Longest continuous production
Strathisla (pronounce strath-eye-la) is one of Scotland's oldest malt whisky distilleries, having been founded in 1786. Whilst it is not the oldest (that particular honour goes to Glenturret, which opened in 1775), Strathisla is the longest continuous operating whisky distillery in Scotland - it has been in constant production since it was built, whereas Glenturret has been closed and restarted on a number of occassions. This picturesque distillery is located near to the Speyside town of Keith and sits on the bank of the River Isla, from which it gets its name and water. The original name of the distillery was Milltown and only changed to Strathisla in 1951, following some restoration work and rebranding by the new owners Chivas Brothers. They remain the owners of Strathisla, although Chivas Brothers is now part of the larger Pernod Ricard drinks group.
The heart of Chivas Regal
Much of the 2.5 million litres produced every year at Strathisla goes towards the highly popular Chivas Regal blended whisky range, with only a small percentage being released as single malt. Chivas Regal is one of the biggest selling blended whiskies in the world and Strathisla whisky forms an increasingly influential part of it. It is classed as the spiritual home or 'heart' of Chivas Regal. The Strathisla single malts have a cult following of whisky drinkers. The core range released by the distillery is small (currently only this 12 years old and a cask strength 15 years old) and relatively hard to find. Releases by independent bottlings companies are more available and are a good way to discover the whiskies from this distillery.
Our tasting notes
This rare single malt is widely regarded as one of the classic Speyside whiskies and one of the best examples of a whisky that has been matured in ex-sherry casks. The colour is a dark amber and the nose is robust and fragrant. There is a mix of aromas - toffee, wood spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg), cereal grains, dried fruits (imagine raisins, currants and candied orange peel) and some dark chocolate. On the palate, this is rich and full bodied with a slight oily feeling. It is again highly characterful, like the nose, and is dense, robust and silky. First comes some distinct cereal notes, plenty of dried fruits (raisins, currants and peel again) and caramel/toffee. Then more subtle notes join in - dark chocolate, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of pepper), a hint of espresso coffee, something savoury that is hard to put your finger on (the nearest we got to it was leather) and the tiniest whiff of sulphuric smoke (imagine matchstick heads). The finish is warm and spicy, complex and long. The sweetness and creaminess is counteracted by the slightly bitter cereal notes and the increasingly peppery spice.
What's the verdict?
Strathisla 12 years old may be hard to find, but if you like your sherry cask matured whiskies then it is one that you must seek out. This is a cracking and complex dram that has much depth and holds your interest. It may be too dark, rich and robust for some palates but it is an excellent example of this style of whisky. Very, very enjoyable.