Macduff 21 Year Single Malt Scotch

cask strength single barrel bottled for K&L (2018)

MASH BILL – 100% malted barley  

PROOF – 110.6

AGE – 21 years

DISTILLERY – Macduff Distillery (bottled by Langside Distillers, associated with Hunter Laing, under their “Hepburn’s Choice” label) 

PRICE – $64 (on sale from $87)

BUY AGAIN? – No, though it is good. Anyway I couldn’t if I wanted to. All 276 bottles are long gone! 

My whiskey (or in this case whisky) journey truly began with scotch. It was during a visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, that I was moved by the spirit from a casual interest to a more serious curiosity. A senior fellow named Hugh, seated in a back-corner table at Sandy Bell’s on Forest Street, was my first guide. Musicians often play at the back of Sandy Bell’s, and Hugh liked to be near them—all day each Saturday and Monday, he said. On this day there was a pianist and fiddler, and between sets Hugh went down the house whisky list with me to point out his favorites. I recently found that list:

If you can’t read my chicken scratch, that’s Caol Ila 12 Year, Linkwood 15 Year, Lagavulin 16 Year, Glenlivet, Highland Park, and Macallan Gold. Hugh also recommended a Scottish band called The Tannahill Weavers.

Upon returning to the States and realizing the obvious—that scotch is much more expensive here than in its homeland pubs—I got into American bourbon and ryes. But I’ve continued to keep my eye out for good deals on scotch, which can often be found courtesy of bottlers like Hunter Laing that buy up casks from mostly lesser known distilleries and sell them as single casks, unfiltered and with no added color. These can be a great way to try older scotch whisky without paying the premium prices that name brands charge.

I’d never heard of Macduff, outside the avenging character in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, a rowdy production of which I’d worked on a little over a decade ago…

But Macduff is also the name of a small distillery in Banffshire, in the Highlands region of Scotland, that mostly sells its whiskies to blenders.

A 21-year single malt scotch for $64 was a no brainer. Even if it didn’t turn out to be great, it couldn’t be bad. I’ve had great luck with bottlers like Hunter Laing, Signatory, and Alexander Murray & Co, with which the California warehouse chain, K&L, maintains regular longstanding relationships. Sometimes the results are fine. Other times they are extraordinary.

So how is this Macduff 21 Year? Here are some notes, taken a bit over halfway through the bottle about two months after uncorking:

COLOR – a clear, crisp, pale straw-yellow

NOSE – fresh inland air, bright tangy vanilla, granulated honey, citrus like lemon and orange, a dash of sea salt on freshly sliced white bread

TASTE – salty vanilla up front, then caramel and honey, at the end the citrus turns to a mix of tropical fruits like mango and orchard fruits like peach

FINISH – warm and peppery, the mango and peach lingering on a background of light salty caramel, faintly tannic oak or nutshell

OVERALL – a happy dram, bright, lively, fun, and festive

Despite the indirect association with Shakespeare’s dark and bloody tragedy, this is a sunny afternoon of a whisky. It’s not a thinker so much as a party with loud laughter and bouncy dancing. Very easy to drink. The cask itself is of legal drinking age and indeed gives the feeling of a celebration of youth emerging into adulthood. It’s playful, articulate, and fun. I can see the balloons and streamers strung up hastily in an open garage, packed with family and friends dancing to a neighbor’s live band. That kind of party. Clean and festive. I appreciate the salty caramel and orchard fruit aspects most. Tropical fruit flavors are never my favorite in whiskies, and they are strong enough here that I wouldn’t pick up another bottle of this Macduff myself. But if the tropics are your jam you might dig it.

Since all 267 bottles of this cask are long gone, what can I recommend here? Perhaps to seek out other well-aged bottles from Macduff. Perhaps to keep an eye on bottlers like Hunter Laing in general. I personally rarely pay for name brand scotches in their own bottlings. Why pay $50 to $100 for a 12-to-15-year Macallan or Glenlivet when I could pay the same for something twice the age and as satisfying in its own way? I know that’s heresy to some folks. But of course any statement of taste or preference is heresy to someone in the whisk(e)y world. 😉

I’ve tried everything on Hugh’s list but the Linkwood 15 Year. I’ll get to it. But in the meantime I’ve very much enjoyed bottles like a Craigellachie 12 Year, a Royal Brackla 17 Year, a Ben Nevis 21 Year, and a North British 28 Year—all bottled by one bottler or another and sold at two-digit prices by K&L.

So my ultimate recommendation here, for anyone looking to explore scotch without going into (too much) debt, is to seek out your local warehouse-style shop and keep an eye on their alternative bottlings. I do enjoy Lagavulin bottled by Lagavulin, especially their 8-year edition. It’s good whisky and popular for good reason. But what I really enjoy is a good deal on a surprise hit like those I just listed off, or like this happy bottle of Macduff Legal-Aged Single Malt.


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