Hector Macbeth/Glenfiddich 23, 1997 (Hepburn’s Choice for K&L)


Okay, back to K&L exclusives. I’ve quite liked the two I’ve already reviewed from this batch of casks—a Bunnahabhain 12 and a Craigellachie 16. Today’s review is of a cask going by name you migtht not recognize: Hector Macbeth. This is a a Glenfiddich that has been teaspooned. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry: it’s nothing kinky. Teaspooning refers to the practice of adding a tiny amount of a malt from a different distillery to a malt to prevent it from being sold as a single malt. It’s a practice certain distilleries engage in to keep their brand from being diluted—from their perspective—on the independent market; or, if not diluted, presented differently than they would like it to be. This K&L parcel contains a number of these teaspooned malts, some of them pretty old. This “Glenfiddich”, for example, is 23 years old. It was finished in a refill sherry butt (what kind of cask the teaspoon came from is unknown). I’m not sure if it’s still available but $120 was the price being asked for it when I last checked. That seems like a great deal in the abstract but my history with K&L exclusive casks with big age statements that are priced like they’re crazy deals has me not overly optimistic. But I’ll be very happy to be surprised. Continue reading

Glen Scotia “Victoriana”


Now that I am a whisky blogger who only reviews official releases here’s one from Campbeltown. The Victoriana is a NAS release that was added to the revamped Glen Scotia lineup (which revamp, I can’t remember) in 2015. That it’s an official NAS release is no surprise: pretty much every distillery had at least one NAS release by 2015. However, it’s unusual in that it’s bottled at a relatively high strength, Also somewhat unusual is the manner in which it is put together: after initial ex-bourbon maturing 30% of the eventual vatting goes into first-fill PX casks and the rest goes into heavily charred American oak. Wouldn’t it just be easier to make a 12 yo ex-bourbon whisky from refill casks? I know, I’m a very simple man. But however it’s made, is this any good? I know I didn’t care at all for Glen Scotia’s other NAS core release, the Double Cask. At the time I said “I wouldn’t buy it for $20 leave alone the $75+ being asked for it in Minnesota”. Well, the Victoriana is currently $90+. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Deanston 18, Bourbon Finish


I have only reviewed three Deanstons before this one and only one of those made it into the 80s. That was this 15 yo bottled for Whiskybase’s Archives label. The only official Deanston I’ve reviewed—the 12 yo—had me making analogies to Gerard Butler. But that was more than seven years ago. This Deanston 18 wasn’t even part of the distillery’s portfolio then, having been added to it in 2015. It’s fairly unusual in that it’s a bourbon cask finish. No, it wasn’t matured in sherry first; instead it started out in second-fill bourbon casks and was finished in first-fill bourbon casks. For how long I don’t know and I don’t know what I make of the idea: why not just vat second-fill and first-fill casks? Is it just a gimmick? Or is there precedent for this kind of thing? At any rate, I’m hoping this will be my second Deanston to crack the 80 point barrier. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. It’s actually available in Minnesota—though not cheap at $130 before tax—and so it’s not an academic question. Continue reading

Glen Moray 24, 1994 (SMWS)


Okay, time to head north. Let’s go all the way up to the Speyside, to Glen Moray. I still regret not finding the time to tour Glen Moray when I visited in 2018—hopefully, I’ll get the chance again someday. However, since then I have got to enjoy a few Glen Morays, including a 23 yo, distilled in 1994 that was part of K&L’s exclusive haul last year. Today’s Glen Moray is a year older and distilled a year later. Where the K&L cask was a refill barrel this one is from a first-fill toasted hogshead and I suspect that difference will mean more than the closeness in age and vintage. Hopefully, it won’t mean overbearing oak. I’ve been reviewing a lot of SMWS casks of late courtesy a bunch of bottle splits. Every time I hit a run of strong casks I begin to think that maybe I should join the SMWS after all these years despite their high prices. There isn’t a lot of interesting indie whisky around these days at reasonable prices after all. But then I invariably run into a cask that makes me iffy again. Where will this one fall? Let’s see how it works out. Continue reading

Glencoe 8


Let’s close the month with a Scotch whisky that is neither a single malt nor a blend. Yes, it’s in everybody’s favourite confusingly named category: blended malt whisky! Once known more clearly as “vatted whisky”, this category comprises vattings of malt (but no grain) whiskies from more than one distillery. There’s not very many of these out there from big name producers—William Grant & Sons’ Monkey Shoulder comes to mind, as does Diageo’s Green Label. Otherwise, this category is mostly the province of people like the bespoke suit-clad gents at Compass Box. This Glencoe 8 is a product of the owners of Ben Nevis and it’s barely a blended/vatted malt. The story seems to be that it is made up of malt from Ben Nevis and one other distillery (which one? I don’t know). The even more unusual things about are its age statement, proof and price. Normally you’d expect a distillery to dilute something like this down well below 50%, swap out the age statement for words such as “Reserve”, “Select”, “Pride” or something in Gaelic and sell it for a very high price. Good on the Ben Nevis brain trust for not doing any of those things. Well, that last part is true in the UK where this goes for £40 or so; the few listings I found for the US were closer to $100. This sample comes from a bottle released a couple of years ago with a label different from the current iteration—which is in line with the new Ben Nevis house label; the whisky in the bottle itself has apparently not changed. But what is that whisky in the bottle like? Continue reading

Jameson Irish Whiskey, Bottled Early-Mid 1980s


On Monday I had a review of a malt whisky from a relatively unknown Taiwanese distillery. Here now is a review of a whiskey from the most famous brand name in Ireland: Jameson, made at the Midleton distillery. What do they have in common? Nothing other than the fact that neither is Scottish.

I know very little about Irish whiskey and have reviewed very few Irish whiskies. And I’ve not had very good luck with the few Jamesons I’ve reviewed. Those were all contemporary releases, however, whereas this one was bottled sometime in the early-mid 1980s. I assume it was still made in the same way then, as a blend of grain and pot still whiskey. You are doubtless sick of hearing Scotch whisky geeks go on about how much better single malts and blends were in the 1970s and 1980s. Was the same true of Irish whiskey? Let’s see what this one indicates. Continue reading

Nantou “Omar”, Bourbon Type, 2016 Release


Nantou is the other Taiwanese distillery; Omar is the name of their single malt; this particular release is presumably all from bourbon casks. Omar is a relatively new brand—just about a decade old. Lest you think this is one of my more esoteric reviews, it is actually available in the US (though this is a review of the 2016 release). I’ve had a low-level curiosity about Nantou/Omar for a while and so when Michael K. of Diving for Pearls asked me if I was interested in a sample, I jumped at it (read his review here).  The current release can actually be found for what is a fairly low price in the current single malt whisky market—a place in New York lists it for $40; to be fair, the median price seems quite a bit higher and in Minnesota the lowest I can see on Winesearcher is twice that at the local Total Wine. Still, quite a bit cheaper than your average Kavalan cask which is probably not very much older. Will it be as good as the average Kavalan cask though? Let’s see. Continue reading

Allt-a-Bhainne 7, 2011 (SMWS)


Okay, let’s bring the long run of sherry casks to an end with this Allt-a-Bhainne. It does not, however, bring the shorter run of peated whiskies to an end. Apparently, Allt-a-Bhainne recently became another of the Speyside distilleries that traffics in peated whisky. When exactly this happened I do not know—I stopped following whisky news a long time ago. They’ve released an official NAS peated whisky and it’s been met with very poor reviews. This one—a cask from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society—may not be very much older than the NAS release: it’s 7 years old, which is the kind of age that whisky companies feel very embarrassed about after years and years of trying to convince people that age equals quality. The fact that the SMWS has the decency to mark the age of their cask does not, of course, mean that it’s necessarily any better than the previously mentioned official release. That said, I’ve quite liked the few Allt-a-Bhainnes I’ve reviewed previous to this one though the youngest of those was 16 years old. Let’s see what this is like. Continue reading

Cragganmore 16, 2001 (SMWS)

There isn’t a lot of indie Cragganmore about—especially in the US. I’ve reviewed a grand total of 3 Cragganmores before this one. And so when I had a chance to get in on a bottle split of this Cragganmore from the SMWS I took it even though it’s a madeira finish and even though the SMWS gave it the name “Coconut Curry Down the Douro Valley”. My general antipathy to wine finishes is no secret and I don’t think I’ve yet found anything resembling any kind of curry in any whisky said to be reminiscent of it. Let’s see if this one surprises me on either front.

Cragganmore 16, 2001 (56.4%; SMWS 37.127; madeira finish; from a bottle split)

Nose: Sweet, spicy toasted wood to start—rosewood? cherry wood? On the second sniff there’s some cherry (the fruit), some orange peel, a bit of cinnamon. Gets more floral as it sits (yes, roses). Gets more savoury as it sits and I hate to admit it but I am indeed getting aromas of coconut milk infused with herbs. The savoury notes recede with time and it’s the sweet red fruit that’s ascendant. Water pushes the cherry back, pulls out some cream and makes the whole mellower. Continue reading

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2020, Port & Wine Casks


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

Amrut Naarangi, Batch 5


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 15 (for TWE)


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

Ardmore 13, 2006 (SMWS)


Okay, let’s make it two Ardmores in a row. I really liked the 20 yo I reviewed on Monday. Like this one, that was also bottled by the SMWS. Unlike this one, however, that was from a refill bourbon cask. This one very much is not. Well, it started out in bourbon cask but ended up in a red wine cask for some reason. I’m yet to come across any compelling reason to finish whisky in red wine casks. Will this change my mind? Let’s see.

Ardmore 13, 2006 (58.1%; SMWS 66.161; red wine finish; from a bottle split)

Nose: Fairly jumbled with some pickled/acidic notes, some char, some oak, some red fruit. On the second and third sniffs there’s quite a bit of lime. As it sits the smoke takes on a slightly plasticky/acryclic character. The nose settles down with time and air and the plastic/acrylic note recedes. Water brings out a cured meat note. Continue reading

Nikka 12, “Woody & Mellow”


I started last week with a review of a Japanese whisky (this Hanyu); I may as well end this week with a review of another. This one is not a single malt. It was one of a series of limited edition whiskies released by Nikka, all of which were 12 years old and all of which were marked by two key characteristics. I’m a bit fuzzy on whether the idea was/is that these are the whiskies that in some combination go into Nikka’s blends or that they were to be purchased as components for home blending—I do believe they were only available at the Yoichi distillery (please correct me if I’m wrong). I’ve previously reviewed the Yoichi “Peaty & Salty” from the same series, and I quite liked that one. This, however, is a grain whisky, and one distilled in a coffey or two-column continuous still that is commonly used in grain whisky distillation. My track record with grain whisky is not very good but, as always, I live in hope. Maybe this will be the best grain whisky I’ve had in a while. Let’s see.
Continue reading

Auchentoshan “Heartwood”


I know I’d said I’d have a review today of barbecue from Ted Cook’s 19th Hole in Minneapolis but what can I say? I spent last evening watching Basu Chatterjee’s 1974 gem Rajnigandha and a few episodes of Schitt’s Creek and didn’t get around to it. If your primary interest is food, go back and read yesterday’s post on American food media’s relationship with diversity. Or if you want to read about barbecue in the Twin Cities, go back and read my review of Big Daddy’s from a few years ago (but keep in mind that they’ve changed ownership since then). Today I have another whisky review. This is an Auchentoshan, shockingly only the second official Auchentoshan I’ve ever reviewed (the first was the cask strength Valinch). Well, maybe it’s not so shocking: there aren’t that many official Auchentoshans around. I believe this one was released only for the Travel Retail market—I’m not sure if it’s still on the go there. It’s a NAS vatting of spirit matured in ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso casks. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Caol Ila 10 (Gordon & MacPhail)


After a month of reviews of un-sherried whiskies—well, the Glen Scotia 14 probably had some sherry casks in the mix—let’s end with one from refill sherry casks. This is a 10 yo Caol Ila released in Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice series at some point after the casks in that series started being bottled at 46% with new packaging. I think this was released in the mid-2010s, which would, I think, have been not too long after the revamping of the line. I almost always enjoy Caol Ila from sherry casks—and have a very good memory of this earlier G&M 10 yo from refill sherry casks (though that was in their old Cask Strength line). And I quite liked as well this G&M 10 yo from 2006 (also cask strength but in the new livery for their Cask Strength line). That latter one was from first-fill casks though. Well, as long as it’s better than the last sherried Caol Ila I reviewed—this sherry finished 7 yo that was an exclusive for K&L—I’ll be happy. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. Continue reading

Auchentoshan 15, 1997 (Old Malt Cask)


I often say that every distillery is capable of producing high quality malt. But I have to admit that Auchentoshan is one of the distilleries that really tests my faith in this proposition. In my years of drinking single malt whisky I have not yet come across an official Auchentoshan that I have wanted to purchase or even drink again; and, more damningly, I have not also come across any indie releases that have convinced me that owners Morrison Bowmore have been blending quality casks away, whether in the official vattings or in the group’s blends. I’m not denying the possibility that they exist; merely noting that I have not yet randomly encountered one. Of the few I have reviewed, I liked this 23 yo from Archives the best and I gave that 86 points. But hope springs eternal and perhaps this will be the one that rewards my faith. Like some of the other whiskies I’ve been reviewing recently it too was a release from a long time ago—I’ve been sitting on this sample too for a while. Well, let’s get to it now. Continue reading

Balblair 2005, First Release


In the second half of April I went on a long run of reviews of whiskies from sherry casks. Let’s reset the balance a bit in May with a run of reviews of whiskies from bourbon casks. First up is a Balblair 2005. This is the first release. I don’t actually know what that means. I think you have to enroll in special seminars to understand how Balblair’s vintage releases work. Me, I am a simple man and do not dare aspire to such understanding. Now you may be thinking that even I cannot be so simple as to not understand that this must simply be the first release of Balblair’s 2005 vintage. But before you judge me keep in mind that different editions of the first and second releases of Balblair 1999 were released in the same years and that it is entirely possible—nay, likely—that different editions of the same releases were of different ages. Whose head’s hurting now? Let’s agree to not talk about this anymore. At least with changes with Balblair’s lineup this confusion is no longer an issue: they scrapped the vintage releases last year and moved to regular age-stated releases. On the other hand, most of Balblair’s lineup is now unaffordable. Isn’t the world of whisky so fun and not at all alienating? Continue reading