Whisky Review – White Horse: Then & Now

White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky was created by Mackie & Co, a company that can trace its roots back to 1890. By 1894 they had bought a stake in Lagavulin distillery and the relationship between White Horse and Lagavulin was born.

The blend itself was named after a coaching inn on Edinburghs Royal Mile, a building that still stands today. It was traditionally the starting point for the 8 day Edinburgh to London coach trip.

In 1924 the company changed its name to White Horse Distillers Ltd. The company also owned stakes in Craigellachie and Hazelburn distilleries. By 1927 the company was amalgamated into DCL (the Diageo fore-runner)

Interestingly White Horse was the first brand to introduce screw caps on its bottles (1926) a step that paid off as it saw its sales double in six months, possibly due to its being much more convenient that the driven cork closure commonly used at the time.

White Horse bottlings have always had a certain fascination for collectors. Pre 1960’s bottling are likely to contain the enigmatic Malt Mill (a distillery within a distillery at Lagavulin that has long since fallen silent) an expression that was never bottled as a single malt and remains elusive to this day.

Having always had Lagavulin at its heart has also meant that it attracts the eye of malt enthusiasts. Perhaps you would have difficulty affording or finding a 1960s or 1970’s Lagavulin for example, but you could in some form get a feel for it from a similar era of White Horse.

Lagavulin and Craigellachie have always been at the core (how much of each of these in contemporary offerings is debatable) but historically Caol Ila, Talisker, Linkwood and Glen Elgin have been key components, alongside grain from Cameronbridge. I’m going to take a (badly) educated guess and suggest that there is less Lagavulin and more Caol Ila in the modern bottling as demand for Lagavulin as a single malt is on the rise and Caol Ila produces such a large amount of spirit.

White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky, (2019), 40% abv, from my collection.

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Its damp and earthy on the nose, stewed fruits and soft spices mix with peaty water and madeira cake, all with soft smoke overlaying some present but not off-putting younger grain elements (herbs and green wood)

The palate is full of gooseberries and has a soft peaty tang. Theres a waft of gentle smoke, and its faintly fruity (mostly red berries and faint tropical fruits) A solid malt, caramel and vanilla base underpin.

As we would expect from a blend the finish is reasonably short with notes of wet cardboard, sea spray, sweet syrup, faint distant smoke. The smoke does linger for a respectable amount of time, giving a longer finish than some other blends I’ve recently tried.

As a standard blend I’m actually quite impressed with this.

 

White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky, (1990’s), 40% abv, from my collection.

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The nose is full of a heady mixture of cedarwood, spices, peat, coffee beans and burnt vanilla. Theres a lovey note of Cranachan and some toasted oats.

Dark wood and red berries start the palate but there’s a healthy whack of caramel and its   nicely spiced.

In the main the palate is drying with brown sugar, touches of vanilla, peat smoke and hints of sea spray of sea spray.

 

This 1990’s White Horse was opened at my recent Blended Whiskies: Then & Now tasting in which we compared a 1970’s Johnnie Walker Red Label, 1980’s Cutty Sark and a 1990’s White Horse with their more modern contemporaries. The White Horse was picked by the attendees as their favourite of the older blends and the favourite of the modern expressions too.

This review follows on from my comparison of a 1980’s Cutty Sark and its modern incarnation. Read the article here.

This bottle was opened during my Blended Whiskies Then & Now Tasting event. For information on future events please click here.

You can find more tasting notes and whisky news in the Amateur Drammers Archives.

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