Blended Scotch Whisky Archaeology – Conclusion, Part 1
Few months ago I wrote a post about a blend from the 1970s, by the name of ‘Stewarts Cream of the Barley’, that I have found at a friend’s house. In that post I tried to find that blend’s origins and learn more about it (see original post). If you have read that post you might recall that I managed to discover that this blend is still in production today, though probably with different components, and that I finished the post by saying that I will try to get the new version of the blend to try out.
The 1970s Stewarts Cream of the Barley bottle which got me investigating
Well, two months after publishing it, my father and his girlfriend went on a short vacation to London and I was sure to jump that train. As this was my father’s first time to London, my wife (who lived there for 2.5 years) and I sat down with them with maps such as London A to Z, and listed important places to visit including The Whisky Exchange (TWE) at Vinopolis – it was well clear that I have a list of bottles needing a ride back to Israel (For example, Queen of the Moorlands Bunnahabhain 1997 Peated that has been waiting for me in England since May).
In order to ease on my father, I decided to contact TWE to verify the new version Stewarts Cream of the Barley is indeed in stock at Vinopolis and ask them to have it waiting for my father to collect. I also recalled that Tim F (of The Whisky Exchange Blog) commented on the above mentioned post, that TWE also have an old version bottle (from the 1970s) for sale as well. Quick search took me to the correct sale page, and so in my email to TWE I asked them whether both bottles were in stock, and if they can put them aside for collection by my London newbie. Few short emails after and I was told that the bottles are readily waiting. And then came the near heart attack…
The new version bottle which I purchased
The above emails correspondence was done while my father was en-route to London. Originally he told me that he is to take with him a mini computer so he can read emails, and so I sent him an email saying the bottles are waiting for him. Apparently at the last moment he decided NOT to take the computer and so didn’t see my emails. As I was exchanging text messages with him and girlfriend via her mobile, I also stated that “2 bottles are waiting at TWE, Vinopolis”. The answer I received nearly got me to faint and made me ring them up immediately – “Okay, that’s nice. How are they getting to you?”
It seemed that they decided to pass on Vinopolis and forgot I needed their service with more bottles on top of the Bunnahabhain. So after a short phone call, Vinopolis was back on the tour plan and I could relax. Two days later, my father called me from the store so I’d give them payment details, he put the bottles in his backpack and carried them around the city for the rest of the day. So – a BIG thank you goes to my father Gideon and his girlfriend Rachel, for enabling me to get these bottles.
When I got the bottles (was actually on my birthday out of sheer coincidence, but was nice), I finally understood why the 1970s bottle at TWE was cheaper at about £40 than the price estimation I found while working on the previous post. You see, though it was almost an exact replica of the bottle my friend has, the label was peeling off and didn’t look too well. As this was classified as collector’s item, it seems to me that this affected the price quite a bit.
The 1970s bottle purchased from The Whisky Exchange
When it came to tasting the two blends, I planned to do a whole festival out of it. I wanted as many opinions as possible and so, after consulting with Gal, it was decided that a meeting will be held by the Whisky Israel Society at the house of my friend whose bottle started this whole journey, with my father as well, and that we’ll also prepare samples to send to whisky friends (who also happen to be known whisky figures) and ask them to send in their feedback – see part 2.
After many emails and telephones date/time were set, but as it goes with planning on the set date, unfortunately, Gal, Kfir and Richard couldn’t make it. And so, we met Igal, my father, the original bottle owner – Elkana, and myself at Elkana’s home for a comparison session of the two blends (about a month after I got the bottles!).
As with every such event I brought with me my photography equipment (even though Elkana is a photographer on his own and has all I need, however, he is a Nikon person and I’m a Canon person and the two usually do not mix), and made sure to take some ‘studio’ shots of the bottles and then place the camera in such a position where it’ll cover the event (using remote control trigger).
While I was taking the flash photography pictures of the bottles, we’ve noticed that the colour of the whisky in the bottle owned by Elkana was much deeper, which made us think that it might be different than the 1970s bottle I just bought. Maybe one day in the future we’ll open it and check.
The three Stewarts, left-to-right:
1970s bottle from TWE, 2010 version bottle, Elakana’s 1970s bottle the ‘original’
Igal was kind to write about the gathering of that evening:
“I was delighted to receive an invitation from Shai to the Cream of the Barley tasting event. Having previously read his incredible archaeology tale about the whisky, I was intrigued to try this piece of history. When I arrived to the event, on a beautiful handmade wooden table there were waiting 3 bottles of Stewart’s Cream of the Barley, one of them, as Shai explained, was the famous “forgotten” bottle from the 1970s and it was not to be opened! The other two were the exact bottle from the 1970s, which Shai managed to purchase for comparison, and the new contemporary Stewart’s Cream of the Barley.
Our hosts, a young couple in their 70s&60s, Elkana and his wife Ruth, had set the table with homemade pickled olives, herring, and even schmaltz, which was a dear reminder of my own childhood. When I asked Elkana if there were some cloves in the olives, he told me that he wouldn’t know – each batch he made was unique, and that those particular olives were pickled in a jar for 4 years!
After filling a few samples for our fellow Whisky friends (Shai: properly labelling them with WI labels made in advance), we began by pouring both whiskies, old and new, into our Glencairn classes. I’ll leave the tasting notes for those much better than me at it. I really didn’t know what to expect from the £15 worth of blended whisky. I remember watching Ralfy Mitchell’s review of Johnnie Walker Red Label 1960s vs. 2010, where he concluded the ‘60s bottle to be of much greater quality. Maybe the bias towards the older bottling is justified, maybe the production in the “olden days” was less industrialized, and that led to higher quality product.”
Top: preparing samples for whisky friends
Middle and bottom: Discussing and enjoying.
Bluw shirt – Elkana, Blue/White shirt: Ruth (Elkana’s wife), Green shirt: Gideon (my father)
Off-white shirt: Igal, Black shirt: myself (Shai)
I’ll leave Igal’s take on the whiskies, along with my own and others (including Mark Gillespie – WhiskyCast, Joshua Hatton – The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society and – if all goes well – Richard Paterson – Whyte&Mackay’s Master Blender) to part 2. I will say however that it is quite interesting to see how very different the opinions were about these two blends. In order to “kill” some of the tension, below is what I refer to as this post’s ‘official’ tasting notes about the whiskies.
As always these are from Gal:
Stewarts Cream of the Barley, 1970s, 42.8% ABV
Nose: metal, some vinegar, wee smoke.
Palate: much better than the nose with the vinegar all gone, starting with smoke, cereals and some vanilla, sugar and some spice.
Finish: smoke, metallic, and malt extract.
Stewarts Cream of the Barley, 2010, 40% ABV
Nose: malt, honey, faint fruity notes of apple/pear and vanilla.
Palate: a bit of smoke, coarser, with cereals, quite malty, traces of dried fruit the grain is felt quite intensely.
Finish: dough, a little bitter, and a very faint whiff of smoke.
Enjoyable, and not very complex, easy drinking.
Thanks for reading so far, and see you in part 2.