Lagavulin 12 CS (2017)


At the risk of becoming a relevant reviewer, here is another whisky released this autumn and reasonably widely available across the US: the 2017 edition of the Lagavulin 12 CS. The Lagavulin 12 CS is a fixture on Diageo’s annual special releases roster and is, along with the Caol Ila Unpeated, the most affordable of those whiskies and, by itself, the most dependable of them. I’ve previously reviewed the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions and liked them all very much. The Lagavulin 16 is always excellent and so is the Lagavulin 12 CS. Sadly, it’s not easy to find in the $80-85 range any more and so when I saw a bottle as I was picking up the Highland Park “Full Volume”, I couldn’t resist buying it as well. I am not sure why I ended up opening it right away, well before the bottles of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 releases that are also languishing on the shelf; but maybe the people who give me grief for not being a relevant reviewer will get off my back now.  Continue reading

Highland Park 17, 1999, “Full Volume”


Less than a week ago, I complained in my review of an ex-bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray that the distillery itself doesn’t see fit to give us ex-bourbon Highland Park, one of the true secret pleasures of the single malt whisky world. It was very soon pointed out to me by EricH in the comments that one of the distillery’s most recent releass, Full Volume, is in fact all ex-bourbon whisky. I had actually been aware of the existence of this whisky but, as I noted, its stupid name had led me to believe that it was one more in Highland Park’s unending series of NAS whiskies, and so I’d ignored it. Lo and behold, it turns out to not only have a vintage statement but an age statement as well. It’s a 17 yo put together this year from casks distilled in 1999. And it’s at a respectable 47.2% abv. Of course, it’s also clad in extremely ridiculous packaging (a black bottle, in a box that is meant to resemble a Marshall amp) but having complained incorrectly about the lack of an official ex-bourbon Highland Park, I felt it was only right that I should check out the one that had just been released. And my decision to do that was made easier by the discovery that it’s actually priced quite reasonably—as low as $89 in Minnesota. Not cheap in the abstract, but these days an official 17 yo at a strength above 43% for less than $120 seems like a steal.  Continue reading

Highland Park 19, 1991 (Signatory)


On Wednesday I posted a review of a bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray and noted in passing that Highland Park used to be one of my favourite distilleries. I said I’d elaborate soon on why I’m more ambivalent about them now, and here I am, just two days later.

Well, it’s not for any earth-shatteringly surprising reason. Highland Park and I have both changed but they’ve changed more than I have: I’m losing hair but they’ve lost their minds. When I first started drinking single malt whisky, Highland Park put out a limited line of very good whisky at good prices in ugly bottles. In the last 15 years the bottles have got updated but in the process prices have gone up drastically (especially for their 18 yo). Their lineup has gotten more bloated than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they increasingly seem to be designing/marketing their whisky with children in mind: an endless series of Viking-themed whiskies (too many to list), black bottles (ditto), boxes shaped like amplifiers (the new Full Volume), this abomination, the list goes on…I know we’re only supposed to care about the whisky in the bottle but it’s got to the point where it’s embarrassing to be seen buying a bottle of Highland Park. I mean, they make mid-late 2000s Bruichladdich’s output seem restrained and thoughtful.  Continue reading

Highland Park 16, 1995 (A.D. Rattray)


Okay, one last ex-bourbon review to make November an all ex-bourbon cask whisky month. Here is what else I have reviewed as part of this unintended, extended series this month: Tomatin 12, 2005, Fettercairn 23, 1993, Glencadam 15, Clynelish 12, 1997, Glen Scotia 1992-2005, Arran 1996-2013, Bowmore 10, 2003, Bladnoch 18, 1992, Aberlour 20, 1990 and Aberlour 17, 1990. That tour has taken me across most of the Scottish mainland and a couple of southern and western islands. For the last stop let’s go north, all the way to Orkney, to what used to be one of my very favourite dstilleries: Highland Park. I’ll go over why I’m far more ambivalent about Highland Park now in a separate post soon. For now, I’ll say only that one of the great pleasures of their whisky is one that the distillery does not give us; and that is the pleasure of bourbon cask Highland Park. It is here that you’ll usually most clearly encounter Highland Park’s peaty character as well as a mineral, oily note, all of which get covered up—for the most part—in the sherry profile of most of the distillery’s official releases. It’s a quality I particularly prize and which I see putting them on a continuum with Clynelish and Springbank/Longrow. I’ve reviewed a few such single casks before and I’m glad to be able to do it again.  Continue reading

Glen Scotia 1992-2005 (Signatory)


I’m still on the bourbon cask trail. From Aberlour in the Speyside I went down to Bladnoch in the Lowlands, then west to Islay, and back to Arran. Let’s stick in the general vicinity before heading north to the Highlands and beyond. This Glen Scotia will be my Campbeltown stop. I got this sample from my friend Patrick—he was also the source of one of the Aberlours and the Arran, and I suspect he has no memory of ever having given me this one. I certainly have no memory of having received it. I’ve had very few Glen Scotias and so have no real expectations. The last one I tried and reviewed was quite old and was very good. This one was distilled two decades after that one and was bottled when 12-13 years old by Signatory (all the way back in 2005). This is not from their vaunted cask strength or unchilfiltered series but from the more entry-level 43% series (I’m not sure if they still put these out). I’ve had some decent whiskies from that series so I’m not expecting that to mean very much.  Continue reading

Bowmore 10, 2003 (Whisky-fässle)


After a brief rum break, I am back on the bourbon cask single malt whisky trail. Previous stops have taken in the Speyside with a couple of Aberlours (here and here) and the Lowlands (this Bladnoch). Today I have a malt from Islay. This 10 yo Bowmore was distilled in 2003 and bottled in 2013 by the German outfit, Whisky-Fässle. I can’t remember if I’ve reviewed any of their Bowmore casks before but I have reviewed a couple of other bourbon cask Bowmores of similar age and vintage. See, for example, this 10 yo from 2002 bottled by van Wees, and this 11 yo, also from 2002, bottled by Exclusive Malts for K&L. I thought both of those were marred—to different degrees—by a soapy/glycerin note that sometimes pops up in bourbon cask Bowmore (and also in bourbon cask Ben Nevis). I am glad to report that it’s not an issue with this release. I opened the bottle a month and a half ago for one of my local group’s tastings and it went down a treat. I’ve been drinking it down steadily since. Here now is my review.  Continue reading

Balvenie 14, 2002, “Peat Week”


Okay, after a run of three low-utility reviews of whiskies from Kilchoman, Glenlivet and Glen Scotia released between 5 and 13 years ago, let’s get all timely with a review of a whisky that is not at all hard to find in the US: the recently arrived Balvenie “Peat Week”. I’ve previously reviewed a 17 yo Balvenie matured in a cask that had previously held peated whisky distilled at Balvnie. (I was not impressed). This one, as I’m sure you know, is an actual peated whisky made at Balvenie. Apparently, since 2002 (or even earlier) Balvenie has been making peated malt one week in the year and this is the first regular release from those runs, apparently limited to 3000 bottles worldwide—how many of those are in the US, I don’t know.

In a time when distilleries replace information on labels with silly names and marketing stories, Balvenie are to be congratulated for putting an age statement and a vintage on this release. Nonetheless, I am tempted to say that they’ve gone a bit too far in the direction of full transparency: my eyes glazed over as I tried to make sense of the small-print chart on the tube (I gave up quickly).  Continue reading

Kilchoman 2006-2012 (for K&L)


I was recently mock-praised for reviewing something released as recently as a year ago. As even mock-praise makes me uncomfortable, I have in response a review of a whisky released five years ago: a sherry cask Kilchoman bottled for K&L in California.

Kilchoman was not quite new at the time but they weren’t quite as established and didn’t have as much of an identity as they do now. But they were already producing whisky that belied its (young) age. I think the very first Kilchoman I had was a 3 yo bottled for Binny’s in 2010 (I don’t think I reviewed it, but I do have a large reference sample saved…) and it was way better than any 3 yo whisky has any right to be. Most of the ones that I have reviewed have been just a bit older (including another K&L cask, this one ex-bourbon, and a PX cask bottled for WIN in the Netherlands). I’ve generally liked them all. And I can tell you before you get to the review that I liked this one—which was probably distilled at around the same time as that Binny’s ex-bourbon cask a lot. A more detailed accounting follows.  Continue reading

Caol Ila 20, 1995 (Signatory for K&L)


Here’s a whisky review on a Thursday for a change. And it’s another Caol Ila—roughly the same age as the previous Caol Ila I reviewed, but distilled just about a decade later. This was bottled by Signatory for K&L in California. As I am generally a sucker for bourbon cask Caol Ila, I was intrigued by it when it was announced, but the high asking price ($150 or so) took care of that. Fortunately (for me, at least), Florin (Slovenian supermodel and future First Lady) purchased a bottle and shared samples with a few of us—see Jordan D’s review of a sample from this same bottle from a year ago. Jordan didn’t care for it overmuch, and nor did Florin (see his comment on Jordan’s review). But there are others who rave about it. Anyway, the easiest way to find out is to pour the sample and drink it. Here goes.
Continue reading

Port Charlotte PC7


After a very timely review on Friday (the new Laphroaig Cairdeas) let’s go back to another late 2000s release. This is also from Islay but was released a year after last Monday’s Caol Ila. It’s also a fair bit younger: 7 years old, to be exact. It was the third release in Bruichladdich’s limited edition run towards what became the regular Port Charlotte 10. I’ve not had the PC5; I’ve reviewed the PC6 (good, but nothing special, I thought) and the PC8 (which I really liked). I have unopened bottles of the PC9 and PC10 on the shelf—I’m not sure where the series stands now.

I opened this bottle for my local group’s August tasting. It was a big hit there, garnering some big scores from a few people. I quite liked it too and have been looking forward to sitting down and taking some formal notes. Here they are.  Continue reading

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017


A shockingly timely whisky review for once.

The 2017 edition of Laphroaig’s Feis Ile release, the Cairdeas, landed in the US this month. You will recall that Laphroaig are the only Islay distillery that release their Feis Ile bottle in the US. They’re also the only one who seem to envision their festival bottling as intended for everyone and not just for those willing to spend a lot of money, either by going to Islay or on an auction site. This cost £77 on Islay (where a lot of it was still available in the distillery shop a few weeks after Feis Ile) and in Minnesota it seems to be going between $70 and $85, and is available at a number of stores including a big chain. Compare this with the cost and contortions necessary to get your hands on the Feis Ile releases from any of the other Islay distilleries. Continue reading

Caol Ila 1984-2007 (Scott’s Selection)


There’s been a lot of conversation on the blog recently about older whiskies that was spurred by a question about an older Pulteney 1977 released by Scott’s Selection in 2005. One of the reasons, I think, that so many of those Scott’s Selection releases from the mid-late 2000s stuck around for so long—and some are still around—is because there was and is so little information on them available. Very few people have reviewed them—and many of us whisky geeks whose wallets have bottoms are quite risk-averse. This is why it took me a long time to get around to finally pulling the trigger on some of those bottles, even if only as part of splits with friends. This Caol Ila, however, I purchased without a second thought when a store in the Twin Cities put it on sale at 15% off last year, bringing the price below $200 (I’d never seen it at the original price and so was able to rationalize the cost against prices for current Caol Ilas of similar age). They had another bottle but the cork was defective and it had leaked at least 50 ml—after tasting this bottle I told the manager I’d take the chance and take it off his hands if he discounted it quite a bit more but he was not willing to do so. I guess that’s a spoiler alert: yes, I quite like this one and have been drinking it down at a steady clip since opening it right after purchase. Here now, before I finish the bottle, are my notes.  Continue reading

Bowmore, Bw5 (Speciality Drinks)


If like me you were ever confused about the relationship between the Whisky Exchange and Speciality Drinks, under whose name all the TWE releases (Elements of Islay, Single Malts of Scotland, Whisky Trail etc.) were released, you can add a new name to the mix: Speciality Drinks is history and has been replaced by Elixir Whisky Distillers; or maybe I should say that Speciality Drinks is now named Elixir Whisky Distillers. Apparently, a completely separate operation with the folks who work at the Whisky Exchange’s retail end not involved at all in picking casks etc. (which they may not have been before either, I suppose). This Bowmore, however, was released in the Elements of Islay series before the bottlers’ name changed. I’ve previously reviewed a few Ardbegs (Ar1 and Ar2) and Lagavulins (most recently, the Lg6) and a Laphroaig (Lp1) and a Caol Ila (the Ci1). As you can tell this is the fifth Bowmore they’ve released. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Lagavulin “Jazz Festival 2015”


Here is a Lagavulin bottled for the Islay Jazz Festival in 2015. This is a completely separate event from the recently concluded Feis Ile, taking place in the autumn rather than the summer. This year’s festival is from September 15-17 (and here is last year’s program). I’m not sure if Lagavulin is the only distillery that does an annual release to mark the festival (in addition to their Feis Ile release), but I can’t off the top of my head recall Jazz Festival releases from any other distilleries. It is sponsored by Lagavulin but events happen at other distilleries too. Anyway, there also does not seem to be as much mania around these Jazz Festival releases as there is around Lagavulin’s Feis Ile releases. Indeed, plenty of bottles of the 2016 Jazz Festival release were available at the distillery when I visited earlier this month—I’m not sure how they survived the onslaught of Feis Ile auction flippers.  Continue reading