Toasting a special occasion with a peculiar North British 30 Year Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky

NORTH BRITISH SINGLE GRAIN SCOTCH WHISKY
Single barrel #DL15154 selected by K&L (2021)

MASH BILL – Unknown un-malted grain mash bill

PROOF – cask strength at 88.8

AGE – 30 years 9 months

DISTILLERY – North British Distillery (bottled by Douglas Laing & Co. under their “Old Particular” label)

PRICE – $164

WORTH BUYING? – Yes and no

I had not originally intended to post about this bottle. But the journey with it has been interesting, and in conjunction with the reason I uncorked it in the first place.

I picked this one up in anticipation of my partner and my thirtieth anniversary. Though she’s not into whisky like I am, she does have a fondness for Scotland, so scotch is a special area of the whisky world for her. And I’d had a great experience with an Old Particular bottling of North British back in 2016, a 28-year cask strength single barrel that blew me away with its nicely balanced, sweet, creamy aromas and flavors.

So it was with some brow-furrowing that, when we opened this 30-Year bottle and toasted our three decades together, at first sip I found it actually quite off-putting. The dominant flavors were caramel, which is fine, and a remarkably astringent pine note of the kind I associate with certain rye whiskeys. Only not pleasant. And though in our thirty years we’ve had our astringent moments, it wasn’t a great tasting experience to celebrate our many joint trips around the sun.

But my partner liked it, so I kept my thoughts to myself. Over subsequent weeks I continued to sip at it, and the dual caramel/pine emphasis persisted rather consistently. I set the bottle aside. A house guest staying at our place while we were away had a few pours of it, and he seemed to like it fine. But I was still not sold.

So here we are, four+ months after uncorking and close to the bottle’s final pours. My relationship is going great! But how has this bottle continued to evolve? These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – very pale straw, reflecting the world around the glass

NOSE – a Werther’s candy caramel, bright spring mountain pine, cream, all rather reserved yet clear

TASTE – the caramel note now tilts more into butter and butterscotch; mellow pine, complete with needles and cones, in a spring breeze; cedar wood spices

FINISH – nicely warming, lingering surprisingly long given the proof; the butterscotch now lightly toasted, the cedar and butter blending subtly and well

OVERALL – a quite pleasant, springtime pour

Well! The astringency has mellowed quite a great deal. I wouldn’t even describe it that way now. That abrasive aspect has softened into what now comes across as a pleasant cedar tannin note.

As I continue to sip it, the flavors really do conjure memories of hiking in the sunny Sierra Nevada Mountains, surrounded by endless pines and granite and small lakes. It’s refreshing, with just a bit of grit.

It’s too bad the experience of this whisky had no reflection of my partner and my thirty years together, save the time it spent in its barrel. (And of course I’m quite glad those astringent notes did not reflect our time together!) But I’m glad at least it’s finally come around to something I can enjoy. It’s not great. It’s neither a thinker nor a hedonist. But it is interesting in its subtle way, very easy to drink given the naturally low proof, and the shifting butter / butterscotch / caramel / cream notes are all quite pleasant.

My memory of that 2016 28-Year outing is so distinctly different. I regretted not picking up a second bottle of that one, which was only $75—less than half the cost of this bottle! (Ah, 2016…) It would have been very interesting to compare them. But that’s not always how timing works.

I do have a 40-Year bottling in the bunker, however. I certainly won’t be saving that one for ten more years to mark the next round-numbered anniversary. But I may indeed save a few pours of this 30-Year to compare to it. Until then, may your own relationships be better than the whiskies you toast them with…!

Cheers!

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