Highland Park 17, 2004 (Duncan Taylor)

A week of reviews of Highland Park began on Monday with the first edition of the relatively new official Cask Strength release. It continues today with an indie release that is doubtless quite a bit old. This 17 yo from Duncan Taylor was also released recently—just last year in fact. Assuming it’s the same one, Whiskybase indicated an outturn of almost 650 bottles, which would indicate a sherry cask (if it was indeed a single cask release). I’m waiting to hear if the source of my sample has any more information on the cask. If so, the colour after 17 years suggests it would have been a refill cask. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Duncan Taylor release—they weren’t always good with divulging cask details back in the day. Who knows, perhaps contemporary Duncan Taylor is more forthcoming with the details. I’ll let you know what I hear. I was actually kind of hoping it would be a bourbon cask as I am rather partial to bourbon cask Highland Park—an incarnation we very rarely get from the distillery itself. Anyway, whatever this is, I hope it is good. Continue reading


Glendronach 13, 1990 (Whisky Galore)

Speaking of independent bottlers allowing us to experience malts that are outside the profile a distillery is officially associated with, and following Monday’s bourbon cask Aberlour, here is a Glendronach from a bourbon cask. It was bottled in the Whisky Galore series that Duncan Taylor put out through the mid-2000s. Usually (always?) bottled at 46% and without added colour or chill-filtration, this label put out a lot of high quality malt at highly reasonable prices. The name was changed later to NC2. As the whisky loch of the 1980s dried up the volume of quality whisky available at reasonable prices dropped dramatically across the board and the current incarnation of Duncan Taylor’s affordable line, Battlehill (often sold at Total Wine in the US) seems to offer fewer hidden treasures. Glendronach itself is, of course, highly identified with sherry cask whisky, especially the alleged “single casks” they began to put out in large numbers in the late 2000s and on. What does their whisky taste like when not from a sherry cask? Well, the results from this virgin oak cask were not encouraging, but virgin oak is a very different beast from ex-bourbon wood. Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading

Strathisla 37, 1967 (Duncan Taylor)

After a week of heavily peated whiskies, all simul-reviewed with Michael K.of Diving for Pearls, let’s change gears a little. Today I have a much older whisky than any of last week’s trio (the new Lagavulin 11, Offerman Edition, a Ledaig 6, 2004, and Batch 011 of the Laphroaig 10 CS) and it is from the Speyside. This 37 yo Strathisla was distilled in 1967 (before I was born) and bottled in 2004 by Duncan Taylor (before I started drinking single malt whisky). Unlike the Glen Grant 35 I reviewed last month this was released not in their lower-priced Lonach line but in their Rare Auld line. The cask type is not specified, though the 179 bottle outturn at 49.1% would suggest ex-bourbon—unless, of course, the cask was split. I am very interested to see what it is like. Though I have not had very many of them, older Strathislas can be very good indeed, and, as always, those distilled in the 1960s and early 1970s have a particularly strong reputation. Let’s see if this lives up to that. Continue reading

Glen Grant 35, 1970 (Lonach)

Here’s a Glen Grant distilled the year I was born. Alas, it’s quite a bit younger than me, having been bottled in 2005. The bottler was the now defunct Duncan Taylor, responsible for a great number of older whiskies from the 1960s and 1970s that used to be available  widely for very reasonable prices till just about seven or eight years ago. Of the various series of older whiskies they put out in that era the ones bottled under the Lonach label were usually the cheapest. These were also usually all very close to the legal minimum alcohol content of 40% for Scotch whisky. The thinking among whisky geeks was that these were put together by vatting casks, some of which had probably slipped below that threshold, bringing the whole just up above 40% and allowing them to be retrieved for the single malt market. Then again that kind of thing probably happens a lot with more prestigious releases as well. What matters finally is what the whisky is like in the glass. Let’s find out. Continue reading

Brora 25, 1981 (Duncan Taylor)

After yesterday’s Benrinnes 24, 1972, let’s go up one year of maturation and jump almost a decade ahead to 1981. Here is a Brora distilled just a couple of years before the legendary distillery shut down. The general consensus among whisky geeks is that early ’80s Brora is the least compelling Brora but when you’re dealing with single casks anything is possible. Let’s see where this one falls.

Brora 25, 1981 (56.5%; Duncan Taylor; cask 1423; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Dry to start, almost a bit vinegary, and then there’s some hay and other barnyard scents; also some tarry, almost acrid peat. As it sits there’s some tart fruit and the peat gets less acrid and more hot tarmac’ish. Okay, let’s see what water does. With a drop of water there’s sweeter fruit (a hint of peach?) and some wax. Continue reading

Glenlossie 10, 1993 (Whisky-Galore)

Ah, Whisky Galore—the name takes me back. This was Duncan Taylor’s entry-level line of malts for the enthusiast back in the day. The whiskies were bottled at 46% and were generally of a pretty good quality. Some of the bottles in this line were my earliest forays into the world of independently bottled whisky and gave me the confidence to spend more money on older whiskies—some of those in Duncan Taylor’s own older lines. At some point in the the last decade and a half the Whisky Galore line was replaced by the NC2 line and all the competitively-priced older Duncan Taylor releases disappeared. The NC2 series is also now gone. The entry-level Duncan Taylor line we see in the US now is Battlehill—ubiquitous on the shelves of the Total Wine chain.

Anyway here’s a throwback review of a Whisky Galore release from an unheralded distillery. Glenlossie is another Speyside disitllery, part of Diageo’s portfolio, producing for their blends. Every distillery in Scotland is capable of producing excellent casks, however, and it’s the independents that let us see this. Let’s see if that’s the case here.  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

Black Bull 30

Black Bull 30

I don’t really know too much about the Black Bull blends. I know the brand is owned by Duncan Taylor and that this 30 yo was blended at origin in the 1970s and then matured for the full term in an ex-sherry cask. So while this has grain whisky in the mix the grain component is also 30 years old and has been marrying with the malt the whole while (and I believe it’s 50/50 grain and malt whisky). That’s all pretty unusual for blends which are usually heavier on the grain and generally blended after the component casks have matured and then married for only a few months before bottling. As to what the sources of the components are, I have no idea. But I’m sure somebody more knowledgeable than me will be along shortly to fill in the details. I think this was released in the late 2000s and that it’s no longer part of the range (makes sense as one would imagine it would be hard to replicate).

I split this, and some other bottles, with friends some months ago. One of those people, Jordan Deveraux of Chemistry of the Cocktail coincidentally posted his own review a few days ago. I have studiously avoided looking at it and will do so only after this review has posted. [And here it is.] Continue reading

Glendronach 33, Three Generations (Duncan Taylor)

Glendronach Three Generations
With a name like “Three Generations” this whisky doubtless has some complicated story behind it. However, I’m too tired to track it down. I’m not even sure if it is a single cask. I know it is comprised of whisky distilled in 1975 and is, unusually for Glendronach, not from sherry casks. This sells in the vicinity of $300 in the US (where still available) but it was recently discounted heavily in the state of Oregon and this discounted price was split further between me, Jordan D. (of Chemistry of the Cocktail), Michael K. (of Diving for Pearls) and Florin (master of the oyster dance). Let’s get right to it.

Glendronach 33, 1975, Three Generations (51.4%; from a bottle split with friends)

Nose: Honey, malt and toasted oak–spicy and creamy with a nice hit of vanilla. Below that there’s a bit of prickly, peppery citrus (somewhere between lemon and orange). With time/air the fruit takes a slightly tropical turn with some (tinned) pineapple and papaya making their way into the mix. With more time the fruit gets muskier and takes over. With a lot more time there’s a fair bit of tart mango on the nose. With a drop of water the fruit is joined by more malt and wood. Continue reading

Rosebank 13, 1990 (Whisky Galore)

RosebankMy third Rosebank and my first from a sherry cask. There are some who say that Rosebank’s distinctive quaIities are best appreciated in bourbon cask matured malt, but I’ve obviously not had enough from the distillery to have any opinion on this front. This is from Duncan Taylor’s defunct Whisky Galore line.

Rosebank 13, 1990-2003 (46%; Whisky Galore, sherry cask; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Obviously sherried but not overbearingly so. Raisins, some honey, mild citrus. With time there’s an increased maltiness and a leafy quality. The citrus becomes a little stronger–somewhere between orange and lemon. Water takes it closer to lemon.

Palate: Hmmmm a little blank and flat on the palate. There are some sherried notes but this feels far more watered down than a whisky at 46% should. With time a little bit of lime maybe. Hmmm the palate seems to wake up a bit with some air–some indistinct sherried notes but a little more spark now. Dare I add water? Well, why the hell not. Water brings out some sweetness (simple syrup) and brightens it up a little. Odd how a few drops of water make it taste less watered down.

Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 12, 1997 (Duncan Taylor)

bunna12nc2Been a while since my last Bunnahabhain review. Here’s another peated expression from an independent, this time Duncan Taylor in their NC2 range (the name refers to the fact that the whiskies are neither artificially coloured nor chill-filtered) which replaced their old Whisky Galore range of affordable malts. Let’s get right to it:

Bunnahabhain 12, 1997 (46%; Duncan Taylor NC2, peated; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Brine and farmy peat (something organic rotting in wet undergrowth). Dry smoke, not phenolic at all. With more time some darker sweetness emerges (some kind of fruit–having trouble figuring out what). With more time it gets more citrussy–lime peel (not a whole lot though); and the smoke is leafier now. With a few drops of water the dry/leafy smoke recedes a bit and there’s more citrussy sweetness. A minute later there are some toffee-like notes.
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Caperdonich 38, 1968 (Duncan Taylor)

Caperdonich 38, 1968

Another old Caperdonich, and another from Duncan Taylor, whose holdings in Caperdonichs from the late 1960s and early 1970s seemed until recently to rival Douglas Laing’s holdings in Port Ellen. How it is that certain independent bottlers seem to have disproportionate numbers of casks from certain distilleries I’m not sure. There were a number of these old Caperdonichs from Duncan Taylor available in the US until recently, and most at very reasonable prices. I got my first bottle of this 38 yo from 1968 a few years ago for a ridiculously low price especially given its age and quality (lower, for example, than Glenmorangie’s NAS Signet) and, against all odds, managed to find another bottle last year for about the same price. This would be unheard of in Europe. We may not get very much here in the US, but we do seem to have the luxury of bottles hanging around much longer.
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Ben Nevis 9, 1996 (Whisky Galore)

Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis
, located in the Highlands, is another distillery of no great reputation. On the one hand, in such cases this means you can often find independent bottlings at very good prices; on the other, it means that you take a greater chance with each bottle, as no one is clamouring to review every Ben Nevis or Glen Moray or Linkwood or Dufftown etc. etc. that comes on the market. The bottle I am tasting today is another from Duncan Taylor’s now defunct Whisky Galore line, and was selected by The Party Source in Kentucky. I bought it on a whim and didn’t open it for almost two years because I was convinced it wouldn’t be good and I’d regret the purchase–even though it was quite reasonably priced. I finally opened it and, predictably, loved it; went back for more, only to find it was all gone. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

By the time I opened this bottle, the whisky had sat in it almost as long as it had matured in the cask.
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Longmorn 16, 1987 (Whisky Galore)

wglongmornLongmorn is a Speyside distillery most of whose output goes into Pernod Ricard’s blends. At least I assume it does as so litle is released as single malts by the distillery: there is an official 16 year old bottling (which replaced an earlier 15 yo) but that’s pretty much it. Most whisky geeks are puzzled by the owners’ seeming lack of interest in Longmorn as a single malt producer as its whisky–widely available as single malts from independent bottlers–is of uniformly high quality. Its principal quality is its soft mellow mouthfeel and a wonderful fruitiness, which manifests itself as bright summery fruit when young (especially when coming out of bourbon casks) and can exhibit wonderful and deep tropical and fermented notes once it gets to the 30 yo mark (and comes out of refill sherry casks).

The Longmorn I am tasting tonight was released by Duncan Taylor in 2003 as part of their now-defunct Whisky Galore line. Whisky Galore bottlings were generally affordable, and the few I have tried have all been quite good. This line has since been replaced by the NC2 line. The label does not specify but this is quite clearly from a bourbon cask, and given the lack of pronounced vanilla notes probably a refill cask.

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Two Caperdonichs from 1972

fruit-cocktailThe whiskies I am tasting tonight are from a closed distillery that has become something of a cult phenomenon in recent years: Caperdonich. As is not unusual among closed distilleries, the cult has been somewhat late to form. Caperdonich was never a storied distillery in its heyday of production, coming into being as Glen Grant 2, and then being closed for most of the 20th century until it was rebuilt in 1965 and renamed Caperdonich (due to a law prohibiting two distilleries from having the same name; this is also why the old Clynelish distillery became Brora in the late 1960s). It was never intended to be a frontline single malt, and most of its production went into blends until it was closed in 2002 (this is not unlike the situation with perhaps the most iconic of all closed distilleries, Port Ellen, which was a workhorse distillery until it closed in 1983). While some old-school independent bottlers–Cadenhead’s and Gordon & Macphail–released the odd single malt bottling over its active life (I have not tasted any of these) it wasn’t until the early 2000s–ironically, right after the distillery was closed–that it gained a wider reputation. This was due largely (entirely?) to the release of a number of bottlings of very old casks from the late 196os and early 1970s by a number of independent bottlers, especially Duncan Taylor. Continue reading