Earlier in the month I had a review of a craft whiskey from a distillery in Montana that I had not heard of till a friend gave me the sample. Here now is a review of another whisky I had not heard of till a friend gave me a sample. It is from a place even more inscrutable and mysterious than Montana: Canada. And in no sphere is Canadian inscrutability better embodied than in its whisky industry. No one knows which distillery anything is distilled at. In fact, it’s not clear if there’s more than one distillery or if Alberta Distillers just slaps different labels on its bottles on different days of the week. Adding to the confusion is the fact that producers are allowed to flavour their whiskies with anything they like. I’m told most use maple syrup. Which means this mystery Canadian whisky is even more unusual still for it is made by adding amontillado sherry to the original rye. Now you might say that adding sherry to whisky is effectively what most Scottish distilleries do too, with their sherry finishes and whiskies “matured” in casks pressure treated with cooking sherry. But trust wild, impetuous, madcap Canada to flaunt their lawlessness in all our faces and just go ahead and pour sherry right into their rye. What a bunch of outlaws! Continue reading
Here is the fourth of the five Archives whiskies to hit the US a month or so ago, the fourth of the four single malts (the fifth is a bourbon), and the oldest of the lot. This is not from the Speyside distillery but from an undisclosed distillery in the Speyside (yes, that’s a confusing sentence for people who don’t follow Scotch whisky). The label says only “a Speyside distillery” but I vaguely remember reading speculation that it might be a Glenlivet. I don’t expect the bottlers to confirm this one way or the other but if you have some solid intel please write in below. I’ve liked all the others in the series that I’ve reviewed so far (see here for the Ledaig, here for the Glentauchers, and here for the Orkney) and I’m hoping the streak will continue with this one.
Speyside 26, 1992 (51.5%; Archives; barrel; from a bottle split)
Nose: Pastry crust, toffee and sweet orchard fruit with a musky edge (peach, apricot). Really quite enticing. Some malt here too with time. With a few drops of water there’s a mild note of anise mixed in with the rest. Continue reading
There was some rare good news recently on the American market for Scotch whisky front. Archives, the independent bottler label from the good lads at Rotterdam’s Whiskybase—one of the premier whisky stores in Europe—is finally available in the country. We usually get none of the top independent bottlers from the continent and so this was welcome news, especially as the Archives releases are marked both for the usual value and quality they represent. However, the news was tempered almost immediately by the discovery that these releases are restricted right now to stores in Georgia and California, making it all but impossible for most American whisky drinkers to get their hands on them, given the continuing farcical state of restrictions on inter-state shipping. And, of course, also by the fact that the three-tier mark-up system in the US renders these more expensive than they would be in Europe. I don’t know if the latter problem can be addressed but I am hopeful that availability at least may soon be expanded. At any rate, here is my review of the first of five bottles in their initial American release. I’ll have reviews of the other four as well in the coming weeks. Continue reading
For my last whisky review of the year I have what I think may have been the oldest whisky I drank this year; in terms of maturation, that is (in terms of distillation year that was last week’s Glen Moray 42). This was bottled by the Whisky Agency for the Whisky Exchange last year (or was it a joint bottling?) and is from an undisclosed Speyside distillery. Well, it is technically undisclosed but everyone seems very sure it was a Glenfarclas. Glenfarclas, of course, do not allow their name to be placed on labels of independently bottled casks, but it’s also more usual to see names like Burnside or Speyside’s Finest or references to a family owned distillery on independent releases of the distillery’s whisky. At any rate, there were quite a few of these “Speyside Region” 1973s released in 2016 and 2017, and most of those were from the Whisky Agency—they seem to have come into a parcel of these casks. Anyway, I first tasted this at a gathering in St. Paul in early November that featured a number of excellent older whiskies. This one had one of the best noses of everything on the table that night. Thankfully, the owner of the bottle was happy to share a sample and so I got to take a second crack at it and write up some formal notes. Continue reading
I guess this has de facto turned into a sherried whisky month—all my reviews save for that of the Loch Lomond 12 have been of whiskies from sherry casks of one kind or the other. Might as well keep that going. Like Monday’s Ballechin 12, this too was released as an exclusive for the Whisky Barrel, and I got this sample as part of the same larger bottle split. This is an Orkney 11 yo, or an indie Highland Park—it seems like new indie releases of Highland Park mostly bear the Orkney nomenclature these days; and I think I read recently that Highland Park may even be cracking down on indie bottlings altogether—shame if that’s true. Anyway, I suppose it’s possible that an Orkney cask could also be from Scapa. But since I know less about these matters than most, I will go along with the notion that Orkney=Highland Park in the indie market unless there is info to the contrary. I was particularly interested in this one as it’s from a PX sherry hogshead (presumably not full matured) and I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those. Continue reading
Here is another timely review and another recent Archives bottling (see here for my review last week of their bourbon cask Aberlour 12). This is a 15 yo from an unnamed Orkney distillery—well, it’s Highland Park. It was bottled last year and is still available. This is a bit of a head-scratcher as the price is pretty good in this market for a 15 yo Highland Park at cask strength. Perhaps it’s because this is from a bourbon cask and bourbon cask Highland Park—like bourbon cask Aberlour—continues to be a bit of an unknown quantity when it comes to the average single malt enthusiast. My own enthusiasm for bourbon cask Highland Park is as high as my enthusiasm for bourbon cask Aberlour and I do not understand why more people are not interested in what their whisky tastes like without sherry cask involvement; especially as bourbon cask Highland Park tends to be more peat-forward than the regular (see this G&M release, for example). I opened it last month for a tasting of bourbon cask whiskies for my local group and it did very well. Indeed, it was the top whisky of the night, narrowly beating out an older Ardmore (which I liked better and will be reviewing soon). Here now are my notes. Continue reading
Last week I posted a look at a very brief stop at The Whisky Shop on Victoria Street in Edinburgh. Today I have a review of the 100 ml sample I purchased of their so-called Secret Islay cask. I say “so-called” because—as I noted last week—the gent attending to their store casks told us it was a young Bowmore before we’d even thought to ask. Less than 10 years old, I think he said it was. I got a taste and liked it enough to get a 100 ml sample. As I also noted last week, their store casks are not priced in line with what they are. This was £12, and that for a young whisky at 40%. Cadenhead’s seems like even more of a great deal by comparison; as I also noted last week, 500 ml of this would have cost me more than 700 ml of the far superior Cadenhead’s Campbeltown cask (a sherried Springbank). How do I know the Cadenhead’s Campbeltown cask was superior? I drank them both while up in the Speyside later that week and took these notes then. Continue reading
This Campbeltown cask at Cadenhead’s represents my greatest whisky regret from our recent trip to Scotland. This is not because it was a disappointment; quite the opposite. I purchased a 200 ml bottle at Cadenhead’s on my first day in Edinburgh (along with their Islay cask, a Glen Ord 13 and a Tullibardine 24). I opened it on the second or third night and loved it; considered getting a full bottle but didn’t want to lock myself out of potential distillery-only purchases on our upcoming sojourn in the Speyside and Highlands (given limited luggage space). If that didn’t pan out, I figured I’d get a bottle in between returning our car and heading to the airport on our way back.
This plan suffered a mighty blow first when Aberlour turned out to not have any distillery exclusives available on the day I visited, and then a fatal blow when I realized that our flight to London was an hour earlier than I’d thought it was. And so, no full bottle of the Cadenhead’s Cambeltown cask for me. But this wasn’t all to the bad: it left room for an unplanned purchase of the TWE Croftengea in London, of which more soon. Continue reading
This was one of five 200 ml bottles I purchased from my first visit to Cadenhead’s on my first afternoon in Edinburgh in early June. I’ve already reviewed the Glen Ord 13 and the Tullibardine 24 that were part of that haul—I’d not planned to get anything more (I’d also picked up a Worthy Park rum) but couldn’t resist their store casks. They had five casks on the go in the store: one Islay, one Highlands, one Lowlands, one Campbeltown and one rum cask. I purchased 200 ml of the Islay (obviously) and also of the Campbeltown cask (review coming soon). The prices are fixed for all the casks: £14 for 200 ml, £24.50 for 350 ml and £48 for 700 ml. My understanding is that these are all “living” cask vattings, topped up once they get low. This means that the composition can change from week to week—I have no idea how often they top these casks up. I think I was told that the Islay cask as constituted at the time I made my purchase had a fair bit of young Lagavulin in it—but I could be making that up. It is possible to get a taste before you make a decision but I was comfortable trusting that they’d probably be good. I’m happy to say that this trust was well rewarded. I took these notes in Edinburgh itself—my friend Mike and I polished this off at a pretty rapid rate after purchase. Continue reading
As I am known for my highly timely reviews, I am pleased to present this review of a whisky whose existence I did not even know of until a few hours ago (as of this writing)—at which point I purchased a 50 ml sample immediately. It also turns out to be a whisky about which the world—or the part of it represented in Google search results and on Whiskybase—knows nothing. There are five whiskies with the name Skara Brae associated with them on Whiskybase but this is none of them. No, I purchased this at Skara Brae, the amazing neolithic archeological site on mainland Orkney—which you should really visit if you’re ever on Orkney (and take a detour from there to the Yesnaby cliffs on your way to wherever you’re going next). As you may know, almost every major tourist site in Scotland seems to have a branded whisky on offer (see here for last year’s disastrous mini purchase from Blair Castle), and this one, fittingly is described as an “Orkney Single Malt Whisky”. As neither possibility—Highland Park or Scapa—inspires fear and loathing, I decided to take a chance with £6. Let’s see if I would have been better of saving that money to buy a couple of pints of beer on the ferry back to Scrabster in a couple of days. Continue reading
Okay, after Monday’s Ben Nevis 19, 1996 from Cadenhead, here’s another whisky released in 2016 by an indie bottler. The bottler in this case is the German outfit Whisky-Fässle. The whisky is much older, distilled in 1975 but it’s not said where it was distilled. I haven’t looked around to see if there’s any nudge-nudge, wink-wink out there about the identity. It is said to be a classic 1970s-style fruit bomb which might lead people who bought bottles to hope it’s a Longmorn or Caperdonich. But if it were either, I imagine the bottler would trumpet that. So either a distillery like Glenfarclas which suppresses indie use of its name or a less marketable name. Anyway, there were a number of these 1975 casks released last year, I believe—which suggests a parcel was unearthed somewhere and snapped up by various indies. It’s also curious to see the cask specified as Fino. Granted, I have far less experience of this stuff than many, but I don’t think I’ve seen that level of specificity marked on many casks put away in that period. I was tempted to buy a bottle when it was available, but the price—north of 300 Euros—took quick care of that. I’m glad though to have the opportunity to taste it via a bottle split. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
At the risk of lapsing into relevance, here is a review of another whisky that is still available. It is an exclusive for the Whisky Exchange, who had it as the first release in their somewhat confusingly conceived series called “Time”. Confusing because, as I noted while reviewing the second release in this series (this Benrinnes 20), it’s not clear how drinking whiskies of different ages from different distilleries is supposed to give you much sense of time as a variable—which I think is the rationale of the series. More importantly, however, this is a very good whisky. I was a little surprised to discover today that it’s still available. Perhaps the fact that there’s no distillery name on the bottle has something to do with it? Though you’d think most whisky geeks would just assume this is a Glenfarclas. That’s what I had assumed as well, and my initial pours had borne out that assumption. However, as the bottle has gone on, I could just as easily swear that it is a Balvenie (also a family owned distillery). The language of the TWE listing probably indicates it’s a Glenfarclas: Balvenie is not thought of as being “classically sherried”. Anyway, while I’ve liked this a lot from the get-go, it’s the second half of the bottle that’s really been great—and it’s from that part of the bottle that these notes were taken. Here they are. Continue reading
I confess that I purchased this whisky a few years ago for rather shallow reasons—two of them, in fact. First there was the irresistible label. I mean just look at that dog, peg leg and all. Then there’s the fact that this Islay malt, from an undisclosed distillery and of uncertain age, was billed as being finished for 17 months in a Port Ellen sherry cask. You have to support that kind of shamelessness. I had no expectations of the quality of the actual contents of the bottle and so didn’t open it for a very long time. Not, in fact, till this August when I took it, along with another bottle, to one of my friend Rich’s annual tastings celebrating sherried whiskies—the same one that featured the Glengoyne 25, the Bowmore Feis Ile 2012 and the Glenfaclas 1968, among others. The other bottle I took was my main contribution—this one was just a novelty. But as it turned out a number of the people in attendance had it in their top three for the night, and I have to say I rather liked it too. This was a very pleasant surprise. I’d meant to review it formally right away but somehow never got around to it. Until now. Let’s see how it’s developed as it’s sat for a couple of months with some headspace in the bottle. 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
They say that an undisclosed sherried Speyside malt is likely to be a Glenfarclas but I have no idea if that’s true in this case (or in most cases). It’s the kind of thing that’s in the interest of bottlers to have people believe (just as every undisclosed peated Islay is said to likely be a Lagavulin). As far as I know there’s no rule saying that a bottler has to disclose the name of a distillery and so someone who had their hands on a nice cask from a distillery with a poor reputation might well benefit by taking the name off the label and letting buyers fill in whatever they’d like to think it is. I’m not saying that I suspect that’s what’s happening here. My point is merely that I have no idea what distillery this is from. I do know that it’s rather nice. I first opened this bottle for one of my local group’s tastings a couple of months ago. It didn’t actually fare so very well that night but it’s come on strong as the bottle has stayed open. And now that I’m past the halfway mark I’m very sorry to see its imminent demise. Continue reading
This is a somewhat unusual whisky. It is a blend but apparently a single cask blend: what this means is that malt new make and grain new make were blended into a cask upon distillation in 1979 and married in the cask for the entire period of maturation. And this period of maturation was long indeed: 33 years. As to whether the malt and grain components were distilled at the same distillery, I don’t now. If so, that would narrow the source considerably as there are not very many distilleries that are/were set up to distill both malt and grain. It’s also not clear who initiated this single cask blend (a distillery? an independent blender?) or to what purpose. What we do know is that this cask was bottled by Svenska Eldvatten, who have bottled a number of other vintage releases of uncertain origin. The cask is said to be sherry but this release was of only 197 bottles. Given everything else that’s unusual about this it is possible that this was a sherry hogshead. Continue reading
Kirkland is Costco’s private label brand used for everything from baby formula to 14 pc nativity sets (please keep the baby Jesus and his parents away from flame or heat source). This, however, is whisky, not recommended for babies and not, as far as I know, one of the gifts of the Magi. It is from the Speyside but as the distillery is not specified it could literally be from one of scores of candidates. This was matured in bourbon casks and finished in sherry. I’m not sure if it’s still available.
Kirkland Speyside 18 (40%; sherry finish; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Somewhat generic sherry notes–light caramel, a hint of maple syrup, some toffee and a touch of orange peel. The muskier fruit from the palate never shows up on the nose but it is quite balanced and pleasant. Continue reading