For the last whisky review of the week, month and year let’s go all the way down to the lowlands of Scotland, to a distillery whose most famous recent proprietor liked to remind us is closer to Ireland than to most of the other Scottish distilleries: Bladnoch.
This whisky was distilled and released in the era of that proprietor, the excellent Raymond Armstrong. Under Armstrong Bladnoch was a unicorn: a small producer that kept its prices down—both for its own releases and those of casks from other distilleries that it released for the Bladnoch forums—and didn’t engage in marketing malarkey. The good times eventually came to an end and the distillery was sold in 2014 or 2015. I’ve lost touch with it since then, as it got the predictable premium coat of paint from its new owners. But I still have a few bottles left of the Armstrong era. This release of their “Lightly Peated” label is one of them. I’ve previously reviewed a 9 yo from this series from 2001 that was a single bourbon cask. This one, featuring sheep on the label, as every Bladnoch fan of the era knows, is a sherry cask and is two years older. Let’s get into it. Continue reading →
At this point everyone knows that a whole slew of casks filled at Littlemill in the 1988-1992 period and bottled 20+ years later by various indies has made us forget how awful the distillery’s official releases before it closed were. One wonders how many distilleries with indifferent to bad reputations that scenario might not work out well for. All this to say, I’m expecting this sample to blow my socks off and if it doesn’t then I will blame Michael K.
Littlemill 22, 1990 (54.3%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 17 for Total Wine; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Lemon, grapefruit, tart pineapple, a whiff of gasoline. Chalkier and more mineral on the second sniff and there’s some gooseberry in there too now. With a few drops of water the acid backs off a bit and there’s some cream and a leafy note. Continue reading →
Let’s start the month with a closed distillery—that seems appropriate for the pandemic. Earlier this year I reviewed a 29 yo Littlemill that was distilled in 1988 and bottled in 2018. This one was distilled a few years later but also bottled near the very start of the Littlemill renaissance when several excellent casks from the late 1980s through the early 1990s suddenly became available in Europe. The distillery’s low reputation—well earned by official releases—rebounded dramatically and prices for these releases started going up before they eventually all but dried up. This particular cask was bottled by the Whiskybase store in Rotterdam under their Archives label. Menno of Whiskybase is a Littlemill collector and that always seemed like a good guarantor of quality for their Littlemill releases. They’ve put out eight or so of these casks, of which I think this was the second. I’ve previously reviewed the first one, which was from a refill sherry hogshead. I quite liked it. This is from a bourbon hogshead. I’ve had it open for more than a month now and have been dipping into it on the regular. Here now before I finish the bottle before remembering to take notes (which has happened on some occasions), is my review. Continue reading →
I know I’d said I’d have a review today of barbecue from Ted Cook’s 19th Hole in Minneapolis but what can I say? I spent last evening watching Basu Chatterjee’s 1974 gem Rajnigandha and a few episodes of Schitt’s Creek and didn’t get around to it. If your primary interest is food, go back and read yesterday’s post on American food media’s relationship with diversity. Or if you want to read about barbecue in the Twin Cities, go back and read my review of Big Daddy’s from a few years ago (but keep in mind that they’ve changed ownership since then). Today I have another whisky review. This is an Auchentoshan, shockingly only the second official Auchentoshan I’ve ever reviewed (the first was the cask strength Valinch). Well, maybe it’s not so shocking: there aren’t that many official Auchentoshans around. I believe this one was released only for the Travel Retail market—I’m not sure if it’s still on the go there. It’s a NAS vatting of spirit matured in ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso casks. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading →
I often say that every distillery is capable of producing high quality malt. But I have to admit that Auchentoshan is one of the distilleries that really tests my faith in this proposition. In my years of drinking single malt whisky I have not yet come across an official Auchentoshan that I have wanted to purchase or even drink again; and, more damningly, I have not also come across any indie releases that have convinced me that owners Morrison Bowmore have been blending quality casks away, whether in the official vattings or in the group’s blends. I’m not denying the possibility that they exist; merely noting that I have not yet randomly encountered one. Of the few I have reviewed, I liked this 23 yo from Archives the best and I gave that 86 points. But hope springs eternal and perhaps this will be the one that rewards my faith. Like some of the other whiskies I’ve been reviewing recently it too was a release from a long time ago—I’ve been sitting on this sample too for a while. Well, let’s get to it now. Continue reading →
Last month I reviewed whiskies from Port Ellen and Brora. Here now is a whisky from another distillery that closed in the early 1980s but whose post-closure releases have not developed the aura, on the whole, that the whiskies from Port Ellen and Brora have: the Lowlands distillery, Linlithgow/St. Magdalene. I’ve only reviewed two other Linlithgows (and not had very many more than two). At the time of my first review (also of a 1982 distillation), I noted that I did not know if anything distinguished the malt released under the Linlithgow name from that released as St. Magdalene. Almost six years later, I still don’t; if you know the answer, please write in below. This particular Linlithgow was released in 2011 or 2012 by Mackillop’s Choice. I’m not entirely sure if Mackillop’s Choice is still on the go (another question for the better informed to answer)—at any rate, I don’t see any 2019 releases from them on Whiskybase and there were only a handful in 2018. Anyway, let’s get to the whisky! Continue reading →
This is the fourth Littlemill I’ve reviewed this year. The first was the old Littlemill 12, which was, as I said then, as unloved an OB whisky as you could hope to find. The other two were much older, part of the revival of Littlemill’s reputation that got underway in the early years of this decade as a number of casks bottled in the late 1980s came to market that had been matured to a far greater age than was probably intended for them at time of distillation. One of of those I really liked—the Archives 22 yo distilled in 1989. The other—a Berry Bros & Rudd 21 yo bottled distilled in 1992—was quite good but nothing so very special. This one from the Creative Whisky Company, under their Exclusive Malts label, is older than both of those and distilled the earliest. That might lead you to think that it’s got a good chance of being the best of the lot but things don’t always work out that way with whisky: the idiosyncrasies of individual casks are hard to predict and not all bottlers can be relied on for consistency. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading →
In my review last week of the very good Littlemill 22, 1989 from Archives, I said I’d have more older Littlemill next month. But here I am, a week early. And to think people say my reviews are untimely. This was distilled in 1992, a couple of years before the distillery closed. It was bottled in 2014 by Berry Bros. & Rudd. I believe this was a US release—I don’t think the cask number was specified.
By the way, though the distillery officially closed in 1994, distillation ended in 1992: the distillery was mothballed till 1994 before being dismantled and largely destroyed over the next decade. Given that a housing development now occupies the site, this is one dead distillery that will not be coming back to life anytime soon. Anyway, let’s see if this is as good as the Archives bottle. Continue reading →
After my review of the old, unlamented official Littlemill 12, I’d lined up reviews of a number of more recently released older, indie Littlemills from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Somehow, I never got around to posting any of them. Here’s the first one.
This was released by Whiskybase as part of the inaugural release of their Archives line. As you may know, Menno B. of Whiskybase is a renowned Littlemill collector, and all the Littlemills released by Archives have very good reputations. Unlike the other Littlemills of this era that I’ve reviewed—see this 20, 1990 from the Nectar and this 24, 1989 from the Whisky Agency—this is from a refill sherry hogshead. I opened this a while ago and liked it so much that it disappeared in just a few months—that might seem like a long time but I usually have bottles stay open for at least a year. Here now are my notes. Continue reading →
As you may know, in recent years malts from the closed lowlands distillery, Littlemill have become among the most sought after whiskies on the market. This mania, I should quickly clarify, is focused entirely on much older casks from the late 1980s and early 1990s that began to come to market in the early years of this decade. There was something very ironic about this development because when Littlemill was in fact open nobody had very much positive to say about it. I joke sometimes that more unsung or disliked distilleries should close down to turn their reputations around, but in Littlemill’s case this seems to be what’s happened. The truth, of course, is more likely to lie in the fact that once the distillery had closed, more of its surviving casks accidentally aged to a quality that was previously undiscovered in the official releases. For example, in this 12 yo, which is as unloved an OB release as you can hope to find. Having been warned away from it when I first began to pursue single malt whisky, this will actually be my first time tasting it. Will the bad reputation be warranted? Or will I regret not having tried it when bottles could easily be found on shelves in whisky stores everywhere? Let’s see. Continue reading →
My last two reviews have been of long-forgotten samples of bourbon cask whiskies released in 2010-2011 and, given how much I enjoyed those Aberlours (here and here), I figured I might as well keep that trend going. Here now is a review of a Bladnoch 18, distilled in 1992 and bottled by Chieftain’s in 2011 for my old friends in California, K&L. This was a more innocent time at K&L: Driscoll’s hype machine had not been cranked up to 13 yet and the hit rate for their cask selections was pretty good. It’s probably the case that the latter was true largely because more quality casks were available to independents then; and it’s also probably the case that the former was true because the latter was true. That is to say, the noise seems to have increased steadily over the years in inverse proportion to quality and value. Anyway, this Bladnoch, distilled before the Armstrong era at Bladnoch (now also ended), was rather good indeed and at $89.99 it was an excellent value. I’d meant to buy a second bottle but never got around to it. Thankfully, I saved 6 ounces from the middle of the bottle for future reference. Even more thankfully, that sample did not go flat in the intervening years. Let’s get to it. Continue reading →
Here is another useless review. This Bladnoch was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2013 by the Raymond Armstrong regime (they bottled it but it was distilled by the previous owners, United Distillers). The Raymond Armstrong era at Bladnoch, sadly, ended a couple of years ago and the new owners have gone the route of premiumization: the very opposite of Raymond’s approach. Well, this bottle is gone too. It was a single bourbon cask. I purchased it (and a few other Bladnochs) when the sale of the distillery was announced, and I opened it for one of my local group’s tastings last year. It did well enough there but I felt it improved as the bottle stayed open in the months following. These notes were taken towards the very end of the bottle when it had faded a bit again. I wish I’d thought of also recording my notes at the top and middle of the bottle. So it goes. Continue reading →
This Auchentoshan is one of several Scott’s Selection releases from the mid-2000s. While the Longmorns and Glen Grants and the Port Ellens released around the same time have long disappeared—and are now commanding massive premiums on the secondary market—and the Linlithgows, Glen Mhors and Highland Parks have also now mostly been purchased, this and some others continue to languish on shelves around the country. Even as I type, at least three whisky geeks in different parts of the country are looking at bottles of Scott’s Selection Auchentoshan, Bunnahabhain. Glenlivet, Benromach, Craigellachie and Mannochmore in specialist stores and are wondering whether to give in to the temptation to buy them. In a couple of minutes they will decide against the purchase because there’s no information out there on the quality of these bottles. That was me for many years. But then Binny’s recently put a number of these stragglers on major sale and four of us split a bottle each of this Auchentoshan, a Bunnahabhain 1988-2004 and a Glenlivet 1977-2004—Michael K. and Jordan D. will probably review their portions at some point soon (the deplorable, blog-less Florin was the fourth). As I’ve reviewed very few Auchentoshans of any kind I decided to start with this one—I’ll review the other two later this month (or maybe next) as well. Continue reading →
As I’ve said each time I’ve reviewed a Glengoyne (two occasions total before this one), I’ve not had much Glengoyne and have reviewed even less. I actually thought about purchasing this 25 yo for one of my local group’s premium tastings when it was first released in 2014—the price was “reasonable”, which is to say it was high but seemed reasonable compared to what’s asked these days for 25 yo official releases from most distilleries. In the end though I remembered that I hadn’t had very much Glengoyne and decided to exercise caution until I’d had a chance to taste it. That ended up taking a couple of years. In fact it wasn’t till this August that I finally got around to tasting it. This was at the same St. Paul gathering celebrating sherried whiskies at which I tasted the Glenfaclas 1968. As with that one, and some others from that night which will hopefully show up on the blog in the coming weeks, I brought a 2 oz sample of the Glengoyne 25 home for a more careful review, and here now is that review. Continue reading →
I think I can say safely that this is the oldest Auchentoshan I’ve ever had. I’ve not had too many Auchentoshans of any age, actually—I’ve not been a big fan of most of what I’ve had and have therefore not sought out much more. On the one hand, the general profile seems to fall in an acidic bourbon cask spectrum made all over the Speyside; on the other, there’s been something a bit weird about most of the few I’ve had that I can’t quite describe (though I did like this 14 yo from Cadenhead’s). Anyway, I’ll be interested to see what longer aging has done to this cask, which was bottled jointly by Whisky Fässle and Whiskybase (for their Archives label). It seems to have divided opinion on Whiskybase quite widely—there are a lot of ratings for it and they go evenly from the high 70s to the low 90s. Consequently, perhaps, this is still available. Continue reading →
Whisky geeks with good memories will remember David Driscoll of K&L making some impolitic remarks about Bladnoch a couple of years ago (first on his blog and then in an attempt to defend them on the WWW forum). Among his claims were that Bladnoch’s reputation was poor and that the Armstrongs’ “blending skills” for what they’d put out themselves had not been strong either. This was news to most of us as a) Bladnoch seemed to us like one of the most grounded and solid distilleries in Scotland: putting out quality malt at excellent prices with no marketing nonsense; and b) Bladnoch’s various “sheep” and “cow” label releases had been very well received in the main.
Of course, the subtext, as always with Driscoll, was that it was K&L that was going to release the first good OB Bladnochs. When K&L’s casks did show up my plan was to ignore them—I have a number of other Bladnochs already on my shelf. But when I saw this 11 yo lightly peated in the lineup I couldn’t resist. I really enjoyed this Armstrong release of a 9 yo lightly peated cask and hoped this would be as good. I’m sorry to say it wasn’t. Continue reading →
I certainly hope that you don’t remember that a bit over a year ago I split a bunch of Scott’s Selection bottles on sale at a Minneapolis store with some friends and that Michael Kravitz (who was among that number) and I simul-reviewed some of them. This bottle was purchased from that very same store a year later and also split with friends; and while Michael K is again one of those who got part of this bottle we are not simul-reviewing it this year. This is because he now has a small child of his own which raises the number of distracted parties in the planning of any such possible undertaking from one to two.
This is yet another of the Scott’s bottlings released in the mid-2000s that is still around in the US (stores from coast to coast have a number of these second and third-tier distillery bottles, often close to original prices). I’ve passed on it in the past because I never could find any information on it. Now I hope to be the source of such information for you if you too have occasionally paused in front of a bottle in a store, stared at if for a while and then moved on to a safer purchase.
On a melancholy note: Scott’s Selection is now defunct and the fate of Bladnoch continues to be up in the air. I’ll drink to both tonight.