About four and a half years ago K&L released a 5 yo Talisker—the so-called “Speakeasy”, bottled by Douglas Laing. It had a cool label design and the whisky inside was pretty decent, if nothing very special. A couple of years ago they released another young Talisker bottled by Douglas Laing, this one, from a sherry cask. It cost about $40 and I was sorely tempted to get one. Especially as in their tasting notes they said things like, “It’s loaded with equal parts salt, smoke, fruit, and sweet malt character with a spray of sea water on the finish”. But then I remembered that K&L’s tasting notes are mostly random word soups designed to make people want to buy whiskies and that if they match up with what’s in the bottle it is entirely by accident. Sometime later I had an opportunity to get a sample from a bottle split, and with a much lower financial risk at stake I gave it a go. Will I regret my skepticism and wish I’d bought a bottle? Let’s see. Continue reading
On to review #3 of K&L’s recent single cask releases, and the oldest one so far. As you may recall, the first was a Bowmore 20, 1997, bottled by Douglas Laing’s Old Particular, and I quite liked that one. The second was a Mortlach 22, 1995 bottled under K&L’s own Faultline label (the cask came from Alexander Murray). I did not have much of an opinion of that one. Will this Bunnahabhain, also bottled by Old Particular, get things back on track? Like the Mortlach 22, it’s priced very well—I should say “was”, as it’s already sold out: $160, I believe. Considering the lowest price for the OB 25 yo on WineSearcher is $342, that seems like a very good deal indeed. But, as we saw with the Mortlach, age isn’t everything. Paying a relatively low price for an older whisky isn’t much of a steal if the whisky in the bottle isn’t very good. Older Bunnahabhain can be very good indeed, however, so I am hopeful. Let’s see how it goes. Continue reading
I’m going to start the month with reviews of some of K&L’s recently released exclusives. This may seem timely but keep in mind that most of these have already sold out. This Bowmore, bottled under the Old Particular label from Douglas Laing, might still be available, however. The last time I reviewed a bunch of K&L selections—back in December 2016, starting with this Linkwood)—things didn’t go so well. Will this lot be any better? The odds, frankly, are not great. K&L’s strategy seems to be to look for casks with high age and low price numbers on them with the quality an afterthought. A lot of people want deals and 20-30 yo whisky for less than $200 seems like a great deal in this market in the abstract. It’s in the marketing copy that they’ll seek to convince you that you’re also getting amazing whisky. And even though David Driscoll is now gone from K&L, their ability to turn on the tap of hyperbole remains unaffected. Continue reading
A second whisky review this week as today is the fourth anniversary of this blog going live, and I’ve always marked the anniversaries with a review of a Bowmore. My very first review was of the (then) entry-level Bowmore Legend. On March 24, 2014 I reviewed the official 12 yo, in 2015 the official 18 yo, and in 2016 another official release, the Prestonfield House Malt. This year I have an indie Bowmore. This is from Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask line and was bottled before the Laing business split, I think. It is from a sherry butt. There are actually two sherry butt OMC Bowmore 11s from 2000 released in November 2011 (as per Whiskybase). While the label on my sample bottle does not specify, I am pretty sure this is from Cask DL 7791; this because the source of my sample is listed as one of the raters for this cask on Whiskybase but not for the other—Jerome, if you’re reading, can you confirm? Well, whichever cask it is, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
I started the month with a Douglas Laing cask of Ardbeg 27, 1973 that was bottled for their original Old Malt Cask line in 2000. In the middle of the month I posted a review of another of their casks: a 28 yo from 1972 that was bottled in 2000. I liked those two a lot. Here now is the third of those early 1970s OMC casks that I got in on via bottle splits. Will it be as good as the other two? Only one way to find out.
Ardbeg 28, 1972-2001 (49.5%; 222 Bottles; Douglas Laing OMC; from a bottle split)
Nose: A big phenolic hit as I pour; tarrier smoke when I sniff, with lime peel and salt right behind. Gets more medicinal almost immediately and then keeps going (disinfectant, gauze bandages, iodine, rubber gaskets on medicine jars). After a minute or two there’s some soft vanilla (just a bit) and some ham, a bit of sackcloth and quite a bit more salt. Gets brighter (acidic) and “cleaner” and less tarry as it sits. With a drop of water it gets even more austere: smoky almond oil. Continue reading
Last week I posted the first of three reviews of early 1970s Ardbegs from Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask line. I really, really liked that 27 yo. Here now is the first of two 28 yos. As noted in the previous review, these bottles did not have cask numbers on them and are identified by a combination of distillation and bottling years and their outturn. In this case, the abv is relevant too: at 50.1% it’s a touch higher than the usual 50% of the OMC line. Anyway, let’s get right to it.
Ardbeg 28, 1972-2000 (50.1%; 234 Bottles; Douglas Laing OMC; from a bottle split)
Nose: Bright, phenolic peat: more citrus and cereals here than in the 27 yo. Starts expanding almost immediately with salt crystals and olive brine, more disinfectant and the sweet, sweet stink of the sea. A little inkier as it sits and even more coastal (the sea, the beach, the air). More lime peel now and pickled mustard seed. With more time there’s some ham cure here too but not as pronounced as in the 27 yo. A few drops of water push the smoke back a bit and pull out more of the coastal notes and more of the ham cure and some preserved lemon. Continue reading
This is the first of three reviews of Ardbegs from the early 1970s that will be showing up on the blog in the next few weeks. Very few things in whisky geekdom are fetishized more than 1970s Ardbeg and, in particular, early 1970s Ardbeg. I’ve not had very many of these but I’m sorry to say that the few I have tried have all mostly lived up to the general hype (sorry because I’m temperamentally drawn to being contrary). Those, however, have all been official releases—see, for example, my reviews of the two US releases of the legendary Provenance series (here and here). These three, however, are independent releases. They were all bottled by Douglas Laing for their Old Malt Cask series—they were bottled in the early 2000s well before the split in the company. Two were distilled in 1972 and one in 1973; all were bourbon casks. Cask numbers were not listed and so these are identified by the number of bottles in the outturn. I got one ounce of each in a bottle split and on a per ounce basis these might add up to the most expensive whisky I’ve purchased. As such I’m really hoping not to be disappointed by them! Let’s see. First up, a 27 yo distilled in 1973. Continue reading
Let’s make it a week of reviews of samples from my friend Rich. This Caol Ila is one of his favourite whiskies from recent years. I’ve tasted it once before, at one of the small Twin Cities gatherings Rich puts together from time to time, but that was alongside a large number of other excellent whiskies. I did come away with this sample and am looking forward to trying it by itself tonight.
I haven’t kept up with prices and availability of older Caol Ila these days. It used to be that of the major peated Islays Caol Ila was the only one with older stock from the indies that could be said to be affordable for regular drinkers (older Bunnahabhains were relatively affordable as well but those are generally not peated). It wouldn’t surprise me if the market’s ongoing insanity has caught up with Caol Ila too. A pity if true. Continue reading
This is, I’m pretty sure, the youngest Port Ellen I’ve had (this 21 yo is the youngest I’ve previously reviewed). This was released in 2000, one year before the first annual release; in other words, before Port Ellen was quite Port Ellen. As you may be tired of being told (and I’m sure I’ve said it many times before myself), Port Ellen was a workhorse distillery when it was operational and almost no single malt version was released until the the mid-late 1980s (after it had closed) and it wasn’t until the late 1990s and really the early 2000s that it became widely known and it’s now iconic reputation sealed. So someone who bought this bottle when it was first released probably did not pay very much more for it than they would have for whisky of similar age from open distilleries and would probably have thought you were kidding if you’d told them then that 15 years later the entry-level price for Port Ellen would be well north of $500.
I don’t have very much experience with Craigellachie; in fact, I’m not sure if I’ve had anything other than this G&M bottling for the Party Source. As with Diageo’s Mortlach, Craigellachie produces a heavier, meaty spirit and the G&M cask I tried was as close to Mortlach as I’ve come from any other distillery. I did like that one quite a bit and so have been on the look out for more since: of course, there hasn’t been very much of it around—especially in the US—since, as with so many distilleries, it mostly produces for blends (it is a core component of the Dewars blends). The owners, Bacardi announced last year that they would be launching a new range of single malts from Craigellachie. The new 13, 17 and 23 year olds have been well-received, on the whole, but from what I can tell they’re not deeply sherried brutes. And so when K&L announced this single sherry cask I put aside my misgivings based on their 2013 selections and got a bottle.
Well, I opened it for my local group’s April tasting and it was quite popular. Due to the vagaries of schedules we actually did two small group tastings separated by a couple of weeks, and while I liked it fine the first time, I liked it even more on the second occasion. Let’s see what I think of it now that it’s been open for about a month. Continue reading
This is a somewhat useless review even by my standards as it is not only of a bottle released in 2004 but also from an unidentified cask (but at least it’s a beautiful sample bottle picture). Yes, when I got this sample in a swap I failed to ask for cask information and failed to follow up later. Whiskybase lists three Old Malt Cask releases of single casks of Laphroaig 17, 1987 and since all OMC bottles are released at 50%, the abv is of no help either. “Why don’t you just ask the person you got it from?”, I hear you ask. It’s a good question but the problem is this was a UK member of the WWW forum who has since given up whisky and drifted away from the whisky parts of the net. Also, this was three years ago, so even if I were to intrude on him out of the blue I highly doubt he’d remember. I’m writing it up anyway because I haven’t had too many 1980s Laphroaigs and in any case I don’t really worry too much about the utility of my tasting notes: if you like Laphroaig you may find it of interest anyway. Continue reading
I purchased this Laphroaig in knee-jerk mode. Laphroaig is my favourite distillery; sherried Laphroaigs are thin on the ground; the marriage of peat and sherry is great when it works out; almost every sherried Laphroaig I’ve had has been very good. So this seemed like as sure a bet as I was ever going to make.
I opened this bottle for one of local group’s tastings earlier in the fall and it did not do so well. One person did like it a lot but almost everyone else had it as their bottom whisky of the night (we drink an ounce each of four whiskies at each tasting and everyone other than me drinks blind). It wasn’t my bottom whisky but I didn’t give it a high score either. The problem? Sulphur. Now, it’s been my experience that sulphur can sometimes dissipate and so I let the bottle sit for a long time before coming back to taste it again. I could tell that there was a very nice whisky under there somewhere and I hoped time and air would pull it out. Did it happen? I’m sorry to kill the suspense, but no, it did not. There was some improvement but it remained a sulphured mess.
This 5 yo Talisker is rather unusual. Both because it is very young and because it is almost as rare to see a Bengal tiger in the wild as it is to see an indie bottle of Talisker that is allowed to bear the distillery’s name. Dubbed “The Speakeasy” this is from the Laing warehouses and was bottled for K&L. I was unable to resist getting one for myself when they were announced. When I mentioned this on Twitter I was asked what on earth the appeal of this bottle could be and my response was that it was a combination of perverse curiosity and a desire to compare it with the Talisker 57 North, which is probably the youngest official Talisker. Frankly, I have no expectations of this whisky–I am a huge fan of Talisker and given how few opportunities we have to drink their malt the reasonable price on this made it hard for me to pass up.
This is not the bottle for the true sulphur-sensitive or the sulphurphobe. I’ve had it open now for a few years and the notes of sulphur, which were muted at first, have expanded a fair bit. The sulphur here is of the savoury gunpowder/struck matches variety; and I am in the seeming tiny minority in the whisky geek world that does not find this to be objectionable per se, and indeed sometimes quite enjoys these notes when in balance with others. All this to say that while I am not overly bothered by the notes of gunpowder here, I can see how others might dismiss this as a flawed whisky. I myself might not be very pleased if I’d paid an exorbitant price for it, but I found it a few years ago sitting in plain sight on the shelves of a local liquor store with the original price from the time of release still below the bottle. Or rather, the price tag was below an OMC Glenlivet bottle but the manager found the right bottle in the back (he was insistent that if they’d actually sold out of it they would have removed the tag from the shelf). Continue reading