Balblair 2003, First US Release

So few Balblairs reviewed on this blog. It’s almost as though I have something against Balblair. But I assure you that this is not true. I am pro-Balblair; while I could not say that some of my best friends are Balblairs (I barely even know any people named Blair), I am certainly Balblair-positive. Which is not to say that I have been infected by Balblair, merely that I am positively inclined towards Balblair. Why is this? you ask. Well, I cannot say. It’s not the case that I’ve had any Balblairs that have made me want to rhapsodize (though I do have a sample of one from the mid-1960s that might fit that description). But their whiskies are always solid and they put vintages and age markers on them, and generally don’t engage in much marketing malarkey. I am hoping to stop at the distillery on our planned trip to Scotland in June, and may even attempt to convey my appreciation of these qualities to a befuddled distillery employee. But enough folly! What Balblair is this? It is a 11 or 12 yo from the 2003 vintage. The first US release, says the label from the industrious Michael K.—which leads me to believe that there may have been another twelve or seventeen releases since. Well, I don’t know if any of those have been any good but I will soon be able to tell you what I think of this one.  Continue reading

Tobermory 18, 1994 (Wilson & Morgan)

Let’s start the month with a review of a malt from a distillery that is probably one of the most acquired of tastes in all of whiskydom, and a taste that I have not yet quite managed to acquire: Tobermory. The two Tobermorys I’ve liked the most have both been from sherry casks (this 19 yo from The Whisky Exchange, and this much older one from Alambic Classique). I’ve not fared as well with ex-bourbon Tobermory, where the idiosyncrasies of the distillate really get a chance to shine. I’m not a fan of the official 10 yo and nor was I particularly enthused by the 17 yo from Glen Fahrn that I reviewed in January—though I did find things to like about it. (It’s a different story with their peated variant, Ledaig, which I’ve been getting more and more into in the last few years—both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon.)

Well, let’s see how this 18 yo goes.  Continue reading

Glenfarclas 1989-2013, The Family Casks (for Astor Wines)

Glenfarclas’ “Family Casks” series of single cask releases has a very strong reputation among whisky geeks. Here in the US, we see very few of them and so when I saw that Astor Wine in New York City had one as an exclusive bottling, I picked up a bottle. Distilled in 1989 and bottle in 2013 this is either 23 or 24 years old. It cost a fair bit more than the standard 25 yo but I rationalized the purchase given the higher abv and the general reputation of the Family Cask line. Of course, that reputation is largely based on the sherry casks that form of the majority of the series, and this one—though it doesn’t say so on the label—is from a bourbon cask. Still, I was looking forward to opening it, which I did about a year ago for one of my local group’s tastings. While some in the group really liked it, a few of us were unconvinced: the nose was very nice but it seemed over-oaked on the palate. I’d hoped that time and air would fix a lot of that. Let’s see if that’s happened a year later with lots of air and time.  Continue reading

Tamdhu 22, 1991 (Càrn Mòr)

After an Allt-a-Bhainne released in 2012 and an Old Pulteney released in 2014, let’s complete the trifecta of reviews of whiskies no one cares about with a Tamdhu released in 2013 or 2014. It’s also hard to know if anyone cares about Tamdhu in general. It’s certainly better known than Allt-a-Bhainne, having put out official single malts for some time now, and having relatively recently overhauled their branding in a premium direction; but I’m not sure when the last time was I heard or read anyone talking excitedly about Tamdhu. Of course, every distillery is capable of putting out great casks, and I have liked 75% of the Tamdhus I’ve reviewed a fair bit (the most recent I liked more after it “opened up” in the bottle after a few months. That was also—like this one—a first fill sherry cask, but about half the age and from a butt not a hogshead. 22 years in a sherry hogshead does seem a long time (unless it was only re-racked into the sherry hogshead for a shorter period at the end of the maturation period). Let’s hope this isn’t an oak bomb.  Continue reading

Tobermory 17, 1995 (Glen Fahrn)

I recently reviewed a bourbon cask Arran bottled by the German store Glen Fahrn. I was not a fan. In the hope that that was an aberration, I reached for another set of samples of Glen Fahrn. Now, you might say that Tobermory is not the best distillery on which to pin hopes of a turnaround, that maybe I should have picked the two 20 ml bottles of Miltonduff next to these instead. Unlike you, however, I choose to accentuate the  positive, and I will remind you that I quite liked the last Tobermory in its late teens—and from a proximate year—that I tried. But, you say, that was from a sherry cask and this is from a bourbon cask, and so more likely to flaunt Tobermory’s deviant character. All I can say in response is that you should be ashamed of yourself for throwing words like “deviant” around; it’s very judgmental of you and, frankly, suggests an alarmingly narrow view of the world. It’s people like you who make people like Florin (Tobermory Superfan #1) feel unwelcome and alone.  Continue reading

Kilkerran 8, CS

I don’t really keep up with whisky news any more and so I don’t really know much about how or why it is that Glengyle released this 8 yo Kilkerran last year. The only other age-stated Kilkerran I know of is the 12 yo (which I reviewed here) and so I’m not sure why they seem to have followed it up with a younger one—isn’t that what the Work in Progress series was for? I guess we should just be glad that they’re putting age statements on their new whiskies.

This is put together entirely from bourbon casks—and as I recall, I quite liked the last Work in Progress release I tried that was from bourbon casks and at cask strength. Let’s hope this one is as good (though it’s a bit younger than the other). I haven’t tried all the Work in Progress releases but I haven’t yet tried any Kilkerrans that I thought were less than good.  Continue reading

Ardbeg 10, 2016 Release

Three relevant whisky reviews in one week: who am I and what have I done with myself?

Like the Old Weller Antique, the Ardbeg 10 is not a special release. Unlike the Old Weller Antique, it’s actually available everywhere whisky is sold. Amid all the shenanigans that Ardbeg have gotten up to since they re-opened, their 10 yo has been the mainstay of their range, Unlike the Uigeadail and the Corryvreckan (which came later), there have not been many reports of changes in its character or even of decline. I’ve previously reviewed bottles from 2007 and 2009 and liked them a lot; more to the point, Serge V. gave the 2015 release 89 points. That should bode well, in theory, for this bottle which was released in 2016. By the way, it’s become much easier to read the bottle codes on Ardbeg bottles (see below): I don’t know how the Ardbeg obsessives are coping with the loss of their special codes.  Continue reading

Glendronach 20, 1994 (for Abbey Whisky)

It’s been more than two years since I’ve reviewed a Glendronach. That was a review of the 15 yo Revival, which was about to go on hiatus at the time. I’m not sure what the situation is with that or the 18 yo Allardice, especially as the distillery’s ownership has changed since then, with Billy Walker moving on to Glenallachie. I’m also not sure what the new ownership has been doing with Glendronach’s single cask program—I haven’t paid much attention to that either, having gotten slowly turned off the distillery as a whole since learning about their “single cask” shenanigans. I do have a bunch of single cask Glendronachs on my shelf, however—though I haven’t purchased any in the last couple of years—and my ambivalence about the distillery does not extend to refusing to open and drink or review them. This particular cask was bottled for Abbey Whisky, a British online store. I’ve previously reviewed another Glendronach exclusive to them—an oloroso cask—and it was that one that led me to purchase this one. I opened it at one of my friend Rich’s whisky gatherings up in the Twin Cities, and while a number of people there really liked it, I was not very convinced by it (and nor was he, I think). I’ve since taken it to my local tasting group’s most recent tasting as well and most people there loved it. I liked it a bit more on that occasion but not very much more. Continue reading

Glencadam 15

I’m still on the ex-bourbon trail. The last stop was at Clynelish in the Highlands. I’m still in the Highlands today but all the way over in the east—past the Speyside—at Glencadam. The distillery is owned by Angus Dundee—who also own Tomintoul in the Speyside—and is on no one’s list of the greatest Scottish distilleries. What this means is that their whisky is still quite reasonably priced: even after recent increases, their 10 yo (which I quite like, though I have not yet reviewed it) is available for £35 in the UK and this 15 yo is currently going for just above £50 (inclusive of vat). This is particularly gratifying given that in the late 2000s the lineup got an upgrade to 46% abv and a lack of chill-filtering. They’ve since added an 18 yo (which I have not tried); previously the next up from the 15 yo was the 21 yo (also priced reasonably—in today’s world—at just above £90). They’ve also added some jazzed up sherry and port cask releases (which I also haven’t tried). Prices in the US are a little higher but at this point we should just be glad that they are putting out age-stated whisky. Which is not to say that they’re not putting out any NAS whisky: they also have something called the Origin 1825, which costs about the same as the 10 yo in the US (it’s cheaper in the UK). Anyway, let’s see what this 15 yo is like. Continue reading

Clynelish 12, 1997 (James Macarthur)

With an interesting but not excellent Campbeltown stop behind us, let’s take the bourbon cask train up north to the Highlands and see if things improve. On paper, they should. After all, this is a 1997 vintage Clynelish and all the whisky geeks who believe in magical vintages will tell you that 1997 is a special year for Clynelish. It’s also the case that bourbon cask Clynelish in general is a good bet—see this 14 yo from Archives, for instance, and this one from Berry Bros. & Rudd (both from 1997). This was bottled in 2009 by James Macarthur, an outfit that doesn’t seem to be terribly ubiquitous anymore—not in the US anyway. If you have information on their status, please write in below. This is from a single cask but was bottled at 45% for some reason. I got the sample from Michael K. of Diving for Pearls and I’m not sure what it means that he doesn’t seem to have gotten round to reviewing his own bottle. Anyway, if this is close to either the Archives or Berry Bros. bottles I’ll be happy—but I won’t believe anymore than I currently do in magical vintages.  Continue reading

Glen Scotia 1992-2005 (Signatory)

I’m still on the bourbon cask trail. From Aberlour in the Speyside I went down to Bladnoch in the Lowlands, then west to Islay, and back to Arran. Let’s stick in the general vicinity before heading north to the Highlands and beyond. This Glen Scotia will be my Campbeltown stop. I got this sample from my friend Patrick—he was also the source of one of the Aberlours and the Arran, and I suspect he has no memory of ever having given me this one. I certainly have no memory of having received it. I’ve had very few Glen Scotias and so have no real expectations. The last one I tried and reviewed was quite old and was very good. This one was distilled two decades after that one and was bottled when 12-13 years old by Signatory (all the way back in 2005). This is not from their vaunted cask strength or unchilfiltered series but from the more entry-level 43% series (I’m not sure if they still put these out). I’ve had some decent whiskies from that series so I’m not expecting that to mean very much.  Continue reading

Glendullan 12, 1999 (G&M for Binny’s)

Jim Murray has apparently deemed a Glendullan to be the best something or the other. This is not that Glendullan. This is also not the Singleton of Glendullan, the 12 yo from that distillery that used to be the most ubiquitous, or more accurately, the only ubiquitous Glendullan in the US. No, this is a single cask bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for Binny’s in 2012 or thereabouts. In other words, this is an extremely untimely review: I doubt anyone at Binny’s or Gordon & MacPhail even remembers this whisky. But that’s what I’m here for: to make sure we never forget these one-off releases from Scotland’s third and fourth tier distilleries, to resist the relentless pressure of the now. Or maybe I just randomly review whatever’s at hand. Can you tell that I have nothing to say about this distillery, which mostly produces for Diageo’s blends? I’ve only ever reviewed one other—a Cadenhead’s release from a couple of years ago that was nice enough. Let’s see what this one is like.  Continue reading

Tomatin Cuatro 3: Oloroso

With this, the third in Tomatin’s Cuatro series from a few years ago, we move to what should be a more richly sherried profile. At least that’s what we’ve been trained to think by Oloroso sherry cask releases by various Scottish distilleries. Oloroso sherry, as you probably know, is made differently than Fino and Manzanilla. For Fino and Manzanilla the layer of flor (or less poetically, film of yeast) that forms on the top of the maturing wine is not disturbed, which results in a paler and drier style of sherry. For Oloroso (and Amontillado) the flor is killed when the wine is fortified, resulting in a darker and richer, “oxidized” wine. When most whisky drinkers think of sherry character in single malt whisky it is Oloroso we are thinking of.

It is, of course, also likely that we attribute to Oloroso/sherry character is actually down to maturation in European oak. What the Fino and Manzanilla entries in the Cuatro series have suggested is that three years of double maturation in what are likely also American oak casks may not impart a very heavy sherry influence. Will that be true of the richer Oloroso sherry as well? Let’s see. Continue reading

Tomatin Cuatro 2: Manzanilla

On Monday I had a review of the first in Tomatin’s Cuatro series of sherry cask releases: the Fino. That post has all the relevant information on the series but if you haven’t read it and are too lazy to click, here’s the crucial bit: all four releases are of whisky distilled on the same day and aged for nine years in ex-bourbon cask and then then re-racked into Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and PX casks for another three years each. Unlike the regular 12 yo, these are at 46%. I did not find much overt sherry influence in the Fino release—as such I’ll be surprised to find very much of it in this Manzanilla version. The two sherries are broadly similar—Manzanilla is basically a regionally constrained version of Fino (it can only be made in a particular part of Spain).

Let’s get to it.  Continue reading