Whisky Advocate

I’m turning 50. Which whisky should I drink?

May 24th, 2010

I’m now moving on to something less serious (but no less significant) than my post this past Friday. Yes, it’s true. I’m hitting the big 5-0 on June 7th. I’m going to be pulling out all the stops, drinking great beer, wine, and whisky! (More on the beer and wine at a later date.)

This is a very special occasion, so I’ve dug deep into the Hansell archives and pulled out three special whiskies. (Pictured, and click on the picture for a larger view.) One of them I will open up on my birthday. I need your help picking which one.

The first one: The very first vintage of Longrow, the peated expression of Springbank. It’s a 1973 vintage and it’s bottled at the distillery’s traditional 46%. There is no age statement.

The second one: An old distillation of Ardbeg. It’s a Cadenhead’s bottling, distilled back in October, 1965 and bottled almost 30 years ago in December, 1980. This one is also bottled at 46%.

The last one: An old distillation of Talisker. It’s a Gordon & MacPhail bottling, distilled back in 1973. There is no indication of age or bottling date. It’s bottled at 57%.

One final note: the level of whisky in each bottle looks good, so I don’t think there has been much evaporation in any of them. Therefore, this shouldn’t be a factor in our decision-making process.

So, which bottle do you think I should I open? And why?

(P.S. I have a few bottles of whisky distilled from 1960. I might open one of those up too in addition to one of the three pictured above. Stay tuned for that.)

No Responses to “I’m turning 50. Which whisky should I drink?”

  1. Mitch Gurowitz says:

    I believe that you should try all three, the really important question is who will you invite to share them with to celebrate the occasion? Congrats on your 50th John. I’ll see you on the other side in two years.

  2. jazz lover says:

    Ditto…

  3. John Hansell says:

    I am only opening up one, Mike (and Jazz Lover). There will be just too many other beverages I will also be enjoying that evening. (Details to follow.) I’ll get to the others in due time.

    Given this, do you have a particular recommendation?

  4. Tanguy says:

    For your birthday, you should drink to Bourbon only. The Four Roses 100th Anniversary will do fine!!!!

  5. Peter Benkoczki says:

    For a special age, i would choose a very old one – or a very strong one. All three malts are special (at least for me), so i would open the Talisker, it should be a real flavour-bomb.

  6. Kjell Ivar Øvergård says:

    The only whisky to drink of these three when you turn fifty is the Ardbeg. it is the only one with an age statement and we all know that Ardbeg from 1965 is exceptional.

    The other two seems interesting, but without an Age Statement I would have waited with these until I have an vertical tasting of Longrow or Talisker.

    • John Hansell says:

      Good points, Kjell!

    • Red_Arremer says:

      I’d go with the 25 yo Ardbeg as well. Seems like the surest bet in the lot, but that’s just my gut instinct because I sure can’t speak first hand about Ardbegs from ’65 (you’re a lucky man, Kjell).

  7. Doug Mustian says:

    For me, there is something about that Talisker. It looks like a Whisky that echoes class and celebration.

  8. two-bit cowboy says:

    Aren’t June birthdays great? Half way between Christmases.

    The peat lover in me says, “Go for the Ardbeg,” because I’m guessing it’s the peatiest of the three.

    One qualification though: the Ardbeg was distilled when you were five years and some months old; as you sip it, think of a special memory from that age.

  9. Clark says:

    Though its difficult to believe, I’ll assume you have tried none of these expressions. That being the case, I would go with the one you most anticipate enjoying (i.e. if you were allowed only one bottle the rest of your life, which would you choose?). Since it is your birthday – it should be about your enjoyment. If you are still torn, leave it to chance – roll a die 1-2 = Longrow, 3-4 = Ardbeg, 5-6 = Talisker, or let the preponderance of online voters decide. If the latter is the case, I’d cast my ballot for Talisker and anticipate your thoughts following the celebration.

  10. brian bradley (brian47126) says:

    Since your now old as dirt, I would suggest a peated number–The Ardbeg. If I was drinking with you on the big 50, I would be happiest with a flavor that will stick around for a wile…

    THE ARDBEG!

    Oh, and Happy Birthday John!

  11. Bev D. Blackwood II says:

    I’d go with the Longrow. I’ve had it and loved it.

  12. Alex says:

    This is a choice I would like to have to ponder myself….but I’d have to go with the Talisker.

  13. That really is a tough one. All are excellent old whiskies, and all are peated. I would go with the Longrow, though. Not because Ithink it might be any better than the others, but just to enjoy the luxury of emptying a rare first edition malt that is a true collctor’s item.

    The others are rare and valueable as well, but with the Longrow it’s still something special.

  14. Marc says:

    I vote for the Talisker! I haven’t seen many old Talisker reviews like this online, I’d love to read what it sounds like. Ardbeg has such a cult following that there is plenty of old bottling reviews online. Either way John, ENJOY (How can you not?!) and many more.

  15. Paul M says:

    Since none of your options were distilled in your birth year, I would opt for the one that was in your birth decade – Ardbeg.

    Happy Birthday!

    • John Hansell says:

      Paul, I have a few bottles of whisky that were distilled in 1960. I was thinking of opening one of those up too. Maybe that will be a later post. (I’ve ammended my original post to mention this.)

  16. Louis says:

    Just one ?!?!?! The three would make for a marvelous horizontal tasting. The easiest choice is the Ardbeg, but it would have to be the last dram of the evening, and you obviously wouldn’t want to have had ‘too many’ by then. If that won’t work for the rest of your festivities, I’d pick the Longrow. Less certainty of the peat attack, but easier to have a variety complemetary drams lined up. It would seem to me that the Talisker at cask strength, and possibly young, might be the hardest to integrate with all of your other drams without prior tasting.

    Slainte.

    Louis

    PS Please let us know later on, how the three compare.

  17. Red_Arremer says:

    Anyone have any guesses about the character of these based on other bottles they’ve tasted?

  18. nicolas vaughn says:

    I am partial to Longrow John. I think it is one of the most underrated single malts out there and while i really enjoy young expressions of it i think the 1973 is a special vintage! I have a bottle of it also and it will be one I will truly save for a special occassion especially since it is my birth year! Go Longrow and let me know how it is!

  19. Peter says:

    John,
    All three expressions are incredibly good, it all depends on when you plan on tasting them. If you place the whisky ahead of the bourbons and beers, I would go with the Longrow. If in the middle, I’d go with the Talisker. And as a final sealer on your birthday, the Ardbeg. If you are going to be in NYC anytime soon, come over and I’ll open something up to celebrate with you.

  20. woodisgood says:

    Can you recall, from your first tastings of these, if one of them wasn’t as kick-ass as you hoped? If so, I’d chose that one to drink. I bet it surprises you in some unexpected way. (I recently did the same thing with a trio of wines, and the one I recalled not being as super-amazing totally blew me away!)

  21. Jun N says:

    You only turn 50 once. I say invite a few good friends and open all three while enjoying some fine cigars. It’s all about the moment and turning 50 is one hell of a moment. When I turned 50 a couple of years ago I did not hesitate and it was one memorable of an event.
    Happy Birthday !
    Cheers,

  22. bgulien says:

    First of all, happy 5-0. I had it some 9 years ago and it’s worth having a good party with your loved ones.
    I would personally go with the Ardbeg.
    The Ardbegs of that era were very exceptional. I don’t know about the others, but my gut feeling would lead me towards the Ardbeg.
    I don’t doubt, the others will be fine as well, but still…

  23. John says:

    John, the suggestion of a horizontal tasting makes a lot of sense to me…why limit yourself to one? But if you must hold yourself to one, go with the Ardbeg.

  24. Matt Z says:

    Ardbeg is so ubiquitous right now, that it almost seems like a slightly boring choice (though surely delicious). I think I’d go for the Longrow, but maybe that’s just because I’ve tasted much less Longrow than the others… It may also be a little more versatile throughout the evening. Happy Birthday!

  25. Scribe says:

    John, given your relationship with the distilleries, I’d try to find out which of the three is the youngest. Then, because 50 truly is young (you can guess which side of that I am on!), enjoy the youngest…and save the other two for 60 and 70… :)

    Whichever you pick, I’m sure it will make the day a memorable one indeed!

  26. Jim says:

    I’d have to put in my vote for the Talisker. I can look at the other two bottles and take a pretty good guess as to what the whisky inside is going to taste like. An old G&M bottling of a Talisker bottled at 57% makes my mind race with curiosity with what it might be like. It seems like the unique whisky of the three, while the other two seem more like collectables.

  27. maltakias says:

    Go for the Talisker John.And have a great time whatever the bottle you open.

  28. Vince says:

    Happy Birthday John. I would go with the Ardberg at the end of the evening. I would also sip on a little Parkers Golden Anniversary Bourbon!

  29. Ralph Biscuits says:

    First of all Happy 50th Birthday John! I just celebrated my 49th a couple of weeks ago.

    I would choose the Longrow. While I’ve had other expressions of Ardbeg and Talisker, I’ve never had anything from Longrow. That’s one reason. But the main reason is, how cool will it be to taste a first edition of a whisky almost 30 years after it came out and to have it on your birthday?

  30. Shaun Farrier says:

    My vote goes to the Longrow, simply because I’m a Springbank fanatic. With that being said you can’t go wrong with any of them.

    Happy B-day John!!!!

  31. B.J. Reed says:

    Longrow is outstanding – have that one – Toss up between Ardbeg and Talisker but I would likely go with the Talisker at that proof and from G&M.

  32. Rick Duff says:

    From the malt maniac’s today:
    Strathisla 49yo 1960/2010 (53.2%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Fair, book of kells label) Five stars I find it extremely classy to bottle this at 49yo instead of waiting a few more months and bottle it at 50yo. Exactly what several wham-bam-watch-my-silly-decanter brands would not do. Colour: full gold. Nose: a firmer version of the previous one, with a higher minerality and more herbs as well on top of the expected notes of quinces, sultanas, dates, dried apricots and acacia honey. Whiffs of spearmint and eucalyptus, honeydew, almond oil and ‘old English library’ (wax polish and old papers). As great and complex as it can get so far. With water: we’re more on many herbal teas now, as well as on whiffs of warm damp earth (say, earth after a sudden but short summer rain). Mouth (neat): sure there’s some oak but less than in the 60/08 and the rest of this baby is big enough to stand it. Beautiful menthol, camphor, pine resin, apricots, liquorice and tar. An impressive, imposing dram. With water: wonderful! It got less oaky and rather fruitier, typically old Strathisla. Hints of raspberries and blackcurrants. Finish: long and very ‘wide’, just before a tamed oakiness comes back. And mint. Comments: absolutely excellent. Maybe not as totally great as some recent Longmorn or Clynelish in the same Book of Kells series, but absolutely excellent. SGP:561 – 92 points.

  33. Having just turned 50 myself on May 15th (1960 was a fine year for whisky enthusiasts) I was faced with a similar dilemma. But then I heard a quote from good ol’ Abe Lincoln a fellow Kentuckian …”And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Right then I realized that I didn’t need to choose but rather decide which one was first in the flight. John, create a 50 year memory and created your own flight for tomorrow doesn’t matter.

    PS. The “Happy Birthday” song was written by two teachers (The Hill Sisters) and yes they were sisters, in a schoolhouse in Louisville Kentucky. Now you know…

  34. Josh says:

    John,

    Happy Birthday! I’m staring down the barrel of 40, so I’ve got just a bit more than a decade to worry about your dilemma, but that being said, I’d go with the Ardbeg. So much change there, so much time, so different now with Glemorangie running the show. That’s major history. Although, the Longrow is tempting too…Nah, go with the Ardbeg!

    Slainte!

    - Josh

  35. John,
    Congratulations. On both the age and the whisky.

    I would say go with the Longrow – since you have other things up your sleeve in regards to the 1960 distilling, the 1973 distilling from when you were 13 is at least in some faiths an indication of becoming a man. So, something created in the first year you became a man would be a good significant and special celebration. And why Talisker over Longrow? To raise your glass to health with something that is representative of the fact that you have a Long time left to Grow. (groan….)

  36. Pat B says:

    All three would be great, but I would have to go with the Ardbeg. Such a phenomenal whisky!

  37. H.Diaz says:

    Longrow. It is the only OB, official bottling. Why these three – out of your extensive collection?

    • John Hansell says:

      These are three rare whiskies that I’ve been wanting to open. I already had the 1973 Longrow and know that’s a good one. I expect the other two to be great too–worthy of my 50th.

  38. David says:

    I had the same dilemma last year. While you have more to choose from than me, I chose a 1959 (my birth year) Macallan matured in sherry wood and bottled at 80% proof. It was bottled for the Italian market. I drink a wee dram once a year on my birthday, sharing the bottle with no one. My goal is to out live the bottle!

  39. Sean says:

    As much as I would love to see your notes on any of these (and would really love to sample any of these whiskies), I would choose the Ardbeg. I have never had any of the older Ardbegs and would love to read your notes (though I would be strongly tempted by the Talisker). Enjoy and happy early B-day.

  40. George Jetson says:

    Happy 50th John!

    I’ve had the Longrow and it is an excellent whisky, special because it was the first peated distillation and a really fine whisky. The dumpy bottle Cadenhead Ardbeg should be a stunner, but I’ve not had that particular bottling. I’ve had other mid-60′s ones that had a lot of the creosote character, but surprisingly not peat monsters. More of the subtle interplay of peat and sweet that the really good old ones had. I believe 1965 is back when the stills were coal-fired, some say this makes a real difference. Never had that Talisker either, but I have had an old “Walker” bottling of 7yo from the 70′s. Another stunning whisky from a bygone era at Talisker, before all of the “improvements” at the distillery.

    Hard to go wrong there, but I am partial to the dumpy Ardbeg. As luck would have it, I tasted a new G&M bottling of 1960 Strathisla (not the BoK bottling noted above) last week at the Van Wees whisky shop. An amazingly vibrant whisky considering it spent the last 49 years in wood. I don’t know about availability in the states, but that is definitely one to seek out, not that you’re hurting for whisky…..

    Slainte Mhor

  41. Gal says:

    Happy bday man!

    i’d definitely go for the Ardbeg.
    no question!

  42. Luke says:

    Hmmm… The Ardbeg!

    Many Happy Returns John – Here’s looking forward to the next Fifty!

  43. Michael Z says:

    …bet you can’t open just one…..’on we go’…..

  44. John Hansell says:

    I appreciate all the well-wishes everyone. Thanks!

  45. micheluzzo says:

    I only know the longrow and the talisker and I don’t remembet if I tried this special Ardbeg.
    ardbeg from the 60ties is always a good choice, even with only 46%.
    if you tried some old longrows from 73 or 74 you’ll like this one too – it is in the same range.
    the talisker is something special. for me it was unusual to all the other taliskers I tried. you’ll love it or … it is a dirty whisky in a good sense.
    good luck

    • John Hansell says:

      I am fortunate to have six different Longrows from 1973 and 1974. I’ve consumed a few bottles already and have enjoyed them all immensely.

  46. patrickj says:

    I’d go with the Ardeg for many of the aforementioned reasons. Have a great 50th.

  47. P says:

    Ardbeg, without a doubt. It’s been in the bottle for 30 years now. Time to crack it open! These old dumpies bottled in the early 80′s tend to start losing power, so I wouldn’t wait too long. I’m very very interested in your notes on it too, because I can’t find much about the bottle.
    I’m willing to bet it won’t be as peaty as some expect, so I would not put this at the end of a lineup.
    Nuff said!

  48. Serge says:

    I’ll second ‘P’. This Ardbeg can be tired and cardboardy. Maybe more a collector’s item than a dram to enjoy on a birthday? The Longrow is a well-known stunner and is now worth a hefty ammount. I don’t know this obviously very young Talisker but most of these Talisker G&M black label at 100°proof I could try were terrific. I’d open the latter!
    Curious about your 1960s John, it’s my year as well and apart from a bunch of Strathislas, Glenlivets and Glen Grants by G&M, I couldn’t find many of them (Scotia, Moray, Farclas, Highland Park and only a few others…)

    • John Hansell says:

      I don’t have many either, and I only passively looked. I have G&M Strathisla, Scapa (bottled in ’85 @ 25 y/o), Glenfarclas Family Cask, and The Last Drop. I also have a few Armagnacs from 1960.

      • Louis says:

        So you’ll be saving your bottle of 70 year old Mortlach for your 70th birthday, right?

      • DavidG says:

        If you are going to drink the G&M Strathisla from 2004 bottled by Binny’s a great counterbalance would be the Longrow. The spice of the Longrow would really be a great contrast for the sherry and oak grip of the older Strath.
        Happy Birthday, and enjoy your decision – we should all go through life with such difficult (and tasty) choices.

  49. bgulien says:

    I have to revise my advice. I automatically went for the Ardbeg, but remembering an Ardbeg expert, who, candidly, told met that Ardbeg is on it’s best between 17 and 20 years.
    That’s why the Airigh Nam Beist is such a good dram at 18 yo.
    So, without ever knowing how the others will do, I will advice to follow your own intuition and do whatever you think fit for your big 50!

  50. David S says:

    I have had some experience with old Cadenhead bottles, including Ardbeg, and they can be hit-or-miss. The Talsiker is an unknown to me, but I don’t think you can go wrong with the Longrow! All I have tried from the 1973 and 1974 vintages have been wonderful, including one you had available as a charity dram at whiskyfest one year.

    My choice would be the Longrow.

  51. TimW says:

    I am a huge fan of both Ardbeg and Talisker. That being said, for an auspicious occasion such as this choose the one with the most historical significance. The first Longrow.

  52. Robinski says:

    Happy big 50 John. I’d open them all

  53. H.Diaz says:

    Since you have already tasted the Longrow 1973 vintage and have more bottles in storage – flip a coin over Ardbeg or Talisker – you cannot lose.

  54. Tony says:

    Two bottles with no age statements and a 15ish Ardbeg?

    I have to advise the Ardbeg. That age is a real sweet spot (14-17) with Ardbeg. I have never had one that wasn’t just smokily wonderful.

  55. Tony says:

    My wife and I love both Ardbeg and Talisker. Adding a peated Springbank to the mix makes for a great choice, no matter which you pick.

    I’ll have to go with the Longrow, if only to hopefully read about how it tastes after your birthday celebration.

    This is a great year for a 50th birthday – both my wife and I turn 50 this summer as well. Congratulations!

  56. Mitch C says:

    Happy 50th to you, John! You are blessed to have the opportunity to choose between such fine Scotches. I can’t say I’ve had anything older or rarer than Laphroaig 30 yr. (and that was an incredibly unique opportunity) so I can’t offer any experiential suggestions. I only know what I read and that I would enjoy just about anything from Ardbeg so that would get my vote. But from what I’ve read in these comments, the other two sound like fine choices as well. So it leaves me saying it’s a bit of a toss-up between the Ardbeg and the Talisker. Ardbeg just gets my vote in general, but I’d be VERY curious about that Talisker. I say it’s between these two since you’ve already had and enjoyed other Longrows. That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth…

  57. Neil Fusillo says:

    In my experience, the older Taliskers I’ve had have been overpowered by the oak, losing their youthful complexity, and generally being rather disappointing. However, without a bottling date, it’s hard to say how old that one might be. On the off chance it’s passed its prime, though, I’d go for one of the others. My personal preference would be the Ardbeg, though it would be a tough call between that and the Longrow to be honest.

    Still… I’m picking one… so… Ardbeg is my vote.

  58. Mark says:

    Coming in late on this (another trip to MA), and I’m impressed by anyone’s ability to present himself with such an excellent decision problem. Just that should make reaching 50 better.

    I’m inclined toward the Ardbeg, because of the probability that it is excellent and the threat that it might be becoming less so. However, that threat is not a sufficient reason to make it the choice for 7 June. The Longrow has at least as high a probability of excellence (from what I’ve understood) and, importantly, it’s the first vintage. That would be a cool bottle to open on your 50th!

    They are all rare, all very fine, all worthy. I’m going to suggest the Longrow just because of the added (psychological) significance of it being from the first vintage. Happy 50th!

  59. MARS says:

    I would go for the talisker as this serie have a good reputation.
    But I must say that I really don’t like ardbeg, so my advice is probably not the best one.

    MARS

  60. Andre Girard says:

    Open all three of them ! Let’s celebrate John !

    As Ardbeg 1977 is my favorite bottling ever (to this time) i would recommend the old Ardbeg bottle… Why… Ardbeg will always be Ardbeg… But i must say i’ve always prefered the original distillery bottling so Springbank can also be a nice pick… eee… and Talisker is the first single malt i’ve tasted so this one can also be good….

    Finally, open them all John !!!!!!!!!!! Half century old man ! Let’s celebrate !

  61. USS225 says:

    If John is only going to drink Scotch (yes, that’s right I said it, Scotch!), who cares!

    But the only real choice is a proud American Bourbon named for a legend who started making whiskey at Heaven Hill the year John was born, I nominated Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary!

    Either way John, Happy Birthday you old fart! ;-)

  62. Jeff Toalson says:

    No choices in life are easy and while the Ardbeg is very tempting my vote says that you should open the 1973 Longrow. Those folks on the end of the Mull have always had unique malts and when a person turns 50 the event should be toasted with a very unique malt. Happy Birthday.

  63. Kevin Dixler says:

    Although the Ardbeg would bring me great joy, I still feel a tug from both Talisker and Longrow, due to fond memories, what I’m eating and my senses at any given moment. All three choices are great. Go with your gut, not ours. It is the moment, your palate and if you are not ready for one, then go with the other. You can always make time. No need to go with populism, where your tastebuds tell you otherwise. None of the distilleries should find fault for such a wise decision. Any one is likely spectacular for what is unless it has gone bad. In that case, open another bottle.

  64. John Hansell says:

    I’m still working on getting my list organized. A Very difficult (but enjoyable) decision. Thanks, everyone, for offering up your suggestions.

  65. Mike B. says:

    50th….I would say by now you tasted some amazing stuff over the years. As listed they are all heavy hitters, so you need one to mark your day. I would taste the one will make you say ” That was very good year”….”Ardbeg” is the one that will do it. Happy Birthday!

  66. Randy Roach says:

    Happy Birthday! My suggestion would depend upon whether you are going to drink the Scotch before or after your bottle of 2008 Abyss by Deschutes Brewing (their XXI Anniversary Black Butte Porter would be a fine choice as well). If you have the Scotch first, I would suggest the Talisker since it will be a smoother lead in to the Abyss, which is rich and full-bodied. But, if you have the Abyss first, I’d think the Ardbeg would be your Scotch choice since its stronger profile will stand up to the full body of the Abyss. Or, you could have the Talisker before and after . . . So many nice choices.

  67. Alan Straus says:

    Have the Talisker – Sell me the Longrow!
    Cheers!

  68. Ronan Gillespie says:

    Hi John

    We share the same birthday! June 7th. You’re a few years ahead of me…

    I know you’re a big fan of potstill, so I’ll skip the single malts and focus on a Redbreast or a The Irishman 70 (potstill/single malt blend) for my birthday. What do you think?

    “Slainte, agus la breithe sona duit” (cheers and happy birthday) from Ireland!

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