After a week of reviews of whiskies from Highland Park (which followed a week of reviews of whiskies from Glen Scotia) let’s do a week of reviews of whiskies from Kilchoman, Islay’s small farm distillery. This was the very first Kilchoman I ever had. It was bottled in 2010 for Binny’s in Chicago at the ripe young age of three. The distillery put out a number of these store exclusives among their earliest releases and they helped make their name in the US (and elsewhere too). Those were the days when Binny’s shipped out of state and I purchased a bottle right away. I drank it down slowly over the next few years and before finally finishing it in early 2013—as per my spreadsheet, a month before I started the blog—I put four ounces away for future reference, as was my practice at the time (well, my usual practice was to put away 6 ounces). In other words, this review is of a sample that was put away more than 8 years ago and from a bottle that was opened more than 10 years ago. Though I’ve stopped saving these reference samples in recent years, I do very much enjoy going back to some of the whiskies I drank a long time ago. I really liked this one back then, as I have a number of other young Kilchomans. Let’s see what I make of it now. Continue reading
And I close out what turned out to be a week of sherry cask whiskies with the Feis Ile 2020 release from Lagavulin. (See here for Monday’s Springbank and here for Wednesday’s Kilkerran.) Feis Ile 2021 is currently in progress—it is being held online again this year on account of the pandemic. I can only hope for all our sakes, whether we are whisky drinkers or fans of whisky festivals or not, that it can go back to being in-person next year.
I’ve reviewed a few of Lagavulin’s Feis Ile releases over the last few years. I was a huge fan of the 24 yo released in 2015 and also of the 17 yo released in 2013; the 18 yo released in 2018 I thought was very good but not great. What all of them had in common was sherry involvement, though only the 2013 was straightforwardly from sherry casks. This 2020 release is a vatting of refill hogsheads (ex-bourbon presumably) with hogsheads “seasoned” with PX and oloroso sherry. As to what exactly the “seasoning” involves, I don’t know, and nor do I know how long the spirit that came out of those casks spent in them. Well, that 2015 release was also complicatedly made and I thought it was just excellent; let’s hope this one will prove to be so as well. Continue reading
Peated Islay Whisky Week comes to an end with another 11 yo (following Wednesday’s Kilchoman). This time it’s a Caol Ila. Like that Kilchoman—and also Monday’s Laphroaig 10 CS—this is a bourbon cask whisky. Well, I suppose there may be non-bourbon casks in the Laphroaig 10 CS too, but if so they’ve never registered. This was another in the big parcel of 2020 single cask releases from K&L that I went in on a split of at the end of last year. I’m just past the halfway mark of reviewing them all (I think) and it’s probably accurate to say that the set as a whole has not got me very excited so far; though I have liked some of the individual casks a lot (for example, this Blair Athol and also this Craigellachie). Caol Ila—especially bourbon cask Caol Ila—is always a good bet so I am hopeful that this will be the one of the better ones. Well, whatever the score I end up giving it, I remind my sensitive friends at K&L to look only at my patented Everybody Wins! (or EW!) score, which is what I have devised to spare their feelings. This way all their releases score above 100 points and I”m not accused of having a vendetta aganist them. Everybody wins! Or ew! Continue reading
I was going to say it’s been a long time since my last Kilchoman review but I actually reviewed one just this past January. That was from a sherry cask. Maybe I should say it’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed a bourbon cask Kilchoman. That would take me back to 2018 and this 3 yo. Today’s bourbon cask Kilchoman is quite a bit older at 11 years old. It was apparently bottled for a private group. As to whether that group is named “Friends of Kilchoman” or that’s just the name for the private cask program, I don’t know. I do know I’ve always generally been impressed by the quality of bourbon cask Kilchoman at very young ages and so I am curious to find out what it is like at 11 years of age. Are they still planning to only release young’ish whisky? As I recall that was the plan at the beginning—though, of course, at the time they did not have any aged whisky to sell. I guess I could have asked if I’d done a less perfunctory visit when we were on Islay a few years ago. Well, if I ever get back there again I will do a proper tour. Continue reading
Okay, let’s move down south and a bit west from the northern highlands, all the way to Islay for a week of peated whiskies. First up, the 2020 release of the Laphroaig Cask Strength: Batch 012. Considering this was bottled in February, 2020—ah the pre-pandemic times!—I suppose it is possible that Batch 013 has already been released this year. If so, I did not see it when I purchased this bottle locally in April. If you’ve seen it in Minnesota, or when you see it, please let me know. (Also let me know if you see/have seen the new sherry-finished 10 yo.)
There’s been a lot of nonsense going on at Laphroaig in recent years. The number of releases from the distillery has proliferated, with a lot happening both at the relatively affordable and the definitely not affordable ends of the roster. This has not been accompanied, however, by widespread acclaim from reviewers for all these whiskies. Indeed, some have come in for a fair bit of stick. Nor have the recent annual Cairdeas releases all been getting everyone excited. Even I—an avowed fan of the distillery—found little to like in last year’s Port & Wine release. Through all of this hubbub, however, the quality of the Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength has stayed on course. (The regular 10 yo I can speak less confidently of, not having tried recent releases.) Let’s see if Batch 012 keeps that streak going. Continue reading
The blog turns 8 today. What did you get it? Nothing? Typical. As long time readers—down to the low single digits at this point—know, my first-ever review was of a Bowmore—the one-time entry-level Bowmore Legend—and so I’ve marked every anniversary since with a review of a Bowmore: The OB 12 in 2014, the OB 18 in 2015 and so forth—the only other official release since 2015 was the 30 yo Sea Dragon in 2019; other than that it’s been a run of independent releases. Well, today’s is an independent release as well, bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for Feis Ile 2020. It was apparently finished in a first-fill barrique or port cask after 14 years in a bourbon hogshead and was given the whimsical name, Loungecore Stave Exoticism. (I’m sure this makes sense to someone but I am fine not having any idea what it’s a reference to.) I’m not sure that I’ve ever had any kind of port-bothered Bowmore before. Well, what better time than at the start of the blog’s ninth year? Continue reading
It has been a few months since my last Laphroaig review—that was of a 21 yo bottled by the SMWS in 2016 or 2017. Today’s Laphroaig is also an indie release but it’s quite a bit younger at 8 years old. Oh yes, I should have started out by noting that it is a Laphroaig. Williamson—presumably named for the legendary Bessie Williamson of Laphroaig—seems to be the name under which independent Laphroaigs are now being released. When this started, I’m not quite sure. And as long as good indie Laphroaig continues to be available I won’t really care very much under what name it’s sold. As the label says “single malt” I’m going to assume this is not a teaspooned malt. Though I did read recently—perhaps on the Malt Maniacs F&F Facebook group—that casks that leave distilleries having been teaspooned for the indie market may not always be noted as such at release. As to whether that’s legal, I don’t know. I’d assume Berry Bros. & Rudd would play by the rules. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
And here to close out Lagavulin 12 CS week here is the most recent release, from 2020 (see here for the 2019 and here for the 2018 release). I thought the 2018 was excellent and the 2019 just a little behind that. Where will the 2020 fall? Let’s see.
Lagavulin 12 CS, 2020 Release (56.4%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Closer to the 2018 than the 2019: lemon, carbolic peat, salt smouldering leaves; the sweeter notes on the 2019 are not present—at least not at first. The salt expands as it sits—more brine now than salt and some cracked white pepper to go with it. The nose really gets quite lovely with air as some cracked spices (coriander) join the party along with some Springbank’ish burlap and earth and a touch of some muskier fruit (charred pineapple). With more time still there are some meaty notes as well (ham). Okay, time to add water. A few drops brighten it up, pulling out citronella and more of the pineapple—plus is that a bit of peach? Continue reading
Next up in Lagavulin 12 CS week is the 2019 release. As I think I noted in the intro to Monday’s review of the 2018 release, it was in 2019 that Diageo changed the label design for the Lagavulin 12 from the old functional label to something altogether prettier; and I think they raised the price too. Let’s see if they did anything to what’s inside the bottle.
Lagavulin 12 CS, 2019 Release (56.5%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Very close to the 2018 with a big hit of lemon, carbolic peat, salt and a mild farmy note. The smoke gets drier as it sits but then with more time and air there are some sweeter, coastal notes (shells, kelp). Okay, let’s add water. A few drops of water push the lemon back a bit and pull out more mineral notes (wet stones, chalk) along with more salt. Continue reading
Last week was Caol Ila week. It attracted so little interest that I am now motivated to do a Lagavulin week. And not just a general Lagavulin week but a Lagavulin 12 week. First up is the 2018 release. This was the first release since 2011 that I did not purchase at least one bottle of. And I did not go on to purchase the 2019 or 2020 releases either. That is because this was the point at which the price for this release went past the $100 threshold in the US. Having paid a fair bit less for every release prior—and quite remarkably less for some of them—I was unable to follow it into its new price band, where it has remained ever since. The odds of it coming down from there seem negligible. Starting in 2019 Diageo gave what used to be a fairly functional though austerely attractive bottle more premium livery and that’s never a good sign for the prospects of a popular whisky’s affordability. With younger official Lagavulins now out there—from the 8 yo to the 10 yo to the Offerman Edition—this is seemingly no longer intended to be a good value for the Lagavulin faithful; instead it’s more fully become a member of Diageo’s annual special release roster: no longer the member of the lineup aimed at the masses but a full-fledged premium release in its own right. That’s too bad. Well, while I’m not likely to buy another bottle of it—or chase this one on the secondary market—I am glad to get the opportunity to at least taste it via a bottle split. Continue reading
Caol Ila week concludes with an official release, the top of the line malt from the distillery’s regular lineup: the 25 yo. (See here for Wednesday’s 15 yo and here for Monday’s 11 yo.) I’d listed this one in the February and March “Coming Soon…” lineups as a 2019 release. That was because that was how the retailer I’d purchased it from had listed it. But the bottle code revealed that it is actually the 2018 release. Or more accurately, a 2018 release. Diageo put out two separate bottlings of Caol Ila 25 in 2018: one in February and then another in September. This is the kind of thrilling insight you can be privy to if you too squint at bottling codes on bottles of whisky. This bottle is from the original February release. It should be noted that unlike the initial Caol Ila 25 releases from 2004 and 2005, the later Caol Ila 25s have neither been vintage releases nor at cask strength. This is, of course, also true of Diageo’s Talisker 25—though that stayed at cask strength all the way till 2009. The Caol Ila 25, however, only saw those two special vintage releases in 2004 and 2005 (I’ve reviewed the 1978-2004 release—I was a little harder to please back then) and then silence till it returned sans vintage statement at 43% in 2010; it has been a staple of the lineup ever since (though Whiskybase does not list a 2011 or 2015 release). Perhaps it’s these factors—43% abv, regular availability—that keep whisky geek frenzy away from this release, allowing it to be sold at a reasonable price in Europe even in these insane days (alas, the price in the US is far less reasonable). Okay, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
As I said on Monday, this is Caol Ila week. I’m tempted to say it’s my first-ever Caol Ila week but on Monday I also admitted that I’d listed a whisky on the list of potential reviews for February and March that I had already reviewed in January. For all, I know I did an all Caol Ila week in December as well.
Monday’s review was of an 11 yo that was finished for three months in an amontillado sherry cask. I quite liked it. Today’s is a 15 yo and is also sherried but this one was a full-term maturation in a refill sherry cask. What kind of sherry, I don’t know. I opened this bottle a month and a half ago. I split half of it with friends and have been drinking my half down steadily since. Indeed, I’m finishing the last pour tonight while writing this introduction. The notes themselves were taken some weeks ago when the bottle was just past the halfway mark. It’s been very consistent from start to finish. Continue reading
Have I ever done a Caol Ila week before? Well, I’m going to do one now. The plan had been to start with a 15 yo G&M cask, then the 16 yo Feis Ile 2020 and finally the 25 yo from 2018/2019. Then I discovered last week that while I’d listed it among potential reviews for both February and March, I had in fact already reviewed the Feis Ile 2020 in January! I’m totally on top of things. To keep the age progression intact I’ve moved the G&M 15 yo to Wednesday and am instead beginning the week with an 11 yo bottled by a new ‘ish outfit named James Eadie. As per Whiskybase, they’ve been bottling their releases since 2016 but there seems to have been an uptick in the last few years. If you know more about them, please write in below. They seem to have released at least a few finished whiskies. This Caol Ila is one of them. It spent 3 months in a first-fill amontillado sherry cask—a detail that is refreshingly noted on the label of the bottle. Sherried Caol Ila can be very good indeed but a Caol Ila with a short sherry finish? Let’s see. Continue reading
A Bowmore to close the month. This is a Bowmore 18 but it is not the 18 yo that is part of the core range. No, this is a member of Bowmore’s travel retail collection or at least it originally was. I think all of these whiskies may now be available from regular stores as well in the UK and EU. The 18 yo, at any rate, is certainly listed at a few places in the UK and I got my bottle from a store in the EU. I’ve previously reviewed the two others from that collection that had similar epithets attached to their name: the Bowmore 10, Dark & Intense and the Bowmore 15, Golden & Elegant. I liked the 15 yo quite a bit and the 10 yo rather less (too much sulphur, even for me). Like that 10 yo—but not the 15 yo—this 18 yo is also from sherry casks, being a mix of spirit matured in oloroso and PX casks. What the exact mix is, I don’t know. It’s been a long time now since I last had the standard 18 yo but I rather liked it when I did. If this is as good as that I will be happy enough. Let’s see. Continue reading
Earlier in the month I had a review of the new(ish) Lagavulin 10, which is supposed to be an exclusive for the travel retail market. (I say “supposed to be” because I purchased it from a regular EU store.) Here now is a Lagavulin from the distillery’s core lineup: the Distillers Edition. In the past I’ve always understood this to be the regular 16 yo with a couple of months of a PX finish applied to it—and I’ve also assumed that the same relationship of age and finish applies to all of Diageo’s malts that have Distillers Editions releases. Certainly, all the other Lagavulin Distillers Editions I’ve seen and reviewed (here, here, and here) seemed to be at least 16 years old. This one, however, as I reported earlier, is not. It’s the 2020 release but is from the 2005 vintage. Is this a one-off due to lack of availability of enough 16 yo stock? Or is this going to be the new normal? I guess we’ll see what happens with the 2021 release later this year. In the meantime I assume this is still spirit that would have gone into the 16 yo, just finished and released a year earlier than usual. If anyone knows different or has confirmation from the distillery on any of these points do write in below. In the meantime let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
As I noted on Monday, I went in once again at the end of last year on bottle splits of a large number of K&L’s exclusives (maybe even all of them? I’m not sure). There’s a rather large number of them, most, if not all, from the various Laing outfits. There were a large number of teaspooned malts in the set but also some that dare to openly wear their distillery’s name on their labels. This Bunnahabhain is one of the latter. It’s also one of the younger malts in the set. We’ll start with it anyway.
I’m also rolling out a new feature for this round of K&L reviews. As longtime readers know, K&L staff and I have not always been in perfect alignment on our ratings of their releases, either in terms of scores or values. They’ve always expressed themselves with kind restraint but I’ve been able to sense their disapproval. It hurts me to hurt anyone’s feelings and so these reviews will be accompanied by two sets of scores. One for the rest of us and also the EW! or Everybody Wins! rating (patent pending) which those who think my scores are too low can focus on and be happy about. Continue reading
I was not aware until a few minutes before I purchased this bottle from a store in the EU that Lagavulin is now putting out a 10 yo whisky. It was apparently first released in 2019 and is a travel retail exclusive. Which does not explain how I purchased it from a regular store but doubtless there’s an explanation: it does seem to be available at a number of stores in the EU. The more surprising thing is that I did not notice it in duty free shops on the way to or back from India in early 2020 but the explanation for that may well be that I did not really look closely, having long before given up on the possibility of finding good value for anything in a duty free shop. If I missed this a year ago then shame on me. Especially since it’s priced quite reasonably for an age-stated whisky from a name distillery. I’m not sure what relationship it bears to the other whiskies in Lagavulin’s core range, especially the only slightly younger 8 yo (which I was not as enamoured of as some). It is made from spirit matured in “rejuvenated and ex-bourbon casks”. Theoretically that should put it closer to the all ex-bourbon limited edition 12 CS as the 16 yo has some sherry cask involvement. But the proof is in the glass. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
Here’s a quick question about a bottle I opened last night: the 2020 release of the Lagavulin Distillers Edition. I didn’t pay close attention at purchase and assumed it was, like all previous releases of the Lagavulin Distillers Edtion, 16 years old. That is to say that it was—as it used to be—the Lagavulin 16 + a few months extra maturation in PX sherry casks. See, for example the three I’ve previously reviewed: the 1991-2007, the 1993-2009 and the 1997-2013; but it’s not just mine: all the listings on Whiskybase for releases prior to 2020 have the same 16 year gap between distillation and release. However, this label lists a 2005 distillation before bottling in 2020. There doesn’t appear to have been a change in the nature of the double maturation—the box still notes that PX sherry casks are used. So why this change? Is this a one-off due to insufficient stocks from 2004? Or is the Lagavulin Distillers Edition going to be younger going forward? For that matter, I suppose, there may have been changes in the ages of Diageo’s other Distillers Editions as well—I confess I haven’t tracked them. If you know more about this please write in to the comments below. Continue reading