The Glasgow blending firm Bulloch Lade & Co. was established in Glasgow in 1830 and enjoyed its heyday towards the end of the 19th century, before the ruinous Pattison Crash that devastated the whisky industry. After going into voluntary liquidation in 1920, BL & Co. was eventually subsumed into Distillers Company Limited (DCL), the dominant distilling and blending company that bought up many of its rivals in the years between WWI and the Wall St. Crash.

Bulloch Lade is significant as the company were owners of Caol Ila distillery when DCL took over. Thereafter, Bulloch Lade was run as a DCL subsidiary, but still used Caol Ila in their brands, which included the vatted malt Glen Ila and the King Arthur, B L Gold Label and Old Rarity De Luxe blends.  

It’s the latter that we’re considering today, in the form of this delightful old ceramic jug of Old Rarity that I found on a dusty-hunting trip with the irrepressible Enrico Gaddoni, a fellow former inmate of TWE. Enrico was buying a collection of old blends, but had left the Old Rarity behind as he finds old jugs tiresome. This is generally my rule as well, but knowing the Caol Ila connection I scooped it up.

What’s particularly appealing about this version of Old Rarity is that it’s labelled as a 12 year old rather than simply ‘De Luxe’, one of the archaic terms signifying older whisky in a blend.  As this decanter dates from the 1970s, it’s pretty certain to include some old Caol Ila from before the distillery was rebuilt in 1974. Ceramic jugs of this age are often prone to low fill levels, but fortunately a healthy 71cl had survived.  But what was the whisky like?

Old Rarity 12 Year Old (Ceramic Jug) 75cl, 40%

Nose: A heady mix of Islay smoke, grainy sweetness and industrial oily aromas. Caramelly buttered popcorn combined improbably with engine oil, dirty grease & diesel fumes, with hints of apples and a noisette nuttiness. Pure filth, I love it.

Palate: Medium-full. Another powerful mashup of sweet and dirty: honey, syrupy notes, melted Cadbury’s caramel bars and Butterkist eaten off a garage floor; all this plus a metallic edge, like sucking a tuppence (no euphemism intended), plus wet dirt, car door grease, a suggestion of day-old bacon fat… this is fabulous.

Finish: Lingering smoke, soot and potent, deep wet turf from pre-fame Caol Ila, all balanced by a sharp yet fusty metallic grain. This is heaven for a whisky pervert like me.

Comment: This Old Rarity has clearly had a dollop of caramel colouring (E150), but that doesn’t matter so much when the distillate is so good.  My guess would be somewhere around 40% malt content, maybe three parts Caol Ila to one part Speyside, while the rest is a metallic, popcorny grain whisky.

Age-statement blends from this era are such a good buy, particularly with the provenance of Bulloch Lade.  1960s non-ceramic bottles of Old Rarity De Luxe can go for three figures even without the age statement, but if you don’t mind taking the risk, a punt on the ceramics can sometimes be richly rewarded.  I decanted mine into an empty whisky bottle to preserve it – but that was probably an unnecessary precaution, as this stuff will be lucky to see the end of January.  

Huzzah!  Good luck and Happy Hunting 🙂

Tim