Atholl Highlander

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

Home Blend 35, 1980 (Wilson & Morgan)

Home Blend 35, 1980, Wilson & Morgan
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

Michel Couvreur 12, Peaty Overaged Malt Whisky (for K&L)

Michel Couvreur 12, Peaty, Overaged Malt Whisky
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

King’s Legend “Old Special” (Ainslie & Heilbron)

King's Legend, "Old Special"
You’re not really a whisky blogger till you’ve reviewed at least one blend that was bottled before you were born and about which not much is known. Here I am with my first; now I can finally retire—what a relief! Well, I guess I should say I don’t know much about this blend; somebody else may well know a lot. If you are that somebody, please write in below. All I know is that it is thought to have been bottled in the 1950s, that its strength is unknown and that Ainslie & Heilbron (now defunct) were once the owners of Brora/Clynelish. This last probably means this harbours some quantity of very old Clynelish, though it probably bears little resemblance to contemporary Clynelish. Bottles of this seem to have (re)appeared recently. Serge reviewed it in February and I got a sample as part of a bottle split a few months ago. How this has come to be I’m not sure either. Did some collector unload a stash? Anyway, let’s get to the whisky itself!  Continue reading

Teeling Whiskey, Small Batch

Teeling Whiskey, Small Batch
No, this isn’t Teeling whisky from Guadeloupe and it isn’t 8 years old. This is a NAS Irish whisky—it’s just that the sample is from avant garde mixed-media artist, Sku. You may think I’m making fun of him but consider the fact that this sample is of an Irish whiskey finished for 6 months in rum casks. Here’s the short version of the Teeling story: new distillery; hasn’t released any of its own aged spirit yet; in American style is selling purchased whiskey (from Cooley) under its own name; who the hell knows if what they are distilling themselves, once it’s ready to be bottled, will taste anything like the stuff they’re putting out now.

I gather they have more recently put out a single grain whiskey and a single malt whiskey; this one, however, is a blend and it was first released in the US about two years ago . Will it improve my sorry record with Irish whiskeys? I can only hope it will. Let’s see.  Continue reading

Peat Monster, 10th Anniversary (Compass Box)

Compass Box Peat Monster, 10th Anniversary
This review commemorates the 2nd anniversary of the release of the 10th anniversary edition of Compass Box’s Peat Monster. The regular peat monster is a bit of a misnomer as it’s not really much of a peat monster—it’s certainly not in Ardbeg Supernova or Port Charlotte or Octomore territory. Nonetheless, it’s quite beloved of whisky geeks. As I’ve noted before, I’m never sure how much of the love thrown Compass Box’s way is on the merits of what they bottle and how much a mix of a love of the idea of Compass Box and/or an appreciation of their laudable transparency about their recipes and processes (at least until the Scotch Whisky Association recently slammed them for it)—I’m sure the bespoke packaging and quirky names help too (as does the fact that John Glaser seems like a very genial gent).

Anyway, my hit rate with them is not as good as their reputation would suggest. I did not care for the widely loved Hedonism and thought Great King Street was just okay; I did like Eleuthera though. Calibrate your opinion of my review of this one accordingly.  Continue reading

Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky

Faultline Blended Scotch, K&L
K&L released this blend under their Faultline label earlier this year (or was it late last year)? I wasn’t very interested in it at first but when Michael K. suggested a bottle split I decided to give it a go. It’s cheap to begin with and a quarter of the bottle was really cheap. He then suggested we review it simultaneously and roped Jordan D. of Chemistry of the Cocktail in as well. And so here I am. If all goes according to plan Michael and Jordan’s reviews should go up at the same time, and I’ll link to them when I’m awake in the morning. (Here and here.)

I know nothing about this whisky or of what David D. said about it, but I’m sure it’s the very best blended whisky anyone has ever made. I think I remember Sku liking it a lot, so I guess it has a decent ceiling; at worst, the rest’ll get used up in my vattings. Continue reading

Blue Hanger, 7th Release

Blue Hanger, 7th Release
Blue Hanger is the name of a series of blended malts released by the venerable wine merchant and independent bottler of whisky (and other spirits), Berry Bros. & Rudd. There have been a number of releases over the years, though they seem to have picked up speed in recent years after a bit of a hiatus. “Blended malt”, in case you don’t remember, is the now legally correct name for the old category of vatted malts: i.e. whisky composed of malts from multiple distilleries with no grain whisky in the mix (unlike “blended whisky” which is a mix of malt and grain).

As per the K&L website this 7th release was composed of “one hogshead of Bruichladdich 1992, one butt of Bunnahabhain 1990, four hogsheads of Miltonduff 1997, and two hogsheads of Bunnahabhain Moine (peated) 2006”. If sold with an age statement it would therefore have been a 6 or 7 yo (it was released in 2013). In a case like this one it’s understandable if a bottler wants to go the NAS route; it also goes without saying that it’s creditable that they also make it easy to know what’s in the bottle (and in this case there’s quite a bit of whisky aged 15-22 years in it). An interesting mix too with older sherried Bunnahabhain, younger peated bourbon cask Bunnahabhain and quite a bit of bourbon cask Miltonduff (presumably used for its usually fruity character). But what is it like?  Continue reading

Black Bull 30

Black Bull 30

I don’t really know too much about the Black Bull blends. I know the brand is owned by Duncan Taylor and that this 30 yo was blended at origin in the 1970s and then matured for the full term in an ex-sherry cask. So while this has grain whisky in the mix the grain component is also 30 years old and has been marrying with the malt the whole while (and I believe it’s 50/50 grain and malt whisky). That’s all pretty unusual for blends which are usually heavier on the grain and generally blended after the component casks have matured and then married for only a few months before bottling. As to what the sources of the components are, I have no idea. But I’m sure somebody more knowledgeable than me will be along shortly to fill in the details. I think this was released in the late 2000s and that it’s no longer part of the range (makes sense as one would imagine it would be hard to replicate).

I split this, and some other bottles, with friends some months ago. One of those people, Jordan Deveraux of Chemistry of the Cocktail coincidentally posted his own review a few days ago. I have studiously avoided looking at it and will do so only after this review has posted. [And here it is.] Continue reading

Dewar’s White Label + Some Fooling Around

Dewar's White LabelThis is the third, and probably last for a while, of my reviews of easily found mass market blends (see here for the Black Label, which I liked a lot, and here for the Famous Grouse, which I did not like a lot). Unlike the Black Label and the Famous Grouse, I have never previously tasted the Dewar’s White Label (unless I have and have suppressed the memory). Owned by Bacardi, this White Label is claimed by them to be the top-selling blended Scotch whisky in the US. Then again, the Famous Grouse is claimed to be the top-selling blend in Scotland.

The group’s premier distillery is Aberfeldy and their malt is said to be the cornerstone of all their blends. I’ve not had much Aberfeldy before either so that doesn’t really create any particular expectations for me. I’ve also never tried the age stated Dewar’s blends—I believe there’s a 12 yo, a 15 yo and an 18 yo. If you do know those and would recommend them please write in below. Continue reading

The Famous Grouse

The Famous GrouseI’ve reviewed the Black Grouse but not the member of the family that makes all the money: the original Famous Grouse. Until now.

The Famous Grouse is reportedly the most popular whisky in Scotland, at least in terms of sales. You must remember, of course, that Budweiser is similarly the most popular beer in the US, and McDonald’s the makers of the most popular hamburger. That said, I will admit there are occasions when I enjoy a cold Bud—mostly at sporting events where the other options are Corona or Miller—and I have also occasionally enjoyed the Famous Grouse, with ice and water. Hot on the heels of my very positive review of the very popular Johnnie Walker Black Label, therefore, in a continuing attempt to become the Blogger of the People, here is a review of the Famous Grouse. Will it reward close attention the way the Black Label did or will its flaws be all the more apparent? Continue reading

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Black LabelJohnnie Walker Black Label, which was Christopher Hitchens’ favourite whisky, is one of the most famous spirits in the world; among Scotch whiskies its name-recognition is probably surpassed only by its younger sibling, the Red Label (which is nobody’s favourite whisky). And at 12 years old it proclaims an age that more and more single malts cannot. Most blends are made for drinking with ice and/or water/soda but I’ve always enjoyed the Black Label straight and so I am going to review it as I would any other whisky.

Johnnie Walker Black Label (43%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Prickly, minerally peat, some orange, raisins and brine. Not a lot of grainy notes—not at first anyway. And frankly not at second either. After a while there’s a bit of burnt toast and a very faint rubberiness. Not much change after that. Okay, let’s add water: the sweetness expands and there’s some toffee too now. Continue reading

Compass Box, Great King Street

Compass Box, Great King StreetCompass Box seem to have the whisky geek version of “most favoured nations” status but try as I might I have not yet come across an expression from this innovative bottler that to my palate has matched its reputation, story or stylish presentation (though I did like the Eleuthera). I should say in advance that this is also true of this bottle of Great King Street (which is a blend of single malt and grain whisky). I opened this as well for our local whisky group’s June tasting and it wasn’t just my lowest whisky of the night, it was pretty much everyone’s—and everyone but me was tasting everything blind. As with all their whiskies, it does have a nice label and an evocative name. Unlike most of their whiskies it’s at 43%.

Compass Box, Great King Street (43%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Mild sweet fruit (apples mostly) and a light grassy note. With more time there’s some soft, buttery oak and some cream. With more time there’s some citrus mixed in with the sweet fruit. Continue reading

Mackinlay’s Shackleton Malt, First Edition.

ShackletonAt this point everyone knows the story: Shackleton and co. left some whisky behind in the Kalahari sometime between 1907 and 1909 while looking for King Solomon’s Mines; this whisky was unearthed a couple of years ago; our Lord and Saviour, Richard Paterson took one look at it and then blew his magic nose into a loch and yea and verily did the water turn into Shackleton’s old school whisky. And then he skied across it, towed by the Loch Ness monster while choirs of cherubs sang hosanna. Or something like that–I’m fuzzy on the details.

I like to refer to it as the Shackleton Zombie Malt but that’s, of course, not true. The true Zombie Malt is not available for purchase; this is in fact a clone. In my experience, mostly derived from the movies, nothing good ever comes of cloning but I keep an open mind. I believe all kinds of old whisky went into the creation of this replica–there’s some irony there as the original was very likely composed of very young whisky (no one was drinking old whisky at the turn of the 20th century).

Hilarious jokes aside, this is a whisky I was in fact very interested in at release but couldn’t bring myself to pay the asking price. Thanks to the generosity of a good friend’s brother I now have a large’ish sample of it. Let’s get to it.

Mackinlay’s Shackleton, Rare Old Highland Malt, First Ed. (47.3%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Faintly rubbery smoke at first and a minerally, sooty quality. Some olive brine below that and something lightly savoury too (ham?). Some fruit as well–apples, tart at first but sweeter as it sits and also a little creamier. The rubberiness disappears after a minute, by the way, but there’s a sour aspect to the smoke that remains. And the smoke gets more expansive as it sits (not phenolic though) and if you let it sit a while it gets really lemony (salted lemons). More of the same with water, except the smoke is maybe more ashy now.

Palate: Very much as on the nose with a minerally, sooty quality. But it expands quite dramatically on the palate, getting smokier with a strong burst of lemon and pepper accompanying. More pepper on the second and third sip and also ashy smoke and some wet stones. Water brings out some of the sweeter fruit on the palate and pushes the lemon and the pepper back. More balanced now, but I think I preferred it without water.

Finish: Long. No new development as such but the smoke and pepper linger. Saltier with time and the lemon begins to linger as well. Less lemon on the finish too with water.

Comments: The quality of the smoke here is very reminiscent of that in some mildly peated Highland malts from the 70s I’ve had such as this Ardmore–I assume there’s a lot of that sort of whisky in here. I have no idea, of course, if this is identical to the original Shackleton malt or a reasonable approximation of what malts of that era (more than 100 years ago!) were like, but I have to say that it doesn’t taste radically different from malts made in the 70s or even some contemporary Longrows. Very nice indeed. Not overly complex, and probably not a crowd-pleaser, but old-school whisky for sure.

Rating: 88 points.

Thanks to the Freeman brothers, Jeff for sharing, and Alex for carting it back to Minnesota. (Just in case, anyone’s wondering: these are not the Jeff and Alex who comment here from time to time.)