Mortlach 21, 1990 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Sherry Cask Week comes to an end with this 21 yo Mortlach distilled in 1990 and bottled by Signatory for Binny’s in Chicago in 2012. Yes, I’ve sat on this bottle for almost 10 years, and no, I cannot begin to tell you why. Back in the day, Binny’s had one of the best cask exclusive programs in the US, if not the very best. Brett Pontoni and his team selected casks of a good quality and sold them for good prices without too much hoopla. Those days are long gone as no one seemingly is able to find good casks at good prices anymore and some don’t even seem able to reliably find acceptable casks at good prices. Hopefully the wheel will turn sometime soon. It’s sad to think of how much harder it is now for someone just entering the hobby to truly experience the full range of single malt whisky than it was a decade ago. Will the industry at some point price itself into a dead-end and have to retrench? Or will marketing win out? When you look at what is happening on social media with not just single malt whisky but also bourbon (and increasingly brandy), it seems hard to be hopeful that sanity will return anytime soon. The producers and marketers have whipped customers into a frenzy and all too many people seem excited to pay high prices for marginal bottles. Anyway, let’s go back to 2012 when this 21 yo sherry cask Mortlach cost $99. Continue reading


Kilchoman 3, 2007 (for Binny’s)

After a week of reviews of whiskies from Highland Park (which followed a week of reviews of whiskies from Glen Scotia) let’s do a week of reviews of whiskies from Kilchoman, Islay’s small farm distillery. This was the very first Kilchoman I ever had. It was bottled in 2010 for Binny’s in Chicago at the ripe young age of three. The distillery put out a number of these store exclusives among their earliest releases and they helped make their name in the US (and elsewhere too). Those were the days when Binny’s shipped out of state and I purchased a bottle right away. I drank it down slowly over the next few years and before finally finishing it in early 2013—as per my spreadsheet, a month before I started the blog—I put four ounces away for future reference, as was my practice at the time (well, my usual practice was to put away 6 ounces). In other words, this review is of a sample that was put away more than 8 years ago and from a bottle that was opened more than 10 years ago. Though I’ve stopped saving these reference samples in recent years, I do very much enjoy going back to some of the whiskies I drank a long time ago. I really liked this one back then, as I have a number of other young Kilchomans. Let’s see what I make of it now. Continue reading

“Probably Speyside’s Finest” 22, 1991 (OMC)

Glenfarclas don’t usually allow independent bottlers to release casks of their whisky with the distillery’s name on it. As to whether they also require that said bottlers kiss their asses by using names like “Probably Speyside’s Finest” or whether it drives them insane with rage that they don’t go with “Absolutely And Indubitably Speyside’s Finest, You’d Have To Be An Idiot To Not See It”, I don’t know. (As always, there are exceptions: see this Cadenhead bottling of a 33 yo.) Some say this is because most indie Glenfarclas is bourbon cask and the distillery doesn’t want their sherry maturation branding disturbed by this. Of course, there have been official ex-bourbon releases as well; for example, this one in the “Family Casks” series, which I was not very enthused by. This particular cask was bottled as an exclusive for Binny’s by whichever part of the Laing family it is that now owns the Old Malt Cask label. There was a time when Binny’s picks were very reliable and this cask dates from that time. Let’s see if my faith is rewarded. Continue reading

Royal Brackla 14, 1998 (G&M for Binny’s)

This review comes to you despite the sordid machinations of Michael Kravitz. You see, many years ago, Florin (the original Fresh Prince of Bel Air) asked him to pass a sample on to me when we met for lunch in Los Angeles but what did Michael Kravitz do? Yes, he stole it. Now this will not surprise most of you who have been aware of the content of his character for a while now but it surprised and—I’m not unwilling to say it—shocked me when I found out about it. For I am by nature a trusting person who likes to believe in the best everyone can be. And even though Michael Kravitz looks a shifty type, I have never believed in judging a book by its cover. But now that I have read the dossier that a number of you have compiled of his various malfeasances over the years, I am forced to look the ugly truth in the eye. But enough negativity! Michael Kravitz stole my sample and gave it a bad review; but Florin sent me another anyway and I am here to set the record straight. Continue reading

Glendullan 12, 1999 (G&M for Binny’s)

Jim Murray has apparently deemed a Glendullan to be the best something or the other. This is not that Glendullan. This is also not the Singleton of Glendullan, the 12 yo from that distillery that used to be the most ubiquitous, or more accurately, the only ubiquitous Glendullan in the US. No, this is a single cask bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for Binny’s in 2012 or thereabouts. In other words, this is an extremely untimely review: I doubt anyone at Binny’s or Gordon & MacPhail even remembers this whisky. But that’s what I’m here for: to make sure we never forget these one-off releases from Scotland’s third and fourth tier distilleries, to resist the relentless pressure of the now. Or maybe I just randomly review whatever’s at hand. Can you tell that I have nothing to say about this distillery, which mostly produces for Diageo’s blends? I’ve only ever reviewed one other—a Cadenhead’s release from a couple of years ago that was nice enough. Let’s see what this one is like.  Continue reading

Glenburgie 19, 1995 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Glenburgie 19, 1995, Signatory for Binny's
I was not a big fan of the last Glenburgie I reviewed. That one, a 21 yo and also bottled by Signatory, was part of K&L’s uninspiring lot of single casks from late 2016. This one was bottled for Binny’s in Chicago—in 2014, I believe—and is in fact a sibling of another K&L cask, also 19 years old and from 1995 (K&L got cask 6449 and Binny’s got 6450). Well, I always say that when it comes to bourbon cask whisky I trust the Binny’s selection process far more than that of any other store in the US, and when first opened this bottle bore that out in spades: it was a perfect mix of oak and big fruit with tropical accents. I’d opened it for one of my local group’s tastings and it handily thumped the competition that night. Alas, with time and air in the bottle the fruit seems to have subsided somewhat on the palate—my last couple of small pours did not feature that explosion of fruit. Well, who knows, maybe it will come back again as the bottle sits [foreshadowing].  Continue reading

Balmenach 26, 1988 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Balmenach 26, 1988, Signatory for Binny's
Here is the last of the recent’ish Binny’s exclusives that I split with a bunch of other whisky geeks. I’ve previously reviewed a Glenlivet 19, a Laphroaig 17, a Linkwood 16, and a Clynelish 7 (all from Signatory); an Ardmore 16 and a Ledaig 13 (both from G&M); and a OB Glen Garioch 16. This Signatory Balmenach is the oldest of the lot (I mention this in case you are really bad at counting); it is, however, a year younger than mentioned on Binny’s website—there it is listed as a 27 yo but, in fact, it is a 26 yo (the correct age is on the label along with the distilling and bottling dates). I”d been planning to review this one a while ago, and I’m not really sure why I never got around to it. As a result, however, I am reviewing this after the bottle has been near the halfway mark for a bit over two months (nearly half the bottle went into the splits as soon as I received it). And so this review is not going to be representative of a freshly opened bottle.  Continue reading

Ledaig 13, 2000 (G&M for Binny’s)

Ledaig 13, 2000, G&M for Binny's
Yet another sherried Ledaig. Unlike all the others I’ve reviewed of late this one is from refill sherry and it’s from a hogshead not a butt. So there’s the prospect of both greater oak influence (from the smaller cask size) and lesser sherry influence. This is a Gordon & MacPhail exclusive for Binny’s and is the penultimate whisky from the eight bottle split I coordinated back in late-February.

I remember somebody making a cryptic comment earlier this month (I can’t remember on which post) about this being “different”. In Minnesota to call something “different” is not a good thing, but I don’t know if the person who made that comment is Minnesotan. Anyway, let’s find out if it’s Minnesotan different or just regular different or if, indeed, I don’t find it particularly different in any sense.  Continue reading

Glenlivet 19, 1995 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Glenlivet 19, 1995, Signatory for Binny's
Yet another recent Signatory exclusive for Binny’s from the group bottle split I coordinated in February. I’ve previously reviewed a very young Clynelish, a 16 yo Linkwood and a 17 yo Laphroaig from the Signatorys in that lot. After this 19 yo Glenlivet all that will remain will be a 26 yo Balmenach (and also a G&M Ledaig) and I’ll then go back to my usual diet of entirely irrelevant reviews. Let’s get right to it.

Glenlivet 19, 1995 (58.3%; Signatory for Binny’s; first fill sherry butt 166947; from a bottle split)

Nose: Raisins and pencil lead at first and then the rest of the first fill sherry package arrives: orange peel, leather, plum sauce, apricot, soy sauce (just a bit), dried shiitakes, just a hint of gunpowder. As it sits the sweeter fruit expands and there’s just a touch of sweet pipe tobacco too now. With a few drops of water the gunpowder recedes and it gets stickier with toffee; after a few beats the fruit begins to expand (particularly the apricot).  Continue reading

Linkwood 16, 1998 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Linkwood 16, 1998, Signatory for Binny's
This Linkwood was also part of the larger Binny’s bottle split I coordinated a month and a half or so ago. I saved most of my share of the bottle for my local group’s March tasting and it went down a treat there. Here now are my own notes taken separately from a larger pour than we drink at our tastings.

Linkwood is another of Diageo’s workhorse distilleries: there are no regular official releases, and most of it goes into the group’s blends. While the indies have a put a fair number out I’ve had very few Linkwoods and have reviewed even less: only these two older ones distilled in the 1980s—and both of those were in my occasional “Quick Hits” series, which means this will be my first Linkwood review with a score. Fascinating, I know. Anyway, let’s get right to it.   Continue reading

Laphroaig 17, 1997 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Laphroaig 17, 1997, Signatory for Binny's
Monday’s Laphroaig 18, 1997, bottled by Berry Brothers and Rudd for The Whisky Exchange was a real beauty with unexpected fruit and a lot of it. Will lightning strike a second time with this 17 yo also distilled in 1997 and matured in a bourbon cask? Am I going to have to start hunting down Laphroaigs from the late 1990s bottled in the high teens?

This was bottled by Signatory for Binny’s in Chicago. Binny’s have an excellent track record with their Laphroaig selections and so even it isn’t as fruity as the TWE/Berry Bros. & Rudd I expect it will be very good anyway. Let’s see. I should note that the regular price is in the new normal range for Laphroaig (i.e $169.99 for a 17 yo)—but it’s currently discounted down into the almost plausible range ($129.99).   Continue reading

Glen Garioch 16, 1998 (for Binny’s)

Glen Garioch 16, 1998, for Binny's
I haven’t had too much luck with recent Glen Garioch. Then again, I’ve not had very much of what’s been officially released. I didn’t like either the NAS Founder’s Reserve or the 12 yo enough to want to try their other vintage releases. This is a single cask selected by Binny’s though and a Binny’s pick is usually a safe pick. Well, that didn’t prove to be true for me with Monday’s Clynelish. Let’s see how this one goes.

Glen Garioch 16, 1998 (55.1%; American oak cask 587; from a bottle split)

Nose: Slightly gingery, slightly minerally, slightly peppery to start along with some biscuity/malty notes. Fruit comes up from below that (apple), along with some vanilla. Gets sweeter and creamier as it goes but there’s a minerally sourness (aspirin) behind it. With more time there’s some lime as well. More lime with water and slightly chalky now too.   Continue reading

Clynelish 7, 2008 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Clynelish 7, 2008; Signatory for Binny's
This Clynelish was acquired as part of the same set of bottle splits as last Friday’s Ardmore. If you read that review you’ll find many similar notes mentioned in this one but, as you’ll see, a much lower score at the end. This is a case where you have two whiskies at different ends of the same style continuum: a sort of old-school Highlands profile. The Ardmore is peatier, of course, but there are other similarities. The problem here is that some of the notes that are either more muted in that Ardmore, or which dissipate with time, are stronger here and linger; and this one doesn’t have the compensations of the Ardmore. It’s also quite far away from what most people have come to expect from Clynelish in terms of “distillery character“. This is down partly, I think, to the young age. Some of these off-notes might well have dissipated with more time (and less wood contact in a slightly larger hogshead) and other characteristics might have emerged.  Continue reading

Ardmore 16, 1998 (Gordon & MacPhail for Binny’s)

Ardmore 16, 1998. Gordon & MacPhail for Binny's
Let there be rejoicing in the land: Binny’s is shipping again! Not to every state but, fortunately for me, the list includes a neighbouring state with a border town about an hour away in which a friend works. Accordingly, I organized a group split of eight of their current handpicked single malt casks. (You can see which the others are in this month’s “Coming Soon…” post.) Here first is this Ardmore which is one of the casks I was most interested in. The reason for this is that there isn’t a whole lot of Ardmore about in the US—minimal official releases and very few indies—and even fewer are from single sherry casks. As such this was an unusual proposition, hard to resist (and the risk underwritten by the fact that Binny’s generally picks very good casks). Let’s see if this story of hope has a good ending.

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Balmenach 25, 1988 (Signatory)

Balmenach 25, 1988, Signatory for Binny's
This is the last of the four Signatory bottles I purchased at Binny’s in September. I’ve previously reviewed the Glen Keith and Tamdhu that are Stoller’s Wines exclusives and the Auchroisk that, like this one, is a Binny’s exclusive. All four are still available.

I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Balmenach. I’ve had a few (very few) that were distilled in the 1970s (as, for example, the only other I’ve reviewed), and a couple from more recent decades. As such I don’t have the best handle on the distillery’s usual profile. I would say that what I’ve had falls firmly in the fruitier end of the fruity-grassy spectrum of bourbon cask Speysides. Having said that, Serge puts “sherry” as the first keyword for the distillery profile; but I haven’t seen much sherry cask Balmenach about in recent years. It is true that most of Serge’s Balmenach reviews seem to be of much older distillate so I suppose it may be there’s been some change in maturation regime.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 13, 1997 (Duncan Taylor)

Laphroaig 13, 1997, Duncan Taylor for Binny's
Here is the second of three Laphroaig reviews this week. Like the first (this 17 yo from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America), this was distilled in 1997 and matured in a bourbon cask. It’s a bit younger though, having been bottled at 13 years of age by Duncan Taylor for Binny’s of Chicago back in 2011. I remember that this cask took a long time to arrive at Binny’s and that I was rather obsessed with tracking its arrival—I think it was first mentioned in their Whisky Hotline in early 2011 but it finally showed up in 2012. This is partly because back then is when I was the height of my whisky derangement (having recently arrived at that state), and partly because Binny’s had released a few rather excellent (and well-priced) bourbon cask Laphroaigs and the odds seemed good that this would be another one. Having waited for it for more than a year I then didn’t get around to opening it for more than another three years. I guess I wanted to stay in a state of permanent anticipation. Yes, this is fascinating biography. Continue reading

Auchroisk 24, 1990 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Auchroisk 24, 1990, Signatory for Binny's
I passed through Chicago recently and after moaning on Twitter that there was nothing very inspiring on Binny’s website, I found myself inevitably standing in the whisky section of one of their outlets anyway (the branch on W. Grand Ave.). Binny’s has sadly stopped shipping liquor and beer completely. This is a great contemporary American tragedy (and stems from the ancient and ongoing farce of American liquor laws and hypocritical public morality). If Binny’s had not been shipping when I began to take a serious interest in malts I would probably not have developed a serious interest in malts and I would not have a blog now and then where would the world be? Anyway, I went to Binny’s—how can you go to Chicago and not go to Binny’s? And I was glad to see that the store I was in had a decent selection of their recent “handpicked” single malt casks. Brett Pontoni and team don’t make a lot of noise about their selections—no breathless, hyperbolic emails and dubious narratives—but they pick good whisky. And when it comes to ex-bourbon cask selections from less-heralded distilleries there is no American store I trust more. I walked away with bottles from three of them, aged 19-25 (plus a young, sherried Tamdhu). First up, this Auchroisk. Continue reading

Imperial 15, 1995 (Signatory CS)

ImperialImperial is/was a Speyside distillery that seems to have spent more time being closed than open. Malt Madness has a sketch of its checkered history. Most recently it was closed in 1998. There were rumours for a while that it might reopen but the buildings were completely demolished this year. There will apparently be a new distillery constructed on the site–and it will likely bear the same name–but I am not sure if the stills etc. will be from the old distillery. If not, it may literally be a case of the distillery reopening in name only.

In recent years I’ve seen a few signs of some whisky geeks trying to make a case for Imperial as a hidden gem. My (admittedly limited) experience with the malt would suggest there is something quixotic about this. But who knows, it is entirely possible that if casks of Imperial sit undisturbed for another 20 years it too might emerge as another Caperdonich or Port Ellen.
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