Bunnahabhain 23, 1991 (Whisky-Fässle)


Here’s a Bunnahabhain.

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

Lagavulin 1991, The Distillers Edition


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

Caol Ila 27, 1984 (Old Malt Cask for the Whisky Barrel)


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

Caol Ila 19 (The Whisky Exchange)

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

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2020, Port & Wine Casks


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

Ardbeg Corryvreckan, 2011 Release


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

Port Ellen 24, 1982 (Signatory)


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

Caol Ila 10 (Gordon & MacPhail)


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

Bunnahabhain 1997-2010 (Murray McDavid)


Okay after two reviews of things that are not whisky, let’s get back to whisky. But this might be barely whisky. It’s a Murray McDavid red wine-bothered Bunnahabhain, and Murray McDavid wine-bothered anything is rarely a good idea (see, for example, this Bowmore from red wine casks and also this Bowmore from white wine casks). The only sign of hope is that this is one of those peated 1997 Bunnahabhains and that kind of heavy, organic peat (as opposed to Bowmore’s more delicate, floral variety) can theoretically stand up more successfully to the depredations of a red wine finish. Will that be the case here though? Let’s see.

This is another sample that I acquired a long time ago—from Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail—and am only getting around to opening now. Continue reading

Laphroaig 16, Retro Label (The Whisky Exchange)


Let’s keep the run of bourbon cask reviews going but add one that’s heavily peated. This Laphroaig was bottled for the Whisky Exchange’s annual Whisky Show in 2015 and I purchased it soon after when bottles that survived the show went on sale. It has an attractive “retro” label. I think they put out two of these labels in different years; I think I’ve seen a reference to an 18 yo as well. Well, whether as a mark of its retro identity or not, the label does not specify year of distillation. But given the 2015 bottling I’d hazard that there’s a very good chance it was distilled in 1998. Well, the fact is I’ve enjoyed almost all the Laphroaigs I’ve had from the late 1990s distillations a great deal; particularly those that have expressed an excellent fruity quality along with the signature smoke and phenols. Will this be another such cask (assuming it was indeed a single cask)? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Continue reading

Caol Ila 8, 2010 (Old Particular)


Let’s keep the bourbon cask train rolling but with a bit of peat added to the mix. I acquired a sample of this Caol Ila 8 as part of a split of a few bottles of young Caol Ila last year. I’ve already reviewed a 7yo bottled for K&L. That one was a sherry finish and I thought it was just about decent. This one was bottled in 2019 for Douglas Laing’s Old Particular label. As it happens, there was another Caol Ila 8, 2010 bottled by Old Particular for K&L the previous year (I’ve not had that one). This one appears to have been part of a series called “The Elements”, representing “Earth”. Not sure what the other distilleries/releases in this series were–Air? Water? Fire? Or am I thinking of The Last Airbender? Will this actually have any earthy qualities? I tend to associate Caol Ila more with the ocean. Let’s see how it turns out. My opinion of the K&L 7 yo  and this elemental business notwithstanding, Caol Ila is usually a very reliable malt.  Continue reading

Bunnahabain 10, 1999 (Prime Malt)

One last peated-sherried malt to close out the month. This one is unlike the others I’ve reviewed this month. For one thing it’s not from a distillery known for its peated malt, at least not at the time at which this was distilled, back in 1999. While Bunnahabhain now puts out official releases of peated malt, independent bottlers used to be the only sources of peated Bunnahabhain from this era. I’ve had a few 1997s that were peated (see here, here and here) but this will be my first 1999, I think. This is also not a heavily sherried malt—it’s from a refill sherry cask and the colour of the whisky suggests it was a long way from being a first-fill cask. The bottler too has no real reputation. In fact, I’m still not sure who was behind Prime Malt which put out a number of releases in the US in the 2000s. I was under the impression that Duncan Taylor were the source but Whiskybase lists the bottler as Gordon Bonding and I have no idea who they are/were. If you know more about them please write in below. In the meantime let’s get to this whisky. Continue reading

Laphroaig 21, 1990 (Silver Seal)


Last week I reviewed a Laphroaig 21, 1998 bottled recently by the Whisky Exchange that I thought was amazing. Here now is another Laphroaig 21. This was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2012 by the well-regarded Italian outfit, Silver Seal. I nabbed a bottle from Whiskybase when it was released. Even with the much higher exchange rate of the time it ran me less than $150. Those were the days etc. After almost 8 years on my shelves I opened this last week to pair with the TWE cask. When I tried it alongside that one it felt a bit overshadowed and so I decide to taste it a few more times and take notes on it by itself so it wouldn’t suffer unfairly by juxtaposition. Here now are those notes as the bottle has come down to the 3/4 full mark.

Laphroaig 21, 1990 (57.7%; Silver Seal; sherry cask #10839; from my own bottle)

Nose: Big sherry here too but much more organic than the TWE cask. There’s toffee and citrus peel and cocoa but floating above it is something rotting in wet undergrowth (I know it doesn’t sound appetizing but it works). Definitely a dose of savoury sulphur here. Dry woodsmoke running through it all. Gets saltier as it sits (soy sauce) and earthier (dried shiitakes) and the decomposing rodent note subsides. A few drops of water push the sulphur back almost entirely and emphasize sweeter biscuity notes along with pipe tobacco. Continue reading

Laphroaig 21, 1998 (The Whisky Exchange)


Earlier this month I reviewed a Glenburgie 21, 1998 bottled by the Whisky Exchange. Here now is another 21 yo whisky distilled in 1998 and bottled by the Whisky Exchange under their obscure “The Whisky Exchange” label, this one a Laphroaig. I think it may have been bottled for TWE’s 20th anniversary, though it’s not listed on the page they have for those releases. Then again, the Inchmurrin 9, 2010 I reviewed on Tuesday was definitely released for their 20th anniversary and it’s not on that page either despite still being available. Mysterious are the ways of the Whisky Exchange. Anyway, back to this Laphroaig. It was distilled in 1998; in 2010 it was re-racked into an oloroso sherry cask (ex-bourbon before that? maybe it says on the label). Given that nine years is longer than seemingly most whisky being released in Scotland right now—if it even has an age statement—I think it’s well past being regarded as a “finish”. As a 21 yo Laphroaig, and sherry-bothered at that, this went for a very pretty penny, I think. It’s now sold out, which will save me a lot of soul searching if I like it as much as the reviews I’ve read make me think I will. Let’s see. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 30, 1988 (Old Particular for K&L)


I am almost at the end of my run of reviews of K&L’s recent exclusive casks. This Bunnahabhain 30 is the oldest of them—well, the oldest I acquired a sample of, at any rate. K&L have brought in older Bunnahabhains before. I’ve previously reviewed a 25 yo and a 28 yo. The 25 yo was another Old Particular and the 28 yo was in their own Faultline series (is that still on the go?). Both were from sherry casks and I liked both a fair bit. This one, as with a number of their exclusives in this run, was matured in a refill hogshead. Let’s hope it’ll be closer to the two aforementioned in quality anyway than to the 21 yo from a hogshead they’d put out in 2013/14. That one had seemed like a very good value for the age; I purchased a bottle and was very disappointed.At $99 for a 21 yo in 2013-14, it was, in the abstract a very good value for the age—and these days $350 for a 30 yo is similarly, in the abstract, a good value for the age—but you’re not drinking the age to price ratio, you’re drinking a whisky. Let’s see what this particular one is like. Continue reading

Bowmore 11, 2001 (Maltbarn)


Hello, the blog is seven years old today. As per Sku, I have three more years before I have to shut it down. Though, truth be told, I’m having some trouble right now mustering enough enthusiasm to keep it going through the isolation/quarantine—and judging by readership numbers very few of you are currently enthusiastic enough to show up to read this shortly after it posts. But an anniversary is an anniversary.

My very first review was of a Bowmore—the lowly Bowmore Legend of years past—and since then I’ve marked every anniversary with a Bowmore review. What can i say? I’m notoriously sentimental. I am feeling particularly sentimental today as this is the fourth of five reviews of bottles I opened during my 50th birthday week that mark significant years of my life (see here, here and here). This Bowmore was distilled in 2001, the year I met my partner. We’re currently 19 years in but this is only an 11 yo. Continue reading

Caol Ila 19, 1995 (Maltbarn)


I’m having a tough time summoning the energy to write stupid preambles to these reviews that were written a couple of weeks ago. Here is all I could manage for this one: this is a 19 yo Caol Ila distilled in 1995 and bottled by Maltbarn. Accurate!

Caol Ila 19, 1995 (52.8%; Maltbarn; from my own bottle)

Nose: Lemon and phenolic peat with olive brine running through it. In other words, quintessential Caol Ila. On the second sniff there are sweeter notes of cereals and vanilla behind the smoke and just a hint of gasoline. With a few drops of water the vanilla turns to cream and expands

Palate: The peat is in the lead here and there’s more tar than was indicated by the nose. Very nice texture at full strength and very approachable. With time the lemon and olive brine expand here as well and there’s some smouldering leaves in there with the tarry smoke. Water brings the pepper out earlier and it’s sweeter/creamier here too now, though the smoke and lemon are still the top notes. Better balance on the whole now. Continue reading

Staoisha 6, 2013 (The Whisky Barrel)


Last week I had a review of a young first-fill oloroso sherry cask Bunnahabhain released by the Whisky Barrel. This week I have for you a review of an even younger Bunnahabhain released by the Whisky Barrel, this one from a first-fill bourbon barrel. It is bottled as a Staoisha, which is one of the names used for peated Bunnahabhain. This “Staoisha” business is, I think, relatively new. I’m not sure if the distillery mandates that name for independently released peated Bunnahabhain or if this is something the indies came up with on their own (there do seem to be more than a few new’ish Staoishas around). I’d suspect the former but, again, as I don’t follow industry news I can’t say for sure. If somebody who knows more is reading along, please write in below. Well, to begin to get to the whisky: I wouldn’t normally be very intrigued by a 6 yo whisky but last week’s 10 yo was very good; odds should be good that the Whisky Barrel did a good job of picking this cask as well. Let’s see if that turns out to be true. Continue reading