First off, I’ve never seen Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, either on stage or any of the movie versions. Does that make me a Philistine? I don’t know, maybe. But I might have to after having tried a few whiskies from Act One of Livingstone’s Macbeth Whisky Collection. The scope of this project totals 42 whiskies and is hugely impressive. It originated with Alexis Burgess, and involves writer Dave Broom, whisky makers Sukhinder Singh and Oliver Chilton, and renowned artist Sir Quentin Blake.
Burgess, who has worked on many prestige whisky releases, explains in-depth where he got the idea for a whisky series inspired by Macbeth. “I have worked in whisky, on the design side, for a long time. Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly fascinated and read extensively on the industry, absorbed by histories of distilleries and the people around them – stories of allegiances and collective endeavour, but also ruthless ambition and intense rivalries. I thought ‘This is just like Macbeth.'”
Burgess convinced Dave Broom to write portraits for Macbeth’s characters. He studied speeches, considered geographical connections, and searched for distilling and blending analogies. It then fell to Sukhinder Singh and Oliver Chilton of Elixir Distillers to match this vision to whiskies. The final piece of the puzzle is Sir Quentin Blake. This British cartoonist and illustrator is perhaps best known for illustrating well-known Roald Dahl books such as The BFG.
Act One of Livingstone’s Macbeth Whisky Collection consists of nine whiskies. Four more acts will be released in the upcoming years, totalling 42 whiskies. The complete first outturn is:
Glen Grant 56 Years – King Duncan
Cambus 31 Years – First Ghost
BenRiach 31 Years – Menteith Thanes
Glen Garioch 31 Years – Angus Thanes
Linkwood 31 Years – Lady Macduff
Ardbeg 19 Years – First Witch
Ledaig 18 Years – First Murderer
Ardmore 12 Years – Seyton
Blair Athol 10 Years – Bloody Sergeant
Elixir Distillers sent me samples of the entire Act One, sans the Glen Grant. As I wanted to spare my liver somewhat, I picked a cross-section to review. Here we go.
Blair Athol 10 Years (51.8%, Macbeth Act One – The Household, 2800 bts.)
Nose: A bit dense at first. Whiffs of cinnamon, thyme, and stewed apples, but also blood oranges and blackcurrants. Just a hint of breakfast cereals, candle wax and pralines too. It sure is well-integrated. Taste: Viscous, almost oily mouthfeel. The wine influence is clear from the start. A faint tartness, but also soft tannins, more blackcurrants, some toffee – and gentle baking spices too. Finally a whisper of mint and dark-roasted malt. Finish: Medium length. Lingering cinnamon notes, damp oak and faint forest fruits.
The characterful distillate of Blair Athol stands up well against the influence of the casks. Exemplary use of red wine casks and surprisingly well-balanced.
Ledaig 18 Years (50.5%, Macbeth Act One – The Murderers, 2100 bts.)
Nose: Hints of copper coins, sauerkraut and whiffs of seashells. Also green olives, soil, damp moss and a touch of hemp rope. Finally some notes of plaster, beech smoke, and green bananas. Taste: Great oily mouthfeel. A touch of olive oil, pepper and charred lemons, as well as iodine, creosote, and white grapes. Nice salinity too. Finish: Long. Somewhat ashy and dry, but with smoked barley husks too. And seaweed.
The older Ledaig gets, the more smoke matures out, and the more similarities it shows to unpeated sibling Tobermory. Absolutely excellent, this Ledaig 18 Years is mature yet vibrant and lively.
Glen Garioch 31 Years (54.6%, Macbeth Act One – The Thanes, 600 bts.)
Nose: Hints of almond paste, candied orange peel, cantuccini and calvados. It’s a malty, fruity whisky that veers from notes of citrus and honeyed porridge to peaches and grape must. There’s also this chalky, mineral edge that elevates the entire experience. Taste: Waxy, fatty mouthfeel with a fruitiness that almost reminisces of some of those mid-1970s secret Speysiders, yet just a tad less tropical. A hint of chalk, jammy apricots, oranges and mineral-rich white wine. Finish: Medium to long. A tinge of white pepper, but mostly just lovely fruity notes and a whiff of crushed mint leaves.
Certainly a venerable malt, this Glen Garioch 31 Years is just everything you can hope for, sans maybe a sliver of smoke, which wouldn't have been unusual for an early 1990s Glen Garioch. Regardless, a fantastic whisky.
I expected the Glen Garioch and Ledaig to be good, if not great. I wasn’t so sure about the Blair Athol, but it turned out to be of a high standard too. What I can’t quite put my finger on is why this project oozes such a cool vibe.
Maybe it’s just because I’m baffled by the work that has gone into Livingstone’s Macbeth Whisky Collection. By the vision and passion. And by the liquid too. I would understand people collecting this.
It’s too expensive for me anyway, but once the entire collection of 42 whiskies is finished (which’ll be in 2027), I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more impressive set of whiskies. If you have some spare cash lying around, the Macbeth Whisky Collection is now available from The Whisky Exchange.