Caol Ila 20, 1996 (Montgomerie’s)


Here is the second of three simul-reviews this month with Michael K. of Diving for Pearls of whiskies that were bottled as exclusives for Total Wine (and here now is his review). Our first was last week’s Glen Ord 18, also bottled by Montgomerie’s. This Caol Ila—which rounds out a week of Islay reviews—is a bit older. The bottle cost $125; I’m not sure if it’s still around—I didn’t notice it at the store I purchased it from when I was in there again briefly earlier this week. Even though this is at 46% and not cask strength, it does seem like a fair price for a 20 year old peated Islay whisky—there are certainly older Caol Ilas from other independents that are going for a lot more in the US; and next Friday we’ll have a simul-review of a younger Laphroaig whose list price was almost $100 more.

A good price relative to age then, but what is it like in the glass?  Continue reading

Glen Ord 18, 1997 (Montgomerie’s)


It’s been a while since Michael K. and I did a simultaneous review—in fact, I think, back then Sku may have been blogging for himself and not a liquor store; seems like so long ago now! Anyway, here is the first of three simul-reviews this month with Michael. We’ll be posting them on Fridays. They’re all of whiskies that, I believe, are/were exclusives for Total Wine. This Glen Ord and a Caol Ila 20 (next Friday) were bottled by Montgomerie’s, a brand I’ve not see anywhere except in Total Wine. The third, a Laphroaig 18 (the 27th), was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd, and while it doesn’t say anywhere on the label that it is a Total Wine exclusive, I do believe it was listed at the store I purchased these bottles from as a “Spirits Direct” selection, which is a Total Wine thing. By the way, I know nothing about Montgomerie’s other than that their releases are sold at Total Wine, but after purchasing these bottles for a split I coordinated, I noticed that the Montgomerie’s bottles are identical in shape to the distinctive Berry Bros. & Rudd tall bottles. Just a coincidence? Or are they in fact one of BB&R’s private selection lines? If you can confirm or deny, please write in below. As with all Montgomerie’s releases—as far as I’ve noticed—this is at 46%.  Continue reading

Tobermory 20, 1994 (Wilson & Morgan)


My first review for this month was of a Tobermory distilled in 1994 and bottled by the Italian independent, Wilson & Morgan. Let’s close out the month’s whisky reviews with another Tobermory distilled in 1994 and bottled by Wilson & Morgan. This is two years older than the previous—and where that was from an ex-bourbon cask, this one is from an oloroso sherry cask. Sherry cask Tobermorys have heretofore been the ones I’ve liked the best and I’m hoping that trend will continue with this one. Let’s get right to it.

(By the way, though this may seem like a very untimely review, I believe this is still available in Europe.)

Tobermory 20, 1994 (50%; Wilson & Morgan; oloroso sherry cask #5043; from a purchased sample)  Continue reading

Ben Nevis 17, 1999 (The Whisky Agency for Casa de Vinos)


I’ve been going on for some years now about how Ben Nevis’s historically iffy reputation has been poised to turn around and it seems like that time is finally here. Official releases of Ben Nevis fetch top dollar and indie iterations are also seeing rises in price. This is largely because Ben Nevis is one of the most reliable sources of exuberant tropical fruit in single malt whisky—and in their case it’s often mixed with malt and cocoa and a certain wild edge; altogether it makes for a very idiosyncratic combination. I keep an  eye out for indie Ben Nevis, especially from bourbon casks and in the late teens age-wise (see, for example, this other 17 yo Ben Nevis from Cadenhead that I absolutely loved). Accordingly, I purchased this one in the UK that was bottled by the German outfit, The Whisky Agency, for an Australian importer named Casa de Vinos. I’m not sure if the entire run was bottled for the Australian market or if some of this cask was released in the EU as well. Anyway, I opened this last month for one of my local group’s tastings, expecting it to be a highlight. To my dismay, it was rather flat. I set it aside to see if some air in the bottle would do it any good, and here now are my notes a few weeks after it was opened.  Continue reading

Bowmore 17, 1997 (SMWS)


On Saturday, to mark the fifth anniversary of the blog, I posted a review of the second release of the Bowmore Devil’s Casks. That official sherried Bowmore ended up being a bit too sulphurous even for my generally sulphur-tolerant palate. It was a good whisky, I thought, but it could have been a lot better. Today, I have a review of another heavily sherried Bowmore. This one was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and I believe it was bottled for the 2015 edition of Feis Ile. I purchased my bottle a couple of years ago at auction in the UK. It wasn’t cheap—though much cheaper than it is now—but I am a big fan of Bowmore and few propositions in whisky are more enticing to me than high-quality sherried Bowmore. The early reviews certainly made this out to seem like one of those. Spoiler alert: when I opened the bottle I found it to indeed be a high-quality sherried Bowmore. The bottle is now sadly empty. Here are my notes (taken when only about a quarter of the bottle remained). Continue reading

Glenburgie 29, 1983 (Signatory)


Glenburgie remains one of the great unsung Scottish distilleries. Almost all their production goes into Chivas Bros.’ blends—mostly into Ballantine’s, I believe. I don’t believe there is any official Glenburgie beyond entries in the 500 ml “Cask Strength Edition” series sold in the group’s distilleries’ shops. This lack of recognition is really a shame as bourbon cask Glenburgie is almost always at least very good and can be very, very good indeed. I’ve not reviewed very many on the blog but Glenburgies always catch my eye and I purchase them when the opportunity arises. I can’t remember when it was that I purchased this one (my usually dependable spreadsheet fails me on this occasion) but it is the oldest Glenburgie I’ve yet had. Older doesn’t always mean better: sometimes it can just mean oakier (of course, it also always means “more expensive”). This one, I am happy to say, is very good—I opened it for my local group’s premium tasting earlier this year and it went down a treat. Here now is my review.  Continue reading

Craigellachie 25, 1990 (SMWS 44.67)


Let’s do another 25 yo today. Unlike Monday’s Caol Ila 25 from the Bladnoch forum, this was not bottled almost a decade ago. Which is not to say it is a very recent release: it was bottled in 2015 or 2016. It’s also an independent release, this time from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They gave it the “fun”, or more accurately, highly stupid name, “Charming Chalice of Cha-Cha-Cha”—which means that this is the rare occasion when one prefers to use their complicated coding system to refer to the cask. Said cask was a refill hogshead and represents the oldest Craigellachie I’ve yet tasted. It’s also the first ex-bourbon Craigellachie that I’ve tasted. As such, I have no expectations.

Looking forward yet again to our trip to the Speyside this June, I should ask if anyone particularly recommends an in-depth visit to Craigellachie. My plan is to do drive-by visits of a number of distilleries in that general area—Craigellachie among them—and only tour Aberlour. (Elsewhere in the Speyside, I will probably tour Benromach, Glen Moray and Glenfiddich). Again, as this is a family trip, I will be restricting myself to a single tour on the days that I do visit distilleries. Anyway, on to this Craigellachie!  Continue reading

Caol Ila 25, 1984 (Bladnoch Forum)


Here’s a very untimely review to start the week and it takes me back to the time when my interest in single malt whisky had just gone from enthusiasm to pathology. I’d joined the then-vibrant WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum and was learning more and more about independent bottlers not seen in the US. One of these was the Bladnoch Forum. This was a side concern of Raymond Armstrong, then the proprietor of the Bladnoch distillery, and it offered single casks at unbelievably reasonable prices to members of the forum (though in practice you didn’t really have to be a member). I think this is pretty much where Martin Armstrong’s Whiskybroker business may have had its origin. These offerings included single casks of Port Ellen for less than £100 (unless my memory is exaggerating) and also a number of excellent older Caol Ilas. This is one of them. I acquired this sample in what may have been my first-ever swap, not long after it was released. I took a few sips then and put it away for another day. That day is here.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 18, 1997, Cask 54 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)


A while ago I reviewed a Laphroaig 18, 1997 bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd for the The Whisky Exchange. That one was one of the best recent releases of Laphroaig I’ve had, packing a big fruity wallop alongside the expected smoke and phenols. Here now is another Laphroaig 18, 1997 bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd. I believe this one was bottled for Whisky Import Nederland (you’ll never believe it but they’re based in the Netherlands). Like the TWE cask, this one was a bourbon cask and it’s only 8 serial numbers away from the other; I think it’s safe to assume that they were filled at the same time in 1997 and probably bottled at more or less the same time in 2015. Given all of this it seems safe to expect this one to also be quite fruity. After all, many whisky geeks believe deeply in the shared qualities of particular vintages, and you’d accordingly expect two casks of the same type, filled with distillate made at the same time, and then bottled after the same period of maturation to be very close to each other. However, oak can be an unpredictable variable and whisky isn’t actually whisky till it’s matured in oak. Will this cask have given or taken away what the other did? Let’s see.  Continue reading

Tobermory 18, 1994 (Wilson & Morgan)


Let’s start the month with a review of a malt from a distillery that is probably one of the most acquired of tastes in all of whiskydom, and a taste that I have not yet quite managed to acquire: Tobermory. The two Tobermorys I’ve liked the most have both been from sherry casks (this 19 yo from The Whisky Exchange, and this much older one from Alambic Classique). I’ve not fared as well with ex-bourbon Tobermory, where the idiosyncrasies of the distillate really get a chance to shine. I’m not a fan of the official 10 yo and nor was I particularly enthused by the 17 yo from Glen Fahrn that I reviewed in January—though I did find things to like about it. (It’s a different story with their peated variant, Ledaig, which I’ve been getting more and more into in the last few years—both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon.)

Well, let’s see how this 18 yo goes.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 14, 1998 (Archives)


Here is another untimely review of a bourbon cask, peated Islay whisky released in 2013. This is a bit older than last week’s Bowmore and was released not by Malts of Scotland but by the lads at Whiskybase under their Archives label. It was part of a set of releases that marked the first anniversary of the launch of the Archives line—hence the “Anniversary Release” moniker (at least I think that’s what the anniversary was of). I own a couple more of these Anniversary Release bottles (a 22 yo Caol Ila and a 22 yo Littlemill) but given how long it has taken me to open this one, I’ve no idea when I will get around to those. This was their second release of a teenaged, bourbon cask Laphroaig. There was a 13 yo in their first release (I reviewed it a while ago). I can tell you that this one is as good as that one was: I opened it last month for a tasting of peated whiskies for my local group and I’ve drunk down the rest of the bottle at a very rapid clip. As I type this introduction only a couple more pours remain. Here are my notes.  Continue reading

Bowmore 11, 2002 (Malts of Scotland)


In December I reviewed a couple of recently released and very well received Bowmores: the OB 18 yo Manzanilla cask and a 15 yo bottled by Signatory for the Whisky Exchange. Today I have a younger cask released a a few years ago by Malts of Scotland. It was distilled in the same year as the Signatory cask, and is also a bourbon cask. As Malts of Scotland puts proprietary cask numbers on their bottles it’s not possible to know if this was from the same run of casks as the Signatory. Nonetheless, it should be possible to see through lines and get some sense of what might have been gained or lost in a few more years of maturation.

Young bourbon cask Bowmore remains a decent value in the single malt world. There’s a weird contradiction between the distillery’s standing and the average whisky geek’s continued suspicion of the character of their distillate; at least when it comes to bourbon cask whisky—heavily sherried Bowmore moves off the shelf quite quickly. Well, more for those of us who like this stuff. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Hampden 18, 1998 (Kill Devil)


I have been slow to board the rum boat. I’ve only reviewed three rums till now. In the meantime, Serge V.—who all but singlehandedly got whisky geeks around the world to start drinking rum—has already reviewed more rums than I have whiskies in the entire time that I’ve been reviewing whiskies. This is not an exaggeration.

One of the problems with being late to the party is that most of what first got people excited is already gone and prices have begun to rise. Still, they’ve got a long way to go to catch up with whisky. Hampden is a cult distillery, for instance, and this 18 yo, released last year, is still around and costs far less than the Highland Park 18. Of course, the bigger problem for those of us in the US is how little interesting rum is available here. K&L in California were the only ones committed to a rum program but the new limitations on inter-state shipping may have put paid to that: large numbers of bottles of a Hampden they brought in early in the year and expected to sell out in a day or two are still sitting on their shelves (well, it’s possible that asking $70 for a 9 yo rum may also have something to do with that). Anyway, there’s an opportunity here for independent bottlers who already have distribution channels across the US: if you make good rum available to us widely, we will buy it.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 31, 1980 (Whisky Doris)


It was not so long ago that older Bunnahabhains of a high quality were easily found at reasonable prices from reputable bottlers. For example, at release this bottle did not cost very much more than the OB 18 yo costs now. Back then it was possible for middle-class buyers like me to purchase older whiskies and get some understanding of how maturation affects the character of whisky from a particular distillery or how the profiles of whiskies made at the same distillery in different eras vary. If I was at the point in this whisky obsession now that I was at in 2012, I would not be able to afford that experience—if I could even find it. For more in this tedious vein you might want to (re)read my post on older whisky and value in the current era and the many excellent comments on it (here). For now, however, here’s a review of a 31 yo Bunnahabhain from 1980. This was released by Whisky-Doris. I opened and finished the bottle last year and took my notes then too. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to post them. Continue reading