John Haig & Co Gold Label (1936/1937)
I’ve been lucky enough to have tried several pre-war whiskies, topped by a Macallan 1937 (can’t thank you enough, André!). That makes me privileged, very fortunate and of course super awesome. But it’s not something I ever get used to. So when someone offers me the chance to try a whisky that was bottled before Poland was invaded by Germany, I’m not one to say no.
This Haig Gold Label (of which I tried a 1970s version a while ago) is from the 1936/1937 rotation, so likely there’s some juice in here that was distilled in the 1920s. Which distilleries that are currently closed where in production back then? Just think of all the possible components of this blend? Malt Mill? Parkmore? I mean, that’s not out of the realm of possibilities…
John Haig & Co Gold Label (43%, OB, 1936/1937)
Nose: It has a nice, gentle medicinal quality. Bandaids and linseed oil as well as some soot and just a touch of iodine. There’s some elderflower too, followed by a whiff of hay and a faint note of brine and chestnut. It’s the soft peaty notes and menthol throughout that elevate this whisky. However, as I’ve experienced before with these very old bottles, the whisky loses its potency fairly quickly after it is poured into the glass.
Taste: Quite syrupy, which is always a pleasant surprise. The peat is present again, but once more in a subtle and nonintrusive way. Touches of darker fruits like plums, but also some triple sec and cinnamon. Even some raspberries. Soft spicy notes and damp oak as well. Even some leather and shoe polish. Slightly medicinal again.
Finish: Dry peat, some tar and menthol. Medium in length.
Does it taste exactly the same as it would’ve eighty years ago? I doubt it. Bottle ageing has probably improved it to some extent, but I’m it has also lost some of its power in all these years. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to fall in love with this. While I pride myself on always trying to be as objective as possible, that becomes much harder when it comes to these types of whiskies. The score might’ve gained a point or two simply because of the emotional impact something like this has.
Having said all that, it is truly really good whisky that is unlike anything modern. The mouthfeel is exceptional and the flavour profile is unmatched by contemporary whiskies. And guess what? You can try this as well. The Dutch whisky retailer Verhaar has samples, which you can order here. They’re not cheap of course, but tasting a piece of history is priceless.
Thanks for sharing, Geert!
Thijs is a spirits writer and accredited liquorist from The Netherlands. He runs the blog Words of Whisky and contributes to a number of Dutch and international publications.