chieftains choice single highland malt speyside malt 1964 1973

Highland Malt 1964 / Speyside Malt 1973 (Chieftain’s Choice)

All bottled in the early 1990s, Ian Macleod once curated a shortlived series of undisclosed single malts. Named Chieftain’s Choice, I suppose they’re some sort of predecessor to the current Chieftain’s range. Today I’ll be reviewing the Single Speyside Malt 1973 20 Years and the Single Highland Malt 1964 26 Years.

There’s not much information on the Chieftain’s Choice series, so I reached out to Ian Macleod. Even Brand Director Iain Weir, who has been with the company for a quarter century, couldn’t really provide much detail on Chieftain’s Choice, except for some general information.

Overall, Ian Macleod Distillers have quietly slowed down their independent bottling arm in recent years, focusing more on their single malt brands; Glengoyne, Tamdhu and the newly revived Rosebank. Current Chieftain’s releases are few and far between, the brand is still popular in Taiwan and across Asia, but not often seen in Europe or elsewhere.

Thanks to the generosity of Tom (who now has a blog!), I’m able to get a taste of two of these old Chieftain’s Choice releases. Bottled at 50 per cent and very affordable at the time, they pop up at auction infrequently. As you can imagine, they’re not cheap anymore, but probably not as expensive had the distillery names been disclosed. I imagine most of these bottles were opened and drunk at the time.

Whiskybase only lists a very limited amount of releases, so it’s unlikely there were many more. The provenance of these Chieftain’s Choice releases is unclear, and Iain Weir couldn’t provide any clarity. Interestingly, Serge Valentin seems convinced that a 28-year-old Highland version was distilled at Longmorn.

Single Speyside Malt 1973 20 Years chieftains choice

Single Speyside Malt 1973 20 Years (50%, Chieftain’s Choice)

Nose: Soft minerals and light citrus notes, accompanied by a whisper of peach as well as some lovely beeswax. Finally a touch of ozone and grass as well. Very elegant and gentle.
Taste: An oily mouthfeel. Warming spices like cinnamon followed by gentle notes of honey, lemon and beeswax, as well as touches of leather and fennel. Slightly astringent and oaky, which is surprising for a 20-year-old whisky, but nothing to worry about.
Finish: A hint of burnt toast, soft spices. Drying as well.

A throwback style that I’ve never seen replicated in modern times. Is it the production that has changed or does bottle ageing play a part as well? I suspect it’s mostly the former, as other Speyside malts from that era that have aged for much longer (and thus have been bottled more recently) share plenty of similarities.

Single Highland Malt 1964 26 Years chieftains choice

Single Highland Malt 1964 26 Years (50%, Chieftain’s Choice)

Nose: Damp oak, merengue, bung cloth and dunnage floor, as well as softer and fruitier notes of orange zest and sweet figs. A whisper of polished leather and cocoa powder, but a light note of cough syrup too. Plenty of depth and richness.
Taste: Yes please! A bright fruitiness underpins darker notes and spices. Mocha, coffee grounds and cracked black pepper corns as well as aniseed, but also damp oak, honey and whiffs of pink grapefruit and bitter lemon peel.
Finish: Drying and somewhat astringent, but also tobacco and menthol, as well as a touch of dark chocolate. Even some bitter grassy notes.

Annoyingly good, this Single Highland Malt by Chieftain's Choice has everything I look for in a whisky. Old school, damp dunnage notes, fruitiness and a level of tannins that's right up to the edge.


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