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The refined elder statesman of the Whyte & Mackay range, the Thirty Year Old, is a delight to behold. A brace of gilded lions rampant grace the imposing black box that hides the austerely enigmatic bottle, which in turn conceals its splendid contents. Only when, tingling with anticipation and stifling a slight smile, you finally elect to uncork the whisky do you get a glimpse of the International Wine & Spirit Competition’s best rated deluxe blend.
That’s right: according to the well-respected IWSC, this is the best blended whisky in the world, so we were mildly apprehensive about reviewing it. For 30 years, the whiskies in the blend were nurtured by fine oak casks; for several months more, they waited on a shelf while other whiskies made their way into the Cask Tales database. So it was with no little excitement that the first drops made their way into a pair of Glencairn glasses (doubtless as eager as we were).
It has a wonderful hue: not a bland gold, but one enriched with red that calls to mind a sunset at the moment when the sky begins to turn the colour of blood. Swirled in the glass, the whisky clings to the sides, imploring you to taste it – so better get on with the nose! The first scents are invitingly festive. Almonds and zesty citrus combine to form the definite impression of Christmas cake, accented with the piquant sweetness of brandy butter. This aromatic cocktail is supported by the firm hand of the fine oak that long encased it, with the strong suggestion of sherry. Towards the tail, faint notes of quality tobacco sing out, as though from the bowl of an empty briar pipe that has seen long service. The grain whiskies, vital to the success of any blend, really begin to shine after a few sips.
The taste reinforces the impression of the nose with a different emphasis. It has the tang and luxuriant mouthfeel of thick-cut marmalade, paired with oloroso sherry. The ensemble is wrapped in an exquisite creaminess that helps to hold the different strands together. As the first taste opens up on the palate, it is well worth returning to the nose, as it will have developed enticing new aspects. There is a more syrupy quality, as over a tower of pancakes, complemented by a vanilla note. In the background lurks the suggestion of curlicues of incense – and somehow, it seems fitting that the whisky should evoke the mystic solemnity of old churches.
The Thirty Year Old finishes, fittingly, with an elegant flourish. As the initial surge of flavour recedes – the Christmas cake makes a joyous return – it leaves behind the sensation of a dusting of cocoa powder, which matures through bitter chocolate into fine coffee. The finish lingers long, a burnt caramel like the crust of a crème brûlée that provides the sweetest reminder of a marvellous mouthful. The Thirty Year Old is a masterpiece of the blender’s art: it should be savoured by all. The first whiskies in this bottle were distilled when Margaret Thatcher was yet to become Prime Minister; and whilst history unfolded, the whisky, dormant, waited patiently to mature. It has taken a genius to create this blend. Finally, after all these years, the whisky has revealed its secrets.