Old Blends: Ballantine’s, Late 1940s/Early 1950s


A year and a half ago I was posting regular reviews of blended whiskies from bygone eras. I did not find all of these blends to be very good, or even necessarily all offering so very different profiles from what’s available today. The experience was nonetheless educational. I’m not sure why I stopped—I still have quite a few of these samples from the big bottle split I participated in at the time. I’m going to get these reviews back on track till they’re all gone. Here now is a an older version of a blend from a familiar brand name: Ballantine’s. This sample is from a bottle that was released either in the late 1940s or early 1950s—as always, I’m not sure how these things are figured out; you have to work on trust when going in on splits like these. Modern Ballantine’s has malt from Glenburgie at its core; I assume this has been true for a while now (if you can confirm or deny, please write in below). I’d guess Glenburgie’s malt in the 1940s or 1950s was also quite different from what they’re making now. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Caol Ila 7, 2010 (Sovereign)


Another sherried malt after yesterday’s Balblair 21, and another K&L exclusive. However, this is not from the current run of K&L exclusives, of which I’ve already reviewed a few this month (Clynelish 23, 1995, Glen Moray 23, 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 23, 1995). This was part of last year’s set of exclusive casks, I believe. Sherry-matured Caol Ila can be very excellent indeed. In this case, however, the maturation regime is not very straightforward. This whisky is apparently from something called a “sherry finished butt”. What is a “sherry finished butt”? In this case it is apparently a refill sherry cask that was filled/seasoned with sherry for a while, emptied and then filled with this whisky. If that seems rather bogus it’s because it is but it’s also almost certainly a practice far more rife in the industry than we would hope to be the case (see also Signatory’s “wine treated butts”. It also seems like a recipe for a whisky where the sherry will separate and float free on the palate or finish. Let’s see if that actually happens though. Continue reading

Balblair 21, 1990 (C&S)


Here is a highly untimely review. This Balblair 21 was released in 2011, right around the time when I had begun to buy single malt whisky in a deranged manner. As per my spreadsheet it cost me $80 at the time (and back then the Euro was a lot stronger against the dollar). Sherry cask whisky was widely available then. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking but I also want to say that high quality sherry cask whisky was still widely available then. That is to say, it was possible to get sherried whiskies that didn’t seem to all have been matured in active oak casks that had a few bottle of cooking sherry pressure injected into them for a week or two. Whisky geeks are still enamoured of sherry cask whisky and especially of dark sherried whiskies but they mostly seem like dubious propositions these days, either flabby or raw. I can tell you that the sherry character in this Balblair is more old-school. I’ve been drinking the bottle down with pleasure since I opened it for one of my local group’s tastings a couple of months ago. Here now are my notes. Continue reading

Allt-A-Bhainne 23, 1995 (Old Particular for K&L)


Let’s keep the reviews of recent 23 yo K&L exclusives distilled in 1995 going. So far I’ve reviewed their Clynelish and their Glen Moray. I gave them the same score (87 points) but not the same “buy” rating (“yes” on the Glen Moray, “no” on the Clynelish). Today I have another ex-bourbon cask from an unassuming distillery. Will I finally have a different score? Let’s see.

Allt-A-Bhainne 23, 1995 (50.7%; Old Particular for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Very nice bourbon cask nose. Lemon mixed with malt and mild grassy notes; cooked tart apple and pastry crust behind. As it sits the apple expands and it smells more than a bit like a kitchen in which an apple pie was baked the evening before. Water emphasizes the malt and knocks back the fruit. Well, it knocks back the apple/pie: there’s more lemon now. Continue reading

Glen Moray 23, 1995 (Old Malt Cask for K&L)


On Monday I had a review of a 14 yo Glen Moray bottled for Old Malt Cask’s 20th anniversary. Here now is another special Old Malt Cask bottling of Glen Moray. This is almost a decade older than Monday’s bottle and is part of K&L’s recent run of exclusive casks. I reviewed another of those last week—their Clynelish 23—and, alas, David OG of K&L was not very pleased with me. My review of the whisky itself was positive (I gave it 87 points) and my notes not too far away from his own on the K&L site. So I’m guessing his anger is actually at my suggestion that $250 is way too much for what that whisky is. But, these being the times we live in, he seized on an embarrassing but really inconsequential error on my part in my closing comments. I suggested there that rather than spend $250 on that Clynelish people might instead pick up something like the Springbank 18 and have money left over for a bottle of the Laphroaig 10 CS. I made this suggestion because the last time I had the Springbank 18 it was a pretty heavily sherried malt (composed of 80% sherry casks). I’ve not kept up with it—again on account of the high price—and so did not realize that at some point in the last few years the formulation changed to emphasize bourbon casks. An understandable error, you might think, and not surprising from someone who always notes he doesn’t really follow the industry closely anymore. But as far as David OG is concerned this error of fact invalidates my entire review—presumably he’d care less if they’d already sold out of the Clynelish (there seems to still be a fair amount of it in stock). Continue reading

Glen Moray 14, 2004 (Old Malt Cask 20th Anniv. Release)


Earlier this year I reviewed some ten of the many releases the Laings put out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their popular Old Malt Cask line. And then a few months later, just when people thought this was finally an OMC 20 Anniv-free zone I hit you with another (this Auchroisk 24). Maybe you thought that was the last of it, but no, here’s another. But this finally is the last of it. I actually opened this a while ago. I took my time drinking it down to the halfway stage, at which point I took these notes and also set aside a sample for Michael K. of Diving for Pearls. After that I drank the rest at a faster clip, checking in on my notes each time to see if there were any major departures I should note (there were not). Here now are my notes. I mentioned setting aside a sample for Michael K.—as it happens, this is yet another of our simul-review packages. We did a week of simul-reviews of peated whiskies in November (the Offerman Lagavulin, Laphroaig 10 CS, Batch 011 and a Ledaig 6). We didn’t agree on all of those and I’m interested to see if we will today. As always, we have not seen each other’s notes or discussed them in any way prior to posting. I’ll be reading his review in the morning and will link to it once I’ve seen it (and here it is). Continue reading

Springbank 12 CS, Batch 19


I’ve sung the praises of the Springbank distillery so often that I am not going to bother doing it again. Suffice it to say that in an industry that for the last decade has been seeming to move further and further away from what’s in the bottle, Springbank (and their younger siblings at Glengyle/Kilkerran) have been keeping it real, making the whisky they’ve always been making. And one of those whiskies is the 12 yo, cask strength. I’ve had a number of batches of these over the years (and I’ve reviewed a few) and I do believe I’ve liked them all a lot. The formulation has changed over the years; there’s now more bourbon casks than sherry in the mix—indeed, if the Whiskybase entry can be trusted, this is composed from 65% ex-bourbon and 35% ex-sherry casks. The 18 yo and above and their single cask releases are all priced quite high—this is my only major complaint about them—but the 10 yo and the 15 yo are still relative bargains and at <$80 this will be too if it’s as good as previous batches. Let’s see. Continue reading

Clynelish 23, 1995 (Signatory for K&L)


As I said in my post looking ahead to this month’s reviews, I recently participated in a split of a large number of bottles from K&L’s recent run of exclusive casks. In so doing I broke a promise to myself that I would not fall anymore for the promise of these exclusive casks, very few of which have in the past delivered for me. But I have poor impulse control. Hence this Clynelish which is being sold for $250 before tax, accompanied by K&L’s usual mix of over-the-top lyricism and incoherence. I don’t really spend this kind of money on any whisky anymore but I couldn’t resist 2 ounces to see if it could possibly live up to the breathless descriptions of it as a “legendary cask” of “superlative quality”, “deep and profound like the ocean itself” posing questions to the unprepared drinker such as “if you were a hotdog would you eat yourself?” and so on. Of course, what they don’t say is that there have been a large number of these sherried Clynelishes hitting the market in the last couple of years, getting more expensive each year—I reviewed a 21 yo, 1995 almost exactly two years ago, a Signatory exclusive for the Whisky Exchange that went for £120. Will this cask, two years older, really be so different from the sherried mean? Let’s see. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 20, 1986, Family Cask #3434


Glenfarclas has always had a very strong relationship with the whisky geek community. A very big part of this is explained by the fact that they put out good whisky in a range of ages and price points. Through the decade of NAS whisky from which we are now emerging Glenfarclas has continued to release age-stated whisky from 10 to 40 years of age. And while prices have risen towards the top of the range it is hard to feel resentful about this when you consider how fairly priced their 25 yo continues to be; it can still be found in the neighbourhood of $150. Compare with whisky of similar age from any other name distillery. Another part of their appeal to the whisky geek community has been that they are an independent family-owned distillery. This latter fact is doubtless connected to the first: they have no shareholders to please by squeezing out maximum profit from the youngest possible whisky, no expensive, gimmicky branding and so on. This is not to say that Glenfarclas does not put out any high-end whisky. Their Family Cask series, an early release from which I am reviewing today, comes in wooden boxes and costs a pretty penny. But, again, when you compare these releases to the excesses being perpetrated by many other distilleries it’s clear how different their ethos is. I believe the Family Cask series was launched in the late 2000s. In fact, it’s possible that this cask from 2007 was from one of the earliest releases, if not the first. If you know more about this, please write in below. For now let’s get to the review. Continue reading

Old Forester, Bottled in Bond


Let’s close out not-single malt Scotch whisky week, and also the month, with a bourbon review. The bourbon in question is the long defunct Old Forester Bottled in Bond. Now, there is a more recent Old Forester Bottled in Bond: the 1897 Bottled in Bond, which was released in 2015. But this is not that one. This is from an earlier period. As per my bourbon informants, the split DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) numbers marked on the sample label indicates that this was made after 1980—as that was when the bourbon going into Old Forester began to be distilled at DSP 354 (the Early Times distillery). The split DSP, I am told, likely suggests distillation at plant 354 (the 345 marked on the sample label is a typo) and bottling at the old plant 414; and I think I was also told that these split DSP releases began to show up in the late 1980s. At any rate, this could not have been released after 1995 as that is when the old Bottled in Bond release went away. Now, why can’t I just ask the person who organized this bottle split if they know more about it? Well, because I have no memory of who I acquired this from or when. I’ve checked with likely sources and have completely struck out. So, if you have any more insight into this matter please write in below. And now let’s find out if the bourbon in the bottle is worth any of this fuss of trying to establish its provenance. Continue reading

Knappogue Castle 12 (for The Party Source)


This is the week of reviews of things that are not single malt Scotch whisky, I started off on Monday with a whisky that is almost single malt Scotch Whisky: Old Perth 21, 1996, a blended malt, i.e a blend of two malt whiskies. Today we leave Scotland completely but don’t go very far. Just across the water to Ireland.

Knappogue Castle is not a distillery, it is a brand. There actually is a castle called Knappogue Castle and it is in fact owned by the people who release Knappogue Castle whiskey but there is no distillation happening there—though you wouldn’t know this if you read the “Process” page on their website. Instead, the company purchases pot still whiskies from other distilleries and releases them under their label. I’m not sure if their whiskey is even sold in Ireland. The “Store Finder” map on their website shows only retailers and bars in the US. Perhaps someone who knows more about the brand—possibly even the source of my sample, the Marvelous Mr. Michael (see his review here)—can fill in the particulars. All I can tell you for sure is what I think of it. Ah yes, this was specially bottled for The Party Source in Kentucky, hence the 6 extra points of abv over the regular 40% 12 yo. Continue reading

Old Perth 21, 1996


So far in November I’ve done a week of whiskies distilled in the 1990s; a week of whiskies distilled in the 1960s and 1970s; and a week of peated whiskies. Let’s close out the month with another random theme: whiskies that are not single malt Scotch whiskies. First up is one that’s pretty close to being a single malt Scotch whisky.

This Old Perth 21, I am told, is a blended malt—which is to say it is a vatting of single malt whiskies from different distilleries; there is no grain whisky in there. As per the source of my sample, The Mighty Kravitz, there may be Glen Grant in here (I got this from his review which you can read here) and also some species of peated malt. None of that is for certain. What is certain is that this is supposed to be from a single sherry cask. Now, how does a blended malt emerge from a single anything cask? It seems highly unlikely that someone would have blended malts from two distilleries from the get-go and matured the vatting for 21 years in a cask. So, most probably, two casks were dumped into a single sherry cask for some small fraction of the 21 years on the label. And given that the outturn was 330 bottles it seems all but certain that cask was a butt (where did the rest of it go?). Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Glen Ord 18, 1996 (Blackadder)


Another whisky distilled in the 1990s, another Glen Ord. I wasn’t sure I was going to get to this one this month but after Diageo announced an 18 yo Singleton of Glen Ord as part of their 2019 slate of over-priced releases I figured the time was right: that if there was ever going to be a surge of interest in 18 yo Glen Ord it would be now; and who better than me to stand poised to ride that wave all the way to marginally less irrelevance than I now boast in the marketplace of content.

The last couple of teenaged Glen Ords I’ve had—including Tuesday’s 15 yo—have been very good but nothing very exciting. Let’s see if this 18 yo does a little more for me and makes me consider paying a large amount of money for the new Singleton 18 yo for a few minutes before I slap myself across the head for being a fucking idiot. Continue reading

Glen Ord 15, 1996 (Liquid Sun)


Day two of 1990s week is here and today I have a Glen Ord 15. (Yesterday I had a Laphroaig 19.) No, you’re not experiencing deja vu: I did recently review another Glen Ord 15 bottled by Liquid Sun. But that one was distilled in 1997, and this one in 1996. I liked that one but wasn’t blown away by it. Will this be better? Only one way to find out. Oh yes, you may think this is another untimely review but news broke yesterday that a Glen Ord is part of this year’s special release slate from Diageo. Therefore this is highly relevant content.

Anyone have any thoughts by the way on this year’s special releases? I was struck both by how few will be even sold in the US (an effect of the Scotch tariffs?) and by the fact that Diageo seems eternally committed to seeing if it can get people to shell out large sums of money for Mortlach: $2000 for a 26 yo Mortlach? I salute their shamelessness, I mean, their chutzpah! Meanwhile a 29 yo Pittyvaich produced in the exact same convoluted way will sell for $430. (Or will it? Only time will tell.) Meanwhile the Singleton of Glen Ord 18 begins to look like a bargain at $170. Almost. Well, since no one is likely to have anything to add about this Liquid Sun Glen Ord 15, I invite you to weigh in instead in the comments on Diageo’s latest excesses. Continue reading