Tasting Notes: Strathisla 1963 Gordon & Macphail

A few years ago, I stumbled across the best deal on whisky in all of Brooklyn.

A friend was in town for the holiday one week, and we decided to head over to Henry Public, a bar not too far from my apartment that serves up some great whisky-based drinks. Towards the end of the night we moved from a table in the back up to the bar and I noticed a new bottle of scotch up on the shelf that I’d never tasted: Strathisla.

We had the bartender pour out a (generous) dram, and pull the bottle down for a closer look. To our surprise, we saw a 1963 vintage Strathisla from Gordon & MacPhail. The vintage was a shock, but so was the price — this was going for only $12 a dram, no less!

We couldn’t believe our luck, so when I got home that night I did some research and found a few caveats that leave me suspicious as to the authenticity of the bottle. For instance, the label on this particular bottle claimed that it was bottled in 2009 — making this a 46 year old whisky. But I can only find 2003 and 2007 bottlings of this vintage online — even on the Gordon & MacPhail website. It is possible that I got the bottling date wrong (no picture of that part of the label), but I’m pretty sure I’m right that it said 2009.

I’m slightly encouraged that I can at least find two separate bottling dates, confirming that this is not just a one-off vintage, but rather something that they are releasing in multiple batches over a period of years. But it still makes me a little suspicious that I can’t find tasting notes or available bottles for purchase through any of the major whisky blogs or online retailers. It’s possible that they’re just not up to date on this most recent bottling, but it does give me pause.

If it truly was authentic, though, this was the steal of the century. All price listings on the websites I was able to find put the price of its younger siblings up around $275 per bottle. At that price, $12 per dram isn’t just reasonable — it’s obscenely cheap, and possibly the best deal on single malts in the entire borough.

So here’s hoping that this is authentic. If anyone has more information and can help me out in confirming that this is indeed an official G&M release, that would be much appreciated.

Now for tasting notes.

According to the Whisky Exchange website, Strathisla is a speyside malt “recognized amongst the cognoscenti as one of only a handful of Speyside malts able to withstand colossal aging in sherry casks.” This statement definitely stood up to scrutiny in our tasting.

Strathisla 1963 — Gordon & MacPhail

Similar bottle, different vintage.

ABV: 40%

Color: reddish bronze

Nose: Sherry. Candied apples.

Taste: A hint of smoke up front, followed by a big sherry flavor in the middle. Some bananas and sweetness on the finish.

Overall: The finish is short and flat. The whisky really falls apart at the end, but the complex mix of smoke, big sherry, and light fruit upfront is so great that you keep going back in for another sip. That’s why the other Mike decided to call it “heroin whisky.” The front hooks you and keeps you going back for more.

This is a really enjoyable dram overall and surprisingly big on the sherry for a 46 year old. It also had a tiny bit more of a bite on the finish than I would expect for so old a whisky, but maybe that has something to do with the reason the finish was so lackluster compared to the initial taste.