Balblair 1990-2015, Second Release


I reviewed the Balblair 2005, First Release in May and in that review I noted that I do not understand how Balblair’s vintage releases worked. That has not changed. And so I can tell you that this was distilled in 1990 and released in 2015 and that it was described as the “Second Release” even though there was another with the appellation released in 2014 and again in 2016. Just typing this made my head hurt and glad again that Balblair has now moved to regular age-stated whiskies (though given the jump in price the occasional headache may have been a good deal). This was matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks but my understanding is that the sherry is more pronounced. On the one hand, the last sherried Balblair I had—this 10 yo—did not do very much for me. But on the other, the last Balblair 1990 I had was from a single sherry cask—this 21 yo—and I really liked that one. Let’s hope that the shared vintage and general age makes this more likely to be on the level of its sibling. Continue reading

Lagavulin 1991, The Distillers Edition


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

Caol Ila 27, 1984 (Old Malt Cask for the Whisky Barrel)


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

Caol Ila 19 (The Whisky Exchange)

Here’s a 19 yo Caol Ila bottled several years ago by the Whisky Exchange for their annual Whisky Show. That’s it, that’s the introduction.

Caol Ila 19 (55.9%; The Whisky Exchange for the Whisky Show, 2012; single bourbon cask; from my own bottle)

Nose: Ah yes, this is one of those “Port Ellen, who?” Caol Ilas. Lemon, oyster liquor, kelp, green olive brine, mineral smoke: it’s all here. A couple of minutes later there’s some ash and smouldering leaves mixed in with the mineral smoke, giving it a slightly bitter, vegetal quality. A few drops of water and it’s a mix of citronella, ash and vanilla-cream.

Palate: As predicted by the nose but with more phenols in the smoke and some sweeter notes as I swallow (vanilla). Gets more acidic as it sits and the leafy note from the nose begins to make its way to the palate as well. More acid with water—more preserved than fresh lemon now—and the phenols back off a bit (the ash doesn’t though). Continue reading

Ardmore 20, 1996


I started the month with a heavily-peated Islay that was a bit of a misfire (this year’s Cairdeas). Let’s continue with peated whisky but move on to the eastern highlands, to Ardmore who are not known for heavily peated whisky. Interestingly—and also worryingly—however, this particular 20 yo release was apparently finished in ex-Islay casks after an initial maturation in ex-bourbon casks. If these were casks from Laphroaig (possible given that Beam Suntory owns both distilleries) then there’s a good chance that the usual combination of mellow, peppery peat and fruit that characterizes the best Ardmores might get lost in a phenolic overlay. On the other hand, if the casks were ex-bourbon Bowmore casks—Bowmore being another Beam Suntory distillery—then that might actually be a good match. Let’s see how it goes. I’m a big fan of Ardmore, even though we don’t get very many opportunities to try their malt in the US, and I am hoping for the best. Continue reading

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2020, Port & Wine Casks


I look forward to the release of the Laphroaig Cairdeas every year, even though Laphroaig has not consistently been giving me very many reasons in recent years to look forward to it. I liked 2018’s Fino cask finish but last year’s Triple Wood CS and 2017’s Quarter Cask CS were acceptable but not at all special. The distillery seems to have got caught in an endless cycle of cask finishes; a far cry from 2011 and 2012 which saw them release excellent bourbon cask whiskies (neither of which, I realize, I’ve reviewed). And the only truly excellent Cairdeas since then—2015’s 200th anniversary release—was also from bourbon casks. But there’s no excitement in bourbon cask releases, I guess. Will next year be a rum cask? A marsala cask? Or will we see another Frankenwine release like this year’s (a vatting of port and wine casks)? Well, I suppose if the results taste good there’s no point complaining about the high-concept gimmickry. Let’s see if that is indeed the case. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 42, 1970, Family Casks (for K&L)


Glenfarclas week started out with a 15 yo on Monday, which I thought was good but nothing very special. In the middle on Wednesday was a 21 yo that I thought was excellent. Let’s close the week out now with a 42 yo. This was distilled in 1970 and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider buying it when it was released by K&L back in 2012. 1970 is when I was distilled as well and I was on the lookout then for 1970 vintage whiskies to buy and stash for my 50th birthday. But the price was quite high—$500+, I think (and it got quite a bit higher later)—and given my general allergy to K&L’s marketing blather, I decided not to take the chance; especially, as I’d purchased this Tomatin 40, 1970 for quite a bit less for the same purpose a year prior. I then forgot about it until it showed up unexpectedly last month in a box of samples from Sku—also the source of Monday’s 15 yo. I’m very interested to find out now if I should have grit my teeth back then and paid the high tariff. Let’s see. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 21, 1980, Dark Sherry Cask


Today’s Glenfarclas is a bit older than Monday’s in terms of age and a bit more still in terms of vintage. This was distilled in 1980 and bottled from a single cask for Filliers, who—as best as I can make out—are a Belgian concern. The cask is described as a “dark sherry cask”, which I assume means it had previously held oloroso sherry. Monday’s 15 yo also featured a big sherry profile but there the bigness seemed a little “engineered” to me—driven by active oak and tannins that covered up a lot of the fruit. This seems to me to happen a lot with heavily sherried whiskies these days. I have had similar complaints about a number of other sherry casks in recent years. Glenfarclas from the 1970s, however, has reliably been a lot fruitier (such, for example, is the excellent Glenfarclas 31, 1974, which I have not reviewed yet) and I am hoping that this one too will display a lot of fruit as part of the “dark” profile. Let’s see. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 15 (for TWE)


It’s been a few weeks since I posted a whisky review. Last week’s booze reviews were all of rums (Caroni, Caroni, Worthy Park); and the week before focused on brandies (Lous Pibous, Dartigalongue, Copper & Kings). It’ll be whisky from now till the end of the month but I’m going to keep this week themed as well: it’ll be all releases of sherried whisky, and all from Glenfarclas. I’ll begin with this 15 yo and then go up in age with each review.

This particular release was bottled for the Whisky Exchange. I’m not sure if it was from a single cask and nor am I sure why no vintage is noted. I suppose it’s possible that it’s a vatting of at least 15 yo casks from a couple of different years, but that seems like a lot of trouble to go to and not mention or mine for marketing reasons. More likely, I’d guess, is that this is just TWE being idiosyncratic. They’ve released other whiskies too that bore no cask or vintage information (such was this Laphroaig 16). I’ve had my eye on this Glenfarclas for a while—almost pulling the trigger a couple of times when friends were coming over from London. The thought of a cask strength version of the excellent 15 yo that is not available in the US was enticing; but there’s no guarantee, of course, that a cask strength version of the 15 yo is what this amounts to. Will I regret that uncharacteristic restraint? Let’s see. Continue reading

Springbank 1997, Batch 2


On Wednesday I had a review of the Springbank 1997, Batch 1, released in 2007. Here now is a review of Batch 2, released a year later. This one I did purchase a whole bottle of. I liked Batch 1 a lot and so am hoping that Batch 2 will be comparable. Let’s see if it in fact is.

Springbank 1997, Batch 2 (54.9%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Typical Springbank notes of damp earth and sackcloth with some dried orange peel and some coastal notes (kelp, brine, seashells) running through them. With time there’s more salt and some red fruit—plum?—along with the orange peel. Sweeter and softer with water (cream, malt) at first and then some pencil lead. Continue reading

Springbank 1997, Batch 1


Springbank released two batches of the 1997 vintage, one in 2007 and one in 2008. I bought a bottle of the second batch not too long after its release and have been sitting on it now for about a decade for some reason. Well, I think the reason might have been that I’d hoped to find a bottle of the first batch and open them together. That never happened but a few years ago I did acquire 8 ounces of Batch 1 via a bottle split; not sure why I didn’t do that paired tasting then but better late than never.

The bottle was acquired by Florin—the man who brought the good news from Ghent to Aix—at a store in Berlin in 2014. Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls and I then split it with him. Michael, being a young hasty type, only waited four years to review a part of his share. Here now are my notes. Continue reading

Littlemill 20, 1992 (Archives)


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

Glenrothes 1972-2005


When I first started drinking single malt whisky I was really into Glenrothes for a while. Some of this, truth be told, was due to the funky bottle shape of official releases (which are by far the majority of Glenrothes); but a large part of it was due to the fact that the vintage releases I first tried were very pleasant, very accessible whiskies. Such were the1991-2006, 1994-2009 and 1985-2005. I finished my last bottles of all of those before I started the blog and hence no reviews—though I should really check if I have reference samples of those saved (in those days I used to routinely save 6 oz of each bottle I opened for future reference). Anyway, as a result, all the Glenrothes I’ve reviewed on the blog have been independent releases and most are above the age of 20. This one, however, is both an official release and the oldest Glenrothes I’ve yet had in terms of either age or vintage. It was distilled in 1972 and bottled in 2005. I found it a few years ago in the locked liquor room of a Korean grocery store in Los Angeles, listed for the long-ago price. I couldn’t find any reviews of it online but given the reasonable price to age ratio decided to take a chance on it. I’d saved the bottle for one of my whisky group’s premium tastings; but as it’s not clear when the pandemic will ever allow us to get together to drink again, I decided to open it by myself earlier this month. I’ve been drinking the bottle down at a rapid clip. Here before it dips too far below the halfway mark are my notes. Continue reading

Inchmurrin 14, 2004 (SMWS)


On Tuesday I had a review of a bourbon cask Inchmurrin bottled by the SMWS in 2018. Here now is another. This one is a few years older. By the way, despite what the label on the sample bottle might lead you to think, I did not get this from Sku.

Inchmurrin 14, 2004 (60%; SMWS 112.39; 2nd-fill hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: The usual mix of bright acid and mineral notes to start; then lime peel and salt expand along with more tropical notes of tart mango and dragonfruit and just a hint of passionfruit. With time the lime peel is still the top note and the mineral quality is right there with it along with a whiff of paraffin. A few drops of water push back the paraffin, bring out some sweeter notes (vanilla) and make the whole bigger. A bit more water and there’s more fruit still: sweeter (berries) and richer. Continue reading

Inchmurrin 11, 2007 (SMWS)


Okay, back to whisky. Here’s a young Inchmurrin from a bourbon cask. Inchumurrin, as you probably know, is one of the several lines of whisky produced at the Loch Lomond distillery. Its profile is typically very fruity and sans the peat that marks their Croftengea line. I confess I am never able to remember how Inchmurrin or Croftengea differ from the other lines made by Loch Lomond—Inchfad, Inchmoan and so on. I did really like my last young Inchmurrin from a bourbon cask. That one was an official 9 yo single cask selected by the Whisky Exchange last year to commemorate their 20th anniversary, and I was glad to have procured a full bottle of it. This one is a bit older at 11 years of age and was bottled by the SMWS. They gave it the fanciful name “A Piece of Paradise”. If it’s filled with tropical fruit I’ll forgive them. Let’s see if that turns out to be the case and if I regret only having a 2 oz sample. Continue reading

Ardmore 13, 2006 (SMWS)


Okay, let’s make it two Ardmores in a row. I really liked the 20 yo I reviewed on Monday. Like this one, that was also bottled by the SMWS. Unlike this one, however, that was from a refill bourbon cask. This one very much is not. Well, it started out in bourbon cask but ended up in a red wine cask for some reason. I’m yet to come across any compelling reason to finish whisky in red wine casks. Will this change my mind? Let’s see.

Ardmore 13, 2006 (58.1%; SMWS 66.161; red wine finish; from a bottle split)

Nose: Fairly jumbled with some pickled/acidic notes, some char, some oak, some red fruit. On the second and third sniffs there’s quite a bit of lime. As it sits the smoke takes on a slightly plasticky/acryclic character. The nose settles down with time and air and the plastic/acrylic note recedes. Water brings out a cured meat note. Continue reading

Ardmore 20, 1997 (SMWS)


Last week I reviewed a slew of Benromachs—well, three of them anyway. Let’s stay in the general vicinity and let’s stick with Highland peat. Ardmore is the other distillery in that general part of Scotland that is known for peated whisky. As at Benromach, Ardmore’s peat is not phenolic in the Islay style and nor is it as farmy/brutal as Ledaig’s can be. Instead it typically has a peppery, mineral character, with soot and coal in place of the phenols. It’s hard to find much indie Ardmore in the US—or even very much officially released Ardmore—but I am a big fan of the distillery and try their whisky every chance I get. And I usually like it a lot. Why, I even liked a 10 yo put out by K&L last year! More to the point and closer to the age of this one, I also really liked a 22 yo from 1996 released to mark the 20th anniversary of the OMC line in 2018. If this is as good as either of those I’ll be very happy. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. Continue reading

Benromach 8, 2011 (for The Whisky Exchange)


This is a Benromach blog now. All Benromach reviews all the time. Well, this week anyway. On Monday I reviewed a young bourbon cask that was a UK exclusive. I really liked that one. Yesterday I had a review of the recent sherry cask edition of the distillery’s Peat Smoke release. That one seemed unpromising at first but then improved dramatically with water. Today another young Benromach from a sherry cask, another UK exclusive. This one was in fact exclusive to one particular store, The Whisky Exchange: it was one of several whiskies bottled to mark the store’s 20th anniversary. This is from a single sherry cask, a first-fill hogshead. Good friends were visiting London right when the pandemic hit and they were kind enough to bring me back a couple of bottles recommended by Billy Abbott at TWE (this Inchmurrin was the other). Billy recommended this one highly. When I first opened the bottle a couple of months ago I found it to be a bit too hot and indistinct but it’s mellowed nicely since. Here now are my notes. Continue reading