Bladnoch 20, Cow Label

The first two days of this week of reviews of bourbon cask malts were spent in the Speyside: at Dailuaine on Monday, and at Linkwood on Wednesday. Let’s now close out the week in the lowlands, at Bladnoch. This 20 yo was released in the early-mid 2010s, during the Raymond Armstrong-led heyday of the distillery. Under Raymond Armstrong, Bladnoch was a significant force in what, with hindsight, was the last gasp of the golden age of single malt whisky. They released whiskies, both their own and of casks from other distilleries, for the regular drinker. Their whiskies were priced well, did not come with any marketing flim-flam, and were usually of a high quality. This was true both of their independently bottled and directly sold whiskies on offer from their Bladnoch forum (I think I might still have one Caol Ila 25 left) and of their own releases. Many of their releases of Bladnoch’s whisky were single casks, but they didn’t always mark this information on the labels. And the way to know if many of these releases were sherry matured or bourbon matured was by checking to see if the label featured sheep (sherry) or cows (bourbon). See here for a review of a 19 yo cow label. This 20 yo cow label is one of the very last Bladnochs left on my shelves (I still have two bottles of a 12 yo sherry cask). Let’s get into it. Continue reading


Bladnoch 11, 2001, Lightly Peated

For the last whisky review of the week, month and year let’s go all the way down to the lowlands of Scotland, to a distillery whose most famous recent proprietor liked to remind us is closer to Ireland than to most of the other Scottish distilleries: Bladnoch.

This whisky was distilled and released in the era of that proprietor, the excellent Raymond Armstrong. Under Armstrong Bladnoch was a unicorn: a small producer that kept its prices down—both for its own releases and those of casks from other distilleries that it released for the Bladnoch forums—and didn’t engage in marketing malarkey. The good times eventually came to an end and the distillery was sold in 2014 or 2015. I’ve lost touch with it since then, as it got the predictable premium coat of paint from its new owners. But I still have a few bottles left of the Armstrong era. This release of their “Lightly Peated” label is one of them. I’ve previously reviewed a 9 yo from this series from 2001 that was a single bourbon cask. This one, featuring sheep on the label, as every Bladnoch fan of the era knows, is a sherry cask and is two years older. Let’s get into it. Continue reading

Bladnoch 18, 1992 (Chieftain’s for K&L)

My last two reviews have been of long-forgotten samples of bourbon cask whiskies released in 2010-2011 and, given how much I enjoyed those Aberlours (here and here), I figured I might as well keep that trend going. Here now is a review of a Bladnoch 18, distilled in 1992 and bottled by Chieftain’s in 2011 for my old friends in California, K&L. This was a more innocent time at K&L: Driscoll’s hype machine had not been cranked up to 13 yet and the hit rate for their cask selections was pretty good. It’s probably the case that the latter was true largely because more quality casks were available to independents then; and it’s also probably the case that the former was true because the latter was true. That is to say, the noise seems to have increased steadily over the years in inverse proportion to quality and value. Anyway, this Bladnoch, distilled before the Armstrong era at Bladnoch (now also ended), was rather good indeed and at $89.99 it was an excellent value. I’d meant to buy a second bottle but never got around to it. Thankfully, I saved 6 ounces from the middle of the bottle for future reference. Even more thankfully, that sample did not go flat in the intervening years. Let’s get to it.  Continue reading

Bladnoch 22, 1990, Cask 5070

Here is another useless review. This Bladnoch was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2013 by the Raymond Armstrong regime (they bottled it but it was distilled by the previous owners, United Distillers). The Raymond Armstrong era at Bladnoch, sadly, ended a couple of years ago and the new owners have gone the route of premiumization: the very opposite of Raymond’s approach. Well, this bottle is gone too. It was a single bourbon cask. I purchased it (and a few other Bladnochs) when the sale of the distillery was announced, and I opened it for one of my local group’s tastings last year. It did well enough there but I felt it improved as the bottle stayed open in the months following. These notes were taken towards the very end of the bottle when it had faded a bit again. I wish I’d thought of also recording my notes at the top and middle of the bottle. So it goes.
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Bladnoch 11, 2002 (for K&L)

Bladnoch 11, K&L
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. Continue reading

Bladnoch 1984-2004 (Scott’s Selection)


I certainly hope that you don’t remember that a bit over a year ago I split a bunch of Scott’s Selection bottles on sale at a Minneapolis store with some friends and that Michael Kravitz (who was among that number) and I simul-reviewed some of them. This bottle was purchased from that very same store a year later and also split with friends; and while Michael K is again one of those who got part of this bottle we are not simul-reviewing it this year. This is because he now has a small child of his own which raises the number of distracted parties in the planning of any such possible undertaking from one to two.

This is yet another of the Scott’s bottlings released in the mid-2000s that is still around in the US (stores from coast to coast have a number of these second and third-tier distillery bottles, often close to original prices). I’ve passed on it in the past because I never could find any information on it. Now I hope to be the source of such information for you if you too have occasionally paused in front of a bottle in a store, stared at if for a while and then moved on to a safer purchase.

On a melancholy note: Scott’s Selection is now defunct and the fate of Bladnoch continues to be up in the air. I’ll drink to both tonight.

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Bladnoch 21, 1990 (Edition Spirits)

Bladnoch 21, 1990, Edition SpiritsThis Bladnoch 21 was distilled prior to the distillery’s takeover and revival under Raymond Armstrong. As most whisky geeks know, that era too has ended, with the distillery now in receivership. It’s unknown what its fate will be. Hopefully, it will be purchased by someone who will keep it going and who will also continue Raymond’s approach of making simple, good whisky and marketing it at a competitive price without any frippery. This seems unlikely but let’s hope for the best. For now at least some of the Armstrong era releases can still be found at reasonable prices as can older indies such as this one.

Edition Spirits and their “First Editions” series, which this bottle is in, are now in the US as well (this is not a US release though). I don’t have very much experience of them. If you’ve tried any of their US releases and have recommendations one way or the other please chime in below. Continue reading

Bladnoch 19, Cow Label

bladnoch19beltieRenowned TTB stalkersleuth, Sku reported details yesterday of three K&L casks of Bladnoch whose labels are in the process of being approved. There is to be a lightly peated 12 yo, a heavily peated 3-4 yo, and a 21 yo. When the casks are ready there will doubtless be an email from K&L proclaiming these the greatest casks of Bladnoch ever bottled. Of course, earlier this year David D. all but said that no impressive whisky has yet been bottled by the Armstrongs (who own Bladnoch); and so it is entirely possible that we will be told that K&L’s casks are the only great casks of Bladnoch ever bottled. Well, though I hope these casks will be as good as we’ll be told they are (and fairly priced as Bladnoch always is in the UK and EU) I do hope I will be wrong about the hyperbole. If I am wrong I will post a video of Werner Herzog eating his shoe.

In the meantime, here’s one of a number of very good Bladnochs released without any fanfare by the distillery in recent years. This is a 19 yo from a couple of years ago.
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Bladnoch 9, 2001, Lightly Peated

BladnochBladnoch, small and family-owned, is one of the few active distilleries in the Lowlands region. The distillery is beloved among whisky geeks on account of their no-frills, no-nonsense approach to the industry, their commitment to reasonable pricing, and a very high quality of whisky. You may not always read this online but it is true: there is no other distillery in Scotland that offers such good whisky at such attractive prices. If someone tries to tell you different (on any part of this) they don’t know what they are talking about. As you may have surmised, there was someone who tried to tell people different some months ago and he took quite a lot of stick for it online.

Oh hell, it was David Driscoll of K&L, who saw fit to announce upcoming private releases of casks of Bladnoch by denigrating the quality of the whisky already released by the owners–which he eventually acknowledged he had very limited experience of. Anyway, as I noted, he took a lot of stick for it, and there’s no need to fight the battle again (he and I went at it on a whisky forum for a bit). David seems like a good guy, just prone to getting carried away. Certainly, if he tasted the whisky I am reviewing tonight I hope he’d acknowledge its quality.
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