CARSEBRIDGE 52 YEAR SINGLE GRAIN SCOTCH
bottled under the “Sovereign” label for K&L (2018)
MASH BILL – Unknown un-malted mash bill
PROOF – 86.8
AGE – 52 years 9 months
DISTILLERY – Bottled by Douglas Laing & Co., distilled by Carsebridge Distillery
PRICE – $381
BUY AGAIN? – Can’t. And I wouldn’t because of $$$, not taste.
On this holiday week and weekend, when I’m thinking about the people in my life I am thankful for, I thought it would be appropriate to share notes on this very special bottle.
I bought this 52-year-old Carsebridge scotch in 2018, and kept it tucked away for two years in anticipation of the 52nd birthday of one of the most important people in my life, my partner of 28 years. It was a delightful secret to keep. For two years, as I went through various other bottles of whiskey, arranged and re-arranged my shelves, I always took gleeful note of this special bottle tucked away in a back corner.
Then in June 2020 the moment came, and I revealed the bottle. We uncorked it and took our first sips. On that night I wrote:
It’s amazing. Dark brandied raisins, dark plumb, caramel, smooth, warming… Patience in a barrel. A rare experience, not because it’s unequivocally blow-me-away good. There are other whiskies as pleasing in their way. But this is indeed a special pour to be savored on special occasions with special people.
I haven’t touched this bottle again since June. I’m very curious how it will taste now, several months on from the celebration for which it was uncorked and with as many months of air in the bottle.
Here first are some notes in brief, sampled in a traditional Glencairn on a foggy San Francisco evening.
COLOR – despite the weather outside, it’s a hot summer, late night, porch light amber-orange
NOSE – apple brandy, a really good Riesling, juicy golden raisins, dried Turkish figs, crystalized honey, smoothly sanded oak
TASTE – bright and rich right up front, and then what a journey: from the raisins and figs through a wave of honeyed caramel and on to more dried figs with a range of Middle Eastern spices like cardamom, turmeric, and even a dash of cumin
FINISH – softly warm, with a bright juiciness from the skins of the dried fruits (somehow the skins specifically), some quince fruit now, and that wonderful blend of spices
OVERALL – the calming, spiced herbal tea of whiskies
This is a unique experience. Would it be so if I didn’t know it was 52+ years old? I can’t say. Because I do know it’s 52+ years old. Similarly, I know I bought it to celebrate a special person. Several months on from that celebration, though, I’m still uniquely impressed by this whisky. It’s that notable mix of Middle Eastern spices. The overall impact is not wow or woah so much as a deep breath and leaning back into my chair to contemplate. It’s at once calming and enlivening.
I think about many things as I sip this special dram. Mainly the question, Why is it special? A few reasons:
It’s 52 years and 9 months old! How often does one have the opportunity to taste such a well-aged whisky? Age does not at all guarantee greatness, or even goodness. It’s simply uncommon. There is something poetic about a whisky that has rested for so many years undisturbed—a zen poem, some handful of carefully found words to do with patience and time’s paradox of change and constancy.
The price! Were this a name brand like Macallan or Lagavulin the price would be many thousands of dollars. This Carsebridge bottling was released in 2018. That same year, for example, a 52-year Macallan was released and one bottle sold at K&L in California for $60,000…! One bottle. Sixty thousand dollars. I’m sure it was good. But $60k…? Add the tax, and Carsebridge cost $64,719 less!
The taste! It has a unique emphasis on spices I associate with Middle Eastern cooking. I’ve personally not experienced another whisky that so specifically conjured this particular association. That part of the world is ancient, and so integral to the history of the planet as a whole. And so this whisky’s aromas and flavors conjure images of landscapes, cities, and thoughts about history, people, politics, and culture.
Finally, another special attribute of this whisky is one I gave to it: my having bought it to celebrate someone important to me. I am a firm believer that the circumstances in which one tastes a whisky get into the bottle and alter its taste. Whisky is at least one part association. Like theater, music, and other arts, whisky is memory. History in a bottle. Into this bottle’s 52-year history I infused the 52-year history of a person I know and love. She is now a part of this bottle’s story. And it will be with great pleasure that I will serve it to our mutual friends who will appreciate that story.
As I continue to sip at it tonight, the richness deepens. A thicker layer of caramel forms for the spices, raisins, figs and quince to soak into. The bright honey aspects darken as well. I’m reminded of homemade Winter holiday cakes, with chocolate and spices and fine candied cherries. Like a person with experience under their belt, this whisky continues to reveal its layers with time.
I know it will take a very long time to get through this bottle. I won’t be pouring it just any old night. It’s a special occasion pour for special friends and family. What a gift to have it on the shelf to share with them.