Here is the second of three simul-reviews this month with Michael K. of Diving for Pearls of whiskies that were bottled as exclusives for Total Wine (and here now is his review). Our first was last week’s Glen Ord 18, also bottled by Montgomerie’s. This Caol Ila—which rounds out a week of Islay reviews—is a bit older. The bottle cost $125; I’m not sure if it’s still around—I didn’t notice it at the store I purchased it from when I was in there again briefly earlier this week. Even though this is at 46% and not cask strength, it does seem like a fair price for a 20 year old peated Islay whisky—there are certainly older Caol Ilas from other independents that are going for a lot more in the US; and next Friday we’ll have a simul-review of a younger Laphroaig whose list price was almost $100 more.
After a disappointing special release Bunnahabhain on Monday let’s move on to another special release from elsewhere on Islay. The Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength is a fixture on Diageo’s annual special release slate, and it is also always one that is guaranteed to be excellent—unlike, say, Ardbeg’s annual releases (see, for example, this year’s Grooves). I’ve recently reviewed the 2017 release and in the past I’ve reviewed the 2009, the 2010, the 2011, the 2012 and the 2013. Here now is my review of the 2016 release, which was also part of Lagavulin’s commemoration of its 200th anniversary. I opened it a month ago for my local group’s March tasting and it was very popular—though I think it might have been beaten by an Amrut Peated CS for overall honours on the night. I’ve been drinking the bottle down steadily since. These notes were taken at the halfway mark but I can tell you it’s been remarkably consistent as the level goes down. Continue reading →
It’s been a while since Michael K. and I did a simultaneous review—in fact, I think, back then Sku may have been blogging for himself and not a liquor store; seems like so long ago now! Anyway, here is the first of three simul-reviews this month with Michael. We’ll be posting them on Fridays. They’re all of whiskies that, I believe, are/were exclusives for Total Wine. This Glen Ord and a Caol Ila 20 (next Friday) were bottled by Montgomerie’s, a brand I’ve not see anywhere except in Total Wine. The third, a Laphroaig 18 (the 27th), was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd, and while it doesn’t say anywhere on the label that it is a Total Wine exclusive, I do believe it was listed at the store I purchased these bottles from as a “Spirits Direct” selection, which is a Total Wine thing. By the way, I know nothing about Montgomerie’s other than that their releases are sold at Total Wine, but after purchasing these bottles for a split I coordinated, I noticed that the Montgomerie’s bottles are identical in shape to the distinctive Berry Bros. & Rudd tall bottles. Just a coincidence? Or are they in fact one of BB&R’s private selection lines? If you can confirm or deny, please write in below. As with all Montgomerie’s releases—as far as I’ve noticed—this is at 46%. Continue reading →
It has been seven months since my last Springbank review. Well, less than two if you want to split hairs and count my last Longrow review. Either way, it’s been too long. My previous review of a Springbank proper was of a single 15 yo rum cask bottled for The Nectar in Belgium. This one is slightly younger at 14 years of age, involves far more casks—none of them ex-rum—and was available worldwide; indeed, at the time of my typing it’s still available in Minnesota. A whole bunch of fresh and refill bourbon barrels were vatted for a release of 9000 bottles. Springbank clearly loves that number: if I recall correctly, the excellent Madeira release in the US from some years prior also involved 9000 bottles or so. Barrels, being smaller than hogsheads, involve far greater wood contact—and given that some proportion of the barrels were fresh (though how long the previous occupants had spent in them is unknown), there’s a good chance of quite a bit of American oak character coming through in this malt. Let’s see if that’s actually the case. Continue reading →
Here is the last entry in my quick Oban roundup. On Wednesday I reviewed the Oban 14, and was just about whelmed by it. On Friday I reviewed the Oban Distillers Edition and was somewhat underwhelmed by it. Will the NAS offering from the distillery be the one that gets me to the over? Anything is possible.
I’m not sure when the Little Bay was launched—2014? 2015?—or what its story is (all NAS whisky these days has a story). I used to think that its name was redundant—like “chai tea”—as Oban means “Little Bay”. But it turns out that Oban actually means “Little Bay of Caves” (see the picture of the label from my review of the DE). I guess this means we can someday expect another NAS named Oban Caves. It’ll be extra dark and maybe it’ll be sold to us as being especially good on the rocks. I don’t mean to give anyone any ideas. Continue reading →
After Wednesday’s review of the 2017 release of the Oban 14 (which I was just about whelmed by) here is my review of the 2017 release of the Oban Distillers Edition. As these—unlike the regular 14 yo—carry vintage statements, I am able to tell you that it was distilled in 2003. I have a bit of a spotty history with Diageo’s various Distillers Edition releases, which are basically the regular entry-level age-stated malt + a couple of months in various wine casks. Only the Lagavulin DE, which “finishes” the phenolic 16 yo in sweet PX casks, has consistently done it for me (here and here). I’ve previously also reviewed the 2011 release of the Talisker DE—I didn’t care for that one very much. In general, most of the Distillers Edition releases I’ve tried have seemed to drown the idiosyncratic qualities of the base malt in whatever wine cask the finish has been done in. In this case, the profile of the Oban 14 should theoretically be a good fit with the Montilla fino cask finish. Let’s see if that turns out to be the case. Continue reading →
I began the month and week with a review of a stunt whisky: Ardbeg Grooves, the 2018 edition of Ardbeg’s annual special release. Today I have a review of an altogether more classic malt—one that is always available and has been available for a long time: the Oban 14. It was recently brought to my attention that I have not yet reviewed a single Oban. This is not entirely my fault as there are very few Obans one could review. Until recently, this 14 yo and a sherry-finished Distillers’ Edition were the only Obans that were easily found (no indie releases that I can think of)—there’s a 18 yo as well, but it’s a more limited release (and in a rare twist, I believe it’s a US exclusive). A couple of years ago an inevitable NAS offering, “Little Bay”, joined the regular line-up; but unlike with Talisker, Diageo has not yet made that line-up mushroom further. If you’re in Oban you can go to the distillery and try your luck with the distillery exclusive, but here in the US we only have three or four Obans to choose from. To make up for my neglect of the distillery, I’m going to review most of these in succession. Today, the 14 yo; on Friday, the Distillers’ Edition; and on Monday, “Little Bay”. In one fell swoop I will go from having reviewed no Obans to having reviewed almost all available Obans. Continue reading →
In which I start the month with a timely’ish review. The foolishly named Ardbeg Grooves is this year’s entry in Ardbeg’s annual exercise in folly. The regular release comes out on Ardbeg Day, otherwise known as June 2; this higher strength release came out a few weeks ago to whet the appetite of those who cannot get enough of Ardbeg and their folly. Despite being a fool myself, I’ve skipped these shenanigans entirely in recent years; and eventual reviews of their recent annual releases have not made me feel foolish about having done so. However, this year when the opportunity arose to taste the latest “Committee Release” via a bottle split, I decided to go for it. For some reason I thought I’d read very positive reviews of it—though I have not subsequently been able to track down what it is I’d thought I’d read. This whisky apparently contains some significant fraction of spirit matured in ex-red wine casks. The press materials tell me that these casks were charred extensively, producing grooves in them; evidently, Ardbeg’s proprietary cask charring system allows them to produce effects that fit with whatever silly concept they’ve hit on for the year (see also the Alligator). Also, Ardbeg was groovy in the 1960s and whatnot (yes, this is actually part of their sell). Continue reading →
My first review for this month was of a Tobermory distilled in 1994 and bottled by the Italian independent, Wilson & Morgan. Let’s close out the month’s whisky reviews with another Tobermory distilled in 1994 and bottled by Wilson & Morgan. This is two years older than the previous—and where that was from an ex-bourbon cask, this one is from an oloroso sherry cask. Sherry cask Tobermorys have heretofore been the ones I’ve liked the best and I’m hoping that trend will continue with this one. Let’s get right to it.
(By the way, though this may seem like a very untimely review, I believe this is still available in Europe.)
Tobermory 20, 1994 (50%; Wilson & Morgan; oloroso sherry cask #5043; from a purchased sample) Continue reading →
I’ve been going on for some years now about how Ben Nevis’s historically iffy reputation has been poised to turn around and it seems like that time is finally here. Official releases of Ben Nevis fetch top dollar and indie iterations are also seeing rises in price. This is largely because Ben Nevis is one of the most reliable sources of exuberant tropical fruit in single malt whisky—and in their case it’s often mixed with malt and cocoa and a certain wild edge; altogether it makes for a very idiosyncratic combination. I keep an eye out for indie Ben Nevis, especially from bourbon casks and in the late teens age-wise (see, for example, this other 17 yo Ben Nevis from Cadenhead that I absolutely loved). Accordingly, I purchased this one in the UK that was bottled by the German outfit, The Whisky Agency, for an Australian importer named Casa de Vinos. I’m not sure if the entire run was bottled for the Australian market or if some of this cask was released in the EU as well. Anyway, I opened this last month for one of my local group’s tastings, expecting it to be a highlight. To my dismay, it was rather flat. I set it aside to see if some air in the bottle would do it any good, and here now are my notes a few weeks after it was opened. Continue reading →
On Saturday, to mark the fifth anniversary of the blog, I posted a review of the second release of the Bowmore Devil’s Casks. That official sherried Bowmore ended up being a bit too sulphurous even for my generally sulphur-tolerant palate. It was a good whisky, I thought, but it could have been a lot better. Today, I have a review of another heavily sherried Bowmore. This one was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and I believe it was bottled for the 2015 edition of Feis Ile. I purchased my bottle a couple of years ago at auction in the UK. It wasn’t cheap—though much cheaper than it is now—but I am a big fan of Bowmore and few propositions in whisky are more enticing to me than high-quality sherried Bowmore. The early reviews certainly made this out to seem like one of those. Spoiler alert: when I opened the bottle I found it to indeed be a high-quality sherried Bowmore. The bottle is now sadly empty. Here are my notes (taken when only about a quarter of the bottle remained). Continue reading →
I made my first post on this blog on March 24, 2013—I didn’t actually tell anybody about it till a while later but March 24 is the anniversary of the blog. My very first review on that day was a review of a Bowmore—the Legend—and I’ve marked every anniversary since with another Bowmore review. On the first anniversary I reviewed the first release of the Devil’s Casks, and now on the fifth anniversary I have a review of the second release (I don’t remember in what year this was actually released). I don’t know that I planned to be blogging for five years when I started out—my life is littered with things I started with great enthusiasm and then abandoned—but here I still am. Truth be told, adding food to the mix probably saved me from getting burned out. I’m not quite as engaged with the whisky world as I was when I started the blog and I’m not sure that whisky blogs (or food blogs, for that matter) are even particularly relevant anymore. I certainly read fewer blogs than I once did and can’t imagine why anybody reads mine. Continue reading →
Glenburgie remains one of the great unsung Scottish distilleries. Almost all their production goes into Chivas Bros.’ blends—mostly into Ballantine’s, I believe. I don’t believe there is any official Glenburgie beyond entries in the 500 ml “Cask Strength Edition” series sold in the group’s distilleries’ shops. This lack of recognition is really a shame as bourbon cask Glenburgie is almost always at least very good and can be very, very good indeed. I’ve not reviewed very many on the blog but Glenburgies always catch my eye and I purchase them when the opportunity arises. I can’t remember when it was that I purchased this one (my usually dependable spreadsheet fails me on this occasion) but it is the oldest Glenburgie I’ve yet had. Older doesn’t always mean better: sometimes it can just mean oakier (of course, it also always means “more expensive”). This one, I am happy to say, is very good—I opened it for my local group’s premium tasting earlier this year and it went down a treat. Here now is my review. 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 →