Review: North British 53 Year Old 1961 Single Grain Scotch Whisky (Douglas Laing XOP) / by Jason Hambrey

53 Years; Refill Sherry Cask
Distiller North British (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Scottish Grain whiskies are broadly similar to Canadian corn whiskies (I suppose that is my reference point!). They represent a portion of the Scotch whisky segment which is quite different from Single Malts - the distilleries can use column stills and any grain they wish - usually corn (the cheapest) or wheat. The segment has grown, but most of the whisky goes straight to supplying blends and is not released in the same way that single malts would be. The easiest access to them is through independent bottlers, like this one. Also, because they are not in high demand, you can get very old whisky at a fraction of the cost of a similarly aged single malt.

North British was founded in 1885, and is the only remaining distillery in Edinburgh. As a single grain whisky distillery for Scottish blends, it is massive distillery which distills 180,000 tonnes of cereal (traditionally corn) each year in their coffey continous still. It is jointly owned by Diageo and Edrington group.

This is old! It is not often you find a whisky more than 50 years old. This was matured in a refill sherry butt.

Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask 10708 (186 bottles)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Classic aged grain whisky on the nose – buttery, rich and oily grain, vanilla, and lots of oak. The oak breaches upon bitterness here – no surprise after 53 years! Dried elderflower, roasted stem tea, earthiness from all the wood, and there’s still a bit of white grape in this – but semi-dried. Quite a magnificent nose. A bit of rubber, too. Lots of beeswax.

The taste is quite cereal-led, with a good dose of earthiness (cacao!) and a slowly unfolding finish full of spices and held firm with tannin and a bit of bitterness. The bitterness isn’t strong enough that it is negative, but I also wouldn’t say it is positive here – I would say over-oaked. The lightest touch of edgy sherry too.

The finish has lots of vanilla and oak. Relatively clean – cloves and corn still on the end though as well. It is complex, and the cacao in the middle significantly elevates this one. The bitterness doesn’t help – a terrific whisky, sitting somewhere between my reference points of Ninety 20 Year old and Canadian Rockies 21 Year old for whiskies in a similar camp. However, terrific to be able to taste.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very low, based on $670.