Well, I went almost three weeks but I’m breaking with my run of official distillery releases in order to finish the tour of Islay left incomplete last month. I’ve already hit Kilchoman and Bruichladdich/Port Charlotte this week; here now is a Bunnahabhain. This is quite a bit older than both of the others reviewed this week. It’s a single sherry butt bottled by Whiskybase for their Archives label back in 2014 or so. “Gather round, children, Grampa’s going to tell you how much more affordable single sherry cask whisky past the age of 20 was back then.” Okay, whatever, if you’re going to make fun of me I’m just going to review the damned whisky.
Bunnahabhain 23, 1990 (47.9%; Archives; sherry butt 52; from my own bottle)
Nose: Sweet raisiny sherry with some savoury gunpowder and leather interlaced with it. On the second sniff there’s some soy sauce and a touch of hoisin along with an earthy note of dried mushrooms (more like the soaking liquid). The salt expands as it sits and a big plummy note emerges. A few drops of water emphasize the orange—more juicy than dried now. Continue reading →
Let’s stay on Islay and continue with the distilleries I didn’t cover in December. After Monday’s Kilchoman detour here is a stop at Bruichladdich. This was the fifth limited release of the peated Port Charlotte distillate en route to the eventual regular release of the 10 yo. I’ve previously reviewed the PC6, PC7 and PC8: here now is PC9. This is from the 2002 vintage, bottled in 2011 at the age of 9. The series was supposed to end with PC8 but they decided to keep going with more limited releases (this is bottle 1086 of just 6000; compare to the 30,000 of PC8). Well, they did say at the time of the release that this was going to be the last limited release before the “full-scale bottling” in 2012 but as it happens there was a PC10 (I have an unopened bottle). And then the PC11 and a PC12 were also released later. Both of the latter were travel retail releases and I do not have bottles of those. I assume the series ended there. By the way, the info sheet for PC9 only mentioned American oak but the official tasting notes refer to Spanish sherry casks. As it was not touted as a sherry-matured release, I think we can assume it was a vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (most sherry casks are also made of American oak). Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading →
It’s the 18th of the month and this is my seventh review in a row of an official distillery release. No, I don’t know what’s going on either.
I missed Kilchoman on my mini tour of Islay in December and so here now is a review of a Kilchoman. (I also missed Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich and will be stopping in at both of those distilleries this week as well.) I was a big fan of Kilchoman’s early releases of very young bourbon casks but have somehow lost track of them in the last five years or so. I’d hoped they’d graduate to putting out a regular 10-12 yo and it doesn’t seem like that’s happened yet. Their website only lists four NAS releases in their core lineup (of which I’ve reviewed releases of the Machir Bay and 100% Islay) and several annual limited editions. This was one of their limited editions for 2020, vatted from spirit fully matured in 11 fresh and one refill fino sherry butt. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading →
After Wednesday’s Glen Scotia 14, here is another whisky that was released to mark an annual whisky festival that was forced to go virtual: Caol Ila’s release for Feis Ile 2020. This also now make two weeks in a row of reviews of only official distillery releases. It’s okay to be alarmed: Nostradamus had this as one of the signs of the apocalypse.
At Feis Ile 2019 Caol Ila released a pair of whiskies: a surprise bottle-your-own 28 yo from refill American oak barrels that was only announced on the morning of their Open Day and for their regular release, a 22 yo from what was billed as “sherry-treated American oak casks”. 2020’s release is more in the direction of the 22 yo. The whisky that went into this was matured in refill bourbon hogsheads and then received a finish in “Amoroso treated hogsheads”. It’s also a throwback to 2017’s Feis Ile release which was a 12 yo that had been finished in Amoroso casks. Presumably, all these Amoroso casks are leftovers from fellow Diageo stablemate, Talisker whose Distillers Edition release is finished in Amoroso casks. Well, sherried Caol Ila can be a very good thing. Let’s see if this proves to be one. Continue reading →
Here is the last stop on my little tour of Islay this month. I started at Caol Ila a week ago, Friday and then moved on to Bowmore last Monday. After that I cut across to the south shore, stopping first at Laphroaig and then at Lagavulin. Today I go another mile up the road, to Ardbeg. (My apologies, by the way, to Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman and Bruichladdich—I will try my best to get to them next month in another whistle-stop tour of Islay.)
As with all the other whiskies from this tour, this is an indie bottling. It was released by Chieftain’s in 2011. For reasons I cannot explain it has taken me till 2020 to get around to opening it. But better late than never, to coin a phrase. I opened this bottle in early October. I was fully expecting to be underwhelmed: a single cask bottled at 46% by one of the lesser indies. But, as you will see, I was more than whelmed. Continue reading →
On Wednesday we were at Laphroaig, having taken the high road across from Bowmore. Let’s go a mile up the road now to Lagavulin. This is the 8th Lagavulin released by the Whisky Exchange in their Elements of Islay series. Yes, I know this is now released by Elixir Distillers who are supposedly a separate concern but I am a simple man and it’s easier for me to just refer to all the Whisky Exchange whiskies as Whisky Exchange whiskies (please forgive me, Billy). This was apparently distilled in 2006 and vatted from two bourbon barrels. I say “apparently” because neither of these pieces of information is actually on the label. That’s what it says on Whiskybase and in reviews from people who got advance samples from the bottlers. What I don’t understand why if this info isn’t worth putting on the labels it needs to be distributed to those who talk up these whiskies before release. Again, I am a simple man. Anyway, past Elements of Islay Lg experience suggests this will be very good. Let’s see if that’s the case. Continue reading →
This is a 21 yo Laphroaig from a refill bourbon barrel, bottled by the Scotch Mat Whisky Society. I acquired it, along with a few other SMWS Laphroaigs, at auction in the UK a few years ago, back when it was possible to have whisky shipped to the US without having to sell a kidney or a child first. I don’t know what I’d been saving it for all these years but on November 7 of this year an appropriate time was finally at hand. On the one hand, I was in the dangerous situation of not having an open bottle of Laphroaig. On the other, I needed an appropriate celebratory bottle to open to go with the day’s news. My eyes lit upon the label of this bottle. The SMWS had given it the name “Jumping for Joy”. I usually make fun of the SMWS’s silly names for their releases but this seemed like it had been bottled for just such an occasion. I’ve been drinking it down steadily since I opened the bottle. Here now are my notes. Continue reading →
Having arrived on Islay with Friday’s Caol Ila, I might as well stay here awhile. And I might as well follow the path we took when we arrived on Islay in 2017. Then too we got off the ferry not too far from Caol Ila and drove past Bowmore to our B&B. And so let’s do a Bowmore review next. This was bottled last year by Blackadder from a single hogshead.
Bowmore 17, 2002 (53.4%; Blackadder; hogshead 20199; from a bottle split)
Nose: Mineral smoke mixed with lemon and salt crystal. Clean and sharp. On the second sniff the trademark fruit and florals begin to emerge and the citrus and smoke move towards ashy lemon custard. The smoke gets meatier as it sits (ham) and the citrus gets muskier (makrut lime peel). A few drops of water and sweeter fruit begins to emerge from under the citrus (charred pineapple, peach). Continue reading →
Having started the month with a review of a peated whisky from the eastern Highlands of Scotland (this Ardmore), it seems only right to head on over to what remains the bastion of peated whisky in Scotland: Islay. This is the first of a few review of peated Islay whiskies this month. We begin right off the ferry at Caol Ila. This is one of several young Caol Ilas distilled in the mid-2000s that Gordon & MacPhail have released in the past few years. Many are vattings of multiple casks, as is this one—a vatting of four first-fill sherry casks. This is actually a whisky I have reviewed before (just over a year ago). That first review was of a 2 oz sample from a bottle split. I liked that one quite a bit but it was fairly hot. The bottle is at 60.2% and the samples were probably poured from a fresh crack. As I noted in the first review, at the time of acquiring that sample I’d forgotten that I already owned a bottle. I decided to open it late last month as I was running low on high-octane peated whisky in my small lineup of open bottles and the first couple of pours confirmed the original review. A week and a half and a few pours later I am interested to see how it may have developed with a bit of air in the bottle. Continue reading →
My love of Bowmore collides here with my poor track record with whisky that has been in close proximity to wine casks. Yes, this 11 yo Bowmore released at Feis Ile in 2017 was matured in a combination of sherry and wine casks. I was not at Feis Ile in 2017—though I did visit Bowmore a few weeks later. I fear I will never be at Feis Ile, not even after the pandemic ends. I know how important whisky festivals are to many enthusiasts, and I know how important a festival like Feis Ile is to not just the distilleries involved but also to the local economy. But no description I’ve read of the crowds at Feis Ile and the long lines to purchase festival exclusives for purposes of auction flipping has ever made me wish I could have been there. And no, I’m not being hypocritical about the auction part. I purchased this bottle not from an auction but from a store in Tarbert shortly after our week on Islay ended in 2017—and I paid less than was being asked at auction at the time. Three years later, I’m finally opening it. Continue reading →
Oh, okay, I’ll try a little harder. This is a single bourbon cask bottled by the German outfit, Whisky-Fässle in 2015. That was near the very end of the golden age of independently bottled Scotch whisky, when 20+ yo whiskies of high quality were available for not much more than $100. These days high quality indies of any age at good prices seem very thin on the ground. In fact, I can’t remember the last indie bottle I purchased—not that I purchase much whisky of any kind any more. Anyway! Official Bunnahabhain is usually heavily sherry-bothered and so it’s always nice to try bourbon casks from independent bottlers. I’ve reviewed two others this year: this 6 yo bottled for the Whisky Barrel, and this 30 yo bottled by Old Particular for K&L in California. It pains me to say that I liked the 6 yo more than the 30 yo (but it also pleases me to say that I had not purchased a bottle of the 30 yo). As a better portent, I did like the last Bunnahabhain 1991 I reviewed (this 25 yo, also from K&L)—though that was from a sherry cask. Let’s hope this is as good. Continue reading →
As I’ve noted before, the Lagavulin entrty is my favourite in Diageo’s Distillers Edition series. The extra few months in PX sherry casks complements the original spirit very well in my view. My ratings of the 1993-2009 and 1997-2013 releases, which are the previous ones I’ve reviewed (here and here), are appropriately high. This one is from a couple of years earlier still: it was distilled in 1991 and released in 2007. I’ll be shocked if I don’t like it a lot as well.
Lagavulin 1991, The Distillers Edition, 2007 Release (43%; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Big phenolic notes mixed in coastal notes (seashells, kelp). The sherry comes up from below with notes both sweet (raisins) and salty. The sweeter notes—including pipe tobacco now—come to the fore after a minute or two in the glass and then dominate. With more time there’s some citrus as well (orange peel). A few drops of water emphasize the fruit: apricot and fig now along with the orange peel. Continue reading →
The week’s first review was of a 19 yo Caol Ila from a bourbon cask. That one was bottled by the Whisky Exchange in 2012. Here now is another Caol Ila bottled the year before by Douglas Laing in their Old Malt Cask series. This one is a fair bit older and is from a refill sherry hogshead. As much as I like bourbon cask Caol Ila, sherried Caol Ila—relatively rare as it is—can be very good indeed and the best ones are among the whisky world’s unalloyed pleasures. See, for example, this one and this one, both also from 1984 distillate. I am hopeful that this will be in the class of those. Let’s see if it is.
Caol Ila 27, 1984 (52.4%; Old Malt Cask; refill sherry hogshead; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Leafy smoke cutting through sherried notes of orange peel, raisins, pipe tobacco and pencil lead. On the second sniff there’s some charred pork and also a hint of savoury sulphur; the smoke is a bit sharper now. The coastal notes emerge as it sits (brine) but it’s not terribly phenolic. Softer with water with a bit of toffee emerging. Continue reading →
Here’s a 19 yo Caol Ila bottled several years ago by the Whisky Exchange for their annual Whisky Show. That’s it, that’s the introduction.
Caol Ila 19 (55.9%; The Whisky Exchange for the Whisky Show, 2012; single bourbon cask; from my own bottle)
Nose: Ah yes, this is one of those “Port Ellen, who?” Caol Ilas. Lemon, oyster liquor, kelp, green olive brine, mineral smoke: it’s all here. A couple of minutes later there’s some ash and smouldering leaves mixed in with the mineral smoke, giving it a slightly bitter, vegetal quality. A few drops of water and it’s a mix of citronella, ash and vanilla-cream.
Palate: As predicted by the nose but with more phenols in the smoke and some sweeter notes as I swallow (vanilla). Gets more acidic as it sits and the leafy note from the nose begins to make its way to the palate as well. More acid with water—more preserved than fresh lemon now—and the phenols back off a bit (the ash doesn’t though). Continue reading →
I look forward to the release of the Laphroaig Cairdeas every year, even though Laphroaig has not consistently been giving me very many reasons in recent years to look forward to it. I liked 2018’s Fino cask finish but last year’s Triple Wood CS and 2017’s Quarter Cask CS were acceptable but not at all special. The distillery seems to have got caught in an endless cycle of cask finishes; a far cry from 2011 and 2012 which saw them release excellent bourbon cask whiskies (neither of which, I realize, I’ve reviewed). And the only truly excellent Cairdeas since then—2015’s 200th anniversary release—was also from bourbon casks. But there’s no excitement in bourbon cask releases, I guess. Will next year be a rum cask? A marsala cask? Or will we see another Frankenwine release like this year’s (a vatting of port and wine casks)? Well, I suppose if the results taste good there’s no point complaining about the high-concept gimmickry. Let’s see if that is indeed the case. Continue reading →
Last week I posted reviews of whiskies from three closed distilleries. First the Japanese distillery, Hanyu, then Brora in the Scottish highlands and finally Port Ellen on Islay. Today I have a review of a whisky from a distillery that is still in business, Ardbeg. But in a sense this whisky is also from a distillery that is long gone: the Ardbeg that once made high quality whisky and made it available at reasonable prices. The irony of this statement is that in fact the Corryvreckan may have been the first in the series of concept whiskies that have brought us down to the permanent state of folly in which Ardbeg now resides. Yes, the Uigeadail and the Beist were released before it—and the Uigeadail was already NAS—but those are fairly traditional whiskies. The Corryvreckan, on the other hand, first released widely in 2009—after a “committee release” in 2008—has a lot of virgin French oak casks in the mix (at least this was the talk when it was first released) and is more of a “designer malt”. My first bottle was a 2010 release and I loved it. I haven’t followed it through the years since but it’s remained a highly-rated whisky. Alas, my review will not speak to its current quality as this is a bottle released in 2011. Let’s get to it. Continue reading →
Let’s make it a full week of reviews of whiskies from closed distilleries. On Tuesday I had a review of a Brora. Here now is a whisky from Diageo’s other once a workhorse, now a cash cow distillery: Port Ellen. Like Brora, Port Ellen was slated for zombification last year. I’m not sure where any of that stands either. This one was distilled in 1982—the year before the distillery was closed—and bottled in 2006, when Port Ellens were available at prices that seemed high then but look like crazy screaming deals now.
Port Ellen 24, 1982 (43%; Signatory; hogshead 1145; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Lemon, cereals, bright carbolic peat (Dettol), cottonwool. Sweeter on the second sniff with some seashells and vanilla. The citrus gets muskier as it sits (more lime peel than lemon now) and there are hints (just hints) of faintly tropical notes interlaced with the increasingly acidic smoke. The vanilla gets creamier with a few drops of water. Continue reading →
After a month of reviews of un-sherried whiskies—well, the Glen Scotia 14 probably had some sherry casks in the mix—let’s end with one from refill sherry casks. This is a 10 yo Caol Ila released in Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice series at some point after the casks in that series started being bottled at 46% with new packaging. I think this was released in the mid-2010s, which would, I think, have been not too long after the revamping of the line. I almost always enjoy Caol Ila from sherry casks—and have a very good memory of this earlier G&M 10 yo from refill sherry casks (though that was in their old Cask Strength line). And I quite liked as well this G&M 10 yo from 2006 (also cask strength but in the new livery for their Cask Strength line). That latter one was from first-fill casks though. Well, as long as it’s better than the last sherried Caol Ila I reviewed—this sherry finished 7 yo that was an exclusive for K&L—I’ll be happy. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. Continue reading →