Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tasting: Old and Rare Whisky: Glenlivet 1968 (37 year old), Cask No. 5240, bottled 5/04/2006, Duncan Taylor & Co. Ltd.

So this evening I finally got around to cracking open a whisky sample I got a few years back while preparing a scotch whisky article for volume 3 of Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail. Mixologist is/was a first rate annual journal I used to copy-edit/contribute to.

[The Mixologist venture has been put on hold while the editors/publishers have gotten VERY busy with other (hopefully) more profitable, though equally rewarding, projects. I suspect that one day this volume, and the entire project, will resume. For those interested, Volume 1 (which I did not copy edit) and Volume 2 (which I did) are still available.]

At any rate, the whisky in question is a rare gem: Glenlivet 1968 (37 year old), Cask No. 5240, bottled 5/04/2006, 53.4% abv, Duncan Taylor & Co. Ltd.

This pale amber colored whisky has some substantial heft to it, and a considerable though almost flinty edge. Aromas of vanilla, custard, honey-bread, and something grassy-to-herb-garden like, with some distinct malty richness present at first brush (the alcohol is apparent as well); water develops these further, with additional sweet caramel and toasted bread notes (and with the obvious dilution of alcoholic fumes). Flavor-wise, a remarkably fresh scent of citrus fruit emerges (not unlike a smidgen of lime zest flamed over the top, cocktail style); more vanilla and some subtle, though lovely, crème brûlée notes emerge, along with some spritely and lingering acidity to balance off the shortbread and slightly old buttered popcorn finish. This dram has depth, character, a creamy body and just enough fight left in it to keep it really, really interesting. Too bad there is little of it to be had. A great and rare dram from the Glenlivet Distillery.

This is also another real winner of a bottle for Duncan Taylor & Co Ltd., and so is as good an excuse as any to do a quick independent whisky company profile. ;-)

Duncan Taylor & Co. Ltd (DTC hereafter) is an independent purveyor of rare Scotch whiskies. With a base in Huntly (Speyside), this independent Scotch whisky bottler has one of the largest privately-held collections of rare Scotch whisky casks.

DTC's "Whiskies of Scotland" shop (at 36 Gordon Street, Huntly, Aberdeenshire AB54 4EQ; on the Eastern fringes of Speyside, 2 minutes off the A96 road from Aberdeen to Inverness) is a veritable cornucopia of whisky treasures -- bottles of rare and very old whisky, some of which from long silent, or even totally dismantled, distilleries.

Besides their own WIDE range of bottlings of great, cool and rare single malts and single cask single malts, DTC also offers various proprietary blends and even private casks; their Gordon Street shop also sells a huge range of scotch whisky paraphernalia -- books, distillery prints, DVD's, clothing, etc.

DTC's managing director, Euan Shand, grew up in the business. His father, the late Albert Shand was a former manager of the Glendronach Distillery (which I profiled earlier on this blog), and Euan grew up in the house on the distillery grounds. Following in the family footsteps, which are long and wide with millers, distillers, etc., Shand joined the industry at the ground floor, as a cooper and warehouseman at Glendronach Distillery. He then moved on within the Wm Teacher and Sons Ltd parent company (they acquired Glendronach in 1957), where he spent 6 years or so, working his way through virtually every department. Shand even spent time as a tour guide before moving to their Sales Department at their headquarters in St Enoch Square in Glasgow. At one point during his training he spent about 9 months at the Ardmore Distillery.

DTC entered the independent bottlers' scene with a loud boom in 2003. Success has followed success, and Shand's vision grew towards starting their own distillery. The project is a new £5million “green” or totally "carbon neutral" distillery in Huntly.

How did this all come about? Shand and his partner, Alan Gordon (another Scotch whisky veteran), acquired the business from the executors of a family estate in New York, and they were so "stunned by the diversity of whiskies on offer and the incredible quality," as Euan put it one interview, that he "just had to buy the company!"

So who was behind this NY family estate? A legendary Jewish New York businessman named Abe Rosenberg, not a Scotsman named "Duncan Taylor."

After the 1933 repeal of prohibition in the United States, Abe Rosenberg and his two brothers sought their fortunes in booze. They got their wholesale liquor license (covering Connecticut, New York and Miami) and in 1934 established Star Liquor Dealers in Sunnyside (right on the edge of Long Island City), Queens. As their hard work payed off, they became major industry figures. Eventually they moved the operation out of Queens to Syosset, Long Island, and renamed it "Star Industries" -- which is still in business).

When WWII ended, Rosenberg became a partner in the Paddington Corporation, the U.S. importer of J&B Scotch. The company was established by importer/distributor Charlie Guttman. Paddington Corp is also still going strong.

Previously in 1933, just as an aside, Guttman had formed the "Buckingham Corporation" with Jake "Jay" Culhane to import Cutty Sark to the U.S. for Berry Brothers. Four year later, Guttman and Culhane parted ways. Buckingham Corp, eventually called Buckingham Wile & Sons, changed ownership numerous times over the decades but continued to carry the Cutty Sark account until 1990 when it got got bought out by Hiram Walker-Allied Vintners; which eventually became Allied Domecq, which was later acquired by Pernod Ricard. Though Cutty Sark is still partly owned by Berry Brothers & Rudd (Cutty Sark is jointly owned by The Edrington Group) and is now imported by Skyy Spirits which is owned by the Campari Group.

When Guttman left Culhane, he did so in a huff. Guttman determined to set-up shop as a competitor by importing whisky from "the other merchant in St. James's" -- Justerini & Brooks (still in business and still on St. James's, no. 61, though not in the original location; now owned by Diageo. Berry Brothers & Rudd have been at Number 3 St. James's Street in London since 1698, though their current building there was only built in the 1730's). According to the historiography, Guttman passed a bus in London with a sign for Paddington Station and so decided to name his new company Paddington.

Guttman was happy to let Rosenberg drive the J&B account - which he did, with gusto. Single-handedly, Rosenberg saved the moribund brand and before too long he steadily increased annual exports of J&B in the U.S. from 25,000 cases to 3.5 million cases.

Rosenberg was a very shrewd businessman and an early devotee of single malt Scotch whisky. To this end, he bought a small whisky holding company in Scotland called "Duncan Taylor & Co." It was both an investment vehicle and an outlet for his single malt hobby.

Through Duncan Taylor & Co., Rosenberg began in the early 1960's to build private stocks of single malt Scotch whisky. He bought casks of spirit fresh off the still from distilleries all over Scotland (until it is aged at least 3 years in oak in Scotland, it can't be called whisky). His tastes were exquisite, and a great many of these excellent quality casks were of whiskies that had predominantly been used for blending -- so few malt whisky bottlings of them ever went into circulation.

Abe Rosenberg amassed over 4,000 casks of single malt and single grain Scotch whisky through Duncan Taylor & Co. by the time of his death in 1994 (his purchases slowed considerably as his health grew progressively worse; his wife only passed away in 2004; Guttman passed away in 1969). Since MANY of these casks were freshly filled in the 1960s, the cask ages spread between 21 to 40+ years old. So DTC's whisky library of casks averages around 35 years old! Wow.

Euan Shand acquired the mothballed Duncan Taylor & Co. and its extensive bonded warehouse of casks, and moved the headquarters to Huntly, Aberdeenshire (Speyside) in Scotland. DTC hit the ground running in 2003, and between the excellent stock and Shand's brilliant management of the emerging DTC brand, Duncan Taylor & Co. Ltd was quickly recognized as one of the very best and consistently great independent bottlers of Scotch whisky. Given some of its competitors, like Gordon & MacPhail and WM Cadenhead, this is NO SMALL ACCOMPLISHMENT!

I look forward to my next DTC whisky dram.

[Given how long this post is, I’ll do a profile of The Glenlivet another time.]


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. jay culhane was a major nj bootlegger during prohibition.