Malty Mission

A continuing mission to explore, discover, enjoy and share the water of life

Port cask finishes: overlooked or wannabe sherry cask finishes?

When it comes to whisky, very often we tend to see both bourbon and/or sherry cask matured whiskies as the standard, as the way things are done, normal procedure… The reasons for this are quite easy to understand: both bourbon and sherry casks have a strong and long tradition when it comes to whiskymaking. The former is built on a very solid foundation of availability. As bourbon must be matured in virgin oak casks, by law, those casks sort of become ‘obsolete’ for the vast majority of bourbon distilleries as soon as the contents have been dumped for bottling, and while things are indeed changing with more and more American distilleries big and small starting to branch out by producing whiskeys and ryes, there still remains an enormous availability of ex-bourbon casks for the Scottish industry. Some of these relationships go back years and years, if not ages. Take Laphroaig and Maker’s Mark for example, or even better Glenmorangie, who own vast oak forests in the States, closely collaborating with bourbon producers who sort of get to ‘lease’ the Glenmorangie casks for a number of years before these casks are being shipped to Scotland for a second life.

As for sherry, the story bares similarities to that of bourbon, with Britain being the primary export market for centuries. Until fairly recently, there was a lively tradition of entire shiploads of sherry casks getting shipped to Britain to be bottled there, resulting in an equally abundant availability of (empty) sherry casks on British soil. Even as Spanish legislation changed that (as sherry now has to be matured AND bottled in Spain), the tradition is equally firmly rooted within Scotch whisky.

Just to say, bourbon and sherry matured/finished whisky seems to pretty much agree with what we expect a whisky to be, and while of course different casks previously containing different spirits and alcoholic beverages have always been around, with wine finishing particularly popular atm, quite often we still tend to look at these port/madeira/wine/… casks as ‘exotic’, sometimes even unorthodox.

Port casks maturation or finishing is a particularly interesting case I think, as it shares quite a few of the characteristics of sherry. Both are fortified wine, usually around 20% ABV, both are produced in southern Europe (although there is a significant difference in climate between the region of Porto and that of Jerez, Andalusia), even some of the tasting profiles of port shares some resemblance with sherry as well, the main difference being port tends to be noticeably sweeter and less dry than most sherries, and quite a lot of the stuff is made from red grapes, where sherry is produced using white grapes.

So, for today’s journey, and inspired by a sample set consisting of different whiskies all being port cask finished (many thanks to the wonderful Luna Arran), I got to work and neatly lined ‘m all up to see what’s what. So sit back, pour yourself a dram and strap in for what will very much be a far from scientific little experiment. Obviously, the main focus will (and should always) be: does it taste good? But perhaps a few questions on the side might be asked as well.

The (un)usual suspects:

Tomintoul 15 yo port -‘the unknown’ - 46% ABV, bourbon cask, portpipe finished, 2016 bottling, 5820 bottles, natural colour, UCF

Glen Scotia 14 yo – ‘the limited edition’ – 52.8% ABV American oak cask, tawny portcask finish, 2020 Campleltown festival release, 15,000 bottles, natural colour, UCF

Glenallachie 11 yo - ‘the new kid in town’ - 48% ABV, American Oak matured with port wood finish, 2020 release, natural colour, UCF

Tomatin 14 yo – ‘the readily available’ - 46% ABV, bourbon + port casks, core range expression, natural colour, UCF

It will hardly come as a surprise that these 4 whiskies, despite all of them being port cask finished, all brought something else to the table, as they all have rather different characters and profiles. So putting them up one aside the other and assessing them as such, is only part of the journey. Perhaps the obvious place to start,  is to look for similarities and differences between The Glenallachie and the Tomintoul, both being Speyside scotches.

The Glenallachie is very much of a bombardment of red fruit on the nose with rich red apples and berries being very obvious, calling to those of us with a bit of a sweet tooth. While it’s also quite grainy, it brought lots of notes of dark brown sugar, creaminess and soft spices. Not very complex, but pretty nice. With a drop of water there was a lovely milk chocolate note coming through, adding an extra touch to the sweetness. The nose continues on the palate, but a savory-briny touch pops up, lifting things up, also bringing some complexity. Good stuff, but imo it doesn’t really stand out against some of the other recent ‘cask finishes’ from Glenallachie. Which doesn’t mean that this isn’t a good whisky. Far from it, but comparing this to the standard 12yo, I don’t really see how it’s worth an extra €10-€15.

As for the Tomintoul, it’s immediately clear that this is a different animal. Despite the fruit showing itself almost instantly on the nose, the wood influence is also pretty obvious and recognizable. There’s a candy-like note, almost leaning into a syrupy, sweet glue-solvent note as well. Rather perfume-y alongside a distant grassy-funky note before the dried fruit notes kick in, with plums and raisins. Good and intriguing, but the balance wasn’t always, well, in balance. How that changes on the palate! This is much more interesting: fresh, vibrant and fruity (not particularly sweet, mind you) with what I’d almost would call a sherry note. Much more ‘alive’. The wood adds a soft and faint bitter note to counterpart the fruitiness. Particularly interesting was to see how this kept on developing over time. After 20 or so minutes suddenly some salty notes come through, making it a very engaging experience. All of this sort of fades out through the finish, where the woodnote lingers around a bit. This is not what I would expect from a portwood finished whisky, as it was far less sweet and quite wood driven as well, leaning more towards an oloroso or even amontillado (the dryness) finished scotch. The big ‘downside’ here is not only that it’s a limited edition with less than 6000 bottles, but also that it’ll cost you somewhere between €75 and up (to as much as €100, which basically is taking the piss imo).

No, in terms of bang for buck it’s quickly losing ground to the Glen Scotia, which is also ‘limited’ edition (if you’d call 15’000 bottles limited, that is), but which will easily be €15 or more cheaper. Not only that, but the good people at Glen Scotia absolutely nailed it with this little beauty. On the nose the marriage of subtle smoke and peat with the red fruit assortment (again figs, raisins, berries…) turns out to be a menage-à-trois with the classic Campbeltown signature of grassy funk notes with hints of cereals and biscuits. It goes on in the palate, which is very nicely layered with flavour and complexity: peat, rich red fruit, grainy and slightly grassy. Just pure whisky goodness that only stops after a long, dry finish with a peppery-peaty note and a maritime saltiness.

Which brings us to The Tomatin. Oh, how the Highlander has some large shoes to fill, it seems. Of course you can’t put the two of them together for a head-to-head comparison. Generally speaking, their flavor profiles are miles apart, and the fact that both of these whiskies have been port finished, does little to change that. Yet, it doesn’t take anything away from the Tomatin. The nose on this thing is just something I could kick back with all evening, purring like a happy kitten as it’s so soft and pleasant. The consistency of this wee dram is remarkable from nose to finish. It’s most definitely the most ‘typical’ port finished whisky of the lot: soft red fruit, quite citrus driven with a ton of sweet oranges and orange zest, brown sugar leaning towards a syrupy note and moutfeel, jafa cakes, red apples, honey, vanilla, milk chocolate and hazelnut. Sweet, soft and gentle, but never overly so. Just liquid friendliness. Despite my initial idea to compare the Glenallchie to the Tomintoul, I find this one to be closer to Billy Walker’s creation than the Tomintoul. And while this is 14 years old, it’s easily €15 to €20 cheaper compared to the 3 years younger Glenallachie, making this a bit of a no-brainer in terms of value for money. The Glenallachie is a very decent whisky, but it finds itself somewhere in the twilight zone between an easy sipper and a complex one. So if you ‘re looking for a pleasant port influenced whisky experience, the Tomatin wins it hands down. (And if you’re looking for a more complex Glenallachie, the 10 yo cask strength is still very much the way to go.)

Intrinsically, there can be little argument about the conclusion that the Glen Scotia is ‘the winner’ here, but, seeing how that will not be around forever and going back to our initial mission to find out what a port cask finish can bring to the table, to me the Tomatin 14 yo port casks comes out on top.

Surprising conclusion? Maybe. Can you draw any sort of generalized conclusion out of this little portwood experiment? Please don’t. Do I stick with my conclusions? Oh, yes! I appreciate this being a bit of a longer read, so if you’re still here: thank you (and congratulations). If you want more port wood nerding out, I can only recommend this week’s video from Greg’s whisky guide (I swear we didn’t plan this): watch it here.

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Review 25: Bunnahabhain 18 year old (XVIII) – 2017 bottling 46.3% ABV, UCF - natural colour

If someone had told me 7 or 8 years ago I’d one day be writing about an 18 yo whisky on what is widely recognized as one of the most promising and upcoming whiskyblogs on the interweb (mainly by myself and the people I force into saying I’m promising and upcoming, but still), I’d declare them bonkers. Yet here we are, taking a closer look at what must be one of the most recognizable brands out there – bottles being all black with the iconic image of the sailor at the helm.

This particular bottle I picked up last Christmas as a gift to self (because let’s face it: Santa isn’t what he used to be back when I was still a wee lad), and while the branding has changed a bit since this particular expression - they dropped the Roman numerals and played around with the colours a bit- by shape and colour any Bunnahabhain is instantly recognizable in any cabinet or bar.

As many whisky enthusiasts, I’m quite fond of Bunnahabhain. Their 12 yo has become a very solid and engaging whisky, to be enjoyed by both aspiring ‘newbies’ as the more ‘seasoned’ and experienced whisky lover. Yes, a lot of their core range is NAS, but as a bonus, it does come with a free crash course in Gaelic as well, and while I’m still not sure how to pronounce ‘Stuiradir’, no, wait, Stueiradeir, I mean Stiùireadair (there we go, nailed it in three) correctly, some of those NAS expressions can be quite brilliant. Now, for an 18 yo whisky, this Bunna is’nt exactly cheap, as the  price tag is in the same ballpark as Highland Park 18yo, and it’s really pushing the limit of what I’m willing to pay for a whisky this age. So, to get to the point: it’d better be damn well frigging good!

The nose brings out sherry, wood, grain, sultana’s (lots and lots) and plums, something dusty, with a hint of old leather and books, dark chocolate and garden herbs and spices like sage and a wee bit of clove. Permission to shout ‘wow’?! Quite complex, and you’ll have to work a bit to catch everything that’s happening here, but it’s already starting to justify its price tag. I’ve tried adding a tiny drop of water, but found that it muted things, so that wasn’t a real improvement.

Onwards to the palate! Hmm, soft arrival (good!), it opens up slowly before it releases a rich and full array of flavors. A suppressed wood note, sherry and cherries, with a bit of a syrupy texture and hints of demerara and muscovado sugar and a salty, slightly brackish note. Here the added water really adds some value, as the salty note as well as the cask and wood influence become more prominent, resulting in a lovely complexity and a really nice balance with the sweet notes.

The finish is long, tong coating and dry with licorice and licorice candy (‘drop’). Again, the added water really brings out the salty note, and also makes it more ‘flexible’, with some wood and cherry and sherry at the end.

The thick and slow running legs that showed up in the glass after pouring and a gentle swirl were already quite promising. Now, this is very much a whisky you need to pour and leave alone for half an hour or even longer as it really needs time to open (otherwise it’s all very wood and sherry forward), but when it does, it really delivers. This is the kind of whisky that can keep you happy for most of the evening with 1 dram. Just let it sit, kick back and relax and let the Bunna do its thing. Splendid stuff! Initially I gave this 88/100, but with the bottle now well past half way, it kept on improving even further, pushing well towards 89, perhaps even 90/100. Worth every penny? Hell yes!

North Star Spirits Spica 40 yo blended whisky (1980-2020, 44.8% ABV, sherry butt and bourbon barrel, 877 bottles)

So..., how often do you get to taste a 40 year old whisky? I’ve checked. Over the years this would be my 3d one, the previous occasions being follies at whisky festivals. The reason I remember is simple and obvious: for us, mere mortals, it isn’t something you get to try on a regular basis. Yet here we are, with many thanks to the awesome thing that is the whisky community, and to be more precise I owe a huge 'thank you' to James Burgoyne from the NWA (no, not a hiphop band from L.A., more like a group of fellow whisky enthusiasts from Nottingham, which doesn’t by any means imply that they would be any less gangsta than Ice Cube, mind you).

North Star Spirits have been building quite the reputation for themselves as an independent bottler with some very good releases over the years and with special series like Spica, Sirius and Vega they’ve put out quite a few expressions with bold age statements at very competitive prices. This particular bottling, the Spica 40 yo blend, is no exception, as the RRP is around €160. (I know, it’s “just” a blend, but are you listening, Macallan? Are you paying attention, Laphroaig?)

To describe the nose, only one word springs to mind: luscious. An aroma of creamy pastry, a feast of (dried) fruit with sultanas and figs, some well integrated spices like cinnamon and pretty much every other baking spice available (allspice, cardamom, very delicate anice seed, clove) along with a subtle leathery /tobacco note. For a whisky this old, there is surprisingly little wood dominance. The oak is there, but it is behaving very polite. At the end of it all there is an almost syrupy element of mint or eucalyptus. Absolutely lovely and inviting with a marvelous balance.

The taste does bring out more of the wood. It’s a bit more peppery, and the Christmas baking spices are now pushing back the fruit a bit. After a while it balances out more with the cinnamon inviting the figs and sultanas for a little stroll in a pastry shop.

Surprisingly the finish carries a little heat, before turning into a rich and rounded finale: woody and drying with again the Christmas elements that gently fade out.

The nose on this whisky is close to what you’d call sublime, and gorgeous to say the least. Granted, on the palate and the finish it doesn’t quite reach that level of brilliance, but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that this is a very, very good whisky. Kudos to North Star for releasing this. It is a bit of a bold statement to make: releasing a 40 yo whisky at a very reasonable price.

If we'd let our inner cynic get the better of us, you’d have to consider the possibility that they had an old cask lying around that needed some lifting up with an equally old grain as the fill level and/or the ABV might be dropping dramatically and therefore absolutely needed to release this to prevent it from being lost for good (inner cynic now safely put back in his cage), but even then it turned out a winner. In a time where almost anything with an age statement of 20 years and up will easily set you back a small fortune, this release is nothing less than a breath of fresh air. A 40 year old breath of fresh air.

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Review 24: Bulleit Rye Small Batch (45% ABV, UCF, Natural Colour, mashbill of 95% rye)

Being a scotch drinker (and lover) first and foremost, from time to time I like to branch out and dip my toe in to the seemingly endless pool of malternatives. It helps getting a fresh perspective, taking a break from the beaten track and the (perhaps all too) familiar. Often that means a non-scotch whisk(e)y, occasionally bourbon, or something that’s not a whisky at all, like Cognac or Armagnac, rum or mezcal. I will fully admit that rye is not exactly my strong suit, having tried but a few. But as Bulleit, alongside perhaps Rittenhouse and Jack Daniel’s Rye, is about as entry-level as it gets (and one has to start somewhere), I figured I should get off my Scottish Steed and go for a ride on the Western Stallion.

As you probably now, there is no such thing as a Bulleit distillery, and while it states on the back of the label ‘produced by the Bulleit Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg,’ this Diageo owned brand is very much a sourced whiskey – be it from another Kentucky distillery or from MGP in Indiana. According to the Diageo website (yes, we take our R&D department very seriously a Malty Headquarters, thank you very much indeed), Bulleit rye is 'the No.1 rye in America.' What that actualy means (in terms of sales?, in terms of production?, in terms of distribution/availability?, in terms of marketing costs?...) we are left guessing.  And as for the term ‘Small Batch’, well that is about as meaningful as those wonderful desriptions ‘Distiller’s select’ or ‘Fine & Rare’.

But enough with the technicalities and nitpicking, let’s get to the actual whiskey. On the nose, the sweetness is immediately obvious, with candy and candied fruit. Think licorice and sweet spice notes like ginger and vanilla. Candy floss is there as well, some honey, and hints of (salted) caramel. All in all simple, but very likeable without any signs of off notes.

The obvious sweetness from the nose doesn’t immediately transfer into the palate as it’s a bit dry on the arrival. It ‘s only a diversion, really, because soon enough… boom! An explosion of sweetness and spice hits you. Now it’s the licorice that grabs your attention, but work through that and suddenly there’s toffee apples and lots of herbal (green) notes with sage and parsley, perhaps even some thyme. Still nothing that makes you sit back and take note or makes you work to analyze what’s going on, but rather flawless and quite pleasant.

It struggles a bit on the finish, however, where the herbal notes hang around a bit, but now there is a bit of sharpness to it that blocks the gate for what otherwise surely would have been described as (insert Barry White voice here) ‘smoooth’.

All in all, it’s pretty straightforward and easy drinking – probably very well suited for some nice summer cocktails at that, but as a €25 – €35 ish bottle it delivers a good value for money, making this a more than decent entry level rye whiskey experience. From a mashbill containing 95% rye , you might have expected a very spice heavy whiskey, but that’s not really the case at all. Is this gonna rock your world? Not by a longshot. But... Does it trigger me to go and explore rye whiskies more? Definitely. Do I enjoy this whiskey? Yes, as an easy drinking, background sipper it’s pretty damn solid, in fact. Does this bottle illustrates that you can still buy decent stuff at a decent price? Yup. Perhaps I’m a bit lenient here as I’m still a bit of a ryenoob and would probably raise the bar higher should I be more experienced, but what the hell: 81/100

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Drample Impressions 5: Wolfburn head to head (Morven vs. Northland)

Wolfburn: until fairly recently it was a distillery I only got to ‘hear’ about, rather than get an actual taste of their whiskies. With a capacity of some 135’000 LPA, they’re not exactly a mastodon of the industry, so the odds of finding a bottle seemed to be pretty much location based. However, they’ve been around for some 7 years now, and chances of seeing them in a store somewhere near you are increasing significantly. As it happens, I got to dip my toe in the Wolfburn, uhm, pool, at this year’s Summerton Virtual Whisky Festival, with both their core range bottles of Morven and Northland in the package.

So, time to find out what’s what! Both of these expressions are bottled at 46% ABV, Unchillfiltered and presented at natural colour.

Wolfburn Morven: On the nose: a clear, yet not overwhelming note of peat is there from the start, lemon peel, citrus, green apples, a grainy/biscuit note with a touch of sourdough bread to it, floral and grassy, with a hint of geraniums. Pretty straight forward, and pleasant enough.

On the palate, the peat is less obvious as the fruity elements take center stage (citrus, green orchard fruit), some aniseed shows up now and it’s a bit peppery with a salty and briny note. Well integrated, good balance and, dare I say, more engaging than the nose.

The peat (and smoke) return in the rather long finish, the fruity and salty notes now very much integrated, slowly fading and getting dryer at the back. Pleasant and young, so still quite spirit driven, but it gives a good idea of the quality of the new make spirit, which is more than decent.

Ok, on to the Northland.

Straight off the bat, the nose is very fruity (apples!), with a hint of grain and a slight antiseptic note. It’s clearly very fresh and youthful, but all in all a pleasant experience, especially after a few extra minutes in, when some tropical fruit notes rise to the surface with melon, kiwi, mango and some unripe bananas.

On the palate again the youthfulness is obvious with a bit of sharpness to it, with a mere hint of peat, that transforms to a bit of an earthy (clay) note and some burnt sugar. Quite surprising in fact, as the nose had me going in a different direction altogether. However, after adding a drop of water, the fruit I picked up on the nose, makes a comeback.

The finish is dry, medium long with again the antiseptic element developing into an earthy note, with a memory of fruitiness before fading out.

So where the Morven really scored points with a surprisingly more interesting palate compared to the nose, here it is the other way around. Personally I would be giving it to the Morven by a margin of 1 or 2 points out of a 100, but as I only had these samples to form an impression (rather than a more founded opinion from a bottle), it is nothing more than just that: a first impression. The youthfulness is obviously there in both whiskies, but they don’t try to hide it with some fancy finishing, allowing the intrinsic quality of the spirit to play its part and make its mark. Mindblowing? Obviously, no... but quaffable and enjoyable? Absolutely.

Given the fact that these whiskies are no more than 4, maybe 5 years ‘old’, the lightly peated Morven and the maturation in ex-Islay casks (Northland) seem proof enough that Wolfburn is one to look out for.

Review 23: Tyrconnell 10 yo Madeira cask finish (46% ABV, 2018 bottling)

Ah, Vacations! Those well intended periods of having time off to be spent with family and/or other loved ones. Which usually means having a complete stress and anxiety attack whilst emptying half of your house, stuffing it in to your car, piling your offspring somewhere on top of the first aid kit and an inflatable banana to drive around for 100’s of miles looking for some peace and quiet somewhere in a seriously overpriced holiday house – just ‘to get away from the daily ratrace’ and do it all over again a week or so later. Yes sir, batteries fully charged! Just to say: they’re nice and needed and all, but let’s not make a habit of it.

So yes, I’m back. Just a week or so before my Summer break, I picked up a bottle of the Cooley distillery's  Tyrconnell 10 yo Madeira, after I saw Greg (from Greg’s whisky guide: link right here) declare his love for a much older expression (a 2007 bottling, if my memory serves me right) and as my local has this on the shelf and Greg is just a near infinite vessel of whisky knowledge, it was a bit of a no brainer to grab a bottle myself. At around €55, it’s not exactly what you’d call a sharply priced bottle for a 10 yo, but if you look at what those (rather comparable) Teeling revivals would set you back, it counts as a frigging steal.

On the nose, this is warm, rich, soft and sweet. Honey and marzipan lead the way, followed by conserved (tinned) fruit notes from apple and pear, developing into a syrupy sensation. Also quite some burnt sugar notes: caramel, toffee, treacle and in the back sweet & ripe (blood)oranges. Quite the treat, in fact. A drop of water brought out more of a confectionery note but subdued the more ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ sweetness (i.e. the honey and fruit).

The taste started off with a surprisingly sharp touch, luckily soon making way for honey, brown sugar, oranges and a faint hint of nuts. It didn’t deliver everything the nose promised, but here the added water did bring out a rather pleasant salty note to counterpart the sweetness, adding a bit of complexity.

The finish again has a bit of sharpness to it. It’s quite long and syrupy before fading out on a dry note which, after the water, again gets some company from a pleasant salty touch that lingers on.

It’s a lovely, very enjoyable whisky, rather dessert – y in fact, so indeed the madeira influence plays its part. On the other hand, the lack of clear or outspoken wood character added with the youthful sharpness I picked up on the palate and finish, make me believe there probably is very little whisky in this that’s actually older than the stated 10 years on the label. Not saying that’s a bad thing by any means, mind you, just stating an impression. It may be because this is double rather than triple distilled and single malt rather than pot still, but if someone gave me this blind and told me it was a fruity highland scotch, I’d happily take their word for it. So, to conclude: this is good, balancing on the edge of ‘very good’, but it’s not quite there in my book, mainly because the splendid nose is writing out checks the palate can’t always and fully cash : 84/100

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Review 22: Port Charlotte 10 year old (50 % ABV, Natural Colour, Unchillfiltered)

After what turned into a bit of a controversy last week, it’s back to business as usual this week, with a good old fashioned whisky review. About a bottle I actually bought with my own hard earned money, in fact, so no soliciting involved in this one. Well, no more than usual in any case.

So yet again, we find ourselves on Islay, which to me will always be the Homeland within the Homeland when it comes to whisky, as Laphroaig and Ardbeg were my 2 epiphany whiskies, quite some moons ago. And while this rather dashing and bold looking bottle of Port Charlotte 10 rightfully boasts ‘heavily peated’ on the label, it is in fact miles away from the smoky monster that is Laphroaig, or the little beast that is Ardbeg. No sir. This is refined, elegant, yet complex, strong yet sophisticated, even a bit enigmatic, perhaps? But enough of that semi-fancy vocabulary, time for some proper tasting notes.

On the nose, it starts of grainy and malty, with hints of ‘funk’ (musty) and mineral notes and wet straw. It has a hint of sourness to it, like an intense sour dough bread (again, the grainy element you tend to find in the unpeated Bruichladdich expressions as well). But let it sit for some 15 minutes and all that changes: much sweeter now, with (still some) barley sugar, a sweet, earthy peat, a hint of wine (not a sweet wine like a dessert Muscat or anything, mind you), some faint touches of tropical fruit (pineapple, maybe even kiwi) and again an earthy-mineral note, but more like clay now. That’s already quite something, but this party is just getting started.

On the palate, the peat is much more prominent (and I do mean peat, not smoke per se). Here, the higher ABV shows itself, although it’s not, nor ever does it turn, overly aggressive. There’s a quite clear grainy/biscuit-y note, some (unripe) banana now as well. Again, the wine casks (25% of this comes from second fill French wine casks) show themselves, but never take over or mask any potential flaws, they’re just sitting quietly and well behaved in the back, almost with a polite cough asking for a bit of attention, in fact. Towards the finish it dries out with hints of white wood, ash and a salty/briny note. Very, very impressive!

The finish is long. No, wait…the finish is very long, and as was to be expected from the back of the palate it’s woody and ashy, with a whiff of dried or roasted nuts. It doesn’t deliver a climax, but it sort of fades out really slowly and gently.

Like I said, this is more about the peat than it is about the smoke, which, apart from the ash, is hardly there at all. By no means is this an in your face whisky, although it does take you by surprise, as it slowly opens up and sets you to work to fully reveal everything it has to offer. It’s also really bloody brilliant! For a 10 year old, it’s not exactly cheap at around €60-€70, but it is worth every penny (or cent). Did I already say that this is refined, elegant, yet complex, strong yet sophisticated, even a bit enigmatic? Well, then I just said it again. An absolute cracker, that about sums it up, me thinks! 88/100

And with that, it's time for a wee Summer break. Cu all in a few weeks, and do try to behave yourselves a bit.

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Whisky reviews & Integrity: Where it’s at?

Recently, Ralfy posted a video message on his YouTube channel  firmly stating to fans, but even more so to distilleries and marketeers alike, not to bother sending him anything regarding samples or bottles, event invitations and what not. Other vloggers picked up on this, particularly Erik Wait, who went as far as stating on his fb , and I’ m quoting here: ‘I wish all Whisky Tubers were like this rather than whoring themselves out’.

Now, there’s a bold statement which obviously lead to a few reactions, from both fellow Whisky Tubers and Erik's followers. Quite fast, the words ‘Whisky Bible’ and ‘Jim Murray’ were mentioned, assuming that mr. Murray was a prime example of leaving all integrity and independence aside and selling-out to the highest bidder in order for that ‘whisky of the year’ label. I’d like to emphasize here that I’m paraphrasing some of the comments made on Erik Wait’s fb post. What Jim Murray does and doesn’t do regarding his Whisky Bible, and which policy he maintains regarding collaboration with, or being influenced by the whisky industry, is entirely and solely his business. But that’s not where I want to go with this post. Of course, being able to operate fully independent as a blogger or vlogger is the ultimate good, the conditio sine quae non, if you will. A much more interesting comment regarding this subject on Erik Wait’s post, came from Neil Smart, who runs the ‘Whisky Trials’ YT channel. He started a rather interesting discussion with Erik, and while I have no intention of copy pasting the whole thing here, I do invite you to take a closer look for yourself here.

Bottom line: can one, in any form or way, ‘accept’ freebies from distilleries or whisky companies without putting one's integrity and independence as a blogger or vlogger (deliberately not using the despicable word ‘influencer’ here) on the line? There seem to be two obvious answers here. Either you are on a firm and clear ‘no’ on this, like Ralfy, Erik and Roy from Aqvavitae. The fact that they have their own resources, to a certain extent coming from their supporters on patreon, obviously puts them in a comfortable position on this one, and all the better for them. And just to be clear, this isn't about petty envy about that position, or me trying to antagonize them in any way, because of course, they are absolutely right and I fully get where they are coming from. But on the other hand, there is quite something to be said for the case of those saying ‘yes, under the condition that you clearly state to have been given such a freebie’.

I think the latter point of view deserves a bit more in-depth thought and consideration. First of all, you can (and should) always state the fact that you have been given something for free to review. At first glance, it seems like a win-win. It helps a blogger or Whisky Tuber to provide his viewers or readers with up to date content when it comes  to new whiskies being released (usually), and as for a marketing department: the cost of sending out a few samples will fall short in comparison to any given advertising campaign.

Yet, not everything is always black and white. From the side of the ones sending out samples, they obviously hope for a positive review. From the point of the one reviewing it, there is always a possibility that, even though only subconsciously, they may feel a need to be ‘mild’ in what they say, exactly because it was a free sample. Now, when indeed a whisky is crap and they fail to say so, sooner rather than later they would get called out for failing to call the thing by its name and lose all credibility as a consequence. If, on the other hand, a reviewer is brutally honest about such a whiskyfreebie he or she doesn’t’ like, chances are they will not be receiving much whiskies from that company in the future. In both scenarios any possible ‘conflicts of interest’ sort themselves out rather quickly.

So again, at first glance, no real harm done here. Yet, since we are being absolutely honest, how often in today’s market do we stumble upon a whisky that is absolute and utter shite to the point of being undrinkable? Very, very rarely, it seems. So, still a rather large grey area remains where whiskies may get a more favorable review than they actually deserve. A sort of ‘Twilight Zone’ emerges where a reviewer may or may not be 100% truthful regarding a whisky that was given to him/her for free by someone in the industry. This indeed is a possible cause for concern.

But let us consider this from a few other angles as well. For one: how many people actually read a raving, positive review, storm out to the store and buy exactly that bottle, based on that one positive review? Zero, I hope, is the one and only right answer. Long gone are the days that people source their information (or form their opinions) from one medium and one medium alone. In a few clicks dozens of opinions and reviews are sitting at the ready on this world wide web thingy. So, let’s please not overrate the impact or the  influence from one reviewer alone, present company excluded, obviously.

Little pondering number two: why is it that this seems to be a bit of a hot button issue in the world of the whisky community? Looking at almost every other product  where a lot of opinionating and reviewing goes on (music, cars, movies,…), everyone who is a content provider is presented with free samples, previews, and what not. It's not as if Clarkson and his chaps are expected to go out and buy the latest Ferrari and Aston Martin for a quick review, nor are they expected to lease it for the weekend, are they? Closer to home (and reality),  I have contributed articles, reviews and interviews for a music magazine for some 18 years and apart from a shit ton of cd’s, I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of concerts and festivals. For free. Because it was a perk that came with the job, because it helped me keep track of what was happening in my local scene, because it helped to build an informal network of peers in the music industry. From fellow journalists, obviously, but also a few people in A&R, venue owners and event organizers, and on one rare occasion, the actual artists. Not once was it questioned if it was OK for us, ‘the media’, to receive free albums (even if we didn’t always review them or the reviews or interviews were severely edited or didn’t even get published at all because of lack of space), free concert tickets, backstage access including meals and what not. If we were caught talking bs or would be seen blowing smoke up someone’s ass, rest assured, we would not only become the laughing stock of what is, all in all, a very small group of people, we ‘d also be out of a job really quick.

So, am I taking a stance here? Probably, although not fully intentionally. I will admit that recently, I also ‘have been approached’ and I will further admit that I did say 'yes' to the question if I would be interested to review it if given a sample, quickly adding to that affirmative response that I would be absolutely clear about the whole thing and that I can’t and won’t give any guarantee that a free sample would automatically mean a favorable review. So I said yes, not because I’m desperate to get my hands on free samples (thanks to this wonderful community, I am well set when it comes to samples), but because I am really interested about this particular whisky and would like to share my (as honest and unbiased as possible) thoughts on it with anyone who’s interested. If that makes me a corporate whore in the eyes of some, so be it.

quick glance at some of my most recent sample additions, all coming from the community.

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Review 21: Speyburn Single Cask 2006-2019 (52.5% ABV- selected by and bottled for Premium Spirits)

OK, Malty, you’re starting to lose it now. A single cask bottling for the Belgian market? One of 252 bottles at that? What bloody use is that for those thousands upon thousands of readers of this blog of yours that aren’t actually Belgian?

Well, Malty, glad you’re asking. You see, while this review is indeed about a single cask bottling for the Belgian market, it is also a bottling of Speyburn. A name that doesn’t, as a rule, gets seasoned whisky drinkers, nor even enthusiasts for that matter, screaming and shouting with excitement. It doesn’t have the Springbank aura, it doesn’t (to my knowledge) have a ‘cult’ following like Ardbeg, it doesn’t divide opinions like Macallan, Dalmore or Highland Park and it certainly isn’t one of the first names that come to mind when you’re thinking about single malt whiskies. All in all, it’s safe to say this is a bit of an ‘under the radar’ distillery to many people. And I too admit that until fairly recently their whiskies didn’t really caught my eye.

Obviously, this has changed. For starters, they seem to be ticking a lot of the right boxes with their core range releases: 46% ABV, natural colour, no chillfiltration: all good. Second, and I do apologize for my shallowness here, both the bottle and the packaging are rather nice to look at: contemporary, stylish and to the point but without being boring or dull. In today’s market, getting noticed is probably the first step to getting bought. Add to that the fact that they release, in my opinion, a worthy contestant for the award for ‘best value 18 year old single malt whisky’. In the €70-€80 range, they take a seat right next to Tomatin, Arran and probably Deanston and AnCnoc as well if you’re on the lookout for those a bit. As I currently don’t have that particular bottle in my cabinet to talk about, I am very happy to make do with this one, because, spoiler alert, I really like it.

On the nose, it’s a subtle mixture of grainy notes, green fruit and soft notes of vanilla and honey (this is, after all, coming from a first fill ex-bourbon cask) and a lovely creamy-custardy touch. Leave it alone for another 10 minutes and hints of tropical fruit join in, with melon and mango, while the vanilla is now playing first violin with a more powerful, almost vanilla oil note. With a drop of water both the tropical fruit notes and the vanilla oiliness and custard are even further enhanced.

On the palate it comes in a bit sharp on the arrival, but it soon makes way for the vanilla note again. The orchard fruit is now developing into ripe apples and pears, and while the melon is still there, the mango is playing hide and seek now (and rather efficiently so). Before going into the finish, it changes towards a bit of dry yet soft wood note, a hint of saltiness with some beach pebbles, surprisingly. A drop of water accentuated both the fruit and the salt elements, reminding me a bit of Old Pulteney even (yet les sweet).

The finish goes on where the palate more or less ended: it’s rather long, woody and dry, slowly fading out.

Now, of course I am well aware that a single cask bottling isn’t per se representative for a distillery’s ’house style’, but Speyburn did release several single cask botlings for different markets across Europe in the past 2 years, all bottled at 52.5 % ABV, so there is a good chance you may find one of these expressions where you live, and if not, there is still that 18 yo that deserves some more attention and credit in my humble opinion. So pretty please with sugar on top, I’d like to know: what’s your ‘hidden treasure’, your ‘under the radar’ brand, your ‘unsung hero’ that we, the people, should be paying more attention to? I think I may have found mine for this year: this beautiful, complex, interesting, almost understated whisky is well worthy of 87 points in my book.

Drample Impressions 4: Big Peat 8 yo, A846 Feis Ile 2020 Edition (46 % ABV)

Firmly landing on Scottish soil again, this week, ankle deep in the peatbogs of Islay, in fact!

Last week I was given the opportunity to partake in a Big Peat zoom tasting, hosted by Cara Laing and her husband Chris, both working at Douglas Laing. The line-up was lovely, with the standard Big Peat as an obvious opener, and furthermore the cask strength 2019 Christmas edition, the 27 yo black expression and their most recent bottling: the 8 yo Feis Ile bottling. Of course, independent bottlers have always been releasing whiskies with younger age statements,  where a lot of distilleries have been rather reluctant to do so until very recently, but none the less, I always welcome the transparency of the thing. What else can we say about this expression?

Perhaps one might say that it’s a bit unusual for Feis Ile bottlings to not be bottled at cask strength, but a possible explanation might be that Douglas Laing already releases the Christmas editions at cask strength. Furthermore, the name. The A846 is one of the main roads on Islay, connection the 3 main distilleries on the South Coast, to Port Ellen and Bowmore and from there back up again all the way to Port Askaig. So, actually a very well chosen name, as the Big Peat blended malt contains whiskies from (almost) all these distilleries. And that's quite enough background story, after all, we're not going by the name of Tolkien, are we...

 

On the nose, the first impression is that it’s bang in the middle of peat and orchard fruit, with obvious hints of pear. It’s youthful, malty with noticeable peat and smoke (medicinal notes, some campfire and a rather prominent ashy touch), although it never becomes overwhelming. Behind the pear, I also picked up some orange peel and melon and some dried leaves and grass turning into a briny, salty note. Quite nice, I’d say.

The palate delivers a vanilla sweetness and a soft peaty note, again allowing plenty of way for the fruity notes to join in. There’s also a bit of sharpness in the overall rather light texture – might be the youth showing a bit.

The finish is medium long, with an indistinct fruity element but a rather obvious ashy note that lingers on a bit.

This Feis Ile expression is not an overly complex whisky, nor is it ‘difficult’ in any way, as they did get the balance just right. All in all, I found it to be rather similar to the standard Big Peat, as the differences are there, yet subtle. Personally, I would have loved it if they ‘d given this a bit more ‘oomph’ on both the peat/smoke and the fruity notes to make it really stand out more compared to the regular expressions. That said, and this might sound odd for a Feis Ile bottle, it might make a good gateway whisky for people just dipping their toes into Islay and are eager, yet wary to try the more peat heavy Islay whiskies out there. At around €50-€55, it is similarly priced compared to many of the malts contributing to the Big Peat expressions, and it well deserves its place among them. Overall, I’d say this is an enjoyable dram, but perhaps not what the more seasoned Feis Ile lovers would be looking for in terms of flavour or boldness, as this one is trying a bit hard to be everybody’s friend?

Drample impressions 3: Bimber Ex-Bourbon, 51.8% ABV

For the third week in a row, my compass has failed to lead me to merry old Caledonia, but we’re getting closer now, as today I take a look at an English distillery that has been the talk of the town for quite a while now. It’s located in a wee village in the south of England, not too far from a wee little football stadium and its name is Bimber.

I have not been fortunate enough to get my hands on a full size bottle as of yet, but thanks to some wonderful people across the channel, I did have the pleasure to try 2 of their expressions, one of which is their latest release, matured in an ex-bourbon cask and released at a very respectable 51.8%.

On the nose, I detect what I believe to be the Bimber distillate signature: Very rich on juicy, sweet fruit, with a ton of spices along with it. Not spicy as in hot or peppery, mind you, more like cinnamon and even mint. It’s a very busy bee in fact: hints of maple and syrup (not necessarily the same thing), caramel, butter scotch, corn, a bit of honey suckle, some grassy notes even, berries and (strawberry) gum as well. This is just superb stuff!

On the palate, the feast continues: sweet with a creamy/syrupy mouthfeel, a bit of a bite from the +50% ABV, but only a tiny bite. The corn note from the nose transfers to something a bit more grainy with a noticeable touch of biscuits, and again there is a floral and spicy note here as well. Perhaps a bit less impressive than the nose, overall, but (inclined to say: by Jove), still nothing short of delicious.

The palate sort of fades out into a drying finish that is medium long, slowly echoing the taste until it gently disappears, leaving one with a rather satisfied grin on its face.

You would easily pick this out as being a non-scotch whisky as Bimber is very much doing its own thing, resulting in a rather stunning, beautiful experience. If Kilkerran 8 was the whisky enthusiast’s darling earlier this year, Bimber might just have taken over for the second half. Bold statement perhaps as we’re only just halfway through this insanely weird thing called 2020, but if you do want to reward yourself for ploughing through this madness, do yourself a favor and try to get your hands on a bottle of Bimber. It might not be easy to find, and if you take age into consideration, you will probably deem this a bit expensive, as RRP would be somewhere between 70 and a 100 quid. I can only and honestly advice you to not take age into the equation, as this is just a wonderful whisky, period.

Review 20: High Coast Dalvve, batch 8 (2013-2018), 46 % ABV

 So last week we drifted away from Scotch a wee bit with a Belgian whisky, and it seems our compass is still pointing nowhere near the Motherland of whisky, as today we are visiting a Swedish distillery. High Coast markets itself as one of the most Northern distilleries out there. To my knowledge, they are indeed Sweden’ s second most northern distillery, so that would probably put them straight in the top 5 or top 10 most northern distilleries in the world.

High Coast was until two years ago known as Box whisky, because basically the distillery was built in a former box factory, and the name change was inspired by the concern of possible confusion with the Compass Box brand. So High Coast it is then. Founded some 10 years ago, they are a fairly new distillery, but they have been making a bit of a name for themselves already with several international awards and although quite a few of these awards are little more than purchased branding and marketing opportunities, it did put them on the radar far beyond the borders of Sweden. Which probably was the whole point in the first place.

The Dalvve batch 8 was matured in first fill bourbon casks for 5 years, from a mash of peated and unpeated barley. This immediately manifests itself on the nose, where fresh grass and lemon grass turn up, along with notes of earthy peat, candy-like sweetness, green fruit and under ripe melon. The youth I obviously there, but it’s fresh, clean and inviting.

On the palate it’s rather malty, with a soft , delicate and almost shy peatnote, orchard fruit and green wood. Again obviously fairly spirit driven as the bourboncask influence is mostly noticeable underneath, with a faint vanilla like sweetness to it.

The finish delivers a woody note, with a drying sensation in the front of the mouth and tongue. It is also a bit harsh and sharp and it’s here that it struggles a bit I think.

What I like about these young whiskies, is that they show a lot of the character of the distillate. Especially in a climate the likes of Central Sweden, not too far from the east coast, where winter means serious business and summer is overall pleasant, maturation would take far more time compared to even some of the Scottish highlanders. The alcohol nip on the finish left aside, what we have here is a pleasant, spirit driven young whisky with a bit of gentle peat to give it a kick, but also some nice sweet and soft elements. 82/100

Review 019: Gouden Carolus Sherry oak finish, 2020 release, 46 % ABV

Belgian whisky. I’m not going to lie about this, as a Belgian I have been quite skeptical about the whole idea for quite some time. Waffles? Sure. Chocolate? You bet! Beer? Yes please. An incomprehensible political labyrinth of 6 governments to rule a nation of 11 million people? Check! But whisky, hmmm. The closest we’ve ever come to distilling decent and drinkable liquor, is our genever, and we’re pretty good at it too, thank you very much. Whisky, however, isn’t exactly in our DNA. Or should I say: ‘wasn’t’?

In the past two or so decades, things have changed, and Belgian whisky is, in fact, very much on the rise. Granted, some of that might have to do with the fact that whisky is booming literally everywhere around the world, and although I’m not claiming our whiskies might be a threat to the Scottish throne, some Belgian distilleries have been putting some rather decent bottles on the shelves in recent times.

One of the more interesting producers has been Gouden Carolus (Golden Charles), named after the emperor Charles V who ruled half the world in the 16th century and who was born and raised in our neck of the woods, when cities like Ghent, Antwerp and Mechelen formed the epicenter of Northern Europe’s political and economic capital. It is in that same city of Mechelen, halfway between Antwerp and Brussels, that the story of Gouden Carolus, linked with the city brewery of Het Anker, was born as well. The brewery has been on the rise for some time as well now, with quite some international awards in the trophy cabinet. It also functions as the warehouse for the whisky, as the distillery itself, which can be found in a small village some 10 km from the brewery, is too small. The distillery’ s heritage dates back to the 15th century, and is located in a former genever distillery that was mothballed and largely dismantled in the early 20th century. It was revived around 2003, by an ancestor of the old genever distilling family, no less.

So provenance and historic references a plenty here, and while it makes for a great story, it doesn’t say anything about the actual quality of what is being produced today. I will state that some of the earlier batches of their standard release, were, in my opinion, promising, yet lacking a bit in flavor or complexity to be really engaging, and perhaps all in all a bit too soft and rounded. Some of the more recent batches however, were significantly better, obviously as older stock could be used, and some of their annual birthday releases, using special finishes, were pretty good. So what does this new release, now part of the core range, has to offer?

The base for the whisky remains intact: the wash from the brewery is used for distillation, which is then put in ex bourbon casks, but for this expression, it was given a finish in ex oloroso casks.

On the nose it is quite rich and vibrant on fruit notes: sultanas and raisins, with ripe, red apples, quite some honey, malty/grainy notes and gingerbread. Quite lovely and complex. Full and balanced, just as we like it.

The palate is slightly less complex, but it stills delivers a very nice array of red fruit notes, honey, gingerbread and (baking) spices, with some clove and a faint hint of white pepper as well.

It’s on the finish that it can’t really keep on delivering. It’s not too short, but there is a sharpness prior to a syrupy and savory note. Not bad in its own right, but by no means remarkable.

I do think the style is pretty similar to some Scotch whisky, but it seems more as a natural result of what they’re doing over there at the distillery, rather than a deliberate attempt to copy and try to be something else - which would be a huge mistake imo. Yes, it comes in a 50 cl bottle (for the moment, let’s hope they change that as they did with the standard release and bump it up to 70 cl in due time when stock allows it) and yes, it’s a NAS, but those are overall very minor ‘flaws’ (and don’t mean much as this is natural color and un-chill filtered as well) in what is a very enjoyable, well-made whisky. 84/100

Review 018: Benriach 20 yo, 43% ABV

Last week, I posted an article here where I pondered about the importance/relativity of the age statement in today’s whisky market. Quintessential element in terms of transparency or even quality to some, a bit of an anachronism to others, with the truth very likely to be, once again, found lying somewhere in the middle. The whisky that set the wheels of this little train of thought in motion, was in fact a bottle of 20 year old Benriach, so I figured it would only be fair to share my thoughts on it. Closure, and what not.

On the nose it’s rather dense at first, but it opens up beautifully on orange zest, with touches of vanilla, nuts, red fruit, cola drops and licorice. This is actually very good and inviting. With a drop of water a lovely woody element shows up.

On the palate, it’s off to a very promising start with quite some fruit and nuts, but then it tumbles off a cliff. No further development, almost completely flatlining, in fact. Adding a drop of water opens up the palate a bit and makes it somewhat more lively, but it does nothing to help the absolute lack of any development. I will add that after about half a bottle things started to improve, as there was more of the nose finally showing up on the palate, but all in all that might be considered too little too late to make amends.

The finish is sharp and short, tong coating before it disappears into oblivion. Water didn’t add anything here.

In all fairness, the price on this bottle wasn’t too bad at less than €90 – perhaps it was a writing on the wall – yet for that money I feel I would have gotten far more enjoyment out of 2 bottles of say, Benromach 10 (no, not going to start on that rebranding thing) or Ardbeg 10 or whatever it is that costs half the price of this and is noticeably better. As a general rule, I am quite fond of what Benriach does. Yes, they have a tendency to mix up and change their core range quite frequently, but they also offer quite a lot of single casks expressions for different markets – from personal experience and from what I have heard from folk with trusted taste buds, I’d pick one of those over this one any day. So, long story short: a lovely nose that promises quite the treat, but in what follows there’s just not enough happening to live up to those expectations. It's not by any means  a bad whisky, but it's a bit disappointing none the less. 79/100

How relevant is the age statement?

 I’ve been pondering on the thought about the importance/relativity of age statements for a while now. Ever since I’ve been struggling a bit with a 20 year old Benriach that didn’t quite ‘deliver’ in terms of what you would expect from what is, all in all, a rather respectable age statement, in fact. This isn't meant to be (nor is it claiming to be) a 'scientific' approach to things, but consider this a sort of wandering through thoughts and ideas. If you feel I am completely missing some vital points here, I welcome you to add to the discussion.

There are numerous things to be said about the importance of an age statement on a bottle of whisky, but for every ‘pro’, there might be a ‘yes, but…’ , or what is scientifically referred to as the ‘Pollard Conundrum’. On the one hand, it is, and remains, a form of transparency regarding what you are buying as a customer. On the other hand, it also can leave one with a bit of a proverbial sour taste, especially in an age where distilleries have been going through great lengths convincing us, customers, that age is but a number, whilst pushing one NAS product after the other. Right until the point where they can use that same age statement, almost as the alpha and omega of all things whisky, to charge a premium price. The old adage ‘old is good, older is better’ and the almost build-in idea that an impressive age statement automatically implies good quality, is a very stubborn idea indeed.

The philosophy behind NAS is, theoretically, actually not a bad one, as it gives distilleries a lot of margin and freedom to create whiskies that combine older and younger stock, leading to expressions that testify what a distillery has to offer. Of course, there is nothing that actually prevents anyone from doing the same with whiskies that do carry an age statement, but I can understand why quite a few distilleries/brands would be hesitant to put a 4 or 5 year old age statement on a label. This is actually a bit of a flaw in current legislation I think. While I do believe it to be a good thing that only the youngest component can be mentioned on the label (rather than the oldest), that same legislation seems to make it ‘difficult’ to reveal some much desired further information. Particularly for the new wave of distilleries who are just now releasing their first expressions, one can easily understand why they would be hesitant, reluctant even, to put a shy and humble 3, 4 or 5 on a label when they’re sitting on a store shelf next to a Glenfiddich 18 yo. In any case, it would credit distilleries if they would show a bit more openness as to how they came about to create their NAS expressions. How hard can it be to provide us with that information on their websites? Tomatin (Decades), almost every Bruichladdich expression (with their famous codes on the label giving you complete and full disclosure about used stock), Compass Box… are examples that it can be done.

Now, regardless of age statement or not, the occasional dud does still find its way to a shelve in the store, as do the whiskies that are far better than you might expect them to be for the age or price. And while of course the maturation time does have a (big) influence, age is not the one defining factor here (for both the good ones as the bad ones). Yes, whiskies can be bottled too young, or occasionally too old, making them boring, harsh or even unpleasant, but a poor and badly made spirit will never grow into a beautiful flower no matter how long you mature it, just like a wonderful new make can be ruined by putting it in a poor quality cask.

And there we have the magic word: the cask. Fact: a whisky matured in a high quality cask for 6 or 7 years will almost always outclass anything that has been sitting in a tired old vessel for 15 or 20 years. (I think the rather outstanding Kilkerran 8 yo from last year is a prime example for the case of young whiskies.) More than age, casks seem to be the be- all and end-all these days. Taking a look at some recent examples, quite a lot of distilleries are more than keen to emphasize the importance of their first quality casks to promote their product, especially when it comes to limited or special releases. It’s also used to explain/justify some of the rather hefty pricetags that come along with it. £120 for the Batch 7 Teapot Dram (a mix of first fill and second fill casks with an average age of 8 – 10 year old, with a few 13-14 yo whiskies in the batch, according to their international brand ambassador Gordon Dundas,) – and it’s a similar story with the recent Bunnahabhain Burgundy Finish. Here we do see an age statement/vintage of 14 years, price tag coming in just under 200 quid, and if that doesn’t cut it, there’s always the latest single cask Tamdhu, a 2003 vintage, at a rather exorbitant £250. And of course, I’m well aware of the fact that these are limited releases and that this affects the price, but even then, there seems to be a ‘shift’ from emphasis from the age statement to the casks used.There are several reasons for this, I believe, but the most important one might be the ever increasing cost of this quintessential part of the whisky making process. Until not that long ago, and especially when it comes to sherry and other (fortified) wine casks, they could be picked up for pretty much scraps (as until the mid-eighties entire filled sherry casks were shipped over to the UK to be bottled there, until Spanish legislation stipulating that the bottling had to be done in Spain changed that), but as the demand for good quality ex sherry (or madeira, wine or whatever) casks skyrocketed, so did the prices, to the point where they are now easily sailing past the £1000 – 1200 mark for a top quality cask. An empty one, that is.

In that perspective – with distilleries competing for good casks, and the increasing phenomenon of a lowering demand for sherry as a product as such (very likely resulting in seasoning casks more than actually and truly maturing sherry in them), it totally makes sense to put the center of attention more on the casks, rather than the actual time a spirit has been maturing in them. Hence the increasing popularity of special cask finishing. (Side note: Whether this alone justifies the sometimes exorbitant prices, is up for discussion, but one must keep in mind that these special finishes are not without risk. For every successful release, chances are a distillery had to dump several experimental cask finishes that went completely bad and undrinkable. Having to drain pour expensive liquid that went bad in an expensive cask is never a pleasant thing to do, and obviously these failures need to be accounted for, usually in the price of the successful ones.)

This tendency of the Scottish whisky industry to shift the focus more to casks rather than the age statement is one thing, but what if we expand our horizon beyond the borders of Scotland? Troubling times lay ahead for the age statement it seems, as it takes an even harder beating if you look at some of the coming whisky regions. Let’s take a few obvious examples of world whiskies that have made quite the name for themselves: Kavalan in Taiwan, Paul John in India, Balcones in Texas… The climate where these whiskies are being made could hardly be more different than the average Scottish weather, so age statements don’t really mean much here in any case. Anything older than 8 or 10 years would be a rarity and a bit of an extravagant luxury even, as the casks would be near empty due to the very greedy angels in those rather more hot parts of the world than good old Caledonia. If you do see an age statement, like Balcones tends to do here and there, chances are it’s months rather than years. In today’s global market of whisky, and with new and exciting whisky regions rising to the surface on a nearly daily basis the world over, it seems the age statements us Europeans haven been taking for granted for so long, might soon turn out to be the odd man out.

So, coming back to the initial question: are age statements still relevant in today’s whisky industry? I think (I hope) this little train of my thoughts show that it’s very much a Vicky Pollard kind of situation here. In the end it seems it is all very much down to a matter of (willingness regarding) transparency, of an industry taking its clientele serious enough to provide us with actual and factual information, of being ‘brave’ enough to put that 4yo age statement on a label, if that implies you can get access to the full story by simply scanning a code on a label or a few mouse clicks. Yeah, but no, but yeah…

Review 017: Balvenie 14 yo Peat Week, 2003-2018 – 48.3% ABV

I get it: you are overwhelmed with live feeds, saturated with content and if you see yet another brand ambassador announcing a livestream, most likely scheduled when already 4 other of your favorite brands and Youtube Vloggers are planning something, chances are you’re going to burst out sobbing, folding yourself up in a corner of your bedroom, staring into oblivion. So let’s keep it nice and simple this week. No page long dissertations about the importance or nonsense of terroir or opinions on branding, pricing, the relativity of age statements and what not (although, please do stay tuned for those, as I may do something with these topics another –less stressful – time). What I do have for you, is a good old whisky review. Sometimes going old school can be like a breath of fresh air.

This week’s bottle of choice is the Balvenie 14 yo peated, until recently called Peat Week and late last year rebranded to ‘the week of peat’. Basically, what Balvenie are doing, is using peated malt as the base ingredient for one week of distillation per year, and releasing the bottled result some 14 years later. For some time, there even was a 17 yo available, which was rather highly regarded, but that’s near impossible to find now (and often quite ridiculously expensive when you do find it, if I might add).

Now, stepping on the territory of what many associate with the Islay style might be considered a bold move by some, while some others would say it’s just trying to ride along on the wave of the immensely popular peated bad boys of scotch. Baring in mind that once upon a time pretty much every whisky was peated, some clever people in marketing might even sell it as a ‘tribute to days gone by’. However you twist or turn it, the proof of the pudding, etcetera… So let’s just get down to the nitty gritty, shall we?

On the nose, this is fruity and floral with orangezeste, red fruit and even some chamomile. Also a bit nutty, coming in nicely and simultaneously with the peat smoke, which is reminiscent of charred wet wood, like a washed out campfire. What else? Plenty, as it seems. Wood, a bit of a dirty note with some wet grass and hay and overripe, almost decaying oranges and overly sweet candy. The balance between the fruity/sweet notes, the smoke and the dirty notes is near perfect!

On the palate, there is a bit of a sharp arrival, fruity-smoky (oranges, ashy, wet wood again) and more wood. The nose transfers itself quite nicely into the palate, although it’s less sweet (none of those candy notes here), but yet again, the balance between the softer fruity Speyside notes and the almost Islay like smoke (somewhere between Laphroaig without the minerally/medicinal notes and Caol Ila) is again spot on.

The dirty-earthy note lingers on in the finish, along with some wet wood, a bit of an alcoholic nip that fades out and makes way for a syrupy smokiness with a sticky tong-coating touch.

The balance on the nose and the palate is just excellent. It’s accessible yet complex enough to really set your senses on a journey. If Laphroaig and Caol Ila would make a bastard child, it might be this. While I sometimes find the policy and branding of Balvenie a bit confusing (in terms of pricing, ABV –policy, chill filtering and colouring… they can be all over the place), this expression ticks a lot of the right boxes (age statement, decent ABV, unchillfiltered, yet coloured) and to me it most certainly classifies as a little gem. 86/100

Review 016: Glenrothes 10 year old single cask (#5280) from Dràm Mòr (58% ABV, 2020 bottling)

Consider this an encore to my two part interview with Kenny Macdonald from independent bottlers Dràm Mòr (ICYMI: keep scrolling, but only after you finished reading this post, obviously). Having tried a dram of each of their first 4 bottlings at a whiskyfestival early March, what they brought to the table was all good at the very least, but if I were to choose a favorite, it ‘d be a tough battle between this one or their equally lovely 6 yo Caol Ila. So I went for the Speysider.

Glenothes is a distillery that puzzles me somewhat. When owned by Berry Brothers & Rudd, their vintage releases had somewhat of a cult following (albeit a very polite, rather quiet and far-from-intrusive kind of cult). When Edrington took over and dropped the vintage approach for age statements and NAS releases, they caused somewhat of a stir amongst the fans. For whatever reason, official bottlings of Glenrothes seldom blew my socks of. But let me follow up that statement by saying that I never, ever had a bad Glenrothes. In fact, most of them were good, and some of them were very good even, but (again: personal opinion) there is something a bit all too familiar about the official releases. It is as if they tick all the boxes of what I expect from a Speyside whisky, and while this is obviously a very good feature indeed, it also makes it a bit ‘unadventurous',  perhaps? Cue independent Glenrothes! I didn’t have that many, but I have very fond memories from an 11 yo Douglas Laing and a 15 yo Signatory expression. It was as if they had taken ‘regular’ Glenrothes, removed the breaks and the safety belts, tuned the engine, and let it loose. Bolder, more willing to shout for attention... that sort of thing.  And along came Dràm Mòr…

On the nose, this is an absolute belter. Juicy, creamy, melted and caramelized butter. Toffee joins the party, and invites along some coconut friends, white chocolate and some floral and grassy notes. A drop of water kicks the sherry and all of the red fruits  into the spotlight. This is just a feast for the senses.

On the palate: a rich and full arrival with a syrupy, chewy mouthfeel. The sherry plays first violin now (red fruits, figs, sultana’s… the lot), while the sweet notes like honey, toffee and caramel are singing in the back. The buttery notes are there, but less obvious and seem to be more integrated in the texture rather than in the actual flavor. The high ABV also plays its part, but a drop of water tones everything down a wee bit (volume still proudly at a firm ‘8’, though). It also brings a bit more balance to everything, restoring some of the nose with the butter and white chocolate saying hello in a luscious and sultry tone.

The finish is long, dry and brings out the cask influence with notes of nuts, spices and wood. With the added water again the sherry shows up, making it less dry and more vibrant, with that lovely caramelized butter as a last goodbye at the very end.

A sherry oloroso cask married with a bourbon barrel: it proves to be a golden combination in this case. This is what you’d call a showstopper, a ‘thank you and goodnight’ sort of dram to end and evening with good company. If it wasn’t obvious already, I’m completely in love with the nose, but rest assured the palate and the finish do stand their ground, and more than well in fact. This little beauty is starting to get noticed, and rightfully so! 87/100

Interview part 2 of 2 with Kenny Macdonald from Dràm Mòr

Interview (part 2 of 2) with Kenny Macdonald

Cadenhead’s, Gordon & Macphail, Signatory, Douglas Laing… Well established companies, with reputations and fame going back decades, if not centuries. They are as much a part of the ‘whisky landscape’ as say, Laphroaig, Glenlivet or Clynelish. But what about the 'little guys', the new, often small businesses looking to claim their spot in the sunlight. I had the chance to ask Kenny Macdonald some questions. In part two, we focus on what the future holds, which ambitions and dreams he'd like to realize.The first part of this interview, you can find below this one.

The increasing demand for whisky can sometimes make it harder for individual buyers or independent bottlers to get their hands on good quality casks, with distilleries sort of sitting on their stock. From where you’re standing, do you see a risk that we, in the longer term, may see this trickling down in cask quality all together and may see more 3d or even 4th fill casks, and more recharring of casks?

Kenny: A very good point to make. There are more and more of us fighting for very little stock and there is a case for looking at all this with concern, perhaps even panic, at how this will affect the quality of the dram in your glass. Again, depending on the spirit, there is no need to get caught up on getting your hands on first fill product. In fact, I have a preference for 1st and second refills that allow the character of the spirit to shine through without being hidden by overpowering cask notes. This is where knowledge plays a big part: it is our duty and responsibility to make sure that what you bring to the customer is the quality they both deserve and expect. Finishing has been going on in the industry for decades and brings just about the only experimental opportunity to Scotch whisky that we are legally allowed to bring, so I have no fears when looking at a whisky that has been recasked. It's a bit like when people were getting caught up with age statements. There was an outcry initially when numbers started to fall away from labels, but pretty quickly people re-evaluated the way they judged their whisky and now the reliance on the age statement is considered as slightly stuck up, rather than the old attitude of “old is best, young is rubbish’’ approach.

Focussing on what you are doing as a company:  yours is very much a family run business. I’m willing to bet there are both advantages and disadvantages to have work and family life interwoven with each other?

Kenny: Haha, yes it can be interesting when you’re working and living together, no doubt about that. From my perspective I would say that if you ever want to test the strength of your relationship, then try working together! But in all honesty, I had no reservations at all when we were looking at doing this, as we have such a strong relationship that I felt we could work out any wee issues that arose. I do think however that it's important to have that “shut off” time where it’s just us as Viktorija and Kenny, the couple, and not the partners in Dràm Mòr. By having that time away from work, it allows that balance to exist. For example, last year we had a lovely holiday in the Croatian island of Korčula. Very relaxed and laid back. Each morning, we allowed ourselves two hours to talk business and work on such things as social media after breakfast, but then it was back to sunshine, sea, good wine and better company. Of course, there are times where we don’t quite agree on the best approach to things and that’s where the ability to see things from each other point of view is invaluable. Valuable lesson here: always agree that your wife is right. One thing that does help, I suppose, is the amount of time that I spend away from home at international festivals. To give you an idea: I was on 64 flights last year alone, so although we work together very closely, we still have plenty of time for ourselves. The key to a great marriage? Stay in different countries!

Whisky is becoming more and more an international phenomenon, with new and exciting things happening all over the world. Are you keeping an eye on those as well, given your international network and connections, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States (Viktorija being a Lithuanian subject, MM)?

Kenny: It would be unforgivable not to keep a very keen eye on what is happening on the international market, with the emergence of some great whiskies coming out of non-traditional whisky making territories. Personally, I think that this in turn is not only a really good thing for the customer, but it’s a good thing for the Scotch whisky industry as well. For many years we could just sit back and produce product with the knowledge that it would sell. Now we are very much aware that if we don’t keep on top of our game, there are many young pretenders to our throne who would be more than happy to knock us off our perch, so to speak. This means that with the added pressure of outside competition, our whisky making has to look at upping the game yet again, which can only ever be good for the consumer. Regarding Eastern Europe and The Baltic States, these are territories that over the last few years have seen a huge growth in interest in not only Scotch but whiskies in general. One of my favourite trips of the year is going to Jastrzębia Gora on the Baltic coast in Poland: a 2 day festival with around 6000 (!) visitors a day enjoying whisky, music and food in the late August sun. If ever you fancy a trip to a festival in a different country, that’s the one for me! One thing that we have talked about, is doing a bottling of an International whisky, and this is still very much part of the plans moving forward, however that might be a little while off yet. As for the international stage, it’s no surprise that India is fast approaching, particularly with Paul John. Coming out of Goa using 6 row barley from the foothills of the Himalayas: it’s just delicious stuff. I have also been lucky enough to be introduced to a young German distillery, Elch Whisky, who, although still young, show great promise, so keep an eye on this one. One more mention has to go to Penderyn whisky from Wales. A massive thumbs up to Aista (Jukneviciute, MM) their Lithuanian master distiller. She is doing a great job!

Where would you like to see Dràm Mòr in 15 or 20 years from now?

Kenny: Interesting one. As for the future of Dràm Mòr, I am very much hoping that we become a synonym for quality on the IB stage, and obviously I would love to see us going from strength to strength. At the age of 51, I am not only looking for our business to grow and give us a good quality of life, but it is also very important to me that I have a legacy to leave behind for my two sons Ruaraidh and Euan. Ruaraidh is very much a whisky man and growing up with me, there is very little he doesn’t know, so I hope that as we grow, I can entice him into the business. Euan isn’t a whisky man as yet, but he’s only 21 so I haven’t given up hope of “turning” him, so we shall see what his path is. At the moment he’s studying physiotherapy and frankly, he is way too big to bully… I think I will be looking to my eldest to pick up the reins.

A lot of the bigger players like Cadenhead’s, Gordon & Macphail, Adelphi, Douglais Laing and Signatory combine ownerships of their IB company with ownership of distilleries, or they have recently bought existing ones or are even building them from scratch. If you were in a position to create your own whisky, what would be your ideal flavor profile?

Kenny: I’m very wary of the new distillery idea. Don't get me wrong, it would be a dream for a couple like us to have our own distillery and I would never say never, but we are very much at the “crawl before you can walk” stage as a business. Everyone can see the number of distilleries in Scotland grow exponentially year on year, and while I am aware that although the market place is great for Scotch, there are only so many distilleries that will be established enough to make them a going concern in the future. Building and operating a distillery properly takes millions, so let’s just say that for me that idea is very much on the back burner. However Viktorija would happily give my right arm for a distillery of our own, so like I say, never say never! As for my ideal flavour profile, the older I get, the more I’m drawn to the softer, richer side of the market rather than the peat monsters of my youth. That being said, I’m not adverse to a whiff of smoke drifting over a half, in fact I love it when a whisky has a “hidden depth” rather than an obvious profile. Some of the Glen Scotia whiskies right now are very much ones that I admire and that might be the type of route that I would like to go, given the chance.

This leads me nicely to my last question: the ‘desert island’ whisky. Stuck on a remote island, what bottle do you bring?

Kenny: How can I possibly answer such a question? Have you ever seen the old movie Whisky Galore? In the movie, during WWII, a ship carrying whisky to America runs aground right near an Island and the local Islanders who have been starved of whisky, strip the ship of her wares. Can I have that please? Ok, being serious, if I only have one at the moment, I am a real fan of Glen Scotia Victoriana, but I’d need a bigger bottle than 70cl!

More info: www.drammorgroup.com

The first release of bottles fom Dràm Mòr is available through Masters Of Malt. For distribution in the Benelux, contact Jurgen Vromans from The Whisky Mercenary

Interview first published at www.maltymission.simplesite.com. If you're interested in the full article, please get in touch.

Photos used with kind permission of Dràm Mòr Group.

Viktorija and Kenny at he The Ghent Whisky Festival in Belgium, March 2020

2 - part interview with Kenny Macdonald from Dràm Mòr independent bottlers

Independent Bottlers: you know them well, quite a few are in fact household names, the likes of Cadenhead’s, Gordon & Macphail, Signatory, Douglas Laing… Well established companies, with reputations and fame going back decades, if not centuries. They are as much a part of the ‘whisky landscape’ as say, Laphroaig, Glenlivet or Clynelish.

There are, however, quite a few smaller businesses looking to claim their spot in the sun. Dràm Mòr is one of them. The company founded and run by Kenny and Viktorija Macdonald is one of the new kids on the block, as they’ve recently released their first series of bottlings from 4 distilleries. I first met them at the Ghent whiskyfestival early March and, while enjoying a few drams of their freshly released bottles, I had the chance of having a good chat with Kenny. We maintained contact afterwards and when I approached them to see if they would be interested in elaborating a bit more about their business and the whisky industry as a whole, they immediately agreed. The result is a quite refreshing, sometimes surprising but above all insightful and honest view about what it means to be running a small whisky business in a world that’s going a bit crazy at the moment. Because of the rather exhaustive interview (some 6 pages), I decided to make this a two-part article, as most of you will be reading this on a tablet or smartphone. The second part will follow later this week.

Dràm Mòr may be a young independent bottler, but both of you are not new to the whisky industry I believe?

Kenny: Indeed, both Viktorija and I have been involved in the whisky industry for some time. We’ve been running this company for a few years, not as an independent bottler, but organizing and hosting trainings, tastings, helping distilleries to explore the potential of new markets, and so on. Apart from that, Viktorija works for The Good Spirits Company in Glasgow, and I have been working as a freelance Brand Ambassador for Ian MacLeod Distillers (the company that owns Glengoyne and Tamdhu, but also brands like Sheep Dip, Smokehead, The Six Isles…, MM) for a good few years now and continue to do so as there is no clash of interests and they are an organization that I love working with.

How valuable, or even vital, was it to be able to ‘lean back’ on all this knowledge and experience when starting the new IB company?

Kenny: It has been essential to have not only the knowledge of how things work within the industry but more importantly knowing the main players in the industry as well. It is very much a game sometimes of not what you know but who you know. Frankly, I have no idea how anyone with little or no experience in the industry could make any success out of independent bottling. Quite simply, distilleries are inundated with requests from bottlers or private investors who are desperate to get their hands on stock, so next to no distilleries are interested in dealing with new clients. However, we do have a very good network of not only distillers, but also level one brokers who I trust that we can turn to. Without these connections, I’d dare say it’s next to impossible to even establish contact with any given distillery.

What made you decide to start your own independent bottling company? Was it a bit of the logical next step to take?

Kenny: Over the years Viktorija and I have had very different rolls. Vick was always more focused on finding new opportunities for distillers in untapped markets and helping them to find the right distributors, where as my contribution was very much a customer facing roll, working as a freelance Brand Ambassador for some of our clients. We were fortunate to come into a little bit of money and were in the position of working out what way to best use the cash so that it was working for us. With our combined experience it seemed like a bit of a no brainer to try to start working directly for ourselves.

What are the benefits of being an all fresh, new, small operation, and on the opposite side of the scale: what are some of the risks, ‘nuisances’ or potential banana skins?

Kenny: You are absolutely right to point out that there are both benefits and problems when starting off as a small IB. One of the biggest benefits from our side was the fact that between us we know so many people in the trade. People who were very much willing us to succeed, as many of these people are not just acquaintances but friends, who have been there to offer help and advice when needed. Having friends like Jim McEwan for example to talk to when looking at casks is something that you just couldn’t buy! The down sides however are many. As a very small player in the market you realize very quickly that as far as some office based staff are concerned, you’re just not worth bothering about, as they are what we would look at as “bean counters”. Basically, they are only interested in how much money you have and how they can get their hands on it. This in turn sees us pushed to the end of the line when it comes to transportation, recasking, bottling and dispatch. Just ask our very patient distributors. It can be incredibly frustrating to have to keep moving dates for people in mainland Europe due to someone this side of the water letting us down. There are also a few distilleries, that shall remain nameless, where quite frankly the level of organization and professionalism is not what it should be. This, I think, is a knock on effect of some people making so much money that they don’t have to bother being the professionals that they should be. Fortunately this is not the general rule up here and we have many companies who strive to help us all they can. Yet, there is only so much you can ask when you’re the little kid on the block and they are working with some of the big names too… As far as risk is concerned, that’s an easy one to answer. If this doesn’t work, were screwed. We have put everything we have into Dràm Mòr, so it’s up to us to make sure that we mitigate that risk by only providing the best bottlings we can, working our asses off.

You’ve recently released your first series of bottlings (Glenrothes, Caol Ila, Glen Garioch and BenRiach). Was there a particular reason it was those 4 distilleries you turned to?

Kenny: To be honest there was no great master plan when it came to our first purchases other than looking at what was on the market and using the knowledge that we have to pick what we thought would be the right casks. You have to bare in mind that the vast majority of sellers will not offer you a sample of the whisky, so you are pretty much buying blind. There are some distilleries where I would need to try a sample of their stock to check the quality prior to investing in a cask. Others, such as Caol Ila and Glenrothes were easier, as, quite simply, they have never produced a bad spirit. In these cases, we could bet on it that what you’re getting is going to be of the quality that you expect. As it turned out, the four first releases were excellent quality and were ready to bottle straight away. We are however also looking for great spirit that has been in perhaps slightly milder casks that will allow us to play with the spirit by finishing - I have great contacts in the wine industry so look out for some interesting casks coming up later this year. Can I take this moment to apologize to everyone at Glen Garioch for the brutal spelling mistake on the label (on the label it’s spelled Glen Garrioch, where of course there should only be the one ‘r’ – this probably is going to make this a collector’s item, MM). This was a printer’s error that none of use noticed until it was on the shelves in Belgium. It was in fact Jurgen Vromans of The Whisky Mercenary (the distributor for Belgium and Holland, MM) who pointed it out to us. I hand numbered every bottle and never once noticed!

With you working with Ian Macleod, wouldn’t it have been the obvious choice to release an IB of Glengoyne, then?

Kenny: You’d think that might be the case, but it’s not that obvious at all, in fact. The help, encouragement and support that Ian Macleod Distillers have given me over the years has been beyond anything I could have hoped for and they will always have a massive place in my heart. When it comes to selling Glengoyne however, things are far from obvious. Quite simple, if it’s up to standards to be called Glengoyne, they bottle it and if it’s not good enough then it goes to their blended whiskies such as Langs, which is an excellent blend. If you see any IB Glengoyne one the market, it will have been sold years ago, or it will come through a broker who is selling a private cask at crazy money. Basically if I can’t get anything, chances are nobody can. However, if you ever hear of anyone selling some, well you know where I am.

More info: www.drammorgroup.com

The first release of bottles fom Dràm Mòr is available through Masters Of Malt. For distribution in the Benelux, contact Jurgen Vromans from The whisky mercenary 

Interview first published at www.maltymission.simplesite.com.

Photos used with kind permission of Dràm Mòr Group.

Kenny Macdonald as Brand Ambassador for Ian Macleod Distillers

Review 015: Auchentoshan 10 year old, 40% ABV, bottled in 2000

There is something about yesteryear’s bottles I find quite fascinating. In fact, there are several things kind of remarkable about these older, sometimes long discontinued, expressions. First and foremost, these old bottles are a bit like opening a time capsule, a bit like travelling back in time even, giving you a real chance to explore, taste and enjoy a liquid that was produced sometimes decades ago.

In this particular case, it must have been distilled no later than 1990, as it was bottled in the year 2000. So even if this whisky is a mere 10 years old, its history dates back 30 odd years. Which begs the question: what were you doing in 1990? I may be a bit overly geeky on this one, probably due to my schooling (4 very fun, fascinating, interesting, educational yet, professionally speaking quite useless years spent on becoming a full-fledged historian), but I love being able to put these bottles in this sort of historical background or context. Like I said, overly geeky, and like a brilliant author once said: “Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.”*

Besides these obviously slightly foolish historical/noastalgic inspired musings, there is also the (to me) remarkable aspect of how economic factors seem to impact the ‘value’ of any given thing that is rare and/or old. I mean, this bottle was gifted to me for my latest birthday and got picked up in a dusty corner of a shop in Spain (remember, back in the day when we were allowed to travel, and abroad at that!), quite possibly (hopefully, in fact) at the original RRP from 20 years ago. So, what once must have been a €25 – ish bottle, appears – according to a quick search on whiskybase - to be ‘worth’ 6 or 7 times that two decades later. And that’s just for a bottle that back in the day was quite common.

Rarity can be a strange thing in economics. It’s obvious how it would apply for absolutely necessary items like grain and drinkable water or other vital and essential commodities in a simple equation of supply and demand. It even makes sense (kind of) when we’re talking about really rare and exclusive items and products with a legendary status, like a Ferrari from the 1950’ies, or, keeping it closer to home, 1960’ies bottles of Bowmore, because here the aspect of rarity is combined with that of exceptional quality. Should you, at this point, still live under a happy illusion, you can count on it that a factor of 7 to the original RRP won’t be nearly enough to get you a bottle of those Bowmores. Not by a longshot.

Yet I find it a bit unusual, not to say weird, why those same rules seem to apply for what used to be a fairly common bottle of scotch. By comparison, would you pay 7 times the original price for a scale or a blender, or a TV set that was released 20 years ago, even if it was in good condition? But enough pseudo-philosophical ramblings about economics. Let’s just dive into this bottle and find out whether it really is worth a 3 digits price tag (spoiler alert: it isn’t).

On the nose, this is a bit of a fruit basket: a lot of apples and oranges, melon, perhaps even a bit of mango. Sweet and sour notes with a malty, sour dough touch and over brewed tea, porridge, bread (perhaps even banana bread), and a floral element reminding me of vines and geraniums.

The palate brings a nice amalgamation of soft fruitiness and grainy notes, soft and even a bit delicate, with again the floral elements coming through.

The finish is medium long, a bit sharp , ending in a drying fruity note.

So, concluding, this is a pleasant whisky that never screams for your attention, which makes it very suitable as an easy sipper, or a background whisky, a nice little aperitif even. However, if you’re willing to make an effort and pay this some proper attention, it doesn’t disappoint either and it’s quite rewarding. While the nose is definitely the most intriguing and inviting aspect of this whisky which, very likely, will not be the most complex one you’ll ever try, this is just an enjoyable sipper, right on the edge of what you might call oldschool and the more contemporary style of whiskies. 80/100

*Quote: Terry Pratchett.

Review 014: Springbank 12 cask strength 55.3% ABV, batch 20 (2020)

I do believe there is some sort of general agreement about the idea that Springbank is the whiskydrinker’s whisky. When I first tried a Springbank 10 yo, years ago at a festival, it was indeed a bit of an epiphany moment, bringing a complexity and a flavor profile I at that point hadn’t experienced before. There is indeed something about this distillery that speaks to a lot of whiskylovers, as it stands out from most other whiskies. Not typically fruity, not overly peaty, not overly gentle or soft and not overly ‘aggressive’, yet very much in a league of its own, bringing a lot of complexity, usually built by a set of flavors balancing around and through the typical ‘Campbeltown funk’ which varies from a sort of hay-like, grassy, earthy, limestone note to an almost rather outspoken cheesy Funk (mind the capital).

The batches of the 12 yo cask strength are released twice a year, coming from a combination of sherry and bourbon casks, but where the sherry casks were, almost as a rule of thumb, the dominant influence, this expression is led by the bourbon casks, with 65% of the outcome from bourbon barrels and 35% from sherry casks. Now, I definitely welcomed this little walk of the beaten path (the 14 yo bourbon wood they released in 2017 was probably one of the best whiskies I’ve tasted in the last 5 or so years), but when this was announced around the release, a few voices here and there almost shouted ‘sacrilege’, but boy were they soon proven wrong…

On the nose, the peat is obvious yet not dominant, as it leaves room for honey, vanilla, barley sugar, and a bit of orchard fruit. The signature earthy/grassy/hay funk is there as well, and I also picked up some (over brewed) black tea. A drop of water brings out sweet red fruity notes (raspberries and strawberries), more peat and the funk turns into something of an understated antiseptic/minerally note, but all remains pleasant and intriguing.

On the palate, there is a rich and sweet arrival, followed by the peat, something between fruit and a sugary-malty note. I also picked up honey and vanilla and even a faint hint of chocolate, with a grassy/herbal touch and again the black tea. Again, the added water livens things up even more, with a more prominent fruity-honey note, barley sugar and an earthy peat note.

The finish is quite long, and remarkably different from the nose and palate: dry, more woody, some faint peat and a bit of a bitter note, but once again, with a drop of water the fruit comes out more, along with a bit of nuttiness I couldn’t pick up before.

Again Springbank excels where it has excelled so many times before: to bring together a lot of complexity, a lot of flavors in one bold and busy package. And while this can be described as a bold whisky, it’s never loud or overly in your face. There is, in fact, a subtle, almost fragile but spot on balance in this whisky that holds everything exactly in place. Well done, very well done in fact! 88/100

Drample impressions 2: The Scalasaig ‘Island Hopper’ (43% ABV)

So last Wednesday I got to partake in my very first Tweet Tasting, hosted by Steve from The Whisky Wire (if you don’t know this concept: google it), and the whisky at hand (indeed, whisky, just one sample this time) was kindly provided by a new bottler on the block, The Scalasaig. The Island Hopper is a well-chosen name, as it is a vatting (can we still use that word?) of different malts from different Island distilleries. The ‘backbone’ comes from Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain apparently, with some Orkney and Mull based distilleries as well.

The label is a thing of beauty sure enough! What else can we say about this? All together 10 casks went in to this, going from lightly and heavily peated whisky to quite some heavily sherry influenced whiskies, with an outcome of 3000 bottles. The average age of the whiskies involved is said to be around 7-8 years old. RRP is somewhere around €50-55, and to find out if that’s a good price I suggest we just dive into this.

On the nose, this is quite a busy little bee. Syrupy, with red, ripe apples, hints of smoke, wet wood, dried apricot, perhaps even a bit of pineapple, nutty and I might even detect a bit of wine cask influence? After 15 to 20 minutes, the peat diminishes and the sherry moves to the front.

On the palate, there’s a dry arrival, fruit and berries with some smoke (washed out campfire) in the back. Given some time, a woody note joins in, with some leathery notes and a bit of nail polish, old books/carboard (pleasant enough, though) and again some berries.

The finish isn’t all too long, but not short either, and has a  drying yet mouth coating texture with the berries and a bit of smoke just before it dies out.

Final verdict: this was a rather pleasant experience! It’s well balanced and offers a wide array of flavor sensations. Very well put together, without ever coming across as ‘fabricated’, if that makes sense. It offers quite a bit of complexity, and even at 43% ABV, it ‘s an engaging and interesting whisky – so well done by the people of The Scalasaig I’d say. Their inaugural release is a promising one, and from what I’ve heard, it shouldn’t be too long before their second bottling is being released.

Would I buy a full bottle? Probably, the sample was interesting enough, and like I said, even at 43% this was a pleasant surprise: engaging enough to keep the more experienced drinker happy yet at the same time accessible and pleasant for less experienced drinkers to still be enjoyed. A jack of all trades, and good at that!

Drample impressions: St-Kilian Distillers Signature 1-3, courtesy of Luna Arran

As I have stated before, and more than once, the online whisky community is a magnificent little something with perks, benefits and merits a go go. It really does bring people closer together (virtually and irl), it allows for ideas, knowledge and opinions to be exchanged and in this particular case, it also allows us, me, anyone involved to exchange samples, or dramples as they have become known, between one another. Bottles that might be difficult to come by where you’re located, might be available at plenty for someone else, leading to packages and parcels being sent across the continent. Especially now, in these difficult and strange times, people involved in ‘offline’ communities, be it whiskyclubs or more informal, have started doing this as well, as to enjoy a shared dram or two and exchange thoughts on it, all with the assistance of modern communication technology.

Before the madness struck in full force, Luna Arran (The Luna Arran) and I exchanged several of these dramples, and her package included a lovely little ‘threesome’ from St-Kilian Distillers, a relatively young distillery near Mannheim in Germany. It’s ticking quite a lot of the right boxes (bottlings without chill filtering and with natural colour, stills from Forsythe …) and they do quite some cask experiments as well, as will become clear in just a moment. I will be looking closer at 3 samples from the signature 1-3 releases and the idea here is to give you my first impressions.

So, no actual reviews, no scoring, as there wouldn’ t be much point, based on a single experience, but something like making one’s acquaintance, and perhaps conclude whether I’d be interested to try a full bottle. So, here goes nothing:

St-Kilian signature 1: 45 % ABV (37% ex-bourbon casks, 37% ex Martinique rum casks, 18% ex PX cask, 5% Chestnut casks and 3 % ex bourbon quarter casks). This is a whisky that has been around the block – caskwise - as it seems, and especially the chestnut influence (be it for only 5%) triggers my interest, as this would of course receive a big fat frown from the SWA should we be talking about scotch.

On the nose this comes over as quite young and spirit driven. There are some grassy elements here, a slight sourness (something vinegar – lemony), but also some sweetness, with vanilla and a soft honey note with a bit of dry wood.

On the palate: sharp arrival, dry and sticky mouthfeel, but then it opens up, softens and turns a bit grainy. With a drop of water, this becomes lighter, with more grassy and herbal notes.

The finish is medium long, grainy and woody, with a bit of nuts at the back. A drop of water lengthens this noticeably and brings out the rum influence (at last?) with a sugary sweetness.

 

Signature 2: 54.2% ABV (from 3 different Amarone casks - 61% from a 325 liter vessel, 36% from an ASB and 3% from a 50 liter cask). Apparently this is just a 3 yo toddler, but as we’ve come to known: age isn’t everything, so …

On the nose this is quite a bit more expressive than the Signature 1: a lot of dark and red fruit, with cherries and berries, almonds, honeysuckle, but also a bit of that grassy/straw and wood (do we perhaps detect a bit of a signature flavour here?). With a drop of water, a bit of a funk note comes forward.

The palate shows a rather active, almost dramatic wine cask influence – you could definitely say the amarone casks are giving the more traditional sherry casks a run for their money in this case. For only a 3 year old, this is already quite well matured, with the wood shining through and some candy (Haribo bears) as well.

The finish is dry and medium long, yet in this case, a drop of water didn’t really affect things.

 

Signature 3 (50% ABV, from a mash bill containing 50 % peated Scottish malt with phenol levels at 38 ppm, 96% matured in ex Tennessee whisky barrels and 4% ex bourbon quarter casks).

Nose: sweet, peat (reminding me a bit of Lagavulin, perhaps), floral and fruity. After 20 or so minutes, the peat becomes less prominent.

On the palate, the peat does much of the talking, but there is also a very pleasant fruity sweetness present with hints of melon.

Finish: medium and rather sweet, the peat is there, but contrary to the palate, it’s more ‘polite’.

 

So, what did I think of these babies? Overall, the peated expression was the least convincing to me. It’s nice enough, but here the young age implies a rather obvious presence of peat, which somewhat prevents some of other flavours to shine through, imo. The amarone cask matured is already quite well established for its young age and it really does stands it ground. Well done, indeed. Now, the signature 1 I think is the whisky that shows the most potential. It may at this point not quite be where it’s supposed to, but it is the most versatile of the three, with enough character and flavour present to develop into something quite beautiful. Given a few more years, with the different casks settling things and bringing a bit more balance into the whole, this would definitely be a whisky I would happily sit down with over several occasions for a bit of in-depth exploring.

Big thanks to Luna for being the star she is and for sending me these samples! Stay healthy, you lot!

Review 013: Kilkerran 15 yo single cask (52.1% ABV, Fino sherry cask and refill Bourbon Hogshead) + winner announcement

Even before its 16th birthday (coming up in April), Kilkerran has already proven its merits and qualities amongst many whisky enthusiasts. Praise was sung for its standard 12 yo - a rather subtle but also unmistakably a ‘typical’ Campbeltown whisky, with those almost understated notes of funk, mineral flavours, lemons, salt, apples and soft peat, and praise was given as well for the rather less subtle expressions that followed, like the Peat in Progress releases and the different 8 yo cask strength expressions. If I were to describe Kilkerran in one word , it might be ‘versatility’.

Late last year, two rather remarkable additions were made to the list: first there was the 8 yo cask strength 4th release, which will probably be popping up in a lot of whisky- of –the- year- lists, and while I don’t think I could add anything about that whisky on my blog that hasn’t been said before, I can say that it’s good, it’s really good, it’s bloody brilliant in fact.

Second, Kilkerran also released a number of single casks of 15 yo whiskies, matured in different casks and finishes for different markets across Europe and the rest of the world. Retail price for those were somewhere around € 80-90, depending on where you live, but as is common practice these days, a lot of them were pretty much gone and sold before they even reached the shelves, with prices on secondary now easily around €250, sadly. Being on the hunt for one of these for weeks, I’d already given up hope until late January a bottle popped up in a small store near me, and at retail price at that. So, quite happily I broke my ‘no buying bottles in January rule’, to give this bottle a new, proper home.

Belgium was fortunate enough to be granted its own release – with an outcome of 222 bottles from a Fino sherry cask for the first 10 years, with 5 additional years of maturation in a refill bourbon hogshead. Now, this order of maturation seems a bit odd, mostly it’s the other way around, but there might be a very good reason for this – I’ll come to that shortly.

On the nose, this isn’t what you would call subtle. A rather overwhelming sense of wood and deep notes of dry sherry. That’s all there was the first 15 or so minutes after pouring. Luckily, giving it some time, and after your nose has come to terms with this attack on the olfactory system, it really started to shine, with sultanas, raisins, plums, chocolate and a bit of a nutty element. A drop of water (or two, or three) really helps. It’s more ‘lively’ (less dried fruit, fresher on the wood), ad while the fruit and sherry still jump out, there are also some faint hints of grassy/herbal notes I’ve come to associate with the Kilkerran signature that I couldn’t pick up before.

On the palate it still remains an explosion of wood and sherry, and while this is ‘only’ 52.1% ABV, it still does some of the talking with a bit of a sting at first. So again, after giving it more time, the nuts, chocolate and dried red fruits emerged to put some balance into this beast. Here, the added water delivers a more prominent funk note to help accentuate the nuts and chocolate.

The finish is long, dry, woody with a hint of chocolate and the added water helps to soften things out a bit. Like on the nose, it becomes less dry and the dominant woodnote is subdued somewhat to allow the nuts and chocolate to come forth.

So similar to the 8 yo, this is most definitely a powerhouse of a whisky. On the neckpour it was even all about the wood, but fortunately with a bit of air in the bottle, it started to open up nicely. Which brings me to the bourbon finish. Little theory: this was initially put into a very active Fino sherry cask, so active in fact that a bit of toning down in a refill bourbon cask was necessary to prevent the whisky from being completely overwhelmed by the sherry and wood influence. While the bourbon cask did help to restore some balance, it still is a beast of a whisky. If I were to put it head to head with the 8 yo, I think I might give it to the younger sibling (by a margin, but still) which is a bit more versatile in my opinion. Nonetheless, a brilliant, bold, badass whisky: 88/100

 

And now for something completely different. A winner was chosen at random from all who entered my sample giveaway. Congratulations to Brecht, you were picked as the winner. I’ll be in touch shortly to arrange things.

Whiskyfestivals: 10 things to do or don’t

Last weekend, several whiskyfestivals were being held in different places across Europe. For some reason (probably winter nearing its end), early March seems to be a rather popular period to kick off the whiskyfestival season. The amount of events gradually builds up over the coming months right until summer, with a second ‘batch’ of festivals usually scheduled between September and November.

We, us, brave little Belgians are quite well provided, festival wise, with at least some 5 or 6 large festivals and probably a dozen more smaller ones, so we have, as the French put it so lovely, l’embarras du choix (loosely translated as plenty to pick from).

So last weekend, I found myself at the Ghent international whisky festival, a venue that has a sibling in The Hague in the Netherlands (usually held somewhere in November). In Belgian terms, it is one of the bigger festivals to attend: pretty much all of the big brands and companies are represented, and more and more non-scotch distilleries (quite a lot of Irish, a few English, local distilleries, French, Swedish, Swiss…) are there as well, alongside independent bottlers great and small, some of the bigger shops, local brokers and importers, and whisky-related exhibitors (travel agencies, magazines and books, food, glassware…). They also organize introduction classes for beginners and tasting sessions (across the board or from one distillery), so, all in all, quite a lot going on and quite a lot to choose from.

So, how does one go about such a venue, be it as a beginner, or a more seasoned visitor/enthusiast? Here are my 10 things (more or less) to do and don’t at a whiskyfestival:

1. (And this shouldn’t even be mentioned) arrange for transportation. You will be drinking quite a large amount of strong alcohol, and even if you’re being very careful and take things easy with plenty to eat and water in between whiskies, you will be over the legal limit to drive. So have someone to pick you up, use public transportation,…just don’t drive home yourself.

2. If you are a beginner (be it at whisky or as a visitor to festivals): prepare yourself. It can be overwhelming to enter a huge conference hall with dozens of exhibitors, and literally hundreds, if not thousands of whiskies to choose from. So do some homework prior to your visit. At my very first festival, I checked the website to see which brands were there, and wrote down which whiskies I was keen to try. It can help you finding your way around and about without getting a feeling of being lost. If you haven’t done this, it can be a good idea to take your time just strolling around a bit and taking a look before getting that first dram of the afternoon. Some festivals offer introduction classes, so this can be an option too.

3. Make it a social event. Having a drink with enjoyable company, always makes for a better experience. Furthermore, you can share experiences, compare some notes, point each other towards certain whiskies and so on. It really lifts up the experience, and as a bonus on the side you can look out for one another as well.

4. Take your time. There is literally no rush. Even at festivals that work with afternoon and evening sessions, you will still have 3 to 4 hours to spend. Plenty of time to explore and enjoy.

5. Don’t rush it and take a break halfway through your visit. Drinking water and eating pieces of  bread/toast in between drams is absolutely recommended (just about every festival offers these), not only to avoid getting hammered, but also to make sure your palate isn’t blown to pieces after the first hour.

6. Also: know when to take a break. The atmosphere is relaxed, so go with that flow. In the 4 or 5 years I’ve been visiting festivals, I can genuinely tell you that the amount of people I saw that were absolutely positively Boris Jeltsin’d, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. So, don’t be that person who needs to be carried out, leaning on his friends (or worse: carried out by security), just because they had too much too fast. You’ll embarrass yourself and you’ll end up being a nuisance to the people around you.

7. Go for the smaller exhibitors and/or the IB’s. Quite often, there are literally cues of people gathered around at the bigger brands. Let them. From experience, I’ve come to learn that often you can find the real gems at some of the smaller exhibitors. A Bell’s blended whisky from the 1950’ies, or a St-Magdalene from the late seventies are quite the experience, I can assure you. And while you‘ll probably be paying a bit more for a dram of one of these, to me, that’s exactly what festivals are for. Unless you have been collecting whiskies for decades, or have very, very deep pockets, you will most likely never have a bottle of these rare or old whiskies in your cabinet. A festival is the perfect place and opportunity to enjoy these gems.

8. Chat away with the people behind the counters. Again, this is more likely with some of the smaller exhibitors (because a: less of a crowd; and b: chances are you’ll be talking with someone directly working at a distillery/bottler/broker – sometimes even the head honchos themselves), and by showing a genuine interest and asking a few questions about their whiskies, you can find yourself engaged in a proper conversation before you know it, learning more by talking to people that are actually in the business. As another bonus on the side: it’s quite possibly the most relaxed and easygoing form of (washing mouth with soap and water after this) networking. Being on a first name basis with people working in the industry is never a bad thing.

9. If possible, keep track of what you taste. I don’t necessarily mean taking notes, although some people like to do so. Personally, I don’t think the setting of a festival really suits taking notes of what you’re tasting . It’s too crowded for one thing to really, truly spend some quiet alone time with a whisky to fully assess what you’re drinking. Also, by the 7th, 8th or 10th sample, your palate is probably not the most fresh and reliable anymore. What I do mean, is taking a quick picture of the bottles you’ve tried. At the end of your visit, chances are you’ve tasted a dozen whiskies or more ( especially when you’re visiting with friends, passing around glasses to sip), and won’t recall every single sipping experience. Quickly taking a picture of the bottles you tasted (especially the ones that stand out), can help you to recollect better the ones you might want to actually buy later on.

10. This brings me to my last tip: often festivals have shops where you‘ll find a selection of the bottles presented by the different exhibitors. If you are really interested in buying one or two bottles, it helps to have an app or website at the ready to compare prices, because while it’s not uncommon for festival shops to have a few decent offers, chances are you can find the whiskies you are after for better prices elsewhere. Of course, when a bottle is a festival exclusive, and the price isn’t bad, you might want to pull the trigger on it, but, speaking broadly and from personal experience, a lot of the more readily available bottles tend to be a bit (and sometimes even largely) overpriced, so don’t get carried away in the heat of the moment.

This concludes my 10 things to do or don’t. Somehow I always feel a bit pedantic and lecturing writing down things like this, so I’d love to hear your comments and experiences with whiskyfestivals as well. So please, feel free to get in touch or leave a comment, and before you go, don’t forget you still have time to win some of the samples I’ve reviewed so far (along with a few other whisky related prices). All you need to do is look around these pages for the answer to the question: ‘what would I sell for a 100 points whisky?’ and let me know by sending me a note through the ‘get in touch’ page. Thanks, and good luck!

Review 012: Benromach 2008 – Batch 1 (10 yo, bottled 15.01.2019, 57.9% ABV first fill sherry & bourbon casks, 5500 bottles)

Confession time: I’m a bit of a Benromach fanboy. When I started getting into whisky, I was all about Laphroaig and Ardbeg, until the proprietor from one of my go to stores kindly broadened my horizon by pointing me towards a bottle of Benromach Peat Smoke (little tip: always maintain a good relationship with the people working at your local liquor stores, especially if they’re knowledgeable – there’s value there that no Amazon in the world could possibly replace).

That bottle at that time and place showed me that there was more to Speyside whiskies than, say Glenfidich 12 or Glenlivet, whiskies you would probably describe as fitting ‘the classic Speyside profile’. Looking back, you might even say it was one of those moments that turned me from ‘having a keen interest in whisky’ to becoming the geek I am today. Along this journey, Benromach has been a faithfull companion, with different expressions responding and appealing to my developing palet and over time it has become, very much like Clynelish, a staple brand in my cabinet.  Of course, all of this didn’t happen overnight, and while I wouldn’t go as far as calling Benromach Peat Smoke an epiphany whisky, it did plant a seed out of which this monstrous tree grew, with its never-ending curiosity and thirst for knowledge and insight regarding all things whisky. Damn you, Benromach, damn you…

So what we have here today is the successor to the much beloved Benromach 10 yo 100 proof, which was discontinued last year, much to the grief of whiskylovers with an appetite for the bold and outspoken, although Benromach immediately anounced the arrival of this new expression as its replacement. Question remains: can it fill the boots?

On the nose, it seems a bit closed at first, but the sherry influence is unmistakable. A savory - meaty and syrupy note, red fruit (cherry, raspberries, but also some dried fruit like figs and sultanas), with some grainy/biscuit notes and some sawdust, with just a whiff of sulpher, perhaps. Adding water: the red fruit notes jump out more and are accompanied by a soft woody note.

On the taste: A dry and soft arrival, right before the higher ABV shows itself. Past the burn, I picked up quite a lot from the nose in fact, with a syrupy mouthfeel and a very soft earthy-peaty note along the way. With water (it can take it): less sharp, more mellow, with the fruit notes playing first violin. If you give it some more time, the almost signature woody-nutty notes start playing along - a nice, albeit not the most subtle and silent of tunes.

On the finish: Nothing spectacular, but long, dry and woody with a good balance and aftermath. After adding water, there's a lot more of the wood coming through, with a soft bitter note.

Final verdict, Digging up my old notes from the 100 proof, I noticed I rated the old bottling slightly higher. None the less, this is a worthy successor. Equally rich and bold, perhaps slightly less balanced, and without a doubt still a bit of a beast that needs to be tamed, as it is equally satisfying and complex as its predecessor. It's what you might call a bit of a dirty malt, but man, this is good stuff! 86/100

Fancy a sample? I’m giving away some. Find out how you could win by reading my previous post as well.

1000 visits giveaway

Last week, I sort of declared my love for the whiskycommunity, in fact you can find it just below this post, stating you always get more than you give, under the title 'The whiskycommunity: pay it forward'.

Very recently, this blog hit another milestone: in just over  3 months time, I've had a 1000 visits here, which sort of amazes me to be honest. There is no grand scheme or masterplan behind what I'm doing here, I'm just someone who is passionate about whisky and this blog is meant as a way to share my journey with anyone interested in reading my thoughts and views. If anything, I'd love to hear back from the people who read my posts: what do you like? What do you dislike? Where do you agree or disagree? Any comment is welcomed and appreciated.

Now, as one should put his dinero where his piehole is (or something to that extent), I wanted to say 'thank you' to everyone who has been with me on this journey so far. 3 odd months isn't a long time, and I hope there's a lot more to come, but hitting 1K visits already is more than I could have hoped for.

So here 's the deal: I'm giving away a set of samples from some of the bottles I've reviewed so far + something whisky related as a nice little extra.

What do you need to do? Just pop over to the 'get in touch' page and  leave me a message  answering this question: 'what would I sell for a 100 points whisky?' Just to be clear: the answer can be found on these blogpages somewhere

Terms and conditions are simple: you must be of legal drinking age in your country of residence and I must be able to ship it to you (so that means within the EU + the UK). 1 entry per person (let's keep it fair and honest, it's not as if I'm giving away a botlle of Macallan M or something).

You can do so untill Sunday March 15th, be sure to put down your e-mailadress so I can get in touch should you be the winner (who will be drawn at random from entries with the right answer to the question).

Thank you, and good luck!

The whisky community: pay it forward!

It’s really quite difficult to put into words what it means to be a part of ‘the whisky community’ anno 2020.

First of all, one could argue that there is no such thing as ‘the’ whisky community, and to a certain degree they would be right. So let me just specify what I mean here. I am talking about an increasing group of people who find a connection through whisky, with social media (IG, YT, Twitter…) as the platform to do so.

It’s a community I’ve gradually become a part of, by following whiskytubers from big and smaller channels alike, by commenting on other people’s comments, by retweeting about vlogs, blogs, pictures… basically by interacting with them.

Obviously, that’s what social media are all about, hence the ‘social’ (feel free to mentally add ‘you dumbass’ here, if you will), but that’s only the first part of where I’m going with this. I am now 40 years old, so it’s fair to say I’ve seen the social media grow, flourish and sometimes perish from day 1. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old fart (I know my way around facebook, can manage my twitter account fairly well, and occasionally muck about on Instagram): it’s not always a happy place. Sure, I’ve seen it used for the good, but more often for the bad, where people apparently feel an uncontrollable urge to talk shit about other people, to belittle, insult, ridicule and bully or even threaten others. Very often social media platforms have become a graveyard for good manners, a place where civilization comes to die, basically.

But let me get to the point: a very (and I do mean very) rare and occasional troll left aside, I have found in this online whisky community a seldom seen bunch a good natured, often very well informed people who are supportive to one another, willing to give constructive advice and feedback, who politely point out possible errors in posts and blogs (be it regarding spelling, grammar or actual content), who are eager to learn from each other and to exchange not only ideas, but also samples. More than that, on several occasions people spontaneously offered to send me samples of whiskies that were difficult to get hold of in my area and some have even graciously invited me to make a contribution to their online content. To all of these invitations I have responded in a positive way, when samples were offered I returned the favour, when invited to make a contribution I feel honoured and privileged to be considered and gladly put in the extra mile to rise to the occasion by doing so as well prepared as possible.

This really feels like a community where positivity goes a long way. A very long way even. The cherry on the proverbial cake comes tomorrow evening on the upcoming episode of Aqvavitae’s vpub where Roy has Charles MacLean on as a guest, a true icon and authority when it comes to whisky. To ‘spice things up’, Roy has sent out samples to MacLean and several of his patrons that will be blind tasted and discussed during the vpub, with yours truly as one of the lucky bastards who indeed will get to ‘dram along with Charlie’ - as Roy announced the vpub. So here I am, a whisky enthusiast and blogger with ‘some’ knowledge and ‘some’ experience when it comes to the golden nectar, who is given the chance to share this experience with a man who is Master of the frigging Quaich, who has written over a dozen books about whisky and has helped several distilleries on their way over the past decades. At the risk of sounding like a fanboy being starstruck, I’m absolutely positively psyched. This community truly is fantastic, so thank you, everyone, and slainte!

If you haven't already set a notification bell for Roy's upcoming vpub, you can do so here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=628dKkDkq6A 

Whisky & branding: the good, the bad and the misleading?

There ‘s a bit of a (renewed) buzz going on at the moment about whisky and transparency, information, marketing, branding,... and the frustration within the communinty  that comes from the limitations of what can or can’t be said on the packaging due to the current legislation regarding scotch whisky. Roy Duff touched on the subject of the importance of age statements on whiskies in a recent vpub on YouTube, online reviewers have discussed, at length, the impact of terroir when it comes to whisky and whether it is a big deal or just another way of marketing your whisky (mostly in the light of the upcoming release of Waterford’s first whisky), and little old me has been pondering on the importance of information in branding and marketing for a while, so I decided to dig a little deeper into this subject as well.

What set this wheel in motion, was a visit to a liquor store at the end of last year. I was at one of my go to stores, looking for a nice bottle to gift my father for Christmas. Coincidentally, and probably because it was christmas shopping season, there was an ambassador by the whisky aisle, all set up with some opened bottles, ready to give advice to any customer willing to listen to it. Naturally, he approached me and started asking the usual questions, but as it became clear I wasn’t a helpless, clueless client looking for ‘a good bottle’ but without any idea on what to buy from the +200 whiskies the store had to offer, we started having a proper conversation. As it was early in the day, there weren’t many people around, so we had a nice talk about how we both got into whisky, he brought me up to date on a few things and while tasting some wee samples, we pointed each other towards certain whiskies the other one should try. When the first ‘actual’ customers showed up, I left him to do his job, and went on the lookout for said Christmas present, but also watched him from a distance, interested to see how he would approach potential customers. I got to give him credit for not trying to push people into buying premium priced whiskies, instead he really tried to listen to what they had to say, and to figure out what would be a good purchase for them. Of course, this is seldom an easy task when the customer at hand knows nothing to very little about whisky and is there with the same thing in mind as me: getting their spouse/parent/uncle/… something nice for Christmas. Among the opened bottles for tasting were 2 20 year old single grain bottles (one primarily ex bourbon casks, the other from sherry casks) from John Dewar’s & Sons, retailed around €40 each. I tried one of them and basically you got what you paid for: a fairly decent yet completely uneventful, unremarkable whisky, watered down to 40% ABV, chill filtered with added colouring. However, the age statement really did its work. In the 15 or so minutes I was still there, there must have been at least 4 customers walking out of the door with one or more of these bottles. This just to illustrate how a big fat age statement in combination with what seems to be a very reasonable price can do the work pretty much for you.

So the value for money aspect in this particular case was clearly a defining factor, but impressive as that age statement might seem, it’s only telling part of the story. The disconcerned customer will go home, happy to have found a prestigious looking bottle at very reasonable price and won’t they make a big impression on whoever the gift was intended to, right? Possibly, but not necessarily. Chances are the people ending up drinking that bottle will see it for what it actually is: a middle of the road (pedestrian, if you will) whisky, uneventful and nothing to get all excited about. So in the short run, this bottle might be a commercial success, but in the long term, people who base their opinion on what they have in hand, could end up feeling a tad disappointed if even whiskies with impressive age statements seem a bit meh, and come to the conclusion that whisky might not be for them and on future occasions won’t even bother with it at all, but choose something entirely different. And again, that’s because the age statement in this particular case can be a misleading factor. Even now, to a lot of people the equation older = better still counts. So bugger the fact that very likely the casks were all but exhausted, bugger the fact that upon selecting casks for whatever blend this was meant to go in, it became clear that whatever was inside wasn’t suitable and that therefore they were given a final run for a few more years to see if anything half decent could be made out of them before they ended up as firewood. And I’m not trying to dis Dewar’s here,  honestly I'm not, in fact I can fully understand why they would release these bottles - economically it’s without a doubt the best decision they could have made to make the most use out of part of their stock that wouldn’t suit anything else. But it would be a bit more honest to give a few other indications on the packaging to go with that age statement.

Wouldn’t it be a nice thing if a bit more factual information was given to the customers, instead of all the usual gibberish you still find on the packaging of most brands? In fact, I went to a local supermarket to do just a random check, taking pictures of labels and packaging. We can easily argue that a lot of these bottles are still overladen with clichés. From the 20 or so bottles I documented, just about every single one of them uses words like ‘smooth’, ‘rich’ ‘elegant’, ‘slowly matured’, ‘balanced’, ‘perfection’, ‘delicate’, ‘tradition’, ‘soft’ and, in a few cases, ‘finesse’ and ‘exceptional’ (and that’s without even looking at the official tasting notes), while about half of them were still keen to mention how ‘clear’, ‘soft’ and ‘pure’ their watersource is. Now, as such there is nothing wrong with these words, but it’s an almost franticly build-in playing it safe approach with these predictable, boring and most of all meaningless descriptions. And whilst no one would expect any brand out there to trash talk its own product, can we at least make a plea for a bit more creativity and sincerity? If you were to be without any knowledge whatsoever on whisky and stroll down any given whisky aisle in any given supermarket, you’d get the idea that it’s all interchangeable and a dime a dozen. And yes, I understand you’re restricted by law about what you can and can not disclose about your whisky (the good and bad of whisky legislation makes for a very interesting other topic, I believe), but at least try to make an effort on why I should buy your bottle and not the one sitting next to you by giving me some genuine information, something that would help me, the customer, to make an educated guess about what you have to offer. Therefore, I give it to Glenmorangie who at least make up for this safe and uninteresting packaging by bringing some transparency and information on how they produce their whisky and by providing insights on their stills and cask policy. I give it to Glenlivet even, for their take on the Nadurra range. Yes, I regret they dropped the age statement which brought excellent value for money in my opinion, but the packaging these days still states clearly on the front ‘natural colour’, ‘unchillfiltered’ and ‘first fill American oak casks’ while at the back explaining why these are good things when it comes to the actual flavor and quality of the whisky. But they remain the exception to the rule. 90% of what is being put on packaging is complete and utter bollocks, and they know it.

Yet, I remain hopeful and positive. I’m really looking forward to what the future holds for whisky. There are many young distilleries on the rise, who, when it comes to branding, won’t be able to give us the standard marketing flannel about traditions and what not, so who as a rule will have to come up with other ways to market their product, and tend to put the focus on more factual information, more or less like a lot of independent bottlers approach their labeling. Add this to the ever growing market of ‘world whiskies’ (non- scotch, American or Irish whiskies) who seek to conquer their spot in the sun, and can do so only by making good quality products, but also by telling us something new and original. We're already seeing it with the newe wave of American craft distillers with a hands on mentality who give the old big boys of Bourbon a run for their money, and we can only hope these new players will bring a breath of much needed fresh air, both regarding innovations and improvements when it comes to the production of whisky, but also when it comes to how whisky is being presented. And while it’s most definitely fine and OK to be proud of your long and fine traditions and you should use it as part of your branding because it absolutely can be an indication of consistency and quality, it also becomes a bit tired and old when that’s all you have to tell us.

Review 011: Clynelish 14 yo (2016 bottling, 46% ABV)

Clynelish – it’s one of those single malts in Diageo’s portfolio on which most people who (claim to) know a thing or two about whisky seem to agree upon regarding its quality. It does indeed make regular appearances in my cabinet and there is, in my opinion, a lot to be said why Clynelish should be a staple malt in anyone’s cabinet.

For starters, it’s a whisky that pleases and appeals to ‘beginners’ and more advanced whisky lovers alike, because while it’s quite complex and layered, at the same time it’s also fairly easily enjoyable, in that it doesn’t really require an experienced palate to recognize this is quite good stuff. Speaking in general terms of course. This versatility makes it a perfect gateway for people starting out on their whisky journey who want to stick their nose into the seemingly never ending rabbit hole of whisky geek-dom and at the same time remains a trustworthy, reliable whisky for people already deep down said mammal’s lair. Furthermore it’s a versatility that has proven to work well as a component for blending, being a signature malt for many of Compass Box' whiskies (and likely for the Johnnie Walker range as well).

Second, it is of course forever and a day interwoven with its mystical sibling distillery Brora, and can therefore bask in the light of the latter’s golden aura. Due to their shared history, and the fact that the stills from Clynelish are exact copies of those from Brora, sipping on Clynelish can at the very least get you the impression that the quality holds some resemblance to this ‘holy grail’ of distilleries.

Third, and don’t underestimate the importance of this, it’s one of very few distilleries where the core range of official bottlings is dead simple and obvious. An occasional special occasion bottling aside, it’s all down to the 14 yo. No 4 different age statements, no 11 NAS bottlings with different cask finishes, so also no stress when you’re standing before the shelf in the store. This has the benefit of being able to offer some consistency in availability, and with that hopefully also in quality.

However there are, obviously, inevitable batch variations and therefore some differences in quality, which brings me to the nitty-gritty of this review.

On the nose, this is very fruity: melon, some citrus (lime and oranges), and apricot, which dance a lovely little tango with a very obvious malty/grainy (almost bready) note. The signature wax is there, but takes a step back and is accompanied by some white pepper and salty note and even further in the background a very shy woody bitterness, that shows itself more after a drop of water.

On the palate it has a very creamy and soft mouthfeel, yet it takes quite some time to be accompanied by the wax. In fact, the first 15 to 20 minutes after pouring and sipping, I rarely picked up any wax at all. The citrus notes are there, and also a shy earthy, peaty note. With a drop of water it becomes more lively and active: the wood shows itself again, along with the wax (finally), and the citrus notes are being joined by some orchard fruit.

The finish is all in all a bit short, with the woody, dry, earthy note being the most prominent and it’s only somewhat prolonged with some water added.

Final verdict? I’ve had better versions of Clynelish to be honest. The palate and the finish just seem to struggle a bit to keep up with what the nose promises. That being said, it still remains a very enjoyable whisky, so to sum it up: it’s good, yet not great. 82/100

Whisky reviews: where’s the value?

Perhaps you think this a rather strange topic for a blog that’s mostly about reviewing whiskies? Can’t really argue there, but yesterday something struck me whilst browsing Twitter. It was in fact a comment about a recent post on malt-review (which I hold in very high regard, just so we’re clear), where the reviewer-on-duty Taylor Cope rated the Evan Williams bottled in bond with a very solid 8/10, pretty much concluding this was a fantastic value for money bourbon. Someone mentioned that great bang-for-buck it might be, surely a 8/10 score was stretching it a bit, especially if you considered another recent review on Malt (from another contributor) rated the new Octomore with a 7/10, continuing to say that perhaps a whisky should be scored objectively and solely on the liquid, without considering the cost of a bottle.

This is, of course, a very valid point. It is, however, equally valid to point out that entering the cost of a bottle into the equation when it comes to enjoying it, and thus rating it, is also a very normal thing to do (and it works both sides of the scale for that matter). In fact, there are probably quite a few other things you subconsciously take into the equation when you appreciate a whisky. The information on and the presentation of the packaging and the label for one thing. Of course, a more seasoned whisky drinker would have no problem looking past all too obvious gibberish about ‘the purity of the water’, or ‘the patient wait for the casks to do their magic’ and blablabla, but still there’s plenty of other things that still have an impact, if only for the magic words ‘unchillfiltered’ and ‘natural colour’. Furthermore, if you don’t believe a good, classy presentation has any impact on how you appreciate your whisky, I’d advise you to take a crash course in business psychology. We’re a visual society, things that look good tend to be bought more often and more frequent than things that don’t appeal to us, visually. The people at Compass Box have learned this lesson very well, as they are without doubt the kings of beautifully, stylishly presented bottles. And it is of course also no coincidence that many distilleries present their entry level expressions in decent, yet sober cardboard tubes or boxes, but take the effort to make sure the more expensive ones and/or the higher age statements come with a more classy-looking presentation, for both the bottle and the packaging.

And of course all of these things aren’t the defining factors when it comes to appreciating that golden nectar in your glass, but they do help to build a certain expectation, to subconsciously make you believe what you’re sipping on, is top quality stuff indeed.

Question is: how can one level out these influences and focus solely and objectively on the liquid itself? The obvious answer is to do every single review of a whisky completely blind. No prior information on cost, no fancy packaging, no mentioning of age or NAS, ABV or (the absence of) chill filtration or colouring, not even the name of the brand… nothing. This would absolutely, most definitely, positively help to put the focus on the actual whisky, and the whisky alone. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that this would lead to some very remarkable shifts in scores for a lot of whiskies, and more than that it would put many a reviewer (including this one) to the test to really work out what’s happening in the glass in front of them.

It is, alas, also not always the practical thing to do. Yes, I love to do blind tastings, especially with some friends to compare notes and be amazed (or sometimes even shocked) about the results and therefore I highly recommend you do these once in a while as it really helps to get your bearings straight and help you make more conscious purchases, but there are also some things to be said for not reviewing blind. Like stated, it can be a bit unpractical. Most of the times you ‘re set to review a specific bottle of whisky to start with, and even if you did have any number of bottles ready and waiting to be reviewed, there’s not always someone around to help you pour them blind. At the risk of sounding like a pompous twat, I like to review my whiskies with as little distractions as possible, including the company of others around me, so to really focus on the actual whisky. Second, By the time you actually review a whisky, you probably (and should) have already spent quite a bit of time with it, so it wouldn’t be completely new in any case. Furthermore, some prior information can indeed be useful, like ABV, but more importantly, the name and the age. This information helps as a mental indicator to be on the lookout for certain flavours you associate with a certain brand, and can help you to determine how much of a factor the age of the whisky is when it comes to quality (by itself, but also compared to whiskies of similar age from other brands), which in turn can be an indication regarding the quality of the casks and so on. And finally: ‘it’s the economy, stupid!’ We don’t have an unlimited budget to spend on an unlimited amount of whisky, unfortunately. Getting value for money is indeed a factor that very much adds to the enjoyment of a whisky, the same way that paying premium price for a bottle that doesn’t live up to its cost, most likely will impact your appreciation and enjoyment of that bottle.

So, as it turns out, judging a whisky solely and objectively on the liquid itself isn’t an easy task at all, even if you were doing it as blind as possible. And that’s without even considering all of the other things that influence your palate (your environment, what you ate earlier that day, your current mood, possible fatigue…), or the mere fact that at the end of the day it still remains one person’s opinion. Unless we’re taking whisky reviewing to the next level by setting up clinically maintained tasting labs (imagine the idea of whisky reviewers around the world gathered in big white rooms, wearing white labcoats and safety goggles analyzing the latest Glenfarclas), the idea of objectivity seems little more than a lovely illusion. Recognizing this, and taking this into consideration should be the logical reflex for anyone giving an opinion about whisky. Because that’s what it is: just an opinion. Some of them are sound, build by knowledge and years of experience and practice, some perhaps not so much, but still: just an opinion.

Review 010: Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel (bottled June 18, 2018 at 63.5% ABV)

Blanton’s is one of those brands that tends to divide a lot of bourbon enthusiasts. Spectacular, amazing and a ‘must have’ to some; overhyped, overpriced and just rather middle of the road to others. This Buffalo Trace product can indeed be quite hard to find, not only in the USA, but in overseas’ markets as well, with prices that are at times all over the place as a result. Furthermore, what you can find in the USA is different from what we can get over here. For whatever reason, the straight from the barrel (full proof) expressions aren’t available in America, who have to make do with the regular release at 46% ABV. So, scarce and sometimes overpriced as it may be, what can we say about this particular expression, that was matured in rickhouse H, on rick 52 from (a #4 charred American white oak) barrel no. 544?

Nose

A lot of cherries and butterscotch, a lot of candy like sweetness with pink (strawberry and indeed cherry) chewing gum and furthermore some corndust, a little bit of leather and even less hints of old books. Adding water makes everything even sweeter, with the cherrienotes taking the lead and only now a faint woodnote appears in the background.

Taste

Immediately very rich: cherries, vanilla and honey, some leather, bubblegum, but more noticeable wood and shaved pencils, candy... very classic bourbon in fact. Adding water again brings out more woody notes, along with a more prominent leather note, to counterpart the vanilla and honey. Very nice, indeed.

Finish

Rather long, sticky/syrupy with wood and cherries. With the added water the finish gets hotter, drier and it prolongs the wood note.

Final verdict

A good and enjoyable expression with just about everything present you would expect from a classic bourbon. With the woodnotes taking the back seat most of the time, I'd dare to conclude this hasn't got an awful lot of age to it - if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say some 5 to 6, maybe 7 years in the cask? Nevertheless this is a fine example of what a good bourbon can bring to the table, although I have tried more complex and slightly richer bourbons for roughly the same price, if not cheaper (for full disclosure: I paid €78 for this bottle, which I think isn't bad, but is about as much as I would be willing to spend on this). If say, classic Buffalo Trace is everything a bourbon has to be, this Blanton's SFTB is almost everything a bourbon CAN be. 85/100

Review 009: Loch Lomond 17 yo Organic (54.9%ABV)

A visit to the Loch Lomond distillery might not show up on may "top 10 things to see and do in Scotland" lists. For starters, the site has a very industrial, factory - like look to it, and the fact that as a general rule the distillery isn't open to visitors, probably doens't help much either. However, their whiskies are definitely interesting, especially under the current management who did change things around for the better. Perhaps to some it still remains a bit of an under the radar distillery, but more and more people are starting to recognize and appreciate the  new style, as the days of mass market production, and mostly blend filler at that, already seem a thing of a long gone past.

 

Nose 

An almost dirty nose to start with: wet grass, floral, straw with a whiff of salt, lots of fruit and candy like sweetness (bananas, apples, oranges, vanilla...) some wood and licorice and after 15 or so minutes also some nutty woodyness. Adding a drop of water tames it down as it becomes altogether a bit softer and less outspoken.

Taste 

Dry arrival, grassy and woody, dry licorice, salt, a bit of a funky note with some cheese even. Very malty/grainy as well to the point of biscuits and porridge. Again the added water subdues everything so I don't believe the almost 55% ABV benefits from it, and frankly, it also doesn't need it as this isn't hot or feisty.

Finish 

Long, with some cheesy funk again, but alo the signature biscuit/grain note, garden herbs, wood and again quite some fruit to it with some oranges and sultanas.

So what we have here is a little beauty distilled in 2000 from both their straight neck stills resulting in a high alcohol spirit and their traditional swan neck stills, both form organic and unpeated malted barley. It was then put in 90% 1st fill bourbon and 10% French wine casks (information kindly provided to me by Loch Lomond master blender Michael Henry).

A bit of an excentric whisky, in that Loch Lomond have managed to create their own, rather distinctive signature style of whisky. Layers of flavors deliver a lovely complexity full of fruity, grainy, floral, grassy and candy notes. Although this is 90% first fill bourbon ad 10% French wine casks, the latter does shine through. The fact that this goes for somewhere between €60 and € 70 for a cask strength 17 yo whisky, can only add to the pleasure, knowing you're drinking top quality whisky at basically budget price. 88/100

Just an opinion. Macallan: too big to fail?

I received an e-mail from Macallan, as I’m subscirbed to their newsletter, for their latest ballot-only entry. It goes under the name The Macallan Folio 5, the fifth release of the Archival series which celebrates their original advertising campaign from the 1970-ies through the nineties. Not a commemoration of its x-tieth birthday, not a celebration of famous master blenders or distillery managers, no, an advertising campaign. So, besides the fact that Macallan are now really commemorating just about every single bit of the distillery’s history, what is it that makes this NAS whisky worthy of a ballot-only entry, with a pricetag of £250 slapped on it? Furthermore, why is it that when you look at secondary, prices from the four previous expressions are four- to even tenfold that?

Surely, it’s a cask strength whisky, based on a batch dating back to maybe not the seventies (even if just with a teaspoon), but perhaps some of the eighties and definitely the nineties? Alas, no such thing. For starters, it’s bottled at 43% ABV and as for the age of the whiskies that went in to this particular batch, not one word is mentioned either.

What Macallan is doing, is basically saying: we’re Macallan, we’re a premium brand (or rather ‘super premium brand’, if we are to follow what Edrington has to say about their flagship distillery), you should just trust us when we say this is worth the premium price tag and no, we won’t give you any further details about age (it’s just a number, right), casks or anything else that may possibly be an indication about the actual quality of this product.

Let’s consider this a bit further by making an obvious comparison to another line of business: cars. Most of us drive fairly modest, middle class cars: Ford, Opel/Vauxhall, Seat, Nissan, a Volkswagen or Citroën. They may not be the most spectacular cars on the road, but they’re good quality, enjoyable, reliable, and with all the optional extra’s these days, often also quite fun to drive if you’re not actually stuck in traffic. If you’re fortunate enough to have a fatter paycheck, you might drive a BMW, Mercedes or Jaguar. Chances are, if you’re in that category and you’re into whisky, Macallan is within your budget as well. However, would you buy a car solely and only for the name of the brand? Yes, there is such a thing as brand loyalty, but even then, you would take some other things into consideration. Would you buy a car without being given any information whatsoever, apart maybe the size of the of the engine, about fuel consumption, all the fancy fiddly bits that make it fun to play with the car stereo, the AC, sat nav, launch control, eco drive and what not…, heck, even without being informed about the number of seats? Because that’s essentially what Macallan are doing with these kinds of products.

The answer to these previous questions are already found in the first paragraph of course: these bottles are not meant for consumption, they’re ornamental pieces at best, but more likely, they’re for speculation and investing. Macallan knows this all too well, but I’m quite sure they couldn’t care less, as it just helps to confirm their status as a desirable, premium luxury brand. As I’m doing a bit of research about it, I checked whiskybase.com, which has a database of just around 139’000 bottles and over 1.5 million ratings, all coming from the whisky community. Of the 4 previous bottlings, there is literally one review. Yes you read that right: 1. Sure, there are about 20 to 30 ratings for each bottle, and granted, they’re not too shabby, but only one actual review – which kind of makes you question just how serious you need to take these 90+ ratings in the first place. Baiscally ratings without comments are just down right bollocks, and as useful as an umbrella on a fish and should raise some suspicion about possible ulterior motives from the people granting that 90/100 rating. I’ll do you one better: although the ballot for the folio 5 is still open as I write this, the price indicator at whiskybase is already up to €1575, or 5.5 times the ballot price tag. Macallan may be the (self-proclaimed?) Rolls Royce of whisky, but at least people who own a Rolls Royce tend to  actually drive them.

So, what is it that helps determine the price for a bottle of whisky, apart from your usual overhead costs and factors that contribute to the actual quality of the content like grains, stills and casks, the knowledge of the employees, the maturation circumstances…

Take into account the fact that Edrington not only own Macallan (and Highland Park and Glenrothes), but also have a large say in the availability of casks in the Scottish whisky industry. What it comes down to, is that Macallan gets first pick, and thus normally the best quality casks, followed by HP, Glerothes and ‘everybody else’. You would guess that this access to the cream of the crop would almost automatically lead to super high quality whisky, perhaps justifying why you’d pay somewhere between € 250 and € 300 for a bottle of their 18 year old, but again the price to quality ratio is just way off. You’re paying premium price for a (so called) premium brand. It’s as simple as that. To keep it in the family: The 18 yo ‘nephews’ from Highland Park and Glenrothes are ususally priced at around €100 - €150, but no way this implies the Big Mac would be twice as good. Buying one of these ballot-entry only bottles is not unlike buying a BMW 1 series, and then trying to sell it on with a ridiculous profit after putting a big ‘M’ badge on it, hoping no-one will notice you’re taking the piss.

The reason why I’m rambling on about this, is that it's starting to rubb off on other distilleries as well, with Balblair and Old Pulteny as obvious recent examples, or the ridculous pricetag Whyte & Mackay slapped on their recent 28 year old Fettercairn, and that it cascades down to your own core range (just try to find a bottle of Macallan 12 at 40% ABV for less than € 50 - you won't find one). Furthermore, putting bottles out on the market that are by and large only meant as investment products, is perhaps not the soundest and healthiest of business models. Heck, the only thing missing right now is a sign on the packaging saying ‘not meant for consumption’, in fancy embroidered lettering. Brands like Macallan have completely lost touch with their original customer base and are actually dancing on a thin rope. The current worldwide whisky boom puts the wind in their sales of course, largely due to the still growing Asian market, but it’s looking more and more like it’s going the same way as other economic bubbles we’ve seen in the past. And from what we’ve seen, once those get popped, things can go sideways really fast with a lot of collateral damage. The problem isn’t that a name like Macallan would tumble and crash, most likely they will still stand after taking a beating. The real problem is exactly ‘the collateral damage’. When the dust clears up, a lot of the medium and smaller distilleries and especially a lot of the more recent distilleries who can’t call upon history, heritage and provenance (let alone million dollar advert campaigns), basically a lot of the endeavors that don’t make a 91 million pound profit a year like Edrington does, most likely won’t survive such a crash. So while Macallan may be ‘too big to fail’, they’re also wearing the emperor’s new clothes.

End rant.

Sources: https://www.themacallan.com/en/whisky/single-malts/limited-releases/the-archival-series/folio-5

https://www.whiskybase.com/search?q=Macallan+Folio+1

https://www.edrington.com/annual-report-2019/key-financial-highlights

Review 008: Glen Scotia 12 year old Single Cask, bottled for 20 years The Whisky Exchange

Untill not so very long ago, Glen Scotia was often referred to as 'that other Campbeltown distillery', as it struggled a bit for getting the appreciation it deserved,  standing in the shadow of the holy grail for many a whiskyenthusiast, Springbank. However, under the new ownership (who incidentally also own Loch Lomond, which I'll be reviewing in my next post), things have changed dramatically. Rebranded, revamped and a series of well received expressions over the last couple of years have given the distillery new impulses, and it's fair to say they're not an 'under the radar' brand anymore. Nice example:  Last year, The Whisky Exchange celebrated its 20th birthday, and in doing so selected a number of single casks from different distilleries for the occasion. One of these was a 12 year old Glen Scotia, bottled at cask strength at 54.6% ABV with an outturn of 209 bottles.

On the nose, it has an almost signature Campbeltown funk at first: cheesy, grassy, vegetal and hay with some light earthy peat, but a bit dense and closed. Furthermore some salt, cooked apples, vegetables and dried mushrooms. With a bit of added water the grassy/straw notes become more prominent, along with some citrus.

On the taste, I picked up salty and briny notes, with subtle touches of earthy peat. Savory also. It opens up quite nicely with just a little bit of water with more wood, some peat, more salt and a grassy-floral note. It continues with some mushrooms, forrest flora and a soft woody bitterness. Delightful!

The finish however is actually  rather short with nutty and woody notes, but adding water prolongs it significantly and brings back the salty touch.

So all in all what we have here is  a complex and subtle whisky, even a bit enigmatic with a lovely balance of classic Campbeltown notes, briny and fruity elements. It's not shouting for attention, but it does deliver. The short finish makes it lose a point perhaps, but even then, this deserves a very solid  87/100.

So I went to a blending session

About a month ago, an ad popped up on my facebook account for a blending session, hosted by Chivas. I was intrigued by the concept because as familiar I am with tasting sessions, a blending session was new to me. Even better: it was completely free of charge, it was close to home and I could attend, so a few mouseclicks later my name was on the attendees list. It was, of course, a rather clever marketing idea from Chivas Brothers and Pernod Ricard, the owners: get a bunch of people, likely to be whisky enthusiasts, together for a not so ordinary tasting and give them the opportunity to go home with a (small) bottle of their own blended malt whisky. At the same time you can get them to reconnect with a brand they probably haven’t tried for quite a while and put some other whiskies from the Pernod Ricard portfolio in the picture while you’re at it. So with a dram of Chivas Regal 12 in hand we were given the compulsory introduction about whisky in general, including the even more compulsory promotional video about the history and philosophy of the Chivas Brothers brand, and after that, we were set to work. Each of the attendants was given the opportunity to blend his or her own little whisky from 5 bottles (floral, fruity, citrus, creamy and smoky, or Glenlivet, Strathisla, Aberlour, Longmorn and Scapa Glansa respectively).

So, apart from going home with my own 100 ml bottle, what did I gain from this whisky experience?

First and foremost it made it abundantly clear that the cliché ‘blending is an art’ is a cliché for a reason. Even with a mere 5 bottles to blend from and with all the necessary tools available, it was incredibly hard to create something that could remotely pass as a decent blended malt. Finding the right balance, choosing the right amount of each malt, … it just isn’t something you can pull of based on ‘gut’ or ‘instinct’. Sure, I’ve mucked about at home with infinity bottles, with varying results as regarding the quality of the homemade blend, but this was something quite different. As simple an assignment as it seemed – 5 malts, go and create something you like - it was a lesson in humility to actually make it work and in all honesty, I ended up taking the easy way out by adding equal amounts of the fruity, floral and citrus malts (25% each), to top it with 15% of the creamy Longmorn and 10% of the Glansa to give it some depth and character.

This just to emphasize what an incredible difficult task awaits, and what an enormous responsibility lies on the shoulders of the master blender. For the Chivas brand alone, master blender Colin Scott works with some 100 different whiskies for the creation of the 12 year old. I know I’m not telling you anything new here, but I’m writing this to give due praise to the people who not only have to work like composers when it comes to making a (blended) whisky by knowing and understanding each and every instrument (or whisky) by itself, but also understand how to make them sound (taste) good together. Not only that, but they also have to take into account that what you’re given to work with, is subject to change, or even has a limited availability (Caperdonich as a good example) while at the same time you are expected to deliver a quality product that shows consistency over time as well. It takes years and years of training and practice, and even then, it truly takes the nose of a master to pull it off.

Second, and this is the clever bit about this blending event, it brought together a small group of whisky enthusiasts, people I had never met before, but with a common factor - our love for whisky. Kudos to Chivas on this one: yes, it was clearly a marketing event, pushing and promoting their brands, but in the nicest possible way. It wasn’t ‘loud’ or over the top promotion, the hosts were not trying to convince us that their whiskies are the best in the world, they were in fact very polite and simply named and described the whiskies we could work with at the point of being almost hesitant about it. As the biggest bonus we were given the opportunity to do something fun and educational while at the same time we got to meet new people and possibly make some new whisky friends, so the idea that whisky is something that should bring people together, that it should be shared and enjoyed together: that’s something that was celebrated and honored at this event.

Will I run to the store to stock up on Chivas bottles tomorrow? Most likely not, but it did reaffirm my opinion that blended whiskies aren’t something to look down upon, not just because it’s incredible hard to create a decent one to begin with, but also because we should never forget that the majority of us, the self-proclaimed anoraks and whisky geeks, very likely started our journey with whatever blend we could find in the cabinet at home.

Review 007: Ben Nevis white label 10 year old. Bottled at 46% ABV - my whisky of the year

I'm not going to beat around the bush. It's the last day of 2019, you've probably got more important things to attend to. My whisky of the year is the Ben Nevis 10 yo.

On the nose this is a feast of sherry and Christmas cake, lots of fruit (berries, cherries, raisins, figs, raspberries, prumes...), candy (cuberdons and candyfloss), old sherrycasks, wood and a very slight, pleasant sulphur note. Already very impressive, and it gets even better on the taste.

It's full, rich, thick and round, with sherry and malty notes (grains and bread), chocolate and again all of the fruity notes, with old wood and a nutty touch adding even more joy to the party in the mouth. There are also quite some salty and briny notes that add lovely layers of complexity.The balance is spot on.

The finish is long and syrupy with walnuts, dried old wood and a very, very long lingering salty touch.

In conclusion, this is a superb, top quality whisky, and so much more than a classic sherry bomb. Hard to believe this is a 10 yo, as this could and would easily outclass whiskies twice its age and double the price. In fact, I'm gonna go a bit further and state that this might be the best 10 yo of any core range available. And with expressions like Ardbeg 10, Springbank 10 and Benromach 10, that's saying something. It's similarly priced to its "competitors" as well, so it's not as this is out of reach of the average whisky enthusiast. 90/100.

Have a wonderful start of the new year, with wonderful whiskies and wonderful whisky moments with friends and family. As always, you can get in touch by sending me a message below or dropping a comment at the bottom of the page. 

Review 006: the runner-up whisky of the year. Bunnahabhain Toiteach A Dhà. 46.3% ABV

It's that time of year, where in between stuffing yourself with turkey, wine and desserts, you stumble upon the lists of the year. Here's my shot at it, starting with my runner-up, and as it so happens it's a NAS whisky - ooh the controversy.

Granted, when it comes to Bunnahabhain, there aren't that many choices with an age statement in their core range. Apart from the very good 12 yo and the even better (yet slightly expensive) 18 yo, you're pretty much out of options. What they do have to offer, however, is a wide range of NAS bottlings, usually with very hard to pronounce Gaelic terms for us non Scottish folks. Some of them are just OK, some of them are actually pretty great. My runner-up whisky of the year is one of the latter, balancing right on the edge between really, really good and simply brilliant.

On the nose, it's a well integrated combination of sherry and smokey notes right of the bat. Behind that, there's a world of flavours opening up: woody, vanilla, herbal (sage) and a little minerally - irony notes. An extra few minutes in and the nose opens up even further with berries and red grapes - signature Bunna in fact. Simply wonderfull: so much to explore and to discover without ever being overwhelming or overly busy. A class act! 

On the palate, a soft woody note is taking centre stage. There's more fruit going on here, followed by some ashy smoke. A little less versatile than the nose, perhaps,  but very well balanced and an absolute joy to just swirl around in your mouth. Again, it's rich and full, yet also with all the  finesse that quality casks have to offer.

The finish is long and a bit sharp initially. Peat and smoke lead the way with a prominent ashy note towards a more gentle, softer, fruity touch. Just as the finish fades out, it turns around once more with a subtle smokey touch that lingers around. 

The final verdict is that this is a delightful expression of Bunnahabhain, marrying together the best of two worlds, and I feel they got the balance between the smoke and the rich, dark fruits just right. What I like even more is the fact that this bottle is available somewhere around the €40-€50 mark, which makes it an excellent value for money expression. I will add that it's mostly on the nose that this whisky is taken to the next level, and while the taste and finish are just very short of reaching that superb quality, they're nevertheless still very good to say the least. 88/100

If you want to get in touch, you can leave a message below this review or drop a comment on the bottom of the page. Slainte!

Review 005: Tomatin Cù Bòcan Signature, 46 % ABV. Triple matured on bourbon, oloroso and American virgin oak.

 A recent bottling of Tomatin today: the newly branded Cù Bòcan, still NAS, and the bottle sure as hell takes the cake when it comes to good looking bottles of the year 2019. Let's find out if what's inside the bottle  is equally remarkable.

On the nose it starts of funky and musty - a bit cheesy even, with wet/decaying leaves, and minerally, lemony notes. Further more some  wet tealeaves, straw, and something desinfectant/medicinal. Not what you'd call your average/everyday start, and all in all a bit difficult, perhaps?

Taste? A completely different animal on the palate. Much more easy going in fact, with a sweet nutty note, dried wood, a whiff of tobaco and touches of vegetal - peat, meat and overripe cheese and on the end the musty-funk note appears again.

The finish is rather long, with a faint touch of peat and again the cheese dominating.

Final verdict: A difficult whisky to come to turns with, somehow the balance is a bit off, particularly on the nose and the palate. This is what you would call 'an acquired tatste' but it took me half a bottle to acquire it. It's miles away from the other expressions of Tomatin, with virtually no sign of the Oloroso showing on the nose or the taste and the virgin oak perhaps being a bit too prominent. Although I can't compare this to previous releases of Cù Bòcan , this expression leads me to believe peated whisky just isn't in their DNA. 80/100.

Want to get in touch? Leave a message below or you can drop a comment at the bottom of the page. Merry Christmas to all of you!

Review on the side: Filliers barrel aged genever 17 yo, bottled at 44% ABV

Some of you may know that on Aqvavitae's vpub of December 12th about 'under the radar whiskies', he and his guest Roddy kicked of the broadcast with a 'mystery dram'. It was in fact a 17 yo genever I had sent him as part of  a christmas package. It was the  story about that specific bottle (more about that later on) that made me send it to Roy, but I never expected him to open it up and have it make a 'guest appearance' on that vpub. Now I was just going to leave it at that as I'm primarly focused on whisky, but some of you got in touch and asked me more about it, so I decided to just do a review, for anyone who might be interested.

This genever has a mash bill (or malt wine) of corn, rye and malted barley (but I don't know the specific proportions), and juniper of course or it wouldn't be a genever, and was matured in ex bourbon casks.

The rye influence shows itself immediately on the nose, where I picked up sweet notes of caramel and honey, but also quite a lot of pepper and  spice notes - ginger, cinnamon and clove, followed by some orangezeste, with the juniper just faintly sitting in the background.

This pleasant notes continuous on the taste with ripe and rich oranges, and again the pepper and spice notes turn up. Give it some 20 minutes to open up, and a nice element of milk chocolate joins the party. It's where this genever really starts to shine, as the chocolate note combined with the other notes lifts things up to a higher level.

The finish is medium long and is rather sharp in fact due to the spice and pepper notes dominating.

So, is this a valid 'malternative'? I'd say yes, as it came up 3d in a line of 6 drams I tasted at a blind challenge a while ago, and neither me nor any of the other guests picked this out as a non-whisky, but it was rather the odd one out in the line up as it had this certain 'je ne sais quoi' quality to it. Therefore I'm going to give it the same score I gave it at the blind tasting: 82/100

 

Review 004: Elements Of Islay Lg 7 (Elixir Distiller's) 56.8% ABV

 

Today we have the pleasure to endulge in a fantastic little independent bottling of Lagavulin, some 10 years old (apparently). Quite the whisky experience!

On the nose you get peaty, lightly medicinal notes with lapsang souchong, umami and fruitsorbet touches (lemon and oranges) and even some tropical fruit with pineapple in there as well. Very pleasant and inviting.

Tastewise, it 's surprisingly light and fruity of the start before a powerful blast of peat and smoke hits you: the beafy , savory, dried meat sort of smoke. If you fully take the time to explore this (and I suggest you do), the smoke gradually takes over, turning this into an even bigger powerhouse.

The finish is long and dry, with smoked woody notes and a very long and lingering peaty touch, fading out on a dry, birch-like soft bitterness.

 

Final verdict? Quite brilliant, interesting and rather unusual Lagavulin we've got here. Without the sherry influence (this was matured entirely in 4 ex-Bourbon casks), I could even put this down as an Ardbeg if I was given to taste this blind. Behind the curtain of peat, brine and smoke you can find lovely subtleties, with gentle notes of fruit, dried wood, and smoked meaty-savory elements. Very impressive. My only grief with these 'Elements'-bottlings is the fact that they come in half litre bottles which makes them not exactly cheap if you do the math (€ 80 for 50 cl makes this a +€100 botlle if it were 70 cl), but given the general quality of what they release, one can easily pardon this 'minor flaw'. Superb stuff and even at 56.8% it doesn't really need water to reveal all of its glory. 90/100

2019: The year of the whiskytuber

It’s almost mandatory this time of year: the inevitable top 5, 10, 15, whatever whiskies of the year. I’m not pretending to be any better than the next person, so I’m not ignoring ‘nature’s call’ and am just going to jump straight on the end-of-the-year-bandwagon, although I hope to have been able to take a personal approach to it, by looking back on 2019’s year of whisky, but more importantly: looking ahead as well.

Of course, there was simply no escaping the very well-orchestrated Game Of Thrones bottlings hype that we had the pleasure to endure, for starters. Technically you could argue that this already started in 2018, but due to reasons known only to probably very few people at Diageo’s HQ , us pour souls in Europe had to wait until spring this year before we were able to stampede the liquor stores (my money is on them waiting for the Grand Finale to release them, but then again, what do I know). The way the prices on secondary inflated almost overnight was almost as impressive as Jon Snow resurrecting from the dead, but unlike Jon Snow’s faith things rather calmed down shortly afterwards once it became obvious that stocks were far from running dry. The pearl on the crown just followed a few weeks ago when the 9th and final release came out, a 15 yo Mortlach, which looks like a very interesting bottle, but in all fairness, was overpriced from the get go. But that’s not where I wanted to go with this blog, I want to take a look at another rising phenomenon.

2019 is also (and very obviously so) the year of the whisky tuber. Access to information and opinions is readily available in this day and age, but the point isn’t to find just information, the point is to find reliable information and honest, independent opinions.

When scotchwhisky.com called it quits just a month or so ago, one of those trustworthy sources vanished almost overnight. For many enthusiasts, this site had been a ‘go to’ for years when it came to keeping updated on all things whisky. The content was delivered by well-established and celebrated whisky journalists, with Dave Broom as probably the most renowned among them. With this site gone, where can we turn our heads to, looking for information, reviews and opinions? It seems that when it comes to finding general and up to date information, there are a few alternatives like whiskyintelligence.com, whisky advocate, malt-review.com or forums and articles like you can find on whiskybase.com or malt maniacs/whiskyfun who, by and large, are community driven.This is important because, as a general rule, the community of whisky enthusiasts is a very engaged, well informed and knowledgeable one who will call out (and filter out) those with less honest intentions (flippers, people looking to artificially blow up certain bottlings, or other BS marketing propaganda, etc…).

This leads me to my next point: why 2019 was, and 2020 will be, the year of the whiskytuber. When it comes to reviews and opinions, we are well endowed in finding reliable online sources. You Tube is one of those platforms where you can spend hours upon hours of looking up specific bottles, reviews, opinions and all other things whisk(e)y. The big advantage here, is that it’s available to everyone, by which I mean that you don’t need to be a complete anorak to get access to this information.

One example illustrates this rather nicely. About a week ago, a specific review done by the youtube channel No Nonsense Whisky hit 200’000 views. It was Vin’s (the man running the channel) take on the White Walker release of Johnnie Walker. Simply put (and this is of course my personal opinion): the White Walker release was a pretty standard, unimpressive bottling, probably very much like your everyday Johnnie Walker Red, but in a fancy packaging and with double the price tag slapped on it. You would buy it rather more for the bottle itself than for the actual content it seemed and by the impressive number of people who watched the No Nonsense Whisky review, I would at least like to believe that these kind of reviews can help people make better choices and channels like NNW are therefore a good way to double check and counterpart the overhyped marketing you come across more and more these days - because let’s face it, online media are no terra incognita either for the clever boys and girls of many a marketing department.

Now, there are many other reasons why 2019 was, and 2020 will be, the year of the whisytuber. First and foremost: Ralfy celebrated his 10th year as an online reviewer – he is rightfully the undisputed if not king, than at the very least godfather of every YouTube channel covering all things whisky. With the first whisky channel on YouTube to hit over a 100’000 subscribers, he has inspired and lead the way for many others. Whether you like his style or not isn’t even relevant, the man is inevitable and more than that, he’s a symbol of critical and honest customer advise, and I really wish him at least a decade more of reviews, rants and extra’s.

And how can we not mention Rex and Daniel from the Whiskey Vault and Whiskey Tribe channels? In some 3 years’ time, they didn’t only manage to become the most popular whisky-related YouTube channel, more than doubling the magical 100 K mark set by Ralfy, they have created an immensely popular facebook group, started up a distillery just outside of Houston, Texas cofounded and co-funded by supporters (or patrons) the world over and have created an entire whisky community both online and offline. The yearly gathering ‘the bastard’s ball’ on the premises of their Crowded Barrel Distillery illustrates just how powerful whisky enthusiasm can be. To say it’s not your everyday whiskyfestival is an understatement. Not only do they manage to attract a crowd travelling sometimes thousands of miles to participate, they invite other Texas distilleries and likeminded YouTube channels as well. A sometimes not so fine balance between honest and good clean whisky reviews on one side and shenanigans, boyish practical jokes and Jackass-like stunts on the other side: it has proven its merit as the golden combination for a seldom seen popularity. (And now we’re on to the subject: American Malts in general, and Texas whisky in particular, are very well on their way of becoming the next big whiskything. Contrary to what you might expect from the image of Texas as the ultimate cowboy and whiskey country, until very recently they didn’t have a proper whiskey tradition. A decade or so ago, there were virtually no proper distilleries active – the obvious moonshiner or small craft distillery aside. Can’t tell for sure if this has anything to do with Rex and Daniel who act, in their own special way, as excellent ambassadors for Texas whiskey, but it’s not just a hype. The fact that distilleries like Balcones, Ironroot Republic and Andalusia are winning award after award and are slowly but surely expanding their markets, makes me think that 2019 will be looked back upon as the year that kicked off Texas whiskey, and that 2020 will become their big breakthrough.)

More evidence of this fast growing interest in the whisky community that exists both offline and online, is equally obvious when you pay a visit to Roy Duff’s You Tube channel Aqvavitae. His channel has been around for a few years now, but the way his biweekly ‘vpubs’ (live broadcastings) have grown in popularity the last year, is remarkable. Over 10’00 subscribers, a regular crowd of some 200 people tuning in for the livestreams and a few thousands watching the (often 2 hour long!) broadcasts in replay illustrate just how fast his channel is growing, not to mention the fact that he is seen by quite a few others as a big source of inspiration to start their own channels. Of course the fact that Roy is a very friendly, open, knowledgeable and kind person helps a lot, but his keyphrase ‘it’s not whisky until it’s shared’ is something that the community doesn’t take lightly: there is a whole international network of people out there who get in touch with each other and arrange meet-ups to share not only whisky, but also information, opinions and camaraderie.

As for me, I just started this blog about a month ago and I’m looking forward to learning more, tasting more, sharing more and meeting more fellow enthusiasts, so wet behind the ears as I may be as a whiskyblogger, I will leave you with a big thank you for taking the time to read through this and an even bigger SLAINTE!

Review 003: Craigellachie 10 yo single cask Valinch & Mallet (The young masters edition)

Today we review a whisky from perhaps a lesser well know independent bottler. The Italian (but London based) Valinch & Mallet usually focus on single cask releases and besides whisky they also release rum. In this case, I managed to pick up a fairly young (10 yo) Craigellachie, put in a Bourbon Hogshead in 2007 and bottled in 2017 at an ABV of 48.8%

 

Nose: The first impression is of sourness and a bit astringency: vinaigre, lemons and lime, some brackish water and wet grass. I also picked up some light medicinal notes, bandaids mostly. 10 minutes in and the sourness slowly makes room for some more floral notes. A drop of water and the sourness develops into more underripe green fruit notes of pear and apple. Quite the busy bee, in fact.

Taste: A sharp alcoholic nip at first and umami notes - this really needs a drop of water to fully reveal itself. Now we're talking: softer arrival, with melon, apple, something nutty, sappy even. Another 20 minutes in and some sweet fruity notes finally arrive to turn this whisky completely around in a rather spectacular way.

Finish:  Medium long, dry and woody. The water didn't have such a dramatic impact here as it did on the nose and palate, and all in all it's the least interesting part of this rather peculiar whisky experience.

An enigmatic whisky - a bit difficult even to fully 'dissect' , but patience is a virtue. It's interesting and complex and given enough time and a drop of water, it turns into a quite nice looking swan. Not that it was an ugly duckling to start with, but the transformation is similarly spectacular.

Final verdict: 84/100 - solid and definitely worth trying out for the drama alone.

Review 002: Glenlivet The Master's Distiller's Reserve. Triple cask matured: Sherry, American Oak and Traditional Oak (whatever that means).

'Special reserve', 'Distiller's Choice', 'Special Fine Rare Handpicked Very Old'... all terms that should send the true whisky enthusiast running in the opposite direction of said bottlings. 9 times out of 10, they're meaningless yet fancy sounding words coming directly from the clever boys and girls from marketing, giving the unsuspicious customer the impression that what they're about to purchase is, indeed, old, rare and carefeully selected... What it ususually means, is that it's young, aimed at a mass market and therefore 'safe', gentle and  'smooth' (I know, I know...)

And yet, every now and again a bottle of 'very rare special reserve' makes its way in the whiskycabinet. In this case, it arrived in the form of a gift from well meaning relatives who know I'm into whisky and picked up a bottle at an airport for me during one of their holidays. It is key here to be honestly grateful, if not for the bottle than for the mere fact that they took the time and effort to bring you back a bottle instead of some 'handcrafted' local product they overpayed at some foreign market.

And so, this particular bottle has been sitting in my cabinet for some 2.5 years before I finally decided to open it a few weeks ago. The verdict?

On the nose this has classic Glenlivet written all over it: citrus, grainy/malty/cereal with honey and vanilla, some milkbread and melon. A drop of water added a bit of a soft salt/brackish note, surprisingly. Nice, not great, but still by far the most interesting part of this whisky.

On the taste it arrives sharp and young, malty, with some dry wood in the background and overall it's less sweet than the nose. A drop of water and it still remains rather uneventful, although there were some faint floral notes and a bit of wet grass I could pick up.

The finish is short and still sharp with some wood and nutts.

In short, this is uncomplicated, but unfortunately also quite middle of the road (not to use the word mediocre). An easy background sipper, a 'palate warmer' or suitable as a mixer, but that's about it. 72 /100, meaning it's drinkable, but also another cliché confirmed.

Review 001: The Glenallachie 12 yo PX wood finish

Glenallachie: untill a few years ago, it was 'one of those names':  you knew it was out there, somewhere in Speyside, but damn if you could ever recall having tasted it. All this changed when the name  Billy Walker came into the picture. The master distiller who helped establish the likes of Benriach and Glendronach as household names for many a scotchenthusiast took over the slumbering Glenallachie, which got people to pay attention. The results followed soon enough, for me personally when I picked up a bottle of the 10 yo cask strength batch 1 somewhere in 2018. Bazinga! I almost immediately fell in love with it and it was definitely one of my 'best bang for buck' bottlings of last year. So when around late summer the news about the wood finish series came out, I waited patiently for them to show up in a store near me. Picking up a bottle was a bit of a no-brainer, and happily I went home with the 12yo PX finish. So, enough intro talk, let's get down to the important stuff!

On the nose it's rich and full with ripe oranges, almonds, vanilla oil, honeybiscuits some tropical fruit a whiff of marzipan and herbs (parsley, sage).

Taste:  Surprsingly sharp at first, probably the 48% ABV doing the talking - it even dominates everything else. Once the palate is restored you get some more from the nose with marzipan, oranges and nutts taking the lead. After a drop of water it opens up nicely with dark berries and a nice oaky touch (not bitter in any way, but a bit chewy).

The finish is somewhere between medium and long and rather sticky before  it slowly dries out with some woodoil lingering on. With the added water it shortens a bit and becomes less syrupy, but the rich oranges and the wood notes return.

Overall, I found it less sweet than you might expect from a PX finished whisky. Rich and full nonetheless - perhaps not the most complex of whiskies, but lovely and well balanced. A very solid 85 points.