Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive, 2017


A few weeks ago I reviewed the Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive from 2017. Here now is the Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive from the same year. (Neither of these were “fill your own” casks”.) I visited Caol Ila as well in June 2017—as with the Lagavulin exclusive, I don’t believe I saw this on the shelves at the distillery either. The Lagavulin was made in a somewhat complicated manner, involving moscatel casks (which used to be/is the cask type used in the Caol Ila Distiler’s Edition). I’m not sure, however, how this one is made—Whiskybase does not say. It would be fitting if this involved PX casks (which is what the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition is “finished” in). I don’t mean to give Diageo any ideas for future releases though; on the other hand, if something like this starts happening I hope you will be willing to serve as witnesses in my intellectual property infringement  suit against them. Okay, enough folly! Let’s get to the whisky itself and see what it’s like.
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Port Ellen, Pe5 (Elements of Islay)


The fifth Port Ellen entry in the Whisky Exchange’s Elements of Islay series was released in 2011, I think. And it may have been the last of the Port Ellens released in that series—at least Whiskybase does not list a Pe6. I’ve been sitting on this sample since early 2012. I acquired this sample through a rare act of honesty on my part: I had placed an order for a Karuizawa from TWE (this was back when Karuizawas could be acquired for <$200) and due to a glitch in their systems was charged only a fraction of the price. I alerted Tim Forbes who was then doing web stuff for TWE, and who was also a member of the then-very active Whisky Whisky Whisky forums. He confirmed that I was not in fact a winner of a special lottery and, as appreciation for my letting him know, threw a few fancy samples in with the order, one of which was this one. Why it has then taken me almost 8 years to drink it, I couldn’t tell you. Anyway, being released in 2011 it is at least 28 years old (Port Ellen closed in 1983) and probably a bit older. It’s also from a sherry cask, as three of the other four Elements of Islay Pe releases had been as well. It was very well received at the time. I, of course, did not buy a bottle because I thought it was horrendously overpriced. Cut to the present where the multiplier for any Port Ellen released in 2011 is about 10x. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Lagavulin “Jazz Festival 2017”


The Jazz Festival series is Lagavulin’s second annual series of special releases, bottled to commemorate the Islay Jazz festival every autumn. As I noted in my review of the 2015 Jazz Festival release, this series doesn’t seem to inspire the mania of the summer Feis Ile releases. This is doubtless due to the unpredictable vagaries of the collectors’ market which is anything but rational. Certainly, I liked the 2015 Jazz Festival release a lot. That bodes well for this 2017 release which, like the 2015, is comprised of spirit matured in refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts. This is not the standard regimen for these releases: the intervening 2016 release—which I picked up a bottle of at the distillery in 2017—was matured only in American oak. In practice, however, the 2015 release did not betray much, if any, palpable sherry influence; I’m curious to see if this will be any different in that regard. Let’s see. Continue reading

Bowmore 21, 1996 (Old Malt Cask for K&L)


Let’s continue with the review of the recent K&L exclusive casks. And no, they’re not paying me for all this free, extended coverage of their whiskies. For that matter, they don’t even appear to be enjoying it. Ah well, can’t please everyone.

Speaking of not pleasing everyone, Bowmore is also a distillery that has not always pleased everyone. This is mostly due to folly on the part of the fraction of everyone who have not been pleased. Bourbon cask Bowmore from the early 1990s on is usually a very good proposition. So much so that I’ve even really liked a K&L exclusive cask in that vein. Last year they had an OMC 22 year old that I purchased on Sku’s recommendation while in Los Angeles and loved to the tune of 91 points. I won’t need this to be that good to make me happy but I will also not object if it is. Let’s see. Continue reading

Ardbeg Drum


This was Ardbeg’s 2019 Feis Ile release. I have to admit I stopped paying attention to Ardbeg some years ago. The 10 year old is still an Islay classic and my last bottles of the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan were very good too (albeit neither were anywhere close to being recent releases), but most of the noise emanating from the distillery—or rather from its owners—has seemed for a while to be in the service of high-concept silliness. I thought 2018’s Feis Ile release, the Grooves, was fairly ordinary. Why then am I reviewing the 2019 release? Well, largely because in theory at least bourbon cask Ardbeg finished in rum casks does not seem like a bad idea. (Of course, they say they’ve “rested” their spirit in rum casks; unlike all those other distilleries who make their spirit ride treadmills and run marathons in finishing casks.) Will the reality of this whisky in fact match up with that theoretical promise? Only one way to find out. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 18, 2016 Release


Way back in the early months of the blog I posted a review of the 2012 release of the Bunnahabhain 18. Because I am so current I have for you today a review of a bottle from the 2016 release. I opened this bottle a few months ago but hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it until a chance mention of it in the minor fracas over my comments on K&L’s recent Clynelish exclusive reminded me that I should. As you may remember, I noted of that Clynelish that I did not think it was the best use for $250. After an initial erroneous recommendation of the Springbank 18 as a cheaper sherried alternative—when I last had the Springbank 18 it was far more sherry-driven than it is now—I mentioned the Bunnahabhain 18 in a similar vein. As you will readily imagine, David Othenin-Girard of the K&L spirits department—who apparently is my most devoted reader—was very pleased with this suggestion: he kindly wished me great enjoyment of the Bunnahabhain 18. Accordingly, I am here now with the details of that enjoyment. Continue reading

Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive, 2017


I visited Scotland for the first time in 2017. And on that trip I visited Islay and I visited Lagavulin (here is my account of the excellent Warehouse Experience with the even more excellent Pinkie McArthur). That was in June right after Feis Ile. I picked up a bottle of the Feis Ile release but I don’t believe this distillery exclusive was on the shelves then. It was apparently made in a fairly complicated manner that involved 16 yo spirit finished in moscatel casks and vatted with younger bourbon cask spirit. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered moscatel-finished Lagavulin before—Diageo must have had some casks surplus to requirements from the Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition (is that even made anymore? I don’t see anything but the Lagavulin and Talisker Distiller’s Editions in Minnesota, not that I’m looking so very hard). Of course, I have no idea what the proportions of the vatting may have been: the moscatel influence may well be minimal. Let’s find out. Continue reading

Bowmore 14, 1996 (A.D. Rattray for BevMo)


This Bowmore was released at a time almost a decade ago when one of the most popular memes in whisky geekdom was to complain about Bowmore’s distillate being marred by overly perfumed and soapy notes. The only thing that was more popular was to complain about sulphur. Now, it’s true that through most of the 1980s Bowmore’s distillate was seemingly marred by these qualities but it was almost entirely gone from 1989 onwards. The proof of this could be seen in none other than A.D. Rattray’s releases of Bowmore distilled in the early 1990s. Perhaps due to family connections to the distillery, Rattray, more than any other indie bottler available in the US, seemed to have a line on not just a lot of casks of 1990s Bowmore but a lot of excellent casks of Bowmore. I’ve reviewed a few of these (see this 20 yo from 1991 and this 20 yo from 1990). This particular cask, bottled for BevMo in California is a bit younger and from the middle of the decade. This is not the only Bowmore 14, 1996 Rattray bottled for BevMo. In the days before the blog I purchased and finished another cask with a much longer number. My spreadsheet doesn’t note that cask number and Whiskybase has no record of it but I know it was real! I’m also pretty sure I would have saved a 6 oz reference sample from that bottle, as that was my standard practice at the time. Well, if I like this one a lot that will be sufficient motivation to try and dig that out from the vault.  Continue reading

Caol Ila 7, 2010 (Sovereign)


Another sherried malt after yesterday’s Balblair 21, and another K&L exclusive. However, this is not from the current run of K&L exclusives, of which I’ve already reviewed a few this month (Clynelish 23, 1995, Glen Moray 23, 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 23, 1995). This was part of last year’s set of exclusive casks, I believe. Sherry-matured Caol Ila can be very excellent indeed. In this case, however, the maturation regime is not very straightforward. This whisky is apparently from something called a “sherry finished butt”. What is a “sherry finished butt”? In this case it is apparently a refill sherry cask that was filled/seasoned with sherry for a while, emptied and then filled with this whisky. If that seems rather bogus it’s because it is but it’s also almost certainly a practice far more rife in the industry than we would hope to be the case (see also Signatory’s “wine treated butts”. It also seems like a recipe for a whisky where the sherry will separate and float free on the palate or finish. Let’s see if that actually happens though. Continue reading

Laphroaig 19, 1990, Cask 89 (Signatory)


After a week of reviews that featured whiskies distilled in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (a Strathisla, a Ledaig, and two Karuizawas), let’s do a week of whiskies distilled in the 1990s. First up, is a Laphroaig 19 bottled by Signatory in 2009 or 2010. This is cask 89. Signatory had bottled cask 90 for Binny’s in Chicago—and that was a whisky I absolutely loved. And so when I had the chance to get a sample of the sibling cask in a swap, I went for it (this was not bottled for Binny’s but for the EU market). But I obviously didn’t get around to actually drinking it: I’ve held on to this sample for the better part of a decade now. But I’m on a mission these days to work through my extensive library of forgotten whisky samples; and so here I am finally with notes on this Laphroaig. And this reminds me that I have a second bottle of cask 90 sitting on my shelves too. Maybe I’ll open that one in December and see if I still like it as much as I did the first bottle almost 10 years ago. Continue reading

Laphroaig 10 CS, Batch 011


My third review of a heavily peated whisky this week is also my third simul-review this week with Michael K. of Diving for Pearls (we previously had at the new Lagavulin 11, Offerman Ed. and a Ledaig 6, 2004). Today we’re reviewing another Islay released this year. Batch 011 of Laphroaig’s 10 CS series was released in March 2019. This series had hit a bit of a bumpy patch around batch 005 (though I did like batch 006 more), but recent batches have been excellent (see my reviews of batches 009 and 010). Will this batch continue that hot streak? Will Michael and I finally land on the same score for one of these simul-reviews? Let’s find out.

[As always, we have not discussed our notes or scores prior to the posting of our reviews. I will link to his review when I wake up in the morning.] Continue reading

Lagavulin 11, Offerman Edition


Hello, here is a celebrity whisky! As you know, when celebrities are involved in whisky branding the whisky is always good. See Great Odin’s Raven, Haig Club etc. etc. Actually, I’ve not had either of those two blends; for all I know, they are decent. (I’ve not had the Ron Jeremy rum either; I hear that really grows on you.) Other things I have not done include watching any of Parks and Recreation. My Offerman exposure is limited to his excellent, scene-stealing turn in the second season of Fargo. This, of course, does not mean that this whisky that bears his name will be any good. On the other hand, Offerman is apparently a long time, non-stunt Lagavulin aficionado and one would hope that Diageo would not screw with his good name by scraping together warehouse detritus and vatting it together with an eye toward a simple celebrity cash-in. Or did he actually have something to do with its creation? I’ve not read any spirits marketing since 2009 and so I have no idea. If you know more about this, please write in below. Here now are my notes. Continue reading

Bowmore 10, 1999 (Murray McDavid)


Let’s close out the week with another wine cask-finished whisky, another peated whisky, and yet another Bowmore bottled by Murray McDavid. This was distilled and released a few years after Wednesday’s Viognier finish. And unlike the other Bowmore and Monday’s Port Charlotte 13 the wine casks used for this whisky’s finish had previously held red wine—syrah to be exact. Even though I really liked that Port Charlotte and also thought the Viognier-finish Bowmore was quite pleasant, I am a bit apprehensive about this one as red wine finishes are the source of my prejudice against wine cask finished whisky. Anyway, let’s see what this is like.

Bowmore 10, 1999 (46%; Murray McDavid; bourbon and syrah casks; from a bottle split)  Continue reading

Bowmore 11, 1995 (Murray McDavid)


As I noted in passing in my review on Monday of a wine cask-finished Port Charlotte, I am not generally a fan of wine cask-finished whiskies. Most of the ones I have had—like that Port Charlotte—have emerged from Bruichladdich. So too in a sense has this Bowmore. It was bottled by Murray McDavid, the indie bottling arm of Mark Reynier-era Bruichladdich, and a label that put out a large number of wine cask- finished or, as they liked to call them, “ACE’d” whiskies. This particular release started out in bourbon casks and ended up in viognier casks. Well, Monday’s Port Charlotte was from French white wine casks as well and I unexpectedly quite liked it. Will the positivity continue with this one? Let’s see.

Bowmore 11, 1995 (46%; Murray McDavid; bourbon & viognier casks; from a bottle split)  Continue reading