Saint Magdalene distillery

Linlithgow / Saint Magdalene whisky

Where to find Saint Magdalene

Linlithgow / Saint Magdalene Whisky

Saint Magdalene  (Pronounced: just like it's written)
5558'35.97"N, 335'25.62"W
Rosebank, Kinclaith, Glen Flagler, Glenkinchie
Closed in 1983 - demolished
Loch Lomond
1 Wash still, 1 Spirit still
Diageo > SMD (since 1914)
Linlithgow, West Lothian, EH49 6AQ Scotland, UK
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor

Saint Magdalene location

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Saint Magdalene distillery, Linlithgow, Scotland

Saint Magdalene distillery (a.k.a. Linlithgow; named after the town where
it was loacted) is one of the long lost distilleries I weep for. I wasn't always
as sentimental about Lowland distilleries though - my first experiences with
young Lowlanders like Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie (in the early 1990's)
pushed me towards Highland and Islay malts. After pretty much neglecting
Lowland malts for almost a decade, a chance encounter with the 1979
Rare Malts bottling set me straight.
The distillery may have been established as early as 1765 by one Sebastian
Henderson. The location (some 10 miles west of Edinburgh) was used as a
leper colony in the 12th century and as a convent after that. It seems the
Dawson family was involved with production at Saint Magdalene between
1798 and 1912, when it was acquired by the DCL (Distillers Company Ltd.).

Saint Magdalene 19 years old Scotch whisky - a.k.a. Linlithgow

During the late 18th century the distillery was simply known as 'Linlithgow' - the name of the town
where the distillery was located. Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow was one of the first licensed distilleries
on record. I am not sure if the water source for the distillery already was Loch Lomond in those early
days; the distance between Loch Lomond and the Saint Magdalene distillery is circa 65 kilometres.
That means that transporting the water across large distances can't have been easy in a time before
modern plumbing was installed throughout most of Scotland. Saint Magdalene was completely refitted
in 1927 and (like so many other distilleries in Scotland) mothballed in 1983. A handful of the distilleries
that were closed were revived, but this was not the case with Linlithgow.

Saint Magdalene whisky label - UD Rare Malts

The distillery is built on the site of a 12th century leper colony.
During a number of reconstructions it was converted to a covent
and later to a hospital before it was turned in a distillery. Some
sources claim that Saint Magdalene was founded (as Linlithgow)
as early as 1765, but I prefer to stick with the more conservative
estimate of 1798. Even with that conservative estimate, Saint
Magdalene was one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.
In fact, Saint Magdalene was one of the few (recently active)
distilleries in Scotland that was founded before the Excise Act
of 1923. This is considered by many to mark the beginning of
LEGAL whisky production. Since Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow
already produced whisky a few decades before the Excise Act
was passed, it would seem it started out as an illegal distillery.

The bottle above and the label at the right show one of my absolute favourite
malt whiskies ever, the Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 at 63.8% by UDRM.
Roughly 6,000 bottles were produced, so you might still be able to find a bottle.

Saint Magdalene distillery, Lowlands, Scotland

The Saint Magdalene distillery in West Lothian was built near the Union
Canal, which allowed for quick and easy transport of the raw materials
(barley, casks, etcetera) to the distillery and malt whisky to markets in
Scotland and England, as well as abroad. In fact, the town of Linlithgow
seems to have provided an excellent location for a whisky distillery; at
one point there were no less than five distilleries in town.
Linlithgow was a centre of milling and malting in the 17th century and
became a centre for brewing and distilling in the 18th century. Another
reason for the favourable conditions around Linlithgow was the fact
that the distilleries in town had easy access to abundant supplies of
barley and water. As a result, the Saint Magdalene distillery used to
have a significant output; at one time there seem to have been 5 stills
operating at the distillery, a number that was later reduced to 4.

Trivia about Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow

1) Saint Magdalene's (official) founder Adam Dawson of Bonnytoun was a brewer - and one of the very first distillers to apply for a legal distilling licence. He was the licensed distiller in 1797 - as well as the spokesman for the Lowland distillers in their campaign against the exemptions that the Board of Excise had granted to the Highland distillers. Adam Dawson Senior was succeeded in 1829 by Adam & John Dawson - supposedly the next generation.

2) Adam Dawson was the driving force behind the distillery as a private company, but Ramage Dawson (a Colonel with the Haddington Artillery) acted as a managing partner for many years. He died in 1892 and A. & J. Dawson was incorporated as a limited liability company not much later in 1894. This company had a capital of 70,000, divided into 7,000 shares of 10.

3) On 17 April 1912 some creditors presented a petition to wind up A. & J. Dawson Ltd., claiming the company was insolvent and unable to pay its debts. A liquidator offered The Distiller's Company Limited (DCL) the opportunity to buy the distillery. Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow was purchased by Distiller's Company Ltd out of liquidation not much later. In July 1914 the distillery became part of Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd. (SMD) as one of the five founding members.

4) The distillery was founded on the lands of Saint Magdalene's Cross - the former site of the Saint Magdalene Hospital which treated lepers.

5) The vast majority of the output of the Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow distillery was used for blends.

6) Most of the old distillery buildings have now been converted into flats, but the pagoda roofs are still present.

7) The Royal burgh of Linlithgow (the town) was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots.

8) Saint Magdalene was one of the first distilleries in Scotland to install a drum maltings.

Saint Magdalene single malt whisky

Saint Magdalene 25yo 1982/2008 (61.8%, Blackadder Raw Cask, C#2180, 603 Bts.)
Nose: Light and smooth. Something coastal. Very lightly peated? Clean. Faintly veggy.
I didn't find the faint peat during round two in the nose - a whiff of chloride at best. Perhaps some oil.
Taste: Powerful, woody and a fair amount of peat from the start. Dry and salty. Something fishy?
Great mouth feel, especially in the light finish. The high proof makes it full, but not too sharp. Dry finish.
With bigger sips it gets a distinctly peppery character, but that might have been the high proof.
Score: 84 points - not quite silver medal material, but good enough for a big fat bronze medal.
Given the scarcity (and diminishing supply) of the Saint Magdalene malt whisky I'd say: buy on sight!

Saint Magdalene 1982/2008 (46%, Berry Brothers, Cask# 2199)
Nose: Veggy and a little weird. Grows a little more coastal over time.
Taste: Smooth start, with a quick peaty punch. Hint of liquorice. Long but unexciting, bitterish finish.
Score: 73 points - I really can't see why two other maniacs nominated it for silver at the MM Awards 2008.

Saint Magadalene 24yo 1978/2002 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 504 bottles, 70cl)
Nose: Very classy. Good sherry & wood. Fruity sweetness. Tobacco. Gunpowder. Toffee. Mighty complex.
Heavy and heavily sherried. Slightly spicy. Woody. Oriental notes after a minute. Mighty pleasant.
The spicy elements grow stronger - like a buffet of Indonesian dishes.
They really managed to find a beautiful balance in the nose. Responds well to water.
Taste: Fruity. Woody and sherried - almost like a Macallan? Lovely, lovely, lovely. Smoke? Hint of peat?
Wow - easily drinkable and very fruity at 50%. Sweet and smooth. I like it.
Bigger sips bring forward the woodier elements. Dry. More winey towards the finish.
Flattens out abruptly with too much water. No sweetness whatsoever remains, unfortunately...
Score: 91 points - I would never have identified this as a Lowlander in a blind test. It has plenty of character and for the first few minutes it might as well have been a Macallan 18yo. Loses some substance with time, though.

Linlithgow 31yo 1970/2002 (52.4%, Douglas Laing Platinum, 139 Bts.)
Nose: Farmy with loads of organics in the background. Farmyard aroma's, one of the 'farmiest' I've ever tried.
Cattle feed. Cow manure. Chicken coop. Sweetens out over sicteen minutes. Earns a few extra points with time.
Taste: Farmy as well, with a surprising pinch of peat. Hints of camphor and eucalyptus as well. Powerful.
Sweetish industrial oil. Just like the nose, it sweetens out over time. Mocca. Needs time to reach its potential.
Score: 87 points - it shows quite some development over time, both in the nose and on the palate.

Linlithgow 18yo 1982/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Dist. 15/12/1982, C#3002, Btl. 14/8/2001, 472 Bts.)
Nose: Wow! Flowery and strangely sour. Soft fruits. Radish? Perfume. Cereals. Soft peat?
Subtle organic notes as well. Dry episodes. This has some of the complexity of the UDRM 1979, but not the depth.
Taste: Sweetish with a hint of smoke in the background. Citrus. Big burn in the centre.
Malty. Dry finish. Mighty pleasant but once again it's the nose that stands out.
Score: 85 points - Yes, this is highly recommendable stuff. Dazzling.
This whisky feels much more powerful than the 43% on the palate.

Linlithgow 26yo 1975/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, 50ml) - this was a miniature I picked up for the princely sum of 11 Euro's at the festival in The Hague. Unlike the standard size bottles the label provides no information about the year of distillation or the year of bottling. Bummer. That means this could be anything, even a vatting from the leftovers in different casks. Admittedly the label is very small, but they found room for droning on about their 'preferred strength of 50%' and stuff. So, if it's all the same to Douglas Laing I'd like him to use the space on the label for more useful details next time.
Nose: Ooh, that's nice. Subtle sweet sherry notes. Something floral as well.
Some organics after a minute. Pinch of salt? But then it seems to fizzle out.
After 5 minutes it makes a comeback, evolving into sort of an 'Islay Light'.
Taste: Relatively restrained with some surprising peaty elements growing stronger.
Quite powerful. Salt. Growing complexity. Very little sweetness. Bitter episodes. Dry finish.
Score: 84 points - A party for your nose, but the palate remains fragmented.
Analysis: An 'Islay Light'. (It reminded me of the OMC Ardbeg from the early seventies.)

Linlithgow 18yo 1982/2000 (61.6%, Scott's Selection)
Nose: Sweet, but grainy and oily in the back. Faint organics. Maybe just a tad fruitier after adding water.
Taste: Hot and sweet at c/s.. A little bit malty. Grows drier and even picks up some medicinal traits.
Score: 82 points - just a tad disappointing given its birthplace, age and proof...

Saint Magdalene 1975/1999 Cask Strength (41.5%, Cadenhead's)
Nose: Dry and modest at first. After a minute more fruity and woody notes emerge, but it remains 'low key'
Remains so for quite a while. But then it starts to open up with deep sweet overtones. Estery. Forest aroma's.
A little spicy. Hint of peat? Distinctly smokier later on.With 5 drops of water more organics appear - Ants???
Taste: Very smooth and creamy. Malty with a hint of eucalyptus. Sourish. Dry finish.
Good but nothing to get very excited about. Not quite sweet enough for my tastes.
Score: 82 points - The nose really needs a few minutes but it's well worth the wait.
Analysis: The same 'great nose - average palate' song & dance again. The taste feels more powerful than the 41.5%, but ultimately it lacks the depth and complexity I would expect from a malt this age.

Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%, UDRM, 70cl)
Nose: Ooohah! The richest and most powerful Lowlander I ever smelled. What a nose! Apricots. Oak.
Oriental tones; ketjap & soy sauce. With a dash of water more liquorice, fruits & smoke. Complexity & harmony.
A lot of development as well. A rainbow of fragrances. Strangely enough, no apparent alcohol at this strength.
With some more water I got more citrus in the nose, with whiffs of chloride and spiritus. This is strange, because these 'alcoholic' notes weren't there at cask strength. But the nose is still very complex at this strength.
Even more water: Ah! Fruits and flowers on the attic of a grain warehouse. Marzipan. Oriental spices.
A deep sweet undercurrent. Something 'winey'? Over time more coastal elements emerge.
With yet some more water a strong liquorice aroma emerged. Dry - seems much dryer than before.
Taste: The nose was so great that didn't want to risk damaging it by water. But then again, 63,8% is a little too much to drink straight. The few drops I poured on my tongue were just too strong. I poured half of my glass into a second glass and diluted it to about 50% to compare it with the undiluted version. Sweet & sherried straight; long malty burn developing into a surprisingly peaty finish. Liquorice & toffee. Is this a Lowlander??? Smooth. Liquorice. Very sweet. Nuts. Toffee. Still burns at +/- 50%. Oriental spices again. Dark coffee? Woody burn in the back of my throat. Fabulous structure.Further dilution to about 30% (I slipped) brought the spiritus to the front of the nose again. Taste was still very good, with much more obvious sweetness now, developing into peaty dryness.
Score: 97 points - one of my all time favourites...

And there's more to tell about Saint Magdalene...

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Saint Magdalene Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Saint Magdalene page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Saint Magdalene expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.) 

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