Whisky Review #32: North Port 1979 20 Years Old (Rare Malts Selection)

Diageo is a company that really gets around the place.

Having owned a multitude of distilleries under various companies and partnerships (Distillers Company Limited, Scottish Malt Distillers etc) in the past and more recently as Grand Metropolitan and Guinness (before both merged to form the current incarnation, Diageo), they are the undisputed giants in the Scotch whisky industry.

Diageo currently own 44 distilleries throughout Scotland, 28 of which are in operation as of now with 16 others which have either been closed, dismantled or demolished entirely.

It is always a sad time when a distillery closes as while it affects the local community which is dependent on it for jobs, it also means that another distillery that forms the fabric of the Scotch whisky industry has been consigned to the pages of history, most of the time for good.

One of these distilleries would be North Port, which was based in the town of Brechin. The distillery name itself is a reference to one of the gates of the wall which surrounded the city of Brechin.

Interestingly enough, the distillery has been interchangeably known as either North Port or Brechin during various periods of its history and it is therefore not unusual to see bottlings from the distillery showcasing one name or the other.

north_port_alt_fbx
Not the clearest of photos, but one of the few that remain of the distillery.

The distillery was established in 1820 by the Guthrie family, who ran it for more than a century before selling it to DCL in 1922. DCL (and later Diageo) ran the distillery until 1983, when it closed 21 of its 45 distilleries (44 malt and 1 grain) between 1983-1985.

The 1980s were a truly wretched time for distilleries and saw a multitude of distilleries close their doors for good, especially in the Highland region. Alongside North Port, Glenesk, Glenury Royal and Lochside closed their doors, leaving Glencadam and Fettercairn as the only surviving representitives of the Highland region on the Eastern coast of Scotland.

Sadly, North Port was never reopened after the turbulent times of the 1980s and was demolished in 1994 in order to make way for a supermarket which has been owned by Safeway, Somerfield and now The Co-operative Group.

In terms of capacity, the distillery was a rather small operation which consisted of a single pair of stills and an annual capacity of just 500,000 litres of spirit.

In terms of releases, North Port is rather uncommon and has appeared as part of the Rare Malts Selection twice as well as part of the Special Releases in 2005 as a 28 Years Old bottling.

Independent bottlings are also rather rare and the latest bottling (which was distilled in 1981), was released by Duncan Taylor in 2008.

The bottling that I will be reviewing today is the North Port 1979 20 Years Old expression, which is part of the Rare Malts collection. I’m not sure as to what kind of casks were used in the maturation process, but I will endeavour to find out.

North Port (Brechin) 20 Years Old Rare Malts Bottle
That eye-watering cask strength ABV!

This particular expression was distilled in 1979 and spent 20 years quietly maturing before being bottled in October 1999 at a rather eye-watering cask strength ABV of 61.2% as part of the Rare Malts range of whiskies which were meant to showcase the hidden gems within the Diageo portfolio.

I had a chance to try this beauty at The Auld Alliance some time ago and it was going for a very reasonable SG$26++ for a half nip (20ml). It was also the same night as when I savoured the Caol Ila 31 Years Old bottled by Silver Seal, so it was definitely a good night.

So, let’s dive in aye?

North Port (Brechin) 20 Years Old Rare Malts
North Port 1979 20 Years Old (Rare Malts Selection)

North Port 1979 20 Years Old (61.2% abv, Rare Malts Selection)

Colour: Deep gold

Nose: Initial entry presents some grassy notes with hints of unripe fruit. The cask strength nature of this dram is also very apparent as it creeps up the nose and announces itself.

With time, honeydew, honeysuckle and some white pepper emerge, along with a good amount of maltiness and surprisingly, some antiseptic. (22/25)

Palate: Spicy on initial entry, with red chili, white pepper, aniseed and some nutmeg in play. After the initial heat blast subsides, the grassy and green notes from the nose make an appearance.

The unripe green fruit notes evolve with time to a more sophisticated citrus note, hinting at some lemon drops and just a touch of grapefruit. With time, the honeydew from the nose emerges on the palate. (22/25)

Finish: Medium to long finish, with the spiciness fading slowly. The honeydew is the definite star of the show as it represents the clearest indication of a fruit note in this dram.

Grassy and green in equal measure, with the honeysuckle also making an appearance late on. The cask strength nature of this dram also coats the palate well and the mouthfeel is surprisingly oily and not at all drying. (21/25)

Balance: The grassy and green notes coupled with the citrus and honeydew notes make for a rather well balanced dram and the cask strength nature doesn’t overpower or underpower one aspect or the other.

The spiciness of this dram is one which will take some getting used to initially, but once it subsides it actually complements the other notes relatively well. Overall, a very nice dram from a sadly closed distillery. (22/25)

Rating: 87/100

I actually really liked this dram and it’s a shame that the distillery has been demolished and its production resigned to slowly dwindle into nothingness.

This particular dram can still be found on The Whisky Exchange and retails for a rather reasonable £699 (or £582.50 excluding VAT for those living outside of the UK).

Slainte!

Brendan

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