Here is a review of the only bottle of very old whisky I have ever owned and very likely will ever own. By “very old” I don’t mean length of maturation but era of distillation. As per people who know far more than me about this sort of thing, this bottle of White Horse was released sometime between the mid-1950s and very early 1960s and probably in the late 1950s. I don’t know how this provenance is established and am only very slightly interested. In the EU bottles like this one circulate regularly–or did anyhow—at auction. How did I come into possession of this bottle, living in the US? Well, about five years ago a friend visiting in Israel emailed me saying he’d come across this bottle at his in-laws’ home and asking if it might be worth anything at auction. I made some inquiries and told him what the likely range of prices might be. It then transpired that in transporting the bottle from Israel to Berlin—his next stop—there had been some leakage resulting in the label coming a bit loose. All of this, I advised him, would probably drive the auction price down. His own interest in pursuing the auction market had dimmed at this point and he ended up offering it to me at the low end of the auction prices I’d initially given him—with a further discount once even more of the whisky leaked on its way to the US in his suitcase. I then wrapped the the spring cap up tightly and, as is my wont, forgot about it for a few years. I think the initial plan had been to save it for an unspecified special occasion. As I’ve noted before, during the pandemic I revised my definition of “special occasions” to now include almost any given day. And so about two months ago I decided to open it to mark the end of term. Here now are my notes. Continue reading
This week’s reviews are all of blends of one kind of the other. Monday featured the Campbeltown cask from the Edinburgh Cadenhead store from April 2014. That one was almost certainly all malt whisky, almost certainly all Springbank. But in the absence of specific information we will consider it a blended malt whisky. Today’s whisky is the the type of blend we think of more usually when we think of blended whisky: a blend of malt and grain. But it’s no easier to locate now than that one-off Campbeltown cask. This is a 25 yo from a defunct brand named Ambassador and I know very little about it. The person I acquired the sample from pointed me to this entry on Whiskybase. There is no bottling year listed there but another entry for an identical label indicates it was probably a 1970s bottling—so the whisky in it was distilled in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Apparently Ambassador once contained malt from Scapa and Glen Scotia though I’m not sure if this was still the case for 1970s releases. For more information on the brand I will direct you to Michael K’s review of an Ambassador 25. His review is not of this release though but of a much older bottle from either the 1940s or 1950. Okay, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
Getting us started is a whisky bottled by the Cadenhead store in Edinburgh in 2014. The store always has a Campbeltown cask on the go and this was the one they had when two friends and willing mules, D & B, visited it in 2014. The store was then managed by the renowned Jolly Toper who I knew from the Whisky Whisky Whisky forums. I’d asked him to put together a selection of interesting whiskies they could bring back for me. He selected a 21yo Allt-a-Bhainne and a 22 yo Tamdhu and also their current Campbeltown and Islay casks. When I visited Edinburgh in 2018 I purchased a few more of their exclusives including the then-current Campbeltown cask—almost entirely 15 yo sherry cask Springbank and rather good (review here). I have to confess that I’d forgotten that I still had an unopened 350 ml bottle of a 2014 incarnation of that cask; but I found it earlier this year and opened it a month and change ago. Here now are my notes. Continue reading
Let’s stay in the highlands but go 75 miles or so up the A9 from Dalwhinnie to Dalmore.
Dalmore sits on Cromarty Firth, hence presumably the name of this release—though why the possessive has been added to the name I do not know. I haven’t had official Dalmore in ages—not since the prices for their regular releases rose sharply, though not as sharply as the rate of release of bullshit from the distillery, whether in bottled or marketing form. Still, independently bottled Dalmore is very rare on the ground and just as rare is bourbon cask Dalmore and so this is very intriguing on the face of it. As with a number of K&L’s recent round of cask exclusives, this one is teaspooned. I assume that is the distillery’s way of making sure that no independent whisky appears with the name Dalmore on the label. My experience so far of these teaspooned K&L casks has been middling. I was not overly impressed by either the 28 yo John McCrae/Balvenie or the 23 yo Hector Macbeth/Glenfiddich. Will this Dalmore set a new trend? I hope so as I have a few more of these teaspooned casks left to review. Continue reading
Okay, let’s end the month with another older Speyside from a bourbon cask, and having started the month with one of K&L’s recent exclusives, let’s end it with another. This is one more of the many teaspooned casks released by K&L this year, in this case a teaspooned Balvenie—why John McCrae, I have no idea. As far as I can make out from K&L’s marketing spiel, this cask was not teaspooned prior to bottling but right at the beginning when the spirit entered the cask, presumably using a bit from one of William Grant’s other malts (Glenfiddich or Kininvie) but that’s only speculation on my part. Balvenie almost never shows up under its own name from independent bottlers— and very rarely shows up at all by any name. And so, however this was made and sent out into the world, it is a welcome opportunity to try older bourbon cask Balvenie. Let’s hope what’s in the bottle doesn’t let me down. Continue reading
Okay, back to K&L exclusives. I’ve quite liked the two I’ve already reviewed from this batch of casks—a Bunnahabhain 12 and a Craigellachie 16. Today’s review is of a cask going by name you migtht not recognize: Hector Macbeth. This is a a Glenfiddich that has been teaspooned. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry: it’s nothing kinky. Teaspooning refers to the practice of adding a tiny amount of a malt from a different distillery to a malt to prevent it from being sold as a single malt. It’s a practice certain distilleries engage in to keep their brand from being diluted—from their perspective—on the independent market; or, if not diluted, presented differently than they would like it to be. This K&L parcel contains a number of these teaspooned malts, some of them pretty old. This “Glenfiddich”, for example, is 23 years old. It was finished in a refill sherry butt (what kind of cask the teaspoon came from is unknown). I’m not sure if it’s still available but $120 was the price being asked for it when I last checked. That seems like a great deal in the abstract but my history with K&L exclusive casks with big age statements that are priced like they’re crazy deals has me not overly optimistic. But I’ll be very happy to be surprised. Continue reading
Let’s close the month with a Scotch whisky that is neither a single malt nor a blend. Yes, it’s in everybody’s favourite confusingly named category: blended malt whisky! Once known more clearly as “vatted whisky”, this category comprises vattings of malt (but no grain) whiskies from more than one distillery. There’s not very many of these out there from big name producers—William Grant & Sons’ Monkey Shoulder comes to mind, as does Diageo’s Green Label. Otherwise, this category is mostly the province of people like the bespoke suit-clad gents at Compass Box. This Glencoe 8 is a product of the owners of Ben Nevis and it’s barely a blended/vatted malt. The story seems to be that it is made up of malt from Ben Nevis and one other distillery (which one? I don’t know). The even more unusual things about are its age statement, proof and price. Normally you’d expect a distillery to dilute something like this down well below 50%, swap out the age statement for words such as “Reserve”, “Select”, “Pride” or something in Gaelic and sell it for a very high price. Good on the Ben Nevis brain trust for not doing any of those things. Well, that last part is true in the UK where this goes for £40 or so; the few listings I found for the US were closer to $100. This sample comes from a bottle released a couple of years ago with a label different from the current iteration—which is in line with the new Ben Nevis house label; the whisky in the bottle itself has apparently not changed. But what is that whisky in the bottle like? Continue reading
There are a lot of things I post on the blog that most of my old whisky readership has no interest in: recipes, restaurant reviews, pictures of markets, reviews of old blended whiskies. Accordingly, here is a review of a Black & White released sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. I expect it will be enjoyed by the tens of visitors who also read my review of a late 1940s/early 1950s Ballantine’s back in December. As for myself, I will be happy if I like this one as much as I liked that one. This is not actually my first review of a Black & White from the days of yore. Back in 2013, just a few months into the blog’s existence, I’d reviewed one from the 1960s. That was an unscored review but my notes indicate that I quite liked it. Let’s see how this one fares.
Black & White (43.4%; Late 1940s/Early 1950s release; from a bottle split)
Nose: Mild sweet notes (orange) mixed with putty and a decent whack of peat (though not medicinal). The peat gets more organic as it sits (dead rat). Some brine in there too with time. Gets maltier with a few drops of water and some mildly honeyed notes emerge as well. Continue reading
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