Tomatin 15


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

Highland Park 12, Viking Honour


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

Baraillon 33, 1985


It’s been almost two and a half years since my last Armagnac review. I think that’s a pretty good allegory of how my almost-love affair with brandy has gone in the last few years. I’d say that it’s a pretty good allegory of how the average whisky geek’s relationship with brandy has gone in that period as well, but that would be too presumptuous. Maybe it’s because Sku retired his blog but it hasn’t felt for a while that whisky geeks are still excited about brandy in general and Armagnac in particular. Am I wrong? (And if not, is that true of rum as well?) Well, to tell the truth, it’s not that I haven’t been buying any Armagnac in the last two and a half years—it’s more that I don’t seem to get around to opening any of what I have bought. Maybe I should do that before buying any more. Speaking of which, I was going to buy a bottle of this K&L exclusive Baraillon, but when I was in L.A recently, Sku suggested I taste a sample first and passed one on to me (along with a few others). Let’s see if I should have ignored him.  Continue reading

Glenmorangie, The Tayne


Yesterday I posted a review of a whisky available only in India, a sample of which I acquired while in Delhi last month but which I did not drink there: Amrut Amaze. Today I have for you a review of a whisky available worldwide—though mostly (only?) in duty-free shops in airports—that I did in fact drink and review in Delhi: Glenmorangie’s The Tayne. A bottle of this was in my father’s bar and I tasted it on a couple of occasions. I failed to photograph it, however, and after returning asked my parents to take a picture and WhatsApp it to me. What you see alongside is the best of many pictures they sent me. It appears to be of a full bottle which means my father had more than one hanging around. Okay, now that I’m done with the fascinating family anecdote, what can I tell you about the antecedents of the whisky itself? Not very much, I’m afraid. I have no idea why it is called “The Tayne” and I am reluctant to find out as it may make me feel bad about laughing to myself sophomorically every time I think of it as Glenmorangie, The Taint. I can tell you that it is a NAS whisky that has been “finished” in Amontillado casks. How long the original maturation lasted and how long the finish, I do not know. But I can tell you what I thought of it.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 12, 2006 (Old Malt Cask, 20th Anniv. Release)


Here’s the next whisky from the set of bottle splits I got in on of Hunter Laing’s releases to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Old Malt Cask label. I very much liked yesterday’s Arran 21, 1997, and all signs point to a strong likelihood that I will like this one a lot as well. Laphroaig is my favourite distillery and I have noted on many an occasion that my general feeling is that the sweet spot of Laphroaig is in ex-bourbon casks aged for 10-15 years. Let’s see if that holds up.

Laphroaig 12, 2006 (50%; Old Malt Cask 20th Anniv. Release; cask 17094; from a bottle split)

Nose: A big wave of peat and smoke with mezcal’ish notes mixed with the phenolic (Dettol). Not much of the cereal note that I like a lot in most bourbon cask Laphroaigs of this age. On the second sniff those mezcal’ish notes have taken a rubbery turn (rubber bands) and the smoke has some bitter, ashy edges. A couple of drops of water pull out faint musky notes.  Continue reading

Loch Lomond 12


Loch Lomond, a curiosity among Scottish distilleries, has not really been on my radar much. Yes, they make a wide range of malts with all their different still setups (which is what makes them a curiosity) but you can seemingly count on the fingers of one one hand the number of these that anyone has ever gotten very excited about. An Old Rhosdhu 24, 1979 from Murray McDavid was the first one I had that I really liked but that was an independent. The official releases were seemingly solidly in the “ugh” to “eh” range for most reviewers. But then earlier this year I drank this Croftengea—one of Loch Lomond’s peated variants—bottled by the distillery for The Whisky Exchange and I just loved it (see that review for a rundown of Loch Lomond’s variations). Unlike the Old Rhosdhu it was young and seemed likely to better represent the distillery’s current output. And so when I saw the current version of the Loch Lomond 12 for <$30 in a Minneapolis store in early November, I picked up a bottle. A 12 yo malt at 46% and for less than $30—it seemed like a good bet. I cracked it open that night and liked it enough to make it the “fruity whisky” pick for the updated version of my “The Well-Rounded Single Malt Bar” list. Here’s why.  Continue reading

Karuizawa 13, 1997, “Spirit Safe”


Here’s a particularly pointless review to start the month. Japanese whisky as a category has been rather fucked for the last couple of years—and probably will be for more than a couple more. Very little is available, very little of that is worth buying, and what is worth buying is not worth buying at the prices being asked for them. (The one exception is the Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, which is now available in the US for a reportedly good price.) And in the general landscape of fucked Japanese whisky there is little as fucked as Karuizawa, the closed distillery all of whose remaining stock was purchased by a cartel that has figured out how to stoke and exploit an overheated market. For reference, the Whisky Exchange recently released a 29 yo and a 31 yo for £6000 each and you had to enter into a lottery for the privilege of making a fool of yourself by buying one. Then again, no one who is paying that amount of money for a single bottle of whisky is particularly concerned about money. Anyway, the Karuizawa I am reviewing today was released well before all this madness began: in 2010. I don’t know how much this cost then but back then you could purchase 28 yo Karuizawa from the Whisky Exchange for less than $200. I think this was bottled for Whisky Magazine Japan for OXFAM. There was another release that bore this “Spirit Safe” label that was a 19 yo. I have no idea what that was like but let’s see about this one.  Continue reading

Ardmore Traditional


On Friday I had a review of an indie Ardmore 20 released some six years ago. Today I have a review of an official release. It’s not of much utility, however, as this Ardmore Traditional—the first official Ardmore to ever be widely released, about a decade ago—was discontinued some years ago (though stray bottles may still be hanging around in the US. It was replaced by another NAS malt at 40% abv by the name of Legacy. In the world of No Age Stated whisky, you see, the fancier the name gets, the crappier the whisky becomes. The Traditional, however, was not crappy despite being young and despite being made in a slightly complicated way with the whisky “finished” in quarter casks. As with all of Ardmore’s malt it is mildly peated. It used to be a very good deal in most American markets and I think I might have purchased my last bottle—from which this sample was saved—for less than $30 in the Twin Cities. The Legacy runs about $40, which is not terribly high in this market but I’ve also not read any reviews of it that have made me want to try it. The Traditional, by the way, was brought back by the owners a few years ago as just Tradition, but for the travel retail market—though it appears to be available more widely in the UK. I’m not sure how much it goes for; maybe I’ll keep an eye out for it while traveling to Hong Kong and India this winter. Anyway, here are my notes on the Traditional as it once was—this bottle is probably from the 2012 release or so.  Continue reading

Cragganmore 12


The Cragganmore 12 was one of the first single malts that I drank and purchased a bottle of when I first started drinking single malt whiskies well over a decade ago. I liked it well enough then. But as my awareness of the category grew past easily available official bottlings to more and more obscure independent releases, I sort of lost track of it. The fact that the distillery is very rarely represented on independent bottlers’ lists probably didn’t help either. But this June, while in the Speyside, I made a brief visit to Cragganmore with my friend Daniel, and the few sips I had of the samples they gave us in the shop rekindled my interest. Especially as I realized that in the many years since I’d last tried it I’d more or less forgotten what the Cragganmore 12 was like: the malt I remembered was much more delicate than the one I tried (a similar thing happened for me with the Oban 14 not too long ago: another malt that I hadn’t tried since my early days in the hobby). I also rather liked the feel of the little distillery. Accordingly, on my return to Minnesota I purchased a bottle with a view towards renewing my acquaintance with the whisky more fully. Here are my notes from halfway down the bottle.  Continue reading

The Secret Islay (The Whisky Shop)

Last week I posted a look at a very brief stop at The Whisky Shop on Victoria Street in Edinburgh. Today I have a review of the 100 ml sample I purchased of their so-called Secret Islay cask. I say “so-called” because—as I noted last week—the gent attending to their store casks told us it was a young Bowmore before we’d even thought to ask. Less than 10 years old, I think he said it was. I got a taste and liked it enough to get a 100 ml sample. As I also noted last week, their store casks are not priced in line with what they are. This was £12, and that for a young whisky at 40%. Cadenhead’s seems like even more of a great deal by comparison; as I also noted last week, 500 ml of this would have cost me more than 700 ml of the far superior Cadenhead’s Campbeltown cask (a sherried Springbank). How do I know the Cadenhead’s Campbeltown cask was superior? I drank them both while up in the Speyside later that week and took these notes then. Continue reading

Glenlossie 10, 1993 (Whisky-Galore)


Ah, Whisky Galore—the name takes me back. This was Duncan Taylor’s entry-level line of malts for the enthusiast back in the day. The whiskies were bottled at 46% and were generally of a pretty good quality. Some of the bottles in this line were my earliest forays into the world of independently bottled whisky and gave me the confidence to spend more money on older whiskies—some of those in Duncan Taylor’s own older lines. At some point in the the last decade and a half the Whisky Galore line was replaced by the NC2 line and all the competitively-priced older Duncan Taylor releases disappeared. The NC2 series is also now gone. The entry-level Duncan Taylor line we see in the US now is Battlehill—ubiquitous on the shelves of the Total Wine chain.

Anyway here’s a throwback review of a Whisky Galore release from an unheralded distillery. Glenlossie is another Speyside disitllery, part of Diageo’s portfolio, producing for their blends. Every distillery in Scotland is capable of producing excellent casks, however, and it’s the independents that let us see this. Let’s see if that’s the case here.  Continue reading

Kilchoman 3, Spring 2010 Release


Let’s make it a week of Islay whiskies. On Monday I had a review of an 18 yo Laphroaig and yesterday I had a review of a 10 yo Bowmore. We have another big drop in age today, all the way down to 3 years old, the legal minimum for Scotch whisky; and we’re also moving from the larger, more established and storied distilleries to a small upstart. Kilchoman, the small Islay farm distillery (which I visited briefly last June), only started distilling in late 2005. I believe the first official whiskies were released in 2009. There were a bunch of cask strength releases in the US in mid-2010. I still have some of at least one of these saved (the Binny’s cask) and will probably get around to reviewing it one of these decades. At around the same time they had begun to release larger vattings at 46%. There were a number of these seasonal releases for at least the first few years—I confess I’ve sort of lost sight of what Kilchoman has been up to in recent years, despite rather liking all the early releases I’d tried. Well, maybe I’ll try to address that.

Meanwhile, here’s a blast from the past. This was put together in a complicated way with a mix of bourbon and sherry casks—a finish may have been involved (I’m too lazy to look it up). Continue reading

Glen Ord 14, 2001 (SMWS)


Last week I posted a review of an unusual rum cask Laphroaig. Here now is a relatively unusual Glen Ord. The distillery is best known—in official and independent incarnations—for bourbon cask matured whisky. This release from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was, however, bottled from a sherry butt—a second-fill oloroso butt, to be exact. As that’s not something you across every day, and as I really like Glen Ord, I decided to take a chance on this as well at auction. I was dissuaded only a little by the fact that I had no idea what the SMWS tasting committee’s name for this whisky, “Japanese omelettes with Dunkelweizen” might refer to. I was conscious of the fact that I was overpaying but, again, sherry cask Glen Ord is not something we come across regularly in the US. I’ve not previously reviewed any sherried Glen Ords and indeed I’m not sure if I’ve had any. So this should at least be interesting. Let’s see if it’s more than that.  Continue reading

Littlemill 24, 1988 (Exclusive Malts)


This is the fourth Littlemill I’ve reviewed this year. The first was the old Littlemill 12, which was, as I said then, as unloved an OB whisky as you could hope to find. The other two were much older, part of the revival of Littlemill’s reputation that got underway in the early years of this decade as a number of casks bottled in the late 1980s came to market that had been matured to a far greater age than was probably intended for them at time of distillation. One of of those I really liked—the Archives 22 yo distilled in 1989. The other—a Berry Bros & Rudd 21 yo bottled distilled in 1992—was quite good but nothing so very special. This one from the Creative Whisky Company, under their Exclusive Malts label, is older than both of those and distilled the earliest. That might lead you to think that it’s got a good chance of being the best of the lot but things don’t always work out that way with whisky: the idiosyncrasies of individual casks are hard to predict and not all bottlers can be relied on for consistency. Anyway, let’s see what this is like.  Continue reading