Whisky Review #76: Linkwood double header – Maltbarn 16 Years Old vs Cadenhead 26 Years Old

Linkwood is a distillery which is fairly well-known by whisky drinkers and blenders alike, primarily due to its vibrant and accommodating nature. Blenders in particular love it due to its combination of fresh, fruity, green and grassy flavours along with a surprisingly powerful mouthfeel. In this sense, it provides the best of both worlds.

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Linkwood distillery (Picture credit: http://www.mapio.net)

The distillery was founded in 1821 by Peter Brown, who ran it until 1868 when he passed away. Control of the distillery then passed on to his son William, who proceeded to demolish the distillery in 1872 and rebuild another in its place.

The distillery remained under William’s ownership until 1897, when it was purchased by a consortium through their newly founded business entity, Linkwood Glenlivet Distillery Company Ltd.

In 1902, a whisky trader from Elgin by the name of Innes Cameron attained a seat on the board of Linkwood Glenlivet Distillery Company Ltd and eventually became the majority shareholder and director of the company and its assets.

The distillery remained under his control for the next 30 years until his death, when it was sold to Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD). As we are all well aware by now, SMD one of the vital cogs within the mighty Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) machinery which eventually became a part of the spirits behemoth, Diageo.

The distillery was refurbished in 1962 and SMD went one step further by building a new distillery within the same grounds in 1971 (the old distillery was from then on referred to as Linkwood A and the new distillery as Linkwood B).

Linkwood A produced a different kind of whisky from what we see today as it was equipped with worm tubs, thus giving the whisky a meatier and slightly more sulphurous character.

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The stills at Linkwood (Picture credit: http://www.isgplc.com)

Both Linkwood A and B operated in tandem until 1985, when Linkwood A was mothballed. The distillery reopened in 1990 and operated for a few short months every year until 1996, when it was once again mothballed.

In the meantime, Linkwood became an important component within several of Diageo’s blends and this increasing need forced them to expand the distillery twice in 2011-2013. The old distillery, Linkwood A, was demolished and the current Linkwood B stillhouse was expanded to accommodate more stills.

The distillery presently sports a full lauter mash tun, 11 wooden washbacks (which have a capacity of 80,000 litres but are only filled up to 57,000 litres) and 3 pairs of stills. The 2 old stills from Linkwood A were refurbished and moved to the new stillhouse alongside the 4 stills from Linkwood B.

In order to achieve Linkwood’s signature character, the distillery tries to get the wort as clear as possible while practising long fermentations of at least 75 hours and filling the stills up till just above the man door in order to enhance the copper contact as much as possible.

On top of that, the distillery also allows the stills to rest for at least an hour between distillation runs in order for the copper to regenerate. With all the new expansions and upgrades, the distillery is now able to produce up to 5.6 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis, almost all of which is allocated to the various blends within the Diageo portfolio.

Another aspect of the upgrade is that the distillery is now fully automated, with all processes being controlled by computers. As such, the distillery only requires a handful of staff (sometimes even as little as one person!) to be on site at any time in order to monitor the distillery operations.

This week’s review focuses on a double header which features two expressions of Linkwood which have been bottled by Maltbarn and Cadenhead respectively. These were then divided into 20ml samples and bottled by Whisky Butler as part of one of their monthly subscription sample boxes.

The first sample is a Linkwood which was distilled in 1998 and bottled after 16 years of maturation by independent bottler Maltbarn at a natural cask strength abv of 49.3% whereas the second sample is a Linkwood which was distilled sometime in the late 1980s and bottled after 26 years of maturation by independent bottler Cadenhead at a natural cask strength abv of 56.8%

So, let’s jump right in!

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Linkwood 1998 16 Years Old (Bottled by Maltbarn, sample by Whisky Butler)

Linkwood 1998 16 Years Old (Bottled by Maltbarn, 49.3% abv)

Colour: Straw

Nose: Initial entry presents the typical floral and fresh note that one would associate with a Linkwood and this is followed up by hints of quince, nectarines, white grapes and the most fleeting hint of acetone.

Hints of oak and some allspice linger in the background and as it opens further, fresh cucumber and white wine emerge. The faintest prickle of alcohol is also detected on the nose. (20/25)

Palate: Fresh, clean citrusy and slightly grassy on initial entry, typical Linkwood. Not very sweet, only just so. More allspice and oak on the palate than on the nose and there is a certain heft to the spirit. Somehow, this feels heavier than a traditional Linkwood, but only by a little bit.

Black pepper, lemon drops, quince jam and some of the dry, crisp white wine from the nose transfer onto the palate. Quite interesting. (21/25)

Finish: Medium on the finish, with more of the oak and a hint of allspice carrying through. Vestigial sweetness from the citrus and white wine, but only just so. Somewhat drying towards the end. (18/25)

Balance: Fairly balanced and while the nose and palate hinted at something rather intriguing, the finish unfortunately didn’t live up to the billing. A slightly haphazard dram. (17/25)

Rating: 76/100

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Linkwood-Glenlivet 26 Years Old (Bottled by Cadenhead, sample by Whisky Butler)

Linkwood-Glenlivet 26 Years Old (Bottled by Cadenhead, 56.8% abv)

Colour: Straw

Nose: Spicy and spirited on initial entry, with nutmeg, mace, charred oak, musty cinnamon, light florals and a hint of citrus in the mix. The pronounced alcohol note is present due to the cask strength abv, but it is not intrusive.

Hints of that typical Linkwood house style are present, but it is more robust and brash than one would typically expect from the distillery. (21/25)

Palate: The sweetness comes to the fore and takes on a honeyed citrus note, while the cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and alcohol bring some warmth with them. Hints of oak and more florals are present and there is a nice rounded note to the mouthfeel. (22/25)

Finish: Medium on the finish, with the wood spices fading away and leaving some of the honeyed citrus notes to complement the oak. (20/25)

Balance: A fairly well-balanced dram, but once again it exhibits more of the flavours on the nose and palate while the elements tend to fade away rather quickly on the finish. Definitely has more going for it than the Maltbarn sample though. (20/25)

Rating: 83/100

In this case, the older Linkwood-Glenlivet sample from Cadenhead had a more profound impact than the younger Linkwood sample from Maltbarn. In a way, this does showcase that age and the quality of the cask do play a role in terms of crafting the final identity of the spirit.

Considering that Linkwood has a versatile spirit which ages well, it is no surprise that the older sample exhibited more complexity and flavours than its younger counterpart.

However, to say that all older Linkwoods are better than their younger counterparts would be inherently wrong, as the the versatility of the spirit also allows it to exhibit a good level of complexity at a younger age.

Until the next post, have a great week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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