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Spirits: Honest to Abe

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According to local folklore, a woman named Old Meg resided at the Strathisla distillery in Speyside for several decades during the 19th century. She lived in a dingy room where the spent ale was stored, earning a meager living by sewing barley sacks. Rarely did she venture into the daylight, and after years in her musty dwelling, she smelled so offensive that the distillery workers avoided any contact with her. Meg reached the ripe old age of 130 years before, so the story goes, she simply vanished.

The latest offering from Duncan Taylor & Co., a very limited release of Strathisla’s 1967 vintage, likely will disappear as well. But unlike Old Meg, this aged Scot will be missed when it is gone. The pale, full-bodied whisky is part of the Rare Auld collection from Duncan Taylor, an independent bottler of premium single malts. In addition to the Strathisla, the collection features 40-year-old single malts from such notable distilleries as Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, The Glenlivet, Kinclaith, Highland Park, Springbank, and Tomatin. The malts are from one of the world’s largest privately owned rare whisky collections—numbering nearly 4,000 casks—which the late Abe Rosenberg, the former proprietor of Duncan Taylor & Co., amassed during the latter part of the 20th century.

A native New Yorker, Rosenberg made his fortune importing J&B Scotch to America just after World War II. Blends were his business, but the premium single malts that went into those blends were his passion. In the 1960s, Rosenberg bought the Scottish-owned Duncan Taylor and began storing casks that he purchased from premium distilleries.

Eight years after Rosenberg’s death in 1994, whisky merchants Euan Shand and Alan Gordon returned Duncan Taylor to Scottish hands when they acquired the company and its former owner’s collection of malts. Soon thereafter, Shand launched a series of limited-edition bottlings, many of which sold out within a week of their being released.

 

The current Duncan Taylor release comes from a hogshead that Rosenberg purchased in 1967 from Strathisla, which is owned by Chivas Brothers. (Considered the jewel in Chivas Brothers’ crown, Strathisla single malt is the heart of the company’s namesake blend Chivas Regal and a component of its Royal Salute and 100 Pipers.) The malt that Rosenberg acquired spent four decades in bond at the distillery’s warehouse on the River Isla, absorbing the influences of an American oak cask.

 

Duncan Taylor’s 1967 Strathisla (750 ml, $400) is available in a limited release of 120 bottles, 60 of which have been designated for North America. The viscous spirit displays a surprisingly youthful aroma of summer fruits, vanilla, licorice, and fennel, followed by a honey attack on the palate and a balanced yet complex amalgam of vanilla, Seville oranges, cooked apples, and pepper. In the tradition of Old Meg, the whisky’s finish—of licorice and dark chocolate—lingers for what seems like an eternity. Unlike Strathisla’s former cellar dweller, however, this spirit has matured most beautifully.

Duncan Taylor & Co., +44.146.679.4055, www­.dtcscotch.com

Imported by Preiss Imports, 760.789.6010, www­.preissimports.com

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