It has been almost nine months, apparently, since I last reviewed an American whiskey. To make up for that I’m going to make this a week of bourbon reviews. First up, a sample of Heaven Hill’s 6 yo Bottled in Bond release that I got from Michael K. a couple of years ago and have never gotten around to opening. Of course my timing is perfect as it turns out that this whiskey has been discontinued. Or to be more accurate, the 6 yo has been discontinued and is being replaced by a marginally older whiskey that will cost a lot more. This one did not cost much at all, as it happens, being available for not very much than $10 for a long time. On the other hand, it was never easy to get outside of Kentucky—I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a bottle on a shelf. It’s always had a good reputation though and so I’m pleased to finally get to taste, even if I will never get to taste it again, leave alone buy a full bottle, if I like it a lot. Continue reading
I reviewed the (then) new Ben Nevis 10 early last year and really liked it. In fact, I asked—largely rhetorically—if it was the best entry-level malt whisky on the market (and it was very fairly priced too). In response it promptly went off the market. The distillery apparently ran out of stocks that would have allowed them to continue to make it to the same specifications—there’s an account of this in a review on Whiskybase or you could take a look at Michael K.’s recent review which summarizes matters. Rather than go completely off the market the distillery formulated this one-off cask strength release, which is a vatting of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-wine casks. And it is a vintage release from 2008 distillate. Since then the regular 10 yo has indeed come back on the market. This is good news, but it must be said that I have not read any reviews of the new release and am therefore only hopeful that it will be very similar, if not identical to the batch I really liked. This cask strength release I can tell you—spoiler alert—I don’t like as much, I opened it not too long after buying the bottle some months ago and thought it was just okay. I then took it to one of my local group’s tastings and it did quite well there. The bottle has since sat at below the halfway mark for a couple of months—I’m curious to see if it has improved further. Continue reading
Here’s another 2019 Campbeltown release. I’ve previously reviewed the Springbank 21 and the new Kilkerran Heavily Peated. I liked the Springbank a lot, the Kilkerran less so, but neither got me very interested in purchasing a bottle: the KIlkerran because it just wasn’t very interesting, the Springbank because it’s way too expensive for what it is. Next week I’ll have a review of the Longrow 18 released at the same time. Here now is the fourth from the stable: a Hazelburn, the triple-distilled, unpeated whisky distilled at Springbank. I’ve not had very many Hazelburns before and I don’t recall having had a heavily sherried one. And that is what this is: a large batch of 9900 bottles from oloroso sherry casks. As to whether they were full-term or only partially matured in the sherry casks, I do not know. If you do, please write in below. I’m interested to see what this is like at any rate. Let’s get right to it. Continue reading
On Tuesday I reviewed the 2019 release of the Springbank 21. Here now is another recent Campbeltown release: a new NAS heavily peated whisky from Kilkerran. I don’t really pay attention to whisky news anymore and so I had no idea that this had been in the works. Like most optimistic idiots I’d assumed that once Kilkerran aged their stocks up they’d be putting out whiskies with age statements. And given how good the 2016 release of the Kilkerran 12 was I’d assumed they were just continuing on that path. But here’s a heavily peated NAS release. What is the impetus for this? To capture some more of the heavily peated market? Doesn’t the NAS Longrow already aim to do that for the group? I do hope they’re not going to do a Kilchoman-like pivot to a series of NAS malts. They put out an 8 yo at cask strength not too long ago; I’m assuming this one is a year or two younger than that. And that one I thought was rather unremarkable. That doesn’t seem to bode well for this. But the proof will be in the glass. Let’s see. Continue reading
You think watching the last season of Game of Thrones was hard? You should have tried watching the last season of Game of Thrones *and* reviewing all eight of Diageo’s Game of Thrones malts. Sure, only a couple have been completely dull but only a couple so far have been better than decent (the Lagavulin and the Clynelish). Nor have very many of the pairings made much sense: House Lannister (built on gold mines) got the smoky Lagavulin while the dragon-riding Targaryens got the Cardhu Gold. The Night’s Watch being assigned Oban makes very little sense as well. The Night’s Watch is at the very north of the known world of Westeros; shouldn’t they have been matched with one of the northernmost distilleries? If you ask me, House Stark should have been given Glen Ord or Teaninich instead of Dalwhinnie (which should have gone to House Tyrell), and the Night’s Watch should have got Clynelish. I’m upset about this because none of it matters. On to the whisky. Continue reading
Longrow, as you know, is the name of the more heavily peated malt made by Springbank (there are other differences in the production process as well). Most of the bourbon cask Longrows—or ex-bourbon heavy releases—I’ve had have been very good, and those are most of the Longrows I’ve had. Indeed, it has been a long time since I’ve had a Longrow matured in sherry casks, and I don’t think I’ve reviewed any on the blog. I have reviewed a couple of wine cask Longrows, however. I did not care very much for the 14 yo Burgundy Wood release from 2012 or so which had a bit too much sulphur for my taste. I liked the 11 yo port cask Longrow Red better. Of course, none of this may have any bearing on this single first fill sherry cask which was bottled for the German market. The general stereotype (fact?) goes that German drinkers in general are fairly sulphur-positive or at least more so than most others. Will this cask play to that (possible) preference? Let’s see. Continue reading
You’d think that if you had a dragon stuck with a crossbow bolt in one battle, and another taken out by an all-world javelin thrower in another, you’d spend a bit of time thinking about your aerial strategy, but I guess there hasn’t been a flight combat school in the world of Game of Thrones for a long time. Anyway, this is not the House Targaryen whisky I’m writing about today, it’s the House Baratheon whisky. I swear I had this scheduled before it turned out there was going to indeed be a new Baratheon lord.
Well, I’ve complained about the distilleries selected for the Game of Thrones selections not really matching up with the houses in the books and show (a smoky whisky for House Lannister instead of the one that has gold in its name, a mild whisky for dour House Stark) but the Baratheon selection does fit as well as the Greyjoy/Talisker selection. There’s the fact that Robert Baratheon is as close as we’ve had to a legitimate monarch in the series; and also House Baratheon is a small upstart house and Lochnagar is the smallest distillery in Diageo’s portfolio (or one of the smallest anyway). Lochnagar was also destroyed before being rebuilt some years later and it seems the same is happening with the Baratheons. But how about the whisky? Is it anything Robert Baratheon would have wanted to get drunk on? Let’s see. Continue reading
My third Game of Thrones whisky review is of the House Greyjoy release, a Talisker. I am posting it today in honour of the passing of Theon Greyjoy (spoiler alert!), one of the few interesting characters on Game of Thrones over the course of the series—the only others, in case you’re wondering, were/are Sansa Stark, Roose Bolton and Tywin and Jaime Lannister (I am happy to have an argument about this in the comments).
This is one of the few distillery/House matches this series got right. House Greyjoy rules the Iron Islands and Skye is an island, and both are on the west coast; plus the peaty austerity of Talisker fits well with the dour nature of the Iron Islanders. That’s where the similarities end though: Talisker usually makes highly enjoyable whisky whereas, Theon aside, the rape-Vikings of the Iron Islands are a huge drag both in the tv show and especially in the books where they—along with Ramsay Bolton—carry the weight of George R.R. Martin’s near-pornographic obsession with sexual violence and torture. Yes, we get it, George, real knights and ladies were assholes. Continue reading
Following the second episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, here is my second review of Diageo’s Game of Thrones whiskies (here’s the first). This is the House Stark malt. You’d think a family from a region known for its dour character would get a more austere whisky but no, the House Stark malt is from Dalwhinnie, a distillery known for producing mild, inoffensive whiskies (think House Tyrell or House Tully). What should they have gotten? Probably Teaninich or Glen Ord (further north in the Highlands still than Dalwhinnie). Will this whisky have more development than we’ve seen in the plot of the first two episodes of the season? I can only hope. Don’t get me wrong, both episodes have been enjoyable, the second more so than the first; but with so much story still out there, and only four episodes left, it felt a bit maddening to not get very much more than yet more table setting. I’m guessing the battle of Winterfell and its aftermath will take up two episodes, leaving one for dealing with Cersei and co. and one for the overall aftermath. Which feels somewhat rushed. Well, I guess George R.R. Martin is mostly to blame. If he’d managed to put out just one more book in the last eight years we would have been save the oddly compressed structure of the last two seasons of the show. Anyway, let’s hope this whisky has better structure. Continue reading
Over the last decade and more Gordon & MacPhail have bottled a number of multi-cask vattings of 10-11 yo Caol Ila, many of them from sherry casks. Most have been well-received. I’ve liked most of the few I’ve had (see, example, this 10 yo, 1996), though there also have been some duds (see this 11 yo, 2000). I think this one, bottled in 2016, before Gordon & MacPhail’s livery changed, may be the first I’ve had from a vatting of four casks. I always wonder when something like this is released if one or two casks in the vatting might not have needed salvaging. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you: a cask that might not be very interesting on its own can still work very well in a vatting, accentuating positive notes or even helping damp down some overbearing ones (anyone who has done a lot of home vatting knows this). The odd thing here is that these are said to have all been first-fill sherry butts but this is a rather light-coloured whisky. All American oak butts that held fino or manzanilla? Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
From Cognac to rum. This is another K&L selection and another sample from Sku. I know only a little more about rum than I do about Cognac and so I can tell you that Bellevue is a distillery in Guadeloupe (a word that is very hard to spell late at night) but I cannot tell you very much more than that. This was also bottled by Hunter Laing in their Golden Devil series—I think that’s the name used for their Kill Devil line in the US (is that because there’s an American producer named Kill Devil?). Anyway, I know nothing about the characteristics of Guadeloupean rum and so am curious to see what this is like. Let’s find out.
Bellevue 19 (59.7%; Golden Devil; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: A little blank at first but then there’s a pretty standard if muted dark rum profile laced with aniseed and an herbal character (sage?). As it sits it begins to open up with more caramel. Let’s see what water does. Not very much really—no interesting change to report. Continue reading
Last week I had a review of a K&L exclusive Bowmore that I rather liked. May as well take that as a spur to do a week of reviews of K&L exclusives. And as that Bowmore was a bottle recommended by Sku, I might as well make it a week of K&L exclusives that I received samples of from Sku. First up is a Cognac. I know very little about Cognac—as I’ve said before—and so I cannot tell you anything about Duodognon (presumably the producer). I do know that the Napoleon designation means that the brandy is at least six years old. However, I cannot tell you why this is called Duodognon Napoleon II, though I’d guess the prosaic answer is that this is the second Duodognon Napoleon bottled by/for K&L. This was issued in 2016. Sku reviewed it then and seemed to like it: he said it was “nice” and he must have thought so: the review contains more than 10 words, a rarity for Sku. Anyway, I am looking forward to trying a younger Cognac, the two others I’ve reviewed so far having been a lot older. Continue reading
The shape of this bottle tells you that this is not a current release from Tomatin. This harks back to a simpler time when Tomatin’s core portfolio consisted of three straightforward and very fairly priced malts: a 12 yo (one of the great values in malt whisky back in the day), this 15 yo and the 18 yo. In recent years, however, there’s been a big overhaul. The bottles have become more squat, and presumably more premium, in shape and the line has expanded drastically. While the 12 yo and the 18 yo made it into the revamped line, the 15 yo—matured in refill bourbon casks—has been dropped. Instead there’s now a 14 yo matured in a combo of bourbon and port casks. (I have not had that one—if you have an opinion on its merits, please share it below.) The old 15 yo—and it’s not that old as is evidenced by the rectangular label—can still be found in the US, however, and sometimes even at the old reasonable price not far above $40. And so this review is not as pointless as you thought. Joke’s on you. Continue reading
The Highland Park 12 was one of the first whiskies I fell in love with when I started in on single malt whisky. Of course, that was many years and many bottle designs ago. Even though I have included it on both editions of my “Well-Rounded Single Malt Bar” lists, I have to admit that I had lost touch with it for a few years now. I reviewed it in 2014 back before the distillery had doubled down on its alleged Viking heritage (see the discussion in the comments on my write-up of my visit to the distillery last June to see how much this pivot bothers some people). Since then it’s been relaunched in a fancy new bottle with a slightly new name: it’s now the Viking Honour. I guess we have the honour of the Vikings to thank for the preservation of the age statement. Well, okay, that’s a cheap shot: while the distillery has indeed launched a number of NAS whiskies with Viking names it must be said that they’ve preserved their age-stated line and even delivered the occasional age-stated one-off (see the Full Volume). Anyway, I purchased this bottle on sale last year and opened it for a charity auction tasting friends asked me to host last month. I was curious to see what I would make of it—there’s been a lot of talk online about how it has gone completely downhill. Of course, with distilleries like Highland Park it is hard to separate people’s views of the whiskies from their views of their marketing. I liked my first pour at the event but wasn’t paying very close attention. I am now. Continue reading