Craigellachie 13, 2017 Release


Let’s start the month with a week of reviews of whiskies from Craigellachie. Located in the Speyside, Craigellachie has not always had a high visibility among non-whisky geeks. It was established in the late 19th century and produced malt for blends for most of its life. Indeed, until relatively recently, there were no regular official bottlings from the distillery. The turning point was the purchase of the distillery in 1998 by John Dewar & Sons, themselves a subsidiary of Bacardi. In 2014 official Craigellachies appeared: a 13 yo, a 17 yo and a 23 yo. Idiosyncratic age statements to be sure, and perhaps meant as a reflection of the spirit’s idiosyncratic character. For whisky geeks, Craigellachie—available from independent bottlers before this—has always been of interest as one of the few distilleries still using old-fashioned worm tubs to condense their spirit. This results in spirit that can have a “meaty” texture and character. I’ve not had enough Craigellachie to be able to track all this meaningfully but I am interested to try this official 13 yo—which somehow I have not had at all since it was first released. This sample comes from a bottle from the 2017 release. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Aberfeldy 16, 2003 (G&M)


There’ll be no whisky review this Friday as it’s the first of the month and so let’s call it a mini-sherry cask week (following Monday’s Balvenie PX Finish). I noted on Monday that I have not reviewed very many Balvenies; well, this is only my second review of an Aberfeldy. The first was a 17 yo bottled by Cadenhead in 2014 from bourbon hogsheads. This one is a year younger and was bottled in 2020 by G&M from a refill sherry hogshead. I quite liked the ex-bourbon 17 yo—will this one be at least as good? Let’s see.

Aberfeldy 16, 2003 (58.8%; G&M; refill sherry hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: No sherry bomb, this comes in with some dried orange peel, cereals and dried leaves. The orange peel picks up as it sits and some mildly-spicy oak joins it. With time the oak softens and some toffee emerges along with some roasted malt; a bit of cream/milky cocoa too now. Water emphasizes this development and pulls out more of the leaves as well. Continue reading

Balvenie 18, PX Finish


I’ve not reviewed very many Balvenies over the years (only 10 total and only a handful in the last 4-5 years). There was a time when their 12 yo Double Wood was a regular in my rotation but that was a long time ago. It seems to be available for a relatively reasonable price in Minnesota. Should I give it a go? I do know I wasn’t terribly impressed the last time I tried it but it may have improved since, I suppose. I was also a huge fan a decade ago of their 15 yo Single Barrel series that was all from bourbon casks (here’s the only one I’ve reviewed). But that got replaced by a hot sherry bomb that cost a lot more and which I was not very impressed with the first time I tried it, though I did like the second cask I tried better. The Balvenie I’m reviewing today is also sherried, albeit the sherry comes in only via a finish: it spends some time in PX casks after initial maturation in American oak (presumably ex-bourbon) casks. It was/is a Travel Retail exclusive, which makes it a bit surprising both that it has an age statement and that it’s at a good drinking strength of 48.7%. How much of its 18 years it spends in either cask type I’m not sure, but here’s hoping the finish is well-integrated. Let’s see. Continue reading

Ben Nevis 21, 1998 (Archives)


This week of Ben Nevis has not turned out to be all I hoped it would be. Monday’s 20 yo from Single Cask Nation was disappointing; while Wednesday’s 21 yo from the Daily Dram was a fair bit better, it didn’t have me reaching for superlatives either. Those were both refill sherry casks. Today’s closer is also 21 years old but is from a hogshead. Will it reward my oft-stated faith in bourbon cask Ben Nevis? Let’s see.

Ben Nevis 21, 1998 (48.2%; Archives; hogshead 188; from a bottle split)

Nose: Quite fruity with melon, pineapple, tart-sweet apple. The nuts and powdered ginger and funky notes are so far not here. The powdered ginger emerges with time along with some cream and some dusty oak A few drops of water make the cream expand and bring out more sweet fruit to go with it—some blueberries too now. Continue reading

Ben Nevis 21, 1996 (The Daily Dram)


Ben Nevis week got off to a disappointing start with Monday’s 20 yo from 1996. That one, bottled by Single Cask Nation, was from a refill oloroso puncheon. Today I have for you another from the 1996 vintage, with an additional year of age. It is also from a refill sherry cask—a butt in this case, and the type of sherry not specified. This one was bottled by the Daily Dram—which, I have to constantly remind myself is an independent bottler unrelated to the Nectar’s “Daily Drams” series. Anyway, I’m hoping this will reset this week of Ben Nevis. Odds are good as I can’t remember the last time I had two indifferent Ben Nevises in a row.

Ben Nevis 21, 1996 (50.6%; The Daily Dram; refill sherry butt; from a bottle split)

Nose: A classic Ben Nevis arrival with roasted nuts, malt, ginger powder, yeasty dough and rubber gaskets from old medicine bottles. On the second sniff there’s a fair bit of salt and just a hint of smoke. As it sits some sweet citrus emerges (orange peel and juice). With time the yeast comes to the fore and is joined by some white pepper. Water pushes the yeast back a bit and brings out more citrus. Continue reading

Ardmore 11, 2009 (Signatory)


Last week featured malt whiskies from three different Indian distilleries (Kamet, Amrut and Paul John). This week will feature malt whiskies from three different Scottish distilleries. In a further connection, they’re all bottled by Signatory—and to be more specific, they were all bottled in Signatory’s Un-Chillfiltered Collection. Bottles in this series, usually but not always at 46% abv, were a major part of my malt whisky education more than a decade ago. I lost track of them for a while after that but was very glad to see a bunch of recent releases in the series on the shelves of a local liquor store in early May. I bought two of those and both will be reviewed this week. First up, is an Ardmore 11, 2009. I am—as is no secret—a big fan of Ardmore’s peated profile, with its emphasis on pepper, mineral notes and fruit. I didn’t realize until I got home that this cask might not display those qualities. Why? Well, because the label says “Bourbon Barrel after Islay” which I take to mean an ex-bourbon barrel that had previously held Islay whisky. If a heavily peated one, those notes might easily overpower Ardmore’s more delicate profile. Did that in fact prove to be the case? Read on. Continue reading

Dufftown 26, 1988 (Cadenhead)


As the last review for May was of a 20+ yo Speyside malt, I might as well begin June with a review of another 20+ yo Speyside malt. This one too is from an unglamorous distillery, Dufftown and at 26 years of age is easily the oldest Dufftown I’ve yet tried. It’s not a recent release, having been distilled in 1988 (not 1987 as I mistakenly listed it as in my “Coming Soon” post) and bottled in 2015 by Cadenhead. I don’t know if it took a while after that to finally make it to the US or if I just didn’t notice it before because that’s roughly when I started paying less and less attention to whisky release news. Anyway, I noticed it in a local liquor store a month or so ago, along with a few other interesting-looking bottles, and managed to convince some friends to go in on splits of all of them with me. I kept 9 ounces of each bottle and they took the rest between them. This is the oldest of the three and in some ways the one I’m most intrigued to try. Though it’s in Cadenhead’s squat bottled “Small Batch” series, I suspect it’s from a single cask as the cask type is a bourbon hogshead and the outturn 228 bottles—which is more or less what you’d expect from a single hogshead of this strength at this age. Continue reading

Tomatin 25, 1994 (Hunter Laing)

My week of reviews of 20+ yo whiskies from distilleries from different whisky producing regions of Scotland got off to a good start on Monday with the Arran 20, Brodick Bay. It then hit a bump in the road with Wednesday’s Kirkland 23, Speyside. Both of those had sherry involvement. The Brodick Bay was matured in both bourbon and sherry casks and then finished in oloroso sherry. The Kirkland was matured in bourbon casks and also finished in oloroso sherry. I close out the week now with a whisky that received a full-term maturation in a sherry butt. At 25 years old this Tomatin is the oldest of the week and I hope it will give it a good end. Older Tomatin can be very good indeed. The butt yielded 452 bottles, which may seem particularly low to those used to Glendronach’s outturns from sherry butts. Keep in mind though that there seems to have been a fair bit of spirit lost to evaporation—at cask strength this came in at just 49.3%. Let’s hope that means that this will be an extra-fruity Tomatin. Continue reading

Kirkland 23, Speyside (Alexander Murray)


As you may recall, the theme for this week’s whisky reviews is 20+ yo whiskies from distilleries located in different production regions of Scotland. The week began with an official release of 20 yo Arran—Brodick Bay. It continues today with a 23 yo from the Speyside. Which distillery exactly in the Speyside? I’m afraid I can’t tell you as this was a private label bottling for Costco by Alexander Murrary and as with most/all such Costco releases, no distillery is specified. This was matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished in oloroso sherry (which is hopefully the only explanation for the dark colour of the whisky in the sample bottle). I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Costco’s Kirkland-branded single malt Scotch releases. I believe I’ve only ever reviewed one other—this 18 yo, also from the Speyside. I didn’t think very highly of that one, finding it to be too watered down in every way. Will this at a more respectable 46% abv (ignore the abv on the sample label—it’s an error) have more oomph/character? I certainly hope so. Continue reading

Arran 20, Brodick Bay


After a week of reviews of whiskies from Mortlach (here, here and here) and then a week of reviews of whiskies from Highland Park (herehere and here), here is a week of reviews with a more diffuse theme: 20+ yo whiskies from distilleries from different whisky producing regions of Scotland. First up, representing the islands, is a distillery I have not reviewed very much from: Arran.

Brodick Bay is an official release, a 20 yo whisky that came out in 2020 and was the first in something called The Explorer Series. I don’t know how many more releases have followed or how they were made but I can tell you that this was put together from spirit matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks and finished in bodega oloroso casks (not sure if that means European or American oak). It’s not the oldest Arran I’ve reviewed (that would be this 21 yo) but it’s close. Let’s hope it’s at least as good. Continue reading

Secret Orkney 19, 2000 (The Daily Dram)


Highland Park week didn’t get off to the best start. The first release of the Cask Strength was a pretty raw alcohol bomb that was rescued by water but still didn’t make it out of middling territory. Wednesday’s 17 yo from Duncan Taylor was quite a bit better. Will that trajectory continue with this cask from The Daily Dram which is two years older still? As with the Duncan Taylor label, this one doesn’t specify cask type but I am hoping it was a bourbon cask. The label also doesn’t name the distillery—though we all know these Secret Orkneys—and all the other indie “Orkney” variants—are Highland Park. This is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink deal, of course. While there isn’t a lot of it around, there is some indie Scapa out there: Gordon & Macphail (who else?) have released a number of them in their Connoisseur’s Choice series in the last few years. And so in theory a single malt whisky identified only as being from Orkney could be from Scapa. If so, it doubtless would benefit the bottler mightily price-wise from all of us assuming it was a Highland Park—just as those who bottle undisclosed Islays benefit from the speculation that those might be Lagavulins or Ardbegs. Anyway, let’s get to it. Continue reading

Highland Park 17, 2004 (Duncan Taylor)


A week of reviews of Highland Park began on Monday with the first edition of the relatively new official Cask Strength release. It continues today with an indie release that is doubtless quite a bit old. This 17 yo from Duncan Taylor was also released recently—just last year in fact. Assuming it’s the same one, Whiskybase indicated an outturn of almost 650 bottles, which would indicate a sherry cask (if it was indeed a single cask release). I’m waiting to hear if the source of my sample has any more information on the cask. If so, the colour after 17 years suggests it would have been a refill cask. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Duncan Taylor release—they weren’t always good with divulging cask details back in the day. Who knows, perhaps contemporary Duncan Taylor is more forthcoming with the details. I’ll let you know what I hear. I was actually kind of hoping it would be a bourbon cask as I am rather partial to bourbon cask Highland Park—an incarnation we very rarely get from the distillery itself. Anyway, whatever this is, I hope it is good. Continue reading

Highland Park Cask Strength, First Release


Highland Park was once one of my very favourite distilleries but it’s been a while since I cared to keep up with what they were up to. Of course, this is not a reflection on the distillery itself but on the owners but they’ve gone down an increasingly silly path of premiumization over the last half decade, with prices increasing and NAS releases proliferating. As I’ve stopped following them, I had no idea they’d launched a new cask strength edition until the chance came up to go in on a bottle split on the first release from 2020. Though as I say that I’m not sure that it is in fact the first release—or rather, what that means. As per Whiskybase, this is the first release of this particular Highland Park Cask Strength (subtitled, “Robust and Intense”). But Whiskybase also lists four other cask strength distillery releases, the last of which came out in 2019—all of those were 350 ml bottles for the Swedish market. So, it may be more appropriate to say that this is the first general release of a cask strength line under the “Robust & Intense” moniker. There’s been a second release in 2021 as per Whiskybase. Unlike the Swedish casks, which don’t specify, this first release is listed as having been matured in “sherry seasoned American oak casks”; the second added sherry seasoned European oak casks to the mix. That one seems to have come to the US too—I’ll keep an eye out for a possible bottle split of that as well. Continue reading

Mortlach 20, 2000 (G&M)


A week of Mortlach reviews began on Monday with a 10 yo bourbon cask bottled by Signatory and continued on Wednesday with a 12 yo sherry cask bottled by Sovereign for K&L. It concludes today with a 20 yo bottled by Gordon & MacPhail from a refill sherry hogshead. As I’ve said before, Mortlach usually shows its best side in the context of sherry maturation and this week’s reviews bear that out. Will a refill sherry cask be as good of a frame for Mortlach’s spirit as the darker 12 yo sherry cask was? If the cask was relatively spent then the extra eight years of maturation may not mean much in terms of imparting sherry character. In any event, I think the point I would make is that what we think of when we think of Mortlach’s “distillery character” is not just the character of the spirit as produced through distillation but also the character of that spirit as transformed through sherry cask maturation—see here for a post from several years ago that goes into this idea of “distillery character” at more length. At any rate, it’s interesting to try a distillery’s spirit from three different types of oak in close juxtaposition. Let’s see how this goes. Continue reading

Mortlach 12, 2008 (Sovereign for K&L)


As you may remember from Monday’s review, this week is a Mortlach week. This in order to try to redress the weak impression people who don’t know the distillery’s spirit well may have received from last Friday’s review of the official 14 yo for travel retail. Well, while Monday’s 10 yo release from Signatory was better, it didn’t exactly light my hair on fire either. Will that happen with today’s 12 yo? On the plus side, it is a sherry butt and Mortlach generally shows its best side with heavy sherry maturation. On the less than plus side, this was bottled for K&L and sold for just about $60. A seeming good deal at K&L can often/sometimes (depending on your point of view) be too good to be true. Hopefully this is not one of those cases. Certainly, I was not overly impressed by the last cask of K&L Mortlach I reviewed—which, like Monday’s Signatory, was also a bourbon cask. Was this one leftover in my stash from that same round of casks or did I acquire it in a separate bottle split? I can’t remember. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Mortlach 10, 2008 (Signatory for Spec’s)


Friday’s Mortlach, an official release for travel retail, didn’t impress very much. As I have some readers who are not very familiar with Mortlach I feel I must try to not leave them with a ho-hum impression of the distillery. Accordingly, I’m following that review with a full slate of Mortlach reviews this week. I’ve not tasted any of these bottles before but am hopeful that at least one of them will give a better idea of what Mortlach whisky’s appeal can be than that Alexander’s Way did. First up, is a 10 yo bottled by Signatory in its Un-Chillfiltered Collection series for Spec’s in Texas. As per Whiskybase a number of these 10 yos from 2008 were bottled by Signatory for stores in the EU as well, all matured in bourbon barrels just as this one was. Indeed, this one is a vatting of four bourbon barrels for a total release of 964 bottles. I believe barrels generally yield a little over 200 bottles. Dilution down to 46% brings the number up. I’ve always had a soft spot for Signatory’s UCF collection—when I first started out buying indie releases this was one of the lines I bought a lot of bottles from. It used to be pretty ubiquitous in the US and pretty reasonably priced. As to whether this Mortlach was reasonably priced on release in 2018, I don’t know—but I do hope it’s a good one. Continue reading

Mortlach 14, Alexander’s Way


And so a week of reviews of official distillery releases comes to an end. It started on Monday with an outstanding Springbank 10 (the 2021 release) and continued on Wednesday with a typically solid Clynelish 14 (from 2018). I have another 14 year old to end the week, this one from the Speyside. This Mortlach is not from the distillery’s core range; it is rather a travel retail exclusive. It bears the name “Alexander’s Way”. This refers to a prior owner of the distillery who apparently came up with their unique so-called 2.81 distillation regime—which along with their use of worm tubs as condensers—creates the idiosyncratic character of Mortlach’s spirit. You have to hand it to Diageo: these days when a distillery release has the name of someone like that on its label it usually does not bear an age statement. But Diageo have gone ahead and given us a 14 yo. Of course, they haven’t gone so far as to give it to us at 46%, leave alone at cask strength. This is bottled at 43.4%. That extra .4% of abv above the bog standard 43% must be doing a lot of work. And nor have they offered any guarantee that the spirit in the bottle comes by its dark amber colour honestly. But if it tastes good that’s all that matters. Let’s see. Continue reading

Clynelish 14, 2018 Release


The week and month got off to a great start on Monday with the 2021 release of the Springbank 10. Here now is another official distillery release, the Clynelish 14, once one of only two releases from the distillery (along with the rarely seen Distiller’s edition). When I first started drinking single malt whisky this was one of my very favourite whiskies. I remember purchasing a bottle along with one of the Lagavulin 16 from Astor  in New York in the mid-2000s. Thanks to Astor’s then seemingly permanent Lagavulin sale I got both for $100. Anyway, though I liked it very much in those days, I’ve lost track of the Clynelish 14 in the last several years. Indeed, I haven’t reviewed it since 2014 and that was of a bottle purchased before 2010. And so I was very happy to take the opportunity to reacquaint myself with a recent release (this is from 2018). Let’s see what it’s like.
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