John McCrae/Balvenie 28, 1991 (Hepburn’s Choice for K&L)

John McCrae:Balvenie 28, 1991, Hepburn's Choice
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

Glengoyne 11, 2008 (Old Particular for K&L)

I usually have restaurant meal reports on Tuesdays but as this is officially still primarily a whisky blog let’s start the month with a whisky review instead. I’ll have a report tomorrow on our most recent takeout meal, which saw us return to Godavari in Eden Prairie.

Meanwhile, back to K&L’s exclusive casks from late 2020. I’ve had a pretty decent outing with them so far—only the Glenfiddich/Hector Macbeth 23 disappointed a bit and even that was far from bad; the Bunnahabhain 12, the Craigellachie 16, the Blair Athol 24 and the Glen Garioch 10 all came in above 85 points. That’s on my regular ratings scale. On my patented EW! or Everybody Wins! rating system they scored quite a bit higher but you should not bother with that unless you work at K&L. Okay, time to see what this Glengoyne is like. It’s not the best sign that it’s been finished in PX—often an indicator of a rescue attempt on something over-oaked. Let’s see if that’s the case. Continue reading

Glen Garioch 10, 2010 (Old Particular for K&L)


Except for the teaspooned Glenfiddich 23 I’ve had a pretty good run so far with the most recent lot of K&L’s exclusive casks. I really liked both the Blair Athol 24 and the Craigellachie 16 and the Bunnahabhain 12 was not far behind: very high EW! ratings all around. And even the Glenfiddich was not bad, just a bit boring. The EW! rating, in case you’re wondering, is a special rating I have designed for very sensitive people who suffer emotional damage when they see what they think are very low scores on my K&L reviews—as far as I can make out, anything less than 90 points is very low for some people. Being a nice guy, I came up with this revolutionary rating system to help them focus on the words and not the numbers or to just feel good about the numbers if that’s all they care about. Anyway, I’m hopeful this young Glen Garioch will keep the general positive streak going. Glen Garioch can be a difficult distillate and I’ve certainly not been very enthused by  the distillery’s official younger releases. Let’s see what this is like. Continue reading

Blair Athol 24, 1995 (Old Particular for K&L)


Here is another of K&L’s recent exclusive casks to close the week out. Like Monday’s Glenfiddich, I mean “Hector Macbeth”, this one is a twenty something in age and from a sherry cask; unlike it, however, it wears its distillery’s name openly: Blair Athol. K&L has had at least one other sherried Blair Athol of a similar age as part of their exclusives before—and indeed so have a lot of bottlers in the EU. I’ve reviewed a few of them but those were all casks of whisky distilled in the late 1980s. This one is from 1995. As it turns out, Whiskybase lists a large number of casks from 1995 that have been bottled by various indies. They have only two listed from 1994, only one from 1996 and then a whole bunch again from 1997. Clearly the supply of older Blair Athols wanes and waxes—there must be a lot of it moving around for blending purposes. Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad to see this one. Blair Athol of this age from a sherry cask is a pretty reliable proposition and the odds are good that this will get this run of K&L casks back in the right direction after the relative disappointment of Monday’s Glenfiddich (You may recall that I previously enjoyed the teenaged Craigellachie and Bunnahabhain). Let’s see if that’s indeed how it goes. Continue reading

Hector Macbeth/Glenfiddich 23, 1997 (Hepburn’s Choice for K&L)


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

Craigellachie 16, 2003 (Old Particular for K&L)


A Benrinnes review on Monday and there’ll be another Benrinnes review on Friday. In between here is a Craigellachie. This is another from K&L’s recent round of exclusive casks and is from a sherry butt. It’s been three years since my last Craigellachie review and almost four since my last review of one from a sherry cask. I am a big fan of the earthier, meatier style of spirit that Craigellachie produces and in my limited experience it’s particularly good coming out of good sherry casks. Is this one of them? Let’s see.

(And remember, as I announced in my review of K&L’s Bunnahabhain 12 last week, I have an exciting new feature for these K&L reviews: a second rating—Everybody Wins! or EW! for short—that those who get sad when I don’t give everything 90 points can look at and feel happy about.) Continue reading

Benrinnes “Over 20 Years”, 1995, Artist #8 (La Maison Du Whisky)


Here is the first of two Benrinnes reviews this week. This one was bottled by the famous French store, La Maison Du Whisky in their Artist series. The label lists the vintage as 1995 but the age is given as “Over 20 Years”. Which is true as it was bottled in 2018. This is the first instance I can remember of a bottler choosing not to go with a higher number on a label—was/is this par for the course for the Artist series? This means that this is probably the same age as my next Benrinnes, which is also from 1995 and is marked as a 22 yo by bottler Signatory. Indeed, I remember reading at some point that Signatory is probably the source of La Maison Du Whisky’s casks and so this may well be from the same parcel. I haven’t yet looked up the particulars of that cask and to do so would require me to get up and walk across the room so you’ll have to wait a couple of days or hope I remembered to do so before finalizing this review. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 12, 2007 (Old Particular for K&L)


As I noted on Monday, I went in once again at the end of last year on bottle splits of a large number of K&L’s exclusives (maybe even all of them? I’m not sure). There’s a rather large number of them, most, if not all, from the various Laing outfits. There were a large number of teaspooned malts in the set but also some that dare to openly wear their distillery’s name on their labels. This Bunnahabhain is one of the latter. It’s also one of the younger malts in the set. We’ll start with it anyway.

I’m also rolling out a new feature for this round of K&L reviews. As longtime readers know, K&L staff and I have not always been in perfect alignment on our ratings of their releases, either in terms of scores or values. They’ve always expressed themselves with kind restraint but I’ve been able to sense their disapproval. It hurts me to hurt anyone’s feelings and so these reviews will be accompanied by two sets of scores. One for the rest of us and also the EW! or Everybody Wins! rating (patent pending) which those who think my scores are too low can focus on and be happy about. Continue reading

Benromach 9, 2011 (for Costco, San Diego)


Here’s an unlikely whisky to kick off the year’s reviews. This 9 yo Benromach was bottled for Costco, San Diego. Hands up if you knew that Costco does store picks. Well, maybe you all live in more sophisticated places and each Costco in your city has its own pick but our local Costco has no store pick single malt whiskies that I’m aware of—and if any other local Costcos carry any I’m sure I would have heard. This was bottled and hit the shelves sometime in 2020 but seems to have been snapped up. Or so I’m told by Florin (second assistant rhinoceros wrangler at the San Diego Zoo) who went to a Costco there last week to see if any were still available and came away disappointed. He did mention that there was a Sassicaia cask finish Benromach on the shelf—as to whether that’s also a Costco, San Diego exclusive or just one of Benromach’s regular wineskies, I don’t know; but even if the latter that’s already a more exotic selection than is ever available at Costco, Burnsville. On the other hand, does Costco, San Diego carry whole goat? Continue reading

Highland Park 12, 2006 (for Spec’s)


It’s been almost two years since my last review of an official release of Highland Park. That was of their 12 yo, now called the “Viking Honour“. Once the Highland Park 12 was the great all-rounder of the single malt world and a whisky I recommended confidently to anyone looking to get into single malt whisky. Alas, I found the Viking Honour—while drinkable enough—to be some distance from the best of the old Highland Park 12. What was missing was the clearer sherry influence of the older versions. That should not be a problem for today’s whisky. It is also a 12 yo but this one is a single cask and a first-fill European oak hogshead at that. The sherry should be big and front and center. Will that add up to a much better whisky? We’ll see. This cask, by the way, was bottled last year for the Texan store, Spec’s—a store from which, in the last of the whisky loch days, I once purchased quite a lot of fabulous older whisky at prices that these days would seem like a lunatic dream if spoken out loud (very old Caperdonich for $150 and so on). Anyway, Highland Park have been releasing (expensive) individual casks for European stores etc. for some time now; I hadn’t realized these were in the US too now. Let’s see what this is like. Continue reading

Ben Nevis 26, 1991 (Signatory)


Let us bring Ben Nevis week to a close. To recap, three sherry casks filled in 1991 and bottled by Signatory at the ages of 22, 24, and 26. I thought the 22 yo was a gem and then liked the 24 even more. Do I dare hope that the 26 will be better still? Of course, we know that age is no reliable predictor of quality—a few extra years can take a cask past its prime just as easily as they can add further depth. I am hoping for good things though as the colour of this sample suggests that this too was not an over-active sherry cask. Hopefully, that funky, fruity Ben Nevis character will be front and center here as well. Let’s see if that’s the case.

Ben Nevis 26, 1991 (57.3%; Signatory; sherry butt 2377; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: That familiar mix once again of musky citrus, powdered ginger, malt and yeast. On the second sniff the powdered ginger moves in the slightly rubbery direction of old-school medicine bottles. With time and air the sweeter fruit from the palate (peach nectar) joins the musky citrus. A few drops of water and there’s more malt and some very milky cocoa to go with all the rest. Continue reading

Littlemill 22, 1990 (Berry Bros. & Rudd for Total Wine)


At this point everyone knows that a whole slew of casks filled at Littlemill in the 1988-1992 period and bottled 20+ years later by various indies has made us forget how awful the distillery’s official releases before it closed were. One wonders how many distilleries with indifferent to bad reputations that scenario might not work out well for. All this to say, I’m expecting this sample to blow my socks off and if it doesn’t then I will blame Michael K.

Littlemill 22, 1990 (54.3%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 17 for Total Wine; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Lemon, grapefruit, tart pineapple, a whiff of gasoline. Chalkier and more mineral on the second sniff and there’s some gooseberry in there too now. With a few drops of water the acid backs off a bit and there’s some cream and a leafy note. Continue reading

Caol Ila 27, 1984 (Old Malt Cask for the Whisky Barrel)


The week’s first review was of a 19 yo Caol Ila from a bourbon cask. That one was bottled by the Whisky Exchange in 2012. Here now is another Caol Ila bottled the year before by Douglas Laing in their Old Malt Cask series. This one is a fair bit older and is from a refill sherry hogshead. As much as I like bourbon cask Caol Ila, sherried Caol Ila—relatively rare as it is—can be very good indeed and the best ones are among the whisky world’s unalloyed pleasures. See, for example, this one and this one, both also from 1984 distillate. I am hopeful that this will be in the class of those. Let’s see if it is.

Caol Ila 27, 1984 (52.4%; Old Malt Cask; refill sherry hogshead; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Leafy smoke cutting through sherried notes of orange peel, raisins, pipe tobacco and pencil lead. On the second sniff there’s some charred pork and also a hint of savoury sulphur; the smoke is a bit sharper now. The coastal notes emerge as it sits (brine) but it’s not terribly phenolic. Softer with water with a bit of toffee emerging. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 42, 1970, Family Casks (for K&L)


Glenfarclas week started out with a 15 yo on Monday, which I thought was good but nothing very special. In the middle on Wednesday was a 21 yo that I thought was excellent. Let’s close the week out now with a 42 yo. This was distilled in 1970 and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider buying it when it was released by K&L back in 2012. 1970 is when I was distilled as well and I was on the lookout then for 1970 vintage whiskies to buy and stash for my 50th birthday. But the price was quite high—$500+, I think (and it got quite a bit higher later)—and given my general allergy to K&L’s marketing blather, I decided not to take the chance; especially, as I’d purchased this Tomatin 40, 1970 for quite a bit less for the same purpose a year prior. I then forgot about it until it showed up unexpectedly last month in a box of samples from Sku—also the source of Monday’s 15 yo. I’m very interested to find out now if I should have grit my teeth back then and paid the high tariff. Let’s see. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 15 (for TWE)


It’s been a few weeks since I posted a whisky review. Last week’s booze reviews were all of rums (Caroni, Caroni, Worthy Park); and the week before focused on brandies (Lous Pibous, Dartigalongue, Copper & Kings). It’ll be whisky from now till the end of the month but I’m going to keep this week themed as well: it’ll be all releases of sherried whisky, and all from Glenfarclas. I’ll begin with this 15 yo and then go up in age with each review.

This particular release was bottled for the Whisky Exchange. I’m not sure if it was from a single cask and nor am I sure why no vintage is noted. I suppose it’s possible that it’s a vatting of at least 15 yo casks from a couple of different years, but that seems like a lot of trouble to go to and not mention or mine for marketing reasons. More likely, I’d guess, is that this is just TWE being idiosyncratic. They’ve released other whiskies too that bore no cask or vintage information (such was this Laphroaig 16). I’ve had my eye on this Glenfarclas for a while—almost pulling the trigger a couple of times when friends were coming over from London. The thought of a cask strength version of the excellent 15 yo that is not available in the US was enticing; but there’s no guarantee, of course, that a cask strength version of the 15 yo is what this amounts to. Will I regret that uncharacteristic restraint? Let’s see. Continue reading

Benromach 8, 2011 (for The Whisky Exchange)


This is a Benromach blog now. All Benromach reviews all the time. Well, this week anyway. On Monday I reviewed a young bourbon cask that was a UK exclusive. I really liked that one. Yesterday I had a review of the recent sherry cask edition of the distillery’s Peat Smoke release. That one seemed unpromising at first but then improved dramatically with water. Today another young Benromach from a sherry cask, another UK exclusive. This one was in fact exclusive to one particular store, The Whisky Exchange: it was one of several whiskies bottled to mark the store’s 20th anniversary. This is from a single sherry cask, a first-fill hogshead. Good friends were visiting London right when the pandemic hit and they were kind enough to bring me back a couple of bottles recommended by Billy Abbott at TWE (this Inchmurrin was the other). Billy recommended this one highly. When I first opened the bottle a couple of months ago I found it to be a bit too hot and indistinct but it’s mellowed nicely since. Here now are my notes. Continue reading

Fettercairn 17, 1995 (Exclusive Malts)


I keep saying this about most of the minor Scottish distilleries but I have very little experience of Fettercairn. I’ve only reviewed a couple of them before this one and have maybe tried twice as many in total. As such I have no expectations. Of the two I’ve reviewed one did nothing for me and the other was average—which leaves the door open for this one to be the first Fettercairn that will really move me. Okay, so it also leaves the door open for this to be the first Fettercairn I end up pouring into the sink—why do you have to be so negative?

This particular Fettercairn was bottled by Exclusive Malts for K&L in California. Being negative, you might say that this is not a very promising combination but I have had very good whiskies from both. Let’s see if this is another one of those. Continue reading

Domaine de Pouchegu 27, 1986 (Armagnac)


Continuing with review of things that are not whisky, here is a review of a brandy, more specifically of an Armagnac. And if you want to be even more specific, a review of an Armagnac from the Ténarèze region. I note this latter because the vast majority of Armagnacs I’ve had are from the dominant Bas-Armaganc region. Exceptions include a Pellehaut that I liked a lot and a couple of Grangeries that I had a more variable experience with (here and here). All those were brought in by K&L as is this one. It’s no secret that I find the K&L marketing style exhausting and often ridiculous but it must be said they have done more than any other store in the US in expanding brandy horizons here. Pouchegu is, or rather was, a micro-producer even by the rustic standards of Armagnac. In fact, as per the K&L notes, they never produced on a commercial scale or with a commercial market in mind. And with the passing of the proprietor, Pierre Laporte, there may not be any more Pouchegu being made. There is something melancholy about drinking a spirit with such a backstory but it’s also an opportunity to celebrate the skills of its maker. Well, if it’s good, I suppose; but as per the source of my sample—the outsider artist, Sku—it is very good. He does note “huge oak notes” though—Laporte believed in using new Limousin oak casks, apparenrly—and that’s rarely my speed. Let’s see. Continue reading