Whisky Review #103: Mosstowie 1979 34 Years Old (Signatory Vintage bottling)

Mosstowie is a name that is known to a fair few, but remains a mystery to the vast majority of whisky drinkers out there. But what it lacks in terms of fanfare, it more than makes up for in terms of sheer historical significance.

First of all, Mosstowie doesn’t take its name from a distillery, but was the name given to a specific kind of whisky which was produced at Miltonduff distillery located in the Pluscarden Valley within Speyside.

Before we delve into the whisky itself, let’s have a look at the history of the distillery and how this interesting whisky came into existence.

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Miltonduff distillery (Picture credit: http://www.welcometoscotland.com)

Miltonduff distillery was founded in 1824 when Andrew Peary and Robert Bain obtained a licence to operate a distillery in Elgin. The distillery was initially known as Milton, but the name was changed to its present incarnation when the site it was located on was purchased by the Duff family.

Ownership of the distillery changed hands twice more in the following century, first to William Stuart in 1866, then to Thomas Yool & Co. in 1895. But it was in 1936 when the distillery came under the control of a well-known firm.

Thomas Yool & Co. sold the distillery to Hiram Walker Gooderham & Sons in 1936 and ownership was then transferred to one of the company’s newly acquired subsidiaries, George Ballantine & Sons (who produced the world renowned blended Scotch whisky, Ballantine’s).

The distillery eventually came under the control of Allied Lyons and by extension, Pernod Ricard, but it was under Hiram Walker’s purview that Mosstowie came into existence.

In 1964, the distillery installed a pair of Lomond stills which allowed for different types of spirit to be produced. The Lomond still was a hybrid system which combined elements of both the pot still and the column still and was invented by both Alistair Cunningham and Arthur Warren of Hiram Walker in 1955.

By combining the copper pot from the pot still with a rectifying column from the column still, distilleries were able to produce different types of whisky from the house style, which allowed for a large amount of experimentation.

Several other distilleries which were owned by Hiram Walker also installed Lomond stills and experimented with peated malt, with some of these experiments making it to the secondary market in recent years. Some of these distilleries are:

  • Glenburgie (Glencraig)
  • Glen Keith (Glenisla & Craigduff – Both peated malts distilled on regular pot stills)
  • Inverleven
  • Miltonduff (Mosstowie)
  • Scapa (The Lomond still was converted into a regular still some years later)

Miltonduff produced Mosstowie intermittently from 1964 to 1985, when the stills were decommissioned. One of the reasons for the failure of the Lomond still was due to the difficulty in cleaning the rectification plates which could be adjusted to produce different styles of spirit.

There are only a few Lomond stills left in operation in Scotland these days, with both Loch Lomond (who use a modified Lomond still set up to produce Inchmurrin) and Bruichladdich (who purchased the Lomond still which was once used at the now-demolished Inverleven distillery to produce The Botanist gin) actively producing different types of spirit with them.

While the main produce at Miltonduff forms the backbone of the Ballantine’s blend, Mosstowie has become a highly regarded and highly sought after whisky and it has been bottled on several occasions by independent bottlers, most notably Signatory Vintage.

Therefore, this week’s review focuses on an expression of Mosstowie which was distilled in 1979, matured for 34 years in a single bourbon barrel (cask #1305) and bottled in 2013 at 49.9% abv for Signatory Vintage’s Cask Strength Collection.

So, let’s jump right into the review!

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Mosstowie 1979 34 Years Old (Signatory Vintage bottling)

Mosstowie 1979 34 Years Old (Bottled by Signatory Vintage, 49.9% abv)

Colour: Deep gold

Nose: Initial entry presents some leafy green hints followed by a robust blend of a trio of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice powders. Malt and barley sugar emerge soon after, with a fleeting hint of lemon citrus and peel, freshly ground white pepper, tarragon, wet ferns and wet slate emerging later on. A touch of menthol and some limestone follow soon after. (22/25)

Palate: Initial entry presents more of the herbs from the nose as well as some barley sugar, chewy malt, oak and cinnamon. The herbs and barley sugar hints combine beautifully and accentuate the wood spice hints and oak. Over time, lemon peel, stewed red apples, menthol and a hint of camomile tea emerge. (23/25)

Finish: Medium to long on the finish, with the lemon peel, stewed red apples, white pepper, oak, herbs and wood spices lingering to the very end. These elements leave a slight tingling sensation on the palate, which is rather interesting. (21/25)

Balance: A rather well-balanced dram which provides a multitude of complexities and flavours over time. The mouthfeel is generally drying with a touch of oiliness initially. For an experimental whisky, this is pretty impressive! (22/25)

Rating: 88/100

When you consider that this expression has been aged for 34 years, it still retains a surprising amount of character and effervescence that one would generally associate with a younger whisky. The difference between this expression and a typical Miltonduff is also rather marked.

This expression of Mosstowie is rather difficult to get a hold of these days, but one may be able to find bottles of it on the various auction sites. As there were a number of casks bottled by Signatory over the past few years, chances are that one would be able to find a number of different expressions, which would make for an interesting side-by-side comparison.

Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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