Malty Mission

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

In vino veritas: in wine we find truth – review 51: Deanston Bordeaux Cask 9 yo (2008-2018, 58.7% ABV, UCF, natural colour)

The Romans already knew it: in wine we find truth. A saying attributed to Plinius the elder, who meant to say that if you want to know what people really think, a few glasses of wine usually do the trick. So time for a new series here at malty mission weekly, as in September I’ll be taking a closer look at whiskies that involve wine cask maturation or finishing.

Using wine casks for maturing or finishing whisky is relatively new (or at least: specifically stating maturation or finishing in wine casks is) but almost from day one they ‘ve been somewhat divisive, as for every fan of wine cask maturation you will at least find someone else who would prefer not to go anywhere near it. Divisive or not, it didn’t stop distilleries from bulking out an awful lot of the stuff in recent years and quite frankly, I was a bit astounded as to how much wine cask matured/finished whisky is out there at the moment. While it’s true that a lot of wine casks tend to be used for limited releases (Tomatin just released a series earlier this year under the  name The French Collection, Aberfeldy did a 15 yo Pomerol finish last year and who remembers Highland Park’s Twisted Tattoo from 2 years ago?), the past few years we’ve seen a number of distilleries giving wine cask matured/finished whisky a place in their core range (Arran – who do several different wine cask finishes in fact, and Glenmorangie’s nectar d’or, or more recently Ledaig) or make it a recurring limited release (the recently discontinued Benromach’s wood finish series, or the annual Longrow Red releases from Springbank).

Even though there are literally thousands of different wines out there, there seems to be a sort of preference within the whisky industry to use perhaps not certain brands of wine, but most definitely ‘styles’ of wine –firm, full bodied red wines the likes of Amarone, Marsala, Bordeaux or Rioja, or sweet, dessert white wines like Sauternes and Muscat. So for the coming month I’ll be picking one of many options each week and see what’s what, and just for the sake of things Deanston is first up.

While some of Deanston’s special releases can come with a bit of a hefty price tag, this baby retails around €65-€75, although released at 1400 bottles, it might have become a tad difficult to find. However, there have been 2 cask strength releases (one in 2017, one in 2018) and there is a ‘regular’ 46.3% ABV as well that comes with a 10 yo age statement retailing around €50-€60. No ‘finishing’ here as it spent all of its maturing life in red wine casks from Bordeaux. Alors, on y va!

Nose: Rich and bold. Cereals with a bit of a musky, grain dust note combined with fruits. A lot of fruits: raspberries, cherries, blackcurrant, … berries a go go, but not overly sweet, as there’s also some spice here (from the tannins, maybe). There’s also that grassy, slightly waxy Deanston note, although it is a bit hidden underneath all the extravagant force from the cask. So the cask dominates the spirit, but not necessarily in a bad way. It’s perfectly drinkable without water, despite the higher ABV, but let’s see what a drop of water brings to the party. Indeed, more sweetness, the wine notes become even more prevalent now, led by a cherry roundness, some spices and dark chocolate.

On the palate the arrival and first impressions are equally big and rich, although overall perhaps a bit less intense compared to the nose. Still nothing delicate or shy about this, mind you. Malty and grainy at first but than a tidal wave of fresh and dried fruits, wood and baking spices rolls in. Needless to say, the mouthfeel is full and quite oily.

The finish is medium long, very warming, rich on spice and a bit dry. While not being terribly long, it’s doing a fine job as the ending of a very fulfilling and engaging dram.

This is indeed a very good whisky, and not just because it’s big and bold. What we’ve got here is almost a duel of cask versus spirit character. Luckily there are no casualties here as a result, only winners, as both aspects of this whisky seem to bring out the best in one another. This is as big and rounded as a sherry bomb, but only in terms of intensity, as the whisky itself is a bit lighter and more nuanced in character, with a lovely balance of dryness and sweetness. It’s fairly ‘easy’ with these outspoken whiskies to crank everything up to maximum capacity, but while it’s quite powerful, the reins on what is potentially a bit of a beast are not let completely loose, making sure everything is in the right place. 86/100

Drample Impressions 26: Original Van De Perre blended whisky (40% ABV)

Following up on last week’s post about young whiskies and how they may help remodel and improve the whisky industry, this week’s review (or rather sample impression), sort of fits that bill as well. Now, blending as such is far from innovative, in fact it’s pretty much what the whisky world is all about. However, blending whiskies from different countries is still something of a rarity. Suntory did it with their Ao expression a few years ago, blending whiskies from 5 different countries together, but ‘cross country blending’ (how’s that for an Olympic sport?) is about as rare as a bottle of unchillfiltered and uncoloured Dalmore. The reason comes in just 3 letters: ‘S’, ‘W’ and ‘A’.

When Bruichladdich and Cooley teamed up in 2006 to create their ‘Celtic Nations’, effectively blending Scottish and Irish whisk(e)y together, the SWA (Scottish Whisky Association) was quick to raise a red flag and slapped them on the wrist. How dare they, blending whiskies from different countries together! Or rather, to be more accurate: how dare they, being transparent about it! Despite (or rather ‘because’) clearly stating that it was a blend from Scottish and Irish whiskies, the mere mentioning of the word ‘Scotland’ was enough for the SWA to banish what clearly is an abomination unto the Spirits. Couldn’t they have just done what the Japanese did for years: mum’s the word, bulk up on whisky from Scotland, ship it over and then forget about the origins altogether? Ah, but the people at Bruichladdich would still have found themselves in a bit of a pickle, as even that wouldn’t suffice, given the fact that they bottled the stuff on Scottish soil. So they can’t mention the word Scotland the moment it’s as much as teapsooned with non- Scottish whisky, and they also can’t ship it out abroad to be bottled elsewhere if they want to have their name somewhere on the label. Someone call Yossarian to help solve this Catch 22.

Now, we all know the SWA can turn into quite the lioness ‘defending’ her whisky cubs, but on more than one occasion they ended up chasing the shadows of their own borderline paranoia in what looks like a rather unhealthful need for absolute control. So anyone who would want to blend Scotch and non-Scotch should be given a free ‘proceed with great caution’ sticker. And today, I’m indeed taking a closer look at such a blended whisky. Van De Perre (and for you non Dutch speaking lot, Van De Perre is the last name of the person behind this project, not some funny sounding Belgian village – we have Erps - Kwerps and Peutie for that) was created using malt whisky from undisclosed Speyside distilleries which were then shipped over to Belgium to be blended with Belgian whisky and bottled as ‘Original Van De Perre’. As there is no mention of ‘Scotch’ ‘Scotland’ or ‘Scottish’ anywhere on the bottle, I think they should be in the clear on this one (and since the Japanese got away with it, why wouldn’t brave little Belgium?). Only when you go to their website, you get more detailed information on the origins and background story of this whisky.

Now, the idea of blending Scotch and Belgian whiskies together deserves a bit of applause to start with, I reckon. The ‘safe’ option would of course be to take those blended malts from Speyside, get them bottled in Scotland and release them as an IB, thus allowing you to name it as such, with a good chance they’d be selling themselves in today’s market. Taking it a step further, by blending it with Belgian whisky, isn’t the easier option of the two. Not by a long shot. For one, there’s a chance snobs will dismiss it on the basis of ‘not Scottish = inferior’ or ‘if it doesn’t say malt whisky on the label, consider me out’. So I wouldn’t go as far as calling them pioneers, but ‘innovating’ seems appropriate here at the least. Luckily for them, this isn’t aimed at the highbrow whisky enthusiast. More on that in a minute.

The presentation is smart, beautiful and clever, as the Art Deco design and branding are where it’s at these days, so they’ve got the ‘cool’ factor covered. Now let’s get into this, shall we?

On the nose: herbal and spicy, fresh fruits and sweetness. Quite remarkable how the fruitiness from the Speyside malts get ‘Belgified’ by genever like notes from the Belgian (grain?) whisky. There might be some Belgian rye whisky in here, as the spices are all leading into juniper and clove notes, making this almost seem like a blend of spiced gin, genever and whisky. Beneath all that, there are clear notes of orange peel, vanilla, honey and peardrops. Youthfull, vibrant and quite pleasant.

On the palate the balance between the fruitiness and the spices are more integrated. Mid palate the spices take over again, bringing in a hint of a pepper note along with the clove and juniper. Towards the finish a dry wood note shows up. The mouthfeel is thin to medium full, but of course this is a 40% ABV whisky.

A short finish, driven by gentle woody and spicy notes with a very soft bitter note along with dried oranges and orange peel.

Crisp, youthful whisky with a bit of an edge - the spices make this stand out in my opinion. It’s not very complex, but then again this is targeted at people probably used to sipping gins, who’re just dipping their toe into whisky. If you’re into gin and genever, you will probably like this one too. If, on the other hand, you are a whisky fanatic, I’ll admit this might take some getting used to, and if you were being brutally critical, you might argue that this one is even a bit in two minds about what it wants to be, as the profile balances between a well-aged genever on the one hand and a youthful whisky on the other. If you’re willing to dig passed that, however (and why wouldn’t you?), you could look at it from the other way and applaud them for bridging different styles of spirits. In any case, what you do get is a nice, easy sipping, summery whisky, with a refreshing twist – both literally and proverbially. On top of that, it would make for a good conversation starter as well with its lovely presentation and background story. I was told this is indeed their entry level expression, with a whisky aimed at more seasoned whisky lovers in the making, so while I did enjoy this, I‘ll also be keeping an eye out for things to come. If you fancy taking a closer look, they have a website (in English), which can be found here.

Will young whisky save the world?

OK, you got me: a deliberately overly dramatic title. But the idea behind it speaks, I think, for itself. Just in case it doesn’t, please allow me to elaborate. Whisky seems a pretty straight forward product: all natural, made from just 3 ingredients – water, yeast and barley, right? Not quite. You see, whisky is, I believe, quite a confusing, layered and complex concept. Already the assumption that it’s made just from 3 ingredients, is up for debate. Wood and time can and should be added to the list in my opinion. And if you really like to get down to the nitty gritty, you could argue the human factor – skill, experience, vision of those making the whisky, could or should be added to the equation as well. A stance which will likely lead to further debate. So a confusing concept after all then.

Even if I try and step back and see the thing for what it is, it still doesn’t become ‘easy’. Whisky is, essentially, an alcoholic beverage meant for consumption. Except that it isn’t. It’s so much more. It is the topic of columns, blogs, YouTube channels, stories, legends, encyclopaedia, history books, novels, legislation, documentaries and even movies. Entire online and offline communities are built around it, connecting people from the far corners of the globe. Entire festival are dedicated to it. It’s the facilitator of many conversations, and even heated discussion and debate. It also has almost magical abilities, as a good whisky enjoyed in good company has the potential to make those gatherings and meet-ups even better, amazing even, with the whisky lifting itself up in the process.

It is also, love it or hate it, collectible. So much so, that it has taken a grip on the entire industry. People with a broad collection going back decades would and could make a nice profit from putting bottles from long closed distilleries, discontinued whiskies, or just plain older bottles on auctions. But apart from these long term investments, more and more people seem to be in it with the sole purpose of buying and then selling almost immediately with a quick buck in mind, and it seems like those flippers are here to stay. So forget about that 1960’ies bottle of Bowmore, now almost any whisky that’s not core range and/or readily available gets targeted by ‘investors’ . It’s the (inevitable?) result of a globalized online market, where the demand for harder to find whiskies has led to, quite frankly, insanely inflated prices on secondary markets. Ardbeg’s committee releases and any bottle with the words ‘Feis Isle’ somewhere on the label are a prime example, but it has become equally valid for core range whiskies released in smaller batches –the likes of Springbank, Kilkerran or Daftmill . And don’t get me started on inaugural releases from young distilleries. I’ve seen Ardnamurchans on secondary from anywhere between €120 to even €350 – I kid u not.

It’s the economy stupid!

Yes, whisky is booming. The demand, and the supply, of whisky, particularly Scotch, has never been higher. Dare I say, the quality is up there as well. And obviously, high demand leads to higher prices. Resources like quality barley and quality casks are, alas, limited, so with many people craving for a drop or two of the golden nectar, this will result in prices slowly, yet inevitably, going up. I can live with that, as probably can you. We might not be happy about it, but it’s a sort of logical, natural evolution. Where a bottle of Laphroaig 10 cost me €30-ish 6 years ago, today it will very likely be closer to €40. Even independent bottlers, for many years the go to option for the true anorak after a harder to find or older whisky from popular and more ‘obscure’ distilleries alike, are not necessarily the cheaper alternative these days. Not even a decade ago, you could quite easily find a bottle of 20 yo Glen Keith/Dailuaine/Teaninich/or even Clynelish… for €70 or even less. Today: not so much.

However…

The entire boom has some quite unpleasant little side effects as well. We get that. It’s nothing new. The biggest one probably being people turning to whisky to make a fast buck. Preferably a big, fat, fast buck at that. What started with a bunch of flippers ruining it for dedicated bottle chasers (whisky enthusiasts with a severe case of fomo), has unfortunately caused a trickledown effect throughout the entire industry, ruining it for, well, everyone. And indeed, can you even blame a distillery for bumping up the prices for their single cask whiskies or their limited releases? In a way, if you see your whiskies going double the price at auctions within a week after you’ve released them, is it not but sound policy and even common sense to release that next limited release or single cask at least 30% more expensive than the previous one? After all, why would the flippers have all the fun (and the money), right? While this affects a lot of distilleries and a lot of whisky enthusiasts, It’s interesting to see how it affects some (a lot) more than others. Equally interesting to see, is how different distilleries (or rather, their owners) deal with the whole aspect of desirability/collectability/premiumization. Whether this inflation is sustainable in the long run, is up for quite an interesting debate, but that’s not where I want to go.

What I do want to talk about, is: is there another way? Where can we turn to for good quality whisky, offered in a natural presentation, at reasonable, affordable prices? Of course, there will “always” be the good, reliable, solid classics like Glenfiddich 12, but let’s not call each other Shirley here: while it’s good to come back to the classics and enjoy and appreciate them for what they are, once you’re in the rabbit hole, we ‘ll be looking to broaden our horizon. And isn’t it a damn shame when that horizon at the same time turns out to be a really high set bar, financially?

-Wow, Lagavulin 16: great whisky, I’ll be looking for more from that.

-Ah, may we perhaps point out they recently released this 11 year old Lagavulin Offerman edition, finished in Guinness casks?

-Sounds wonderful. Uhm: quanta costa?

-Oh, around €110. I know, not cheap, but it’s a limited release, you see.

-Fair enough. Where can I buy it?

-Well, you can’t. It sold out in about half a day. But there’s several auctions running right now where you might fetch one for €200.

And while this of course (and may I add: fortunately) doesn’t apply to all whiskies from all distilleries all of the time, there is no denying the general trend going on right now.

But! While the current boom is making whisky more expensive, it’s also creating some wonderful opportunities. Opportunities in the form of new players on the market: the young distilleries. We’ve been spoiled for choice as in the past 5 - 10 years, several new distilleries started up each year. And that’s just Scotland. The bit about almost all of them being independently owned (as in: not owned by Diageo or Pernod Ricard, Edrington… Coincidence or not, quite a few of the new kids in town are in fact owned by independent bottlers, branching out), is quite a significant one, in my opinion. Because, rather than having to cater for massive brands the likes of Johnnie Walker, Chivas or Grant’s, these distilleries are, for now and the foreseeable future at least, aimed at the ever growing market of enthusiasts out there. Those who don’t mind buying a bottle of 3, 4 or 5 year old whisky retailing at some €45, or up to €60. Because they (as in: we) know what these new distilleries are about: producing a quality product, where integrity and natural presentation are cornerstones on which their brand and marketing are built. I’m talking about Nc’Nean, Isle of Raasay, Lindores Abbey, Kingsbarns, Torabhaig… and outside of Scotland there’s Cotswolds, Stauning, Gouden Carolus, Teeling and many others. They’re out there, and while not always readily available at this moment, they do produce and release enough to prevent them from becoming fodder for flippers, and more importantly: they produce good to even excellent quality whisky at affordable prices. We don’t care that it’s young whisky, we want it to taste good! There’s plenty of 18, 20, 25… year old whisky out there, and once you get past the 18 yo mark, prices are getting eye wateringly expensive really quick. But just because your bottle of 20 yo whisky is out there, retailing at €200, doesn’t guarantee it will be delivering good value for money, on a quality to cost ratio.

And despite an abundance of whisky available, there is no sign of market saturation, quite the contrary. Surfing that big whisky wave, we now find ourselves in a position where products will sell, regardless the price tag that comes with it. There is a certain level of cynicism to profit maximization when you find yourself in a market where an 8 yo special edition of Talisker is costing more than their regular 18 yo, even if the former is bottled at cask strength.

While the young ones: they don’t have the depth of stock to release 15 or even 10 yo whiskies at the moment, but while their releases are indeed young, it’s also quite impressive quality. Why? Because, now more than ever, they know more than ever about how to make good whisky, what to do and how to do it and equally important: what not to do. It’s quite hard to believe that up to the 1980’ies, there was a general consensus that character and quality of whisky could be attributed to 4 elements - water, peat, air and barely. No mention of things like wood policy, distillation, fermentation, maturation… Obviously, water, yeast, peat and barley do play a part when it comes to the quality and character of whisky (some a very significant part, others perhaps not so much), but with all the knowledge we now have at our disposal about yeast, fermentation, distillation process, the impact of the size and shapes of the stills on the character  and flavour of the spirit, cutpoints, worm tubs vs. ‘regular’ condensers, the importance of maturation and quality casks… making whisky maintains to be an art, but  up to a degree  it's also very much craft, based on knowledge and science.

The inevitable cask gone bad left out of the equation, it’s safe to assume distilleries are very much in control when it comes to guaranteeing good quality. People working in the industry, making the whisky, controlling the stocks, finishing and blending the whisky, have a very firm knowledge and understanding of how to run their business. I’m not suggesting that in the olden days people didn’t (I wouldn’t dare), but I AM saying that today the understanding and knowledge of the whole whisky process,  from grain to bottle and everything in between,  are unprecedented. Roughly 200 years of experience to lean back on, pays off.

Furthermore, there's a fairly recent tendency to put younger whisky out on the market.  The fact that we see well established distilleries like Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Glendronach, … tap into that market with whiskies carrying single digit age statements, should tell you all you need to know. Yes, to a certain degree it’s catering across the board – not all of us can happily spend a few 100 quid on a bottle, but remember where we’re coming from. For years and years, it was all about the age statement, the older the better. It was the only way out of the whisky loch from the 1980’ies, but the days where you could by 30 year old Springbank for less than €100 are well behind us. Glendronach’s 8 year old 'the Hielan’ has been around since 2015, pretty much paving the way for other distilleries to boast that single digit age statement on the label, and I welcomed it as a breath of fresh air after we’ve been through decades of ‘older= better’. Don’t get me wrong, there are very few things more rewarding than kicking back on a Sunday evening with a nice dram of Bunnahabhain 18 or Glengoyne 21, but it’s not always Sunday evening, and I’m not always in the mood for a Glencostly twentysomething. There are more occasions where  something crisp, youthful and vibrant are what I reach for.

But don’t take the word of this grumpy middle aged bastard for it. There is a whole new audience finding their way into whisky (chances are even hipsters will at some point get bored with the 'infinite' variations of gin), a bunch of well – informed, strapping young lads and lasses, yet budget conscious, on the lookout for affordable, well crafted, naturally and honestly presented whiskies. So if you want to build a customer base for the long term, that’s where it’s at. Brands still thinking they got it covered with the same old clichés of century old traditions and craftsmanship, the purest of water sources and ‘the finest oak casks’ or other meaningless clichés, while at the same time presenting their whisky at minimal strength, coloured and chill filtered, might very well be in for a bit of a shock. Tradition, provenance, history: all good and fine, it’s great in fact, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t respect them, but they can be like a millstone holding you back. The big brands of today – or at least quite a lot of them – built their reputation as cornerstone whiskies for the blend industry, meaning that they thrived and grew because they were able to produce a consistent profile. Especially if you’re a part of a multinational conglomerate that has the manoeuvrability of an ocean liner and where consistency is key, chances are those actually creating the whisky have very little to say when it comes to making ‘important decisions’. Sometimes, what may well be considered an asset, can proof to be a bit of a burden as well. A burden none of the new kids, slick and agile like a laser sailboat, have to bear. So while the big boys, the big conglomerates, might still have a firm grip on the world of whisky, if they know what’s good for them, they might want to sit up and pay attention to what the new kids in town are doing, how they’re doing it and how they’re selling it: full of knowledge and with a pioneering spirit, ready and able to challenge and push the boundaries and, perhaps most important of all, by engaging and interacting with those buying their product, and doing so without taking the piss at the customers by slapping a premium price tag on everything just because they can.

Just 1 example of inflation, taken from Whiskybase's marketplace for Kilkerran 8 yo: double to triple the MSRP is no exception

Entry level whiskies worth (re)discovering - review #50: Glen Scotia Campbeltown Harbour (40% ABV, likely chill-filtered and coloured)

To conclude this little series, I’m taking it to Campbeltown, for sure a region that produces some of the most interesting (and alas, also most hyped) whiskies on the market. Those looking to secure a bottle of Springbank local barley, the Longrow Red or basically any Kilkerran need to have reflexes like lightning in order to be successful. The whisky I’m reviewing today, however, I just picked up at my local supermarket for €37. Splashing the cash, indeed.

It’s been said many times before: Glen Scotia used to be ‘the other Campbeltown’ distillery, having to settle for a place in the shadows of the much praised Springbank. Until a few years ago, its claim to fame were ‘the disco cows’, as their standard range was nicknamed. But after the Loch Lomond group gained ownership of the distillery some years ago, things changed, rather drastically and for the better. A new core range was created, with both age stated whiskies and NAS releases, the latter of which Victoriana is probably the flagship, best known and most celebrated expression. Then there’s the Double Cask and this Campbeltown Harbour, introduced around 2018 and meant as their entry level expression. It shows too, as the similarly priced Double Cask is bottled at 46% ABV, UCF and without added colouring, whereas this one is bottled at 40% ABV, and as there is no mentioning of colouring or chill filtration, I’m assuming both were part of the process before bottling. As stated earlier: this is a supermarket expression, so no need to be super critical about that in my opinion. After all, the proof of the pudding and so on… Speaking of which, this puppy ‘s been matured in first fill bourbon casks (the finest, obviously), and according to the packaging the name refers to the flavours of sea spray and gentle smoke.

On the nose, it’s fresh fruit straight off the bat. Apples, melon, white stone fruit and orange peel. Some salty notes balancing out the sweetness from honey, icing sugar and vanilla which almost goes into a sweet cheese/custard note. Underneath there’s a grassy, funky signature Campbeltown note, although it’s hidden a bit. Well balanced this, quite straightforward, but pleasant and engaging.

On the palate the salty notes are leading the way. Sea spray indeed. The fruit is less outspoken, although there’s no mistaking the apple notes here. Mid palate it becomes a bit thin and slightly watery on the mouthfeel – must be the minimal ABV, but it bounces back quite well towards the finish with a peppery and savoury-herbaceous note.

The finish continuous on this salt and pepper, herbaceous note. It’s short to medium long and drying towards the end. Only now I’m getting hints of a gentle ashy peat note.

Overall, this is a fine introduction to the Glen Scotia range as it represents its character in a friendly, easy approachable way, I reckon. That said, I have to add that the minimal ABV diminishes some of its potential, but perhaps that was always the idea to lower the bar a bit for those unfamiliar with Glen Scotia or Campbeltown as a whisky region. What I don’t fully understand, is why this is similarly priced to the Double Cask, which I feel has more to offer. If this were €5 - €10 cheaper, it would very likely become a staple in my cabinet as a bang for buck whisky. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I have this bottle, I’m enjoying it, and as a supermarket whisky sitting at €35, it’s well worth the punt, but next time I’m spending €35 -€40 on a Glen Scotia, it will almost certainly be the Double Cask. Still: good stuff, this. 81/100

And with this, the maltiest of missions is being put on hold for a few weeks. Cu all in August after my summer break.

Review #49: Deanston Virgin Oak 46.3% ABV, Unchill filtered, presumably uncoloured)

Next up in this series on entry level whiskies worth (re)discovering, is Deanston Virgin Oak. Now, this may well be a case of me talking to the converted, because in the last couple of years Deanston has become a bit of a ‘darling distillery’ for many whisky enthusiasts. The waxy character of the spirit not unlike that of Clynelish might play a part in that, but surely a lot has to do with South African company Distell who gained ownership of Deanston, Bunnahabhain and Tobermory in 2013 and brought all of these distilleries where they are today. Where Paul John (which I covered last week) waited a long time to come up with an entry level expression, Deanston arguably has two: this Virgin oak and a 40% ABV UK supermarket release called ‘Kentucky cask matured’ released last year.

The Virgin Oak is available across the board, and is matured in ex bourbon casks before being finished in virgin oak casks. Depending on your location , you can find this as cheap as €25, but more realistically, it retails at around €30 - € 38.

On the nose, this is gentle, yet busy. Quite a lot of fruit and spice notes. Melon, apple/orchard fruit, honey, soft white pepper, overripe oranges and a bit of a nutty-waxy note is there as well, with chestnut and hazelnut oil. It also has this fruit flavoured cereal note going on, with a white sugar and vanilla like sweetness to it. To counterpart that sweetness, I picked up a hint of a bready (dough) note and some sage. Like I said, a lot going on, but never difficult. In fact, this is all quite gentle and easy going. Reminds me somewhat of a young Arran. It doesn’t really need water, but should you prefer to, I found it to accentuate the vanilla and honey from the bourbon casks.

It’s a bit more intense on the palate, in that the peppery note stands out more. Grainy as well, so that means the fruit is still there, but it takes a step back now. Mid palate a wood note shows up, adding a delicate bitterness to things. It’s enough to almost completely disguise the nutty character. So overall less sweetness, although the honey and vanilla notes are still there. A drop of water brought out the peppery note, but give it some time to settle down, and those grassy-floral elements show up again. The medium-full body and mouthfeel has that oiliness to it which adds to the experience.

The finish is medium long, dry and woody with a gentle oaky bitterness. But if you give this enough time to develop in your glass, it evolves more towards that oily-nutty character.

Bang for buck I think this one is quite hard to beat. At the same times it’s both consistent from nose to finish, and (paradox loading), if you give this time, it also keeps on developing in your glass. I think they did a very decent job on this one, creating a solid foundation from the bourbon casks, and then bringing in the spice notes from virgin casks, yet avoiding the bitterness that often comes with it. It has a vibrancy and a youthfulness to it, but never this comes across as a baby or under matured whisky. Very solid stuff! 83/100

Entry level whiskies worth (re)discovering - Review # 48 Paul John Nirvana (40% ABV, chill filtered, natural colour, batch 5 – 19.11.2020)

For my latest little series before summer break, I’m putting the focus of attention to entry level whiskies worth (re)discovering. As we progress on our journey, quite a lot of us start to chase that single cask, higher ABV, higher age statement, limited edition bottle – be it an official release or from an independent bottler. Me being no exception. However, the deeper into the rabbit hole, often it’s also a case of the more expensive this ‘hobby’ becomes. Obviously, we (or at least I) will have that entry level whisky at the ready in the cabinet, be it as a ‘palate calibrator’ or to have something decent yet not exuberant to pour for guests just willing to enjoy the occasional dram or to have something you don’t mind mixing into a cocktail. However, while also being on the lookout for that latest single cask Glenallachie/Teaninich/Benrinnes/Allt-A-Bhainne/Blair Athol… it’s easy to overlook some of those entry levellers. Some are actually pretty solid drams, and can and should rightfully claim a place in the sunlight as they punch above their weight, appealing to even the seasoned connoisseur out there. So the next couple of weeks, I’m giving you my thoughts and ideas on 3 entry level whiskies, all less than €35, I believe to be worth (re)discovering. Kicking things off, we’re going to… India, apparently.

Untill 3 or so years ago, Paul John really didn’t have an entry level whisky. What they did have, were 3 flagship whiskies – the heavily peated Bold, the mildly peated Edited and the unpeated Brilliance. All bottled at 46% ABV, UCF and natural colour, each roughly some 5- 6 years old, and bearing the Goa climate in mind, that would mean a 200 litre cask would at that time already be nearing half empty. Funnily enough, it was the French market that asked for an entry level expression, something that could be sold in supermarkets and not necessarily a specialized retailer. Hence, the Nirvana was born. Paul John’s first 40% ABV whisky, and equally remarkable, the first one that explicitly refers to Indian culture and religion with the name and the packaging. A mixture of 1st and 2nd fill bourbon casks, this is also a NAS expression, but I’ve been told it’s some 4 years old.

On the nose; there’s mild spices with notes of nutmeg and ginger, fresh and stewed apples with a pleasant fresh apple vinegar note making for a pleasant fresh sourness to this. While not being in the same ballpark, the idea of a spicy apple cider isn’t a million miles away in my opinion. Soft honey and vanilla, grassy-floral notes, something herbaceous and floral, like camomile.

The palate brings those same spice and apple notes, although the sweetness is more outspoken now with fruit, brown sugar, icing sugar and vanilla, with a hint of oak, all in a medium full mouthfeel. This may ‘only’ be 40% ABV, but it doesn’t show it, also due to a bit of an alcohol nip.

The finish is fairly short, with mild sweetness and spices, and it’s probably where this starts to struggle a bit. Not that it's bad or unpleasant, far from it, but all in all a bit uneventful.

This is mostly about the mixture of spices and fruit, with apples being the obvious note. It’s not the most complex whisky in the world, and it doesn’t pretend to be either, but it does have a lovely ‘freshness’ to it. For a less than €30 bottle of whisky, this brings enough to the table and holds enough weight to be considered a proper, enjoyable, decent dram. That said, you need to compare this to its peers – put this in a line-up of other €25 - €30 whiskies, and I’m pretty confident it won’t come up short. 80/100

Drample Impressions 25: Dràm Mòr pt III: 2 Secret Orkneys

Last little exploration of Dràm Mòr’s spring –going-into-summer- release takes me to the north of Scotland. Orkney consists of a number of small islands just north of the Scottish mainland, and has quite a bit of fascinating history to it, with remains of cultures and civilizations the likes of Skara Brae outdating Stonehenge by 7 centuries. One of the more recent little histories, however, tells the tale of Magnus Eunson, butcher and church officer by day, illicit distiller and smuggler by night, who Highland Park (because it is safe to assume that ‘Secret Orkney’ is synonymous for ‘Highland Park’) considers to be their founder. The name Magnus Eunson does sound more Danish than Scottisch, and that’s no coincidence, as the Orkneys have been under Viking Rule through most of the Middle Ages. You’d think Highland Park would have picked up on that whole Viking heritage thing in their branding and marketing at some point. Just an idea of course. Maybe, one day…

In any case, focusing back to current matters, it’s time to conclude this semi-impromptu little series taking a closer look at the final two samples from Dràm Mòr’s latest release. Two Secret Orkneys, but I can already tell you that, despite them coming from the same distillery, they are quite different characters.

Dràm Mòr Secret Orkeny 13 yo 1st Fill Fiji Rum Cask (54,6% ABV, UCF, natural colour, 2008 – 2021, cask 137, 321 bottles)

Usually I don’t bother about colour too much in my blogposts, but the straw/pale gold colour on this one does stand out and is perhaps even a bit surprising. Anyhoo… Give it some time on the nose as the ABV does jump out with a bit of a sting and a soapy note. Come back after 15 odd minutes and things have settled nicely. Dried malt with a heather/grassy note. A bit of mouldy wood, but not in a bad way. I do like a whisky with a bit of a funk to it, so this suits me rather well. It’s delicate, almost shy even, with a suggestion of sweet barleywine. It’s down to that heathery note, otherwise I’d never have guessed this being a ‘Secret Orkney’. Let’s try this with a drop of water. It opens up, more accessible. That soapiness I initially picked up now transforms into a light floral sweetness and finally the rum cask’s there with a tropical combo of pineapple and something mango-ish, soft spices, a sweet - peppery note, honey and vanilla.

This continues on the palate: all that fruity-floral heather notes are there, but now something salty and cereal joins in. Medium-full mouthfeel, with the mixture of spices, fruit and floral notes making for a pleasant balance between bitter-sweet and sweet & sour. With the added water that soapy sweetness and herbaceous heather notes become more lively.

A new surprise waits in the fairly long, lingering finish, where warm spices are joined all of a sudden by a woody – ashy note, accentuated even further with that drop of water.

A very intriguing little dram, this! Layered and complex, bringing a lot of nuanced flavours to the party. The way this baby evolves from nose to finish, bringing in new notes every step of the way, only adds to experience. Good, very good indeed!

Dràm Mòr Secret Orkney 13 yo Madeira blood Tub finish (53.6% ABV, UCF, natural colour, cask 360908, 2008-2021, refill bourbon matured finish in 1st fill Madeira blood tub, 78 bottles)

Colour (might as well now): amber/copper.

On the nose this is rich, intense and thick and dense on red fruit and wine notes, and right underneath that wave of warmth lies a heathery honey note. Spices – clove, nutmeg and ginger with nuts (almond and hazelnuts). Salted caramel, toffee apples. A soft, well rounded wood influence here as well. Bringing in some complexity, there’s a slightly funky – dusty note (earthy/heathery peat perhaps).

The palate is equally rich and round. The red fruit (plums, figs, raisins and sultanas) jumps out but again there’s that slightly salty note as well. Toffee and treacle added to that bombardment of fruit makes for a very full mouthfeel. A drop of water puts the toffee and caramel more in the footlights, bringing some chocolate to the party as well.

Little surprise then that finish is warm, sweet and an dry with that nutty touch, sweet spices and a drying wood note.

With the blood tub being the small cask that it is, it only took 3 months of finishing to create something as extravagant as this little puppy. Those 12 and something years in a refill bourbon cask prior to that laid a very decent foundation on which the madeira cask could build, because, while being a rich, big malt, this never becomes too much or over the top. It’s quite astonishing to see how much development took place in those 3 months, making this a very well integrated whisky.

In my opinion, these are two very different expressions from one and the same distillery. Yes, some of the signature HP elements are there, but apart from that, these pretty much sit at opposite sides of the spectrum. The rum cask wins it on complexity, but it’s a delicate, take your time kind of dram, while the Madeira blood tub is just one big feast of flavours jumping out the glass. Both are very good whiskies, but for completely different reasons. It’s almost a shame the blood tub can only deliver 78 bottles, because putting these head to head showcases beautifully how broad and varied whisky can be.

So, looking back on the whole Spring 2021 release, I think it’s safe to say Dràm Mòr have delivered. Of course, I do have a preference and enjoyed some samples more than others, but there’s no denying each of these is a quality whisky. They may be a small and young company, but we must not forget that the people running things can look back on decades of experience in the whisky industry. So their future looks bright, I think.

I’ve got one more series to set loose on you all before I go into summer break, so slainte to you all and until next week!

left: the Fiji rum cask, right: the Madeira blood tub

Drample Impressions 24: Dràm Mòr 2021 spring release, part 2 (Dalmunach 5 yo, MacDuff 13yo, Ben Nevis 9 yo)

After last week’s ‘semi-impromptu’ post covering 2 from 7 of Dràm Mòr’s 2021 spring release, this week I’ll be taking a closer look on 3 more whiskies and I’ll be concluding with the final 2 next week.

With releases from the young distillery that is Dalmuncah, the ever so ‘quiet’ MacDuff and the scarce Ben Nevis, perhaps the subtitle could be ‘under the radar single malts.’ Of course you could argue Ben Nevis is anything but under the radar, but as it’s becoming quite difficult to find any Ben Nevis in the wild, it sure as hell is becoming a rather stealthy little bugger.

So not too much of an introduction needed as I’m covering 3 whiskies today, starting with the youngster.

Dalmunach 5 yo (57% ABV, First Fill bourbon, cask 52, UCF, natural colour, 260 bottles)

Although capable of producing no less than 10 million LPA, whisky from Dalmuach is not readily available – yet. Only one official bottle was released in 2019, so a great deal of what’s being produced is meant for Chivas blends and/or will see the light of day as official releases in years to come. You might state that the distillery, commissioned in 2014 and operational since 2015, is one of Pernod Ricard’s crown jewels, risen out of the ashes of the rather unfortunate Imperial Distillery. Being very modern, ‘green’ and cost efficient, it’s by far their most energy efficient distillery, as it uses 38% less energy compared to the industry average. To quote Louis Balfour: Nice!

On the nose, this is young and spirity. Being 5 years old and bottled at 57% ABV, this hardly comes as a surprise. Quite fruity as well, with apricot and apricot jam, pear syrup and Doyenné pears. Quite dense with honey, melon and faint hints of cola cubes. There’s a slight funky – vegetal note underneath, making this quite a busy little bee for such a young whisky. Adding a drop of water accentuates the grassy-floral note.

The ABV really speaks on the palate: a sharp and strong arrival. Approach with caution! Less fruity and more cereal/toasted notes now. There’s something solventy, going into that floral/geranium note making for a dry, dense mouthfeel, with a buttery caramel / syrupy touch adding to that density, but also bringing a bit of sweetness. A drop of water (which I do recommend) brings out more of the butter notes and the grassy-floral elements, adding also something a bit savoury along the way, and makes it more flexible (as in supple, limber) on the mouthfeel as well.

The finish is quite long and drying, and dominated by that solvent note.

A very promising, versatile, interesting youngster. Yes, it shows its youth and it’s perhaps a bit feisty, but with time and some water it relaxes a bit and reveals quite an impressive array of flavour and taste. Even though this was matured in a first fill bourbon cask, in my opinion it’s the spirit doing a lot of the talking, and what I’m ‘hearing’ sound pretty good.

MacDuff 13 yo (53.5% ABV, cask 700489, UCF, natural colour, refill bourbon cask finished in a first fill Buffalo Trace cask, 268 bottles)

There is probably a good reason why MacDuff is branded under the name The Deveron (and Glen Deveron before that), although I wouldn’t mind if someone actually told me what that reason is. Because, let’s face it, it probably doesn’t get more Scottish sounding than ‘Mac’ and ‘Duff’. This distillery is what you’d call a workhorse for a several of Baccardi’s blends - Dewar’s and (mostly) William Lawson’s, although as a single malt it’s doing quite well, selling some 300,000 – 400,000 bottles each year, mostly in France. While not being a ‘fashionable’ distillery, you do see quite a bit of independent releases. As official releases are all presented a 40% ABV and chill filtered, I’m already applauding this natural presentation before even opening the sample bottle.

On the nose it’s a bit closed and faint at first. Slightly vegetal, and after some 15 -20 minutes the bananas, cream and vanilla extract start to show up. Let’s see what a drop of water does. Indeed, now things open up nicely. A fine mixture of spice (soft pepper, ginger) with some melon and apricot and even a hint of cheese.

It’s more lively on the palate. Soft wood, floral-grassy, something cereal, porridge even, with dried fruits like sultanas and apricot jam, white grapes and a touch of apples, with again soft ginger and pepper notes. It’s light - medium, but pleasant on the mouthfeel.

The finish is medium long and soft-drying on mild spices, white pepper and those dried fruits fading away.

I wouldn’t call this a shy whisky, but it is rather subtle. Don’t mistake that for ‘uneventful’, though, as it ‘s pleasant and a bit ‘summery’, giving testimony to that understated, softer character you can also find in Glencadam.

Ben Nevis 9 yo (53% ABV, UCF, natural colour, cask 115, refill bourbon cask, finished for 3 months in a Palo Cortado sherry cask, 351 bottles)

Ah, Ben Nevis. Not going to lie, their 10 yo official release is a personal favourite, so this better be good too! What’s particularly interesting I think, is the finish in a Palo Cortado sherry cask. Along with Fino, it’s probably the most delicate, nuanced and subtle of all sherry styles, combining the delicate balance and nutty character of Amontillado with the drying structure and deep and rich palate of Oloroso. Given the fact that Ben Nevis is a rather big and bold whisky, I’m curious to see what this slightly more gentle approach form a refill bourbon and a more subtle sherry cask will bring to the table.

On the nose, it’s actually pretty well behaved, all things considered. It has that slightly meaty character with that pleasant dirty-earthy touch to it, with just a tiny hint of a sulphur note. Grainy and cereal-nutty, but dense and thick, almost glue-y, with the characteristic red fruit notes, some candy sweetness and cream. Feisty, but in a good way – youthful and lively rather than aggressive.

The palate is signature Ben Nevis! Nutty again and fruity, but also dirty – with that overripe fruit and dried fruit leading to a savoury- meaty character, complemented by toasted and burnt cereal and that note of glazed ham that keeps getting bigger and bigger. On the mouthfeel it starts of medium full, but as that ham note turns up mid palate, it becomes even more rich and full. Lovely!

All of  that translates into the finish which is long, warm on spices and somewhat sweet.

Absolutely lovely Ben Nevis! Rich, but not overwhelming so. Big, but not overpowering. Very active and busy, making sure it gets noticed and grabs your attention, but never aggressive.

3 very different drams, from 3 very different distilleries. The young and spirit driven Dalmunach was the pleasant surprise of the lot as it was my first encounter with this distillery. The MacDuff I can see myself enjoying on a summer evening after a good meal with friends and family, enjoying the sunset with a nice summery, fruity whisky. And in terms of intrinsic quality, even though I’m biased, the Ben Nevis just takes the cake, bringing everything you want from a Ben Nevis, with a lovely savoury-meaty touch to it. Next week I’ll wrap this up taking a closer look at 2 again very different expressions, but this time from the same distillery. We’re going to Orkney, baby, so stay tuned!

Review #47: Speyburn 18 yo (46% ABV, UCF, natural colour, Spanish & American Oak) – affordable 18 yo whiskies part III

Question: Which are the 5 distilleries owned by Inver House? Chances are Pulteney, Balblair and Knockdhu (AnCnoc) will roll of your tongue without too much difficulty. Chances are also you’ll have to think a moment or two to come up with the two others – Speyburn and Balmenach. Safe to say these two remain, even today, a bit of under the radar distilleries. A bit of a paradox then, as Speyburn has grown to become Inver House’s top selling brand. This is down to 2 reasons: Speyburn is a widely available and a rather popular brand in the USA (because prior to being owned by a Thai company, Inver House was owned by an American company) and the distillery was significantly expanded in 2015 (producing well over 4 million LPA it is easily the biggest of the 5 Inver House distilleries), resulting in sales sailing passed the 500,000 bottles mark each year.

I fully admit that until about a year ago I was at best ‘aware of their existence’, but when I tried my luck on a 12 yo single bourbon cask release, I was immediately smitten by it. Speyburn is one of those distilleries equipped with worm tubs, and I feel it shows in the character of the spirit. Rich, yet subtle, complex, yet moreish: that 12 yo single cask was indeed one of my whisky highlights of 2020, resulting in a note to self to try more of their whiskies. So as a present to self I bought me a bottle of their 18 yo for Christmas last year.

Fast forward to today, and another bottle of their 18 yo is currently in ‘heavy rotation’ in my cabinet. Although Speyburn’s been around since 1897, the 18 yo is a fairly new addition to their core rage and was first released in December 2018 as an anniversary edition (commemorating distillery manager Bobby Anderson’s 18 years at Speyburn), with a yearly outcome of 9000 bottles. When I decided on doing a series on 18 yo whiskies, this was probably one of the first I considered covering. You probably already guessed that I quite like this one, so let’s dive straight into the actual whisky.

On the nose, it’s all things spices from the get go. Clove, nutmeg, vanilla , cinnamon, and brown sugar to add to the richness. There’s a honey - floral – barleysugar sweetness that gets interwoven by Gewürztraminer, reminding me of Glühwein (while I find Glühwein to be a bit of an abomination, here it is rather pleasing), blood oranges and something ‘dusty’, like old books or cupboards. In two words: rich and sweet, but never too much. What you’d expect from an 18 yo with some sherry casks involved. Lovely.

The palate comes with a full arrival, with wood and woody spices and a cereal note. Just ever so slightly bitter, and because the oak and spices really took over, it’s significantly less sweet compared to the nose. The mouthfeel is equally rich, full and slightly dry. Adding a drop of water (it can take it) accentuates the spices even more but it tames the oak a bit, bringing out the sweetness again on demerara sugar and chocolate.

The finish is long , dry and warming, with a woody touch and a very soft salty note.

If you’re into rich, full and well matured whisky: this will probably be straight up your alley. It could have done with a bit more complexity perhaps, but that’s me nit-picking, really. I will say that the Spanish (sherry) casks are making the most impact and, personal opinion, that’s a minor (and I do mean minor) point of criticism, as I’ve come to learn what a wonderful combination Speyburn and bourbon casks can be. Of all the 18 yo whiskies in this series, it‘s likely to be the most expensive one of the lot, retailing around €75 –€85, but that’s still well south of what you’d be coughing up for the likes of Allardice, Highland Park 18, or, after the bump up in price, Glengoyne 18. Or, closer to home, what Inver House has done with Balblair and Old Pulteney after rebranding both distilleries - both their 18 yo expressions are easily €15 - €20 more expensive than this one - so please, please, let it remain like this.This is good whisky, just shy of being very good. 85/100

Drample Impressions 23: Dràm Mòr Spring Release 2021 (part 1): Dumbarton 20 yo Single Grain and Inchfad 14 yo

We interrupt our regular schedule for a special broadcast. Last week a parcel was delivered, containing no less than 7 samples of Dràm Mòr’s spring 2021 release. Happy to bend the regular ‘content planning’ a wee bit (yes, sometimes I’m more organised than you’d give me credit for), I’ll be paying their new releases some proper attention.

Their new spring release seems promising (and as said, more to follow in coming weeks), but almost immediately I set apart two samples that tickled my interest: A 20 yo Dumbarton Single Grain and an Inchfad 14 yo. Why? Well, both of these whiskies are pretty much a game on home turf for them, as Dumbarton is their hometown, with Loch Lomond distillery just some 10-15 km down the road. Previous releases from Dràm Mòr have been good to excellent in my book, so let’s see if their 4th and biggest release so far can live up to these expectations. And to be clear: yes, these samples have been given to me free of charge, and no, that doesn’t mean they will automatically receive a favourable review.

Dumbarton 20 yo single grain (52% ABV, UCF, natural colour, cask 211894)

Dumbarton distillery makes for an interesting chapter within the long, ever expanding history of Scotch whisky. It was commissioned by American company Hiram Walker in the 1930’ies who were in dire need of owning Scottish distilleries. Having bought the Ballantine’s brand a few years prior, they had a great deal of stock, but no distilleries to create new whiskies for the future. So after acquiring Glenburgie and Miltonduff, they still needed a grain distillery, because, well: blends!

After converting a former Shipyard near the river Leven, Dumbarton grain distillery started operating in 1938, while on the same site Inverleven started producing malt whiskies. On opening it was the largest continuous distillery in Scotland producing grain whisky (some 13.5 million LPA, and at its peak in the 1960’ies, it produced around 113 million LPA, making it the largest grain distillery in Europe). With two distilleries (3 actually, as there was a Lomond distillery using the first ever Lomond still – not to be confused with the Loch Lomond distillery), warehouses and a bottling plant on site, it payed the wages of nearly 2000 employees.

And that’s not all, the story comes with a twist. Rather than opting for the traditional copper column stills, Hiram Walker shipped over a set of American stainless steel column stills, making for a heavier new make. Later, copper was imparted in the stills as it was simply an absolute necessity to create a quality grain spirit. Maize (imported from Canada and the US) was the main grain used as the base product, although in the 1990’ies modifications were made to allow for wheat, should it be required. The grain distillery closed for good in 2002, after 64 years - the stills from Invervleven had already been quiet for years. Very little of its former glory remains today, as it was demolished for a housing project a few years ago, although of course that famous Lomond Still now enjoys a second life at Bruichladdich where it’s used to create their ‘The Botanist’ gin. So, little history lesson over, let’s get down to business.

Dumbarton 20 yo Single Grain (52% ABV, UCF, natural colour, cask 211894) Nose: a bit shy and closed at first, so give it some 20 – 30 minutes in the glass to open up. Let’s see… There’s corn dust, sweet corn and popcorn - so that settles the question which grain was used – with a buttery note. Was it initially a bit shy, with time, the ABV kicks in with a slight prickle/peppery touch. More sweetness, but coming from vanilla and (green) banana. This is pretty much what you’d expect from a 20 yo single grain. It’s solid, it’s pleasant, so far all good, in short.

The palate brings quite a surprise then, as it comes in far more sharp and hefty than on the nose. While 52 % ABV isn’t super strong compared to other cask strength whiskies, it does make a mark here. It’s considerably less sweet as well, but more dry with a bit of a (not unpleasant) bitter note from the wood. I ‘m picking up some savoury notes now as well in the form of a hard cheese. The difference between nose and palate is quite remarkable – could this be down to the stainless column stills? A drop of water accentuates the oak even further.

The finish is pretty long, drying with notes of oak, a soft bitterness and spice (white pepper).

This was quite the experience, due to the dramatic development from nose to palate. Certainly worth discovering if you’re interested in exploring a different take on single grain whiskies. I’m not sure this would suit the casual drinker, those looking for (and counting on) a ‘classic’ whisky profile, but if you’re an enthusiast willing to step out of your comfort zone and see what whisky can be, this is well worth trying. It’s good but a bit unorthodox, perhaps? If anything, it’s tasting a bit of whisky history, given the fact that it most definitely is an under the radar (closed) distillery, certainly in today’s perspective AND because they went about doing things a bit differently.

Now, let’s see what’s what a few miles down the road…

Inchfad 14 yo (peated Loch Lomond – 54,7% ABV, UCF, natural colour, cask 1100 PX finish)

It’s immediately scoring points on the nose! Savoury, earthy and peaty, with that grassy-soapy sweetness from Loch Lomond, almost a little wink-wink-nudge-nudge towards Springbank! Coming back a few minutes later, and now there’s a wine note with sweetness from white grapes and apples, mild spices and the peat is turning somewhat ashy. Every time you come back to it, something happens in the glass. Yes, there is peat, obviously so in fact, but it’s a veil easy to look through, revealing a whole array of flavours. This is an absolute treat!

The palate comes with a medium full mouthfeel, bringing more spices, dried fruit (aha, there’s that PX cask !), and a wine note. The peat turns ashy now, There’ s a sweetness coming from baking spices and sweet cheese, going into a savoury-meaty note. Toffee and some dark (bitter) chocolate. It’s versatile with a good bit of complexity, but it’s also easy drinking and very moreish. I don’t even feel like adding water is necessary here.

The finish is long and dry on spices, with again that meaty-savoury touch to it.

Excellent stuff! I could decorate it and put some more bells on it, but I don’t need to: this is a cracking whisky! Well done! I’ve yet to try the others samples I was sent, but I feel they’ll have a challenge in outclassing this one. Having said that: the rest of the spring release I’ll be covering shortly. How’s that for a cliff-hanger?

Review #46: Inchmurrin 18yo (46% ABV, UCF, possibly coloured) - affordable 18 yo whiskies, part 2.

After last week’s pleasant encounter with Chivas Regal 18, it’s ‘business as usual’ this week with a closer look at a single malt whisky. We’re still looking at affordable 18yo whiskies, so taking its place at the bat is Inchmurrin 18 year old. Inchmurrin is a whisky produced by Loch Lomond, a distillery making a name for itself by exploring the possibilities of distillation within the rather strict regulations laid out by the SWAPraisehas been sung for their very affordable peated and unpeated single grain, which are actually whiskies made from 100% malted barley. But because it’s distilled in column stills rather that pot stills, it can’t be labelled as a single malt. Loch Lomond has a wide variety of stills: traditional pot stills, column stills, and their straight neck stills, which are essentially pot stills with column stills placed on top where traditionally the necks would lead into the lyne arms, allowing them to create spirits with a unique and different take on what we generally expect a malt whisky to taste like. Inchmurrin is a whisky created using those straight neck pot stills, and recently I reviewed the 12yo as part of the ‘Unsung Heroes’ series. (I do apologize for not having a proper index on this website, you’ll just have to scroll down a bit if you’re interested in reading that.)

So back with another Inchmurrin, this time it’s their 18 year old expression. And it fits the bill of this series rather nicely (remember from last week’s post I’m looking at affordable alternatives for the Glendronach Allardice), as this whisky retails at around €60. Yes, you read that right: 18 year old single malt whisky, 46% ABV, non – chillfiltered: sixty euro. You’ll struggle to find any other single malt out there that can top that (apart from its sister whisky Loch Lomond 18, obviously). The only two I can think off, are The Deveron and Knockando, and both of these are presented at 40% ABV with chill filtering. Bearing in mind the Chivas Regal 18 usually sits around €55, it seems almost too good to be true. So, is there a catch to this one?

On the nose, the first thing I get is fruit notes. Fresh (citrus and some tropical fruit) and dried fruit, although with time, the heavier dried fruit notes take over more and more. There’s a sweetness to this, a mixture of floral and fruity sweetness, which evolves again towards rich, dense fruit notes, going on treacle and fruit syrup. Grapes, but again evolving towards grape syrup –the concentrated stuff you need to add water to. Adding to all that depth and density, is a drying oaky note, with a soft bitterness.

The palate is noticeably more woody from the start, making the bitterness that comes with it dance with the dark fruit notes. The sweetness from the nose, and with that the tropical fruit, gets pushed back a bit and there is now more something of a honey sweetness. Not the light golden runny kind though, but again dark, thick honey, with the snappy, punchy character of thyme honey and the darker, earthy touch of heather honey. There’s a herbaceous-spices note as well, with something like tannins in it. The depth continues on the mouthfeel, with a dry, treacle like sensation.

The finish, ‘quelle surprise’, is long, dry and warm, with again that mixture of wood, treacle and syrup.

The vibrancy of the 12 yo, which throws around floral, grassy, candy sweetness like there’s no tomorrow: that isn’t here. What is there though, is a whisky with quite some character. This is a hefty, ‘big’ whisky. It’s not necessarily bold or in your face, it most certainly isn’t a sherry bomb, nor is there any peat, but this whisky has depth and weight to it with a lot of wood character defining the profile. I do feel like I might have picked the wrong whisky for the season, as this is perhaps more suitable for pouring, windy weather – the kind where your umbrella decides to cave in on itself after 10 seconds out on the streets, the rain seems to be coming straight at you rather than from the heavens and your next door neighbour’s Yorkshire Terrier becomes airborne when going for walkies. It’s an interesting whisky for sure, showing the diversity of what Loch Lomond can do, but you need to dig past the wood to reveal what else it has to offer. I like it, but so far I’m not loving it. Will need to revisit in 5 months’ time. Until then: 82/100.

Affordable 18 yo whiskies: where’s the catch? (aka what’s out there if you’re not stocking up on Glendronach Allardice)

In the aftermath of Glendronach’s decision (or should we say; Brown Forman's decision) to lose the ‘non chill filtered’ statement on their core range releases and all the stir this has caused (see also a lot of Ralfy extra extra’s extrasses), I’ve seen several posts on social media about the whole issue. One in particular was asking the question: should we stock up on the old UCF 18 yo Allardice? The response from the ‘average whisky enthusiast’ (‘average’ of course as in hansom, well educated, witty and eloquent) seems to be that half of us have refrained from buying anything Glendronach, and are now spending the money elsewhere, the other half are frantically stocking up on anything Glendronach that still holds that precious statement on the label.

There’s a strong case to be made for either choice, but whether you’re in team ‘sod it’ or in team ‘stock up’, the inevitable will happen: at some point in the (near) future, the old UCF versions will run out (obviously there’s a good chance they will be popping up on auction sites at 2 or 3 times the original MSRP. I do wish all those flippers a strong itch on their backside just out of arm’s reach).

But not to worry, it’s your old pal Malty to the rescue. Because occasionally I do try to provide actual useful consumer’s advice, this new series will be focussing on potential alternatives for the old Glendronach Allardice (and in all honesty I was going to do a series on affordable 18 yo whiskies sometime this year in any case, so strike while the iron is still at least lukewarm, I say).

And because at Malty Towers taking the piss is not an option (or at least not right now), there will be a few rules:

• It has to be scotch

• It has to have an 18 yo age statement on the label

• It has to be considerably cheaper than the MSRP for the old Glendronach 18 yo (which roughly sells around €100), meaning I’ll set the bar at €85 or less.

Now bear in mind I’m not looking for 18 yo whiskies with a similar profile as the Allardice here, rather the opposite in fact, as I’m trying to put the focus away from Glendronach and, polite attention-seeking cough optional, see whether the whiskies I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks are worth looking into, or whether there’s a good reason on them being ‘cheap’.

Our first contender may well be a bit of a dark horse, as it tends to be easily overlooked by many, despite it being one of the most readily available and easily affordable 18 year old whiskies on the market. Yep, you guessed it: it’s a blend, and none other than Chivas Regal 18 yo.

Chivas Regal is arguably one of the most established brands of Scotch whisky out there, and together with Ballantine’s, it serves as Pernod Ricard’s response to Diageo’s formidable Johnnie Walker range. It is also one of the oldest and longest lasting brands on the market, dating back to the early 20th century. Despite the longevity of the Chivas Regal brand, the 12 yo, introduced in the 1930’ies, has been the be all and end all for decades, and the 18 yo expression only saw the light of day in 1997 under ownership of Seagram’s (4 years before the sale to Pernod Ricard.) The full title of this release is actually Chivas Regal 18 year old Gold Signature, because … reasons.

Anyway, on to some notes.

Chivas Regal 18 yo blended scotch whisky (40% ABV, Chill Filtered and Colour added).

On the nose, it’s a well-balanced combo of spices, floral notes and dried fruits with an overlaying yet gentle, inviting sweetness. It’s rather rich, with strawberry marmalade, Christmas cake, honey, gingerbread, marzipan (probably the well-aged grain whiskies here), cherries and blackcurrant. I’m not suggesting it’s the best nose on a whisky I ever came across, but it’s actually really good!

The palate brings you pretty much everything from the notes, but with brakes on and a bit diminished due to the minimal ABV and all the rest, also making the mouthfeel a bit thin. There’s a burnt toast here now as well (not unpleasant, quite the opposite as it even suggests a bit of a ‘dirty’ note here, albeit a faint one) with a drying wood note. On the whole, it’s less sweet than on the nose and even has an unexpected little ‘bite’ to it.

The finish is short to medium, with again a slight sharpness to it, but also (and luckily so) the warm spices are there to wave us goodbye.

I’m really enjoying this whisky, and at the price (€50-€60) it’s excellent value as well. To me the Chivas Regal 12yo is a decent yet easily forgettable background sipper, but this 18 yo is definitely a big step up the ladder, even at 40% ABV and chill filtering. This is a solid, well crafted, very enjoyable dram. While obviously aimed at a broad audience, and therefore a bit ‘friendly’, this definitely has enough character and depth to have me sitting up ad paying attention. Now you’re not going to get the complexity of a similarly aged single malt that has natural colour, is unchilfilltered, and was bottled at 46% ABV, but then again: name me one of those that will cost you less than €60*?!

Intrinsically: 80/100, but adding the bang for buck factor, I’m topping this off at 82/100. Cheers, and can I have some more, please?

 

*Spoiler alert: I found one, and it’ll feature in next week’s blogpost.

Celebration Whiskies – part IV of IV: Yamazaki bourbon barrel 2013 (48% ABV, UCF, presumably uncoloured)

The last part of my series on Celebration Whiskies takes me to the other side of the world, to a country that - to me – is a bit of an enigma, being very modern in so many ways, yet at the same time is very much in tune with its history, traditions and heritage. A land where the need and desire for punctuality and perfection are so highly regarded it can drive people mad, but where those same virtues are embedded in rituals and ceremonies leading the way to becoming zen. With a country and a nation so driven by these aspects of life, it actually seems strange that they have adopted a very pragmatic, anything goes kind of approach to the craft and art of creating whisky.

Japanese whiskies: I’ll fully admit that the vast majority of them are terra incognita for me. At the start of the hype, somewhere around 2010 - 2015, I was very much trapped in an exploring scotch, scotch and scotch mode, only vaguely aware of there being other countries out there that were actually distilling decent stuff worthy of exploring. Fair to say if I had been a bit more aware and open minded back then, I could have well been a millionaire at this point in life. Which of course is already a false statement as I am strongly and firmly in the ‘whisky is for drinking’ category.

In any case: after having drunk hundreds of whiskies (that sounds bad, doesn’t it?! Let’s make that: ‘after quite a few whiskies on my journey’), only a handful of them have been from the land of the rising sun. Which is something that needs to be set straight, were it not for the value for money factor. A good bottle of any whisky is often not cheap to begin with, but a good botte of Japanese whisky has become a bit of a folly in recent years. If (and that’s a big ‘if’) you spot, say, a Yamazaki 12 year old in the wild, you’re looking at a 3 digits price tag, and personally that does put me off a bit. Part of the enjoyment of whisky for me, is knowing I haven’t paid over the odds for a bottle. Or to put it better: up to a certain point I don’t mind splurging a bit on whisky, but paying a lot of money for a bottle that doesn’t live up to its price tag, does impact the appreciation, and obviously not in a good way. So the only Japanese whiskies I really got acquainted with, were Nikka from the barrel and Suntory Japanese Harmony. Both are quite good in my book, but especially the latter is getting a bit expensive for what it is, another victim of hyped Japanese whiskies. Just my opinion, obviously. The few other Japanese whiskies I tried so far were brief encounters at festivals, sample swaps or the occasional dram at a friend’s.

Cue, once more, the wonderful thing that is the whisky community. Roughly a year ago, I got to pick 10 samples from Fredrik’s collection. Fredrik you might (and should) know from the YouTube channel A Dram Divided and the (now put on hold channel) The Whiskey Pilgrim. In that set was a sample of this Yamazaki bourbon barrel 2013. Between 2010 and 2013, Yamazaki released a batch of these every year, each batch released at 3000 bottles. Being Japan’s oldest distillery, it’s probably one of the best known as well, along with Nikka. Now I promise this will not lead to a little history lesson like last week’s post on single grain, so let’s crack on.

On the nose, things start of fairly gentle. It has a creaminess to it, there’s vanilla and a soft and sweet spiciness going into a demerara sugar note as well. Orchard fruit (in fact, it’s very rich on apples), toffee, candyfloss, with some treacle and a hazelnut touch to it. It is also absolutely wonderful.

It’s a bit heftier on the palate, but still well civilised. Again there is a wonderful spiciness to this (mainly allspice and baking spices now) that elevates notes of stewed and sugared apples, some heavily toasted cereal with a treacle and syrup like density to it. This gives me a nice, full, mouth coating texture, with an underlying, slightly salty dryness to it.

That saltiness lingers on in a long and drying finish, with again a nice spiciness underneath.

An absolutely wonderful dram, and a prime example of what a good bourbon cask can do for a whisky. It’s layered and rich, yet also nuanced and never overwhelming, with a spot on balance and some nice complexity. Now, before you go looking for this online (as I know many of you will feel an urge to do so), there is one small issue that needs to be addressed. The price. While being a very good whisky indeed, it‘s also and unfortunately so a victim of the Japanese hype. A bottle of this will therefore cost you somewhere between €1300 and €2000. EEEK indeed. How Fredrik has allowed me to pick this sample, I have no idea, but I’m very grateful, because this is one of those whiskies that is so beyond my reach, pricewise, that I otherwise would never have tasted it. When these were initially released, the Japanese whisky hype was just about to get fully mental, so very likely the initial MSRP was considerably less ‘exorbitant’.

That said: is this really worth spending the better half of a month’s wages on? Of course it isn’t. There can be no doubt about the quality of this, but in a non-inflated market, this would probably be a whisky you could pick up for somewhere between €150 - €200 and I do think it would be worth that. Should you have pockets as deep as the mines of Moria, by all means, go out and treat yourself. If you are a mere mortal like me, there are plenty of other whiskies available well worth picking up for that special occasion that won’t make your credit card bleed and cry with despair. A bloody good whisky, shame about the price!

Celebration Whiskies pt 3: Cameronbridge 37 yo (North Star Cask Series 008 - 1982 – 2019, 51% ABV, natural colour, UCF)

For part 3 of this series on celebration whiskies, I’m taking a look at a single grain whisky. Now, there are a number of reasons why I picked this particular sample for this series (gifted to me by Paul Gibbs aka bearded whisky, for which I’m very grateful), but THE main reason is that it is a single grain.

Why is it that single grain whiskies seem to still be the ugly ducklings of the whisky landscape? Neither distilleries, nor bottlers – and not even many enthusiasts for that matter, seem to pay much attention to this style of whisky, despite the fact that there are some wonderful expressions available out there. As a category in its own right, it never seems to have gotten proper lift off, despite some efforts by various players on the market. It probably comes as little surprise that one of the first to put the focus of attention to single grain whiskies was Compass Box with their Hedonism expression, first released 20 years ago. It was in fact the first ever whisky they released, which was quite the statement, showcasing their adventurous nature from the get go.

Between then and now, we’ve seen Grant’s releasing official bottlings of Girvan, and Diageo brought out the big guns in 2014 when releasing Haig Club with the (probably not exactly cheap) help of a certain David Beckham, while Loch Lomond release a single grain as well (which is actually a malt whisky distilled in column stills rather than pot stills). But all of these have only seen the light of day in fairly recent times. Probably one of very few, if not the only, grain whisky brand that’s been around for ages, is from Cameronbridge in the form of Cameron Brig. Incidentally, Haig Club is a Cameronbridge product as well.

Our focus on malt whisky is furthermore confirmed by both the industry itself and those telling the story of whisky today. Bloggers and YouTube channels are often ‘suffering’ a bit from tunnel vision (present company included) discussing malt whiskies, and/or are giving it their all to bring you their opinion of the latest Kilkerran or Ardbeg as soon as the latest expression becomes available, and that is of course absolutely valid. While covering single grains with a handful of articles each year, even the most trustworthy of websites (malt-review) divide the category of Scotch into 'single malt' and 'blends'. Ralfy, closing in on 900 (!) reviews has perhaps and at best some 40 to 50 reviews on single grain whisky. Those media less burdened by the release of the day, tell us a similar story. There are dozens of magazines dedicated to malt whisky, and ever so rarely they’ll publish an article about grain whisky. Even the most highly regarded whisky writers rarely give grain whisky much attention. I strongly recommend anyone to read Dave Broom’s ‘The World Atlas of Whisky’ (Just get one if you haven’t already, it’s a must read for anyone interested in whisky). Containing well over 320 pages, exactly 2 are dedicated to single grain whisky. And please, for all that’s dear, don’t think of this as some form of critique on any of these examples mentioned above (I wouldn't dare), I simply meant it as a way of illustrating just how understated grain whisky actually is. To put things in perspective, there are of course only a handful of grain distilleries active in Scotland, so anyone who would wish to solely put the focus on grain whisky would run out of things to write or talk about sooner rather than later. But still there must be some case to be made in favour of grain whisky?!

Taking a closer look, and strolling through Scotland’s rich whisky history, the case of single grain whisky seems to be a story with quite some paradoxes to it. Despite grain whisky being one of two key elements of blended scotch whisky – the backbone on which Scotch whisky was built, it has always been given the Cinderella treatment by the industry, resulting in what nowadays would be described as a ‘it’s complicated’ relationship status. From the early days on, the reputation of ‘Scotch’ was and is firmly that of malt whisky (as illustrated by the stories of all those brave distillers and smugglers of illegal Highland malts), which would bring you the true character of whisky. Indeed, the general consensus was that quality whisky came from pot still distilled spirit, from either the Highlands (including Speyside), Islay or Campbeltown, in contrast to the bland, bulk product of any other grain distillate running from the many column stills in the Lowlands. The status of grain spirit in those pioneering years wasn’t helped much by the fact that a great deal of the spirit was destined to end up south of the border to be made into gin in England, although throughout the 19th century increasing amounts were also purchased by blenders like Dewar’s, Buchanan’s, Usher and a certain company called Walker & Sons.

Towards the end of the 19th century, as Scotch started to conquer the world, cheap grain whisky flooded the market, much to the despair of the malt distilleries who couldn’t compete with the dirt cheap prices of grain, and as there was little to no legal description of what qualified as scotch whisky, it was pretty much anyone’s game. To make matters worse, a lot of even cheaper, mainly German, grain and ready to go spirits were imported by ‘entrepreneurs’ who fancied their piece of the pie, shamelessly putting bottles of ‘Scotch’ whisky on the market. The almost inevitable dispute between malt distilleries and grain distilleries got so ugly that it ended in court as malt distilleries tried to ban who they saw as their competitors from calling their product ‘whisky’, claiming the mass produced grain whiskies were not ‘proper Scotch whisky’, because they were releasing products of far inferior quality and therefore threatening the reputation of Scotch whisky.

They lost, much to the relieve of blenders like Walker & Sons, but one side result of this might well have been that we saw what was probably the first ever release of a single grain whisky in 1906, when Cambus , owned by a young company called DCL, countered the claim of grain whisky being inferior by putting a single grain whisky out on the market to prove the quality of their product. While this might have been quite the publicity stunt at the time, it clearly indicates that it’s just that: a stunt, as no one seemed to follow up on the idea of releasing single grain whisky as a category in its own right. In fairness, the concept of releasing single malt whiskies remained untouched territory as well until the 1960’ies. The reason being quite simple: distilleries first and foremost were producers of whisky, not branders or retailers. They produced for and supplied to the companies who did own the brands. And while the world since then has firmly come to grips with the concept of a single malt whisky as a premium quality, well-crafted alcoholic drink, the old prejudices of the cheap, mass produced and lesser quality grain whisky seem to still stand, even a century later.

The issue at hand: not all of it is untrue. Grain whiskies ARE cheaper and ‘easier’ to make compared to single malt whisky (and please forgive me for cutting some corners here – getting to understand how a column still works and getting good results from it, takes a lot of time and effort). Both the base ingredients and the production method (due to the possibility of continuous distilling in column stills) are considerably less costly and far more ‘efficient’ compared to expensive, time consuming, batch produced malt whisky. Cameronbridge again being the prime example here, as on its own it’s producing some 100 million litres of new make spirit each year - almost 1/3 of all grain whisky produced at the handful of large scale grain whisky distilleries in Scotland, and no less than roughly double the capacity of the 3 biggest malt distilleries combined!

So both the raw materials as the production method have a serious impact on cost. But, and probably more important, it also impacts flavour. You can’t deny the fact that whisky from pot still distilled malted barley brings things to the table a lot of grain whisky would struggle to live up to. And again, this has everything to do with both the base ingredients as with the production method. There are, again generally speaking here, less flavours to be distracted from grains like wheat and maize or even rye, and due to the distillation in column stills, the new make is almost always of a ‘cleaner’ profile compared to a spirit running from a pot still. Copper pot stills are designed to give a spirit character, depth, complexity, while you might argue that column stills are meant to do exactly the opposite – hence why the second of the column stills is called ‘a rectifier’. As so often, the clue’s in the name. So, again, where are the redeeming features for grain whisky, if any are to be found at all?

For starters, there‘s the not completely irrelevant matter of price. Even if they are still vastly outnumbered by the sheer endless expressions of malt whiskies, both official and independent releases of single grain whiskies are popping up on shelves of specialised retailers in recent times. I know of at least (or should I say: only) 3 official releases of 20 yo single grain whisky (alas also all of them bottled at 40% ABV and coloured), all costing around €35 or less. There is not one single malt whisky of a similar age on this planet coming even close to competing with that price. If anything, a bottle of these will always come in handy for that one person who will otherwise shamelessly take your bottle of 18 year old Bunnahabhain to drown it in a coke. Which brings me to the important bit. If you fancy grabbing a bottle of old, cask strength whisky, why not look at single grains? More and more independent bottlers are offering single grain whiskies with a high age statement of 25, 30 and even 40 years, naturally presented and at cask strength for – relatively speaking- very affordable prices. Much like the blended malt from last week, single grains are definitely much friendlier to your bankroll here.

Another argument for the case of the single grain is closely related to this as well. Most, if not all grain whisky is matured in refill or first fill bourbon casks. When given enough time (and we’re talking decades here, rather than years), the marriage between the spirit and the wood can lead to absolutely stunning whiskies (whether this is the case for this particular sample I’ll be reviewing today, we’re soon to find out). To fully blossom, the ‘cleaner’ character of the spirit indeed needs more time in a cask compared to its malted barley siblings, and here the combination of a ’quieter’ single grain spirit laid to rest in an equally quiet refill cask, allowing each other some proverbial space rather than fighting for dominance, can make for wonderfully balanced, layered and very inviting whiskies.

Let’s find out if this sample we’ve got here fits the bill… This Cameronbridge from North Star is a 1982 vintage bottled in 2019 and spent all of its 37 years in an ex bourbon barrel. There are only 198 bottles of this out there, and should you still find one, it retails around €200. Again, not cheap, but look at that age statement! I ‘m willing to bet that you’ll struggle to find a single malt of similar age that will not be at least triple that price.

On the nose it comes in soft and gentle. We’re talking breakfast cereals here. Honey, preserved fruit (apricot) and even fruit liqueur. Marzipan and almonds, definitely, and some vanilla and icing sugar and milk chocolate. The funny thing is, all that sweetness never becomes overly sugary sweet, overall there’s more of a floral sweetness going on, in fact.

The palate is noticeably more driven by spices – nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, sitting on top on those cereal and marzipan notes. It’s medium full on the mouth, and again the sweetness is a bit of a ‘fille rouge’ throughout, but like on the nose, it comes across as a natural sweetness from almonds or vanilla.

This continues on the finish: long and dry, and softly fading out on sugared almonds.

Perhaps a bit sweet for some, but this is a lovely whisky, very clean and very elegant. It’s not the most complex whisky I’ve ever tried, but it’s a wonderful example of how spirit and wood can work together to create something very, very pleasant. The golden rule here, is to try and avoid the obvious comparison with malt whisky, for it is an unfair one. We often talk about malternatives, and almost always we’ll think about Cognac, Armagnac, Mescal, Rum,… So why not Single Grain? it’s not malt, but it is absolutely definitely positively totally a valid alternative!

Big Peat Black Edition 27 yo (48.3% ABV, natural colour, UCF)

Celebration whiskies, part 2. We’re most definitely on Islay for this one. Big Peat probably needs little introduction. Douglas Laing’s blended Islay malt was first released back in 2009 – hard to believe that’s been 12 years already- and may well be considered the predecessor (or kick-starter) of their ‘remarkable regional malts’ series. Apart from regular batch releases, Douglas Laing also releases special editions, Christmas editions and several editions with a higher age statement. This ‘Black Edition’ is the last in a series of 3 vintage releases, with a 25 yo Gold Edition and a 26 yo Platinum Edition preceding this one. All 3 releases were distilled in 1992 and then bottled in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively. Each of these releases came in 3000 bottles, and all were released at cask strength. As with other Big Peat releases the distilleries contributing to the blend are Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen, although obviously not in equal measures.

This retails at around €170 - €230 which in its own right still counts as a lot of money for a bottle of whisky, but can be considered an absolute bargain compared to the prices for single malt releases from the contributing distilleries with a similar age statement as a 25 yo Ardbeg or Bowmore will easily set you back north of a €1000. Granted, a bottle of 25 yo Caol Ila is similarly priced to the Big Peat black edition, but bear in mind that’s at a reduced strength of 43% ABV, coloured and chill filtered. Just goes to show everything is relative, even expensive bottles of whisky. Enough financial philosophy for today, let’s get down to business.

On the nose it’s very civilized. Over 2.5 decades of maturation tames even the feisty Islay spirits, it seems. The balance between the fruit notes (a lot of citrus - orange, but bags of tropical fruit, apricot, apples and melon as well) and the smoke is nothing short of gorgeous. It’s rich and full but at the same time soft and delicate, as underneath the smoky fruit lie soft notes of pepper, spices, maritime/brine notes with soft dry wood and a very calm sweetness finishing things off. Simply stunning!

Surprising then that on the palate things come in with a sharp, peppery touch. It’s fairly dry, with ashy smoke leading the way. Where on the nose there was a smoky fruitiness, the two have switched positions, as now it’s more like a fruity smokiness. If that makes any sense. Again the soft salty notes are there, along with gentle hints of wood and dry, earthy flavours. With a dry, medium full texture on the body, it’s rather a different animal than what the nose suggested, and while still very good, it’s more straightforward now, as there is less of a development going on here than when nosing.

The finish is long and dry on earthy peat that gets overtaken by a lingering salty/briny note.

Can we just take a moment and appreciate what we got here? As I wrote above, this is a bottle of 27 year old Islay whisky, which will cost you around €200. This is arguably one of the most hyped and sought after whisky regions in the world, and prices for these higher aged whiskies are set accordingly. Now I’m not trying to blow smoke up Douglas Laing’s orifices here, but essentially what that means is that through these whiskies they are actually releasing something that is not out of reach for the likes of you and me. Buying a €200 bottle of whisky is still a bit of a folly, let’s be clear about that, but it’s not divorce material expensive. And to people drawing the ‘yes, but it’s still a blend, isn’t it’ card, … pish posh! Where you argue that it’s ‘just’ a blend, I’ll happily argue that it’s still and very much so malt whisky. There is something strange about the whole idea that those 3 magic words ‘single’ ‘malt’ ‘whisky’ seem to justify or explain the fact that older whisky is automatically very, very expensive, often to a point where it just becomes ridiculous. At the same time, the word ‘blended’ on a label seems to have some sort of opposite effect, even if the next words are ‘malt whisky’, as if it would somehow mean it’s of lesser quality. Which is most definitely not the case, let me assure you. To quote the great English philosopher Neil Wheedon Watkins Pye: weird eh!?

Celebration whiskies - part 1: Glencadam 25 yo (46% ABV, Natural Colour, UCF)

When pondering about which ‘theme’ I’d be going with for my blog in May, I decided to keep it close to home. The month of May is a bit special to me, as it is the month I first became a father, 7 years ago. Milestones (like parenthood) are there to be celebrated and the best way to do so, is by popping open a rather special (read: expensive) whisky and share it with your loved ones.

As we can be hopeful that moments like these will actually be celebrated in real life, rather than by raising a glass to a screen, I figured why not run with that? (And just maybe I needed an excuse to plunder the ‘fancy Nancy’ corner of my samples shelf).

For celebratory whiskies, chances are you’ll be looking at whiskies carrying an older age statement, rare and limited releases, discontinued releases, or even bottles from long closed distilleries. Now there are options a plenty when it comes to splashing the cash, going from ‘being a bit pricy’ to ‘breaking the bank’ to ‘eye-wateringly expensive’. So the next couple of weeks, I’ll be going through my collection of samples, picking a single malt, a blended malt, a single grain and a world whisky. All of these whiskies would set you back from anywhere between €150 all the way to €1500. So let’s get right down to it.

Our first candidate is Glencadam 25 yo. This was a sample kindly provided to me by Neil Smart who runs the YT channel ‘The Whisky Trials’ (which you should totally check out btw). This is Batch 2, which was bottled in 2018, with 1164 bottles released. It’s still available in some stores, as are some bottles from batch 1 from 2015. RRP is somewhere between €270 - €450 depending on where you are located. Recently, batch 3 became available as well. As the previous 2, batch 3 is a limited release of some 1030 bottles.

On the nose one word would sum it up nicely: subtle. Everything I can pick up comes in almost shy and understated. There’s something of a green banana note, soft hints of spices and herbal notes (nutmeg, mace, fresh parsley and sage), some vanilla going into a sour cream note, and a very soft funky-oak note that translates as dry paper or even cardboard. Over time the herbaceous notes surface. Just a few drops of water bring out some sweeter notes, with white fruit/stone fruit and honeysuckle I couldn’t really pick out at first.

On the palate it’s just as subtle and complex as it is on the nose. There’s more wood and it’s less fruity now. Again the herbaceous elements are there (parsley and sage, perhaps some rosemary as well) and it’s quite grainy. A slight honey note, accompanied by very soft hints of apples and pears. The water makes it slightly sharper and drier as it accentuates the dry oak-wood note.

The finish is quite long but it doesn’t go on and on, with a drying finish on herbal notes and spices. But overall it’s again all soft and subtle.

If you’re looking for a bottle with a big cask impact and bold outspoken flavours, this is not the one for you. This is something to be shared with seasoned enthusiasts who will appreciate its quality. I know this might seem like I’m being a big snob here, but that’s just how it is. Often people say ‘this is not a beginner’s whisky’, referring to something bold, big and hefty. This too is not a beginner’s whisky, but it’s sitting at the exact opposite of the spectrum of bold, big and hefty. This is subtle, to the point of becoming delicate, almost fragile even. You wouldn’t give this 25 years in a cask, probably because quite some refill bourbon casks were used for this. And that’s by no means a negative thing, because the balance between the spirit and the wood it was laid to rest in, is almost at zen level, and what we’ve got going on here is therefore absolutely beautiful. This is a very layered and complex whisky, and it needs and deserves time and requires your patience and full attention. A beauty that will only reveal itself to those willing to wait, step back and slowdown. Patience is a virtue indeed.

Sourced Irish finale: 2 times Lambay Irish whiskey

Final Destination in our tour of Ireland exploring sourced Irish Whiskeys, is Lambay. This picturesque island of some 2.5 km² just 5 km of the coast of Dublin has quite a unique and precious wildlife for such a small island (hence the puffin on their label). Lambay Island is also the headquarters for this ‘Local man turns hobby project into a business’ story, only on a somewhat larger scale. Lambay Island is actually home to the Baring family. Baring as in Baring’s bank, and ‘home to’ as in they own the entire island, which immediately tells you something about the size and scale of this endeavour. The Baring’s ancestors originated from Germany’s harbour city of Bremen as wool traders before moving to England to become one of the world’s largest banks, picking up the title of Baron along the way.

Alexander Baring, the current owner and founder of Lambay Whiskey, teamed up with the well-established cognac family of House Camus, who have been producing and releasing cognac for 5 generations now. So you could argue that British gentry got in touch with French cognac gentry to create their own Irish whiskey. As such that’s quite something already.

While they don’t have an actual distillery (from what I’ve heard, their spirit would be mainly sourced from West Cork; although I’ve heard Bushmill’s being named also), everything after the distilling process is very much their own doing, as they have their own warehouses and a staff lead by cellar master/master blender Yonael Bernard. From the get go, they partnered up with said house of Camus to provide casks (mainly for finishing their whiskeys). As many other Irish whiskey businesses, they are a new player on the market, releasing whiskey for some 3 years now.

The samples I’ll be reviewing today were part of a tweet tasting from The Whisky Wire about a month ago. As the postal services were a bit sloppy with delivering the samples in time, I couldn’t take part then, but I’m guessing this should make up for that. These tastings are free of charge and open to everyone, so if you ever fancy taking part, keep an eye out on Steve Rush’s twitter accounts @tweettastings and @thewhiskywire. Time to see what’s what!

Lambay Malt Irish Whiskey (43% ABV, UCF)

This malt was first released in 2020 and is a blend from double and triple distilled whiskey, matured in ex bourbon casks before being finished in cognac casks. A good deal of the casks have been exposed to the sea air on Lambay.

On the nose it’s quite rich, juicy and fruity on baked, cinnamon spiced apples, (dried) apricot, with a clear impact of the cognac casks translating into hints of sweet wine and white grapes. Given time, the sweetness makes way for some grainy notes, although the wine notes remain. There’s something herbaceous here as well, but it’s subtle. It develops even further with some strawberry and even lemon meringue, giving it a creamy, sorbet-like note. Quite lovely and very inviting.

The palate is definitely less fruity, although the apples and apricot are still there. The sweetness is still there too, but it has a hint of limestone and clay to it which turn into a distinctive salty note. There’s a faint touch of wood as well, but it’s sort of ‘swimming’ in the medium-full body. Over time the salty notes start to dominate things, but it never becomes one dimensional, as the balance between the cognac casks and the maritime notes is spot on. It does remind me of a richer, sweeter, saltier Old Pulteney in fact. Well done!

The finish is fairly long and lingering on those salt and spice notes. There’s echoes of dry wood, making it very drying towards the end, with a final salute from the apples as a last goodbye.

Lambay single cask strength #4613 (7 yo, 56.6% ABV, UCF)

One of 400 bottles, this is very likely less easy to get your hands on, but for the sake of things, it’ll be interesting to see how the two compare. This is a single malt (so probably West Cork), finished extensively in hand selected Camus cognac casks, I presume before they were married into this one single cask prior to bottling.

On the nose it’s surprisingly less intense than the 43% blended malt. It’s even rather dense and closed but it shows notes of barley sugar and white dry wine, with again a salty touch already making a first impression. Water definitely helps here, as it releases a lovely array of apples and apple syrup. Something nutty, wood and figs are giving away the cognac casks now.

The palate comes in way more hefty and strong. There are notes of baking sugar and spices, some sweetness, again the barley sugar with grainy (cereal) notes now. Again: this needs some water. The fruit from the nose returns, but all the other notes intensify as well, especially the salt, which really jumps out now. A thick, dense and oily texture ties everything together.

The finish does what a cask strength whisky does: linger on and on, with the outspoken spices and salt notes dominating.

While the higher ABV expression obviously packs a bigger punch, I wouldn’t go as far as stating that I prefer the single cask over the blended malt. In fact, I think the profile of the blended malt sits really well with my own taste preferences (I’m a bit of a sucker for Old Pulteney after all), so if I’ll be chasing down a bottle, chances are it’ll be the 43 % one. Both are very solid and very tasty whiskies, and make a very strong case for the sourced whiskey camp. There is simply no denying the impact of both the cognac casks and the sea air exposure on the profile of these whiskies. While the quality of the new make spirit is of course a key part when it comes to creating good whiskey, these two examples illustrate perfectly the other side of the story: quality casks and the environment are of vital importance if you wish to achieve success.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying I was sceptical at first, but the concept or the idea behind these brands did puzzle me a bit when I started dipping my toe into the subject, to be honest. So, is there any conclusion to be drawn here? Some might still dismiss these brands, arguing that they can be considered confusing or misleading regarding their (sometimes undisclosed) origins. For the most part I would have to disagree. Firmly. In fact, I’m even going to take it a step further: you could argue that quite a few of these brands, sourcing whiskey from elsewhere, could to some extent be regarded as the Irish equivalent of independent bottlers, something we’ve grown so accustomed to when it comes to Scotch. A lot of independent bottlers buy young, maturing spirit from distilleries, mature it somewhere else, quite often recask a lot of it and/or finish them in casks of their own, prior to releasing. And that’s of course exactly what these Irish brands are doing as well. To be fair, this insight dawned on me gradually as I went through these samples over the past few weeks, but while I realize the analogy only goes so far (as being upfront and honest about the sourcing part remains a key factor to make it stand), I definitely feel there is something to it. In the end, the main and only relevant questions remains: is it good? If the answer is ‘yes’, then what else is there to talk about? To be continued…?

Sourced Irish, part deux: Hinch 5 yo Double Wood Blended Irish Whiskey (43% ABV, Natural Colour)

From last week’s Writer’s Tears from Walsh Whiskey in Carlow some 50 km south of Dublin, it’s a decent road trip up to the Hinch Distillery, located some 230 km further up north near Belfast. The actual distilling at Hinch only started very recently, late 2020 if I’m not mistaken, making it very much the new kid in town. An investment of some £15 million, the Hinch distillery aims to become an innovative factor in the world of Irish whiskey, creating some 40 jobs in their local community along the way, so that’s already some points in the bag.

As a brand, however, Hinch has been around for a while longer, as in 2019 they released a series of 5 whiskies and a gin sourced from several distilleries. So these ‘while we wait’ releases were indeed not distilled at Hinch, but they did make their mark on the final product by selecting the cask types used for both maturing and finishing. Hinch were so kind to inform me that they sourced their spirit from Great Northern Distillery, just south of the border with Ireland and another undiclosed distillery located in Antrim, NI. They specifically state ‘matured and bottled by Hinch whiskey company’ on the label, clearly avoiding any mention of words like ‘distillery’ or ‘distilled’. What we also know is that this particular expression has been triple distilled in copper pot stills and column stills with a mixture of Irish malted barley and corn, which was then matured for 4 years in ex bourbon casks before being finished in virgin oak barrels for a period of 1 year.

Obviously it’s not hard to understand the reasons behind releasing sourced whiskies or other spirits as a young upstarting distillery. It helps to build the brand, it introduces you into the market, helps to build a customer base and most important of all: it generates income. Starting a distillery is bloody expensive, so any revenue generated is welcomed. I’m always wandering though, to what extend the ‘what if’ factor has been calculated in. By which I mean that putting your name on the label of a bottle that’s not 100% your own product, implies a ‘risk’ (granted: a tiny one), that what you will produce and release some years down the road, will not match the profile of what you’ve been souring and releasing in the meantime. As such this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as the general direction of where you’re going is represented in the sourced releases, but still… And of course with modern day cask management and 70% of the profile coming from the wood, having a good blender and warehouse manager in your team will of course make sure that you’ll be able to create a standard and a consistency when it comes to the flavour profile and the quality of the product. But with something as young as a 5 year old whisky, all the non-wood factors contributing to the spirit (the distillation process, the size and shapes of stills, the grains used…) will obviously have a more important impact on the profile of the bottled spirit. It would be interesting in any case to revisit these early day sourced releases from Hinch and put it in a head to head with what they’ll be releasing as their own whiskey in years to come, to see what’s what, as Hinch has stated that these whiskeys are designed to play a key role in their own whiskey . But now it’s time to see what this youngster has to offer.

On the nose immediately you get honey, honey and more honey. Very classic bourbon cask notes indeed, as it’s followed by vanilla, some creaminess and a whole basket of apples, with underneath grainy notes. Seriously, is it a Speyside? This is so close to say, Glen Grant, I’m pretty sure I’d never pick this out as an Irish if nosed blind. It’s fairly straightforward and ‘easy’ (as in: without much complexity), but it’s well done and balanced.

The palate comes in with a bit of a surprise as there is a much clearer wood influence now, with just a hint of bitterness and sharpness to it – very likely the virgin oak doing its thing. I’m also picking up quite a bit of spices now, with cinnamon and perhaps shy touches of nutmeg. The mouthfeel is dry and a bit thin, which I put down to the youth and the 43% ABV. Overall, the honey sweetness and fruit are noticeably less dominant on the palate and seem to make way for things like dried peach and apricot and green banana, with something slightly herbaceous in the background. In any case it’s rather more layered now than it was on the nose. I’ve tried adding a drop of water to see if it would open up further but it just flattened everything out, adding only some sharpness.

The finish is medium long with the spices just taking over before it fades away.

A nice, unpretentious whisky. You could argue that it’s struggling a bit when it comes to developing some real character and personality, but bear in mind that it’s young, and a blend at that. Which brings me to the following: for the price point between €35 and €45 for a 5 year old blended whiskey, you can’t really call this expensive, but you’re not exactly winning any prices in the bang for buck category either. Putting things in perspective however, I will add that the way it changed and developed from nose to palate was a pleasant surprise, making this an enjoyable dram, with a big thumbs up for putting that 5 year old age statement on the label as an extra.

Irish samples month: origins (un)known?

Whisk(e)y is booming like never before. And if there is one country that’s really living the dream currently, we must perhaps not automatically look at Scotland, but to its next door neighbours. Ireland, along with England, is where ‘it’ seems to be ‘at’ nowadays. For the sake of consistency let’s put the focus somewhat westward: towards Eire.

Whoever says Irish Whiskey, says Jameson. Selling over 75 million bottles each year, it is beyond any doubt the undisputed champion of Irish whiskey. Despite Jameson being one of the bestselling whiskies in the world, or rather ‘because’, it’s easy to forget Irish whiskey was in steady decline for over half a century, as it never bounced back from the calamities of the first half of the 20th century – Two World Wars and to top things off Prohibition, which implied losing its most important export market, the USA.

10 years ago, you could count the number of active distilleries in Ireland on the fingers of one hand: Midleton, Cooley (later followed by Kilbeggan) West Cork (since 2004) and, including Northern Ireland, Bushmill’s. Despite there being only a handful distilleries left in Ireland, there was absolutely no shortage of brands coming from those distilleries. Obviously, most of them would have come (and still come) from Midleton, being of the enormous scale that it is. And I do mean enormous, as it has over 24 washbacks, pot stills of up to 80,000 litres each, 6 rather enormous column stills and no less than 40 warehouses. Midleton alone is good for Jameson’s, Red Breast, Green Spot, Yellow Spot , Red Spot and Blue spot, Power’s, Method & Madness, Paddy’s (although being sold in 2016 production still remains in Cork if I’m not mistaken) and others. Often, these  brands are the continuation of old distilleries who called it quits when merging into the Midleton distillery. And being as big as they are, Midleton can of course ‘cater’ to each of these brands’ specific style and profile.

On to Cooley and Kilbeggan then, where Tyrconnel, Connemara, and Kilbeggan are produced, and let’s not forget Knappogue Castle who could be considered an independent bottler who source from Cooley as well as from a number of other distilleries.

So these 4 to 5 distilleries were and still are responsible for dozens of brands, each again often offering multiple expressions, making it a fair conclusion that over the past decades, Ireland has built up a bit of a tradition of both sourcing and branding. But, as we all know: the times they are a changing…

Ever since late 2011 Jack Teeling sold both Cooley and Kilbeggan to what was to become Beam Suntory in order to start up his own Teeling distillery in Dublin, distilleries have been popping up all over the Emerald Isle like mushrooms in an autumn forest: Dingle, Pearse Lyons, the reanimated Tullamore D.E.W., Glendallough, Waterford, Dublin Liberties (who ‘ve been around for a number of years as a brand, but sourced from Cooley and Bushmill’s)… all of these have rapidly become well-known names for anyone who calls him or herself a whisk(e)y lover. As we speak, Ireland and Northern Ireland combined can boast some 35 distilleries, some of which are obviously still being build. The mere fact that this number has roughly seven folded compared to the situation about a decade ago, is absolutely astounding and indicates the size of the Irish Whiskey Boom.

Despite the huge changes in the Irish whiskey landscape in recent years, the tradition of sourcing and branding remains intact until today. Interestingly (or at least I find this interesting), together with the boom of new distilleries, we’ve also seen quite a number of (new) brands claiming their place on the market releasing Irish whiskey without there being a distillery behind it. Well, obviously there would be a distillery involved in the whole process at some point or there wouldn’t be any whiskey to begin with, but I’m talking of course about brands who don’t distil or produce their own whiskeys. In some cases we would need to add ‘not yet’ to that last sentence as some of these brands are indeed connected to a distillery, but are just starting up, making sourcing a logical temporary solution. So, the coming weeks this blog will be covering Irish whiskey brands who source their product from somewhere else, be it as new make they mature in their own casks giving it a personal touch, be it as an (almost) ready to go whiskey, be it at some other point in between.

Why, Malty, would you give this any attention at all? Well…because why not?! And also because I’m trying to take it a step further and look at the reasons behind things. You would think that with so many new distilleries on the rise, the market would become saturated at some point, but the current motto seems to be ‘the more, the merrier’. Also, sourcing your whiskey is one thing, but as is often the case, the way you present it is key. In today’s world, with information available within a few mouse clicks, transparency is the way to go. Stating clearly that it’s not your own product is of course what ‘we, the people’ prefer, as being vague or unclear about the origins of said product (or even worse, presenting it as your own) might not only be considered a sign of not being fully up to date with the 21st century, it may also be conceived as being ‘somewhat’ misleading. So in the next few weeks, I’ll be dipping my proverbial toe into sourced Irish whiskeys.

Kicking things off, is Writer’s Tears Double Oak (NAS, 46% ABV, ucf, possibly coloured, ex bourbon casks and French cognac casks).

Writer’s Tears may well be regarded as ‘the daddy’ of contemporary sourced Irish whiskeys, as the brand’s been around for a number of years (since 2011, if I’m not mistaken). Owned by the Walsh family, who are also behind the brand ‘The Irishman’, they’ve been creating Irish whiskey as far back as 1999. (Creating, not producing!) I want to make it very clear that this is not a case of a company creating confusion or blowing smoke about the origins of their whiskey. The Walsh family are quite clear and open as to where their whiskey is coming from (Midleton). After the successful launch of both the brands, they even had plans to build their own distillery in 2014. Backed by an Italian drinks company, these plans became reality in 2016, and the Walsh Whiskey Distillery was set up to produce 2.5 million LPA – single malt, pot still and grain whiskies alike. In 2019 however, the decision was made to focus solely on the 2 already existing brands, putting the distillery into the hands of the Italians (and renaming it to Royal oak Distillery). The Double Oak was first released in 2019 as a mixture of triple distilled single pot still and single malt, matured in both ex bourbon casks from Kentucky and French cognac casks from the Legaret family who own several cognac brands like Moisans, Deau and Roland Bru. And if you please pardon this rather ongoing introduction, tasting notes will follow without any further ado…

On the nose there’s fruit a go go: melon, pear, apple and apricot lead the way with a hint of soft and sweet grapes underneath. Right behind this elegant fruit basket, there’s a creamy sensation, almost a milk stout note in fact. White chocolate and soft almonds round things off quite nicely. Very ‘Irish’, really pleasant.

On the palate it’s still very fruity, but much more driven by orchard fruits. The melon and apricot are still there, but have to wait in line while the apples and pears are taking centre stage positions over a dry texture. No sign of the grapes though… Instead I’m picking up more ‘classic’ bourbon cask notes with wood and vanilla and, for whatever reason, sugared tea.

The finish is where this struggles a bit, unfortunately. I’m not saying it falls apart completely, but it’s a bit like Usain Bolt in his heydays, being chased by a swarm of wasps: you know it’s there, but it’s gone really, really fast, leaving just a faint echo of the fruit and the sweet tea.

I quite liked this. The mixture of single pot still whiskey and single malt would make this, by lack of a better definition, a ‘single blend’. It ticks a lot of the boxes in terms of presentation, it’s readily available and pretty affordable at around €35 - €45. Arguably the ‘copper pot’, ‘pot still’ and ‘red head’ are the better known expressions, but the Writer’s Tears ‘Double Oak’ showcases the Walsh’s creativity very well I reckon. While to me the cognac casks were only making a subtle impact on the final product, it’s an unpretentious, very enjoyable and approachable whisky. Job well done!

Review #44: Loch Lomond Inchmurrin 12 year old (46% ABV, UCF; could be coloured)

Last one up in our ‘Unsung heroes or Downright Zeroes’ series, is Loch Lomond. The current facilities date back to the 1960’ies, it’s also a distillery where they do things a bit different. Being a large distillery, they have different sets of stills: the traditional pot stills, used for the ‘regular’ releases under the Loch Lomond brand, but also column stills used for blends and single grain releases and straight neck pot stills, basically copper pot stills with column stills mounted on top, which they use for their ‘island’ releases. Indeed, Inchmurrin, as are (if I’m not mistaken) Inchmoan and Inchfad, are single malt Loch Lomoind whiskies all created using, at least partly, their straight neck stills. In case of the Inchmurrin the straight neck stills are used , and I quote from their website, ‘to create a distinctive lighter whisky with subtle floral notes’. The Inchmurrin is aged in three different casktypes (bourbon, refill and recharred) before blending them together, creating a signature flavour profile from master blender Michael Henry. As, certainly in today’s whisky landscape, the use of straight neck stills is far from common, this will certainly be an ‘interesting’ whisky to explore. Let’s find out if ‘interesting’ also means ‘good’, shall we?

On the nose, there’s candy! Lots of candy in fact, which, when dipping deeper into it, reveals sweet spices and syrup from apples, pears and peach, and indeed strong floral and grassy notes and (vanilla)oil. With some water I’m finding some liquorice notes as well. Different for sure, but also good! Let’s see what it brings on the tongue.

On the palate it arrives with a thick, greasy texture with notes of grass, oil and spices, almost pressing down the lighter floral notes in the background. The apples and pears from the nose have now invited their tropical friends over to join the party, as there’s now a lot of mango, apricot and sweet oranges saying hello. With water, some salty tones are coming through, along with more liquorice and vanilla.

The finish is medium long, sweet and greasy thick, salty with a rather sharp alcohol bite that settles down after some 20 minutes, when it reaches the sweet spot...

This is certainly a different single malt, and I’m pleased to say different in this case also means good, at least in my book. I think this will be a bit of a love it or hate it whisky, as it’s so distinctively different from what you’d expect from a (highland) single malt. I absolutely applaud Loch Lomond for releasing these, showing just what can be done and achieved within the fairly strict margins of what the SWA allows. 84/100

Review #43: Talisker Port Ruighe (45.8% ABV, coloured and presumably chill filtered, 2020 release)

3d episode in the ‘Unsung Heroes or Downright Zeroes’ franchise and we’re visiting another classic brand. Indeed, Talisker is probably one of the most readily available malts on the planet. With over 3 million bottles sold in 2018, it’s claiming its place in the top 10 of bestselling single malts in the world, and it’s easily one of Diageo’s bestselling single malts, second only to The Singleton in fact. Chances of you not being able to find a bottle of Talisker in a supermarket-near-you are therefore pretty slim, and if I were a gambling man, I’d wager on it being either Talisker 10 or Skye (or both) that’s available to you. Talisker 10 can rightfully claim its name as a ‘classic malt’, as it was first released as far back as 1988 as part of the Diageo range with the same name, where Talisker Skye is a fairly new expression, originally released in 2015.

The expression I’m looking at today, the Port Ruighe (pronounced something like ‘Port Ree’) predates the Skye as part of the core range by 2 years, and is named after the Isle of Skye’s main trading port. Ok, that’s confusing. Port Ruighe, as in harbour, while the whisky Port Ruighe is a NAS expression finished in port casks. While this is isn’t exactly hard to find (I actually picked up my bottle in a supermarket), it doesn’t seem to catch a lot of attention, as the Talisker 10, Storm and Skye seem to be the ones persistently claiming a place in the spotlights.

Now, before we get into the nosing and tasting, I have a confession to make. I don’t really ‘connect’ with most of Talisker’s core range. I think highly of the 18 year old, and I do enjoy the 57 north, but that’s about it. Obviously I tried the 10 and later the Storm in the early days of my whisky journey and they’ve helped me on my way, but having revisited a few in recent times, none of them (the Storm, the Skye and even the 10) sat well with me. I know a lot of people absolutely adore the stuff, but to me they came across a bit one dimensional and in the case of the Skye, even a bit bland and dull. Even the 15 yo cask strength that came out in 2019 as part of Diageo’s yearly special release, didn’t really do much for me, if I’m totally honest. So there’ that.

On the other hand, I’ve really grown into port matured and finished whiskies in recent years. I’m a fan of the Tomatin 14 yo port wood, and what Glenmorangie did with the Quinta Ruban (bumping up the age statement form 12 to 14 years) truly delivered in my book. The cherry on the cake was probably last year’s festival edition from Glen Scotia, as it was living proof that a port finished peaty whisky can be excellent. So there’s that as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, here goes nothing…

On the nose this is single malt potpourri! Confectionary sweetness, not unlike the impression you get from walking into a candy store: the overall sensation of sugary sweets, without being able to pinpoint specifically what kind of sweetness. Obviously there’s spices (soft artificial mint, but above all clove and the signature Talisker peppery notes), dried red fruits, salty and maritime notes, and finally, with a lot of patience: wine. It really took me 30-40 minutes to pick up the port and wine notes. All the while the peat takes a back seat with a slight grassy note underneath. A drop of water kicks things up a bit as the peat and salt become more prominent. Pleasant? Yes. But also a bit flawed when it comes to finding the right balance, as the sweet notes sit on top of everything else.

On the palate, it’s pretty much everything you got from the nose, but all at once. It really is an instant hit of sweetness, spices, salt, peat…all at the same time. So very much like the sea Talisker so fondly takes as a point of reference, it comes at you like a big wave of flavours and impressions. But as abruptly as it hits you, just as quickly is it gone again the next moment. I didn’t find any real development and the port cask influence is barely noticeable apart from the generic sweetness. On top of that, it’s also a bit hot and prickly, with a sharpness to it. Indeed, the peat and salt are a bit more on the forefront, with a nutty touch I didn’t find on the nose, but that’s about it. Even more, all in all it’s just a bit thin on the mouthfeel as well. Oh dear…

The finish is quite short and echoes the sharpness, with the peat and a warm, spicy-sweet dryness as a last goodbye.

What can I say? I’ve given this a good run, I’ve tried to set aside my slightly biased opinion regarding Talisker. I’ve tried it with both a warmed up and a fresh palate over the course of several weeks, even put it in a semi blind flight, and every time it came up short, unfortunately. There’s nothing particularly bad about this whisky, it’s not as if there are off notes which brings this down. It’s just that there’s nothing about this that’s particularly exciting either. It’s even a bit bland in my opinion. While it’s definitely not an unsung hero in my book, calling this a downright zero would be way too harsh. But to keep it on theme: floating my boat it most definitely did not. 70/100

Review #42: Tomatin Cask Strength (57.5% ABV, UCF, Natural Colour, 2018 release)

Part 2 in my series covering ‘Unsung Heroes or Downright Zeroes’, we’re zooming in on Tomatin. Tomatin isn’t what you could call an overlooked distillery, as they’re pretty easy to find and affordable, but it sure doesn’t suffer (or benefits, depending how you look at it) from the hype surrounding, say, Islay or Campbeltown whiskies, nor does it have a Richard Paterson or Billy Walker like aura attached to it. It’s not known for its peat monsters nor sherry bombs. But what it does do, pretty good in fact, in an almost quiet and unobtrusive manner, is growing as a brand and distillery, recognized and saluted for producing some fine whiskies. Perhaps not unlike its baseline ‘the softer side of the Highlands’.

When we talk about Tomatin, we’re usually discussing the entry level ‘Legacy’ as a strong contender in the ‘bang for buck’ category or the 14 year old port wood as an advocate for port wood finished whiskies. And while these two expressions may be the ones that tend to catch most of the attention, there’s also the 12 and the 18 yo in the core range, along with this cask strength I’ll be reviewing today.

A NAS release at 57.5% ABV, naturally presented and matured in first fill ex bourbon and oloroso casks, retailing around €45-€50: it seems like a very decent deal. It’s easily more affordable than Aberlour A’bunadh, Glendronach cask strength or even Glenfarclas 105 . So how come that at literally no point in my journey, no one in my ever expanding circle of fellow whisky enthusiasts, has sung its praise? Time to see what’s what, me thinks.

On the nose it comes across quite dry and fruity, with a ton of raised raisins. What strikes me, is the slightly dirty, oily texture – almost like motoroil, a feature I absolutely love (sherry cask matured Clynelish, anyone?) going into an earthy note and heavy (clove like) spices. You could argue that it’s also a bit closed and dense, but after some H2O it opens up, bringing in some sweetness and accentuating the spices.

On the palate again the oiliness immediately jumps out, with again that lovely dirty touch to it. Very atypical Tomatin. It’s full, dry and even richer than the nose suggests. Give it 15 to 20 minutes and the sweetness comes out with the dried fruits and a soft wood note. A few drops of water and the dirty oily texture evolves more towards a creamy one, with a lot more sweetness too: sugared raisins this time, but also baked apples and pears, bringing us much closer to what I associate with a signature Tomatin character.

The finish is pretty long and echoes the palate slowly into the exit with those dry and sweet spice notes (clove, nutmeg) and again the raisins lingering on.

In all honesty, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Not because my expectations  were low, but because it showed me a side of Tomatin I hadn’t really experienced before. While the dry oloroso is doing a lot of the talking, the softer and more subtle bourbon casks sort of put a leash on this, preventing it from becoming a sherry bomb. And that’s exactly what this whisky needed I think, as it‘s also delivering some subtlety behind the more obvious in-your-face notes, making for a more layered structure. If poured blind, I don’t think I’d ever have guessed on this being a Tomatin, as this has a bit of a bad boy mentality with those dirty notes. While I wouldn’t go as far as calling this a very complex whisky, it sure is a very moreish one. At less than €50 a bottle, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this should be receiving far more praise and glory. An unsung hero if ever there was one! 86/100

Review #41: Unsung Heroes or downright zeroes? Trying overlooked expressions from well established brands. Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition (51% ABV, UCF, very likely coloured)

 

Talisker. Tomatin. Glenfiddich. Johnnie Walker, Caol Ila, Ben Nevis…: well established brands, some even famous, and well talked about. Most of these have a core range that’s so widely available, it’s nearly unimaginable them not having crossed your path somewhere along on your whisky journey. I mean, what are the odds of a whisky enthusiast that didn’t start out with Glenfiddich 12 or Johnnie Walker Black? We know them, we tried them, in some cases we move on, in some cases we reach back to them on occasion. In any case, it’s very likely they will be in one way or another some sort of cornerstone or foundation on which you’ve built your knowledge of, and interest in whisky. But well established as these brands may be, they also have some expressions that, for whatever reason, don’t often get a place in the spotlight. So for this new series, I’ll be picking exactly the odd ones out and try to find out whether they are indeed unsung heroes or downright zeroes.

First off: Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition (51% ABV, UCF, very likely coloured) I don’t think I’ll be setting the world on fire when I say Glenfiddich is ‘The Daddy’ of all things single malt. Grant’s were the first to release their whisky as single malt expressions back in the 1960’s, and specifically the Glenfiddich 12 has been around for what seems like forever. As far back as I can remember, it was a bottle that regularly found its way into my father’s tray when I grew up, and it was the whisky my dear old gran used to have in her cabinet, happy to bring it out whenever my dad or me came round for a visit. So while Glenfiddich may be a brand many of us discover when starting out on our journey, many that ‘catch the bug’ will move on. And while the 12 yo and the 15 yo solera remain solid and affordable entry level whiskies, worth revisiting every now and again in my opinion, the fact that the entire core range, including the 18 and 21 yo, is presented at 40% ABV, coloured and chill filtered (the exception to the rule left aside), illustrates that they aren’t aimed at the enthusiast segment of the market. It’s clear that the range is aimed at the more occasional drinker, and that’s absolutely fine of course. However, in recent years, with releases like The IPA, Project XX and Fire & Cane from the experimental series, Grant’s has gone through some effort to create a range the more ‘adventurous’ and ‘advanced’ drinkers can connect with as well. In that regard, it could be considered bit strange that they don’t seem to put in a little extra effort to put the spotlights on an expression that ticks a lot of the boxes: an affordable 15 yo, released at 51% ABV, unchill filtered: the Distillery Edition. So, time to rectify this and find out if this deserves the title of ‘Unsung Hero’.

On the nose, this is like a stroll through an autumn orchard or village fair: ripe, red apples with mild spices, (black) pepper, barley sugar, a quiet note of vanilla in the back. When adding water I found the apple and sweet spices moving more to the foreground. This is off to a very promising start!

On the palate the nose continuous, and it has a dense, chewy, oily and syrupy texture. There’s peach, apricot and pear. With water the barley sugar is more pronounced, with some sweet and sour notes and a salty and ever so subtle smoky touch (rather coming from cask char than peat if I were to guess) I didn't pick up before. Again very pleasant and engaging.

The finish is medium long and dry, yet sticky and warm. The sweet and sour / salty notes linger on. With some added water it becomes less sticky, but the salty notes get prolonged.

The price-quality ratio on this one is excellent, at less than €65 for a 15 yo whisky at 51% ABV. I picked up mine for € 43, which is beyond a bargain and actually a steal. The mixture of Bourbon and Oloroso casks works very well, and while it's not the most complex of whiskies, it’s firm, round and very, very tasty. A solid 85/100. Unsung Hero? Hell yeah!

Review #40: Glenturret 10 yo peat smoked (featuring Glenturret 12 yo)

After last week’s lengthy post, I promised you a double act for this week. As I pretty much said all I could (and should) about the new Glenturret in the previous blogpost, I don’t need to elaborate too much about the distillery and the restart in this one.

I will, however, emphasize that both the bottle of the Glenturret 10 yo peat smoke and the sample of the 12 yo were kindly gifted to me by two wonderful people in the community.

Glenturret 10 year old peat smoked (50% ABV, UCF, natural colour, 2020 release)

On the nose, it comes across rather bold initially, but that’s a bit of a façade as this is actually quite delicate in my opinion. There is a nice balance between the peat and fresh fruit, dominated by citrus notes (mostly lemon, but definitely some light orange there as well and some grapefruit).This reminds me of wine gums as well, with a clear honey note counterparting the sourness from the citrus . It’s underneath, however, that it gets interestingly complex as there’s a floral-herbal touch to it, leading into a (decaying) vegetal light funk note. After a drop of water everything marries together nicely, but it also mellows out the light funk, making it ‘easier’ but possibly also taking away some of its complexity.

On the palate again things start of rather robust. It has this meaty/savoury and slightly dirty arrival you can also find (far more outspoken) in the heavily peated Kilkerran. The second impression brings a big wave of ashy peat and cigarette smoke which rather overtakes everything going all the way through into the finish, and makes for a dry, mouth coating texture. Here a drop of added water does help restore some of the more subtle elements as it tones down the ashy smoke and peat to allow the soft floral and honey and the citrus to reappear.

As said, the ash note dominates the dry, medium long finish which brings a hint of saltiness to the party. The added water does little to change that.

I know Ralfy gave this a rather standard score, but I am quite enjoying this one. What I like specifically, is the fact that despite the intensity of the initial meat- and peatnotes, this is a ‘young’ and delicate 10 year old whisky. It doesn’t overwhelm you with layer after layer of new notes popping up and disappearing again. To be clear, I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing, as it has this crisp, spirit driven freshness to it which is rather pleasant – especially as the current fashion seems to be to go for ‘bold’, with the combination of heavily peated whiskies being matured in strong, outspoken sherry casks. Good, just shy of being very good I reckon: 84/100

Glenturret 12 yo (drample impression, 46% ABV, UCF, natural colour)

On the nose, it’s soft and sort of mellow, but this also has a fizzy – sparkling sensation (effervescent is probably the right word here). It’s got sweet spices, red and dried fruits and blackcurrant with some wine notes in the mix even. It develops over time with more burnt and ‘cooked’ sensations giving me treacle and toffee, sweet tea and liquorice root , with hints of grassy, earthy notes.

On the palate, it has that same, easy going yet complex way of presenting itself. What you get on the nose, you’ll find on the palate. Rich, yet subtle, nothing overwhelms. Initially it’s sweet and full, but coming back for a second sip and there’s a lovely note of soft wood, dried fruit and faint notes of overbrewed tea, with a again a fizzy sensation throughout.

The finish is medium long, with spices and wood and an overall soft sweetness with a slight and pleasant bitterness at the end.

Like the 10 year old, this is a delicate whisky, despite being rich and warm and soft. But while the backbone, the blueprint, of both may be similar, these are in my opinion quite clearly different whiskies. In the case of the 12 yo, subtle doesn’t mean shy, as this is a very rewarding and pleasant whisky, with a good balance and excellent structure. None of the flavours and notes are screaming for attention, they just sit together in harmony, working together well.

I’m not going to bang on about the prices of both of these as I did plenty of that last week. Especially the 12 yo is being very well received by many (taking nothing away from the 10 yo) and both are more than decent whiskies in any case. Whether that will be enough for them to stand their ground in the current market and priced the way they are… let’s just say I have some doubts. Drop €5 - €10 of the price of each, though, and I’m pretty sure they will be embraced and cherished by many, applauded for the quality malts they are.

Glenturret: a ‘bijoux’ distillery?

Warning: the following content may well be the result of a whiskynerd overanalysing a few things…

Probably overshadowed by the fuss happening in the aftermath of the latest Kilkerran 8 release (immediately followed by more fuss coming from reviewers everywhere saying it might, perhaps, maybe be a bit disappointing and in any case less good than the celebrated and applauded 2019 STR release), one would easily forget other distilleries have been releasing quite interesting new expressions as well. And to be clear, I’m not talking about the ‘farewell to Mickey’ release aka the Arrrrrrdbeg as I don’t want to start yet another rant about overpriced, overhyped, flipped to the extreme bottlings. What I do want to talk about, is how a distillery builds character, identity, provenance if you will, recognised and applauded for releasing good quality products, and where and how branding comes into play. More specifically, I’d like to talk ‘a bit’ about Glenturret and where they are, in my opinion, in today’s whisky landscape. Because (and again: my opinion) they are sending out mixed signals. And being of the flawed gender that is man, I don’t do mixed signals very well.

Where they were

You probably know that Glenturret used to be owned by Edrington of Macallan and Highland Park fame, where it was home to the whisky tourist attraction that was The Famous Grouse Experience. As I have never been there myself, I need to lean on what I heard from others who have, and conclude that the important word here is ‘tourist’ rather than ‘whisky’, as it apparently was more some sort of a theme park about the UK’s number one blend than being about a ‘genuine’ whisky experience. In any case, Glenturret and Famous Grouse seemed to go hand in hand and about half of what was produced at Glenturret did indeed go into The Famous Grouse blend. More than that, it provided the distillery with a good deal of identity and recognisability. (And with ‘Towser the mouser’, the famous distillery cat being the official world record holder for most mice captured, animals do indeed seem to have played a vital role when it came to making Glenturret noted and seen by the outside world.)

While being recognised and having an identity in one way or another is of course crucial to any brand or business, in the case of Glenturret it also implies that not much attention was being paid to the actual whisky as such. And this, I think, proved to be a bit of a challenge when positioning their product in the ever broadening whisky landscape we see today. There have been official bottlings, but distribution was relatively limited, and what was available was almost always presented as standard as possible: 40 - 43% ABV, chill filtered and coloured. So with Famous Grouse being the very proverbial high flying bird here and Glenturret not really tapping into the enthusiast’s market whilst also being pretty invisible to the occasional consumer, it would be fair to say it was an ‘under the radar’ distillery. And of course that’s the case for many others as well (Teanininch, Linkwood, Auchroisk, Miltonduff…), and doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a problem, as many of them are indeed used by the big boys for creating blends, while, in many cases, plenty of their single malt is available through independent releases. Glenturret being no exception here.

But how do you go about if you’re given the opportunity to step out of the shadows and put, arguably for the first time in over 200 years of existence, the focus on your core business? How do you make a fresh start and rebrand just about everything there is to you but your name?

a thing of the past: Glenturret is no longer synonym with The Famous Grouse Experience

Where they are

Let’s take it back to around late 2017, when some shifts and changes occurred in the Scottish whisky landscape. Indeed, it’s the year Billy Walker bought Glenallachie from Pernod Ricard, but it’s also the year where Edrington ‘rebought’ Glenrothes from wine and spirits merchants / independent bottler Berry Brothers & Rudd (in a weird construction, Edrington maintained ownership of the distillery, but the brand and the stock belonged to BB&R). This meant Glenturret became a bit of an obsolete distillery in the Edrington portfolio, showcased in June 2018 by Edrington’s announcement that they planned to sell the distillery.

Cue Lalique, a French-Swiss company specialised in luxury jewellery, decorative items, furniture and even perfume. With a history dating back to the late 19th Century, the company is right up there among the likes of Cartier and Boucheron when it comes to top class jewellery, glassware and perfumes. Lalique also has a long-standing relationship with Edrington, as many of Macallan’s more exclusive releases are presented in crystal Lalique decanters. Just short after a year of Edrington regaining ownership of Glenrothes, Glenturret was sold to the luxury company for some £15.5 million for 50% of the distillery (the other half bought by Swiss billionaire and one of Lalique’s main shareholders Hansjörg Wyss) and a great deal of their maturing stock. The connection doesn’t stop there, as Macallan’s former master blender Bob Dalgarno is now in charge at Glenturret. As Edrington got to keep The Famous Grouse brand, Glenturret was stripped from its most important and most recognisable feature, leaving them with their last ‘claim to fame’: that of Scotland’s oldest distillery.

‘Provenance’ and ‘tradition’ are probably 2 of the most favourite words in any whisky marketing department, but in the case of Glenturret, it actually seems to not be a complete load of whatever it is that reeks funny and comes out of cattle, with a history dating back to the second half of the 18th century. But, even if there is some truth to this, you need to take into consideration that this claim dates back to an illicit or semi-legal distillery. Interesting fact here: the previous official releases under Edrington ownership mentioned 1775 as the founding year, together with the words ‘Scotland’s oldest distillery’. After some more research, they now can claim being established in 1763 (whether that’s money well spent, I’ll leave that for you to decide), with anew statement to go along with it: ‘Scotland’s oldest working distillery’ (could that be the legal department making a polite yet recommended suggestion?). In any case licensed distilling ‘only’ started in 1817 (which of course would still make them one of Scotland’s oldest working distilleries), so even that would need a pinch of salt.

Another good year onward and Lalique and Glenturret seem to have finished their homework, as late 2020 a new core range was released, consisting of a NAS called Triple Wood, a 10 yo peat smoke, a 12 yo and a 15 yo. I’ve tried some of these (more on that later), so with the brand and the distillery relaunched, the question here is: who is it for? Who does Lalique seek to reach with the rebranded, restyled Glenturret single malts? Where does Glenturret ‘fit in’ in today’s whisky landscape, and how does Lalique connect with – and look at - their latest asset? On first glance, a company specialised in jewellery buying a distillery seems like an usual move, even when you take into account that they have a daughter company active in the wine business.

The new core range releases: quite stylish

Where are they going?

An interesting take on things might be to see how Lalique sees to ‘treat’ Glenturret. Are they genuinely into the idea of positioning Glenturret as a solid actor in the field (i.e. as a distillery producing good quality single malt whiskies)? Or is there an angle, using the whisky as a way to showcase their other products? It seems, to me anyway, to be a bit of both, and I hope for their sake they’re not overplaying their hand in doing so.

The new releases are presented in rather stylish looking decanter bottles, with a very art-deco touch and look to them, so it’s obvious they’re trying to combine whisky with luxury glassware. It doesn’t end there: the name ‘Lalique’ gets mentioned on the packaging as their ‘partners in artistry (to) craft moments to treasure in spirit and glass.’ This feels a bit ‘constructed’ to say the least as all the other marketing flannel (and it is marketing flannel), dips deep into the bag of clichés with words like (and associations with) ‘provenance’, ‘Robert Burns’, ‘tributes to history’, ‘passion’, ‘traditional skills’ and so on. It all gets topped off with a coat of arms showing a rather generic chivalric image and a Scottish flag. The resemblance with the labelling from any given fancy wine making Chateau from Bordeaux is an easy one.

So, so far there doesn’t seem to be that much happening to get the modern day whisky enthusiast jumping up and down with excitement. Standard and cliché marketing, farfetched links and presented in what some might feel is a bit of an over the top bottle (not going to lie here: I do like it, and all things considered it would be quite odd for them not to put a great deal of attention to the bottles as, at the end of the day, that is what the owners are all about). Are there redeeming features to be found? The answer, I am happy to say, is yes, and they are plenty. Apart from the NAS release (43% ABV, Uncoloured but chill filtered), the entire core range is presented at 46% ABV or higher, at natural colour and unchillfiltered. Hooray indeed. This ticks all of the right boxes for us, the critical, spoilt for choice enthusiasts. And the good news doesn’t stop on the label, because what’s inside the bottles seems to rise to the occasion as well. Especially the 12 yo is getting some praise from reviewers and recently Ralfy reviewed the 10 yo Peat Smoke – both of them I’ll be reviewing as well in my next post.

But (isn’t there always a ‘but’), each coin has 2 sides. The other side here being the price tag. Even taking into consideration the fact that Glenturret is a fairly small distillery with limited stock, prices are not what you’d call cheap. The 10 yo sits at £50 (pricey, yet not uncommon these days), while the 12 yo retails at £65 (*frowns slightly now) and the 15 yo even comes in at £100 in the UK. (Lucky us, the 10 yo and the 12 yo are noticeably cheaper on mainland Europe). And if you fancy splashing the cash, why not go for a 25 yo (£950), or slap on an extra £500 and grab one of 750 bottles from the 30 yo. As these are explicitly labelled ‘maiden release’ to indicate this being a fresh start for the distillery, it’s fair to deduct that the price setting is not only a sort of statement on how the brand is perceived by the new owners, but more than likely they’ll be the benchmark for future releases. So that’s telling us something as well.

So what am I rambling on about here? I didn’t mean for this post to happen, I initially thought about just doing a review on the new core range. All of this gibberish is the result of me trying to make sense of what Glenturret is and where they stand in the world of Scottish whisky anno 2021. At the risk of making a bit of a fool of myself, the rebranded Glenturret puzzles me. And to be clear, I’m not talking about the quality of their product, but the way that product is presented to the outside world.

What confuses me, basically, is how Glenturret is presented as a brand. You can bet money on it that a company like Lalique has got quite an extensive marketing department, probably having very capable people working there, so chances of this just being ‘put out there’ to see what happens are nil. So again: why all these mixed messages cramped into one presentation: luxury (if it looks expensive and it is expensive, surely it must be good quality?), the same old clichés about tradition and craft yet also the natural and integrity presentation? It honestly puzzles me a bit: presenting whiskies with integrity, at good ABV, UCF, and without added colour to appeal to the enthusiasts out there (homework done and completely in line with what we want to see in today’s market, I can not applaud them enough for that), yet, and I’m playing the Devil’s advocate here, it seems like a ‘needless effort’ when looking at the branding and the targeted customer. While delivering a range of whiskies that deserve your attention, they’re at the same time losing points from those same critical enthusiasts for listening to their old friends at Macallan when deciding on price setting and marketing. I don’t know that many people who consider themselves genuine whisky enthusiasts who’ll be queuing around the block to fork out a 100 quid for a 15 year old whisky…

In other words: why bother with the 46% ABV and all the rest, if you’ve decided to  present yourself as a premium brand, a luxury, ‘bijoux’ whisky, if you will? Can you be both about releasing integrity whiskies AND be a premium brand? We know there is a market for premium brands, as shown by Macallan and, to a lesser extent, Dalmore. Both, generally speaking, don’t bother too much about integrity presentation. And more importantly, both of them are well established brands (with Macallan especially leaning on –alas – long lost glory). And here’s where they differ from Glenturret, which, despite its long history, hasn’t got a ‘tradition’ as a well-established brand, simply because it has lived a great deal of its life, both past and recent, in the shadows.

So while trying to make sense of it all, it seems to me like they ignored one or two rules here. First and foremost: KISS (keep it simple, stupid): don’t try to be 2 or 3 things all at once, all at the same time. And as a consequence of that: it’s easier to change something that is, than to create something all new. I can see why it would have been necessary to make tabula rasa of a lot of things regarding Glenturret as they pretty much had to reinvent themselves as a brand, but it seems that in doing so, they might have overdone it a bit.

If anything, it‘ll be fascinating to see where Lalique will go with Glenturret as a distillery and a brand. The current presentation seems a bit like them betting on two horses in the same race, and I’m both curious and interested to see which one will come out on top. Because that’s the thing: one will come out on top, which automatically means the other one won’t... If you’ve stuck till the end on this one: I don’t know whether to congratulate you or to offer my apologies. Taking Glenturret as an example: I’ll do both. To make up for this one, I’ll bring you two reviews for the price of 1 next week: my thoughts on the 12 yo and the 10 yo peat smoke. Thank you – sorry- thank you!

Review #39: Amrut Fusion ( 50% ABV, presumably natural colour and UCF, batch 67 - december 2017)

Last up in our series ‘meanwhile at the neighbours’, I’m stretching the concept of what one might consider to be neigbours as we’re headed to India. Amrut, founded in 1948, started producing single malt for the domestic market in the 1980’s, but didn’t release it as such. For the first years, they just took their single malt product and blended it with alcohol distilled from sugarcane – staying close to what a lot of Indian ‘whisky’ actually is: a blend not just from malt or grain, but with sugar cane or molasses. Upon discovering that a few years of maturation in the Indian climate made their product similar to the profile of Scotch whisky 3 times older, they decided to give it a crack and started releasing Amrut as a single malt in the early 2000’s. Soon, around 2004, they aimed to go international. Releasing their products as a single malt whisky overseas, and in Scotland in particular, proved to be less evident though, as initially it was greeted with a lot of scepticism (and dare I say: snobbery?). But, giving credit where its due, along came ‘The Hat’. Jim Murray, ‘in tempore non suspecto’, was probably the first to give Amrut some attention and praise, shortly followed by John Ansell of The Whisky Advocate, which set the wheels in motion. These days, Amrut is well established as a brand around Europe and the rest of the world, and can even be rightfully seen as one of the pioneers of the contemporary globalization of whisky.

So why does it make the list in this series? The clue ’s in the name: Amrut Fusion is made using both local Indian barley and imported Scottish barley, usually (lightly) peated. Reason enough for me to add them to the list. And anyway, it’s my blog, so shut up. Although this is, like most of their releases,  a NAS, most of their expressions seems to be matured somewhere between 3 – 5 years. Bearing in mind that The Angel’s Share in the Indian Climate counts for some 11-12% of maturing stock literally vanishing into thin air every year, that’s actually a very decent age to bottle the spirit. On to the whisky…

On the nose, things start of floral and grassy, with a slight solvent note underneath. Nothing shy here, pretty firm and robust in fact, with sweet and sour notes of barley sugar, grainy/cereal notes and dried spices and -fruit, an earthy-salty touch and something of a wine note even. The overall sensation on the nose is rather dense and oily with vanilla and (heather)honey. A few drops of water and there is a clear funky- grainy note showing up. Pretty busy, pretty complex, pretty solid so far.

The palate arrives with a wood note I didn’t really pick up on the nose. This is quite funky-earthy-grassy, not miles away from the Campbeltown signature even. The body is lovely: medium-full, dense, woody and oily, with quite some vanilla and nuts and again the dried spices. Again with added water the heathery-floral notes come out, paving the way for a more prominent role for the funky notes.

The finish is warm and dominated by the spices and wood notes, but there’s a sharpness to it as well and it disappears maybe just a tad too fast to my liking.

Despite the finish being just a bit too short and ‘spiky’ to make this a complete homerun, this is a good whisky. I can get why it’s not to anyone’s liking as it’s rather woody-grassy and funky rather than being sweet or ‘smooth’, but it’s well balanced, and it absolutely delivers in terms of complexity and flavour. I think it’s probably the most ‘Scottish’ of the non-scotch whiskies I’ve reviewed throughout this series, while still maintaining its unique character and provenance. I’ve tried a few whiskies from Amrut in the past but I think this is only the second bottle I actually bought. Some I liked, some took some getting used to, but this one I am very happy to have in my cabinet, especially considering what to me counts as great value for money. 85/100

Review #38: Powers John’s Lane 12 yo Irish Pot Still Whiskey (46% ABV, UCF, 2019 release)

Part 3 in our miniseries ‘meanwile, at the neighbours’ brings us to Ireland, the other homeland of whisk(e)y. Although it’s clear that the story of whisk(e)y on each of the two islands is very much rooted and connected to its specific locality and history, it is, at the same time, a story of two nations being aligned and connected with each other. Scotland’s claim as a whisky nation is, despite the growing success of single malt, still firmly based on the global success of blended whisky. Blended whisky has become a billion dollar business in today’s market, and relies a great deal on grain whisky, which is usually produced in column stills. And this is where Scotland owes a great deal of depth to Aeneas Coffey, an 19th century Irish man whose innovations of the column stills lead to what is known as Coffey stills, which are still in use today. Vice versa, Ireland’s most famous whiskey, Jameson, takes its name and fame from a Scotsman who started making whiskey in Dublin at the end of the 18th century. To name but two examples.

As Ireland’s name and reputation as a whiskey nation took several heavy beatings throughout the 20th century, many of its once celebrated and famous brands and distilleries were hanging by a thread over the pit of oblivion. Powers was no exception. Founded in the late 18th century in Dublin, it became one of the biggest and most successful distilleries in the 19th century, employing around 300 people and producing some 3 to 4 million LPA (900,000 gallons), it was indeed of the same scale and reputation as Jameson’s.

Like so many others, it never really recovered from the blow that prohibition meant for Irish whiskey. Despite installing a column still for blends and experimenting with gin and vodka after the second world war, they didn’t manage to turn the tide, leading to the closure of their Dublin distillery in the 1960’ies to join forces with the other remaining survivors in what was to become Irish Distillers, who set up a new distillery in Midleton, Cork. Since then (1975), all Powers (like Redbreast, Jameson, Yellow/Green/Red/Blue Spot…) are Midleton products. This huge facility houses a multitude of pot stills and column stills in all different sizes and shapes, allowing them to produce different styles of whiskey, from grains to single malts, blends and pot still whiskeys, all again with their own characteristics and flavours. Powers John’s Lane (named after the location of the old distillery in Dublin) is released as a single pot still whiskey, and makes up the core range along with the gold label. A rebranding in 2020 saw (apart from differently shaped bottles and labels) also a NAS pot still added to the core range, and it may also have meant some alterations were made regarding the use of casks for maturation and finishing. In any case, time to find out what’s what.

On the nose there is honey, lots and lots of honey, accompanied by sweet spices, almost leading into sweet (pipe) tobacco. It has a creamy sensation, with a lot of vanilla, toast and breakfast cereals, apples and pears, and a lovely leathery –waxy- polish touch.

The palate comes in soft, yet busy, with a very creamy texture. The cereal notes are now more on the forefront, with the spices moving in right behind them, with again a lot of vanilla and a sweet peppery / ginger like note – possibly some cinnamon as well. There is some young, sappy wood here and dried fruits with raisins and sultanas. Mid palate, the creaminess suddenly evaporates into thin air, which is a bit of a pity as things just sort of stop developing.

The finish is medium long, warm and dry with again the sweet spices of vanilla and ginger. The cream lingers on and on and slowly yet surely evolves towards a cereal note that softly fades out.

I ‘m really enjoying this one. While not complex, it has a lot to offer in terms of flavour, and it does remind me of what you might call an ‘old school’ whiskey. That triple distilled pot still whiskey makes for a lovely creaminess, while the honey and the spices sort of glue everything together making this a well-balanced, rich yet easy accessible and very enjoyable whiskey. 85/100

Review #37: Stauning Bastard (research series, 2016-2019, 46.3% ABV, UCF, natural colour)

Second in our peek across the borders of Scotland, is Denmark*. Famous for giving us Hans Christian Andersen, Vikings, Kierkegaard, Niels Bohr, Lars Ulrich (does he even count?) and uhm … whisky?

Indeed, the Danes are very much on the whisky bandwagon, albeit that a lot of their distilleries have barely (if at all) past the micro distillery stage. Even Stauning, which was founded in the namesake village in the West of Denmark right near the shores of the Ringkobin loch in 2006, was only building up towards producing 15,000 lpa until 2015, when a £ 10 million pound investment from Diageo’s incubator fund meant a serious increase in production capacity (in effect since 2018). And I do mean serious, as they now have 24 direct-fired copper pot stills on site, capable of producing up to 900,000 lpa. So chances are you’ll be seeing their products pop up in stores near you sooner rather than later.

Apart from this significant expansion in production capacity, once again the Danes, being Scandinavian and noblesse oblige, are also leading the way in terms of short chain and ecological economy. A 1000m² floor malting allows for 100% local grown barley and rye to be used. On top of that, the architecture connects the 21st century distillery with the local community, as the buildings resemble the fishing huts that have always been a part of what the village of Stauning was all about.

The core range now consists of a peated expression, a rye whisky, Kaos (a triple malt) and Bastard, which hasn’t stolen its name. Stauning Bastard is a whisky made from a mixture of 100% local  barley and rye, which is then matured in virgin American oak and mescal casks. Probably what you’d call the SWA’s worst nightmare, but then again: we’re not in Scotland. In any case this seems like a bit of a bold move, very much showing the pioneering spirit of the people behind the distillery. If it works, it could be brilliant, if it fails, this could be an abomination to whisky in every sense of the word. Let’s get to it.

The nose comes in with a good deal of intensity, nothing shy here. The rye is doing a lot of the talking – herbal, grainy and a lot of sweet spices, green notes and strawberry and even strawberry chewing gum. If you get past those, you notice the more subtle barley notes singing in the background, with a cereal/biscuit/bread character and spring-like heather and floral notes.

On the palate it’s initially more from the nose, coming in with a dry arrival and (dried) spices from the rye. There is a hint of wood (the virgin oak) and some salt and brine (could that be the mescal?). The green notes are really pushed to the back now, but countering the clear rye notes, there is a subtle touch from the barley, sort of restraining the rye influence from overpowering all and everything there is to this whisky.

The finish is salty, spicy and dry and while it’s not incredibly short, it’s not exactly at risk of being fined for loitering either.

So, first and foremost: job well done. This could have been a complete disaster if left to people not knowing what they were doing, but that’s clearly not the case here. Like the Cotswolds from last week, this is pretty much a toddler. And, even more so than the English whisky, it shows its youth. It’s not lacking in flavour by any means, but it does suffer a bit when it comes to showing any real development. Whether that’s because the rye is doing (too) much of the talking or because the youth doesn’t allow the casks to make a big impact, I’m not sure, it could be both. In any case I found the structure to  be slightly thin and it would benefit from a bit more complexity. And yes, at around €50-€60 for a 50 cl bottle it’s easy to argue that there are better whiskies on the market, and certainly better value whiskies. But leaving that criticism aside, it doesn’t take a whisky genius to figure out that Stauning has all their bases covered: the quality of their spirit is undeniable,  it comes with a natural presentation, they’re going at it with the right pioneering mentality, and they’re keeping an eye on their ecological footprint at the same time. I’m definitely planning to revisit them in a few years’ time. With 2 or 3 extra years of matured spirit, I’m very hopeful they will be able to release quite stunning Stauning (apologies for that awful pun). In the meantime I’d say this is good, yet perhaps not entirely there yet: 79/100.

*Yes, it’s about 820 km from Scotland to Denmark, but that’s still not as big as the gap between Wick and London, so shut up.

Review #36: Cotswolds Odyssey Barley (batch 6/2018, 46 % ABV, UCF, Natural Colour, 5950 bottles)

Meanwhile, at the neighbours… We talk about Scotch whisky so often, we easily ‘forget’ that quite some good whisky is coming from Scotland’s neighbours, especially in recent years. So I’m happy to welcome you to a new series where we take a peek across Scotland’s borders and see what’s going on at the neighbours. For the next couple of weeks, please allow me to take you to exotic places like Denmark, England and Ireland. Oh, and India (no, seriously).This week, we’re taking a look down south, way past Hadrian’s wall.

In the midst of the current whiskyboom, you cannot look past one particular ‘region’ that has been putting in its weight in recent years. English whisky has indeed been quite the busy little bee making a name for itself, with distilleries like The English, The Lakes and, probably the highest flying bird of the lot at the moment, Bimber. There are a few distilleries however that can be seen as the ‘pavers of the way’, and Cotswolds is most definitely one of them. Cotswolds Distillery, located in – drumroll if you please, captain obvious - The Cotswolds, is where founder and manager Dan Szor and his team have been creating whisky and gin since the summer of 2014. Located pretty much bang in the middle of what probably is one of England’s most picturesque regions (in the South West of England, west of London and south of Birmingham), the distillery has expanded in recent years with a new visitor center in 2019 and 2 off-site shops in nearby villages as well.

So to kick off this new series, I’m taking a look at this batch 6 from their Odyssey Barley, which was distilled in 2014 and bottled in 2018. For all of their whiskies, they’re using 100% local barley, which is then traditionally floor malted at the nearby facilities at Warminster, England’s oldest maltings. Who knew you could be about terroir without making a big fuss about it?

The Odyssey Barley is matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks ad rejuvenated red wine casks before being bottled at 46% ABV, aged somewhere between 3 and 4 years, at natural colour and without chill filtration. Boxes are being ticked here.

On the nose, this is a real fruit basket! Banana, starfruit, a whiff of aniseed, mango and some peach: all coming across rich, ripe and juicy. The bourbon casks chip in with some honey, light vanilla and there is also a bit of a toasted note (from the rejuvenated casks?).

The palate comes in with a soft arrival, yet, and this surprised me, it’s less fruity than the nose would suggest. Don’t get me wrong, the fruit is still there, but it’s not playing first violin. This has more notes of young, sappy wood, along with honey and vanilla and a sort of generic sweetness I put down to the wine casks. Mild and sweet spices as well, and overall it has a creamy mouthfeel. Yes, it’s young, obviously, but by no means under aged. It’s lively, youthful and pleasant.

The finish isn’t very long, but not too short either and quite syrupy. The fruity notes are making a comeback now, before fading out into a nutty note.

Like I said, this is a young whisky, but even disregarding the youth, it is bringing quite some character to the table. The young team at Cotswolds did a good job managing the balance between the fruity character of the new make and the impact of the wood, and while you might say that the wine casks are indeed helping a fair bit to ‘make up’ for the youthfulness, it isn’t, in my opinion, trying to hide or mask it. A pleasant, summery whisky: 82/100.

The coming weeks I’ll be looking at some other whiskies from Scotland’s neighbours as well, and while we’re on the subject, coincidence has it that Lee from the Budgetdrams channel is starting a series tomorrow (Friday) inspired by the six nations league. Yes, that’s rugby. Check it out here. And if you’ll now please excuse me, I’ve got a date with a Dane.

Drample impression #14: Macallan 21 yo fine oak (43% ABV, Natural Colour, Chill Filtered)

To conclude our series of 21 year old whiskies, we find ourselves in the company of what many see as the Rolls Royce of whiskies (granted, first and foremost by the people who are actually producing and promoting the stuff, but still). Indeed, the Macallan 21 year old fine oak takes the meaning of the words ‘silly money’ to a whole new level, as the retail prices for a bottle of this start at a humble €600 and go up to around €800. That’s around a 1000% of the price for the 21 year old  Glenfarclas we started out with, leaving pretty much every other 21 yo scotch out there gasping for air. Price wise anyway.

People who’ve been following this blog long enough (all 5 or so of you: thanks!!), may remember that I’m not particularly fond of Macallan, as a brand mostly, but even their current line of whiskies don’t seem to live up to their price setting. The ones that are affordable didn’t overly impress me (the old NAS Gold and Amber were pretty dull -while the Sienna was pretty good but quite expensive for a 43% ABV NAS whisky, and the 12yo, to name a few). Granted, there are very, very good Macallans available in today’s market, but everything about their price setting, their marketing, their positioning as a brand really does not appeal to me. Lucky for them, I’m just a pesky little blogger from Belgium and don’t seem to represent what a lot of people think when they hear the word Macallan. I’m not going to repeat the whole rant I did about a year ago about their portfolio range, because this is actually about tasting one of their whiskies, and I already feel like I’m going in with a biased approach with what I just wrote. Bad Malty!

This particular sample was kindly provided to me by Kresimir Jelcic, aka ‘The Sniper King’ (you star!), and the fine oak series is matured in both bourbon and sherry casks, bottled at 43% ABV.

On the nose, things start of soft, with honey, stone fruit (peach, apricot), with floral and grassy notes, leading into faint (baking) spices. It’s all very subtle. Not tame, mind you, but understated, like there is a promise of depth and complexity, without actually being complex or delivering depth. A few drops of water takes away the veil and kicks some life into it. The spices now jump out, leaving us with the mental image of Christmas cake and pastry.

On the palate, it’s noticeably more ‘intense’, but surprisingly also a bit sharp, while the mouthfeel is a bit thin. Again the grassy, floral elements are there, but also some cereal notes and of course the spices, leading into a slight woody bitterness. Here again, a drop of water brings out the spices. Overall, you can tell there is quite a bit of age to this malt, but everything remains understated.

On the finish, the mouthfeel is dry, with spices and herbal notes doing the talking. Complex, but closed and enigmatic even.

I don’t really know what to make of this one, to be honest. On the one hand, it’s an intriguing, interesting whisky, almost crying for a bit more exploration, as it’s suggesting and even promising age, depth and complexity, but (from this sample) not really delivering it. So you can’t criticize this for lacking in quality, because it is, in fact, good. Which brings me to the ‘on the other hand’ part: I’m far from keen on spending my money on a full bottle to find out if all what’s being promised or suggested really is there to be discovered. There may be the word ‘mission’ in this blog’s title, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to spend all of my resources on wat may prove to be a lost cause. So based on this sole sample, I’d need to conclude that this is a solid, good whisky, worth around €100 - €150, but it’s dressing up and pretending to be something it’s not.

In any case, €600-€800 for a bottle is beyond taking the piss, it’s daylight robbery. Macallan are branding themselves at people who can afford having an Aston Martin in the garage for weekend trips, next to their BMW M5 for their daily commute, and that’s absolutely fine and completely up to them. But, where the Aston can do things you couldn’t pull off in, say, a Renault Modus, there is very little, if anything, that makes Macallan, on the whole, stand out to other quality whiskies, justifying the excessive prices. So, in my opinion, this seems a bit like a scam. Even if you can afford it and are tapping in to whatever image you may think you’re literally buying yourself by putting this in your cabinet, ask yourself: why am I spending this amount of money on 1 bottle, while I can easily buy 3 or 4 other bottles of 21 year old whisky for the same money that will, very, very likely, be equally good, if not better.

Dammit, promised not to go on a rant. Oh well.

Obviously, conclusions and generalisations on the topic of ‘how much is a bottle of 21 yo whisky really worth’ based on 4 whiskies in a vast sea of available options is a big ‘no no’, but for what it’s worth: you can get good, older whisky at decent prices, but you’ll struggle to find exceptionally good stuff on the cheap. For said exceptionally good stuff, you will need to open that wallet and cough up prices near or even over €200, but let’s keep things in perspective: that’s pretty much the far end of the scale. Exceptional quality does indeed have its price, but when you’re paying that amount of money, you’re not too far off from starting to pay for rarity and exclusivity, rather than actual, intrinsic quality. I’m not making a statement here about how much whiskies should cost, because that rarity or exclusivity can be worth paying for, I’m just trying to state the difference between the two. Just. My. Opinion.

That wraps it up for this series. I’m planning on doing more posts based on a theme, as it allows me some room to tap into other stuff and look into other whiskies apart from the more recent releases and still be ‘on topic’, trying to bring content that is in some way relevant or fun, for me to explore and write about and for you to read. Until next week, and thanks for reading, commenting, responding! It is all very much appreciated.

Drample Impression #13: Springbank 21 yo 2020 release (46% ABV, NC, UCF, 30% bourbon, 30% rum, 25% sherry, 15% port casks)

The third and second to last part in our series of 21 yo whiskies to welcome in 2021 brings us to Campbeltown with Springbank, ‘the whiskydrinker’s whisky’. So, as we keep on climbing the ladder of retail prices, this one would be sitting near the top end of the scale of what a lot of people would consider ‘acceptable’ for a 21 year old whisky. In fact, splashing the cash on this is what most of us would probably consider to be a bit of a folly. The 10, 15 and 12 yo cask strength being the ‘available’ core releases, Springbank releases an 18 yo and a 21 yo on a regular basis as well, but for the latter you’d need to have both a fat wallet (retail around €200-€230) and lightning fast reflexes as each release is limited to a few thousand bottles, which usually sells out in the blink of an eye.

The 2020 release consists of 3300 bottles, all pretty much gone now of course, and chasing one down would already set you back double the RRP, with prices now well above €400. Crazy, but that's how it goes indeed. Much like with the 12 year old cask strength, the good folk at Springbank like to mix things up with the 21 year old, using (different proportions from) different casktypes to create different profiles for the different releases. That’s a lot of differences right there. My only previous experience with Springbank 21 was the 2013 release, which, in all honesty, left me wanting a bit as it was mostly the sherry caks doing the talking with little peat (not unusual after 21 years of maturation, obviously) and even less of the signature Springbank earthy/mineral funk to it. One look at last year’s release however, tells you that we’re dealing with here is a different animal altogether with the rum and port cask influences.

The nose is rich, dark and intense (think burnt caramel) but with a wonderful subtle funky freshness to it. Heavy spices (nutmeg and clove), soft peat and (literally) an earthy, soil like note. Only then the second wave comes in, with coffee and coffee liqueur, licorice, old wood and dried fruits and some salt and brine. A drop of water highlights the caramel note which now turns into salted caramel and dark, bitter chocolate. Just… wow!

The palate starts off very dirty and earthy: again the soil-like note, making for a dry mouth feel with a chewy, oily and almost beef jerky texture, emphasized even more by dried spices and dried fruit and burnt caramel. Virtually no sign of the peat now, but a clear umami element shows up (think salted bacon and dried, salted meat). With a drop of water the salt notes increase even further.

The finish is dry and warm. Quite long as well with a slightly bitter touch to it (again the earthy note) fading out on those spices and dried fruit, now accompanied by hints of nuts which I didn’t really pick up before.

Dammit! Here I was, ready to conclude that €200 for a bottle of 21 year old whisky is dangerously close to taking the piss, then along comes this one. This is amalgamation of casks turned into an art form (yep, that’s me dancing around the word ‘blending’), bringing everything I’d expect from a Springbank with a proud and loud age statement: complexity, character, depth, richness, intensity, versatility and a wide arrange of flavours … demanding my attention every step of the way. Yes, it’s an opinion based on a sample (thank you, James Burgoyne!), but man, how I wish I had a full bottle (damn you, James Burgoyne!). The cliché saying 'quality has its price' has an awful lot of truth to it in this case, and if you’re ever considering paying €200 for a bottle of whisky, I can only hope it’s nearly as good as this one. Stunning!

Review 35: Glengoyne 21 year old (43% ABV, Natural Colour, presumably chill filtered)

Part 2 of 4 of our series of 21 year old whiskies takes us to the southern Highlands. So southern in fact, that we are on the border between the Highlands and the Lowlands. Glengoyne is literally right on the edge between the two whisky regions, as the distillery is located in the Highlands, but cross the road to visit their warehouses and you’ll find yourself in the Lowlands.

Were they perhaps a bit of an ‘overlooked’ distillery in the past, they are very much making an effort to get noticed today. First and foremost they tend to make rather good whisky (which always helps, obviously) with the (discontinued) 15 year old as a people’s favorite, but they went the extra mile to make sure people would take note as well. Last year, they rebranded their logo –received with a broad nod of approval, which can't be said for all rebrandings - and they were and are very active on social media, with tastings, Q&A’s and what not. Together with Tamdhu, they can also call themselves a sister distillery to the almost mythical Rosebank distillery, as owner Iain MacLeod Distillers are working hard to bring the former star of the Lowlands back to live.

So exciting things to look forward to indeed, yet we need to make but one side remark to all of this. Over the past year or so, prices, especially for their limited releases and single cask bottlings, seem to have received a noticeable ‘upgrade’ as well. Sign of the times, probably.

In any case, we’re here today to focus on their 21 year old expression. My particular bottle is a 2017 release, and in today’s market this sits around €120 - € 150, depending where you’re located. As you may know, throughout January I’ll be sharing notes for 21 yo whiskies, all sitting in a different price range. The Glengoyne is nearly 50% more to even double the price of last week’s Glenfarclas, so that takes us straight into the ‘what you’d expect to be paying for a 21 yo whisky’ category. So apart from sharing with you my notes, I’ll also be tackling another question: Is it worth coughing up the extra dineros? On to the whisky.

The nose, in one word, is just beautiful: soft, but also rich and full, with a wonderful balance of spices, dried fruit (dominated by raisins and sultanas), coffee, old wood, caramel and toffee. If you give it time (and you should, as just nosing this is a treat in its own right), the classic sherry notes appear, with those Christmas cake notes and the spices (mainly clove and cinnamon) taking center stage.

On the palate again there is this warming arrival with a medium thick and full syrupy texture, leading towards notes of wood and nuts, along with those spices and red and dried fruits with just a very soft bitterness in the back. It’s not a complex or difficult dram, but very, very elegant indeed.

The finish is actually quite long and lingering. Warm, with notes of spices, dried fruit and wood that keep hanging around for minutes after sipping.

This is easy sipping, very enjoyable and rewarding, and what it may ‘lack’ in terms of complexity, it makes up for with its brilliant balance and elegance. It’s very well rounded without becoming too ‘slick’ or ‘smooth’ (there, I said it) and it brings all the depth and character you’d expect from a 21 year old whisky. Even the 43% ABV seems to fit this expression rather nicely, as it’s not trying to be bold or overwhelming or show off in any way. Would I say the extra cost compared to the Glenfarclas brings extra value? I’m inclined to say yes. If the Glenfarclas was a bit like a 21 yo going on 17, this Glengoyne really shines and ticks all the right boxes in my book. So much so, in fact, I even think it could be seen as a benchmark when looking at other whiskies of the same age in terms of quality and value for money. Damn fine stuff indeed! 88/100

Review 34: Glenfarclas 21 yo (43% Natural colour, chill filtered, 2016 bottling)

This is the first of 4 21 year old whiskies I’ll be reviewing throughout January. Two of these will be based on bottles I have in my cabinet, 2 will be from samples kindly provided by wonderful people in the awesome whisky community. Each 21 year old will also sit in a certain price range, starting with the ‘this seems like a steal’ category, followed by a whisky in the ‘that’s a reasonable price for a whisky this age’ category , and then onwards to ‘splashing the cash’ to land in  ‘who in their right mind would pay this kind of money?’ area.

And that’s indeed the funny thing with 21 yo single malt whiskies: prices are literally all over the place. Granted, quite a lot, if not most brands seem to have a certain ‘logical progression’ regarding prices as you go through their ranges up until around 18 year old. However, once you get passed that 18 yo age statement, it’s a bit like the wild west out there with that 21 year old like the turning point. Few (and I do mean few) can be found for less than €100 – this Glenfarclas for instance I bought for around €75. That’s about as cheap as you could hope to find for a whisky with that age statement and it’s probably only beaten in price by the Knockando 21 yo. Then there are quite a lot of 21 yo expressions that are priced somewhere in the €100-€200 range, which is still a pretty broad range to be honest, but all in all what you’d call ‘fair enough’. However, it really seems much like a game of blind darts from there on as regarding prices. Highland Park 21 yo is sitting ‘just’ north of €200 (and double the cost of the 18 yo, for 3 extra years of maturation, if I might add), and that’s just the start as it gets pretty steep really fast from there. The Ardbeg 21 yo was around €300- €400 on release a few years back (now easily another €150), the same goes for the Dalmore. Mortlach’s 2020 Diageo Release? Add another €100 (the redeeming factor here that it’s a cask strength bottling, so that’s a steal, surely), but then you’re still easily €100 or more shy from Macallan territory, as their 21 yo takes the cake with prices going from €600 to €800.

Some of these prices are indeed quite mindboggling, so apart from doing this cute little 21 for 21 thing, I’d like to take it a step further and try and see whether that extra cost really brings extra value in terms of taste and quality. I know it’s not exactly fair to be comparing full bottles to samples, but like I said in the first paragraph: some of the whiskies I’ll be trying are pushing the limit of what I’m willing to pay (and then some). I’m a happily married man with a decent yet moderate income, and I’d like to keep it that way (that bit about the married stuff obviously. If you’re a possible Maecenas: feel free to drop me a DM). So if you’ll excuse this rather exhaustive introduction, without further ado I’ll get to the whisky.

It’s a typical sherried nose: red fruits (raspberries, cherries), some candy and licorice, a not too outspoken wood note, herbal elements and spices (sage and thyme, some clove and nutmeg), also some sulfur and musty notes, yet not unpleasant. Adding water drowns things, unfortunately, but overall it’s all pleasant and easy going.

The taste is a bit less versatile compared to the nose. Dense, with red an dried fruits and nuts leading the way before a slight, not unpleasant wood bitterness pops in, leaning towards a hint of dark chocolate in the back. Here the water has a more desirable effect, as it livens things up, but also makes things a bit sharp.

The finish is where it actually starts to struggle a bit in my book, as it’s rather short, dry and woody. Yes, it becomes longer after adding some water with a nutty – oily character joining in, making it slightly sticky, but for a liquid that has spent 21 years in a cask, you’d expect a bit more depth and a more lasting memory.

Batch variation is a thing, especially when it comes to Glenfarclas and I have indeed tasted better versions of their 21 yo. When they get it right, their whisky is quite brilliant, stunning even; when they get it less wright, they’re still far from horrible, but they can be lacking a bit (as in overly sulfured, or a bit thin or flat) in my opinion. This one sits somewhere in between and with a better finish it would have scored an extra 2 or 3 points, lifting it up from ‘merely good’ to ‘actually quite impressive’. But all in all, for a 21 yo whisky sitting on the shelf for around €85 or sometimes even less, you can’t really argue, now can you? 84/100

Drample Impressions # 12: Linkwood 10 yo single cask (Dràm Mòr, 55% ABV, UCF, Natural Colour, 1st fill bourbon, cask 306772)

Monday is not my usual day of releasing a post, as this one was actually planned for late December, but, you know, Christmas and what not. So Happy new year everyone, may 2021 bring a New Hope, new prospects and more great whisky! Indeed, say what you will about 2020, we saw an awful lot of really good whiskies being released last year. So here’s to everyone’s good health and to 2021 reaching (or even raising) the bar that was set in 2020 in terms of quality bottles hitting the shelves!

One of my last blogs of 2020 was a drample impression of a 5 yo Tullibardine from Dràm Mòr’s Christmas release, further consisting of an 8 yo Balblair and this Linkwood 10yo. For the record, I’ll make it clear that both these samples were provided to me by Dràm Mòr, but I’m quite confident that a freebie won’t automatically mean a favorable review. ‘Just so you know’.

Now, usually I don’t pay too much attention to colour, but I do now! I had to read the label twice to convince myself that what we’re dealing with here is indeed a bourbon cask and not a sherry cask matured whisky. So I’m guessing either the cask was heavily charred, or the liquid inside was dumped after just a few years. Intriguing, to say the least, and it’s already raising some expectations about what’s to come.

On the nose it’s rather intense from the get go, but more in terms of bringing an awful lot of depth rather than being overwhelming. A lot of spices (nutmeg and cinnamon), with an equal lot of vanilla leading the way,  with a creamy sensation, some honey, but also earthy, almost tobacco notes coming through. These open up further to a more floral-grassy note. Leave it for 10 minutes and come back to it to find the sweeter notes taking a step back to give room for even more spices and tobacco. A drop of water and the floral notes liven up, with clear nutty touches as well.

The palate is a bit less intense but still dominated by those spices and tobacco notes. It has a rather dry arrival, but it’s only a prelude to a very complex and layered experience. Fresh and dried fruits, earthy and floral elements (more from the nose, quoi?) but also cereal/toast and a soft wood note. Again, this deserves time to open up, as each time you come back to it, the balance has changed a bit, like all the notes taking turns to ride shotgun next to those spices and tobacco notes that have taken control behind the steering wheel. A few drops of water really changes things again, as it’s now the fruitier notes taking over, making it all taste a bit ‘lighter’.

This sort of fades out into a full, long, dry and warming finish as the spices linger on. After adding water the wood pops up again, and the spices become softer, more gentle if you will.

Overall, this is quite an impressive whisky, but it’s never screaming and shouting for your attention. It’s layered, complex, and well balanced, and now that I’ve got myself a full  bottle as well, I can’t wait to see where this will take me. As you might know, I’m not giving scores based on a sample, but this whisky…damn!

I'll be back later this week on my regular schedule with a new post going out on Thursday, as I’ll be ringing in 2021 with 21 year old whiskies throughout January. So see you soon and, now more than ever, slainte mhath!

A year in lockdown: where’s the silver lining?

Late 2019, I published an article on this blog about 2020, and why it was going to be the year of the whiskytuber. Little did I know then, of course, how painstakingly correct that prediction would turn out to be. 2020 was going to be wonderful: new distilleries like Nc’nean, Waterford and Ardnamurchan were ready to release their inaugural bottlings, distilleries like Glenallachie were making a mark and getting noticed by a broader audience, others like Benriach and Benromach were doing a rebranding, Port Ellen was going to get up and running again and everybody stopped banging on about those Game Of Thrones whiskies.

Among the ever growing online whiskycommunity, often based around a number of YouTube Channels, serious travel plans were being made to make the leap from virtual meet-ups to actual meet-ups, be it at the Limburg whiskyfestival in Germany, be it at the Whiskey Tribe’s ‘Bastards ball’ in Texas, be it elsewhere. Everything seemed hunky-dory, right about until February, when Corona turned from Somebody Else’s Problem to Everyone’s Problem.If you were lucky, that was about as big an impact the pandemic had on your life. Not saying lockdown and isolation are a walk in the park, but chances are you (like myself) have seen the impact of it all creeping up to you up close and personal, seriously taking its toll on yourself or near you, sometimes even taking away people dear to you.

Early March, I just about managed to visit 1 whiskyfestival before the feces hit the ventilator. At first, in what now looks like a stage of denial or naivety at the least, plans were being altered, dates postponed, schedules adjusted. When the seriousness of the situation dawned on all of us, it became pretty clear that there wasn’t going to be much opportunity to make these real life events happen. Everything, from enjoying a casual drink with the neighbours on a nice late Spring Sunday afternoon to full-fledged nerding out at a whiskyfestival with dozens and even hundreds of fellow anoraks, was cancelled. And if there is one thing better than enjoying a good dram of whisky, it’s sharing it in good company. With fellow enthusiasts, friends and family.

Almost immediately a lot of real life events were translated into virtual events, from massive YT gatherings organized or facilitated by Tomatin with around 5 to 10 other distilleries involved and hosted by Roy from the Aqvavitae channel, to a successful first edition of the Summerton virtual whisky festival. These examples more or less lead the way for many people in the industry to (finally) jump on the digital bandwagon. Roy stepping up even further by upping his game from a bi-weekly vpub to 2 vpubs a week for several months. Facebook chats with brand ambassadors and blenders popping up nearly every day until you couldn’t possibly keep track of them all. The big advantage here of course, you could now be participating in tastings and chats from the comfort of your own living room through zoom, not having to worry about transport arrangements:  the weekly Zoomchats from the Whisky Circus one key example, the New Dram Drinker YT channel even setting up the Certified Originals Club Room, creating a virtual bar and place to hang out (open all hours), with regular tastings and virtual meet-ups with guests from distilleries all over the world…

I’ve never been so far away from anything, yet I’ve never felt more connected.

Perhaps this last sentence is a bit exaggerated, but it sums up nicely how this community, in all its diversity, clicked together, came together, albeit virtually. And even in those moments when topics or incidents meant debate, discussion and division, if anything it showed how passionate and engaged we all are. Because we care, and because we, now more than ever, can have our say about all of it, through social media.

I can’t tell for sure, but I feel it’s not entirely a coincidence that together with my own blog getting picked up here and there, I’ve been (by lack of a better expression) ‘granted access’ more easily, although perhaps it’s more a case of my engagement and involvement in my own blog that’s been growing simultaneously and alongside my engagement with/ in the community. I’ve exchanged dozens of samples, received invitations to appear on other people’s channels, gave away samples and bottles (and possibly some chocolate and beer as well, noblesse oblige as a Belgian), shipped out and received blind challenges, interviewed a few people working in the industry and am now arranging tasting events and guests for virtual events.

And while I'm well aware that it’s a fairly self-centered way to look at it all, I’ve got a feeling it’s the case for quite a few other people as well: that it’s not despite, but because of this situation, that our engagement and involvement has been cranked up to 11. The way I see things, it has lead me from being an observer, occasionally and politely waving from the side, to becoming a participant, bang in the middle of it all, and I’m totally fine with it. I cannot help but feel like quite a lot of this would not have happened, or in any case not so quickly, if it wasn’t for these real life restrictions that we’re dealing with. How regrettable it all is, the fact that so many events have been altered into virtual events, really has lowered the threshold for many of us to take part and to interact. And even more importantly: it has forever changed the way how the industry looks at and interacts with us, from those hosting a YT channel with thousands of subscribers, to the enthusiast sitting at home and picking up on as many zoom chats, tastings and Q&A’s as he or she can possibly manage. It’s no longer a one way conversation, it’s no longer a case of a brand ambassador doing the talking, giving everyone attending a well-rehearsed talk. It has evolved and changed from that and it’s now a case of actual interaction, of paying attention to questions, remarks, concerns from ‘We, The People’. The virtual aspect of the whiskycommunity is here to stay.

And with 2021right around the corner, bringing with it the prospect and hope for regained freedom to move around and actually meet each other again, I’m almost inclined to ask: can I have some more of this? Emphasis on ‘almost’.

I hope everyone has a fantastic dram to celebrate these days normally spent with friends and family. Malty out (for 2020).

a 21 yo Littlemill I got to taste at the Gent Whiskyfestival: one of the finer drams I had this year

Drample Impression #11: Dràm Mòr Tullibardine 5 yo (2015-2020, 1st fill oloroso cask, casknumber #9900098 , 56% ABV. UCF, NC).

Define serendipity?! Just as we were on a quest to find a worthy alternative for the Aberlour A’bunadh as the ultimate Christmas whisky, a parcel from Dràm Mòr arrived at my doorstep, containing samples of their latest release, consisting of a 10 yo Linkwood (thoughts to follow soon), an 8 yo Balblair and a 5 yo Tullibardine.

I’m not going to lie, it was particularly the Linkwood and the Balblair that got me excited, because, if I’m being brutally honest, I’ve yet to try a Tullibardine that got me, well, excited. Not that they produce bad whiskies, but what I’ve tried so far (granted, not incredibly much), seldom rocked my boat. Spoiler alert: I was soon to be proven wrong. Very wrong.

Define serendipity – part 2. Just this week, Roy from the Aqvavitae channel did a Vpub searching for the best sherry bomb (something about great minds and how they think springs to mind). Sets of 5 samples were sent out to members of the whisky community who were put to a blind challenge, amongst them Michael Henry from Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia. Great fun to watch and with a few surprises here and there. Go and check it out here

Because it’s nearly Christmas (what blithering idiot releases a blogpost on Christmas eve anyway?) I’ll cut right to the chase…

On the nose, it has ‘creamy’ written all over it: rich, buttery and butterscotch with a clear malty/cereal note. A whole regiment of red fruit marches past: berries, figs and raisins a go go. Behind all that, there ‘s a floral/grassy and slightly earthy note. 15 minutes in and the sherry really takes over and only after adding a drop of water the lighter floral notes make a comeback.

The palate has a dry and rich arrival with a lot of red fruit, and only now the higher ABV shows up. And then… BOOM! A complete barrage of sherry missiles, the 1st fill oloroso cask stealing the show. Dried red fruit and wood with notes of coffee and dark cake. Sherrybomb ftw! Even after adding water it still remains an absolute powerhouse.

A bit of a pitty then that the finish falls a bit short as the palate sort of lingers on before dying out, but in all fairness: topping that nose and the taste would have been a job for Ethan Hunt.

Yes, it’s youthful, but also  lively and even feisty, making it  really hard to believe this is a 5 year old youngster. This completely took me by surprise, a very intriguing dram. If you’re looking for a Christmas whisky / sherry bomb, this qualifies. Big time!

You may have picked up the news that Dràm Mòr are being taken to court by another company that seems to have issues with them using the word ‘Mòr’, which is a bit strange to say the least. I sincerely hope they get things sorted out soon, because in their first year as an IB, they have released some excellent whiskies indeed. So here’s to them getting back to what they do best rather than spending time talking with lawyers and attorneys: finding fine whisky casks, bottling them and putting them out  on the market for us to enjoy.

Merry Christmas one and all, CU all soon!

Review # 33 Redbreast 12 cs (57.7 % ABV, UCF, 2012 bottling)

After last week’s conclusion that Glenlivet’s Nàdurra Oloroso came close, but was perhaps not entirely a cigar when it comes to finding an alternative for ‘The Daddy’ of all Christmas whiskies (the Aberlour A’bunadh), our quest continues. Quite a few of you lovely lot suggested the Arran Sherry cask. Indeed, it seems to be getting some praise as a quality sherry style whisky, and at half the price of the A’bunadh a very affordable one at that, but as

a) I don’t have that one in my collection at the moment and

b) This isn’t a democracy I’m afraid,

you’ll just have to make do with this week’s choice, won’t you? So, perhaps a bit surprisingly (you should have seen the look on my own face, honestly), we take a peek beyond the borders of Caledonia, and end up in Cork in the south of Ireland.

So why the Redbreast? Well, it has quite some sherry influence (pretty much what you’d call a ‘conditio sine quae non’), it’s cask strength and even better: it has an age statement (eat that, Aberlour!). At around €75, it’s even similarly priced to where the Aberlour used to be. And even with this being a bit of an older bottling and batch variation being a thing, the DNA of the Redbreast 12 cs is always unmistakably there.

Of course, as this is a ‘classic’ triple distilled pot still whiskey, it will – by definition- be different compared to a Scottish single malt. But, as this is indeed triple distilled, chances are the character of the spirit is rather mellow, and isn’t that a quality we are looking for in a Christmas whisky? Besides, having a robin on your label is about as Christmassy as it gets. So without any further ado, on to the whisky!

On the nose, it’s immediately a fruitcake! Apricot, orchard fruit, berries, cherries and soft hints of wood and nuts, before going back to distinct sweet notes of vanilla, icing sugar and cinnamon. It’s not a sherrybomb, more like a fruitbomb with spices on top. And very inviting, indeed. Adding a bit of water really brings out the cherries and dried red fruits (figs, raisins, sultanas).

On the palate it has a sharp arrival with a dry texture. Way more spicy than fruity, the latter now clearly more in dried fruits territory, and it is definitely taking a few steps towards what you’d define as a sherrymonster, although we’re still ‘at a safe distance’. A bit of water does this a ton of good: it opens up wonderfully, and the balance between the spices and the fruit is restored with even hints of milk chocolate and white chocolate shining through. Straight it’s perhaps not too complex, but give this a bit of time and a few drops of water, and you’re in for a treat.

On the finish the palate more or less continues: sharp, long and dry initially, with a woody note and clear hints of spices. The water diminishes the sharpness and takes away the dry feel, making way for those apricots and orchard fruits again.

The nose on this beauty is really inviting and it only gets better with time. Without adding water, it’s pretty straightforward and spice driven. Clearly a whiskey that benefits from adding some water as it becomes even richer, adding a bit of complexity along the way with a far better balance as a result. A sherry bomb? No, but I do think it’s starting to taste a lot like Christmas… 86/100

Review #32: Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso (60.3% ABV, natural colour, UCF, Batch OL0317)

I get it: it’s nearly Christmas, so inevitably the question pops up which is the most Christmas-y whisky available? There seems to be a broad consensus that it’s Aberlour A’bunadh, with both the Glenfarclas 105 and the 15yo as popular alternatives. But! With the A’bunadh creeping up in price in recent times, why not broaden our horizons a bit and see if there are other options out there that could pass as worthy contenders? So in the final weeks of 2020, I’ll be trying some potential sherry bombs, see if they can classify as Christmas/Winter whiskies and share my thoughts with you. Ho! Ho! Ho! indeed.

Our first contender is The Glenlivet Nàdurra, a 2017 edition matured in first fill Oloroso casks, and naturally presented at 60.3% ABV. So on paper, this is already ticking quite a few of the right boxes as a potential sherry bomb, and with a price tag of around €60 - €70, it’s sitting where the A’bunadh used to be at, before prices for the latter got a bit silly. These expressions tend to be widely available, as I’ve seen them on supermarket shelves as well as in liquor stores, but before you drop everything and shoot of to your car to pick one up, let’s get to the essential bit that is the nosing and tasting, shall we?

On the nose, the higher ABV is showing, but not in an aggressive way. An abundance of red fruit (berries, blackcurrant, dates, plums, raisins…), some (vanilla) oil, Christmas pastry and rum cake even with hints of butter and butterscotch. No surprises so far, but rather inviting and after adding a few drops of water, the buttery notes become more obvious as well as some baking spices.

On the palate, the alcohol does a lot more of the talking initially (we are, after all, dealing with 60.3% ABV here), coming in a bit hot and fiery, but after my taste buds adjusted themselves and strapped in wearing Kevlar for a second sip, things significantly changed. It’s warm and rich and the spices (mostly clove, nutmeg and allspice) are showing themselves far more clearly now, along with the red fruit. Still, some water is needed here I think! Indeed, much better! Some nice salty notes now, adding in a nice layer and a bit of complexity as they intertwine with the spices and the fruit.

The finish is quite long, with (a bit surprisingly) apple syrup with a nice citrus/orange note, and a lingering salty/briny note. The alcohol still stings a bit, even after adding water.

Probably a rather young whisky, I reckon. Very pleasant, but without any real surprises in terms of unexpected flavours or complexity showing up along the way. And while this is, very clearly so, a sherry style whisky, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a sherry bomb, at least not in the ‘bend-over-and-spread-‘m kind of way the Abunadhs can smack you around sometimes. So, a Christmas whisky for people not into sherry bombs, perhaps? 84/100

Drample impressions 10: Kilkerran 16 yo (46% ABV, natural colour, UCF)

If there is one distillery that’s been rolling of the tongue of many a whisky enthusiast for putting out one great release after another in the last 12-15 months, it’s probably Glengyle/Kilkerran. It started with their 8 yo Oloroso STR cask from last year, followed by those other powerhouses of the 15 yo single casks. Earlier this year we welcomed (and absolutely loved) their heavily peated batch 3, and very recently their highly anticipated 16 yo was released, although you needed to be quicker on your trigger than some of the most infamous gunslingers from the wild west in order to secure one, it seemed.

I’m still waiting (more or less in a patient and orderly manner) for some bottles to show up near where I’m sitting, but –yet again- thanks to the wonderful whisky community, I got my hands on a few samples. This teenager was mostly matured in bourbon wood with some marsala cask influence as well.

So, shall we find out if the anticipation is justified?

On the nose it has a nice ‘fatness’ (‘viscosity’ is probably the better word here, Malty) to it: earthy, soft peat, herbal elements (sage, parsley) with a soft funk and some sweet cheese. But there ‘s more. Lots more! Exotic fruit (peach, pineapple, mandarin), vanilla, baking sugar & vanilla sugar, and hints of wine (marsala casks?) with at the back some lemony citrus notes, almost leaning into a soapy element. And while this isvery much a busy bee, it’s all in a relaxed, unobtrusive way. None of the flavours are screaming for attention, meaning that what we’ve got here is a very well rounded, complex yet accessible nose which keeps evolving and changing as you go. It’s as if there’s’ a whole parade of flavours and sensations playing leapfrog as they go back and forth.

On the palate things start of again with a bit of a dirty/earthy-grassy note. There’s something of a mineral touch here, some clay even and subtle fruit (citrus mostly) with a mild hint of peat. A drop of water highlights the earthy notes as they become more lively, bringing out a salty note as well, while the citrus notes now evolve more towards oranges, with even some grapes (again the marsala casks, perhaps?) in the mix.

On the finish it’s dry and long, with a clay note, salty and oaky with (dried) citrus-lemony notes. A drop of water prolongs it even further, and brings out the salty note to center stage, only adding to the pleasure.

Some say this is very much like the 12 yo expression, only more rounded. To a certain degree, they are of course spot on: both share the same characteristics (the grassy-earthy funk, the lemony and lemongrass notes, the subtle peat…) but where the 12 yo really shines in its combination of complexity and youthful freshness, the 16 yo does bring a substantial and noticeable depth in character and flavor to the table imo. I am fully aware of the fact that this is the 3d Kilkerran to be reviewed on my blog in its first year of existence (by the way, you can still enter my giveaway competition, just read on through to the previous post), but in my defense: they keep on releasing bloody marvelous whisky. As these are sample impressions I obviously won’t be signing of with a score, but I've checked with the captain's log and indeed I can confirm my phasers are very much set to ‘buy’!

5k giveaway!

One year ago, almost to the day, I started this blog. Like many things in my life, there was no greater plan involved, nor was their a realistic ambition or goal to go with it (other than becoming the greatest whiskywriter of the 21st century. Yeah, you heard me, Broom! ‘s Right; Buxton! Better watch it, MacLean!). It was just something I started doing for fun, because I felt like it.

So to be here, one year on, sailing passed 5000 visits to this scruffy looking blog/website of mine, is pretty amazing to be honest. I don’t even know if it should count as something impressive or rather as an embarrassment to everyone calling him/herself a proper blogger, and frankly, I really don’t care. I’m just happy to be here, being acknowledged by fellow maltheads I respect, being part of this simply amazing community, getting to occasionally interview people working in the industry, being invited onto other people’s YT channels even.

And because

a) 2020 has been a complete and utter pile of steaming horse manure and

b) I believe in paying it forward and

c) It’s starting to look a lot like the feast of light

I decided to take this 5k milestone as an opportunity to give something back to you, ‘The People’, who took the time to pay my website a visit over the course of this past year. More precisely, I’m giving away a bottle of Kennaway 8 year old pure malt. Never heard of it, I hear you say. Well trust me, very few people have. It’s a rather obscure bottling of blended malt from the 1980’ies for the Belgian market, and I just stumbled on it last year in a local store. I went through two bottles so far and I can say: it’s pretty decent stuff (tasting notes below). Hell if I know what whiskies exactly went into this expression, but because it’s such a funny old thing, I just thought I’d share it with you.

So basically, all you need to do is drop me an email (maltymission@gmail.com) or leave me a comment below telling me your top 3 whiskies you tried in 2020, but don’ forget to put ‘Hooray for 5K’ as a subject in your comment or e-mail. To double your chances: go to my twitter page (@maltymission), look for the ‘Hooray for 5k’ post and comment by tagging someone you’d like to share it with. 

Competition ends December 6th at midnight and is open to anyone of legal drinking age in their country. I will, however, only ship within Europe or the UK. A winner will be picked at random.

Good luck and thanks for sticking with me. I'll leave you with my thoughts on the whisky:

Kennaway (over) 8 year old pure malt, 40% ABV, probably coloured and chill filtered (1980'ies blended malt whisky)

Nose: rich, raisins and sultanas, red fruit, gingerbread, honey

Taste: ripe, sappy wood, licorice, again the red fruits, a bit grassy and grainy, garden herbs and at the back some red wine notes even.

Finish: medium long, sticky with the red wine and red grapes turning syrupy A bit of an oddity this one.

Like I said, I've got no idea which whiskies were used, but my bet is some older stuff than the 8 years mentioned on the label went into this. While it's easy drinking, the wine notes do take a little ‘easing into’ at times, but as it’s on the sweeter side, this will very likely go well as an after diner drink at your christmas party. 83/100

Last week's notification mail from my website provider was a pretty nice one

Name*
Email address*
Subject*
Message*

Review 31: Dalwhinnie 15 yo (43% ABV, CF, coloured)

Part 3 of 3 of my look into budgetfriendly and readily available options (i.e.: you can find this in probably any supermarket, for less than €50) for the Holiday season takes us to the Highlands. I mean Speyside. I mean Highlands… damn, I wish Dalwhinnie would just make up their minds. When it comes to whiskyregions, Dalwhinnie is about as Speyside as you can get. But as they have been ‘marketing’ itself as highest Scottish distillery in terms of altitude at around 350 m above sea level (not entirely correct for that matter, as they have to share 1st place with Braeval), they obviously put ‘Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky’ on their label. So let’s not fuss too much about something that hasn’t got anything to do with the more pressing matters at hand, like ‘does it taste good?’ and ‘Is this value for money?’

Well, depending on where you’re from, this sells for around €35-€45. For a 15 year old single malt, that’s quite the deal in today’s market. If you look at its direct competitors Glenfiddich 15 and Glenlivet 15, chances are this will not be the most expensive one of the three, with a slightly higher ABV as a nice bonus as well. What’s more, if you’d compare it to other single malt brands on a supermarket shelf (Balvenie, Aberlour, Laphroaig, Bowmore,…) it still comes out as a good deal – budget wise. So nothing to complain about so far.

As far as presentation (doesn’t really mean much to me, but hey), let’s just say there is room for improvement. 50 shades of beige doesn’t really rock anybody’s boat, now does it? Could this rather plane image explain that, despite it being one of Diageo’s ‘classic malts’ AND part of the Game of Thrones releases, it has to ‘settle’ for 6th place and take a seat behind Cardhu, The Singleton, Lagavulin, Talisker and even Oban in terms of sales (still good for well over 1 million bottles a year and a major contributor to the Buchanan and Black & White blends, mind you)?

But I digress, let’s get back to that other pressing matter: does it taste good?

Nose: a burst of honey and oranges with heather, botanicals and herbal notes. We’re almost into liqueur territory here! If you give it some time to ease down, there’s vanilla, sweet pears and apples with a very distant and subtle hint (more of a suggestion even) of smoke at the back.

Palate: very citrus-y (oranges, orange peel and even orange marmalade) with again very present honey and heather notes, vanilla … sweet and with a somewhat dry texture. There is a touch of oak here as well, and the shy and subtle smoky note hiding behind it all slowly yet surely becomes more obvious (wouldn’t go as far as saying prevalent), giving the whole a nice and pleasant balance.

Finish: Not saying it’s very short, but it’s definitely not very long either. Dry (even the citrus note turns into a dried oranges sensation) ending on that smoky note.

This is a fine, pleasant whisky, rather easy going, maybe on the edge of being overly sweet even to my personal taste, but that subtle smoke counterparts that nicely. All in all this might be a bit of an overlooked whisky by the seasoned enthusiasts (I for one hadn’t bought a bottle in years, but coming back to it, I have to say this was a pleasant revisit) but any ‘casual whisky drinker’ will very likely enjoy this one.

Of the 3 whiskies in this miniseries, it appears age does matter in some cases, as I feel I preferred this over the other two. Yes, it’s easily double the price of that Queen Margot, but very similarly priced (if, in some cases, not cheaper) to the Glenrothes 10. So if you have 40 pounds or euro or whatever to spend on a decent bottle of whisky for someone who just likes something to drink without too much fuss: this is a solid option. 82/100

So, that concludes my trilogy of readily available budget friendly whiskies. As an honorable mention I’ll happily namedrop Glen Moray’s Elgin classic series (there are port, sherry, chardonnay cask finished expressions and a peated one), which you should be able to find somewhere between €20 and €30, but as I currently don’ t have anything from that range in the cabinet, you’ll just have to take Big Al’s word for it. I’m doing something a bit special for you, reader of this blog, towards the end of the year, so stay tuned.

Review 030: Glenrothes 10 yo (40% ABV, Natural colour, probably chill filtered)

Part 2 of our little look at budgetfriendly, readily available options for the Holiday season, and this week we land in Rothes. Glenrothes, to me, is a bit of a puzzler. When the brand was owned by Berry Brothers & Rudd, their vintage releases were often quite good, yet seldom blew me away. On the other hand, I’ ve had several independent releases from Glenrothes that were absolutely stunning. With Edrington taking over the brand (they owned the distillery, but the brand was owned by BB&R… facebook relationship status: ‘it’s complicated’), the ABV of 43% was dropped back to 40% and the vintage releases were dropped and replaced by age statements called ‘the Soleo collection’, with a 10, 12 and 18 yo as the new core range releases (and a few NAS releases as well). The reason behind releasing both a 10yo and a 12 yo as part of the core range was never quite clear to me (see also: Highland Park), but then again, I’m no marketing genius.

What I can say is that I don’t really care for the presentation. The signature round bottles were kept, but the colours of the labels are a bit ‘meh’ imo. On the plus side: they’re not filled with marketing flannel (pretty much the opposite of HP, in fact) and are even pretty good when it comes to transparency: “Matured only in sherry seasoned oak casks and bottled at natural colour” it reads on the label, followed by some tasting notes and the whisky maker’s signature. Pretty good in my book. This bottle usually sells for around €30 - €40 depending on your location, so in today’s market that’s pretty reasonable.

On the nose, there’s a clear buttery note (I often find this in Glenrothes) leading into caramelized butter and toffee, toffee apple, honeysuckle and biscuit (shortbread) notes. Hints of citrus, lemongrass, vanilla and something creamy - custard-y with a floral touch as well. I’m really enjoying this. Not complex by any means, but well balanced and inviting.

The palate comes with a soft arrival, dominated by the citrus notes with a creamy mouthfeel. The fruit is less ‘fresh’ with almost dried pears and apples, perhaps due to a woody, pencil shaving note that comes with it and at the back a warming touch of kitchen spices (nutmeg mostly, and faint hints of allspice). Still all very enjoyable, but perhaps a bit less impressive compared to the nose.

The finish is a bit short-lived, unfortunately. It more or less has the palate fading out rather quickly, with wood and spices, a bit of an almost ashy dryness and an clay-like earthy note.

Is this noticeably better than the Queen Margot from last week? Yes, and no… It has quite a few of the signature Glenrothes elements, and the youthfulness brings a pleasant ‘freshness’ to it, but it really lacks a bit of depth to really win me over. Obviously this is an entry level expression from a rather big brand, so it’s meant to be playing it on the safe side, but I can’t help but feel that at 43% ABV this would be significantly better. Would I buy this as a gift to the occasional whisky drinker, who's world begins and ends with Johnnie Walker black and Glenfiddich 12? Yes! For a more seasoned whiskydrinker? Probably not. Taking into consideration that it’s in the same price range as Balvenie Double Wood, Aberlour 10 (or 12) or Benromach 10 (OK, unfair comparison, Benromach 10 is really, really good) and at twice the price of that Lidl blend, I’m not inclined to give it more than 79/100.

Review 29: Queen Margot 8 yo blended whisky (40% ABV, probably very coloured and very chill filtered)

Me? A well respected whiskyblogger? Reviewing a budget supermarket blend? From Lidl? With my reputation? I must have lost me marbles?!

See, it doesn’t always have to be the 13th duke of Wynbourne who gets a place in the spotlight, as this week we’re taking a look at a whisky that, despite its name, has very little to do with nobility, let alone royalty. Queen Margot is Lidl’s house brand of blended whisky, with a 3 yo as the standard release. Every now and then, a bottling of their 8 yo hits the shelves in my neck of the woods, so, being the thorough, investigative chap I am, I splashed the cash (just short of €16 to be precise) and picked up a bottle, with only one question running through my mind: can you, in today’s market, buy anything remotely decent for less than €20?

Of course, I could have just picked up the 3 year old as well for even less, but

a) some rather well established vloggers have reviewed it in the (recent) past (Ralfy and Andy at Malt Box, to be precise) and

b) I’m genuinely not a fan of the 3 yo. I ‘m not trying to dis a €12 bottle of whisky here, because for that price you can’t expect miracles (and indeed it is fine for mixing it in a cocktail or to have it with coke, but that’s not really ‘my angle’ with this blog).

Their 8 yo version, however, got my interest, as I was quite keen even to find out if this was any good and whether it could pass as a budget friendly alternative for the likes of Chivas 12, Dewar’s 12 and Dimple 15.

Buying this bottle sparked a bit of an idea. In the run-up to the Holiday season (or what will be left of that in 2020), in the coming weeks I’ll be looking at a few other readily available, budget friendly whiskies (relatively speaking) to see if they’re worth considering as a Christmas gift. The rules: it can’t be a Glenfiddich/Glenlivet/Glenmorangie, it has to be available in your average supermarket, it has to be under €50. More to follow in the near future…

So for this week, it’s Queen Margot. On the nose it’s soft and fruity with clear notes of apples, apple syrup and hints of grapes (almost leaning into calvados territory even). There is a soft oaky note, hints of vanilla, honey, some floral notes as well and a bit of solvent (thinner, yet not unpleasant). It’s all soft and faint, mind you.

The palate very much confirms what the nose brings, with again the apples and the honey upfront, soft vanilla notes, and only now the grainy/cereal notes are presenting themselves. It’s all quite simple, yet friendly and appealing. If you give this time, the ‘veil’ removes itself, and the honey , grain and fruit become more obvious and prominent.

The finish is short, dry, with a hint of syrup and a soft woody note.

Yes, this is a simple, straightforward whisky, ‘classic’ in many ways, but even without taking cost into too much consideration, there is little to argue about. I’ve mentioned a few possible ‘contenders’ earlier on, and having tried one head to head, it does in fact come rather close to Chivas Regal 12. But at half the cost of that illustrious brand, there can be no discussion about the quality and value for money. So If you enjoy an easy sipping whisky, something to calibrate the palate or something where there’s no harm done if you were to mix things up in cocktail: Queen Margot 8 yo is a very valuable option. 75/100.

Review 028: Elements Of Islay Peat & Sherry (900 bottles, 59.2% ABV, UCF, Natural colour)

This week’s review focuses on a blended malt from Elixir Distiller’s ‘Elements Of Islay’ range. This particular expression is bottled for the Nectar for the Belgian Market but similar expressions were released for Germany, the UK, France, Sweden and the Netherlands. So 900 bottles as such isn’t a huge batch, and while the other expressions will to some extent of course be different to this one, chances are you can find one fairly easily somewhere near you.

In all honesty, I was a bit hesitant at first to pick this bottle as subject for a review, but some of you may have seen this week’s livestream with Jim from the Whiskey Novice channel featuring a witty, young and promising  whiskyblogger (if not, you can still catch the replay here). And because Jim seemed to utterly love this one, I thought I’d just go ahead with it and give you my impressions as well.

Quite often, the Elements of Islay bottlings are not exactly cheap. North of €90 for a 50 cl bottle is no exception, but this one I picked up for €50, which means that if this were a 70 cl, it’ d be €70-ish, putting it nicely in the pricerange of Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Kilchoman Loch Gorm. Where single malt releases of this series are pretty clear regarding the distillery it came from, here we are left guessing to its origins, both in terms of distilleries and the type of sherry casks they used. Of course guessing is part of the fun, but also a bit frustrating perhaps?

Anyhoooo, time for some tasting notes.

On the nose it’s the sherry that’s doing a lot of the talking with an outspoken sensation of Christmas pastries and cake, a lot of raisins, figs and plums and dark berries. Underneath a citrus note shows up, with a subtle sour touch and a mineral note. The first 10 minutes the smoke is soft but over time the smoke becomes more and more active, bringing out a stronger orange note with it.

On the palate, things take an interesting turn. There is much more smoke going on, with clear ashy notes to be more precise. It’s not an aggressive bonfire smokiness, but rather elegant. It counterparts the Christmas flavours nicely. Rather like enjoying a nice cigar while digging into a fruitcake. There is a clear touch of chocolate and hints of coffee that sort of bridge the ‘gap’ between the smoke and the sherry.

The finish is long and woody with a sweet berry note and again the coffee is showing up in the back.

Jim said it reminded him of when he was still a smoker, and I get that, as I also picked up this cigar note (not exactly a tobacco note, but more of a lit cigar with clear hints of ashes). On the first few drams the peat and the sherry behaved a bit like an old couple living in the same house but not really talking to eachother: both of them were there, but it was either the peat or the sherry doing the talking. Halfway through the bottle, things fell into place, resulting into a very enjoyable and engaging dram. While it’s both seriously peaty and quite straightforward sherry driven (my guess: a mixture of firstfill and refill oloroso casks), making this a bold, rich and thick whisky, it is neither an outspoken peatmonster nor a sherrybomb, as the two seemed to have settled whatever argument they might have had at some point to coexist and balance each other out nicely. 87/100

Review 027: Kilkerran Heavily Peated Batch 3 (59.7 % ABV, UCF, natural colour)

About a year ago, Kilkerran became the talk of whiskytown when they released their 8 yo oloroso STR release. Rightfully so, because it was indeed a bit of beast and an absolutely stunning whisky, and quickly became a community driven hype. This was shortly followed by an even more sought after release of 15 year old single cask releases, matured in different casks for different markets. If anything, it really put the Glengyle distillery on every whisky enthusiast’s radar, making future releases like the upcoming 16 yo (soon, my friends, soon) and this 3d batch of their ‘peat in progress’ some of the most anticipated of the year. So, despite 2020 being a ginormous shitstorm, all things considered the good folk at Kilkerran will at least have a few things to smile about.

In any case, Kilkerran, in their 16 years of activity, has managed to become a synonym for quality whiskies, right there along it’s elder sibling Springbank. Personally, I am now at a point where I’d happily buy any bottle of Kilkerran without prior personal experience or advice from people with trustworthy palates. Which, to be fair, is becoming a bit rare in recent times. But as so often, the proof of the pudding and what not… So, does this baby live up to what we would expect a heavily peated Kilkerran to be? Peated to around 80 ppm, that’s around the double of what Ardbeg and Laphroaig use for their standard 10 yo expressions, so I’m bracing myself for a merciless attack on my olfactory system and tastebuds here…

On the nose it is a surprise from the get go. Soft and sweet peat notes accompany a wide range of sensations and aromas: coconut chips, chocolate, honey, citrus and underneath it all there ‘s the signature Campbeltown funk. I get grassy-earthy notes as well, alongside vanilla and a slight lemony sourness. Although the high ABV isn’t aggressive in any way, this baby does even better with just a few drops of water. The sweeter notes really jump out now in a lovely combo with the peat, with a brilliant oily-citrus-y aroma. Bugger me, this is pretty amazing.

The palate again starts with a soft arrival. Yes the peat is obvious, but never becomes a mad barking menacing dog. On the contrary it’s a bit of a ‘fille rouge’ throughout the whole experience. A soft wood note gives it a bit of a dry mouthfeel, and the dirty /earthy notes are more prominent, but after the added water the fruit notes (citrus, tropical fruit like mango) come forward against an ashy undertone. Again: ridiculously good stuff!

The finish is long, dry, ashy and peaty and it needs the water to bring out the citrus, some nuts and a dry oaky/woody note.

I’m not all too sure what I was expecting from this, but pretty sure it wasn’t this. Yes, the peat is there, but it sort of leads the way for a fantastic parade of flavours, proudly and happily marching through the streets of whiskyville. It’s accessible and easy drinking (relatively speaking, obviously) and really nuanced and complex at the same time. Very more-ish, a paradox in a glass, and nothing short of superb. Intrinsically, this is an easy 88 – 89/100 points whisky. But, at less than €60 a bottle (take note, Aberlour!), I have absolutely no trouble to add the value for money factor to the equation here. 90/100

Taking a closer look at Dràm Mòr ‘s second releases.

So earlier this year I met Kenny and Viktorija MacDonald at the Ghent whiskyfestival. They had just released their first ‘batch’ of 4 whiskies as an independent bottler and were ready to conquer the world. A good week later, ‘something’ happened. But that didn’t stop them working hard to promote their first release on many digital platforms, and with result as their first release is all but sold out.

‘It’ didn’t stop them either to work hard on their second release, and where much of the first releases were either a single cask bottling or single recasked bottlings, they made quite a bold move as a young Independent Bottler, by wine cask finishing most of this second batch. Bold for various reasons. First, popular as wine cask finishes may be, they are by no means a guaranteed success. Now if you have a stock of several thousand casks, ‘taking a punt’ on finishing a cask or a batch is one thing. It’s a whole other thing if you have just one or two casks available. If it backfires, you are literally left with nothing to work with. Second, and now taking the view of the consumer: wine finished whiskies are definitely not to anyone’s liking. Quite a lot of people would even go as far as disregarding a bottle for this very reason, or at the very least approach it with some serious scrutiny. So, indeed, quite a bold move. But let’s find out for ourselves, shall we?

The new range consists of 5 expressions: a 7 yo Aberlour finished in a Portuguese red wine cask, a 15yo Tomintoul finished in a sauternes cask, 2 Glenrothes (2 sister casks, 1 finished in a red wine cask, the other in a muscatel cask) and an 8 yo Glengarioch coming from a refill bourbon cask, without finishing.

 

Aberlour 7 yo, 54% ABV cask 800914 - 7 years , 6 moths in refill bourbon, 4 months 1st fill Portuguese red wine cask

Bourbon matured Aberlour is interesting enough in its own right. Never had an IB Aberlour in fact, so for me personally, that’s another interesting aspect.

Nose: youthful, creamy, slight caramel/burnt butter note, wine cask is definitely there (with grapes, berries), some red apples/toffee apple. Initially there was an astringent note, but it opened up nicely to becoming fruity-sweet. Well balanced.

Taste: soft arrival, with a creamy mouthfeel developing into a nice oily texture. Cereal, and a soft salty /briny note. Honey, soft pears, subtle hints of red fruit hiding behind a more prominent citrus note.

Finish: medium long, a soft wood leads the way, the oily texture lingers on and it fades out on a gentle salty note.

First impression: A very nice scotch, not complex per se, but with a good development and all in good balance. The wine cask finish shows itself, but it doesn’t scream for attention and is well behaved as it worked well with the bourbon cask.

Tomintoul 15 yo, 56.1 % ABV, refill bourbon and finished for 4 months in a 1st fill sauternes cask, cask number 32

Nose: spirit, lemon/citrus note with an almost subdued orange zest and cereal, leaning towards jaffa cakes. It was so subtle and closed I added a drop of water, which brought out a fresh sour note, with again orange and lemon peel, clean and fresh, like what you would call a bit of a ‘spring’ note.

Taste: creamy mouthfeel, slightly solvent (something I often pick up in Tomintoul) and all still very much closed and subdued. The water opened things up: the mouthfeel turns really oily now and the wine cask reveals its impact along with a slight herbal note.

Finish: dry, medium long, herbal, a faint grassy note with the white grapes in the back.

First impression: This is a beautifully subtle, delicate dram. Perhaps not for everyone, but take a step back and instead of actively searching for what’s there, just let it happen as it will open up nicely. The wine cask is less obvious here than on the Aberlour.

Glengarioch 8 yo, 55 % ABV refill bourbon, cask 2697

 Nose: very citrus forward: oranges, lemon custard and lemon sorbet. Floral (faint hint of geranium going on into a soapy note), honey, vanilla. Fresh and young and inviting.

Taste: same freshness on the mouthfeel, slight sting from the ABV with a peppery note. Fresh, springgrass, cereal/malty. A soft oak note leading in to a woody dryness. Custard, citrus, with an earthy mineral note reminding me of Glen Scotia even.

Finish: oak driven dry, medium long with a faint briny note.

First impression: this is almost classic Glengarioch: it doesn’t scream and shout for attention, but it’s nice, youthfull and inviting and it has a few surprises up its sleeve to make you take notice.

Glenrothes 9yo, 58% ABV, cask 2851 refill bourbon with a 4 month finish in 1st fill moscatel wine cask.

Nose: a mixture of cream, butter and citrus. Not perfectly in balance at first but give it 10-15 minutes and everything integrates well. The lemon and orange notes take a back seat to allow the buttery honey notes to blossom. Hints of raisinbread and white grapes. The wine finish give it a bit of a prickly sharpness before mellowing out and becoming more active again. So quite a rollercoaster here. Perhaps a drop of water? It sure becomes less feisty and marries all the flavours together with a hint of crème brûlée as a surprising result.

Taste: sharp initially, so the ABV is doing some talking here. Fruity sweet with a signature oily thick texture with caramel and butter notes, toffee, vanilla. The wine cask is initially not really obvious but it does bring a fresh ‘zing’ to it. Giving it time and hints of chocolate, coffee and dry nuts (walnut) emerge.

Finish: rather long, oily/syrupy, with dried oranges and a lovely salty note.

First impression: this one needs time! It’s what you’d call a slow starter, but leave it alone for 15-20 minutes and watch it develop and blossom as it turns in to a lovely complex dram.

Glenrothes 9 yo, 55% ABV, cask 2850 refill bourbon finished in 1st fill Spanish red wine casks

Nose: similar to its sister cask, but less sharp. More rounded with a combo of (salted) caramel and red fruit (sultanas, raisins and berries), with a cereal/biscuit touch.

Taste: soft arrival , sweet on honeysuckle and honey, caramelized sugar, chocolate, toffee and (creamy) coffee.

Finish: oily, mouthcoating, long with hints of red fruits and salt.

First impression: more accessible to its sibling, a lovely desert-y dram, but even as it is perhaps more ‘welcoming’ than the muscatel finished Glenrothes, I think the 2851 ‘wins’ by a margin as it delivers a lovely development with quite a lot of complexity.

 

 

So, on the whole: job well done, I think. Perhaps some of the first releases were bolder in terms of flavour, but then again that might have been the element of surprise talking. I have to say the wine cask finishes do bring something nice to the table and add to the enjoyment of the whiskies. Like I said, wine cask finishes seem to divide whisky lovers across the board, but I'm more of a 'if it works, it works' kinda guy on this, and I have to say I really enjoyed trying these. As I understand it, these bottles are now (or will be very soon) released in the UK, the Benelux, Germany and Lithuania, so if you’re interested, why not check for availability through their website https://drammorgroup.com/

Review 026: Glencadam Reserva Andalucia (46% ABV, UCF, Natural Colour)

After last week’s interview with Iain Forteath from Glencadam (and Tomintoul) in which we discussed among other things their new expression Reserva Andalucia, this week it seemed only logical to talk about what’s what. I first tried this expression in a blind tasting, and being the thorough, conscientious blogger you’ve all come to know and love, I wrote down my notes on all samples we had that evening. Afterwards I bought a bottle, which I of course investigated at length. So wouldn’t it be fun to put both of these notes side by side? If anything, to point out some of the differences in perspective? So here it goes.

Nose

(blind sample): very rich and fruity-spicy. A bomb of red fruit (berries, figs, plums…) and tropical fruit (kiwi, mango). Toffee apple, honey, treacle/toffee, creamy, spices, salty, licorice, some funky cooked fruit. After 10-15 minutes it mellows out a bit. Less pungent and outspoken on the different sensations, everything becomes more integrated.

(opened bottle): Rich, thick, oily sensation, very buttery and caramel-y leaning into a burst of dark sugar and honey. very fruity as well: raspberry, strawberry, blueberries which gives it a vibrant, youthful (not the same as young, mind) touch. Only then I pick up sultana’s and raisins. Very inviting.

Taste

(blind sample): Yum! Creamy, baking spices, cooked and dried fruits with a Christmas like touch, sweet spices, nutty, soft wood, well-aged with a thick oily mouth feel.

(opened bottle): A thick, oily mouthfeel. The 1st sensation is that of sweetness (sugary and sweet berries) but what follows brings out a salty note and a soft oaky touch. Grainy and cereal-y as well with allspice and baking spices along with icing sugar.

Finish

(blind sample): spice (nutmeg mostly, perhaps a hint of clove), medium long, with a sugary note and some soft wood

(opened bottle): oily, sweet & salty, hint of oak and wood. The long salty touch lingers on.

During the blind tasting, quite a few people were guessing this to be the 17 yo portwood or even the 19 yo sherry cask finish. When its true identity was revealed, we were obviously happily surprised. What’s funny is that when you know what your nosing and tasting, you automatically start to anticipate and look for things you’d expect to find. So knowing what I have in the glass before me, the youthfulness of this whisky shows itself more than when tasting blind. But when you line everything up, it's easy to  conclude this is a very well made whisky. It does show that some proper good casks went into this, and because on the blind some of the tasters were guessing on it being a 17 or even 19 yo whisky, I’d go as far as stating that it could well stand its ground in a line up with whiskies that do boast that 12-15-16 yo age statement. The fact that it does come in a €40-ish bottle (in fact, I picked up mine on discount for € 26!) only adds to the pleasure. Well done, Glencadam! 84, perhaps even 85/100

(c): Angus Dundee

Q& A with Iain Forteath, Global Brand Ambassador for Angus Dundee

About two weeks ago I participated in a Glencadam online blind tasting (or ‘mystery tasting’ as they referred to it). Throughout the evening, Glencadam’s Global Brand Ambassador Iain Forteath walked and talked us through 3 drams whose true identities weren’t revealed until the end of the tasting. Needless to say it led to a few surprising outcomes, and with both the 15 and the 25 year old in the lineup, they didn’t exactly hold back. It was, however, the third sample of the evening that took me (and quite a few of the other tasters) by surprise, as it was revealed as their new ‘Reserva Andalucia’. It had many of us guessing it could be either the 17 yo portwood or their 19 yo oloroso finish. So feather in the cap of Glencadam and especially praise for our host Iain Forteath, who was closely involved in the creation of this expression. But how and why does a Brand Ambassador get to actually create whiskies? I reached out to Iain with this and a few other questions, and he more than obliged.

 

Iain Forteath: whisky lover, raconteur, ambassador and blender all in one

First, let’s talk a bit about your background: you’ve worked in the wine and spirits business prior to working for Angus Dundee as a (global) brand ambassador, correct?

Iain: Yes. I have been working in wine and spirits now for just over 10 years. I started in the retail side of the industry and was trained primarily in wines. However, I’ve had a fascination with whisky from an early age, fueled by my Dad and Grandad who are both big whisky fans and that interest and intrigue made me gravitate towards spirits. Initially, I started off as shop hand and worked my way up to be spirits specialist and shop manager for a high- end wine and whisky specialist in Scotland. I then worked on whisky investment and wholesale for another whisky specialist before being hired by Angus Dundee as their Global Brand Ambassador in 2015.

Angus Dundee are still very much a family run business. Do you feel that’s a comfortable position to work in compared to, say, a big corporation like Pernod Ricard or Diageo?

Iain: I feel that joining a family company like Angus Dundee has given me a lot more exposure and influence in a relatively short space of time. More than I would have been given working in a bigger corporate company. Being a family company, they have recognized and allowed me to play to my strengths. I’ve been fortunate to work together with some incredibly experienced individuals, namely our Master Distiller, Robert Fleming who have mentored me and have passed on invaluable experience and knowledge. What does that mean, exactly? Does it for instance mean you’re more involved in the different aspects of what’s going on at the two distilleries? Everything from the whole production process to the business and marketing aspect of it all? Iain: When I joined I was primarily tasked with education and brand training, but within the last few years I have played more of an active role in blending and spirit curation, becoming one of the senior blending team in 2018. I now play a key role in our cask procurement and maturation as well as blending many of our single malt releases. I love it!

The new Reserva Andalucia is now part of Glencadam’s core range

This brings me nicely to your new expression, the Reserva Andalucia. You have a very personal relationship with this particular expression, as you helped create it as well?

Iain: I did indeed. I’ve had much more responsibility in our single malt creation since 2018 and the Reserva Andalucia has been one of the projects I’ve overseen.

How does one go from being a global brand ambassador to being a blender as well? Did you just raise your hand in a meeting when the distillery manager said ‘anyone got any bright ideas?’

Iain: Hahaha! I can’t remember the exact transition but I’ve been fortunate enough to have a ‘good palate’. Ever since starting in the industry I’ve been trying my best to hone my tasting skills and I’m fortunate than Angus Dundee have allowed me to develop this further. I’m a keen chef and enjoy creating new flavours and dishes and I apply a similar technique to blending: If I’m working on a new release of an existing product then I will work to a rough recipe and tweak it using the ingredients (or in this case: casks) available, If it’s a new product then I like to approach it by building layers and adding or enhancing key flavours that we’re looking to emphasize, again using the casks available. So that led to me starting to help out and I suppose training in blending within my first few years of joining the company, working on a few projects and working with some of our international customers. It was recognized that I had a ‘knack’ for it and I’ve been given more responsibility as time has gone on.

Did you have any experience with the ‘creative’ process of whiskymaking prior to this?

Iain: Not officially no. I geek out on whisky and love to learn as much as I can about process, flavour development and composition and this understanding has helped greatly when working in the lab. I have always been a fan of home blending and ‘infinity bottles’ so I used to (and still do) create my own blends at home using the whiskies I had in my cabinet. Through that I developed a base understanding of which flavours work together- and equally what doesn’t!

I can imagine having firsthand experience in whisky making would help you in your job as a brand ambassador.

Iain: It has been extremely helpful yes. I have always felt that it’s very important to fully understand your product. When I’m at shows or tastings, customers have often paid to see me present so I want to offer them more than just some tasty whiskies. Knowing the process inside and out, and understanding why different expressions are made the way they are, allows me to help guide and educate customers as well as share some of my knowledge with them. The whisky world is a confusing one and there is a lot to learn but sometimes explaining things in a more roundabout way can help customers get a better understanding for our whiskies and the industry in general.

How about the other way around? Does your experience as a global brand ambassador helps you in any way when it comes to the creative process of whisky blending?

Iain: I would say so yes. I’m fortunate that with my job I’ve been able to travel all over the world tasting and talking about whisky. This has given me not only great and constructive feedback on our products but also an understanding of global palates and likes and dislikes. This understanding is something I can apply to new releases and allows me to tailor whiskies to fit the consumer. It’s easy to just make the style you like all of the time, it’s far more difficult to make a whisky objectively, to step back from your own preconceptions and personal preferences.

Glendcadam (nor Tomintoul for that matter) is really known for releasing NAS expressions. So why the choice to go with a NAS?

Iain: It’s important to state that any of our NAS releases have been brought out to complement our aged expressions, not replace them. We value our age statements on our bottles but we also recognize that some casks can really sing from an early age. The Reserva Andalucia (and Tomintoul Seiridh) was released to offer a sherried style of our whisky at a reasonable price and we’re very proud of the result. The Reserva Andalucia is a careful and deliberate marriage of younger and older spirits and I feel it delivers well.

Similarly priced to the 10 yo, where do you see this expression in the whole of Glencadam’s range, as it’s to become part of the core range, yes?

Iain: The Reserva Andalucia is designed to be an affordable yet well balanced sherried Glencadam. We have a stunning 19yo Sherry, but it is a lot more expensive. The Reserva Analucia is there to offer sherry fans an expression of Glencadam to really get their teeth into. As it is our newest addition to the core range, current feedback has been exceptional which is really great to hear. There’s always an air of caution when releasing a new product, especially an NAS but I was confident in the spirit and thankfully people seem to be recognizing its quality.

The branding is contemporary, the quality is there, and it’s affordable: is it a ‘deliberate’ release to reach out to new customers as well?

Iain: I think the branding being a bit more contemporary is a way of us highlighting that it’s a little different to our core range. Glencadam whiskies sing in Bourbon casks and that is how most of them are presented, so this one was designed to be a little ‘edgier’. I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying it was deliberate, but we did release it to give a sherry offering at the same price point as our 10yo. Glencadam makes some incredible whiskies (and I mean in that in an unbiased way as I loved them long before I worked for them!) and often it’s a case of getting customers to try a bottle for them to realize the potential of this distillery. Hopefully the Reserva Andalucia will give a few more people an intrigue to try more Glencadam releases.

Both Glencadam and Tomintoul are what you might call ‘whisky drinkers whiskies’, as they are not exactly the sort of brands you’ll find in a supermarket, or don’t have that ‘aura’ or (unjust?) reputation of say, Macallan or Ardbeg. Would you consider that  a comfortable position to be in, this sort of ‘underdog’ position? Or is there perhaps some admiration or healthy envy toward those big names?

Iain: That’s a very good question. Yes, we are a little harder to find. Even in the UK you‘ll only find us in specialists and not in multiple grocers. It’s nice working for brands with that reputation as you get to surprise a lot of whisky fans when they taste it for perhaps the first time. Angus Dundee are very much what I’d describe as a ‘liquid first’ company. Our core focus is making great tasting spirits and we take a lot of pride in our consistency and quality. Our marketing and packaging is something that is coming along but we’re not at the levels of Macallan etc. I think in an ideal world we’d love to see a bit more recognition for our distilleries and we are getting there slowly, but we wouldn’t want to sacrifice our spirit quality to get there…

Glencadam distillery, part of Brechin, Angus’ history (and future) since 1825

If you look at the history of Glencadam, it was built around the same time as Macallan, Glenlivet, Glenmorangie,… all familiar names to even those who don’t drink whisky. Is it merely down to the fact that most of these are owned by huge multinational corporations that they are so well recognized, or do you feel other factors played a part throughout history as well?

Iain: Glencadam’s history is a funny one as it’s never expanded to the sizes of Glenlivet, Macallan etc…However, it’s also never been demolished or left behind. The distillery has a strong reputation for its spirit quality so much so that it has stood the test of time. Despite having numerous fires, floods and a closure, it has always come back fighting. Because of its consistent quality, it has almost entirely been a whisky used for blending throughout history. It makes a very fruity and crisp spirit which provides brilliant structure in blends, even with the addition of just a few percent, and it has been a desired ingredient for decades in some of the world’s most prestigious blends. It was only in 2003 after the distillery was purchased by Angus Dundee that we established a single malt range from the distillery.

What does the future hold for you and both distilleries? How do you see things evolving personally as a member of the blending team along with your job as brand ambassador?

Iain: For me I’d like to think further involvement in blending and creation. We are now reaching a stage where several of the finishing casks that I’ve personally procured for the company are coming of age so be on the lookout for some really interesting finishes. It would be fair to say to look out for some different and interesting releases from both of our distilleries. There are some fascinating projects that I’m working on or have been involved with that will be due for release in the next year or so and I’m excited to see how they are received.

Obviously this global health crisis has a huge impact on everybody, businesses not the least, but there’s a saying ‘never waste a good crisis’. If any, and looking on a broad scale, what might be the opportunities presenting itself from all of this for a business like Angus Dundee?

Iain: I suppose the current situation has opened up opportunities to connect directly with our audiences worldwide in a way we’ve never done before. From near the beginning of the pandemic we’ve been hosting tastings, educational sessions and seminars over zoom and our social media channels which have helped showcase the brand to people that perhaps weren’t as familiar with us. It has also shown the world a little more about Angus Dundee and the company behind the brands and it’s been great for us to connect one to one with consumers. The increase in online demand has also shown more people giving Tomintoul and Glencadam a try, so although we’d love to be out in market and hosting tastings in person, I feel it has gained us some new fans.

And rightfully so! Thank you for making time for me. Slainte!

Images used with kind permision of Angus Dundee. All rights reserved.

Drample Impressions 008: Mackmyra Svensk Ek: (46.1% ABV, UCF, natural colour)

This week I’m taking a closer look at a sample of Mackmyra’s ‘Svensk EK’ expression, kindly provided to me by their UK brand ambassador Richard Mckeand. Svensk EK, as you probably know, translates as Swedish Oak, and it is of course referring to the fact that this whisky has been matured in Swedish Oak, rather than European (which usually doesn’t mean ‘oak coming from Sweden’) or American Oak. In ‘tempore non suspecto’ I’d probably have added a silly little subtitle here something along the way of ‘U got wood’, but as a joke (even, or especially, the dumb ones) only go so far… Besides, I think people far more eloquent than myself have already stated all that needs to be said about this whole Murraygate thing (if you haven’t already, I wholeheartedly recommend you take a look at the Whisky Sponge’s very well written and to-the-point article here), perhaps it’s time we start focusing again on some actual whisky (I know, sometimes I baffle even myself with these brilliant ideas)?

On the nose, it’s a bit subdued at first, youthful, fresh, yet there’s a bit of the alcohol shining through on a peppery note as well. Overall, it seems this definitely does have wood, as there is a soft, pleasant oaknote meandering its way across this whisky, leaving plenty of room for citrus (mainly orange), vanilla and cream. After 15 to 20 minutes the wood becomes more prevalent with some soft nutmeg along with it. Quite pleasant, with what I'll call 'the Mackmyra signature' showing through.

On the palate, the wood is obvious from the start. Also a mild pepper note, and overall it’s a bit herbal as well. The mouthfeel is quite thick and ‘full’. The official notes speak of toffee, but I’m not really picking up on that. Fruity, yes, but more like dried, confectionery fruit notes (sultanas, dried apricots and oranges) – all very subtle, almost suggested rather than outspoken or obvious.

The finish is medium yet on the shorter side, a bit prickly and peppery with a woody - spicy touch.

Overall this is a pretty decent whisky, I think. No off notes whatsoever, but it doesn’t really jump out in any way either. And while it does have a little alcohol prickle, everything remains accessible, while also being delicate and subtle enough to be just past entry level. The wood is indeed the most constant factor in this malt, so the name is actually well chosen, but don’t expect to be drinking something like liquid tree. It’s by no means bitter, it’s by no means oaky, but the wood takes center stage, around which the other flavors and sensations are integrated. It sells around the €40 mark, which is most definitely acceptable, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying you get fantastic bang for your buck either. So, solid whisky, well suited for wetting your palate or to enjoy as an easy accessible whisky with just a bit of a twist, and I would recommend this should you find it for the right price. Skål!

Glengit 18yo 43%, a beautiful suntanned, 2 weeks in Spain kind of colour and very much in need of cool filtering - ai pappie

It doesn’t often happen you get to try a whisky this voluptuous and, dare I say, steamingly hot - almost breathing sex out of every pour. I ‘d like to thank my good friend Jar I Rummy for this generous specimen – because that’s what good friends do: share the good stuff, if you know what I’m sayin’…

Now, as I softly yet firmly hold her by the throat and my skilled fingers almost without looking start to peel her cap away, she resists a little at first, but soon gives in, knowing I’ll do to her what was meant to be. She’ll pop her cork soon enough, and when she does, it almost comes out as a soft moan. Slowly I let her liquid goodness flow in my cup like the precious nectar it is. The legs, oh man, the legs just go on and on. Very much reminds me of that one night in New York with Elle Macpherson in the summer of 1999, but I digress.

Before I dive into her, obviously I want to indulge in every sensory thrill she has to offer. I’ve seen her, I’ve heard her, now I need to smell and taste her to make her fully mine.

The sense of spring flowers going into summer, blooming to their fullest, yearning and waiting to be picked are right there. 18 years, the perfect age in so many ways… Soft dripping honey. Underneath that youthful innocence lies her real secret - something a bit more dirty and darker. A sense of smoke you’d come to expect from a jazz diva doing her thing in a Chicago night club in the late fifties, seducing an entire room with her sultry look and deep, soft voice, but you know for a fact tonight she’s just there singing for you. Foreplay, quoi?

She tastes just perfect: her dark golden colour translates into rich honey and milky chocolate but underneath it all mineral notes are hiding, a salty touch that lingers on, all slowly melting away in my mouth. She may just be 18, but she sure acts and behaves like a fully matured skilled mistress, knowing every trick in the book to satisfy my senses. The velvety mouthfeel tickles my tongue.

The finish is just one, long steaming echo of that wonderful body, leaving you thirsting and longing for another go. Just let me catch my breath, my darling, I’ll be with you in a minute… 69, I mean 96/100

(Normal service will resume shortly).

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.

Name*
Email address*
Message*

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.

Name*
Email address*
Message*

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

Name*
Email address*
Subject
Message*

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

Name*
Email address*
Message*

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.

Name*
Email address*
Message*

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.

Name*
Email address*
Subject
Message*

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.