Here is the last of four reviews of recent releases from the lords of Campbeltown. I’ve already reviewed the 2019 release of the Springbank 21, the Hazelburn 14, Oloroso and the new Kilkerran, Heavily Peated. Here now is the 2019 release of the revered Longrow 18 (Longrow, in case you don’t know, is the name for the heavily peated, double-distilled malt made at Springbank). I’ve previously reviewed two other releases of the Longrow 18: the 2008 release (which was, I believe the first release) and the 2011 release. I liked both a lot. I also have a bottle of the 2014 release on my shelves which I should really open some day soon. The reason I don’t go through Longrow 18 as often/quickly as some other regular releases from Springbank is that it costs the earth in the US. And so I wait to buy it in the UK or Europe once every few years. Well, my parents will soon be passing through London on the way to visiting us—so let’s see if this is good enough to have shipped to my uncle’s place in London, where they will be stopping for a week. Continue reading
I have Sku to blame for my sudden interest in cognac. He’s been going on about brandy in general for a good while now—you may remember that in 2013 he’d proclaimed the Golden Age of Brandy. I took that as a sign and a couple of months later promptly started this whisky blog (well, it used to be a whisky blog then). I ignored the whole brandy thing for a while till the bastard got me into first calvados and then armagnac. And then this past winter, when we met in Los Angeles, he passed me a bunch of samples, which included the Vallein Tercinier, Lot 70. As you may recall, I liked that one a lot. Enough to grab a couple of bottles. And enough in fact to look more fully into this cognac thing. One thing led to another and I purchased a few older cognacs and passed samples of the couple I’ve opened so far on to Sku. I was going to ask him what he thought of them but then I thought I’d ask him if he’d be willing to share his notes alongside mine on the blog. He readily agreed—clearly he misses writing reviews. Here then is the first of two cognac reviews that feature my tasting notes and then below them a terse capsule review of the kind we all enjoyed on Sku’s Recent Eats before he shut up shop. Try to control your emotions. Continue reading
After Monday’s Game of Thrones Lagavulin 9 and yesterday’s not-very-sherried G&M Caol Ila 11, let’s make it three Diageo whiskies in a row. We go from the shores of Islay to the Highlands; from two iconic distilleries to one that is rather anonymous. Well, you might have said that about Glendullan as well, before Diageo made it part of the Singleton family and then assigned it to one of the Game of Thrones Houses (even if it’s only lame House Tully). No such recognition for Teaninich, who continue to produce large amounts of whisky for the group’s blends. As I say whenever I review a Teaninich, I have not had very much from this distillery. This is not the oldest Teaninich I’ve had (see this 39 yo bottled by Malts of Scotland); it is, however, the best Teaninich I’ve yet had. It was distilled a decade after that Malts of Scotland cask, in 1983, a year of major closures in the industry, and bottled three decades later by Signatory. My friend Pat brought this bottle to a tasting at our friend’s Rich’s place in St. Paul last November and it was a wonderful surprise. I can’t say how unlike other Teaninich of similar age and vintage it is but, thanks to Pat giving me a sample to take with me, I can tell you what it is like. Continue reading
Here’s another Old Malt Cask bottle but don’t panic, it’s not another from their 20th Anniversary release. No, this is a single cask of Bowmore, a refill hogshead, bottled for K&L in California. Somewhat unusually, it is bottled not at the standard 50% abv of the Old Malt Cask line but at 53.9%. Not that I follow K&L’s announcements very closely anymore—after Driscoll’s departure it’s a bit like going to the circus after they’ve got rid of all the clowns—but I didn’t recall much noise having been made about it. Thus when I asked Sku in January—when I was in Los Angeles—if there were any K&L exclusives he’d recommend I was surprised when he mentioned this. But I always do what Sku says and so I purchased a bottle. At about $150 it was not cheap but that’s pretty good these days for a Bowmore of this age. When I got back to Minnesota I opened it right away, and man, Sku was right. Which leads me to think that the lack of noise about this from K&L must mean either that they really don’t know what they have or that the way to separate the crap from the quality in what they bring in is to ignore the ones they shout about and get the ones they trust to sell themselves (though this did hang around for a good while). If K&L were still shipping out of state I would have purchased a few more bottles within minutes of tasting this, but they don’t and then they finally sold out anyway a few days later. Here at any rate are my notes. Continue reading
The blog turns six today and so here is the customary Bowmore review. My first ever review was of the lowly Bowmore Legend and since then I’ve posted a Bowmore review on every anniversary. In 2014 I reviewed the Bowmore 12 and in 2015 the Bowmore 18—but that’s as high as the age statements have gone on these anniversary reviews. Well, this year’s review is of a much older Bowmore—indeed, the oldest I’ve ever tasted—and it’s from a series with a very strong reputation: the Sea Dragon. A number of batches of these were released from the late 1990s through the early 2000s, all in ceramic bottles with striking art on them and it’s not always easy to know which release a given bottle is from. I got this sample from Matt G. and he couldn’t find a bottle code anywhere on his black ceramic bottle. Assuming this was not actually from a 2000s release, this will be both my first-ever 30 yo Bowmore and my first-ever 60s Bowmore. Continue reading
More rum but not from a distillery I’ve reviewed before. This is from Worthy Park, like Hampden, a Jamaican distillery. The distillery has a long history but not a continuous one. It stopped distilling in 1960 and only started up again in 2005 with brand new facilities (see here for more on the distillery). This means this particular rum was produced in the first year of the distillery’s revival. It was bottled 11 years later by Cadenhead in Scotland. I’m not sure when Scottish and other European bottlers began to carry rum in a big way but I can only imagine that this has been a boon for the revitalized distilleries of the Caribbean. Now if only more of these rums would be available in the US. I purchased a 200 ml bottle from Cadenhead’s Edinburgh store last June and have been looking forward to tasting it. My only other exposure to Jamaican rum has been through a few wild releases of Hampden and I am curious to see how much of that character is shared by Worthy Park.
Okay, here’s another brandy. This is not Armagnac, however; it’s Cognac, Armagnac’s more worldly cousin, the one who gets into all the clubs. I know little about Armagnac and I know even less about Cognac: only that the stuff that’s widely available is considered by aficionados to be inferior, usually artificially goosed-up brandy designed to appeal to people who just want something easy to like. God, I sound like an asshole. Anyway, small estate Cognac is said to be very different and this is an instance of small estate Cognac. The “Lot 70” in the name apparently signifies that this was distilled in 1970; as it was bottled just last year that means it is 47-48 years old. It was bottled for Flask, a store in California and it seems to still be available. The price is not low but if it’s good and if you’re looking for something very old then it is, again, affordable compared to single malt whisky of much lower age. And as I am Lot 70 myself, it might be hard for me to resist a bottle if I do in fact like this a lot. Let’s see how it goes. Continue reading
For my last whisky review of the year I have what I think may have been the oldest whisky I drank this year; in terms of maturation, that is (in terms of distillation year that was last week’s Glen Moray 42). This was bottled by the Whisky Agency for the Whisky Exchange last year (or was it a joint bottling?) and is from an undisclosed Speyside distillery. Well, it is technically undisclosed but everyone seems very sure it was a Glenfarclas. Glenfarclas, of course, do not allow their name to be placed on labels of independently bottled casks, but it’s also more usual to see names like Burnside or Speyside’s Finest or references to a family owned distillery on independent releases of the distillery’s whisky. At any rate, there were quite a few of these “Speyside Region” 1973s released in 2016 and 2017, and most of those were from the Whisky Agency—they seem to have come into a parcel of these casks. Anyway, I first tasted this at a gathering in St. Paul in early November that featured a number of excellent older whiskies. This one had one of the best noses of everything on the table that night. Thankfully, the owner of the bottle was happy to share a sample and so I got to take a second crack at it and write up some formal notes. Continue reading
Here is the second whisky I drank at the Dornoch Castle Hotel‘s excellent whisky bar. Monday’s Bunnahabhain 34, 1980 was Phil Thompson’s value selection from the then current whisky list; this Glen Moray 34, 1977 was Simon Thompson’s. I have no idea if either whisky is still available at the bar. Before I drank it this whisky’s most significant characteristics were 1) that I’d not previously tried any older Glen Moray (though this record will not stand long as I have an even older one coming on Friday); and 2) that the name of the distillery is misspelled on the label. The good people at Malts of Scotland apparently didn’t catch that they had it as “Glen Morey” till the labels were on and apparently then decided not to bother. After I drank the whisky its mot significant characteristic became that it is the best Glen Moray I’ve yet had the pleasure of tasting. Here are my notes. Continue reading
Back again to the combo of big sherry and big peat. This Ballechin was/is an exclusive for the Whisky Barrel. It was bottled by Signatory and as Signatory owns Edradour—whose peated malt Ballechin is—it seemed a pretty good bet that this would be a good cask. Also relevant: I quite liked the old limited edition Ballechin 4 which was from oloroso casks (or finished in oloroso casks, I can’t remember). I got this sample as part of a bottle split and indeed liked it so much (spoiler alert) that I purchased a couple of bottles. I was surprised to see later that Serge didn’t rate it very highly. This may explain why this is still available from the Whisky Barrel. I think it’s one that requires some time and then water to reveal all its charms. Anyway, I do recommend it highly, especially if you like that combo of big sherry and big peat.
On Friday I had a review of a heavily sherried Ledaig, an 11 yo from 2005. Here now is another heavily sherried Ledaig, a 10 yo from 2004. It is from the same series of casks of sherried Ledaigs that emerged a couple of years ago. Interestingly, despite having been distilled the previous year this has a higher cask number 900170 to the 2005’s 900162. A while ago I’d reviewed another of these 10 yo casks from 2004—that one was 900176. Now, I know that distilleries usually restart their cask numbering every year but it seems very coincidental that casks filled a year later, and in turn bottled a year later, should have numbers in the same range. The more likely explanation may be that these are Signatory’s cask numbers. They may have acquired a parcel of sherried Ledaigs from 2004 and 2005 and re-numbered them in this 900xxx series. It does appear from Whiskybase that all the 90014x, 90015x, 90016x and 90017x casks were either released by Signatory or outfits Signatory is said to be the source for (van Wees, LMDW). And they all seem to date from 2004 or 2005. Well, this may not be a very interesting mystery but if you do know the answer or have a better theory, please write in below. Continue reading
The malts bottled by the Whisky Exchange in their Elements of Islay line have been of a uniformly high quality—at least, all the ones I have had have been very good. I remember the very first Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Caol Ila in the series were particularly good (I reviewed those in the early months of the blog: Ar1, Lg1, Lp1, CI1). They were also quite reasonably priced. Since then, as with the whisky market in general, the prices of these releases has risen sharply, making it harder to justify the value of what is after all NAS whisky. Don’t get me wrong, I still buy these when I get the opportunity—now that TWE no longer ships to Minnesota, that opportunity is when I am in the UK—but I am conscious of the fact that I am inclined to cut the Whisky Exchange some slack for their NAS releases that I do not extend to big whisky companies. Anyway, here is my review of the first Port Charlotte released in this series. Unlike the 1s linked above, this was bottled from a sherry cask. It was released in 2012 and I have no idea why I waited six years to open it. I’ve not had any of the others in the series; the Pl2 was from rum casks and the next two from wine casks, and I passed. I see that the Pl5, released this year, is from a bourbon hogshead. I’ll keep an eye out for that one. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
This is by some distance the oldest Balblair I have ever had, one that was distilled before I was born and which was bottled before I began to get seriously interested in single malt whisky. At the time that this whisky was bottled older malts were not yet hard to come by, and were available at prices that seem downright reasonable in comparison to today’s market. When I first ‘began to get serious about the hobby a few years later I had neither enough knowledge, money nor foresight to consider buying any of these whiskies. Thankfully, I was lucky to encounter a number of people on the WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum whose far greater experience and knowledge of whisky was to be an invaluable guide. One of these excellent people, Nick Ramsey, once sent me a sample of his favourite Port Ellen, all the way from England, just because I was dithering over my first-ever Port Ellen purchase, wondering if the distillery’s reputation was warranted. And for good measure he threw this sample of a 38 yo Balblair into the box as well. The WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forums—like most forums on food and drink—are these days sadly moribund, and Nick hasn’t been sighted there much of late, but I want to take this opportunity to not just thank him for this sample but to toast the generosity of so many older whisky geeks who so happily helped MUCH MUCH YOUNGER people like myself into greater knowledge and experience. Continue reading
After last Friday’s Longmorn, here’s another 34 yo whisky. We go from the Speyside to Islay, to Caol Ila. There have been a number of older Caol Ilas from 1982 bottled in the last 5-7 years. And as per Whiskybase, in 2016 and 2017 Cadenhead put out nine 34 and 35 yo releases. This 34 yo is one of them and while the label describes it as a “small batch” release it’s in fact a single cask, a single hogshead. I guess whoever was printing the labels at Cadenhead that day wasn’t paying attention. It was bottled for the Dutch importer Bresser & Timmer in 2016. Old Caol Ila from the 1980s can be a wondrous thing; and while I haven’t reviewed very many of them, they’ve all been excellent (the one exception being an overpriced Samaroli that was just quite good).
This one, I can tell you, is indeed excellent. I took it to one of my friend Rich’s tastings earlier this month and it held its own against some very high-powered whiskies—well, at least until the early 70s Ardbeg came out. (I’ll have reviews of a few of those high-powered whiskies in the next month or two; though alas not the early 70s Ardbeg.) While not cheap, a Caol Ila like this is about as close as those of us who are not independently wealthy can get to good value for a >30 yo peated whisky from Islay—and, frankly, it stands shoulder to shoulder with Port Ellens of similar age that go for far, far more money. Here now are my notes. Continue reading