Caol Ila 16, 2002 (G&M)


Let’s round off this week of single casks of Caol Ila bottled by Gordon & Macphail with the oldest of the trio. This 16 yo was—like Wednesday’s 14 yo—matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel. Will the extra two years of maturation allow more of Caol Ila’s elegance to emerge or will the oak have a greater say? Let’s see.

Caol Ila 16, 2002 (54.9%; G&M; first-fill bourbon barrel; from my own bottle)

Nose: A big blast of carbolic peat mixed in with salt crystals, olive brine, lemon and cracked pepper. As it sits the coastal complex develops more fully with shells, oyster liquor and a campfire on the beach. With more time the lemon and salt meld and expand. With a few drops of water the lemon turns to citronella with a vengeance here as well but there’s some sweet malty notes too now and some charred pineapple. Continue reading

Caol Ila 14, 2003 (G&M)


Let’s keep G&M Caol Ila week going. On Monday I reviewed a 14 yo bottled by the Elgin stalwarts. That one was distilled in 2005 and matured in a refill sherry hogshead. Today I have another 14 yo but this one was distilled in 2003 and matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel. Teenaged bourbon cask Caol Ila is usually a cause for joy but the combination of both first-fill wood and the smaller barrel might be causes for concern—with the possibility of too much oak action. But hopefully the spirit will rise above it all. Let’s see.

Caol Ila 14, 2003 (56%; G&M; first-fill bourbon barrel; from my own bottle)

Nose: Carbolic peat off the top with sweeter notes of cereals and vanilla (not overbearing) mixed in. As it sits the vanilla retreats in favour of lemon and it begins to get quite coastal with shells and salt and kelp. Some white pepper in there too now and there’s a recently tarred road in the middle distance. Saltier still with time. With a bit of water it gets sweeter at first—not vanilla so much as sweet malt—and then there’s preserved lemon. The tar is gone. Continue reading

Caol Ila 14, 2005 (G&M)


Okay, let’s do another week of peat; and let’s go back to Islay and do a week all at one distillery. And for good measure let’s do a trio of releases from one independent bottler. Back in May I split several bottles with a small group of friends—Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls was among them but I don’t believe he’s reviewed any of them yet. Among the bottles were a trio of Caol Ilas released by Gordon & MacPhail in their redone Connoisseurs Choice series—to think that this was once an entry-level series in which G&M released anonymous whisky at 40% abv. Two of these Caol Ilas are from bourbon casks and one from a refill sherry cask. I’m going to start with the refill sherry. It was distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2019 at what is normally a promising strength in the mid-50s (this is the abv range in which Springbank usually operates with their cask strength releases). The fact that it’s a refill sherry hogshead suggests that a sherry butt was broken down and re-coopered as a hogshead; or maybe an ex-bourbon hogshead was seasoned with sherry. Hopefully, the former and not the latter as there’s a better chance of there not being a big dose of sherry sitting on top of the elegant Caol Ila peat. Let’s see. Continue reading

Aberfeldy 16, 2003 (G&M)


There’ll be no whisky review this Friday as it’s the first of the month and so let’s call it a mini-sherry cask week (following Monday’s Balvenie PX Finish). I noted on Monday that I have not reviewed very many Balvenies; well, this is only my second review of an Aberfeldy. The first was a 17 yo bottled by Cadenhead in 2014 from bourbon hogsheads. This one is a year younger and was bottled in 2020 by G&M from a refill sherry hogshead. I quite liked the ex-bourbon 17 yo—will this one be at least as good? Let’s see.

Aberfeldy 16, 2003 (58.8%; G&M; refill sherry hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: No sherry bomb, this comes in with some dried orange peel, cereals and dried leaves. The orange peel picks up as it sits and some mildly-spicy oak joins it. With time the oak softens and some toffee emerges along with some roasted malt; a bit of cream/milky cocoa too now. Water emphasizes this development and pulls out more of the leaves as well. Continue reading

Mortlach 20, 2000 (G&M)


A week of Mortlach reviews began on Monday with a 10 yo bourbon cask bottled by Signatory and continued on Wednesday with a 12 yo sherry cask bottled by Sovereign for K&L. It concludes today with a 20 yo bottled by Gordon & MacPhail from a refill sherry hogshead. As I’ve said before, Mortlach usually shows its best side in the context of sherry maturation and this week’s reviews bear that out. Will a refill sherry cask be as good of a frame for Mortlach’s spirit as the darker 12 yo sherry cask was? If the cask was relatively spent then the extra eight years of maturation may not mean much in terms of imparting sherry character. In any event, I think the point I would make is that what we think of when we think of Mortlach’s “distillery character” is not just the character of the spirit as produced through distillation but also the character of that spirit as transformed through sherry cask maturation—see here for a post from several years ago that goes into this idea of “distillery character” at more length. At any rate, it’s interesting to try a distillery’s spirit from three different types of oak in close juxtaposition. Let’s see how this goes. Continue reading

Caol Ila 15, 2004 (G&M)


As I said on Monday, this is Caol Ila week. I’m tempted to say it’s my first-ever Caol Ila week but on Monday I also admitted that I’d listed a whisky on the list of potential reviews for February and March that I had already reviewed in January. For all, I know I did an all Caol Ila week in December as well.

Monday’s review was of an 11 yo that was finished for three months in an amontillado sherry cask. I quite liked it. Today’s is a 15 yo and is also sherried but this one was a full-term maturation in a refill sherry cask. What kind of sherry, I don’t know. I opened this bottle a month and a half ago. I split half of it with friends and have been drinking my half down steadily since. Indeed, I’m finishing the last pour tonight while writing this introduction. The notes themselves were taken some weeks ago when the bottle was just past the halfway mark. It’s been very consistent from start to finish. Continue reading

Caol Ila 10, 2006 (G&M), Take 2


Having started the month with a review of a peated whisky from the eastern Highlands of Scotland (this Ardmore), it seems only right to head on over to what remains the bastion of peated whisky in Scotland: Islay. This is the first of a few review of peated Islay whiskies this month. We begin right off the ferry at Caol Ila. This is one of several young Caol Ilas distilled in the mid-2000s that Gordon & MacPhail have released in the past few years. Many are vattings of multiple casks, as is this one—a vatting of four first-fill sherry casks. This is actually a whisky I have reviewed before (just over a year ago). That first review was of a 2 oz sample from a bottle split. I liked that one quite a bit but it was fairly hot. The bottle is at 60.2% and the samples were probably poured from a fresh crack. As I noted in the first review, at the time of acquiring that sample I’d forgotten that I already owned a bottle. I decided to open it late last month as I was running low on high-octane peated whisky in my small lineup of open bottles and the first couple of pours confirmed the original review. A week and a half and a few pours later I am interested to see how it may have developed with a bit of air in the bottle. Continue reading

Convalmore 21, 1984 (Gordon & Macphail)


I don’t have much experience with Convalmore, a Speyside distillery that closed in 1985, just one year after this whisky was distilled. During its active period it produced exclusively for blends—as did and do most Scotch distilleries. The ownership situation of the brand is a bit confusing. My understanding is that when it was mothballed in 1985 the premises were sold to William Grant & Sons (owners of Glenfiddich and Balvenie) and used by them primarily for warehousing. The brand, however, is owned by Diageo—because the active distillery was part of the portfolio of Diageo’s precursor?—as is the remaining stock. If I am wrong about any of this—likely—or if you can confirm any of it, please do write in below. At any rate, very little Convalmore has ever been released as a single malt—Whiskybase lists only about 100 unique releases over the years. The most famous of these are a couple of Diageo special releases. Predictably G&M and Cadenhead have bottled far more. This cask was bottled by G&M for the American market in 2006. I purchased it from Binny’s in 2013—which should give you a sense of how relatively recent the boom in single malt purchasing insanity is. Anyway, I’d forgotten I had this bottle. Looking forward to finally tasting it. Continue reading

Glenlossie 29, 1978 (Gordon & MacPhail)


Glenlossie is the very definition of a workhorse distillery producing malt for Diageo’s blends; and in their case I don’t believe there even is a mainline blend they are closely associated with. There is no official release of their whisky as single malt, save for the occasional Flora & Fauna bottle (I am still fuzzy on the currency of that series). I have had very little Glenlossie in my time and have reviewed even less; only two others, in fact (this 10 yo and this 22 yo). Which means that this is without a doubt the oldest Glenlossie I’ve ever had (though in a few weeks it may not hold this title anymore). I said rude things about Auchentoshan last week—noting that it was one of the distilleries that seemed to give the lie to my belief that every distillery is capable of producing excellent casks—and it must be said that the few Glenlossies I’ve had have not inspired much confidence in that direction either. Will this much older iteration, distilled in the 1970s, confirm my optimism? I hope so. Continue reading

Caol Ila 10 (Gordon & MacPhail)


After a month of reviews of un-sherried whiskies—well, the Glen Scotia 14 probably had some sherry casks in the mix—let’s end with one from refill sherry casks. This is a 10 yo Caol Ila released in Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice series at some point after the casks in that series started being bottled at 46% with new packaging. I think this was released in the mid-2010s, which would, I think, have been not too long after the revamping of the line. I almost always enjoy Caol Ila from sherry casks—and have a very good memory of this earlier G&M 10 yo from refill sherry casks (though that was in their old Cask Strength line). And I quite liked as well this G&M 10 yo from 2006 (also cask strength but in the new livery for their Cask Strength line). That latter one was from first-fill casks though. Well, as long as it’s better than the last sherried Caol Ila I reviewed—this sherry finished 7 yo that was an exclusive for K&L—I’ll be happy. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. Continue reading

Linkwood 1988-2013 (Gordon & MacPhail)


I first promised a review of this Linkwood a long time ago, I think. Here it is now. I took these notes right after returning from India in February but unaccountably forgot to take my usual ratty photograph of the sample bottle. And so I’ve posted alongside a picture of a bottle lifted from Whiskybase. Against my usual rules, I know, but there are no rules during a pandemic.

This was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for the Soho Whisky Club. It was well-received right off the bat but got even more attention when Jim Murray randomly awarded it 97.5 points in the 2015 Whisky Bible. It nonetheless remained available for a while but was gone by the time I got to London in 2016. I’ve been curious about it for a while and so when the opportunity came to taste it via a bottle split I jumped at it. Here now are those notes. 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

Caol Ila 10, 2006 (Gordon & MacPhail)


Let’s do another young sherried Caol Ila to start the month and let’s hope I like it better than the other one I reviewed a few months ago. In fact, I really hope I do as I have a full bottle of this on my shelf—I had forgotten that when I acquired this sample. Like that one this is a vatting of four first-fill sherry casks. Will this show more sherry influence than that one did? Let’s see.

Caol Ila 10, 2006 (60.2%; Gordon & MacPhail; first fill sherry casks 306183+4, 306186+7; from a bottle split)

Nose: Slightly rubbery right off the bat and then there’s a fair bit of salt and phenolic peat below it. This is first-fill sherry? The rubber expands on the second sniff. After a bit the rubber begins to subside and sweeter coastal notes begin to develop (kelp, oysters); quite medicinal now (dettol). Water pushes the rubber back almost all the way and pulls out a lot of lemon to go with the salt and the coastal notes (which now include kippers). Another splash and now the rubber is gone and the lemon, salt, disinfectant and oysters have free rein. Continue reading

Caol Ila 33, 1984 (Gordon & MacPhail)


I said I’d close out the month without a mini-theme but I am a liar. Here’s another sherried whisky, albeit twice the age of yesterday’s Mortlach and made from far more heavily peated malt (I’m not sure what Mortlach’s peating levels are). I first tried this at a tasting up in St. Paul last November. That tasting featured a number of very impressive whiskies. I’ve reviewed some of those: the excellent Archives Ben Nevis 27, 1990; the “Speyside Region” 43 from the Whisky Agency; and another excellent old Caol Ila, a 34 yo distilled in 1982 and bottled by Cadenhead. I really liked that Cadenhead’s cask and at the tasting we had some difficulty deciding on which we liked better. As I recall, this one was smokier and heavier. By the way, though when I filled the label I put it down as a 34 yo, this is in fact a 33 yo. I am intrigued to see what I will make of it almost nine months later. I rather expect I will like it quite a bit more than the last sherried Caol Ila from G&M I reviewed. Continue reading

Caol Ila 11, 2005 (Gordon & MacPhail)


Over the last decade and more Gordon & MacPhail have bottled a number of multi-cask vattings of 10-11 yo Caol Ila, many of them from sherry casks. Most have been well-received. I’ve liked most of the few I’ve had (see, example, this 10 yo, 1996), though there also have been some duds (see this 11 yo, 2000). I think this one, bottled in 2016, before Gordon & MacPhail’s livery changed, may be the first I’ve had from a vatting of four casks. I always wonder when something like this is released if one or two casks in the vatting might not have needed salvaging. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you: a cask that might not be very interesting on its own can still work very well in a vatting, accentuating positive notes or even helping damp down some overbearing ones (anyone who has done a lot of home vatting knows this). The odd thing here is that these are said to have all been first-fill sherry butts but this is a rather light-coloured whisky. All American oak butts that held fino or manzanilla? Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Ardmore 13, 1990 (G&M)


I said I’d have a brace of Ardmores this week but let’s make it three in a row. This one is the most useless review of the lot, being an independent release that came out well before yesterday’s Traditional and Friday’s Archives 20 yo. I don’t think I’d even heard of the distillery when this was released. Like the Archives this is from a bourbon cask, though it’s a fair bit younger. My sample came to me from Ardmore-enthusiast, Michael Kravitz (his review is here).

I don’t have any Ardmore patter left after the last two reviews and so let’s get right to it.

Ardmore 13, 1990 (58.6%; Gordon & MacPhail; refill bourbon hogshead 12275; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Creamy at first whiff but then there’s white pepper, prickly peat (not phenolic) and mothballs. Very nice indeed. A drop of water brings out more of the mothballs.  Continue reading

Highland Park 10, 2001 (Gordon & MacPhail)


Yesterday I had a report on my visit to Highland Park in June. Today I have a review of a Highland Park whisky of a kind you won’t hear too much about on a tour at Highland Park: one from an ex-bourbon cask. At the distillery they are very focused on official Highland Park’s sherry-based identity, though they will concede when asked that bourbon cask Highland Park is used to make some of their special editions. It’s a pity that they don’t embrace those casks and that profile more fully as, in my (unoriginal) opinion, bourbon cask Highland Parks can be one of the great and unusual pleasures of the world of single malt Scotch whisky. It is where you get to experience peat most fully in Highland Park, and it’s quite a unique flavour of peat, derived as it is from local heather, and quite different from the phenol-soaked variants of Islay or Jura or even the smoke of Springbank or some distilleries in the highlands. I’ve had some very good ones and I’m happy to say that this one is not a disappointment.  Continue reading

Longmorn 46, 1964 (Gordon & MacPhail)


I am back in Minnesota. Our two weeks in Scotland were great, as were the 10 days that followed in London. I’ll have a number of reports on distilleries (and food) soon. But first, let me wind up my month of reviews of malts from Speyside and Highland distilleries. I’m sorry to say that few of the Speyside whiskies I reviewed in this series this month turned out to be appropriate for my commemorative purpose. Other than a Dailuaine and a Longmorn, it’s been a steady stream of mediocrity. Accordingly, I am going to end the series with a heavy hitter, the oldest single malt I’ve yet reviewed: a 46 yo Longmorn distilled in 1964 and bottled in 2011 as part of Gordon & MacPhail’s now legendary quintet of very old sherry cask Longmorns for van Wees in the Netherlands. The 1969 in this series is the best whisky I’ve ever had and the 1972 and 1968 were no slouches either. Only the 1966 showed some signs of extreme age. Will this one—two years older still—be even more over-oaked? Let’s see. Continue reading