Whisky Review #108: Imperial 1995 18 Years Old

Ah Imperial. One of the dearly departed distilleries that doesn’t evoke as strong a response as the likes of Port Ellen, Brora or Rosebank, but one which has been released on a regular basis by a number of independent bottlers over the years (and for rather affordable prices, too).

The distillery was built to produce bulk whisky for various blends, but there have been a limited amount of official bottlings released over the years, with the vast majority of releases being suppled by the independent bottlers of course.

far view
Imperial distillery prior to its demolition (Picture credit: whisky.com)

Imperial distillery was founded in 1897 by Thomas Mackenzie, who was an entrepreneur and also owned two other distilleries in Dailuaine and Talisker. The distillery’s ownership was then transferred to his company, which was also aptly named Dailuaine-Talsiker Distilleries Ltd.

The distillery didn’t remain open for long though, as the Pattison scandal in 1899 forced them to close their doors due to the uncertainty surrounding the whisky industry and the ripple effects caused by the scandal.

The distillery remained closed and was taken over in 1916 by a consortium consisting of Distillers Company Limited (DCL), WP Lowrie, John Walker & Sons and John Dewar & Sons, with production commencing once again 3 years later.

This period of production lasted a few years longer than before, but the distillery was once again closed in 1925 and went under the full control of DCL shortly after. This time though, the period of silence lasted 30 years and it was only in 1955 that the distillery was reopened, although at this time the ownership was transferred to DCL’s subsidiary, Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD).

The distillery was expanded in 1965, when the number of stills was increased from two to four and a Saladin box was installed on site to malt the barley. The distillery remained in production until 1985, when the Great Rationalisation forced companies to centralise their production and reduce redundancies by closing some of their distilleries.

Imperial was then sold to United Distillers the following year and remained under the ownership until 1989, when it was sold to Allied Distillers and commenced production once again.

This next period of production continued until 1998, when the distillery was once again mothballed and this time for good. The distillery remained silent and was earmarked for demolition in 2005 by Moray Council, who had also provided permission for the site to be rebuilt into housing.

Estate agents Bell Ingram were tasked with finding a buyer for the site, but the sale was terminated in the same year due to the acquisition of Allied Domecq by Pernod Ricard. The new owners were unsure as to what to do with the distillery and it remained silent until 2013, when new plans were put in place to finally demolish it.

However, rather than transform the site into housing, Pernod Ricard felt that the rising demand for whisky meant that there was a need for a new distillery to be built in order to cope with demand. As a result, Imperial was demolished in 2013 and a new distillery, Dalmunach, was built in its place and opened in early 2016.

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Dalmunach distillery (Picture credit: urbanrealm.com)

In its years of operation, Imperial distillery had a production capacity of 1.6 million litres and while this was never fully realised, the same can’t be said for its successor.

Dalmunach falls under the category of “mega distillery” and is fitted with a 12 tonne full lauter mash tun, 16 washbacks (59000 litres each) and 4 pairs of wash (tulip shaped) and spirit (onion shaped) stills which each have a capacity of 30000 litres (although the charge of the spirit still is restricted to 20000 litres). This means that Dalmunach will have a total production capacity of 10 million litres of spirit on an annual basis.

This week’s review focuses on an expression of Imperial which was distilled in 1995, matured in a single cask and bottled after 18 years of maturation at a cask strength abv of 52.7% by German independent bottler, Jack Wieber.

Let’s jump right into the review!

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Imperial 1995 18 Years Old (Bottled by Jack Wieber)

Imperial 1995 18 Years Old (Bottled by Jack Wieber, 52.7% abv)

Colour: Amber

Nose: Initial entry presents a rich, mellow sweetness which is counterbalanced by a fair bit of oak, cinnamon and a certain maltiness. Slightly beer-ish in nature, with cream soda, vanilla, hints of cloves, wood smoke and a fleeting hit of acetone. Slightly savoury and rather intriguing nose which hints at a fair bit of complexity. (21/25)

Palate: Intense sweetness and a well-rounded oaky note bring out the wood spices of cinnamon and nutmeg on initial entry, with rose water, gum drops and vanilla following shortly after. With time, the savoury element detected on the nose transfers onto the palate and brings with it barley sugar, more cream soda, hints of acetone, supple leather and a hint of wood smoke.

There’s a winey note which is reminiscent of sherry (and also hints at the provenance of this cask), but it is rather dignified and remains in the shadows for the most part. (23/25)

Finish: Relatively long on the finish, with the savoury, spicy and floral notes such as leather, cinnamon and rose water carrying through to the end. More of the oak appears along with fleeting hints of the typical cream soda note that one would associate with an Imperial and the warmth recedes slowly, leaving the sweetness to linger. (22/25)

Balance: A rather well-balanced and expressive dram which exhibits the sweet, savoury, spicy and floral elements relatively well. The mouthfeel is largely oily but there is a touch of dryness which creeps in towards the end. (22/25)

Rating: 88/100

This expression of Imperial is rather difficult to find these days and one would do well to acquire a bottle of this for a reasonable price. That being said, there are some rather interesting expressions being released from the distillery by independent bottlers and the majority of them seem to have been distilled in 1995, so it would be fairly easy to acquire a bottle from the various online retailers.

Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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