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Like many of the lower profile Scottish distilleries, this one has had a very troubled past. Quite small (100,000L / year), it was founded by Thomas and James McClelland in 1817 on the Bladnoch River. In 1911 it was bought by an Irish company; in 1937 it went bankrupt, then was bought and sold six times in the next few years. In 1985 it was bought by Guinness UDV (now Diageo), who then closed it in 1993. In 1994 it was bought by a Northern Irishman, under the condition (imposed by Diageo) that output be capped at 250,000 bottles a year (gee, how generous of them...)
This SMWS bottling was distilled on Jan 6 1990 and matured for 22 years in a refill ex-bourbon barrel, which yielded only 125 bottles (remember, it's a barrel, not a hogshead).
The colour is a deep gold. The nose has enormous depth: old leather, wet gravel, dusty books - but it is all wrapped in fruits of papaya and green apple (more green apple with time in the glass). There is an interesting grape note that I cannot quite place, as if it is just the skins in a tun at a winery. Oh wait, it's a bit like the warehouse at a winery or distillery, with a wet muskiness! And just slightly medicinal. A nice balance of sweet and savoury - more savoury with water.
On the palate we have even more savouriness (tired of that word yet?), with quite a bit of wood influence - almost chewy. The papaya is still there, along with sour cherries. Some caramel and milk chocolate round things out. A slight bitterness - perhaps a little too long in the cask? Water gives spice, adding to the complexity. I kind of get the "wedding cake and jelly babies" name, but those notes are pretty far in the background for me.
The finish is dry and slightly bitter with ginger and very gentle, almost non-existent spices. Very complex, with a lot going on, but it seems a bit out of balance, especially with so much wood. Smaller cask equals more exposure to the wood over time, and at 22 years, perhaps it was just a wee bit too much. Regardless, a very interesting and dynamic whisky, which others might like more than I.