Strathisla is one of Northern Scotland’s oldest functioning distilleries, getting its start in 1786 thanks to George Taylor and Alexander Milne who had then named the site Milltown. Some sources even claim that Strathisla is the oldest continuously run distillery in Scotland, though there should perhaps be an asterisk next to that claim as there were two well-documented fires in the late 1870’s. Now, I’m no distilling expert, but it seems to me that it would be difficult for even the most devoted malt-master to continue to ply his trade in the midst of a horrible conflagration, so my guess is production kind of ground to a halt there a bit. In any case, Strathisla is one of the old, long-running ones, and thanks to its parent company, Chivas Brothers (and Pernod Ricard), one of the most beautiful with its rustic stonework and elegant pagoda roofs. A few of the buildings are reportedly even from those pre-fire days of 1786.
Today, Strathisla is one of the key malts in Chivas Regal’s line of blends and therefore doesn’t show up on the shelves much as a distillery bottled single malt except for a 12 year old expression. This 10 year old from Ian Macleod’s Chieftain’s range was matured in a hogshead barrel, is not chill-filtered, and numbers 366 bottles.
The Nose: Upfront there’s butterscotch, vanilla bean, canned pears in syrup, and sweetened grain. The sweeter notes are countered by a nice soft herbal, almost vegetal quality, faint celery, fennel and a touch of mint.
The Palate: Creamy mouthfeel starts with a crisp, pale sherry sweetness but almost right away shows some spicy youthful grain, unsweetened chocolate, clove, and slightly bitter, slightly salty oak notes. I found this surprisingly tannic and drying for something so young. The woodiness teeters on the edge of being too young and green but it works. A faint whiff of smoke makes a late appearance.
The Finish: Continued drying, lots of nice clove and just a tiny bit of green wood smoke.
Thoughts: Another intriguingly pale bottling from Chieftains. Not to wax too poetic, but this one feels a bit like that one fall afternoon when you first sense Winter in the air. It’s a light dram, but it has a subtle dark side, just a touch of smoke and herb-y wood that belie its youthfulness and keeps it from being just a crisp, sweet, straightforward dram.