Whisky geeks with good memories will remember David Driscoll of K&L making some impolitic remarks about Bladnoch a couple of years ago (first on his blog and then in an attempt to defend them on the WWW forum). Among his claims were that Bladnoch’s reputation was poor and that the Armstrongs’ “blending skills” for what they’d put out themselves had not been strong either. This was news to most of us as a) Bladnoch seemed to us like one of the most grounded and solid distilleries in Scotland: putting out quality malt at excellent prices with no marketing nonsense; and b) Bladnoch’s various “sheep” and “cow” label releases had been very well received in the main.
Of course, the subtext, as always with Driscoll, was that it was K&L that was going to release the first good OB Bladnochs. When K&L’s casks did show up my plan was to ignore them—I have a number of other Bladnochs already on my shelf. But when I saw this 11 yo lightly peated in the lineup I couldn’t resist. I really enjoyed this Armstrong release of a 9 yo lightly peated cask and hoped this would be as good. I’m sorry to say it wasn’t.
Now, given how much I criticize them, some of you might think I have it in for K&L. But please remember that I have generally given their selections pretty good scores*: my skepticism about Driscoll’s marketing blather doesn’t extend to hoping that my hard-earned money will be wasted. Anyway, it wasn’t just me. I poured this at one of our local group’s tastings last year and it wasn’t well-received by the group either (and they drink everything blind and have no idea who K&L or David Driscoll are). I also shared some of it with Florin (Man of a Thousand Faces) and he pressured me to review it when my preference was just to blend the rest of what I had away. Here you are.
*Though I didn’t care much for their 2013 casks; or at least the ones I bought—and yes, this is another of the 2013 selections.
Bladnoch 11, 2002 (51.5%; “lightly peated”; from my own bottle)
(This review was written when the bottle was a few pours past the halfway mark; I only got around to photographing the bottle when it was almost empty.)
Nose: Starts out with some malt and milk chocolate and then there’s a weird turn to a mineral oil note that turns into something synthetic (rubbery, plasticky). With more time there’s a bit of wet cardboard. With a lot more time the malty/milk chocolatey thing makes a second showing and brings some vanilla with it. Water adds by subtraction: nothing new shows up but the chemical notes abate.
Palate: Alas, the palate begins where the nose left off, with the rubbery, plasticky thing dominating an indistinct sweet note (almost metallic). Very harsh. Some lime turning to bitter lime zest below that. Not much else going on. With a lot more time some fruity notes emerge (orange, a bit of apricot) but they have to fight the chemical notes. Time for a drop of water: yes, water makes the palate more palatable as well—the chemical notes get pushed back and the lime and zest come to the fore.
Finish: Medium. The lime zest fades out, getting a bit peppery and then the chemical note comes back. As on the nose and palate with water and here some of the other fruit show up as well.
Comments: It hasn’t gotten any better as it’s sat in the bottle; it’s just as I remember it from the tasting. The nose had some promise but it went downhill fast. It’s drinkable enough with water (without it’s like a bad, grain-heavy blend) but it’s not the bottle you want to remember the Armstrong-era Bladnoch by. So much for the K&L Davids choosing better casks than the distillery put out.
Rating: 76 points (pulled up sharply by the addition of water).