Whyte & Mackay is one of the world's best known whisky companies. It was founded in Glasgow in 1844 by whisky merchants James Whyte and Charles Mackay and by the late 19th century their popularity was growing rapidly. Whyte and Mackay's first blended whisky, named 'Special', had been a great success upon its release in the UK and this success spread around the globe with the expansion of the Victorian Empire. Whyte & Mackay are currently owned by the Indian beverage company United Breweries Group, after they purchased the distilleries and brands in May 2007.
The current Whyte & Mackay portfolio includes four whisky distilleries - Dalmore, Fettercairn, Jura and Tamnavulin - as well as the Whyte & Mackay blended whisky range, which includes a modern version of the original 'Special' and aged blends at 13, 19, 22, 30 and 40 years of age. They also own the Glayva whisky liqueur and Vladivar vodka brands. Whyte & Mackay currently export single malts or blended whiskies to almost every country in the world.
We were lucky enough to try this 40 years old Whyte & Mackay blend at a recent event - we thank Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay's legendary Master Blender, for this sample as you don't often get the chance to taste whiskies of this age. Richard created this blend to commemorate the service that John McIlraith gave to Whyte & Mackay. He worked for the company for 70 years and worked as a blender, then a salesman before working his way up to Managing Director. It is the oldest blended whisky to be released by the company. Richard has used a high single malt content in this blend (70% with the other 30% being grain whisky) and they were distilled in June 1966. There are only 1000 bottles released, each at 45% ABV and all personally signed by Richard. The price, if you can still find a bottle, should be around £550.
The colour is a dark, rich amber brown and the nose is fragrant, intense and complex. There is an immediate hit of malty cereal grains and this is quickly joined by dark luscious dried fruit (think of raisins and candied orange peel especially), sweet butterscotch, some wood spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and something woody and waxy that is reminiscent of a wax furniture polish. On the palate, this whisky is rich, sweet and velvety. There is again a lot of dried fruit (the orange zest is particularly prominent) and sweetness (this is more like caramel this time). These are combined with other more subtle notes - spices (think of cinnamon, nutmeg and just a touch of ginger), toasted oats, nuts (imagine hazelnuts), dark wood and a hint of liquorice and clove. The finish is rich, complex and mellow and the whisky is very easy to drink and enjoyable. Thanks to Richard again for the opportunity to sample this 40 years old - it is a lovely, deeply complex and well balanced whisky.