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

Cadenhead’s Islay Cask, June 2018


This was one of five 200 ml bottles I purchased from my first visit to Cadenhead’s on my first afternoon in Edinburgh in early June. I’ve already reviewed the Glen Ord 13 and the Tullibardine 24 that were part of that haul—I’d not planned to get anything more (I’d also picked up a Worthy Park rum) but couldn’t resist their store casks. They had five casks on the go in the store: one Islay, one Highlands, one Lowlands, one Campbeltown and one rum cask. I purchased 200 ml of the Islay (obviously) and also of the Campbeltown cask (review coming soon). The prices are fixed for all the casks: £14 for 200 ml, £24.50 for 350 ml and £48 for 700 ml. My understanding is that these are all “living” cask vattings, topped up once they get low. This means that the composition can change from week to week—I have no idea how often they top these casks up. I think I was told that the Islay cask as constituted at the time I made my purchase had a fair bit of young Lagavulin in it—but I could be making that up. It is possible to get a taste before you make a decision but I was comfortable trusting that they’d probably be good. I’m happy to say that this trust was well rewarded. I took these notes in Edinburgh itself—my friend Mike and I polished this off at a pretty rapid rate after purchase.  Continue reading

Old Blends: Old Rarity 12


A few summers ago I posted a number of recipes for home-made jams. These were not popular with my whisky readership. Do you know what is even less popular with said whisky readership, or whatever remains of it? You guessed it: my reviews of blended whiskies released many decades ago. And interest in them goes down with each one I post, rather than the other way around. Accordingly, I am pleased to present this review of a rather obscure blend. Well, obscure to me. I believe this bottle was from the US market—though I doubt Old Rarity was only released in the US. The source of the sample estimates that the bottle might date from the 1960s. That is the extent of my non-knowledge about Old Rarity. I’ll add only that the name of this whisky suggests that the practices of adding the word “old” to things that aren’t very old and of suggesting things are rare by calling them things like “rarity” are obviously not innovations of our time.  Continue reading

Old Blends: Haig & Haig 8, Five Star


Following last week’s old Haig & Haig 12, here is a Haig & Haig 8 yo that is four years younger but may have been released half a decade earlier. Again, I know very little about these old blends and can therefore tell you very little about their antecedents or history. My interest is only in seeing, in the aggregate, what the qualities of whiskies from earlier eras were like. I’m not likely to have much chance to taste single malts released in the 1940s and 1950s, so samples of these old blends are pretty much my only window to the era. It’s true that with many decades spent sitting in bottles—plus the uncertainties of storage—there’s no guarantee that what we are tasting now is very close to what these whiskies were like when consumed upon release, but there’s no solving that conundrum. My limited sample size does suggest, however, that whisky drinkers of the mid-century (synonymous then with blend drinkers) drank much better than current blend drinkers, and that there was much more peat, and likely much more malt whisky in blends of that era. That said, I didn’t like the Haig & Haig 12 quite as much as some of the other old blends I’ve reviewed but I did like it. Let’s see what this 8 year old is like.  Continue reading

Mortlach 17, 1995 (Dewar Rattray)

We’re leaving the UK today to return to Minnesota and my month of reviews of Speyside and Highland whiskies is also almost at an end. Here now is something you don’t see very often: a bourbon cask Mortlach. As you may know, Mortlach is generally associated with heavily sherried whisky. Its whisky also has a pronounced meaty quality, which results from their use of worm tubs for condensation during the distillation process—less copper contact means more sulphur in the spirit. I’ll be interested to see what that manifests as in a bourbon cask. Let’s see how it goes.

Mortlach 17, 1995 (49.1%: Dewar Rattray; bourbon hogsheasd 2437; from a purchased sample)  Continue reading

Glentauchers 17, 1996 (Whisky Doris)


Another distillery whose name starts with “Glen” and another that is quite unsung. Glentauchers is located in the Speyside and is part of Pernod Ricard’s portfolio. I can’t remember if we passed it while in the Speyside a couple of weeks ago—it did feel like we’d driven past every single Speyside distillery—but I don’t believe they have a visitors centre anyway. It’s another distillery that I have very little experience of: I’ve only ever reviewed one other. In that review I noted that I didn’t even know how the name of the distillery was pronounced. Almost five years later, I can proudly tell you that I have a better idea of that. Unless I’m completely confused—happens a few times a hour—it’s pronounced “Glen-tockers”. And if you do a deep dive on Google maps, you’ll see that there is a burn/small river named Tauchers in the Keith/Mulben area—as this is the area in which we coincidentally stayed, it’s likely I suppose that we did pass the distillery. Fascinating, I know.  Continue reading

Highland Park 1998


Way back in 2010, when the whisky world was a less complicated place, Highland Park released three vintage bottles to duty-free. There was a 1990, a 1994, and this 1998. All were bottled at 40%—which is the kind of thing we grumbled about then, not knowing that a day would come when Highland Park would replace ages and vintages on their bottles with names of Vikings. I purchased my bottle of the 1998 from World of Whiskies in Heathrow in 2010. It cost $55, which I guess was pretty steep even then for an 11 yo at 40%, considering the regular 12 yo was then available for $32 in the Twin Cities and the 15 yo for a bit less than $55. I cannot remember how much the 1990 and 1994 cost. I finished my bottle a long time ago but saved a large reference sample. I then forgot all about it, and only found it while rummaging around for a Highland Park sample that I might review to mark my visit to the distillery today. I also found a sample of the 1994 that I’d received in a swap a long time ago, but, alas, that sample seemed to have deteriorated a bit in the bottle (perhaps because of the low strength). I’ve consigned the remains of that sample to one of my home vattings and have instead a review of the 1998, which has held up fine. Continue reading