Brora 30, 5th Release


Inside this very ratty sample bottle—a recycled 50 ml mini that originally held god knows what—is a whisky with a very high reputation from a legendary distillery. The 5th release of the Brora 30 came out in 2006—almost 25 years after the distillery was closed—and the whisky illuminati rate it very highly. As a blogger of the people I have not had very many of these special release Broras—or very many Broras at all—and so I am not going to be able to offer any insight into its quality relative to the others (I think the only other that I’ve reviewed is the 6th release, which has the same abv—my bottle of which I am still nursing).

As you may know, Diageo has recently revived Brora (and Port Ellen). Construction was ongoing when I was at Clynelish briefly in June. I have no idea what the nature of the whisky produced there will be, and I doubt very many people will be able to compare it to whisky of similar age made at the distillery before it closed, and certainly from its heyday in the 1970s. And it’s going to take a long time for the new production to get to the age of the releases that made its reputation long after it closed. Alas, I will not be around to taste 30 yo whisky from the revived Brora. I can still taste this though.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 28, 1987 (Maltbarn)


I reviewed a 28 yo Auchroisk earlier this week. Today’s whisky is the same age but we go south and west to Islay, to Bunnahabhain, and one year in the past, to 1987.

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Bunnahabhain. Coincidentally, the last one I reviewed was also a 28 yo and also from a sherry cask. That was distilled in 1989 and was bottled last year by K&L in California under their Faultline label. I quite liked it. In theory, this 28 yo, distilled in 1987, should be better as it was bottled by an outfit with a much better reputation, the German independent, Maltbarn—no longer the upstart they once were. This was their 43rd release and I suspect only a bit of the cask was bottled for it. This because there were only 89 bottles in this release and two years later they put out 88 bottles of a 30 yo, 1987 at a very similar abv. In fact, I now wonder if the 121 bottles of the 26 yo, 1987 they’d put out in 2014 was the first release from this cask (similar abv again), and if there’s more being saved for another older release. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but I’ll keep an eye out for more 1987 Bunnahabhains from Maltbarn.  Continue reading

Auchroisk 28, 1988 (Malts of Scotland)


Let us continue with this series of older whiskies. And following last week’s Tomatin 25, Caperdonich 27 and Ben Nevis 27, let’s stick with the “distilleries known for fruity whisky” theme. Like the Tomatin and the Ben Nevis, this Auchroisk was a recent release, and like the Tomatin it was distilled in 1988 and bottled by Malts of Scotland.

Auchroisk continues to not have much of a reputation, which means that independent releases of its whisky can be had for reasonable prices (there’s not much by way of official releases beyond the occasional inclusion in Diageo’s annual special release rosters; well, I guess there’s a “Flora & Fauna” release as well, but I don’t know how regular that is). I’ve not had so very many Auchroisks but have liked most of the ones I’ve had quite a lot, precisely on account of their fruity nature, especially past the age of 20. This 24 yo from Binny’s, in particular, stands out for its exuberant fruit, and I’m still kicking myself for not having got a second bottle. I liked this 27 yo (also from 1988 but bottled by Cadenhead) as well, but it was not quite as much of a fruit bomb. Let’s see where this one falls.  Continue reading

Ben Nevis 27, 1990 (Archives)


Continuing my miniseries of older whiskies (after Monday’s Tomatin 25 and yesterday’s Caperdonich 27), here is a Ben Nevis. Unlike the other two, it was released this year but, alas, this review is not very timely. I purchased the bottle from Whiskybase—who bottled it under their Archives label—a couple of months ago and waited a bit too long to open and taste it. After my first taste I raced back to their site to get another but it was gone. Yes, I liked it a lot. What is the other proof of this? Well, I’ve finished the bottle less than a month after I opened it. Also, I recently took it to a whisky gathering in St. Paul that featured some very heavy hitters (early 70s Ardbeg, early 80s Port Ellen and Caol Ila, late 70s Laphroaig 10 and so on) and it held its own. Lovers of fruity malts already know this, but the once dodgy Ben Nevis distillery is now one of our very best sources for exuberantly fruity whisky. Of course, as it’s Ben Nevis it’s got some funky notes mixed in but that’s part of the fun.  Continue reading

Caperdonich 27, 1974 (Old Malt Cask)


Caperdonichs of the late 1960s and early 1970s are celebrated for their fruitiness. The year 1972 is particularly fetishized by many whisky geeks. As I never get tired of pointing out, much of this has to do with the fact that there has always been far more Caperdonich 1972 available than from surrounding years. Why more should have survived from this year is hard to say but it’s the case. Just to update the numbers: Whiskybase currently has 79 listings for 1972 but only 24 for 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1975 combined (this includes 0 for 1973 and 1975). Given the scanty evidence about the whisky distilled and laid down in the years immediately before and after, there’s not much grounds for believing that there was something special about 1972; only that a lot of it somehow escaped being blended away and got matured to ripe old ages in the glut years that followed.

Here is a sample from a bottle of one of the few 1974 casks that survived. I received it in a sample swap some six years ago and forgot all about it. Hopefully, it hasn’t deteriorated in the sample bottle. Let’s see.  Continue reading

Tomatin 25, 1988 (Malts of Scotland)


Please excuse me as I start a small run of reviews of progressively older malts, few, if any, of which are still available. If I were Serge I’d post all of them together on one day and have another 27 over the new few days but I am a mere human.

First up is this Tomatin 25, bottled a few years ago by the German outfit, Malts of Scotland. Older Tomatin can be very good indeed. I rather liked the old Tomatin 25, a malt that—at 43% abv—probably never sent too many whisky geeks’ pulses racing. I liked even more this Tomatin 25, 1975 bottled by MacKillop’s choice. Even though late-80s Tomatin does not have the reputation of mid-70s Tomatin, I expect to like this one too as the aforementioned Serge’s review, as well as the tasting notes on Whiskybase, lead me to expect a very fruity whisky and that’s my favourite kind these days. Let’s see if reality matches expectations.  Continue reading

Karuizawa 13, 1997, “Spirit Safe”


Here’s a particularly pointless review to start the month. Japanese whisky as a category has been rather fucked for the last couple of years—and probably will be for more than a couple more. Very little is available, very little of that is worth buying, and what is worth buying is not worth buying at the prices being asked for them. (The one exception is the Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, which is now available in the US for a reportedly good price.) And in the general landscape of fucked Japanese whisky there is little as fucked as Karuizawa, the closed distillery all of whose remaining stock was purchased by a cartel that has figured out how to stoke and exploit an overheated market. For reference, the Whisky Exchange recently released a 29 yo and a 31 yo for £6000 each and you had to enter into a lottery for the privilege of making a fool of yourself by buying one. Then again, no one who is paying that amount of money for a single bottle of whisky is particularly concerned about money. Anyway, the Karuizawa I am reviewing today was released well before all this madness began: in 2010. I don’t know how much this cost then but back then you could purchase 28 yo Karuizawa from the Whisky Exchange for less than $200. I think this was bottled for Whisky Magazine Japan for OXFAM. There was another release that bore this “Spirit Safe” label that was a 19 yo. I have no idea what that was like but let’s see about this one.  Continue reading

Glen Keith 21, 1996 (Single Malts of Scotland)


Yesterday’s review of a Glen Keith 22, 1995 doubled my erstwhile total, taking it to an awe-inspiring two reviews. Today I multiply that by a further time and a half with my third ever Glen Keith review. Feel the mastery! This is a year younger than yesterday’s bottle and distilled a year later. It was released by the Whisky Exchange’s sister company, Elixir Distillers (the artists formerly known as Speciality Drinks) under their Single Malts of Scotland Label. It is stated as being from a sherry butt but the label also says that only 294 bottles were released. That’s a bit low for a sherry butt at 56.2%. You might wonder if it was in fact a sherry hogshead but in that case 294 bottles would be a bit high. The only explanation I can think of is that the cask was split with someone else and that Elixir Distillers has only listed the number of bottles their share yielded. (Or maybe they put the rest to some other use: conditioner for Billy Abbot’s beard?) Anyway, let’s get to the whisky!  Continue reading

Glen Keith 22, 1995 (Archives)


This seems to be only my second review of a whisky from the Glen Keith distillery in the Speyside (here’s the first). It used to be owned by Seagram and is now part of the Chivas/Pernod Ricard holdings, along with Strathisla, Aberlour, Scapa etc. But unlike those distilleries it’s not really known for single malt whisky  and its production has historically been earmarked for blends. Also unlike the previously named distilleries, Glen Keith is not open to the public, though it is in the heart of the Speyside. We drove past it on the way to Strathisla this June. Strathisla is, of course, Pernod Ricard’s show distillery and it is an accurate allegory of the neighbouring Glen Keith’s status that Strathisla’s new make used to be piped to to their grounds for filling (I’m not sure if it still is).

As always, it is through the independent bottlers that we get to taste whiskies from distilleries such as this. My review today is of an older Glen Keith bottled this year by the excellent folk of Whiskybase for their Archives label. This is from a single bourbon hogshead and is still available. Like the Signatory release linked above, this is also from the 1995 vintage. The distillery was mothballed in 1999, by the way, and only reopened in 2013 by Pernod Ricard. This means this was distilled by the previous owners. Pernod Ricard launched a NAS Glen Keith last year; it remains to be seen if they will put out an age-stated release once their own spirit comes of greater age.  Continue reading

Balblair 16


After three Ardmores in a row (here, here, and here), let’s go a little west and then north to Balblair (see here for my write-up of my brief visit to the distillery this summer). This isn’t any more of a timely review than the previous three, however. This 16 yo was phased out in the late 2000s when Balblair’s vintage releases started coming out. While I’ve liked the few of those vintages I’ve tried, I didn’t like them enough to keep trying each new release. And there’s not a whole lot of Balblair available from the independents, especially of late. As such, I’m more than a little out of touch with what the distillery has been doing in the last few years. I did always like the old 16 yo a lot though. I finished my last bottle some years ago but saved a reference sample from it. I’m looking forward to tasting it once more. By the way, as with some other malts that were/are bottled at 40% in the UK and Europe, the US version of the Balblair 16 was at 43%.  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

Ardmore Traditional


On Friday I had a review of an indie Ardmore 20 released some six years ago. Today I have a review of an official release. It’s not of much utility, however, as this Ardmore Traditional—the first official Ardmore to ever be widely released, about a decade ago—was discontinued some years ago (though stray bottles may still be hanging around in the US. It was replaced by another NAS malt at 40% abv by the name of Legacy. In the world of No Age Stated whisky, you see, the fancier the name gets, the crappier the whisky becomes. The Traditional, however, was not crappy despite being young and despite being made in a slightly complicated way with the whisky “finished” in quarter casks. As with all of Ardmore’s malt it is mildly peated. It used to be a very good deal in most American markets and I think I might have purchased my last bottle—from which this sample was saved—for less than $30 in the Twin Cities. The Legacy runs about $40, which is not terribly high in this market but I’ve also not read any reviews of it that have made me want to try it. The Traditional, by the way, was brought back by the owners a few years ago as just Tradition, but for the travel retail market—though it appears to be available more widely in the UK. I’m not sure how much it goes for; maybe I’ll keep an eye out for it while traveling to Hong Kong and India this winter. Anyway, here are my notes on the Traditional as it once was—this bottle is probably from the 2012 release or so.  Continue reading

Ardmore 20, 1992 (Archives)


My whisky reviews have been flirting with relevance this month. I’ve reviewed widely available official releases (Cragganmore 12, Wild Turkey 101 Rye), independent releases that are still available (the Archives Aberlour and Orkney releases), and an official release that can still be found in some places in the US (the Springbank 13 Green). Lest my reputation be ruined I am going to slide in the other direction for the next few reviews.

First up, an independent Ardmore released in 2012. This too was bottled by the Whiskybase shop under their Archives label. It was released at a time when there were a number of indie 1992 Ardmores on the market. I think this has led to 1992 being proclaimed a special year for the distillery—though again it would appear that it is merely a year from which a lot of whisky is available for people to generalize about: Whiskybase lists 11 Ardmores from 1991, 7 from 1993 and 10 from 1994. Meanwhile, there are 73 listings from 1992. It would appear that a major parcel of casks from that year survived in a warehouse somewhere (most of Ardmore goes into the Teacher’s blend).  Continue reading

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, Cleveland Bourbon Club Selection


Last week I reviewed a Wild Turkey rye and here now is a Wild Turkey bourbon. Russell’s Reserve is the brand name they use for their higher-end releases. There are currently two regular releases of bourbon under the Russell’s Reserve label—one a 10 yo bottled at 45% and one a single barrel release at 55%. Similarly there’s a 6 yo Russell’s Reserve Rye at 45% and a single barrel version at 52%. What the exact distinction is between the whiskey bottled as Russell’s Reserve and under Wild Turkey’s various other labels, I’m not sure but I’m sure somebody will be along shortly to fill in my ignorance. This particular single barrel is from a further subset of Russell’s Reserve’s single barrel program: it’s one of many private barrel selections they’ve bottled for stores and clubs. This one was selected by an outfit called the Cleveland Bourbon Club. I have no idea who they are but they’ve bottled a number of bourbons, including three Russell’s Reserve single barrels. As per the sample label from my source, the indomitable Michael K., this was from barrel 93 and at 55%. However, on the club’s website, barrel 93, which appears to be their first Russell’s Reserve selection (you have to look at the picture), is listed at 113 proof. As to whether the Michael or the website is in error, I am not sure. Anyway, as per their site this is 8 years old.  Continue reading