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
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
Thanks to you-know-what, none of the Scottish whisky festivals were held in 2020. Most distilleries released what would have been their festival bottles anyway. This would have been Glen Scotia’s at the Campbeltown festival. Was it their only festival release? I have to admit that I’ve not really tracked whisky festivals beyond Feis Ile very much; indeed, this may be my first review of a Campbeltown festival release (though I’m probably forgetting something). Unlike my last two official Glen Scotias (including the Double Cask and Monday’s Victoriana) this one has an age statement. It’s a 14 yo matured first in first-fill barrels and then finished in American oak hogsheads that had been treated with tawny port. How long in each container, I don’t know—if you do, please write in below. Will this be the first official Glen Scotia I like a lot? My track record with port-bothered whiskies would suggest that’s unlikely. But I’m famous for my open-mindedness. Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading
Here’s an unlikely whisky to kick off the year’s reviews. This 9 yo Benromach was bottled for Costco, San Diego. Hands up if you knew that Costco does store picks. Well, maybe you all live in more sophisticated places and each Costco in your city has its own pick but our local Costco has no store pick single malt whiskies that I’m aware of—and if any other local Costcos carry any I’m sure I would have heard. This was bottled and hit the shelves sometime in 2020 but seems to have been snapped up. Or so I’m told by Florin (second assistant rhinoceros wrangler at the San Diego Zoo) who went to a Costco there last week to see if any were still available and came away disappointed. He did mention that there was a Sassicaia cask finish Benromach on the shelf—as to whether that’s also a Costco, San Diego exclusive or just one of Benromach’s regular wineskies, I don’t know; but even if the latter that’s already a more exotic selection than is ever available at Costco, Burnsville. On the other hand, does Costco, San Diego carry whole goat? Continue reading
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’s whose most famous recent proprietor liked to remind us is close 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
Okay, I am done with my mini-tour of Islay (stops at Caol Ila, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg). But I’m not done with peat. Let’s take the ferry back to the mainland and head south, to Campbeltown. And let’s get quite timely for a change. This is the 2020 release of the Longrow 18. I reviewed the 2019 release last year and thought it was just excellent. Will this be as good? Well, it’s certainly not made in the same way. Though I did not note it in that review, the 2019 release was put together from a vatting that was 75% ex-sherry and 25% ex-bourbon casks. This year’s edition has a more complicated composition, being from 25% ex-bourbon, 55% ex-sherry and
4520% ex-rum casks. Now, I’ve never had a Longrow that had been near rum casks before—that I know of at any rate—and I’ve never been too impressed with any whisky that came out of a rum cask, but I am a little bit intrigued anyway to see what that might do to Longrow’s trademark austere character. Let’s see. 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
I started November with a review of an Ardmore released by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Here now to start December is another Ardmore released by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This is my 6th Ardmore review of the year—taking my total to a measly 15 (Serge reviews as many every Wednesday between a dozen 1972 Boras and 33 Springbanks from the 1960s). I am hopeful that 2021 will bring at least as many Ardmores my way, if not more. They’re not very thick on the ground in the US though. This one is a full decade older than last month’s SMWS cask, having been distilled in 1997 and bottled only this year (I think). I really liked that 12 year old and like that one this too is from a refill bourbon hogshead. Good things usually happen when you put whisky in refill casks and very good things seem to happen to Ardmore’s whisky when put in refill bourbon casks. Let’s see if this whisky proves that would-be axiom right. Continue reading
In July I had a review of an Ardmore 13, 2006 released by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society that I was not terribly enthused about. Here now is an Ardmore 12, 2006 released by the SMWS that I am expecting to like a fair bit more. That’s because unlike the 13 yo—which was a red wine finish for some reason—this one is from a refill bourbon hogshead. Ardmore’s mineral peat and lemon notes should come out front and center. The operative word there is “should”. The fact that the SMWS named this one “Farm Salad” seems like a good sign but let’s see if things actually go as planned. Certainly the last SMWS refill hogshead Ardmore I reviewed was excellent as was the most recent Ardmore I reviewed back in early September. Both of those were a fair bit older, of course. But I’m keeping my hopes in check anyway: if being an American in 2020 has taught me anything it’s to not get my hopes up. Continue reading
Here is another Ledaig from a sherry cask that was released in the middle of the decade. This is almost twice the age of Friday’s cask and was bottled by A.D. Rattray, not Signatory. It’s also a ludicrously high strength. 65.8% after 17 years? Just where was this cask stored? I have to say I am not a big fan of whiskies being bottled at these crazy strengths (or any other kind of spirit for that matter). Its hard for me to enjoy most drinks fully very much above 55%—and I usually tend to like things closer to 50%. Sure I can—and do—dilute things down to where I like them but it’s an unnecessary level of futzing with your drink, in my view. I realize there’s a layer of authenticity that comes with the “cask strength” tag and that it gets some extra sheen of machismo probably when that cask strength is eye-wateringly high. Add to all of those prejudices that this is a Ledaig—a spirit that can be challenging even at a much lower strength—and I have some trepidation entering this pour. Let’s see how it pans out. Continue reading
Let’s round out the week with another sherry cask whisky but turn the peat up a little higher past Wednesday’s Bowmore 11. Just about two years ago I reviewed a Ledaig 10, 2004 bottled by Signatory. I was supposed to follow that up with a review of this 10 yo distilled in 2005 and also bottled by Signatory that I’d acquired as part of the same large bottle split but never got around to it. Both are from a large parcel of young sherry casks put out by Signatory (and a few other bottlers who may have acquired their casks from Signatory). Most of these 10-11 yo Ledaigs have been very good indeed—very nice marriages of heavy peat and heavy sherry. I really liked that 2004 and I’ve been drinking this one down at a rapid rate as well since opening it a week or two ago. Here now are some notes on it.
Ledaig 10, 2005 (54.6%; Signatory; first-fill sherry butt 900145; from a bottle split)
Nose: Rubbery smoke with charred, barbecued pork coming up behind alongside some sweeter sherry notes (dried orange peel, pipe tobacco). The salt from the palate pops out here too with time and it gets more acidic too (lemon); and with a lot of air/time the rubber recedes a bit. Water pushes back the salt, pulls out some softer notes (milky cocoa) and ties it all together nicely. 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
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