Balblair 1999-2016, 2nd Ed.


Once upon a time the most confusing whisky on the market was official Glenrothes. Their vintage releases had labels that noted the year of distillation and also the date on which the whisky was said to have been not bottled but “checked”. I don’t know if anyone quite understood what that meant. Then arrived Kilkerran’s Work in Progress series, with the different releases marked not by a clear year of release or number but by differences in label colour, some of which were very subtle indeed. Glenrothes has now gotten into the regular age stated game but Balblair is carrying the torch for confusing vintage releases. In their case both distillation and bottling years are clearly marked but there are multiple releases of editions marked by the same distillation year. Thus the 1999 Second Edition has come out in 2014, 2015, 2016, while the 1999 First Edition has come out in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018 (some of those seemingly as Travel Retail exclusives). In case you’re wondering if the two editions can be distinguished by cask type, they all seem to be from a mix of sherry and bourbon casks. And nor is it clear what it means for the same edition to be released in different years. This is the kind of thing that drives people to drink. And so I might as well pour this sample.  Continue reading

Deanston 11, 2006 (Signatory)


On Wednesday I had a review of an 11 yo Orkney/Highland Park bottled at a ludicrous strength of 63.7%. Here now is a review of an 11 yo Deanston bottled at an even more ludicrous strength of 64.7%. I have to admit I have never understood the appeal of whisky bottled at such strengths—they are almost always too hot, in my experience, and there is not one that I have not found improved radically by bringing it down closer to 55% or less. This is also true of bourbon, a category in which you see these strengths more often, and whose aficionados tend to be more committed to drinking at full strength. To each their own, I suppose, but my recent experiences of young, high strength Scotch whisky is beginning to make me wonder if bottlers are not making a bet that a very high strength may be a selling point in and of itself; a sort of whisky machismo mixed in with notions of cask strength “purity”. Anyway, let’s see what this is like.  Continue reading

Ballechin 12, 2005 (Signatory for the Whisky Barrel)


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.

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Tomatin 16, Distillery Exclusive PX Cask


More sherried whisky but this time sans peat. I purchased this bottle at the Tomatin distillery this June and filled it myself (see here for an account of the distillery tour I took that day). Tomatin seems to regularly have five casks on offer for hand-bottling at their distillery shop. Both on this visit and on my brief stop in June 2017 these casks were ex-bourbon, virgin oak, ex-oloroso, ex-PX and an older cask. Last year I bottled just the ex-bourbon 12 yo. This year I bottled both the current 12 yo ex-bourbon cask and this 16 yo PX cask. This after getting tastes of both of these and the oloroso. This was not matured for all 16 years in a PX cask (does any distillery do full-term PX maturation?). Instead, it spent the first ten years in a bourbon cask and then the last six in PX. That’s well past the cut-off for what I would call double maturation. Anyway, while I liked it enough at the distillery to fill a bottle, when I opened it a month and a half ago I didn’t like it as much: it seemed much too hot. However, when I took it too my local group’s November tasting it had clearly settled down with some more headspace in the bottle and it was the top bottle on the night (everyone but me drinks blind). These notes were taken after that tasting.  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

Balblair 38, 1966


Here’s one last entry in my almost month-long series of reviews of ever-older malts, a series in which I have reviewed as many older malts as Serge reviews every Wednesday.

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

Brora 30, 5th Release


Inside this very ratty sample bottle—a recycled 50 ml mini that originally held god knows what—is a whisky with a very high reputation from a legendary distillery. The 5th release of the Brora 30 came out in 2006—almost 25 years after the distillery was closed—and the whisky illuminati rate it very highly. As a blogger of the people I have not had very many of these special release Broras—or very many Broras at all—and so I am not going to be able to offer any insight into its quality relative to the others (I think the only other that I’ve reviewed is the 6th release, which has the same abv—my bottle of which I am still nursing).

As you may know, Diageo has recently revived Brora (and Port Ellen). Construction was ongoing when I was at Clynelish briefly in June. I have no idea what the nature of the whisky produced there will be, and I doubt very many people will be able to compare it to whisky of similar age made at the distillery before it closed, and certainly from its heyday in the 1970s. And it’s going to take a long time for the new production to get to the age of the releases that made its reputation long after it closed. Alas, I will not be around to taste 30 yo whisky from the revived Brora. I can still taste this though.  Continue reading

Ben Nevis 27, 1990 (Archives)


Continuing my miniseries of older whiskies (after Monday’s Tomatin 25 and yesterday’s Caperdonich 27), here is a Ben Nevis. Unlike the other two, it was released this year but, alas, this review is not very timely. I purchased the bottle from Whiskybase—who bottled it under their Archives label—a couple of months ago and waited a bit too long to open and taste it. After my first taste I raced back to their site to get another but it was gone. Yes, I liked it a lot. What is the other proof of this? Well, I’ve finished the bottle less than a month after I opened it. Also, I recently took it to a whisky gathering in St. Paul that featured some very heavy hitters (early 70s Ardbeg, early 80s Port Ellen and Caol Ila, late 70s Laphroaig 10 and so on) and it held its own. Lovers of fruity malts already know this, but the once dodgy Ben Nevis distillery is now one of our very best sources for exuberantly fruity whisky. Of course, as it’s Ben Nevis it’s got some funky notes mixed in but that’s part of the fun.  Continue reading

Tomatin 25, 1988 (Malts of Scotland)


Please excuse me as I start a small run of reviews of progressively older malts, few, if any, of which are still available. If I were Serge I’d post all of them together on one day and have another 27 over the new few days but I am a mere human.

First up is this Tomatin 25, bottled a few years ago by the German outfit, Malts of Scotland. Older Tomatin can be very good indeed. I rather liked the old Tomatin 25, a malt that—at 43% abv—probably never sent too many whisky geeks’ pulses racing. I liked even more this Tomatin 25, 1975 bottled by MacKillop’s choice. Even though late-80s Tomatin does not have the reputation of mid-70s Tomatin, I expect to like this one too as the aforementioned Serge’s review, as well as the tasting notes on Whiskybase, lead me to expect a very fruity whisky and that’s my favourite kind these days. Let’s see if reality matches expectations.  Continue reading

Balblair 16


After three Ardmores in a row (here, here, and here), let’s go a little west and then north to Balblair (see here for my write-up of my brief visit to the distillery this summer). This isn’t any more of a timely review than the previous three, however. This 16 yo was phased out in the late 2000s when Balblair’s vintage releases started coming out. While I’ve liked the few of those vintages I’ve tried, I didn’t like them enough to keep trying each new release. And there’s not a whole lot of Balblair available from the independents, especially of late. As such, I’m more than a little out of touch with what the distillery has been doing in the last few years. I did always like the old 16 yo a lot though. I finished my last bottle some years ago but saved a reference sample from it. I’m looking forward to tasting it once more. By the way, as with some other malts that were/are bottled at 40% in the UK and Europe, the US version of the Balblair 16 was at 43%.  Continue reading

Glendronach 18, 1991


In my “Coming Soon” posts for the last couple of months I’ve promised a Glendronach 17 yo from 1995 bottled for the Whisky Exchange. But I’ll be damned if I know where that sample is. As I’m unlikely to have pulled something so specific out of thin air, there are two possibilities: the sample is lost somewhere on my shelves; or I drank it at some point without taking notes or clearing it from my samples database. It’s so wonderful getting old! Anyway, I have for you instead a Glendronach 18, 1991. This was released in 2010 and was from only the third batch of Glendronach’s releases. In those days the mania for this series had not yet set in and it was not difficult to acquire bottles; nor were the prices so high. It was also well before suspicions began to be expressed about the nature of these releases. You may have already seen my post about the question of whether these were/are indeed single casks in the way that most consumers understand the term—if not, you can read it here. Well, as it happens this putative single oloroso cask also yielded an unlikely number of bottles: 760 to be exact; suggesting that this too was a product of a cask or two being re-racked into an oloroso butt for the final phase of the maturation. Has this resulted in flabby whisky? Let’s see.  Continue reading

Glen Garioch 26, 1990 (Signatory for the Whisky Exchange)


A little bonus of my time in Edinburgh this June was finally getting to meet James, who comments on the blog from time to time, and who I’ve known on the whisky web for a while. He lives in Glasgow but as it’s a short hop from there to Edinburgh, he came over for a drink one night. We met at the Bow Bar and had a very good time talking a little about whisky but mostly about other things (and drinking a fair bit of peaty whisky). He was the source of some very good advice (he recommended the tour at Highland Park highly which I liked it a lot) and also some angst (he warned that our crossing of the Pentland Firth to Orkney might be really choppy; thankfully, it wasn’t). He was also the source of this generous sample of Glen Garioch 26, 1990 bottled by Signatory for the Whisky Show in Glasgow early last year. I’ve not had much pre-1995 Glen Garioch (that was the year they stopped using peated malt) and the last Glen Garioch from this year that I tried was a belter, with quite a bit of peat influence—and it was also bottled by Signatory. As such I was looking forward to getting into this one, which I finally did a couple of weeks later in London. Here now are my notes.  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

Clynelish, Distillery Exclusive, 2018 Release


We stopped at Clynelish on the way from Dornoch to Scrabster, where we boarded the ferry to Stromness on Orkney. Well, more immediately, we stopped at Clynelish on the way to Wick. I was scheduled to tour Pulteney at 2, but it seemed rash to drive by Clynelish without even stopping. I hadn’t planned to buy anything there but when I was in the distillery shop I chatted a bit with one of the staff and she offered me a taste of the current  distillery exclusive. Apparently this was selected by the distillery staff, though they had no idea of the age or composition (or they would not say). It’s not a bottle-your-own—they had loads of it on the shelves. I quite liked it and couldn’t resist overpaying for a bottle. Why do I say “overpaying”? Well, because I paid £80 for an NAS whisky, and one that’s not at cask strength. Yes, unlike the 2008 edition—which may have been the previous distillery exclusive—this is bottled at 48%. That’s not a bad abv per se, but the price is still high (as it was at Oban and Talisker last year—and their distillery exclusives were NAS as well). I’ll probably have a post later this month with some thoughts on the whole “distillery only”/”bottle your own” thing. For now here’s a review of the whisky itself. I opened it for my local group’s July tasting and we all liked it a fair bit.  Continue reading