer of that week. 

In 1915, Thomas Dewar retired, owing to ill health, Thomas Hutchinson resigned as Secretary of the Edinburgh & Leith Wholesale Wine & Spirit Association but James Mackinlay remained as Chairman. James Watson, of Mackinlays, took the office of Secretary, which continued until the liquidation of the Association. After the 1914-1918 War, the Whisky Association was formed. During 1915, the Mackinlay Company purchased two bonds - Timber Bush, Leith (Nos. 32 and 72) for bulk storage. Thomas Dewar died, aged 61, in 1917 and James Watson and James Thomson became partners - Watson in Leith and Thomson in London. 

At the commencement of the 1914-1918 War, the Mackinlay Company owned 4 bonded warehouses in Leith. After the 1914-1918 War, the Mackinlay Company acquired the Glen Albyn Distillery, Inverness and became partners with J. G. Thompson & Co. Ltd to rent the Littlemill Distillery from COL Ferguson Buchanan of Auchen Torlie. Mackinlays also purchased A. Alexander & Co. Ltd, Henderson Turnbull Ltd, Mackintosh & Co, Inverness and Robert Brown & Co., Glasgow. 

In 1922, John Russell joined Charles Mackinlay & Co., followed in 1924 by Ian James Mackinlay, the only son of Charles Mackinlay. Ian had received training at other companies. It was also in 1924 that the London office removed to Trafalgar House, 11 Waterloo Place, SW1. 

James Mackinlay, senior Mackinlay at Charles Mackinlay & Co., died, aged 83 in May 1926, at 18 Eglington Crescent, Edinburgh. 

In 1927, Bottling Bond, Charlotte Street, Leith, was unable to cope, so No. 1 Bond, Mitchell Street, Leith, was purchased and the Charlotte Street premises were altered to become a duty paid warehouse and cooperage. 

James Watson, after 2 years of indifferent health, died, aged 59, in May 1930. He had been a very prominent Freemason holding the office of Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the first commoner ever to hold the position. 

In August 1930, Donald Mackinlay was born and in 1932, Ian James Mackinlay became a partner. 

In 1933, the United States of America repealed prohibition and Mackinlays substantially increased their filling programme. The premises at Constitution Street, Leith, were purchased for enlarged cooperage activities. (This site included the Masonic Lodge used by Robert Burns on his visits to Leith.)Charles Mackinlay sadly died, aged 63, at 4 Belford Park from a serious heart attack. 

In 1928, Archibald Watson and James Currie Thomson (elder son of previously noted James Thomson) were made partners.Ian James Mackinlay and James Currie Thomson, T. A. officers, received immediate call up on the commencement of the Second World War, 1939. Ian James Mackinlay was captured by the Japanese at Singapore and remained a prisoner of war until 1945. James C. Thomson - Cameron Highlanders -served in the Middle East, in the western desert and in Italy. Wounded during the advance in Italy, he was to be decorated in the field.

After 1945, the Mackinlay Company was entrusted with the following agencies:

  • Mackenzie & Co. - Sherry
  • United Rum Merchants - Rums and Tia Maria
  • Calvert of Bordeaux - French wines
  • Taylors - Port

In 1952, William H. Thomson (cadet son of James, above) joined the Company. In October 1953, Donald Mackinlay joined the Company, becoming a Director in 1958. In the intervening years, William H. Thomson and John Russell also became Directors. 

In 1960, Charles Mackinlay & Co. Ltd was purchased by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. Scottish & Newcastle joined Charles Mackinlay & Co. with John E. McPherson & Sons, Ltd to trade in the home market as Mackinlay-McPherson, Ltd. Ian James Mackinlay continued to head up the Mackinlay Company.

New premises for Charles Mackinlay & Co. were relocated to 9/21 Salamander Place, Leith, in 1962.

In 1974, by popular demand, Charles Mackinlay & Co., then a part of Newcastle Breweries, decided to reintroduce the Isle of Jura ‘s only single malt Scotch whisky. 

Donald Mackinlay assumed the post of Chairman in 1983 and during his tenure as Company leader, single malt whisky continued to be brewed from the Isle of Jura. Craighouse, on Small Isles Bay, is the capital of Jura. It is here that the Isle of Jura Distillery is located, drawing water from the spring of Bhaille Mharghadh, which runs through a cave once used by smugglers on to quartzite and over peat and heather. A distillery on this spot was part of island life as early as 1810 but was closed during WW I. 

Invergordon Distillers acquired Charles Mackinlay, Ltd in 1985 and, thus, control of Jura and Glenallachie distilleries from Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. 

In 1989, Donald Mackinlay paid a visit to Australia on the occasion of a major shift in bottling policy of The Original Mackinlay Finest Old Scotch Whisky. Following a pattern set by Long John and Teachers the previous year, the BIA (Bottled in Australia) practice was to change to BIS (Bottled In Scotland) in order to keep control of bottle contents. Apparently, even with manufacturing under license, the costs were too great to supervise from Scotland. 

Bottling entailed receiving the spirit and adding water to dilute the whisky to bottling strength (37 percent alcohol). BIS whisky was more expensive because the freight component to ship bottle-strength whisky rather than concentrated spirit had to be added. Peter Scudamore-Smith, of The Brisbane Sun, commented that he “would rather add to the image of Mackinlay by seeing it diluted with soft and mellow Scottish stream water, rather than the chlorinated waters we know. Many cities of the world have terrible tap water which makes life difficult for the purist whisky drinker who takes water with a dram.” 

Mackinlay standard whisky is at least five years old (all three brands - 5, 12 and 21-year old - all must exceed age three years), with portions drawn from both grain distillation and malt whisky. Charles Mackinlay & Co. Ltd - in 1989 part of the Invergordon Distillers Group - operated from five distilleries. The grain distillery churns out clear spirit that is the price reducer for all standard whisky. These whiskies are regarded by their spirit proportions - Mr. Scudamore-Smith’s taste suggesting 85 percent grain and 15 percent malt in the Mackinlay. He indicated that the percentage of malt rather than average age is the major determinant of the whisky’s regard. In all fairness, during a recent communication with Mr. Donald Mackinlay, after his having an opportunity to review Mr. Scudamore-Smith comments, Mr. Mackinlay assured me that even the 5 year-old Mackinlay had a malt content that never was less than 34%. Apparently Mr. Scudamore-Smith’s sensitivity for estimating malt content was somewhat inaccurate! 

Charles Mackinlay & Co. Ltd, at least in 1989, had malt whisky distilleries on the Isle of Jura, in Speyside at Glenallachie and one in the Highlands, Tullibardine at Blackford. The focus of malt whisky content in blended whisky becomes much more apparent with Mackinlay’s two older deluxe whiskies - Legacy 12 year-old and 21-year old. Malt whisky continued to create interest worldwide, with sales globally at three percent of the whisky market in 1988, while only 1.5 percent in 1985. The Original Mackinlay is described as “sweet, mellow, full-bodied, lingering taste, malty, rich amber colour.” 

Almost as an epilogue, the acquisition of Charles Mackinlay Ltd by Invergordon gave way to further acquisition of Invergordon Distillers by Whyte & Mackay Group for American Brands, Inc., in 1995. Jim Beam Brands World-Wide, Inc., in turn, subsequently acquired Whyte & Mackay Group. 

In summary, the story of conceiving, distilling and bottling The Original Mackinlay by Charles Mackinlay during the 19th century is a fascinating one. During the last decade, Donald Mackinlay has retired as Chairman of the Company. However, this splendid, blended Scotch whisky, with its Jura connection, can still be purchased throughout the world from its Invergordon offices in Leith. The manager of the firm is Mr. Norman Mathison, a most cordial gentleman, who is delighted to entertain inquiries regarding The Original Mackinlay and other Invergordon products that are the heritage of the Charles Mackinlay & Co. Ltd. It is curious, indeed, that one has come full circle from the original Donald Mackinlay of Jura to his “namesake,” who is the last of a long line of Mackinlays to shepherd the fine product originally conceived by Charles Mackinlay, his great-great-grandfather.

Tuesday 21 February 2017



Whisky production in Japan began around 1870 and, as may be expected, wasn’t really worth talking about. The first commercial production started soon after WWI in 1924 with the opening of the country's first distillery, Yamazaki. Broadly speaking the style of Japanese whisky is more similar to that of Scotch whisky than other major styles of whisky.

One facet of the style of Japanese whisky comes from the way in which blended whisky is produced, and the differing nature of the industry in Japan. Despite the recent rise of interest in single malt whiskies, the vast majority of whisky sold in the world is still blended. In Scotland, while a particular brand of blended whisky may be owned by a company that also owns one or more distilleries, it is common for blended whisky bottlers to trade single malt whiskies. The components of a blend may involve malt whisky from a number of distilleries, which may be owned by different companies. In Japan, however, the industry is vertically integrated, meaning whisky companies own both the distilleries and the brands of blended whiskies, and do not trade with their competitors. So a blended whisky in Japan will generally only contain malt whisky from the distilleries owned by that same company.

There are several companies producing whisky in Japan, but the two best-known and most widely available are Suntory and Nikka. Both of these produce blended as well as single malt whiskies and blended malt whiskies.

The top five of Japan’s 12-year-old whiskies are: Yamazaki, Hakushu, Nikka Taketsuru, Nikka Miyagikyo and Hibiki. Drink them as you like, but note that the Japanese typically add a dash (or a lot) of water. I use between 5 and 15 drops of water, using a pipette or drinking straw.

1. Suntory Yamazaki


The Sweetest: The first seriously marketed whisky from the distillery that started it all: Yamazaki 12 YO. This is the classic, and for good reason. It’s light. It’s floral. It’s delicious. For what you’re getting, it’s reasonably priced. On the nose, one gets hints of zest and honey, and the palate, smooth and sweet, brings flavors of citrus with some vanilla oakiness. If you have a snobbish friend who insists on Scotch, a glass of Yamazaki should be the first class in a course of conversion to the Japanese path. 

2. Suntory Hakushu



The Smokiest: Hakushu, Suntory’s third American release, comes in a green bottle (a rarity among most clear-bottled Japanese whiskies) that hints at its “green” flavour profile: leaves and fruits, particularly pear. Marketed as the “fresh” whisky, Hakushu 12-year-old comes from the forests at the base of the Southern Japanese Alps. However, you’d be forgiven if you mistake this for an Islay malt. Even thoroughbred tasters often fail to separate the two. The use of peated barley, imported from Scotland, gives the whisky a smoky nose that suggests seaside origins; then you taste the delicate whisky, and find yourself transported to the forests of Japan.

3. Nikka Miyagikyo



The Most Surprising: When you nose this whisky, it releases little by the way of aroma. Using less peaty malt, this whisky is distilled in a pot still heated by indirect steam at a low temperature. Miyagikyo Single Malt has an elegant fruitiness and a distinctive aroma with a strong Sherry cask influence. It takes ten minutes to settle and a second sniff yields heavy doses of toffee and caramel. The taste — full of strong, sweet vanilla — mimicks the nose’s form: slow to build, but impressive at its peak. Very classy finish.

4. Nikka Taketsuru





The Smoothest: Interestingly, this is a vatted (a blend of single malts) versus blended whisky, brought over to the United States for the first time just last year. It combines 12-year-old malts from Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. The darkest of the five whiskies (though still light, as far as whiskies go), the Taketsuru wows your taste with its even balance and smooth finish. On the nose, you get hints of vanilla, apple and cinnamon (apple pie). However, honey dominates the palate — so much so, in fact, that you feel like you are drinking straight from a honeycomb. The finish is rather short.

5. Suntory Hibiki

The Sexiest Bottle

Housed in a distinct, multi-faceted, corked (!) bottle, or decanter, this Suntory whisky looks like something pulled from Don Trump’s personal bar. Although the nose is a bit sharp, the Hibiki gains points for using whisky aged in Mizunara, a rare Japanese oak, as well as casks formerly used to hold Japanese plum liqueur. Like the Nikka Miyagikyo, the Hibiki is rich and thick, bordering on syrupy. The taste mirrors the honey and vanilla of other offerings, but with an oily texture and small notes of fruit. An excellent blend. 

6. Yoichi 10 YO



Also RanA very well made single malt from Japan, Yoichi is the jewel in Nikka's crown, their 10 year old offering notes of vanilla and fruit. I have included it as a very close 6th. There is something quite delicate about this Japanese malt; its almost tropical flavours and subtle smoke are reminiscent of a summer BBQ. This is one to bring out for celebratory toasts in the future.

Nose: Plenty of fruit notes - peach stands out in particular, ripe, vibrant and subtly floral. Then there's rich vanilla custard, peat smoke and a hint of nutmeg spice.

Palate: Oily and sweet, with peat smoke following swiftly afterwards. Light oak and developing fruit notes beneath. Finish: Appealing oak lasts on the finish.