by - December 6th, 2016
Alexander Murray Islay 23-Year-Old

image via Joshua St. John/The Whiskey Wash

Editor’s Note: A sample of this whiskey was provided to us by those behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, keeps full independent editorial control over this article.

Any musician knows the space between the notes is just as important as the notes themselves. It seems that when navigating the world of independent Scotch whisky bottlers, what goes unsaid can potentially be as important as what is. Often times contractual and other legal obligations can prevent a bottler from divulging specifics on their labels. This vagueness can become an irresistible trail of bread crumbs, or a wall upon which the curious malt enthusiast bangs their head.

To describe independent bottler Alexander Murray & Co. as prolific would be an understatement that could possibly threaten to crash the website you are currently reading. The California-based operation was founded in 2004 by Steven Lipp. In the decade of change that has followed, the brand has made major gains as a high-volume supplier to North American retail chains.

Many of the details regarding suppliers and sourcing in general can be very hush-hush, but one cannot help but notice the occasional resemblance in labeling Alexander Murray releases bear in regards to familiar generic offerings on store shelves. Additionally, Alexander Murray & Co. present an array of bottlings spanning many distilleries and vintages under their own label.

Reviewed here is a 23-year-old single malt Scotch whisky distilled in 1989 which Alexander Murray presents simply as “Islay.” Of course, dots need to be connected to make sense of the limited information that the company is willing or allowed to share. The label describes the distillery as being from the northern end of the island and being founded in 1881. The whisky itself is described as being far more lightly peated than what has come to be considered more standard Islay fare. Incidentally, there is a distillery operating in the northern portion of Islay today which was founded in/around 1881 and includes comparatively lightly peated single malts in their catalogue. Just pointing that out for additional gee-whiz information.

Alexander Murray themselves explain that they are not always free to expound upon the contents of their casks. With the limited information supplied, inferences can and will surely be made on the part of the consumer.

Tasting Notes: Alexander Murray Islay 23-Year-Old

Vital Stats: 40% ABV (80 proof), aged 23 years, 100% malted barley, available around $115 per 750 ml bottle with prices varying significantly depending on the market.

Appearance: Solid amber tones with fairly strong legs.

Nose: Sweet, bright, and somewhat astringent. The nose opens after quite some time (15-20+ minutes) to reveal more nuanced floral and cereal notes. Hints of oatmeal and lavender.

Palate: Sweet and rather full on the palate as far as mouthfeel goes. Decently coats the tongue and mouth in a more dense presentation than I anticipated from the nose. Sweet caramel and vanilla initially with salt transitioning into the mid-palate. The finish moves quickly, as the burn is not intense nor long lived. There are heavy lingering notes of sweet tea with lemon in the aftertaste. Very straightforward in terms of flavors. Not terribly deeply layered, but balanced fairly well in its simplicity.

Final Thoughts & Score/Buy A Bottle:

Score: 80/100

Buy NowThis whisky is probably best described merely as “fine.” (Not to be confused with “fine!”) Not an immediately incredible whisky, but an interesting deviation from what has become considered traditional Islay fare. Gone are the chewy peat notes and permeating smoke. I would definitely be more likely to expect this palate from a Highland or Speyside distillery rather than one bearing the name Islay.

All things considered, I see the handling of the legally necessary obfuscation regarding sourcing here to be a significant hindrance. The problem is that the folks at Alexander Murray & Co. have made the decision to label this release as simply “Islay,” and in doing so may have made more of a statement than they perhaps intended. For the uninitiated, to assume this whisky to be emblematic of Islay as a region would be a mistake. Perhaps a little more creative branding would redeem the bottle somewhat. As it stands now, it is not bad whisky. However, many would be understood for considering it to be a disappointment.

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