Speyburn is a somewhat unsung distillery. They are part of Inver House’s portfolio, which also includes Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu and Balmenach; and it’s safe to say that of those five distilleries, Speyburn is the most unsung. Indeed, they’re often the butt of jokes among whisky geeks. Of course, any distillery is capable of producing very good casks but when a 26 yo cask from an unsung distillery hangs around for a couple of years after release, it’s forgivable perhaps to think that it may not be very good. That was my thinking, at any rate, when I came across this bottle on my visit to Berry Bros. & Rudd in London last spring. The gent at the store prevailed on me to take a taste from an open bottle and when I did I was rather impressed by how fruity it was. It seemed like a pretty good deal at £125 and I purchased the bottle. When I got back to my flat, I cast around online to see if anyone had reviewed it and, of course, Serge had. I was surprised to see that he had given it only 78 points. I was also glad that I had not seen his review and score before going to the store, as in that case I might not even have bothered with a taste. I opened the bottle for my local group’s tasting in February and everyone else really liked it too. Here now are my notes. Continue reading
In my review last week of the very good Littlemill 22, 1989 from Archives, I said I’d have more older Littlemill next month. But here I am, a week early. And to think people say my reviews are untimely. This was distilled in 1992, a couple of years before the distillery closed. It was bottled in 2014 by Berry Bros. & Rudd. I believe this was a US release—I don’t think the cask number was specified.
By the way, though the distillery officially closed in 1994, distillation ended in 1992: the distillery was mothballed till 1994 before being dismantled and largely destroyed over the next decade. Given that a housing development now occupies the site, this is one dead distillery that will not be coming back to life anytime soon. Anyway, let’s see if this is as good as the Archives bottle. Continue reading
Here is the second in my slow-motion series of reviews of old blends—old as in distilled and released a long time ago, not in terms of age (though I do have a couple coming that fit both descriptions). I rather liked the old Dewar’s White Label that I reviewed last week, finding it altogether maltier and peatier than the current unremarkable incarnation, and also possessed of a much better texture at a low strength than even most contemporary malts of similar abv. I’m hoping this one will be as good.
I’m very far from being an expert on these old blends. and I don’t know anything about this particular brand. And though my small share of this bottle split is from a trusted source, the info on the label is a bit confusing as well: the abv is listed as 43.4% but the Whiskybase i.d. also listed is for a bottle at 43%. Meanwhile, other old King George IV bottles seem to be at 40%. I’ve asked the bottle splitter to confirm what the abv of this bottle was; but, in the meantime, if anybody else knows more about the different releases of this whisky, please do write in below. Continue reading
After my review of the old, unlamented official Littlemill 12, I’d lined up reviews of a number of more recently released older, indie Littlemills from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Somehow, I never got around to posting any of them. Here’s the first one.
This was released by Whiskybase as part of the inaugural release of their Archives line. As you may know, Menno B. of Whiskybase is a renowned Littlemill collector, and all the Littlemills released by Archives have very good reputations. Unlike the other Littlemills of this era that I’ve reviewed—see this 20, 1990 from the Nectar and this 24, 1989 from the Whisky Agency—this is from a refill sherry hogshead. I opened this a while ago and liked it so much that it disappeared in just a few months—that might seem like a long time but I usually have bottles stay open for at least a year. Here now are my notes. Continue reading
While I have reviewed a number of independent releases of Ben Nevis, it has been more than three years since my last review of an official release—this single cask 1996-2012. As I’ve noted before, Ben Nevis’s somewhat dodgy past reputation has been overhauled in recent years, and this has been marked most clearly in the rising prices of their official vintage releases. The recent’ish makeover of their entry-level 10 yo, however, has not been accompanied by an unreasonable price. Not in the UK, at any rate: there you can get it for £32 ex. vat. I’m not even sure if it’s in the US. What pops up on Winesearcher is the old 10 yo (which had a different label), and that’s going for $75 and more. That might make it the priciest 10 yo on the market—and that older version was not even very good. This one is very good; since taking the picture, I’ve consumed half of the bottle—and though I have another on the shelf next to it, I might have to get another when I’m in the UK next month. Continue reading
Some of you would like me to review more blends. You will accordingly be pleased to know that starting this week, for the next two months or so, I will be posting one review of a blended whisky per week. You may be less pleased to know that these are all blends released many decades ago.
First up is a Dewar’s White Label released sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. I’ve previously reviewed the current Dewar’s White Label and I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that I found it barely drinkable (in fact, I barely drank it). This doesn’t make me nervous about this incarnation of the whisky though. My (limited) experience with old blends has led me to expect a much higher malt content and also a higher peat content. At the least, I expect it will be interesting. Continue reading
In 2014/2015 there were quite a few Blair Athol 1988s on the market, all in the mid-20s age-wise. Many of these were bottled by Signatory—21 of the 47 Blair Athols listed on Whiskybase are from Signatory*; and another 8 are from van Wees, who source from Signatory, I believe. I’ve reviewed some of these: I really liked this 26 yo bottled for K&L; I also liked this 26 yo and this 25 yo, both from van Wees. Most recently, I thought this 25 yo bottled for LMDW was excellent as well (I could be wrong but I think Signatory was the source of this cask as well—if you know differently, please write in below). All of these casks have proximate numbers, by the way, suggesting perhaps that a big parcel of casks was purchased all together by a broker.
Does that guarantee high quality for this one? Let’s see. Continue reading
And here is the last of my five reviews of recent K&L casks. The score so far is 3-1: I really liked the Bowmore 20 and the Bunnahabhain 25, and thought the Bunnahabhain 28 was solid; it was only the Mortlach 22 that I was not crazy about. Well, this is also a Mortlach and, like the Bunnahabhain 28, it’s also a Faultline. Which way will it go? Let’s see.
Mortlach 28, 1989 (42.5%; Faultline; first-fill sherry hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Raisins, a bit of orange and some oak. With time the orange expands a bit but there’s not much of note happening here. With more time still there’s some toffee. With a few drops of water the fruit expands significantly: orange and apricot.
My series of reviews of recent K&L casks continues. The score so far is 2-1. The two casks I liked a lot were both Old Particular releases (a Bowmore 20, 1997 and a Bunnahabhain 25, 1991). The other was a Mortlach 22, 1995, an Alexander Murray cask bottled in K&L’s own Faultline series, and I thought it was ordinary. This one’s also a Bunnahabhain but it’s also another of the Alexander Murrary Faultline releases. That doesn’t bode well. Will this be another of K&L’s older whiskies that seems like a great value but isn’t actually worth it anyway? Let’s see.
Bunnahabhain 28, 1989 (42.1%; Faultline; first-fill sherry hogshead; from a bottle split)
On to review #3 of K&L’s recent single cask releases, and the oldest one so far. As you may recall, the first was a Bowmore 20, 1997, bottled by Douglas Laing’s Old Particular, and I quite liked that one. The second was a Mortlach 22, 1995 bottled under K&L’s own Faultline label (the cask came from Alexander Murray). I did not have much of an opinion of that one. Will this Bunnahabhain, also bottled by Old Particular, get things back on track? Like the Mortlach 22, it’s priced very well—I should say “was”, as it’s already sold out: $160, I believe. Considering the lowest price for the OB 25 yo on WineSearcher is $342, that seems like a very good deal indeed. But, as we saw with the Mortlach, age isn’t everything. Paying a relatively low price for an older whisky isn’t much of a steal if the whisky in the bottle isn’t very good. Older Bunnahabhain can be very good indeed, however, so I am hopeful. Let’s see how it goes. Continue reading
On Wednesday I posted the first of five reviews of some recentl K&L exclusive casks. I very much liked that Bowmore 20, which was bottled in Douglas Laing’s Old Particular line. Today’s Mortlach is a couple of years older but was bottled under K&L’s own Faultline label. More than any K&L casks, those bottled in the Faultline series have proven the most disappointing. Then again, I had low expectations of Wednesday’s Bowmore as well and those were easily exceeded. Will that be true of this Mortlach as well?
Sherry cask Mortlach—which is the most common version—can be a bit of a bruiser. The distillery produces a meatier, rougher spirit—their production process uses old-fashioned worm tubs for the condensation step, and with lower copper content in worm tubs, the spirit retains more of a sulphurous character. This can be a bit of an acquired taste but once you acquire it, it becomes a very specific pleasure. And a good sherry cask can amplify those pleasures. Let’s see if that has happened here or if this will be a regression to K&L’s cask selection mean. Continue reading
I’m going to start the month with reviews of some of K&L’s recently released exclusives. This may seem timely but keep in mind that most of these have already sold out. This Bowmore, bottled under the Old Particular label from Douglas Laing, might still be available, however. The last time I reviewed a bunch of K&L selections—back in December 2016, starting with this Linkwood)—things didn’t go so well. Will this lot be any better? The odds, frankly, are not great. K&L’s strategy seems to be to look for casks with high age and low price numbers on them with the quality an afterthought. A lot of people want deals and 20-30 yo whisky for less than $200 seems like a great deal in this market in the abstract. It’s in the marketing copy that they’ll seek to convince you that you’re also getting amazing whisky. And even though David Driscoll is now gone from K&L, their ability to turn on the tap of hyperbole remains unaffected. Continue reading
I’ve reviewed a number of very good whiskies this month but let’s close with something really special. This Highland Park 25 was released sometime in the mid-90s—most people say 1995 but I’m not sure if that’s confirmed (and no, I haven’t squinted at my bottle for an undecipherable code). I like to believe that it was released in 1995 because that would mean that there was distillate from 1970 in there and that’s the year I was born. (I know, this means a lot to you as well.) I opened the bottle on my 48th birthday this year—my new policy, now that I’m closer to death than birth, is to open a very special bottle on my birthday each year. This is Highland Park from well before they began to care about packaging (which started in the late 2000s and led to today’s series of embarrassments). High quality sherried whisky, not sold in a longboat or in a black bottle. It’s also from a time when you didn’t need to choose between paying your mortgage or purchasing Highland Park 25 for a special occasion. Anyway, as I’m in danger of veering into the territory of the negative—an area which, as you know, makes me very uncomfortable—I’m going to now turn to the review itself. Continue reading
Here is the last of three simul-reviews this month with Michael K. of Diving for Pearls. We’ve previously reviewed a Caol Ila 20, 1996 and a Glen Ord 18, 1997. Both were bottled by Montgomerie’s for Total Wine. This Laphroaig is also a Total Wine exclusive (I’m pretty sure) but it was bottled by a far more well-known concern, Berry Bros. & Rudd. My interest in this cask arose when I saw that it was cask 56 from 1997. I’ve previously tried and reviewed two other Berry Bros. & Rudd Laphroaig 18, 1997s from proximate cask numbers and liked them a lot. Most recently, cask 54, which was released in the Netherlands; and a year and half ago, cask 46, which was an exclusive for the Whisky Exchange. The TWE cask, in particular, presented a wonderful marriage of fruit and smoke—a very old-school Laphroaig profile. The Dutch cask was not quite as fruity but it was very good indeed too. Where will this one fall? Unlike the other two, it’s not at cask strength but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. Continue reading