Strathisla distillery

Where to find Strathisla

Strathisla Scotch Whisky

Strathisla  (Pronounced: Strath-AY-la)
Speyside (Strathisla)
5732'47.83"N, 257'15.04"W
Strathmill, Glen Keith, Aultmore, Glentauchers
1786
Active
Fons Bulliens' Well
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
2,400,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Pernod Ricard > Chivas Brothers (since 2001)
Seafield Avenue, Keith, Aberdeenshire, AB55 3BS, Scotland
+441542 783044
Sort of; a 'Chivas Regal' Disneyland
No
Yes
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor

Strathisla location

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Strathisla whisky

Strathisla distillery in the new millennium

2001 - Drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard gains control of the distillery through their acquisition of Chivas Brothers (who bought the Strathisla distillery five decades earlier). When Chivas Brothers bought Strathisla in 1950 they had themselves recently been acquired by the Canadian drinks giant Seagram's.
 
2004 - A 12 years old official bottling of Strathisla is released by Pernod Ricard, along with a 15yo OB; a cask strength expression with a batch number which was possibly inspired by the Aberlour A'bunadh. Oddly enough, there have been very little 100% official bottlings during the 1980's and 1990's. However, Gordon & MacPhail have released vast number of semi-official bottlings - more than all other independent bottlers combined. Their 'licensed' bottlings with age statements have been 8yo, 15yo, 21yo, 25yo, 30yo, 35yo and even 40yo in the past. It's safe to say that Gordon & MacPhail must have massive stocks of Strathisla lying around in their warehouses.
 

Strathisla distillery, Scotland

In 1825 Strathisla was obtained by MacDonald Ingram & Co.
They didn't hang on to the distillery for more than 5 years though;
in 1830 Miltown distillery was acquired by William Longmore. After
they changed the name to Strathisla in 1870 the distillery suffered
from two devastating fires; in 1876 and in 1879. The second fire
was caused by a dust explosion in the malt mill.

A number of people claim that Strathisla is the oldest continuously
operating distillery in Scotland. It was founded in 1786 by George
Taylor and Alexander Milne under the name Milltown distillery.
The name was first changed to Strathisla in 1870, then to Milton
in 1890 and finally to Strathisla distillery again in 1951.

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Strathisla Scotch whisky

The distillery was quickly rebuilt, this time with its own bottling plant. In 1880 William Longmore
retired; his son-in-law John Geddes-Brown took control of the distillery and the company William
Longmore & Co. was formed. Ten years later, in 1890, the name of the distillery was changed to
Milton (referring to the nearby Milton Castle). This change marked the start of five quiet decades.
The majority of the stock in Strathisla distillery (still known as Milton distillery at the time) was
bought  in 1940 by the fraudulent investor George Pomeroy from London. He was involved with
some shady business involving operatic productions before he entered the whisky world. Due to
one case of the aforementioned 'shady business' the distillery changed hands again a little later.

James Barclay from Chivas was interested in buying the Milton distillery and had already approached George Pomeroy about a possible sale in 1948. However, George demanded an insane amount of money in exchange for the distillery, so James had ceased negotiations. Fate intervened on behalf of Chivas though; in 1949 George Pomeroy was convicted of tax evasion and the Milton distillery went bankrupt the same year. In April 1950 the distillery was auctioned off in Aberdeen and Chivas was able to obtain it for 71,000 GBP.
 
Chivas Brothers (part of Seagram's at the time) started a renovation of the run-down equipment right after they obtained the malt whisky distillery and changed the official name of the distillery to Strathisla in 1951. They didn't pull the new name from their high hat; Strathisla used to be the name of the malt whisky that was produced at the Milto(w)n distillery in the 1800's. After the purchase of the distillery, the Strathisla malt whisky quickly became an important component of various Chivas Regal blends. In fact, it's such an important component that Strathisla is hardly promoted as a single malt whisky.

Strathisla malt whisky distillery

In 1965 the number of stills at Strathisla
was doubled from two to four. These new
stills were steam heated from the start,
but the two old stills weren't converted
until 1992. The other equipment includes
a stainless steel (semi lauter) mash tun 
and ten Oregon Pine washbacks.
 
The spirit isn't filled into casks at the
Strathisla distillery itself - instead, it is
transported to the nearby Glen Keith
distillery via pipes to be casked there.
Most of the casks are stored elsewhere,
but a handful of them are transported back
to the Strathisla distillery to mature on site.
For this purpose, the distillery still includes
two warehouses; one traditional 'dunnage'
warehouse and a modern 'racked' variety.
The rest of the casks are stored in one of
the three bonded warehouses of Chivas
Brothers - one of them located in Keith.

Strathisla 1967 label

The town of Keith is quite significant in the whisky world; apart from three malt whisky distilleries (Strathisla, Strathmill and Glen Keith) it's the location of one of Chivas' massive warehouses. Since two of the distilleries are owned by Chivas as well (Strathmill is owned by Diageo), Keith is clearly a Chivas Brothers company town - quite a few townsfolk work for Chivas.

Many touristic sources claim that the picturesque distillery buildings are from the late 1700's (when Strathisla distillery was founded), but most buildings are actually from the late 1870's when the distillery was rebuilt almost completely after two devastating fires. We have to thank Chivas Brothers for the fairly pristine conditions of the buildings today; when they took over the distillery in 1950 they renovated the old buildings that were in a fairly deplorable state. Nowadays many people consider Strathisla as the most beautiful distillery in Scotland.

A few distilleries toy with the claim they are the oldest distillery in Scotland, and it's often wise to regard such claims with a fair dose of scepticism. For example, Balblair distillery claims it was founded in 1790, but the oldest distillery buildings are from the 1870's - so that's comparable with the situation of Strathisla. Blair Athol was founded in 1798 but was closed for parts of its history. Bowmore was founded in 1779 and their credentials seem quite solid. So, it's probably wise that Strathisla doesn't claim to be the oldest distillery in Scotland, just in the Highlands - see the red print on the label of a Strathisla 1967 from Gordon & MacPhail at the left.

Trivia about Strathisla

1) In 1786 George Taylor and Alexander Milne leased the land for the distillery from the Earl of Seafield.

2) The availability of Strathisla as a single malt is limited because most of the malt whisky that is produced at the distillery is used in the various Chivas Regal blends - including their famous 'Royal Salute'. The visitor centre is called 'The Home and Heart of Chivas Regal'.

3) The name Strathisla is Gaelic and refers to the Isla river that flows alongside the distillery; the word 'Strath' means something like 'shallow valley'.

4) At the 'Edinburgh International' in 1886 Strathisla received an Honourable Mention for Old Highland Malt Whisky.

5) According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook, the name Craigduff was used for a highly peated version of Strathisla that was first distilled in 1970. Confusingly enough, the same name has also been used for a 'bastard malt' from Signatory Vintage which was alledgedly produced at the nearby Glen Keith distillery.... It's difficult to find out the details because the production processes of both neighbouring distilleries are closely intertwined.
 

Strathisla single malt whisky

Strathisla 1970/2011 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail Licensed Bottling, 514 Bts.)
Nose: Notes will follow...
Palate: Notes will follow...
Score: Notes will follow...

Strathisla 42yo 1967/2009 (44.5%, The Whisky Agency, Refill Sherry Wood, 120 Bottles)
Nose: Oooaah! A classic combination of wood, fruits and some spices. Beautiful sherry profile.
It almost stumbles into 'aceton' territory but stays on the right side of the line for most of the time.
Musty peanuts? Whiff of citrus later on. Almost like rum filled chocolates. A little dusty behind the fruit.
Another one that really needs time to really open up. More oranges - almost like Southern Comfort.
Taste: Dry with a touch of smoke. None of the fruits I found in the nose - that's too bad. Menthol? Pine?
A fairly tannic finish. A pleasant mouth feel, but for me it could have been a tad fruitier and sweeter.
Score: 91 points - but once again this is a very personal score; others might find some 'faults'.
It almost seems like a cask that German bottler Jack Wiebers could have selected...

Strathisla 1960/2008 (50%, G&M for La Maison du Whisky, First Fill Sherry Hogshead, C#2544, 60 Bts.)
Nose: Cinnamon and 'speculaas' cookies. Nutmeg and clove too. A really spicy whisky with depth.
And lots of wood, of course - one of the darkest samples so far. Meaty notes after some breathing.
Taste: Loads of wood - the wood is too dominant for me to reach a gold nomination at the MM Awards 2008.
Score: 89 points - an excellent old Strathisla that shows why the distillery has such an excellent reputation.

Strathisla 1997/2008 (43%, Jean Boyer Best Casks, 810 Bts.)
Nose: Metallic & vegetal. A young, 'mashy' profile. Pinch of peat in the far background? Beer perhaps?
Taste: Tastes as young as it smells. Sourish start, sweetening out in the centre. Vaguely lemony.
Score: 64 points - in my modest opinion it wasn't actually one of the 'best casks' in this case...

Strathisla 1967/2007 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail for La Maison du Whisky, Cask #6112)
Nose: Light, floral and a little grassy. Much more tropical fruits during a second try. Complex and balanced.
Taste: A whiff of oil, followed by a smooth and sweet fruity centre. Brilliant candy fruits.
A tad more herbal towards the finish. Perhaps a touch of smoke? Quite supple for such an old malt whisky.
Score: 87 points - highly recommendable and surprisingly light considering the respectable age.

Strathisla 1957/2007 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail)
Nose: Very rich and woody. Sweet, fruity and heavily sherried. Spices and chocolate emerge over time.
The wood is clearly present, but it doesn't overpower the other elements. It drops off after five minutes though.
Taste: Fruity, smoky and woody. Quite accessible. Mocca? Smoky wood remains dominant in the centre.
This expression grows just a little too woody for my tastes eventually, but what can you expect at this age?
Score: 89 points - for one of the oldest whiskies I've ever tried; a whopping fifty years old.

Strathisla-Glenlivet 17yo 1987/???? (60.5%, Cadenhead's, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Rich and 'farmy', full and spicy. Balanced. A classic profile, very nice.
Taste: Big and round. Toffee. Nice and 'chewy'; a loverly mouthfeel at c/s.
Score: 83 points - not as great as the 'Royal Wedding' but much more to my liking than the 12yo OB.

Strathisla 37yo 1965 (43% McKillop's Choice, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Extremely nice combination of sweet & creamy on on end and organics on the other. Lovely!!!
Taste: Herbal and quite bitter - not nearly as impressive as the nose. Propolis. Woody. Tannic. Salt.
Score: 80 points - based on the nose it might have reached 90 points but it loses most credit on the palate.

Strathisla 1967/2003 (54,3%, Gordon & MacPhail for Barmetro 35th Anniversary, C#2063, 153 Bottles)
Nose: Rich & deeply sherried. Maggi. Oak. Hint of soap. Spicy. Light fruits drifting over a smoky foundation.
Taste: Massive fruits. Quite a potent bite. Hint of smoke, touch of bitterness. Poweful tannins. Lovely!
Score: 91 points – the nose is enormously big and expressive. Best expression of Strathisla so far.

Strathisla 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1998) - this whisky had a beautiful, saturated honey colour...
Well, once it had escaped from the dark, intimidating bottle. The fact that I even noticed it says something...
It was a good thing the colour was so interesting, because the nose wasn't. At least not at first...
Soft and dry - a bit nutty and oily. Later there were some faint hints of sherry, but little more.
Disappointing - I had expected more. Water didn't help very much - just added some chloride notes.
Taste: it wasn't particularly pleasant to my tongue at first, but there's a whole lot of development there.
An explosion at first, and a very long finish with a multitude of changes along the way.
Gooseberry, chocolate, coffee, toffee and vanilla were amongst the impressions.
Not all stages in the development were pleasant, though. An interesting malt rather than a nice malt.
Too bad for the Strathisla my rating system is based on my personal preferences.
Score: 74 points - Well, this rating may not be as final as it sounds. This bottle definitely needed a little while to 'break in'. I imagined I noticed a notable improvement after a few months of breathing. I'll give it a few more months and re-taste it then - just to see if things look up.

Strathisla 1948-1961/1981 'Royal Wedding' (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 5cl)
Nose: Very classy. Sweet and sherried, but there's someting medicinal as well.
Subtle cigar smoke. Polished wood. Summer fruits in the background. Gravy.
Dazzling complexity - like an old cigar or theatre shop with lots of history.
Taste: Flat, smoky start, growing fruitier and dustier towards the centre.
It's odd, but it somehow tastes 'historical'. Is that the power of suggestion?
Score: 89 points - I like it, but the palate simply doesn't quite qualify for a score in the 90's.
This whisky has endured the test of time better than the marriage it was supposed to celebrate.

Strathisla 10yo (43%, Chivas OB, Italy, Bottled 1960′s)
Nose: Creamy & fruity. Refined. Lychees. Dry hay. Faintest hint of oil? Just a tad watery, perhaps.
Taste: Big sweet and fishy, That's right – as odd as it sounds, that's the combination of flavours I got.
Score: 80 points – but it might have earned one or two points if it hadn't dropped off after ten minutes.
 

And there's more to tell about Strathisla...

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Strathisla Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Strathisla page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Strathisla expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.) 
 

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