Old v New Classic Malts Tasting

One of the big questions amongst fans is whether older whiskies were better than more recent versions. My plan was to compare my original Distillers Collection with their 2003 equivalents. This is hardly a dramatic old versus new comparison. The finishes are the same but there has been speculation about whether the Classic Malts are the ages they are sold as and whether they might include some blending of slightly older malts. There is possibly some pre-blending of the classic malt collection editions as this along with finishing was one of the aspects being experimented on at the time.


Released in 1988 the United Distillers Classic Malts selection featured a range of standard single malts. I had my set valued at £90 it seemed smarter to taste it than to sell it to launch my new website.
The Distillers editions were created as part of early experiments by United Distillers and subsequently Diageo into cask finishing among other experiments.

I could not get samples of the Dalwhinnie and Oban and would not be buying full bottles of 2003 at this point.

The Classic Malt Collection

Oban 14 43% 1980
Glenkinchie 12 43% 1986
Lagavulin 16 43% 1979
Talisker 10 45.8% 1986
Cragganmore 12 40%. 1984
Dalwhinnie 15 43%. 1980

Most importantly which friend would I share the tasting with?

Cragganmore 2003 40%BV

The Cragganmore entry in the Distillers Edition series is finished in port pipes for extra sweetness and fruity depth. This is the 2003 vintage, bottled in 2015.

I tasted with my brother in law JJ who is chairman of the Malt Whisky Trail Speysideg fan of speyside malts.

Nose; red fruit, pepper, burnt toffee, orange, wood, raising, cereal, dates. with water quite spirit edged
Palate: sherry, smooth, smoky, spice – cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, orange, honey, banana, treacle toffee, complex, woody notes, vanilla, asparagus
Finish; oak, fruity, toasted treacle, Smooth, slightly confusing a bit biscuity

Cragganmore 1984 40% ABV

Nose; smoky, sherry, berries, vanilla, tablet., floral eucalyptus, clementines, liquorice allsorts, burnt wood, caramelised sugars

Palate; toffee, vanilla, smooth, cherries, raisins, tastes strangely young.

Finish; dry, not unpleasantly, tannins, tobacco, toffee, long with smoke.


We both enjoyed both malts but preferred the ’84. There was not a huge difference in quality. I had expected the older one to be much better. This is just a personal prejudice, nothing decisive.


Next whisky up was the Talisker tasted with my Islay friend James, who I frequently ‘taste’ with. James is a sheep farmer. A great fan of Island malts and particularly Talisker which I know he buys for himself on visits to the distillery. His number one dram is Laphroig but he was the obvious invitee for the Talker tasting and always great company.

The Talker 10 year old is one of my own favourite drams along with the 57 north, the 18 and Storm. I have drunk Talisker regularly for almost 40 years longer than any other malt and can clearly remember older single cask expressions.

The Taliskers are finished in Amoroso barrels.

Talisker 2003 45.8%

Nose; citruss, salt, brine, smoky, wood

Palate; toffee, vanilla, spice, pepper & ginger

Finish;very long

Talisker Distillers Edition 45.8% 1986

Nose; powerful great depth of smoke notes. Oily, raisins, nutty maybe nutmeg, treacle, salty fruity, banana and floral with a drop of water

Palate; toffee vanilla, pepper ginger snap biscuits, nuts

Finish; Long smooth and full, complex.spicy oak and strong tannins


My tasting companion for the Lagavulin was an obvious choice. Ron, was a Director of Scottish and Newcastle and is a leading FMCG consultant. I know that Lagavulin Distillers Edition is his daily dram.

2003 43% – PX barrel

Nose; peat, smoke, citrus, nutty no edges lovely malt

Palate; warm, smooth, peat, nuts, spices

Finish; long sweet predominantly cask notes, salty

Body; full.complex

Very lovely typically Lagavulin dram

More peaty and smoky than I remember from the past.

We both loved this dram. Ron is a big Peat fan as am I and we were both surprised at the amount of peat but pleasantly so.

1979 – PX barrel

Nose: Heather, peat, smoke, fruity apple, nutty, basil nuts slight creaminess, vanilla

Palate: spicy ginger, pepper, great sherry notes, much more like a Speyside at times than usual.

Finish; oily, great mouthfeel, fudge almost tablet, orange

Incredible balance of peat v sweet


Ron preferred the 2003unsurprisingly.

I preferred and was surprised by the 1979.

We wondered if style had been changed over years to move from a peated but more homogeneous whisky to a much more peaty and smoky malt as part of its marketing.

My Diageo contact said the link between marketing and the distillery did not influence the style produced and if there was a difference it was more likely because of the batch of malted barley from the malting. My memory of Lagavulin is that it has become more peaty and smoky over time and I have drunk it for a long time.

Who knows – I will continue to monitor this and it will be one of the first samples I reposit in my whisky bank!


One of my close friends is a significant but largely anonymous figure of the Scots whisky industry. He led several of the big experimental programmes investigating, different grains, fermentation techniques, spirit cuts and barrel finishing. This included one of the Distillers series editions on which Dr Jim Beverage, famed analytical chemist, hall of fame inductee and originator of the sensory tasting vocabulary. reported to him. He was an obvious choice to participate with his general whisky knowledge and his world-class palate.

He and I tasted the 2003 Glenkinchie versus the 1986 both the 12-year-old at 43%. In trustingly these double wood Distillers Editions don’t actually have age statements on the bottle. I would not read anything into that. They come from a time when a Glenkinchie was a Glenkinchie. The Glenkinchiechie has an amontillado barrel finish in both expressions tasted.


Nose; lemon, vanilla, leather, light fruit, green apple

Palate; spice- ginger, apples, vanilla, citrus, American oak, honey, sherry

Finish; dry medium finish


Nose: sherry, European oak, floral, caramel, oily

Palate; honeycomb, spice, ginger, nuts, chocolate, dates, raisins maybe prunes

Finish; long with tannins


My companion preferred the 2003 and I preferred the 1986 but we put that down to personal taste. They were both excellent whiskies I was surprised how good the distillers edition was.


So no Clear distinction between old and new. My own preference is probably more on style than quality and a bias brogues on my tasting some extraordinarily good 1960’s whiskies albeit they were very long matured. I had a 34 year old 1961 Glen Lossie which was the best whisky I tasted last year but that is hardly surprising.

The lesson as always is that the company you drink in is the most important factor and I thoroughly enjoyed all 4 evenings and sampled several more drams.