Craigellachie 13, 2017 Release


Let’s start the month with a week of reviews of whiskies from Craigellachie. Located in the Speyside, Craigellachie has not always had a high visibility among non-whisky geeks. It was established in the late 19th century and produced malt for blends for most of its life. Indeed, until relatively recently, there were no regular official bottlings from the distillery. The turning point was the purchase of the distillery in 1998 by John Dewar & Sons, themselves a subsidiary of Bacardi. In 2014 official Craigellachies appeared: a 13 yo, a 17 yo and a 23 yo. Idiosyncratic age statements to be sure, and perhaps meant as a reflection of the spirit’s idiosyncratic character. For whisky geeks, Craigellachie—available from independent bottlers before this—has always been of interest as one of the few distilleries still using old-fashioned worm tubs to condense their spirit. This results in spirit that can have a “meaty” texture and character. I’ve not had enough Craigellachie to be able to track all this meaningfully but I am interested to try this official 13 yo—which somehow I have not had at all since it was first released. This sample comes from a bottle from the 2017 release. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Balvenie 18, PX Finish


I’ve not reviewed very many Balvenies over the years (only 10 total and only a handful in the last 4-5 years). There was a time when their 12 yo Double Wood was a regular in my rotation but that was a long time ago. It seems to be available for a relatively reasonable price in Minnesota. Should I give it a go? I do know I wasn’t terribly impressed the last time I tried it but it may have improved since, I suppose. I was also a huge fan a decade ago of their 15 yo Single Barrel series that was all from bourbon casks (here’s the only one I’ve reviewed). But that got replaced by a hot sherry bomb that cost a lot more and which I was not very impressed with the first time I tried it, though I did like the second cask I tried better. The Balvenie I’m reviewing today is also sherried, albeit the sherry comes in only via a finish: it spends some time in PX casks after initial maturation in American oak (presumably ex-bourbon) casks. It was/is a Travel Retail exclusive, which makes it a bit surprising both that it has an age statement and that it’s at a good drinking strength of 48.7%. How much of its 18 years it spends in either cask type I’m not sure, but here’s hoping the finish is well-integrated. Let’s see. Continue reading

Ben Nevis 20, 1996 (Single Cask Nation)


Let’s do another week of Ben Nevis. Another?, you ask. Yes, I did a Ben Nevis week back in April. That was a trio of 20 year olds: two distilled in 1997 (one from Exclusive Malts and one from Berry Bros. & Rudd), and the other was distilled in 1999 (and bottled by the Daily Dram). We’ll start this week with another 20 yo, this time distilled in 1996 and bottled by Single Cask Nation. Like the Exclusive Malts and Berry Bros. bottles, this one is from a sherry cask—a refill oloroso puncheon to be exact. Even though I generally prefer bourbon cask Ben Nevis, I did like both of those. Let’s hope this one is in their vein.

Ben Nevis 20, 1996 (55.6%; Single Cask Nation; refill oloroso puncheon; from a bottle split) 

Nose: Opens with brown sugar, dried ginger and roasted nuts. Orange peel and orange juice as it sits and then whiffs of muskier fruit (tart-sweet mango, a hint of passionfruit). The muskier fruit never quite arrives fully. With a few drops of water there’s some light caramel and some cocoa and then more of the musky fruit. Continue reading

Kirkland 23, Speyside (Alexander Murray)


As you may recall, the theme for this week’s whisky reviews is 20+ yo whiskies from distilleries located in different production regions of Scotland. The week began with an official release of 20 yo Arran—Brodick Bay. It continues today with a 23 yo from the Speyside. Which distillery exactly in the Speyside? I’m afraid I can’t tell you as this was a private label bottling for Costco by Alexander Murrary and as with most/all such Costco releases, no distillery is specified. This was matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished in oloroso sherry (which is hopefully the only explanation for the dark colour of the whisky in the sample bottle). I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Costco’s Kirkland-branded single malt Scotch releases. I believe I’ve only ever reviewed one other—this 18 yo, also from the Speyside. I didn’t think very highly of that one, finding it to be too watered down in every way. Will this at a more respectable 46% abv (ignore the abv on the sample label—it’s an error) have more oomph/character? I certainly hope so. Continue reading

Highland Park Cask Strength, First Release


Highland Park was once one of my very favourite distilleries but it’s been a while since I cared to keep up with what they were up to. Of course, this is not a reflection on the distillery itself but on the owners but they’ve gone down an increasingly silly path of premiumization over the last half decade, with prices increasing and NAS releases proliferating. As I’ve stopped following them, I had no idea they’d launched a new cask strength edition until the chance came up to go in on a bottle split on the first release from 2020. Though as I say that I’m not sure that it is in fact the first release—or rather, what that means. As per Whiskybase, this is the first release of this particular Highland Park Cask Strength (subtitled, “Robust and Intense”). But Whiskybase also lists four other cask strength distillery releases, the last of which came out in 2019—all of those were 350 ml bottles for the Swedish market. So, it may be more appropriate to say that this is the first general release of a cask strength line under the “Robust & Intense” moniker. There’s been a second release in 2021 as per Whiskybase. Unlike the Swedish casks, which don’t specify, this first release is listed as having been matured in “sherry seasoned American oak casks”; the second added sherry seasoned European oak casks to the mix. That one seems to have come to the US too—I’ll keep an eye out for a possible bottle split of that as well. Continue reading

Mortlach 10, 2008 (Signatory for Spec’s)


Friday’s Mortlach, an official release for travel retail, didn’t impress very much. As I have some readers who are not very familiar with Mortlach I feel I must try to not leave them with a ho-hum impression of the distillery. Accordingly, I’m following that review with a full slate of Mortlach reviews this week. I’ve not tasted any of these bottles before but am hopeful that at least one of them will give a better idea of what Mortlach whisky’s appeal can be than that Alexander’s Way did. First up, is a 10 yo bottled by Signatory in its Un-Chillfiltered Collection series for Spec’s in Texas. As per Whiskybase a number of these 10 yos from 2008 were bottled by Signatory for stores in the EU as well, all matured in bourbon barrels just as this one was. Indeed, this one is a vatting of four bourbon barrels for a total release of 964 bottles. I believe barrels generally yield a little over 200 bottles. Dilution down to 46% brings the number up. I’ve always had a soft spot for Signatory’s UCF collection—when I first started out buying indie releases this was one of the lines I bought a lot of bottles from. It used to be pretty ubiquitous in the US and pretty reasonably priced. As to whether this Mortlach was reasonably priced on release in 2018, I don’t know—but I do hope it’s a good one. Continue reading

Mortlach 14, Alexander’s Way


And so a week of reviews of official distillery releases comes to an end. It started on Monday with an outstanding Springbank 10 (the 2021 release) and continued on Wednesday with a typically solid Clynelish 14 (from 2018). I have another 14 year old to end the week, this one from the Speyside. This Mortlach is not from the distillery’s core range; it is rather a travel retail exclusive. It bears the name “Alexander’s Way”. This refers to a prior owner of the distillery who apparently came up with their unique so-called 2.81 distillation regime—which along with their use of worm tubs as condensers—creates the idiosyncratic character of Mortlach’s spirit. You have to hand it to Diageo: these days when a distillery release has the name of someone like that on its label it usually does not bear an age statement. But Diageo have gone ahead and given us a 14 yo. Of course, they haven’t gone so far as to give it to us at 46%, leave alone at cask strength. This is bottled at 43.4%. That extra .4% of abv above the bog standard 43% must be doing a lot of work. And nor have they offered any guarantee that the spirit in the bottle comes by its dark amber colour honestly. But if it tastes good that’s all that matters. Let’s see. Continue reading

Cinco Sentidos, Pechuga de Mole Poblano


This has been a week not just of mezcal reviews but of reviews of unusual mezcals. Wednesday’s Weller cask-finished Chichicapa from Del Maguey followed on the heels of Monday’s Del Maguey release that saw the pechuga process tweaked with the use of Iberico ham. I liked that one a lot more than the bourbon finish. That might be good news for this one which is in the general style of the Iberico but ups the pechuga madness by featuring not ham or chicken or turkey breast in the final distillation but full on mole poblano. This is not a Del Maguey release but from an outfit named Cinco Sentidos. Their website indicates that they release mezcals made by small-scale producers. I have no idea if this mole poblano release is representative or a wild variation on their usual line-up. Well, I love a good mole poblano but I can’t say I’ve ever wished I could drink a mole poblano-flavoured spirit. But perhaps the mole won’t come through here as strongly as the Iberico did in the Del Maguey. Only one way to find out. But however it goes, for my next round of mezcal reviews—whenever those might end up being posted; I have no further mezcal samples on hand—I think I am going to go for more regulation releases. Recommendations for any such will be very welcome in the comments below. Continue reading

Speyburn 15, 2017 Release


Monday’s Glen Grant 13 was a very pleasant surprise. Here’s hoping the last whisky of the month—also from a Speyside distillery—will be in that vein. It’s from the less than storied Speyburn distillery. I wasn’t aware that they now put out an official 15 yo but apparently they do. Or at least they released one in 2017—I’m not seeing any others listed on Whiskybase. Did no more releases follow? This was put together from spirit matured in American oak and Spanish oak casks. The Spanish oak casks would be sherry casks; and though American oak is also used to make sherry casks, I’m assuming it refers here to bourbon casks—otherwise they’d be trumpeting all-sherry maturation for sure. This sample came to me from Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls—the source of a number of March’s other reviewed samples. He has reviewed this one too—he too reviewed a sample and then seemingly liked it enough to purchase a bottle. Will that be true for me as well? Let’s see. Continue reading

Caol Ila 11, 2007 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)


After a week of Ardmore in the eastern Highlands let’s swing over west and south to Islay. This time it won’t be a single distillery that occupies our time but three different ones. And the peat will be heavier. First up: one of younger bourbon cask Caol Ilas that are usually rather good indeed. This cask was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd, which theoretically should also be a good sign. But the proof is in the glass. Let’s see.

Caol Ila 11, 2007 (55%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 319464; from a bottle split)

Nose: Bright carbolic peat mixed with lemon and ash and salt. The salt expands on the second sniff, picking up more coastal accents (shells, kelp). The salt expands with each sniff and there’s a mezcal note in there too that speaks of youth. With more time there’s some vanilla mixed in as well and the lemon turns to citronella. With water the mezcal recedes but the vanilla expands. It gets more phenolic too but I’m not sure that mix of vanilla and heavy phenols works so well. Continue reading

Glenmorangie 18, 2021 Release


My last whisky review for January was for a malt from a highlands distillery (this Old Pulteney) and my last whisky review for February will also be for a malt from a highland distillery, this time from Glenmorangie. That Old Pulteney review kicked off a week of highlands reviews with stops at Glen Ord and Balblair. This week too will feature two more highland distilleries.

This sample of the Glenmorangie 18 came to me in a box from Michael Kravitz of the excellent Diving for Pearls (he’s not reviewed it yet himself). When he asked me if I was interested in trying it I was surprised to discover that I’d not ever reviewed the Glenmorangie 18. I used to drink it quite often back in the day when at $89 (or thereabouts) it was a very reasonably priced officially released 18 yo from a name distillery. It’s actually not very much more expensive now—it can be found for $99 in Minnesota. And so if I like this recent release as much as I remember liking those from a decade ago I may very well get a bottle. Let’s see how it goes. Continue reading

Glen Scotia 11, 2008 (SMWS 93.138)


Yes, this is Campbeltown week. On Monday I reviewed a Kilkerran released in 2009; today I have a Glen Scotia released a decade later. What is time to me? A toy! A nothing! I move through it like a wayward god! Kneel before me!

Er, where was I? I’ve had a pretty good run with Glen Scotias bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in the last year and change. All have been from bourbon casks—and all have been releases in the vicinity of this one (93.138). Some have been truly excellent; none have come close to being bad. These have included, most recently, an 8 yo (93.145) that I clocked at 89 points and a 17 yo (93.140) that I thought was good for 88. And before that was a 12 yo (93.135) that I gave 87 points. That’s a pretty good spread across the sub-20 yo age spectrum. So I am confident that this one will anchor the middle of the week well. Let’s see if that proves to be the case.  Continue reading

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


Older K&L Speyside week began on Monday with a Benrinnes 23, 1997 that I did not care overmuch for. It continues today with another 23 yo distilled in 1997. This one is a teaspooned Glenfiddich bottled and sold by K&L as Hector Macbeth. I’ve previously reviewed another Hector Macbeth 23, 1997. That one was part of K&L’s 2020 cask selections. This sibling cask would have been bottled just a few months later. The earlier cask—which was a refill sherry butt—didn’t move me very much either. Let’s hope this refill hogshead is an improvement.

Hector Macbeth/Glenfiddich 23, 1997 (54.4%; Hepburn’s Choice for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Oak here too to start but there’s some citrus mixed in with it along with a grassy note. With a bit of time the citrus gets a bit sweeter (orange) and the oak takes a back seat. With more time it’s a little muskier (a hint of pineapple) and it also gets a little waxy. Water pulls out some softer notes (vanilla, cream). Continue reading

Benrinnes 23, 1997, OMC for K&L


Let’s do another week of reviews of whiskies from Speyside distilleries and also another week of single casks bottled for K&L in California. We’ll continue the trajectory of rising age followed in this month’s first week of Speyside reviews—which included a 10 yo Dailuaine, an 18 yo Linkwood and a 20 yo Tamdhu. First up is a 23 yo Benrinnes. I believe it sold for $120 which seems like a blockbuster price for a 23 yo single malt. But as I’ve had occasion to note before, a good deal is not merely the ratio of price to age but more appropriately of price to quality. Will this Benrinnes fit the bill on both counts? Let’s see.

Benrinnes 23, 1997 (58.4%; OMC for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split) 

Nose: Sweet, slightly citrussy notes with a mineral, almost sooty edge. As it sits there’s a fair bit of malt and some vanilla. Sweeter as it sits with some honey joining the malt and then the citrus expands as well. Alas, with water the astringent notes begin to show up here as well. Continue reading

Tamdhu 20, 2000 (OMC for K&L)


Speyside week comes to a close with another refill hogshead bottled for K&L in California. This is a Tamdhu and it is two years older than Wednesday’s Linkwood. You may recall that I quite liked that Linkwood and also Monday’s 10 year old Dailuaine (that one from a sherry cask). Will the oldest of the trio be at least as good as the one half its age? There are no guarantees but I did like the last Tamdhu 20 I reviewed—that one was also bottled by Old Malt Cask (for their own 20th anniversary). And I did also like the last K&L Tamdhu of similar age that I reviewed, that one a 19 yo. Anyway, let’s get to it.

Tamdhu 20, 2000 (52%; OMC for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Cereals, toasted oak and some sweet fruit—citrus at first but then some cherry joins in as well. As it sits the oak expands quite a bit, making me a bit apprehensive about the palate…On the plus side the cereals get more malted and the fruit turns a bit muskier (somewhere between apple and pear). With more time still the oak recedes again. Water pushes the oak back further and pulls out some cream. Continue reading

Ardmore 12, 2006 (SMWS 66.140)


Last week was a week of reviews of peated whiskies from Islay—one each from Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. I liked them all a lot. This week will be a week of reviews of whiskies from the highlands. We’ll begin with a young Ardmore that also keeps the peat theme going for a little longer. This is yet another Ardmore from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society—probably the most consistent source of Ardmore casks in the US. I’ve reviewed a number of their Ardmore releases before, most recently this 23 yo which I adored, and before that a trio comprising a 20 yo, a 21 yo and a 22 yo, all of which I really liked as well. This one is quite a bit younger at 12 years of age—though in today’s single malt market 12 years old sometimes seems positively middle aged. Will it approach the quality of its older siblings? Oh yes, the SMWS’ tasting panel gave this the whimsical name, “Hickory smoked lobster”. I can’t say I’ve had smoked lobster but it does sound good—any relation to the reality of what’s in the glass? Let’s see. Continue reading

Macallan 12, 2008, Oloroso Cask (SMWS 24.149)


Here is the second of the recent Macallan trio from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. As I noted on Monday, the SMWS took whisky that had matured in oloroso butts for 10 years and then put it into different cask types for a further two. Monday’s 12 year old spent its last two years in bourbon casks. This one spent two more years in oloroso—in the original casks? in re-coopered oloroso hogsheads? I do not know. Well, I was not hugely impressed by the bourbon cask—too much alcohol and too much oak for my taste. This oloroso cask is at an even higher abv, but will the sherry cover up some of the oak? Let’s see.

Macallan 12, 2008 (63.6%; SMWS 24.149; oloroso casks; from a bottle split)

Nose: Rich oloroso notes (big surprise): raisins, cherry liqueur, dried orange peel, a bit of salt and a mildly beany note. Not much sign of oak on the first few sniffs but it emerges as it sits and gets some air: a big tannic burn that begins to cut through the rich notes. With more time the oak calms down a bit and the fruit reasserts itself (orange peel and cherry now joined by some apricot jam). A few drops of water and there’s much better integration of the fruit and the oak, and there’s some leather too now. Continue reading

Macallan 12, 2008, Bourbon Cask (SMWS 24.152)


This week’s whisky reviews are of a slightly unusual set. This is not just because they’re all reviews of whiskies distilled at Macallan—a distillery I have not covered much on the blog. (Why have I not covered much Macallan on the blog? Well, mostly because the relationship between quality, price and high-concept marketing at Macallan went haywire more than a decade ago.) The set is also unusual as it comprises three independent releases—there’s not so very much indie Macallan out there you see, especially in the US. All of these were bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. What makes them truly unusual is the relationship between them. All originated in a group of 10 yo oloroso sherry butts which were then filled into first-fill ex-bourbon, ex-oloroso and ex-PX casks for a further two years of maturation and bottled at the same time (presumably there have been other releases of the source spirit as well). Now you might think this would be a more striking juxtaposition if the original 10 years of maturation had happened in refill bourbon casks—thus allowing the variations from the subsequent double maturations to present on a more subtle canvas—but it should, at least in theory, be interesting to compare the three anyway. First up is the ex-bourbon cask which for some reason was given the name “Albino Rhino”. Continue reading