So let’s get back to whisky reviews by sampling a very rare whisky from another (sadly) closed distillery with a review of a St. Magdalene 10 year-old bottled by Cadenhead’s. Distilled in December 1982, just before the distillery was closed forever, this whisky was bottled in 1993 and released at cask strength at a rather huge 62.3% abv! Among aficionados, St. Magdalene is an iconic, highly revered distillery, and there are very few bottles outside of private collections, so having an opportunity to taste a piece of history was an extra special event for me! Thanks to my friend Sorin for sharing this whisky, along with so many others over the past few years!
About St. Magdalene Distillery
The St. Magdalene Distillery has a long, interesting history. Going back to the 12th century, the St. Magdalene site has been home to a leper colony, a convent, and a hospital. In 1798, when the distillery was established (although there are some claims that the distillery began operating as early as 1765), the distillery operated under the name “Linlithgow” for the town in which it was located. In 1834, when the distillery was moved to the St. Magdalene site in order to access the Union Canal, it took the St. Magdalene name. Given either the 1798 or the 1765 founding date, it remains that the St. Magdalene / Linlithgow distillery was one of the first licensed distilleries in Scotland.
St. Magdalene remained owned by the Dawson family for more than a century. Adam Dawson (1747–1836) was the first to run the distillery, followed by son John Dawson (1796–1878) along with his brother Adam Dawson Jr (1793–1873). By 1856 the distillery was capable of producing 4,000 US gallons. The unfortunate, early death of John Kellie Dawson in 1912 forced the sale of the distillery to Distillers Company Ltd (DCL), which would continue to be a major player on the liquor scene, becoming United Distillers and then, ultimately Diageo.
After being acquired by DCL, the St. Magdalene facilities were completely remodeled and modernized, including the installation of electricity. As did many distilleries, St. Magdalene ceased their own maltings in 1963 and began purchasing their malts from another distillery, in this case, Glenesk. In 1971, indirect firing was introduced.
One of the most common differentiations between Lowland and Highland whiskies was that Lowland whiskies were usually triple distilled. St. Magdalene whisky, however, was more similar in style to Highland whiskies as it was double distilled.
In the early 1980’s, following what is now known as the infamous “Whisky Loch” – a period of surplus stocks after rapid industry expansion – DCL/Diageo, who had become the dominant whisky producer, shut down and mothballed and/or demolished a large number of distilleries, including St. Magdalene. After St. Magdalene was closed in 1983, some of the buildings were converted into apartments.
Because of its rarity, and the fact that their single malts were particularly good, the St. Magdalene name holds a special place for many Scotch whisky lovers.
Review: St. Magdalene 10 year-old, Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection, Distilled December 1982, Bottled 1993, Cask Strength 62.3% abv
Color: Very pale, a light Sauvignon Blanc
Nose: The high abv is immediately apparent – alcohol fumes rise up out of the glass….so approach carefully! Slowly, as you work past the alcohol sharpness, there are some floral/grassy notes – think dried flowers and hay. Hand lotion. With a few minutes it shows a bit of a softly fruity element, with mostly white fruits. There are hints of freshly sawn oak, lime zest and white pepper, but it remains difficult to navigate because of the abv. Adding some water (and then some more water), and waiting several minutes, the true nature of this whisky beings to assert itself. The fresh oak is still present but it becomes a bit more fruit-focused. Certainly there are lemons and limes adding an acidic bite, but there are now red apples, peaches, strawberries, stewed banana. There is also an earthiness, some fresh-cut long grass, and, oddly, cedar mulch.
Taste: Very hot arrival, I mean damn near gasping for breath hot! Seriously, this is a bitingly hot initial arrival. If you wait, though, and let the heat pass, it starts to show a soft sweetness with warm vanilla toffee. There is quite a lot of tart lemon peel adding a citric bitterness, also some green apples, but it really remains pretty closed because of the high abv. With enough water, the abv impact has muted and this now shows itself to be softer and sweeter. There are generous hints of warm butterscotch, then the white fruits rise up. Throughout, there remains this potent citric-lemony note, but now it shares the spotlight with the white fruits, hints of herbal spices and a good dusting of white pepper. Mid palate shows a lot of complexity as flavors ebb and flow from the sweet spices, the fruits, the tart citric flavors, all coming and going very nicely.
Finish: When tasted neat the finish is sharp and hot, but there is a floral aspect, it hints at some vanilla cream, lemon meringue, and green apples. With water, the finish shows more depth. The fruits and butterscotch, the grassy and citric notes shift back and forth, ebbing and flowing for quite a long time. It ends with a dose of the pepper and soft oak tannins.
Overall: Neat, this whisky is a real beast, very difficult to get a handle on, but once you get this diluted enough, it becomes a really enjoyable, fun whisky! It becomes a very intriguing whisky with good complexity and balance. Given the rarity of St. Magdalene whiskies, I have to thank Sorin, again for sharing. It was a fantastic opportunity to try a whisky from one of the most revered, but long-lost distilleries!
Region: Lowlands (Scotland)
Distillery: St. Magdalene (Linlithgow)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 10 year
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel?
Price: auction pricing ($$$$)
Availability: secondary/auction market
Sample Source: shared by my friend Sorin!
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.