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

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

Laphroaig 18, 1995 (SMWS 29.148)

Let’s get the year started off right with a Laphroaig. This was bottled a couple of years ago by the Scotch Malt Whisky Association and they managed to give it a less whimsical name than usual. Well, I guess “A Fantastic Fusion of Flavours” isn’t exactly restrained but at least it’s easy enough to decipher. I first tasted this at one of my friend Rich’s peat-themed whisky gatherings in St. Paul right after it was released, and when our host offered to purchase bottles from the SMWSA for anyone who wanted one, I jumped at it.

Fast forward a few years to a rough review from Michael K. on Diving for Pearls. This shook me, as Michael and I are usually not very far apart on our evaluation of whiskies. Was it possible, I wondered, that I’d over-estimated my small taste of this whisky on account of the tasting context? I opened the bottle right after reading Michael’s review and was relieved to discover I still liked it a lot. And then I realized that his notes were not actually far away from my own—it’s just that he didn’t like what it all added up to and I did. Always a good reminder: it’s not scores that matter but notes. And on that note, here are my own.  Continue reading

Highland Park 19, 1995 (SMWSA)

Allow me to continue my geographically-inexact series of whisky reviews. Last week I posted a review of a Speyside whisky (a Balmenach) on the day I left for Glasgow, and a review of an Old Pulteney when up in the Highlands (okay, so that one wasn’t so far off the map). Today is our last day in Skye and as I don’t have any Talisker at hand I am posting this review of a Highland Park (which is at least also located on an island).

This was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America and they saw fit to give it the name “Nordic Nosh”. It’s from a bourbon cask. The distillery doesn’t put out anything (?) that’s exclusively bourbon cask—even though ex-bourbon Highland Park can be excellent—but the indies pick up the slack. I quite liked the last ex-bourbon Highland Park from the SMWSA that I reviewed, so I’m hopeful.  Continue reading

Aultmore 18, 1997 (SMWS)

Aultmore 18, 1997
This is the first Aultmore I’ve reviewed on the blog and it may, indeed, be the first Aultmore I’ve ever tried. I can’t recall another and nor can my spreadsheet. Always nice to taste the whisky of a distillery one has never tried before. Of course, there’s no guarantee that this is going to be representative of what they usually put out. Aultmore is in the Speyside and is part of Bacardi’s Scotch whisky holdings. The distillery was mostly known for producing for blends but a couple of years ago they suddenly starting releasing official single malts. Among their current regular releases are a 12 yo, an 18 yo and a 25 yo. I can’t recall how these have been received by the cognoscenti but if I like this one I might be motivated to seek at least the 12 yo out. In the meantime, I have absolutely no idea what Aultmore’s general profile is supposed to be like and so I am going into this with absolutely no preconceptions. Well, let’s get to it.  Continue reading

Clynelish 25, 1984 (SMWS 26.67)

Clynelish 25, 1990, SMWSA
Well, here’s my first whisky review after the apocalypse. A too quick return to business as usual, you might say; but returning to old routines, I’ve had other, more personal reasons to recently learn, is a good way to deal with potentially paralyzing news. Anyway, as I continue to process what this election means and how I should engage with my world in response to it, here’s one of a few reviews that were written in a more innocent time, when I dared believe Sam Wang’s projection of a >99% chance of a Clinton win. We can’t go forward in complacency or denial but we can’t give up on pleasure either. If we do that then Rudy Giuliani wins.

Clynelish 25, 1984 (48.9%; SMWSA 26.67; refill sherry butt; from a sample from a friend)  Continue reading

Clynelish 29, 1984 (SMWS 26.102)

Clynelish 29, 1984 (SMWSA)
This is the oldest sherried Clynelish I have yet happened upon, and as I think about it, it’s the oldest Clynelish of any kind I’ve yet happened upon (the previous oldest was this lovely 28 yo from 1982 bottled by Speciality Drinks in their Single Malts of Scotland line). Will it be as good as that one or only as good as the last SMWS Clynelish I reviewed (this solid but unexciting 23 yo)? Let’s get right to it and find out.

(Oh, the SMWS dubbed this one “Pomanders in a Lady’s Parlour”.)

Clynelish 29, 1984 (56%; SMWS 26.102; refill shery butt; from a bottle-split)

Nose: Honey and apple juice followed by a pleasant grassiness (not metallic or astringent) and then some wax accompanied by a minerally prickliness. The sherry influence is really restrained: just a bit of toffee and a mild raisiny sweetness. Gets more floral as it goes and there’s some dusty wood too now. With more time the fruit wakes up: lemon, hints of apricot. With a few drops of water it gets even more floral and sweet (with some cream too now).  Continue reading

Dailuaine 30, 1984 (SMWS 41.67)

Dailuaine 30, 1984, SMWSA
This is the oldest of the few Dailuaines I’ve had (only a few more than I’ve reviewed), being two years older than the Archives bottling I took quick notes on two and a half years ago (which was distilled a year before this one and also aged in a bourbon cask). The SMWS gives all their malts whimsical names and they dubbed this 30 yo, “Bitter-Sweet with a Dash of Fun”. Well, that’s also how I describe myself so this should be a perfect match. Will it also be one of those SMWS bottlings that makes me think I should become a member or will it be one of all too many that leave me unconvinced?

(As with the other SMWSA bottles I’ve reviewed in recent months, this came from a bottle split with a number of other whisky geeks. I’ve been doing a lot of bottle splits in the last year or so and I really recommend them as a way to taste a lot with minimized risk while also keeping the size of your collection in control.)  Continue reading

Strathisla 25, 1989 (SMWSA)

Strathisla 25, 1989, SMWSA
The end of the year is a good time to do things for the first time. This is apparently my first Strathisla review. I could have sworn I’d already reviewed the official 12 yo but apparently not: I guess I finished my bottle before I started the blog. I should have a large reference sample stashed somewhere, however, so you can expect that review in the new year. In the meantime please excuse the obnoxious fact that my first review of a Strathisla is that of a 25 year old iteration.

Strathisla is one of those distilleries known for a somewhat unremarkable, young official release (the aforementioned 12 yo) and highly celebrated older whiskies from sherry casks. Most of these are independent releases and some of the most famous ones are Gordon & MacPhail’s licensed bottlings from the 1960s and early 1970s. I don’t have any of those lined up but next month I should have a review of the more easily found G&M Strathisla 25—the one without a vintage statement. This one is from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and is from a refill bourbon barrel.

Continue reading

Laphroaig 17, 1997 (SMWS 29.164)

Laphroaig 17, 1997 (SMWS 29.164)
This is the first of three Laphroaig reviews this week. This one was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America and in age, strength and cask type is very close to the recently discontinued OB 18 yo. I think I am in a bit of a minority among whisky geeks in liking the OB 18 yo a lot, but if this is close to it then I’ll be happy, Of course, being a SMWS release means it cost almost twice as much as the OB 18 (in Minnesota anyway). I have to also say that my batting average with recent SMWSA releases has not been stellar: 85 points for a 23 yo Clynelish, 87 points for a 22 yo Highland Park, 87 points for a 13 yo Springbank—these are not poor scores by any stretch of the imagination but the mystique of the SMWS promises better, and they’re certainly not shy with the prices. Will this finally be the bottle that convinces me that I should sign up for a membership?

Oh yes, the SMWS called this one “A Ballerina at the Barbecue”. Continue reading

Clynelish 23, 1990 (SMWSA 26.99)

Clynelish 23, 1990, SMWSA
Let’s close out the week with another bottle from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America. As with the Highland Park 22 I reviewed to start the week, I split this bottle with a number of whisky geeks, though I got more of this than than I did of the other. I’ve not had very many Clynelishes over the age of 20 and so I could not resist. Will this be as good as the Malts of Scotland 22 yo from 1989 that I reviewed earlier in the year? I can only hope. Let’s get right to it.

Clynelish 23, 1990 (48.5%; SMWSA 26.99, “The Fisherman’s Friend”; refill barrel; from a bottle split with a number of whisky geeks)

Nose: Honey, lime zest, green apples, a hint of melon. A bit of wax after a minute or two and then it starts getting grassier. With more time the citrus gets sweeter (oranges now) and then the muskier fruity notes expand. With a lot more time there’s a bit of vanilla. With a few drops of water the citrus turns to citronella and it gets less grassy. More vanilla and cream too now. Continue reading

Highland Park 22, 1991 (SMWSA 4.191)

Highland Park 22, 1991, SMWSA
Highland Park, as I have noted on many occasions, is one of my very favourite distilleries. And as I have doubtless also noted on many occasions, bourbon cask Highland Parks—which are rarely available from the distillery—always catch my eye. They’re obviously very different from the distillery’s usual fare: as Highland Park matures its spirit predominantly in sherry casks, bourbon casks are rare from even the independents. Unsurprisingly, they’re also quite different from the standard profile. While I don’t myself believe that it it’s in bourbon cask matured malt that a distillery’s true profile/character is revealed (this is because I don’t believe in “distillery character” as something separate from maturation*), it is true that it is from bourbon casks that you can most clearly get a sense of the nature of Highland Park’s peat, in particular. And the continuities between bourbon cask Highland Park and malt from distilleries like Clynelish and Springbank that I also like very much indeed are interesting as well.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 20, 1990 (SMWS 29.97)

Laphroaig 20, 1990, SMWS
After last Tuesday’s Port Ellen here is another sherried and peated Islay malt: a Laphroaig that is just two years older (though distilled a decade later). This is from the Single Malt Whisky Society and, like all their releases, bears a very silly name: “Below Decks on HMS Victory”. I assume they have a random phrase generator that they use to come up with these things and then run the results through a filter that makes them 85% sillier. Anyway, whatever the name, it will have to be good to live up to the last Laphroaig 20, 1990 I reviewed: that was this one from the Whisky Agency, albeit from a bourbon hogshead. Last week’s Port Ellen was not particularly sherried, but this one, as you can tell from the picture, promises to be quite intensely so, despite being from a refill butt. The marriage of peat and sherry is one of life’s great pleasures when it clicks, and here’s hoping it did here.

Continue reading

Springbank 13, 2000 (SMWSA)

Springbank 13, 2000
I’m not a member of the Single Malt Whisky Society. I can never quite convince myself that the membership price and cost of annual renewal is worth it—especially in the U.S where the society does not have tasting rooms where members can sample the whiskies before purchasing them. And while they put out a very broad range of whiskies it’s not as though the prices are reasonable either. Even rather young whiskies cost >$100 at the SMWS—though the prices do get more reasonable as the whiskies get older. You might say that this is true in general for independent bottlers but the floor at the SMWS is higher. And given how few reviews ever seem to emerge of these whiskies it’s not clear if the quality justifies the high prices. And, of course, you’ll find people in the UK lamenting a decline of quality control at the SMWS there, and others who’ll say that the US does not get the pick of the casks (which is not unlikely given our less mature market (compared to the UK and Europe).  Continue reading