Chieftain’s 1998 Strathisla 12 Year Old, Pétrus Gaia Finish – Review

*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Strathisla is one of the older distilleries in Scotland, being founded in 1786. Since then it has gone through a few name changes (Milltown–>Milton–>Strathisla–>Milton–> Strathisla) and about 8,000 ownership changes. One of these owners, a chap named George Pomeroy, gathered up a majority stake of the distillery in 1940 but was not really known to be a very honest businessman. By 1949, Pomeroy was in jail for not paying his taxes and this picturesque but now run-down distillery was bankrupt, clearing the way for Chivas to purchase it in 1950. Chivas quickly set about restoring Strathisla and making it an integral part of their Chivas Regal line of blends. Today, the distillery still produces the “backbone” of the Chivas blends, with most of its output being used thusly. Indeed, if you take the tour at Strathisla, you will likely learn more about Chivas Regal as the beautifully restored distillery is known as the “Spiritual Home” of Chivas heritage.

Petrus Gaia, in comparison, is just the spiritual home of Petrus Gaia, a small Bordeaux vineyard which is related in name (and legal action) only to that most famous Pomerol Bordeaux, Pétrus. presumably, the invocation of the “Pétrus” name is supposed to lend some cachet to this bottling, but though Pétrus Gaia is thought to be a very good wine, it is not the producer of the legendary (and legendarily expensive) Pétrus wines. Pétrus Gaia was only established in 2001, whereas Pétrus’ wine production dates back to the early 1800’s. With that in mind, it’s safe to say the winery is less important here than the type of wood used in the finishing cask. Strathisla mainly uses re-fill American oak hogsheads, and Pétrus Gaia uses European oak. I’m not sure how long this whisky spent in European Oak, but, in theory, doing so will lend an added layer of wood spice complexity. Like all of Ian Macleod’s Chieftain’s releases, this 402 bottle expression has no added color and has not been chill-filtered.

The Nose:  Quite fruity and rich with a more mature feel than you’d think 12 years would provide. Stewed prunes, juicy raisins, and plump blackberries along with warm, almost maple-tinged gingerbread notes. That maturity shows up in the hints of dark cinnamon, polished oak , worn leather, and subtle pipe tobacco that balance the fruit nicely.

The Palate:  Creamy mouthfeel with early notes of honey-ed malt, citrus, and vanilla. That early sweetness carries on and is joined by a toasted nuttiness and growing wood and spice notes. Black pepper, clove and ginger swell with drying tannins. Towards the end, I’d swear just the faintest touch of smoke wisps in and leads to the finish.

The Finish:  Nicely tannic and quite woody in a pleasant way. Lingering, slightly bitter spice, ginger and smoked peppercorns.

Thoughts:  Fairly delicious stuff. I was surprised by the richness of the nose, it’s depth and complexity hinted at an older whisky. The palate didn’t quite hit the same highs but the touch of sweetness kissing the strong wood and spice notes works quite well. Well balanced and interesting, this one isn’t afraid to show off its woodier side. The influence of the finishing cask is integrated well, complimenting the Strathisla profile well.

Chieftain’s 1998 Strathisla 12 Year Old, Pétrus Gaia Finish, Speyside

46% ABV

Score:  85

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