Oh, okay, I’ll try a little harder. This is a single bourbon cask bottled by the German outfit, Whisky-Fässle in 2015. That was near the very end of the golden age of independently bottled Scotch whisky, when 20+ yo whiskies of high quality were available for not much more than $100. These days high quality indies of any age at good prices seem very thin on the ground. In fact, I can’t remember the last indie bottle I purchased—not that I purchase much whisky of any kind any more. Anyway! Official Bunnahabhain is usually heavily sherry-bothered and so it’s always nice to try bourbon casks from independent bottlers. I’ve reviewed two others this year: this 6 yo bottled for the Whisky Barrel, and this 30 yo bottled by Old Particular for K&L in California. It pains me to say that I liked the 6 yo more than the 30 yo (but it also pleases me to say that I had not purchased a bottle of the 30 yo). As a better portent, I did like the last Bunnahabhain 1991 I reviewed (this 25 yo, also from K&L)—though that was from a sherry cask. Let’s hope this is as good. Continue reading
Benrinnes 21, 1997 (60.6%; SMWS; refill bourbon barrel; from a bottle split)
Nose: Pretty tight at first. As it sits there’s some cereals, some wax, some pepper and some lemon. Softens as it sits and there’s some cream too now. With more time the cereals and wax expand and there’s a sweeter note too—dried pineapple? Softer and creamier with a few drops of water; the lemon turns into citronella and the pepper turns into a light sooty note.
Palate: Pretty much as on the nose and, as expected, hot, hot, hot. This is going to need a fair bit of air and then some water. With time the lemon expands and the wax follows suit and the texture gets more full. Still pretty hot though. Okay, let’s add water. Sweeter at first with water and then there’s a burst of slightly bitter lemon peel. Continue reading
I reviewed the Balblair 2005, First Release in May and in that review I noted that I do not understand how Balblair’s vintage releases worked. That has not changed. And so I can tell you that this was distilled in 1990 and released in 2015 and that it was described as the “Second Release” even though there was another with the appellation released in 2014 and again in 2016. Just typing this made my head hurt and glad again that Balblair has now moved to regular age-stated whiskies (though given the jump in price the occasional headache may have been a good deal). This was matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks but my understanding is that the sherry is more pronounced. On the one hand, the last sherried Balblair I had—this 10 yo—did not do very much for me. But on the other, the last Balblair 1990 I had was from a single sherry cask—this 21 yo—and I really liked that one. Let’s hope that the shared vintage and general age makes this more likely to be on the level of its sibling. Continue reading
After Monday’s Old Crow, not-malt whisky week continues with the first of two cognacs that were bottled for the Facebook group, Serious Brandy. Serious Brandy was set up by Sku some years ago and has been his primary spirits focus since he regrettably shut down his blog in 2017. It’s a very good resource on brandy. Earlier this year Steve announced the group’s first exclusive pick. I should say picks, rather, as there were two of them: two casks of cognac sourced by the Pasquets (their own distillations are a bit younger). Not sure who the producer was but this is from the Petite-Champagne region and made from the ugni blanc grape. These are both casks that were filled in 1962 and bottled this year—making them 57 or 58 years old. At that age most malt whisky would long have turned into oak extract, but cognac takes to extreme aging a lot better. Cognac’s pricing for 58 year old spirit is also a lot better than whisky’s and so, despite having backed away from expensive whisky purchases a while ago, I decided to put my money down for a bottle of each of these. Orders were finally able to be placed in early August and after a few weeks of anxious waiting, the bottles were finally in hand last week. I’ve opened and tasted both a couple of times since arrival. Here now is my review of Cask 1. Continue reading
After a long run of peated malts let’s do a week of things that are not unpeated and which are also not in fact malt whisky. First up, a bourbon. This is a 1980s release of Old Crow. The current Old Crow release is a bottom-shelf mainstay and has not had a good reputation since Jim Beam purchased the brand from National Distillers in the 1980s. This sample, however, which came to me from the Artist Formerly Known as Sku, is from the pre-Beam National Distillers period. This is from one of several 375 ml releases from the era. Despite the foregoing, I know nothing about how old Old Crow was made then—I’m just hoping this will be a drinkable bourbon. Let’s see.
As I’ve noted before, the Lagavulin entrty is my favourite in Diageo’s Distillers Edition series. The extra few months in PX sherry casks complements the original spirit very well in my view. My ratings of the 1993-2009 and 1997-2013 releases, which are the previous ones I’ve reviewed (here and here), are appropriately high. This one is from a couple of years earlier still: it was distilled in 1991 and released in 2007. I’ll be shocked if I don’t like it a lot as well.
Lagavulin 1991, The Distillers Edition, 2007 Release (43%; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Big phenolic notes mixed in coastal notes (seashells, kelp). The sherry comes up from below with notes both sweet (raisins) and salty. The sweeter notes—including pipe tobacco now—come to the fore after a minute or two in the glass and then dominate. With more time there’s some citrus as well (orange peel). A few drops of water emphasize the fruit: apricot and fig now along with the orange peel. Continue reading
The week’s first review was of a 19 yo Caol Ila from a bourbon cask. That one was bottled by the Whisky Exchange in 2012. Here now is another Caol Ila bottled the year before by Douglas Laing in their Old Malt Cask series. This one is a fair bit older and is from a refill sherry hogshead. As much as I like bourbon cask Caol Ila, sherried Caol Ila—relatively rare as it is—can be very good indeed and the best ones are among the whisky world’s unalloyed pleasures. See, for example, this one and this one, both also from 1984 distillate. I am hopeful that this will be in the class of those. Let’s see if it is.
Caol Ila 27, 1984 (52.4%; Old Malt Cask; refill sherry hogshead; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Leafy smoke cutting through sherried notes of orange peel, raisins, pipe tobacco and pencil lead. On the second sniff there’s some charred pork and also a hint of savoury sulphur; the smoke is a bit sharper now. The coastal notes emerge as it sits (brine) but it’s not terribly phenolic. Softer with water with a bit of toffee emerging. Continue reading
Here’s a 19 yo Caol Ila bottled several years ago by the Whisky Exchange for their annual Whisky Show. That’s it, that’s the introduction.
Caol Ila 19 (55.9%; The Whisky Exchange for the Whisky Show, 2012; single bourbon cask; from my own bottle)
Nose: Ah yes, this is one of those “Port Ellen, who?” Caol Ilas. Lemon, oyster liquor, kelp, green olive brine, mineral smoke: it’s all here. A couple of minutes later there’s some ash and smouldering leaves mixed in with the mineral smoke, giving it a slightly bitter, vegetal quality. A few drops of water and it’s a mix of citronella, ash and vanilla-cream.
Palate: As predicted by the nose but with more phenols in the smoke and some sweeter notes as I swallow (vanilla). Gets more acidic as it sits and the leafy note from the nose begins to make its way to the palate as well. More acid with water—more preserved than fresh lemon now—and the phenols back off a bit (the ash doesn’t though). Continue reading
I started the month with a heavily-peated Islay that was a bit of a misfire (this year’s Cairdeas). Let’s continue with peated whisky but move on to the eastern highlands, to Ardmore who are not known for heavily peated whisky. Interestingly—and also worryingly—however, this particular 20 yo release was apparently finished in ex-Islay casks after an initial maturation in ex-bourbon casks. If these were casks from Laphroaig (possible given that Beam Suntory owns both distilleries) then there’s a good chance that the usual combination of mellow, peppery peat and fruit that characterizes the best Ardmores might get lost in a phenolic overlay. On the other hand, if the casks were ex-bourbon Bowmore casks—Bowmore being another Beam Suntory distillery—then that might actually be a good match. Let’s see how it goes. I’m a big fan of Ardmore, even though we don’t get very many opportunities to try their malt in the US, and I am hoping for the best. Continue reading
I look forward to the release of the Laphroaig Cairdeas every year, even though Laphroaig has not consistently been giving me very many reasons in recent years to look forward to it. I liked 2018’s Fino cask finish but last year’s Triple Wood CS and 2017’s Quarter Cask CS were acceptable but not at all special. The distillery seems to have got caught in an endless cycle of cask finishes; a far cry from 2011 and 2012 which saw them release excellent bourbon cask whiskies (neither of which, I realize, I’ve reviewed). And the only truly excellent Cairdeas since then—2015’s 200th anniversary release—was also from bourbon casks. But there’s no excitement in bourbon cask releases, I guess. Will next year be a rum cask? A marsala cask? Or will we see another Frankenwine release like this year’s (a vatting of port and wine casks)? Well, I suppose if the results taste good there’s no point complaining about the high-concept gimmickry. Let’s see if that is indeed the case. Continue reading
So far in August I’ve sandwiched two weeks of brandy and rum reviews between two weeks of single malt whisky reviews. Let’s close the month with a review of a release whose category identity is a little more ambiguous. The Amrut Naarangi—of which this is the 5th batch—is made in a complicated way. Amrut takes casks of sherry, adds Indian oranges to them and lets them macerate. The casks are then emptied, filled with Amrut’s spirit and allowed to mature for an unspecified period of time before it is bottled. In Scotland this could not be labelled whisky. Compass Box’s Orangerie—which is made in a similar manner—is officially a “whisky infusion”. In India, however, genre boundaries are looser—a lot of Indian whisky is, of course, technically rum—and so Naarangi is sold as a single malt whisky. Is this an outrage? I don’t know—a lot of contemporary sherry and wine cask whiskies taste to me like infusions made with far less care. The more interesting question is whether this is any good. Let’s see. Continue reading
Glenfarclas week started out with a 15 yo on Monday, which I thought was good but nothing very special. In the middle on Wednesday was a 21 yo that I thought was excellent. Let’s close the week out now with a 42 yo. This was distilled in 1970 and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider buying it when it was released by K&L back in 2012. 1970 is when I was distilled as well and I was on the lookout then for 1970 vintage whiskies to buy and stash for my 50th birthday. But the price was quite high—$500+, I think (and it got quite a bit higher later)—and given my general allergy to K&L’s marketing blather, I decided not to take the chance; especially, as I’d purchased this Tomatin 40, 1970 for quite a bit less for the same purpose a year prior. I then forgot about it until it showed up unexpectedly last month in a box of samples from Sku—also the source of Monday’s 15 yo. I’m very interested to find out now if I should have grit my teeth back then and paid the high tariff. Let’s see. Continue reading
Today’s Glenfarclas is a bit older than Monday’s in terms of age and a bit more still in terms of vintage. This was distilled in 1980 and bottled from a single cask for Filliers, who—as best as I can make out—are a Belgian concern. The cask is described as a “dark sherry cask”, which I assume means it had previously held oloroso sherry. Monday’s 15 yo also featured a big sherry profile but there the bigness seemed a little “engineered” to me—driven by active oak and tannins that covered up a lot of the fruit. This seems to me to happen a lot with heavily sherried whiskies these days. I have had similar complaints about a number of other sherry casks in recent years. Glenfarclas from the 1970s, however, has reliably been a lot fruitier (such, for example, is the excellent Glenfarclas 31, 1974, which I have not reviewed yet) and I am hoping that this one too will display a lot of fruit as part of the “dark” profile. Let’s see. Continue reading
It’s been a few weeks since I posted a whisky review. Last week’s booze reviews were all of rums (Caroni, Caroni, Worthy Park); and the week before focused on brandies (Lous Pibous, Dartigalongue, Copper & Kings). It’ll be whisky from now till the end of the month but I’m going to keep this week themed as well: it’ll be all releases of sherried whisky, and all from Glenfarclas. I’ll begin with this 15 yo and then go up in age with each review.
This particular release was bottled for the Whisky Exchange. I’m not sure if it was from a single cask and nor am I sure why no vintage is noted. I suppose it’s possible that it’s a vatting of at least 15 yo casks from a couple of different years, but that seems like a lot of trouble to go to and not mention or mine for marketing reasons. More likely, I’d guess, is that this is just TWE being idiosyncratic. They’ve released other whiskies too that bore no cask or vintage information (such was this Laphroaig 16). I’ve had my eye on this Glenfarclas for a while—almost pulling the trigger a couple of times when friends were coming over from London. The thought of a cask strength version of the excellent 15 yo that is not available in the US was enticing; but there’s no guarantee, of course, that a cask strength version of the 15 yo is what this amounts to. Will I regret that uncharacteristic restraint? Let’s see. Continue reading
On Monday I reviewed a Caroni 16, 1997. That was cask 87. Today I have a review of another Caroni 16, 1997. This one is cask 115. As per the source of both samples (the prodigiously bearded Michael K.), both casks were filled and bottled on the same dates, differing only slightly in outturn (270 bottles for #87, 258 for #115) and even more slightly in abv (#87 was at 55.1%). As you may remember, I really liked cask 87. Will this be as good? I hope so.
Caroni 16, 1997, Cask 115 (55.4%; Duncan Taylor; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Brighter off the bat than cask 87 with less caramel and more citrus (orange peel, lemon). On the second sniff the citrus moves in the direction of marmalade and there are some notes of toffee and butterscotch as well; a faintly smoky note as well. Less oak here as well than in cask 87 and it’s less herbal—at least at the start. With more air and time the citrus is still here but it ‘s now hard candy rather than marmalade it calls to mind. A few drops of water make it sweeter and push the herbal notes back further. Continue reading
First up is the first of two casks of Caroni 16, 1987 bottled by Duncan Taylor in 2014. Caroni is the highly-regarded distillery on Trinidad (now deceased) whose rums now fetch kings’ ransoms. These casks, however, were bottled for the US market and because the rum revolution among whisky drinkers hadn’t manifested itself yet in the US in 2014 they apparently hung around for a few years at fairly reasonable prices (sub-$100, I believe). I was among the whisky drinkers who wasn’t paying attention to rum then and so I had no idea. Luckily for me, Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls purchased bottles of both and recently sent me samples. He hasn’t reviewed them himself so I can’t pilfer his notes and change a few words as I usually do. I’ve previously reviewed a 15 yo which I liked but did not think was amazing. Let’s see if I like this one better. Continue reading
Let’s round out brandy week with yet another sample from Sku, who appears to be trolling me with yet another rather sober sample bottle label. Unlike Monday’s Lous Pibous and Wednesday’s Dartigalongue, however, this is not an armagnac but an American brandy. This is from the upstart Copper & Kings distillery in Kentucky. It was bottled last year to mark their fifth anniversary. I’m not sure if it has any of their own distillate in it but I believe the vatting contains some of the very first sourced brandy they released. As with a number of their releases this has the name of a song slapped on it; in this case, “A Song for You”—whether the Leon Russell or the Donny Hathaway version, I’m not sure (or it could be the Carpenters or Cher or Willie Nelson too, I suppose). I have to say I’ve not been terribly convinced by the few Copper & Kings brandies I’ve had so far (see here for my review of the Butchertown Brandy and here for my review of their pear brandy). Maybe I’ll like this one more. I hope so. Continue reading
Okay, it’s not clear if more than three people are still reading my whisky reviews so let’s do a week of brandy. First up, a Lous Pibous from armagnac indie darlings, L’Encantada. I’m no armagnac maven—and nor do I follow these releases closely—but Lous Pibous seems to be the big name among actual armagnac mavens. A number of casks of Pibous have made it to the US in recent years, showing up as exclusives at various stores around the country. And since they’re all (?) single casks they inspire the kind of devotional comparative assessment that you can only expect from whisky geeks—which is basically what all the new brandy mavens in the US started out as. What’s the point of drinking something, they seem to say, if you can’t do a line-up of 12 sibling casks and rank them vis a vis one another? This particular single cask was not bottled by a store but was a personal selection by a member of a brandy club, I think. Or at least so Sku—who is the source of the sample with an uncharacteristically legible label—told me. I believe it has a very strong reputation. I’ve previously reviewed a few other L’Encantada Pibous—including two more 1996s (here and here)—and if this is as good as those I’ll be pleased. Let’s see if it is. Continue reading