Diageo Archives Part 1 – A Dram from the Past

Graeme’s Back!

Graeme here folks! Haven’t written anything for a while as I have been otherwise detained in an epic battle with various dissertations and essays that were hell bent on harvesting my soul for a cheeky Spring snack. Now however, Summer is approaching, University is finished and I am released in the grown up world, free to do grown up whisky tasks such as tasting, writing, exploring and tasting. Therefore when Chris gave me the opportunity take up an invitation from Diageo to visit their historic archives in Menstrie, I was more than willing to prove my new found maturity to the whisky world. It was such a shame that this particular trip was only two days before my dissertation was due to be handed in. So being the sensible student that I am, I kicked it to the curb, saddled up and headed out to the Scottish country.

The event was thrown to give a couple of whisky writers a chance to take in the importance of the historical information that Diageo have kept on-site since their archives opened in 1990. It is quite an impressive collection spanning over 1500 brands and over 400 years of brand history. In whisky terms of course we have Bells, Dimple, Johnnie Walker, Bushmills, J & B, Buchanan’s Black and White, White Horse, Talisker, the list could go on and on but I guess you get the picture. There will be more on the archives themselves in the near future, but first I want to tell you about the extraordinary experience we had the night before the actual archive visit.

So I arrived at the hotel the night before, fully apprehensive about not being locked in my study dungeon surrounded by piles of books, papers, empty Tennent’s cans and poppadom cases ( I grew rather fond of Tennent’s and poppadoms over my dissertation period, a fantastic study combo that really made the creative juices flow). I needed not worry! Straight away we were taken in to a room to go through a wee bit of the history of the Archives and watch some videos from old advertising campaigns. My fears of this being a dull lecture based trip filled with unimpressive manuscripts and little hands on experience was shown to be needless. The videos were funny and showed a diverse range of TV adverts from across all their brands. Personally when I think of television adverts my favourites are always the Guinness and Smirnoff adverts, the 10x filtered for purity sea stripping advert and the horses on the waves in particular the two that stand out. The one video we saw that night that suck in my mind was a horrendous Johnnie Walker ad featuring dancing whisky tumblers with horrible bagpipe music and a horrendous tartan. If you have seen it you will know which one I mean.

History part over, it was time for something a wee bit special. Our first tasting of the trip was two Johnnie Walker Red Label’s and a blend from the Isle of Mull. Doesn’t sound too great does it? Well, it did go a bit further than that given that one Red label was from the 1960′s and the other from the 1930′s, I felt privileged to be tasting the stuff. That’s not even the best bit, the Isle of Mull Whisky was a blend from 1917. It was pure history in a glass. Here’s what I gathered about each bottle:

Johnnie Walker Red Label from 1960′s

So first up was the youngest of these three tastings and the one you would expect to have kept the most character. As it was passed around the table there was an air of excitement around the room, and people were handling the bottles with the greatest care that their enthusiasm would allow. There had been a good bit missing from the bottle and it looked like the seal had been broken, but Diageo had received the bottle like this and so not much was known about why this was so. Colour wise it looked normal, maybe a slightly cloudy, pale golden colour. It didn’t nose like much and had even less on the palate, genuinely it was like water but with an odd edge, kind of like burnt wood.


Johnnie Walker Red Label from 1930′s

Next up, the Red label from the 30′s. It’s crazy to think that this bottle survived a whole world war and countless other world events to eventually land up on our table to be sampled 80 years later. The same Johnnie Walker standards are there, the squint label, the striding man. However, it states that the whisky is 70 proof rather than ABV style. The spirit itself looks like it has the tale of time behind it. A murky liquid filled only half of this marvellous bottle, like the 1960′s one it had lost some spirit over the years. It was lucky the glasses were coloured so that we couldn’t see the dark dusky liquid that was inching towards our palates. The taste was again lacking, but not so much as the previous blend. The slight woody tinge was more prominent, but not necessarily in a good way.

Old Mull Blend 1917

old-mull-blend

The final and most impressive of the three was the blend from Mull. It was unaged but described as ‘Thoroughly Matured’, suggesting older whiskies and the bottle stated ‘aged old Tobermory and other fine Scotch Whiskies.’ Released in 1917, during WW1 meant being able to taste this was probably one of the highlights of the whole trip. It was also the only bottle to have been opened on the night and that was clear in the taste of the Whisky. It actually tasted like it was alcoholic and had a light malty taste with a little bitterness on the finish. It was also the only one able to hold a wee bit of water and still survive. All in all it wasn’t too shabby at all, I have most certainly had worse.

So of the three, the Mull Blend definitely wins but to be fair with whiskies like these, for me it was all about the privilege of being able to try them. Fantastic. But of course this was just the beginning of the trip. The night divulged in to a series of whisky chats and tastings (Some great whiskies like Glenury 36, Port Ellen 8th Release and Brora 25 that I will hopefully write up some tasting notes for at some point) and we still had the archives to visit. However I have probably already taken up too much of your time and so will release the second part of my tale in the very near future. Stay tuned for tales of magnificent artifact’s and huge over excitement on my behalf.

Ciao,

Graeme

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