Croftengea 15, 2002 (SMWS 122.21)

Allah be praised: it’s not another Old Malt Cask 20th Anniversary release! No, it’s not. In fact this whisky has nothing to do with the Laing family. This is a 15 yo Croftengea released last year by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Because they are whimsical they gave it the name “Words from Random Phrase Generator”; or maybe it was “What’s cooking?” One or the other.

I got in on this bottle split because a Croftengea came out of nowhere to be one of my very favourite whiskies of 2018 (this one bottled by The Whisky Exchange). I therefore resolved to try as many Croftengeas as I possibly can, leading to this and also the purchase of a full bottle of a Croftengea 13 bottled for….wait for it, wait for it…the 20th Anniversary of the Old Malt Cask line! That’ll be next month; this is now. Continue reading

Glen Garioch 24, 1993 (OMC 20th Anniv. Release)


Oh my god, will this fucker’s series of reviews of OMC 20th Anniversary releases ever end? Yes, it will, but not today. I still have a couple of unopened bottles left after throwing this one on the pile.

I was very interested in this bottle though. I really liked the last two Glen Gariochs of this general age and vintage that I tried (both from Signatory: a 25 yo and a 26 yo) and I was hoping this would be close to that level. As you may remember, Glen Garioch used mildly peated barley till the early 1990s. They stopped doing so in 1994 and this was distilled in 1993. I opened the bottle for my local group’s January tasting and it was a big hit. Indeed, two members of the group decided to purchase full bottles. I liked it very much too and have been waiting to come back to it to take more careful notes. Here now are those more careful notes. Continue reading

Teaninich 19, 1999 (OMC 20th Anniv. Release)

Rounding out a week of reviews of bourbon cask whiskies from unheralded distilleries here is one not from the Speyside (like Monday’s Glentauchers and Tuesday’s Inchgower) but from the northern Highlands. Teaninich is another of Diageo’s workhorse distilleries, pumping out malt for the group’s blends. We drove by it on our way from the Speyside to Dornoch last June but as they’re not open to visitors there was no question of stopping. I don’t have much experience of their whisky either—I think the only official release is in the Flora & Fauna series; and you don’t see a whole lot of it from the independents either—not in the US at least, This 19 yo was another in Hunter Laing’s extensive release commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Old Malt Cask label and like many of the bottles in the series from non-name distilleries it is still available.. Will this be as good as the Inchgower or the Arran? Let’s see.

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Ardmore 22, 1996 (OMC 20th Anniv. Release)


Hunter Laing released a large number of whiskies last year to mark the 20th anniversary of the Old Malt Cask line; they may have miscalculated a bit as a bunch of them are still available. Among these are this Ardmore 22, distilled in 1996. Ardmore is a bit of an enigma in the Scotch whisky world. From its somewhat off the beaten path location in the Eastern Highlands—don’t bother stopping by, they’re not open to the public—to the seeming general lack of interest on the part of the owners in pushing their whisky, it’s a hard distillery to get to know. There’s never been much of it available in official form and even less seemingly from the independents—though there’s been more probably from both directions in the last few years than in the years previous. This despite the fact that they’re one of the few non-Islay distilleries that make palpably peated malt, and you’d expect that to be a winning market proposition. Well, I guess Beam Suntory may be reserving a lot of its output for their blends. Anyway, while I have not had very many Ardmores—on account of lack of opportunity—I’ve liked all that I’ve had. And so I was more than willing to take a chance on this bottle. Let’s see if it has paid off. Continue reading

Ben Nevis 20, 1997 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)


The last indie Ben Nevis I reviewed was excellent—this Archives 27 yo. It featured everything that has made Ben Nevis an unlikely hero in recent years: loads of fruit, malt and nut, and those other savoury, slightly funky notes that make Ben Nevis so unique. Of course, you don’t have to go to older Ben Nevis for these pleasures. The recent official 10 yo is also excellent (though I am not sure what its current status is). This cask from Berry Bros. & Rudd more or less splits the age difference between those two; will it be in line with those two? Or will it be closer to the 19 yo from Montgomerie’s that I reviewed in between those two and which was distilled in the same year? Let’s see.

Ben Nevis 20, 1997 (54.6%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 85; from a bottle split)

Nose: Malty and juicy (orange juice) with a bitter edge that’s partly oak and partly plastic. As it sits the citrus expands and the bitter note moves more in the direction of bitter orange and zest. Water pushes the bitter notes back and pulls out brighter citrus.  Continue reading

Glenmorangie, The Taghta


Let’s do another Glenmorangie. Alas, it’s another NAS whisky—Glenmorangie have released so many of them. Unlike the Tayne, the Taghta is not part of their current lineup. It was a limited edition released a few years ago and was said to be a crowd-sourced whisky with all aspects of the selection of the whisky apparently having been voted on (“Taghta” is apparently Gaelic for “chosen”). From various sherry/wine finishes a Manzanilla finish was selected by whoever did the voting. I’ve read some reports that indicate that this is the regular 10 yo plus a finish but there’s no official word to that effect. I guess the crowd that selected it didn’t get a say in the age. Unlike the Tayne, it’s at 46%, so it’s at least got that going for it. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.

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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