This was Ardbeg’s 2019 Feis Ile release. I have to admit I stopped paying attention to Ardbeg some years ago. The 10 year old is still an Islay classic and my last bottles of the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan were very good too (albeit neither were anywhere close to being recent releases), but most of the noise emanating from the distillery—or rather from its owners—has seemed for a while to be in the service of high-concept silliness. I thought 2018’s Feis Ile release, the Grooves, was fairly ordinary. Why then am I reviewing the 2019 release? Well, largely because in theory at least bourbon cask Ardbeg finished in rum casks does not seem like a bad idea. (Of course, they say they’ve “rested” their spirit in rum casks; unlike all those other distilleries who make their spirit ride treadmills and run marathons in finishing casks.) Will the reality of this whisky in fact match up with that theoretical promise? Only one way to find out. Continue reading
Glendronach—the distillery that understands the word “single” in a manner different from the rest of us—is almost entirely associated with sherry cask-matured whisky. Very little non-sherried Glendronach ever seems to make out into the world, but some does from time to time. This cask is one of them. However, it is not likely to be one that can give me a sense of what Glendronach’s spirit is like away from the heavy influence of sherry that has become their calling card. This because not only is it not a sherry cask, it is a virgin oak cask, and chances are always good with virgin oak casks that the oak—not yet tamed by serial maturations of whisky—will be very talkative if not entirely overpowering. Let’s see if that proves to be the case here. Continue reading
Here is my first and quite possibly last review of a whisky from a Dutch distillery. It was distilled at the small Zuidam distillery. The distillery started up in the mid-1970s. A family-run concern it operates on a very small scale, making gin, genever, rum and whisky in a pot-still. Whisky has been produced at the distillery since the mid-1990s. They currently put out a handful of single malt releases from 5-14 years of age from a number of different cask types, and a 100% rye whisky. The rye is said to be at least 8.5 years old but as per the source of this sample, Florin—stunt double for Lionel Richie in the “Dancing on the Ceiling” video—this particular release was an 11 yo, distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2015. It was matured entirely in new American oak casks, which continues to be the norm for the Millstone rye. Perhaps to stick with the “100” branding they also bottle this at 50% abv. I remember when this first came on the market in the middle of the decade. I was very tempted to buy a bottle but for one reason or the other never got around to it. Florin sent me the sample in 2016 and as is my wont I promptly forgot about it as well. But I recently dug it out and here, finally, are my notes. This is not an entirely irrelevant review, however: Millstone rye appears to now be available in the US. Continue reading
Last month I reviewed an older Benriach that was released in 2016 as part of the distillery’s 13th batch of single cask releases. I thought that one—an oloroso finish applied to whisky made from a peated run—was fine but nothing very special. This Benriach was also part of Batch 13 and is also a sherry finish, though PX this time; it is not, however, made from peated barley. I note that there was a Glendronach-style outturn of 670 bottles at a high strength. I’d guess multiple hogsheads were re-racked into a PX puncheon for a short time, making this a Glendronach-style “single cask”. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad whisky though. Let’s see what it’s like.
Benriach 18, 1998, PX Sherry Finish (57.3%; Batch 13, cask 6401; from a bottle split)
Nose: Rich sherried nose with plums, hoisin sauce and then some perfumed wood. The wood is more assertive on the second sniff—spicier and oakier now; the red fruit expands too, getting a touch cough syrupy. Water pushes both the richer notes and the spicy oak back and pulls out some pencil lead. With a lot more water there’s a mild, pleasant note of orange and a tiny bit of oak. Continue reading
In early May I reviewed a Longrow 13, 2003 from a single first-fill sherry cask. I found that one to be marred by a little too much sulphur but not irredeemably so. Here now is a sherried 14 yo Longrow from the same year but this one is from refill casks and a whole bunch of them: the total release of this whisky comprised 9000 bottles (not an unusual number for Springbank). So probably about 18 or 19 butts. That should theoretically allow for an averaging that guards against any major flaws. Let’s see if that turns out to be so.
Longrow 14, 2003 (57.8%; refill oloroso sherry cask; from a bottle split)
Nose: Uh oh, a mix of rubber and sour, yeasty notes. Some more pleasant sherry aromas lurk beneath (toffee, orange peel) but are completely dominated. Gets quite salty quite quickly. As it sits the sulphurous notes subside a bit. A few drops of water knock them back further and pulls out more salt along with cocoa and roasted nuts (hazelnuts, almonds). Continue reading
Could it be that the fate of the Breaker of Chains on Game of Thrones was signaled by spirits behemoth, Diageo? You see, as part of their Game of Thrones whisky marketing gimmick they matched House Targaryen with the Cardhu distillery. The natural pairing would have been with the one highly smoky whisky in the lineup; but that Lagavulin was given to House Lannister who really should have been paired with this release of Cardhu Gold. As it happens, House Lannister survived the ending of Game of Thrones while Daenerys Targaryen’s corpse was probably dropped into the sea when Drogon absent-mindedly flexed his claws mid-flight. Her heel turn prior to her demise shocked a lot of people—it had been signaled but not properly developed on the show—but we should have seen it coming, No house is going to rule a continent that has as its namesake whisky an artificially coloured malt from a minor distillery bottled at 40%. Daenerys Targaryen deserved a better arc on Game of Thrones and a better whisky too. All men must die, as that cheerful Valyrian saying goes, but it does not follow that all men must drink mediocre whisky while still among the living. Continue reading
So, Game of Thrones is done. No matter how you feel about Daenerys Targaryen, I can’t help feel she deserved to go out better than Roose Bolton. I mean the magic was strong with her: she was able to project her voice so that people hundreds and hundreds of feet away were able to hear her over the neighing of horses. And then she got stabbed by a guy who couldn’t be trusted to take his sword into a guarded cell but could apparently walk up to the queen with multiple stabby weapons with no guards present. Oh yes, SPOILER ALERT!
I was expecting to have the review right after the series finale be of the House Targaryen whisky but I’ve decided instead to go with House Tully, in honour of Erdmure Tully who re-emerged right on cue to be embarrassed again. House Tully is a dull, dull house and fittingly Diageo have matched them with Glendullan, a dull, dull distillery. I know I always say that every distillery is capable of producing great whiskies but I’m not sure anyone has ever had a great Glendullan. It would be a Game of Thrones level shocker if this turned out to be a great one but, alas, it is not. Oh yes, SPOILER ALERT! Continue reading
Once upon a time, and a very nice time it was, Glenlivet, one of the two most popular single malt brands in the world and consequently not too concerned with the small hardcore enthusiast market made a malt for that market anyway. This was the Nadurra. Matured in ex-bourbon casks for at least 16 years and released in batches, the Nadurra was the one Glenlivet that the small hardcore enthusiast market was enthusiastic about. Naturally the distillery decided to fuck with a good thing and in 2014, or thereabouts, they dropped the age statement and introduced an oloroso version of the Nadurra, and then later a peated version. Well, to be frank it’s not just the distillery that’s responsible for this turn of events; it’s also whisky geeks who fetishize heavily sherried and peated malts. The Glenlivet brain trust probably thought this was what the cool kids wanted: Aberlour A’bunadh and Glenfarclas 105 and all that. And for all I know, the cool kids have indeed been buying these new Nadurras and proving the brain trust right. I’d meant to try the oloroso version myself when it first came out but never got around to it and then forgot about it. But now thanks to a bottle split I finally get to try one of the early releases, from 2015. Will it make me regret not having gotten aboard right away? Let’s see. Continue reading
On Wednesday I had a review of an 11 yo Orkney/Highland Park bottled at a ludicrous strength of 63.7%. Here now is a review of an 11 yo Deanston bottled at an even more ludicrous strength of 64.7%. I have to admit I have never understood the appeal of whisky bottled at such strengths—they are almost always too hot, in my experience, and there is not one that I have not found improved radically by bringing it down closer to 55% or less. This is also true of bourbon, a category in which you see these strengths more often, and whose aficionados tend to be more committed to drinking at full strength. To each their own, I suppose, but my recent experiences of young, high strength Scotch whisky is beginning to make me wonder if bottlers are not making a bet that a very high strength may be a selling point in and of itself; a sort of whisky machismo mixed in with notions of cask strength “purity”. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
I guess this has de facto turned into a sherried whisky month—all my reviews save for that of the Loch Lomond 12 have been of whiskies from sherry casks of one kind or the other. Might as well keep that going. Like Monday’s Ballechin 12, this too was released as an exclusive for the Whisky Barrel, and I got this sample as part of the same larger bottle split. This is an Orkney 11 yo, or an indie Highland Park—it seems like new indie releases of Highland Park mostly bear the Orkney nomenclature these days; and I think I read recently that Highland Park may even be cracking down on indie bottlings altogether—shame if that’s true. Anyway, I suppose it’s possible that an Orkney cask could also be from Scapa. But since I know less about these matters than most, I will go along with the notion that Orkney=Highland Park in the indie market unless there is info to the contrary. I was particularly interested in this one as it’s from a PX sherry hogshead (presumably not full matured) and I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those. Continue reading
Is this my first review of a whisky from the Speyside distillery? I believe it is. And I believe it is also the first (and only) whisky I’ve ever tasted from the Speyside distillery—it was only founded in 1990 and its first single malt release was in 1999. My only other exposure to anything related to this distillery is the independent bottler, Scott’s Selection: the Scott of Scott’s Selection, Robert Scott, was Master Blender at the Speyside distillery. I’m not entirely sure but I think Scott’s Selection—which I think is now defunct—was in fact a property of Speyside, which means that they are one of few distilleries that also operate as independent bottlers. Bruichladdich/Murray McDavid and Benromach/Gordon & MacPhail are few of the others that come to mind as similar examples, past and present, though Bladnoch under Raymond Armstrong is probably the nearest analogue. Doubtless there are others (please write in below). The distillery also produces the Drumguish and Cu Dubh brands. Continue reading
Last month I reviewed the Bowmore 15 “Golden & Elegant”, one of the three age-stated whiskies that make up Bowmore’s recent’ish revamp of their travel-retail line (I guess given how many of the whiskies sold in airports cost more there than they do on the high street the companies feel self-conscious about using the term “duty free”). This 10 yo is the youngest in the line. The name “Dark & Intense”—I assume they named it after me—indicates the different composition of this release. Where the “Golden & Elegant” is a vatting of first-fill bourbon casks, this is a vatting of Spanish oak sherry casks. In theory that should be very good news. Bowmore from sherry casks can be very good indeed and I’ve had some very nice intensely sherried ones of this general age—see this 11yo and this slightly older 13 yo; the official Devil’s Casks 1st Ed. and 2nd Ed.—both also 10 year olds—were pretty good too. Unlike those, or even the Golden & Elegant, however, this is only at 40%. Will it be as good as its 15 yo sibling? Let’s see. Continue reading
Yesterday I had a report on my recent visit to Aberlour. Today I have a review of their 10 yo whisky. I believe this is their current entry-level malt. It’s been a long time since I last tasted this whisky*, which comprises spirit married in bourbon and sherry casks and is generally fairly priced. Well the 10 yo was part of the tasting at the end of the tour as well, but I didn’t taste it then, as I was driving after. The sample I took away didn’t make much of an impression but it was a very small pour—much too small for a review. But as luck would have it the friend we stayed with in London for a few days after our Scotland trip had a bottle open and so I tried it a couple of times and wrote my notes up. Here they are.
*Potential correction: this may actually have been my first time trying this whisky. I think it’s the Aberlour 12 that’s more widely available in the US and that I’d last tried some years ago. Continue reading
Here’s another widely available official release. And it’s not expensive either. The Legacy is Tomatin’s current entry-level malt made from ex-bourbon and virgin oak matured spirit. It comes without an age statement because numbers are meaningless except on a price tag. There’s a rumour that this is not very much older than the legal minimum 3 years, which seems like an odd thing to tie the word “legacy” to; or more accurately, it’s more evidence for the proposition that when you see a whisky with a word like “legacy” on its label it’s likely to be very young. To be fair, Tomatin does have five age-stated whiskies in their range (most very fairly priced); there is also another NAS release, the Cask Strength, which I have not tried; and they’re not trying to charge the earth for this one either.
I did not purchase these minis. These were handed out to us at the end of our excellent tour of Tomatin in mid-June in lieu of the tasting portion of the tour—which we skipped on account of having to drive back to Edinburgh, and also because we don’t drink at 11 am (a philosophy not subscribed to by some of the others who were on the tour who’d clearly been drinking since well before 11). I’ll have a detailed account of that tour next month; here now are my notes on this whisky. Continue reading