Let’s close the month with a Scotch whisky that is neither a single malt nor a blend. Yes, it’s in everybody’s favourite confusingly named category: blended malt whisky! Once known more clearly as “vatted whisky”, this category comprises vattings of malt (but no grain) whiskies from more than one distillery. There’s not very many of these out there from big name producers—William Grant & Sons’ Monkey Shoulder comes to mind, as does Diageo’s Green Label. Otherwise, this category is mostly the province of people like the bespoke suit-clad gents at Compass Box. This Glencoe 8 is a product of the owners of Ben Nevis and it’s barely a blended/vatted malt. The story seems to be that it is made up of malt from Ben Nevis and one other distillery (which one? I don’t know). The even more unusual things about are its age statement, proof and price. Normally you’d expect a distillery to dilute something like this down well below 50%, swap out the age statement for words such as “Reserve”, “Select”, “Pride” or something in Gaelic and sell it for a very high price. Good on the Ben Nevis brain trust for not doing any of those things. Well, that last part is true in the UK where this goes for £40 or so; the few listings I found for the US were closer to $100. This sample comes from a bottle released a couple of years ago with a label different from the current iteration—which is in line with the new Ben Nevis house label; the whisky in the bottle itself has apparently not changed. But what is that whisky in the bottle like? Continue reading
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
I reviewed three 20+ yo Ben Nevis last month, all from Signatory, all distilled in 1991 and all from sherry butts. I found the 22 yo and the 24 yo from the trio to be excellent and the 26 yo to be merely very, very good. None of them exhibited sherry bomb character, allowing the distillery’s unique funky mix of fruit and malt and mineral notes to come through front and center. Today I have another 20+ yo Ben Nevis from a sherry butt (this time specified as a refill sherry butt). This was bottled not by Signatory but by the German outfit, Whisky Doris—though for all I know, Signatory may be the source of their casks. This one is from 1996, another year from which a number of casks have been bottled. In addition to the official 1996-2012 I’ve reviewed a number of indies as well: an 18 yo from Liquid Treasures; a couple from Cadenhead (this 19 yo and this 17 yo); and another 18 yo from Whisky Import Nederland. Indeed, my very first Ben Nevis review was of a 9 yo, 1996 bottled by Duncan Taylor under their Whisky Galore label. All of them—whether from bourbon or sherry casks—have ranged from very good to excellent; and all have been anything but cookie cutter whiskies. Let’s hope this one doesn’t let the side down. Continue reading
Okay, after Taiwanese and Irish whiskies and French brandy, let’s get back to Scottish single malt whisky. Here is a Springbank. This is the youngest of the whiskies released widely so far in their recent Local Barley series. I’ve so far reviewed the 16 yo (released in 2016) and the 11 yo (released in 2017). There were also a couple of 10 yo releases, I think—in 2017 and 2019—and this year a 8 yo. The 16 yo I thought was excellent and the 11 yo only a little short of that. Where will the 9 yo, released in 2018, fall? Let’s see.
Springbank 9, 2009, Local Barley (57.7%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Peppery and peaty to start with a mix of rubber and hot tarmac coming up from below. Salt on the second sniff and some sweetness under the rubber that I can’t quite pick. With air the familiar Springbank notes of sackcloth/burlap and cracked spices (mustard seed, coriander seed) begin to come through along with some dried mango. As it sits the sweet note expands and becomes fruitier (plum, apricot, lemon) and more honeyed. About 40 minutes in the nose is just brilliant with all of the above plus some cream. A few drops of water and there’s more brine, more cracked spices, more apricot and more cream; plus some dried orange peel. Continue reading
I started the week with a review of a Taiwanese malt whisky and on Wednesday I had a review of an Irish whiskey. Might as well make it an all non-Scotch whisky week. In fact, no whisky at all today but a brandy. And not just any type of brandy but another of those wild and crazy marcs or French pomace brandies. I’ve had two before and like the second of those this sample came to me from Florin, Prince of Tyre.
As I hope you don’t recall, the 7 yo Jacoulot—the first marc I ever tried—put me in mind of Hampden’s rums with its wild notes of rotting garbage and aniseed but—perhaps because I have been beaten down by Hampden—I liked it well enough anyway. And I liked the second one, a 15 yo Cartron, even more. Those were both marcs de Bourgogne. This one is from the Jura region and at 10 years of age is closer to the Jacoulot than the Cartron. Florin describes it as a wild marc and you might think that I would find it to be closer to the Jacoulot in character as well; but—as you will see—I actually find it to be quite refined. I don’t know what to make of that but here are my notes anyway. Continue reading
On Monday I had a review of a malt whisky from a relatively unknown Taiwanese distillery. Here now is a review of a whiskey from the most famous brand name in Ireland: Jameson, made at the Midleton distillery. What do they have in common? Nothing other than the fact that neither is Scottish.
I know very little about Irish whiskey and have reviewed very few Irish whiskies. And I’ve not had very good luck with the few Jamesons I’ve reviewed. Those were all contemporary releases, however, whereas this one was bottled sometime in the early-mid 1980s. I assume it was still made in the same way then, as a blend of grain and pot still whiskey. You are doubtless sick of hearing Scotch whisky geeks go on about how much better single malts and blends were in the 1970s and 1980s. Was the same true of Irish whiskey? Let’s see what this one indicates. Continue reading
Nantou is the other Taiwanese distillery; Omar is the name of their single malt; this particular release is presumably all from bourbon casks. Omar is a relatively new brand—just about a decade old. Lest you think this is one of my more esoteric reviews, it is actually available in the US (though this is a review of the 2016 release). I’ve had a low-level curiosity about Nantou/Omar for a while and so when Michael K. of Diving for Pearls asked me if I was interested in a sample, I jumped at it (read his review here). The current release can actually be found for what is a fairly low price in the current single malt whisky market—a place in New York lists it for $40; to be fair, the median price seems quite a bit higher and in Minnesota the lowest I can see on Winesearcher is twice that at the local Total Wine. Still, quite a bit cheaper than your average Kavalan cask which is probably not very much older. Will it be as good as the average Kavalan cask though? Let’s see. Continue reading
On Wednesday I had a review of a 12 yo Glenrothes distilled in 2007, matured in a first-fill sherry butt, and bottled in late 2019 or early 2020 by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society at a very high abv. Here now is another. Will I like it as much as I did the sibling cask despite it being a young sherry bomb at a ludicrous strength? Let’s see. They named this one “Espresso to the Power of 4” which means…something.
Glenrothes 12, 2007 (64.5%; SMWS 30.110; first-fill sherry butt; from a bottle split)
Nose: This is fruitier from the get-go than the sibling cask, with plum and apricot coming through very strongly. Some raisins in there too and a bit of dusty oak. Water pulls out toffee and light maple syrup and amps the apricot up pretty high.
Palate: Ah yes, all the fruit from the nose, mixed in nicely with orange peel, all framed by a solid backbone of spicy (but not tannic) oak. More approachable and expressive at full strength than the other. Let’s see what water does. It amplifies the fruit further and pushes the oak back a bit. Continue reading
In my review in the summer of a very old Glenrothes I noted that despite the fact that my introduction to single malt Scotch whisky had involved a number of teenaged OB releases, I hadn’t reviewed any of them on the blog. Indeed, the youngest Glenrothes I’ve previously reviewed was a 15 yo (this Signatory release of a refill sherry butt, reviewed when the blog was just a few months old). Well. I have two reviews of 12 yo Glenrothes this week. Neither are official releases, however. Indeed both are from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society; they were distilled in 2007 and released in late 2019 (or maybe early 2020). Both are also high-octane whiskies from first-fill sherry butts. I’m always a bit iffy about both whiskies with stupidly high strengths and young sherry bombs; these SMWS releases fit both descriptions and yet I went in on bottle splits of them anyway. What can I say? I am large, I contain multitudes. Despite my prejudices, will I find this “strangely soothing”? (That’s the name the SMWS gave this, in case you’re wondering.) Let’s see. Continue reading
It’s been almost two years since my last review of an official release of Highland Park. That was of their 12 yo, now called the “Viking Honour“. Once the Highland Park 12 was the great all-rounder of the single malt world and a whisky I recommended confidently to anyone looking to get into single malt whisky. Alas, I found the Viking Honour—while drinkable enough—to be some distance from the best of the old Highland Park 12. What was missing was the clearer sherry influence of the older versions. That should not be a problem for today’s whisky. It is also a 12 yo but this one is a single cask and a first-fill European oak hogshead at that. The sherry should be big and front and center. Will that add up to a much better whisky? We’ll see. This cask, by the way, was bottled last year for the Texan store, Spec’s—a store from which, in the last of the whisky loch days, I once purchased quite a lot of fabulous older whisky at prices that these days would seem like a lunatic dream if spoken out loud (very old Caperdonich for $150 and so on). Anyway, Highland Park have been releasing (expensive) individual casks for European stores etc. for some time now; I hadn’t realized these were in the US too now. Let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
As we wait, wait, wait for election results to come in, here is a review of a Clynelish: my third review overall of a 20+ yo Clynelish from 1989 and only my second Clynelish review for the year. Data! Everyone loves meaningless data, right? Maybe I’ll apply for a job at fivethirtyeight.com. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, this is the third 1989 Clynelish I’ve had and it’s the third from a bourbon cask to boot. The previous two were 22 and 23 years old, respectively and I liked the 23 yo more than the 22 yo. This one is 24 years old. That might seem like a guarantee of extra goodness but that extra year could have been fatal. Let’s see if that was indeed the case.
Clynelish 24, 1989 (53.1%; Adelphi; refill bourbon cask 3846; from my own bottle)
Nose: Honey, lemon zest, a bit of pepper and yes, wax. A little grassier on the second sniff and a little herbal (sage). Gets more savoury as it sits with some ham brine. With more time there’s some sweeter fruit (apricot). Not a tremendous change with water: some cream, less ham, but otherwise more or less the same mix. Continue reading
An old post of mine on distillery character and whether it exists suddenly became very popular earlier this week—I guess someone linked to it somewhere on Facebook? In that post I registered skepticism about the idea of distillery character as normally bandied about by whisky geeks. I have to admit though that Springbank is the distillery that most rebukes my argument (the exception that proves the rule?) with a profile that is remarkably consistent across official and (rare) independent releases and across their Springbank and Longrow lines (it’s been a long time since I had a Hazelburn). Indeed, the Springbank DNA is evident in Kilkerran as well. That profile is present in spades in this Springbank 18 as well (spoiler alert: I rather like it). I’m very glad to review this 2016 release, not just because I love that Springbank profile but because I was under the impression I’d reviewed more than one Springbank 18 in the past when in fact I have hitherto reviewed a total of zero. It’s high time this gap was filled. Continue reading
In July I had a review of an Ardmore 13, 2006 released by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society that I was not terribly enthused about. Here now is an Ardmore 12, 2006 released by the SMWS that I am expecting to like a fair bit more. That’s because unlike the 13 yo—which was a red wine finish for some reason—this one is from a refill bourbon hogshead. Ardmore’s mineral peat and lemon notes should come out front and center. The operative word there is “should”. The fact that the SMWS named this one “Farm Salad” seems like a good sign but let’s see if things actually go as planned. Certainly the last SMWS refill hogshead Ardmore I reviewed was excellent as was the most recent Ardmore I reviewed back in early September. Both of those were a fair bit older, of course. But I’m keeping my hopes in check anyway: if being an American in 2020 has taught me anything it’s to not get my hopes up. Continue reading
Having recently posted a review of a whisky released in 2019—Wednesday’s Allt-a-Bhainne—let me annoy you with a review of a whisky released in 2009. This is one of the first whiskies I fell in love with and bought multiples of. I am referring not just to Balvenie’s 15 yo Single Barrels of days of yore—the original ex-bourbon series—but to cask 1708 in particular. Seemingly endless quantities of it were available in 2010 from Chicago-Lake Liquors, a Minneapolis store that meant a lot to us middle-class Minnesotan whisky drinkers. They had a very good selection of distillery release whiskies in those days and were known for their low markups. It was thanks to their low prices that I got to try so many whiskies, including this Balvenie 15 SB, which—as per my spreadsheet—cost me all of $49 before tax in 2010. Those days are long gone—as are the days when Scottish distilleries of any kind, leave alone name distilleries, released whiskies older than 15 years old in their 15 yo series. Yes. the ex-bourbon Balvenie 15 yo SB series saw 16-18 yo casks bottled under its label—and if I’m not mistaken there were even reports of the occasional 20 yo (but perhaps that’s lunatic nostalgia talking). Speaking of 20 yo Balvenies, Chicago-Lake used to carry the Balvenie 21 Port cask for $99. And no, I never got around to purchasing a bottle because that seemed like a lot to pay for whisky in 2010. Don’t you love these reminiscences? Now, join me as I turn back time and see if my very last bottle of barrel 1708 of the Balvenie 15 Single Barrel will be as good as I remember it being. Continue reading
Okay, let’s bring the long run of sherry casks to an end with this Allt-a-Bhainne. It does not, however, bring the shorter run of peated whiskies to an end. Apparently, Allt-a-Bhainne recently became another of the Speyside distilleries that traffics in peated whisky. When exactly this happened I do not know—I stopped following whisky news a long time ago. They’ve released an official NAS peated whisky and it’s been met with very poor reviews. This one—a cask from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society—may not be very much older than the NAS release: it’s 7 years old, which is the kind of age that whisky companies feel very embarrassed about after years and years of trying to convince people that age equals quality. The fact that the SMWS has the decency to mark the age of their cask does not, of course, mean that it’s necessarily any better than the previously mentioned official release. That said, I’ve quite liked the few Allt-a-Bhainnes I’ve reviewed previous to this one though the youngest of those was 16 years old. Let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
Here is another Ledaig from a sherry cask that was released in the middle of the decade. This is almost twice the age of Friday’s cask and was bottled by A.D. Rattray, not Signatory. It’s also a ludicrously high strength. 65.8% after 17 years? Just where was this cask stored? I have to say I am not a big fan of whiskies being bottled at these crazy strengths (or any other kind of spirit for that matter). Its hard for me to enjoy most drinks fully very much above 55%—and I usually tend to like things closer to 50%. Sure I can—and do—dilute things down to where I like them but it’s an unnecessary level of futzing with your drink, in my view. I realize there’s a layer of authenticity that comes with the “cask strength” tag and that it gets some extra sheen of machismo probably when that cask strength is eye-wateringly high. Add to all of those prejudices that this is a Ledaig—a spirit that can be challenging even at a much lower strength—and I have some trepidation entering this pour. Let’s see how it pans out. Continue reading
Let’s round out the week with another sherry cask whisky but turn the peat up a little higher past Wednesday’s Bowmore 11. Just about two years ago I reviewed a Ledaig 10, 2004 bottled by Signatory. I was supposed to follow that up with a review of this 10 yo distilled in 2005 and also bottled by Signatory that I’d acquired as part of the same large bottle split but never got around to it. Both are from a large parcel of young sherry casks put out by Signatory (and a few other bottlers who may have acquired their casks from Signatory). Most of these 10-11 yo Ledaigs have been very good indeed—very nice marriages of heavy peat and heavy sherry. I really liked that 2004 and I’ve been drinking this one down at a rapid rate as well since opening it a week or two ago. Here now are some notes on it.
Ledaig 10, 2005 (54.6%; Signatory; first-fill sherry butt 900145; from a bottle split)
Nose: Rubbery smoke with charred, barbecued pork coming up behind alongside some sweeter sherry notes (dried orange peel, pipe tobacco). The salt from the palate pops out here too with time and it gets more acidic too (lemon); and with a lot of air/time the rubber recedes a bit. Water pushes back the salt, pulls out some softer notes (milky cocoa) and ties it all together nicely. Continue reading
My love of Bowmore collides here with my poor track record with whisky that has been in close proximity to wine casks. Yes, this 11 yo Bowmore released at Feis Ile in 2017 was matured in a combination of sherry and wine casks. I was not at Feis Ile in 2017—though I did visit Bowmore a few weeks later. I fear I will never be at Feis Ile, not even after the pandemic ends. I know how important whisky festivals are to many enthusiasts, and I know how important a festival like Feis Ile is to not just the distilleries involved but also to the local economy. But no description I’ve read of the crowds at Feis Ile and the long lines to purchase festival exclusives for purposes of auction flipping has ever made me wish I could have been there. And no, I’m not being hypocritical about the auction part. I purchased this bottle not from an auction but from a store in Tarbert shortly after our week on Islay ended in 2017—and I paid less than was being asked at auction at the time. Three years later, I’m finally opening it. Continue reading