A year and a half ago I was posting regular reviews of blended whiskies from bygone eras. I did not find all of these blends to be very good, or even necessarily all offering so very different profiles from what’s available today. The experience was nonetheless educational. I’m not sure why I stopped—I still have quite a few of these samples from the big bottle split I participated in at the time. I’m going to get these reviews back on track till they’re all gone. Here now is a an older version of a blend from a familiar brand name: Ballantine’s. This sample is from a bottle that was released either in the late 1940s or early 1950s—as always, I’m not sure how these things are figured out; you have to work on trust when going in on splits like these. Modern Ballantine’s has malt from Glenburgie at its core; I assume this has been true for a while now (if you can confirm or deny, please write in below). I’d guess Glenburgie’s malt in the 1940s or 1950s was also quite different from what they’re making now. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
So far in November I’ve done a week of whiskies distilled in the 1990s; a week of whiskies distilled in the 1960s and 1970s; and a week of peated whiskies. Let’s close out the month with another random theme: whiskies that are not single malt Scotch whiskies. First up is one that’s pretty close to being a single malt Scotch whisky.
This Old Perth 21, I am told, is a blended malt—which is to say it is a vatting of single malt whiskies from different distilleries; there is no grain whisky in there. As per the source of my sample, The Mighty Kravitz, there may be Glen Grant in here (I got this from his review which you can read here) and also some species of peated malt. None of that is for certain. What is certain is that this is supposed to be from a single sherry cask. Now, how does a blended malt emerge from a single anything cask? It seems highly unlikely that someone would have blended malts from two distilleries from the get-go and matured the vatting for 21 years in a cask. So, most probably, two casks were dumped into a single sherry cask for some small fraction of the 21 years on the label. And given that the outturn was 330 bottles it seems all but certain that cask was a butt (where did the rest of it go?). Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
I believe this was the 5th edition of Compass Box’s Flaming Heart, released in 2015 to commemorate their 15th anniversary. I’ve had earlier editions of Flaming Heart and quite enjoyed them—I still have one unopened bottle; not sure which release it is, but it was purchased in 2012. Anyway, this edition is said to contain 27.1% 30 yo Caol Ila from a refill bourbon hogshead, 24.1% 20 yo Clynelish from a rejuvenated bourbon hogshead, 38.5% 14 yo Caol Ila from a refill ex-bourbon hoghshead and 10.3% of a 7 yo blend of Highland malts from Clynelish, Teaninich and Dailuaine that came out of some cask with French oak involvement. So officially this is 7 yo whisky for $140 (the price at release) and don’t let the fancy decimal points distract you from that. I kid, I kid: they could easily have left out that 10.3% and asked for even more money for this. That said, I’m not quite as enamoured of Compass Box’s whiskies as many whisky geeks. As I’ve said before, I can never quite shake the feeling that their bespoke presentation and ability to speak in the language of whisky geeks has a lot to do with their reception. That said, I did like the 10th anniversary Peat Monster a lot and I hope this will be in that vein. Let’s see. Continue reading
A few summers ago I posted a number of recipes for home-made jams. These were not popular with my whisky readership. Do you know what is even less popular with said whisky readership, or whatever remains of it? You guessed it: my reviews of blended whiskies released many decades ago. And interest in them goes down with each one I post, rather than the other way around. Accordingly, I am pleased to present this review of a rather obscure blend. Well, obscure to me. I believe this bottle was from the US market—though I doubt Old Rarity was only released in the US. The source of the sample estimates that the bottle might date from the 1960s. That is the extent of my non-knowledge about Old Rarity. I’ll add only that the name of this whisky suggests that the practices of adding the word “old” to things that aren’t very old and of suggesting things are rare by calling them things like “rarity” are obviously not innovations of our time. Continue reading
I mentioned this whisky yesterday in my write-up of our visit to Glen Grant just shy of a month ago. It is the only thing we purchased at the distillery. Well, when I say “we”, I mean that my friend Daniel purchased this 200 ml bottle (we didn’t see any other size of bottle). It was bottled for the 2018 iteration of the annual Spirit of Speyside festival—which took place in early May, I think. 200 ml bottles seem like a good idea for this kind of thing—not too expensive and more bottles for more people to try. As per the young man I asked about it at the distillery, it is a blend of a number of Speyside single malts, all aged at least 10 years. I’m not sure if a vatting of this kind is released every year for the festival or if they’re always 10 years old or both. I assume some of the distilleries release their own exclusives a la the Islay distilleries for Feis Ile. At any rate, it seemed like an appropriate whisky to drink at the end of our first full day in the Speyside. Did that prove to be the case? Continue reading
Following last week’s old Haig & Haig 12, here is a Haig & Haig 8 yo that is four years younger but may have been released half a decade earlier. Again, I know very little about these old blends and can therefore tell you very little about their antecedents or history. My interest is only in seeing, in the aggregate, what the qualities of whiskies from earlier eras were like. I’m not likely to have much chance to taste single malts released in the 1940s and 1950s, so samples of these old blends are pretty much my only window to the era. It’s true that with many decades spent sitting in bottles—plus the uncertainties of storage—there’s no guarantee that what we are tasting now is very close to what these whiskies were like when consumed upon release, but there’s no solving that conundrum. My limited sample size does suggest, however, that whisky drinkers of the mid-century (synonymous then with blend drinkers) drank much better than current blend drinkers, and that there was much more peat, and likely much more malt whisky in blends of that era. That said, I didn’t like the Haig & Haig 12 quite as much as some of the other old blends I’ve reviewed but I did like it. Let’s see what this 8 year old is like. Continue reading
After a week off, here is the latest installment in my slow-motion series of reviews of old blends (blends released a long time ago, that is). (I have previously reviewed a Dewar’s White Label from the 1940s/1950s, a Hudson’s Bay “Best Procurable” from the 1950s, and a King George IV from the 1940s/1950s.) This is a Haig & Haig 12 yo that was released sometime in the 1940s. It is a 12 yo, and I think it may have been an US release. I assume its marketing back in the day included David Beckham’s old timey equivalent. I know very little about these old blends so can’t really shed any light on the subject of the importers of these whiskies back in that era or what the market as a whole was like. Frankly, I’m not even sure how people date these old blends to particular decades, but I do trust the source of this bottle split (who is also the source of all the other old blends I have reviewed, and will be reviewing in this series). Continue reading
Here is the third in my slow motion series of reviews of blended whiskies from earlier eras. (See here for my review of an old Dewar’s White Label, and here for a review of a King George IV bottled in the 1940s or 1950s.). I don’t know much about this Hudson’s Bay brand, except that I think it was made for the US market and that while this particular bottle was released in the 1950s, the brand is still around. And if it ever had a strong reputation, it’s not exactly high-end whisky now: you can get a 1.75 liter bottle of the current Hudson’s Bay for not much more than $20. (I am, of course, assuming it’s the same brand.) Then again, I really liked the older Dewar’s White Label despite finding the current version to be bordering on undrinkable; and so I’m not assuming anything about this one. Well, let’s see what it’s like.
Here is the second in my slow-motion series of reviews of old blends—old as in distilled and released a long time ago, not in terms of age (though I do have a couple coming that fit both descriptions). I rather liked the old Dewar’s White Label that I reviewed last week, finding it altogether maltier and peatier than the current unremarkable incarnation, and also possessed of a much better texture at a low strength than even most contemporary malts of similar abv. I’m hoping this one will be as good.
I’m very far from being an expert on these old blends. and I don’t know anything about this particular brand. And though my small share of this bottle split is from a trusted source, the info on the label is a bit confusing as well: the abv is listed as 43.4% but the Whiskybase i.d. also listed is for a bottle at 43%. Meanwhile, other old King George IV bottles seem to be at 40%. I’ve asked the bottle splitter to confirm what the abv of this bottle was; but, in the meantime, if anybody else knows more about the different releases of this whisky, please do write in below. Continue reading
Some of you would like me to review more blends. You will accordingly be pleased to know that starting this week, for the next two months or so, I will be posting one review of a blended whisky per week. You may be less pleased to know that these are all blends released many decades ago.
First up is a Dewar’s White Label released sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. I’ve previously reviewed the current Dewar’s White Label and I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that I found it barely drinkable (in fact, I barely drank it). This doesn’t make me nervous about this incarnation of the whisky though. My (limited) experience with old blends has led me to expect a much higher malt content and also a higher peat content. At the least, I expect it will be interesting. Continue reading
If you’ve been reading along for the last week you’ve probably noticed that I posted reviews of the four releases of Tomatin Cuatro (Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and PX). Of these I liked the PX release the best. Though I didn’t dislike any of the others, I didn’t find them to be particularly distinctive. I didn’t find the Fino and Manzanilla to be particularly sherried either, for that matter, in the way that we normally think of sherried whisky. It could be argued, however, that their dry, yeasty qualities might well be expressing the character of Fino and Manzanilla sherry quite well. The Oloroso and especially the PX casks were more in line with what whisky drinkers expect when they see the words “sherry matured/finished”. But because Tomatin does not clarify the kind of wood these casks were made of, it’s not clear if the greater stereotypical sherry influence of these two releases is down to the type of sherries these casks previously held or if it’s because these two releases had their second maturation in European oak while the other two were re-racked into American oak casks after the first nine years. Without this information it’s a little hard to come to any meaningful conclusions about the effect of aging in casks that had previously held different types of sherry. Continue reading
As noted in my report on a quick visit to Tomatin, we’d spent a few hours that day at Blair Castle. (There is, of course, a distillery near Blair Castle as well (Blair Atholl) but we did not go there.) As I’ve also noted, we really enjoyed Blair Castle. We didn’t really know what to expect as it doesn’t look like your classic grey, stone fortress. But it turned out to be a great first stop on a rainy day, with a nice woodland drive to it from the A9 as a bonus. The castle has a large number of rooms open to visitors and it’s particularly good with small children as they have a detailed activity sheet that keeps them occupied and interested during the self-guided tour. Alas, due to the rain we were not able to visit their gardens, which are apparently rather lovely. Blair Castle, as you may know, has a private army, the Atholl Highlanders. We missed their annual parade and gathering by about 10 days but didn’t miss this whisky which is said to be bottled “Exclusively for the Atholl Highlanders” but is also available to any and all civilians in the gift shop. It’s not expensive but I restricted myself to a mini, which, later that evening, became the first highland malt that I drank in the highlands. Unfortunately, it was not the best highland malt I had in the highlands… Continue reading
This blended whisky was put out by the Italian bottlers, Wilson & Morgan. I’m not sure how it was made—other than noting sherry cask maturation the label does not specify. Was it one of those rare cases of a grain whisky and a malt whisky being combined at distillation and matured as a blend for the full term? Or was it two separate casks married together at the age of 35? Unless the sherry cask was merely a “finishing” or “marrying” cask I’d expect it to be blended at birth (so to speak), as I’m not sure how common maturing grain whisky in sherry casks would have been in 1980. It’s also the case that they released three separate casks of a 35 yo blend in 2015, all from the 1980 vintage. This might suggest that they were all single casks. I assume they came across these casks in someone’s moldering inventory and snapped them up—Wilson & Morgan don’t seem to have released any other such blends at any rate.. If you know more about the antecedents of these casks please write in below. Continue reading
As per the interwebs, Michel Couvreur was a Belgian involved originally in the wine trade who at some point turned his attention to Scotch whisky. Unlike the average independent bottler, however, Couvreur was not interested in purchasing and bottling matured casks under his own name. Instead he apparently would purchase casks of new make, fill them into his own barrels and set them out to age in his own cellars in Burgundy and usually (if not always) vat/blend the results. If you’ve familiarized yourself with the laws governing the production of Scotch whisky you know that to be called Scotch, the whisky has to be both distilled and matured in Scotland. Therefore, even though Couvreur’s whiskies all originate (presumably) in Scotland they cannot be called Scotch. And the scale of production takes this far beyond the level of a hobbyist’s noodling. Couvreur passed away in 2013 but his methods and brand have been kept alive by his apprentices. Continue reading