Quick Hits: Two Old Karuizawas


Let’s finish up a week of older whiskies. I have two older whiskies today, one from the 1980s and one from the 1970s. Both are Karuizawas. For my opinion on the state of the Karuizawa industrial complex see this post from last year—prices have doubtless shot up even higher since then but everything else still seems applicable. Both of these whiskies were bottled in 2011. The first is a “multi vintage” bottling of four casks from the early-mid 1980s, with the youngest having been filled in 1984. An odd thing you might say to vat four casks of Karuizawa rather than milk them each as single casks—as you’ll see, I have a theory about this below. The other one is a more straightforward single sherry cask release, distilled in 1972 and bottled in 2011. I shudder to think how much either would cost now on the secondary market. I did not purchase either of these samples. Back in the days when I used to purchase a lot of whisky from Whiskybase they would occasionally slip samples of some premium whiskies in with my orders. As I have no memory of buying them this must be how I acquired these (as I did the Glenlivet and Glenury reviewed here). As always with reviews of whiskies I have less than 30 ml of, I am not assigning scores. Continue reading

Ledaig 6, 2004 (Murray McDavid)


On Monday Michael K. (of Diving for Pearls) and I disagreed a bit about the new Lagavulin 11, Offerman Edition. While he found it to be a sweeter, gentler, just good Lagavulin, I found it to be decidedly non-training wheels Lagavulin and very good. Today we’re going to try again with another simul-review. This is also of a heavily peated whisky from an island distillery. This time, however, the island is Mull, the distillery is Tobermory, the whisky is much younger, and the cask is sherry. I’m not sure what was going on with the Murray McDavid braintrust in 2010 that they didn’t feel the need to throw this into a grenache cask for 2 months—a loss of nerve? At least I think this was a full-term maturation: the source of my sample, Florin (the inventor of avocado toast) did not specify. At any rate, 6 years is pretty young (just three years older than the minimum maturation needed for Scotch whisky)—will the sherry have smoothed any rough notes of youth? Let’s see. Continue reading

Glen Grant 37, 1974 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)


Okay, let’s do one more old Glen Grant to close out the month. This one is two years older than Monday’s 35 yo and was distilled four years later, in 1974. The bottler, the venerable Berry Bros. & Rudd, put out one more 37 yo cask from 1974 (cask 7643). There have also been a large number of Duncan Taylor releases of older Glen Grants from 1974—including two bottled in the Lonach range. There are a few more releases from other independent bottlers as well. Clearly, there was a time when a large number of these casks were available to the indies—a broker or a blender’s surplus stock? In 2011, when this one was bottled, these could still be found at reasonable prices (which look like steals in today’s market where teenaged whiskies command more than $200). Anyway, I quite liked Monday’s 35 yo, despite its low bottling strength. This one is a single sherry  cask and was bottled at closer to 50%. Let’s see if those things make any meaningful difference. Continue reading

Longmorn 17, 1996, Cask 72324


In 2013’ish van Wees bottled a number of sherry casks of Longmorn 1996. We didn’t know it then but that was right at the end of the era of reasonable prices for teenaged whiskies. Even with the higher Euro/USD exchange rate of the time these casks went for about $65. That’s for 17 year old sherry cask whisky. Can you imagine such a thing now? Anyway, these casks were very popular—all have very high scores on Whiskybase—but because the whisky world had not gone crazy yet they didn’t all sell out immediately. I purchased a bottle from cask 72315 and my friends Rob and Clara purchased a bottle from cask 72324. They opened theirs right away. I got a sample from their bottle and promptly forgot all about it and my own bottle. Here now more than five years after we purchased our bottles, and in a far less innocent time, is my review of the sample from their bottle. If I like it a lot, as I am expecting to do, I will open my own bottle next month. Continue reading

Benriach 12, Heredotus Fumosus


I’ve had variable luck with the official Benriachs I’ve recently reviewed. I thought this 29 yo from 1986, peated with an oloroso finish was good but nothing very special. On the other hand, I did not care very much at all for this 18 yo from 1998, which was not peated but had a PX sherry finish applied to it. As it happens, this Benriach 12—which dates from the period when Benriach were issuing whiskies with stupid faux-Latin names—is peated with a PX finish. So, will it fall between the other two or will it go past them and approach the wild glory of the 21 yo Authenticus? Only one way to find out.

By the way, I’ve no memory of how/where I received this sample. Normally, I would have suspected Jordan D. (who has reviewed it) and Michael K (also) of being likely sources, but the ugly scrawl on the label is mine. While I used to save reference samples from my own bottles once upon a time, I’ve never owned a full bottle of this. I think that might indicate that I filled it from a bottle someone brought a couple of years ago to one of my friend Rich’s “sherryfest” tastings in St. Paul. Yes, I know, not a very interesting mystery. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 11, 2004, Rubha A’ Mhail


In August I reviewed Lagavulin’s 2015 Feis Ile release. Here now is Bunnahabhain’s 2015 Feis Ile release, or at least one of them. This is an 11 yo with a long Gaelic name and is composed of spirit matured full-term in two Manzanilla sherry butts. You don’t often see Manzanilla-matured whisky around and so this is intriguing. Or at least so I thought at the gathering in St. Paul to which my friend Pat brought the bottle from which this sample was poured. However, I didn’t think very highly of it at the time. It’s true that we tasted it at the end of the evening on the heels of some rather impressive older malts and so it is possible that the juxtaposition was not in its favour. True to form I then forgot about this sample for a long time. As it happens, I’ve not reviewed much Bunnahabhain recently—in fact, I’ve not reviewed any this year so far—and so it’s a good job I happened on this jar while trying to organize my backlog of sample bottles last month. Anyway, let’s see what I make of it tonight as I give it my full attention. Continue reading

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2019, Triple Wood CS


Hello, hello, here is one of my annual timely reviews: this year’s Cairdeas release from Laphroaig. Not so timely if you actually were at Feis Ile in June—the annual Islay festival where all the distilleries release special whiskies (the Cairdeas is Laphroaig’s)—but pretty timely in the US: the Cairdeas only arrived in the country in late July and only became widely available in mid-August. As always, Laphroaig has released this without much hoopla and at a very reasonable price for a cask strength whisky: it can be found for less than $70—compare with pretty much every other Islay distillery’s offerings, most of which can only be found at auction at several times the original price.

Like 2017’s Cairdeas this one is a cask strength version of a whisky from their regular lineup and like last year’s it is a sherried whisky. 2017’s was the Quarter Cask and last year’s release was a Fino sherry finish. And this year we get a cask strength version of the Triple Wood, matured in a combination of ex-bourbon casks, quarter casks and oloroso sherry casks. The Triple Wood itself was originally a duty-free-only release that became part of the core lineup. I liked the original version of that and still have a bottle on my shelves (I should review it at some point); but it’s been a long time and I don’t really recall any specifics.  Maybe I’ll open it before this bottle gets done and see how it compares. Here for now is the CS Cairdeas edition. Continue reading

Benriach 18, 1998, PX Sherry Finish


Last month I reviewed an older Benriach that was released in 2016 as part of the distillery’s 13th batch of single cask releases. I thought that one—an oloroso finish applied to whisky made from a peated run—was fine but nothing very special. This Benriach was also part of Batch 13 and is also a sherry finish, though PX this time; it is not, however, made from peated barley. I note that there was a Glendronach-style outturn of 670 bottles at a high strength. I’d guess multiple hogsheads were re-racked into a PX puncheon for a short time, making this a Glendronach-style “single cask”. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad whisky though. Let’s see what it’s like.

Benriach 18, 1998, PX Sherry Finish (57.3%; Batch 13, cask 6401; from a bottle split)

Nose: Rich sherried nose with plums, hoisin sauce and then some perfumed wood. The wood is more assertive on the second sniff—spicier and oakier now; the red fruit expands too, getting a touch cough syrupy. Water pushes both the richer notes and the spicy oak back and pulls out some pencil lead. With a lot more water there’s a mild, pleasant note of orange and a tiny bit of oak. Continue reading

Benriach 29, 1986


One more peated whisky to round out the week and it’s the oldest of the three. It was distilled in 1986 and released in 2016, as part of Batch 13 of Benriach’s “single cask” releases. Like Monday’s Lagavulin, this was made complicatedly: distilled from peated barley, (presumably) matured in ex-bourbon barrels for a good while and then finished in an oloroso sherry cask. Interestingly, Billy Walker and co.—then owners of both Glendronach and Benriach—were more forthcoming on labels of Benriach than they were about the so-called single casks of Glendronach (none of which, as far as I know, had or have the word “finished” anywhere on their labels). How long this finish was is, nonetheless, not specified. And nor is there any reason to believe that this is a true “single cask” as most people would understand the term and not another case of multiple casks being re-racked together into a sherry cask for the final bit of maturation/finishing. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Kavalan 8, 2006, Peaty Cask


It’s been a while since my last Kavalan review; more than three years, actually. That was a review of one of their Solist sherry casks. To be honest, I’ve not really kept up with Kavalan over the years. Their whiskies, at least the ones available in the US fall into two categories: affordable but unremarkable; and good but very expensive. And I’ve more or less given up on buying expensive whisky. And it’s also fair to say that it’s not just Kavalan that I’ve not kept up with—I’ve become rather disconnected from the the whisky world in general. But that’s another post for another day. Here is an unusual Kavalan: one of their “Peaty Cask” releases. I *think* this is regular Kavalan spirit matured or finished in an imported cask that had held peated whisky. If not, someone will be around shortly to correct me. And, no, this is not a new release—it came out in 2015 or so. I purchased a sample with a view towards possibly purchasing a bottle and then promptly forgot about it. I think I’ve been threatening to review it for the last year or so. Anyway, here it is now. Continue reading

Lagavulin 24, 1991, Feis Ile 2015


I’m hoping to get to this year’s Laphroaig Cairdeas release by the end of the month but in the meantime here is another Feis Ile release from Islay’s south shore. This is not this year’s Lagavulin release though; it is the one they put out in 2015. At 24 years old it’s one of the older releases at recent Feis Iles. It’s also somewhat complicatedly made, being triple matured: first in ex-bourbon casks, then in PX sherry casks and then finally in oak puncheons (presumably either not sherry or refilled so many times as to not matter). The PX sherry maturation was apparently the briefest of the three. This was said to have been selected by the excellent Pinkie McArthur but I’m not sure exactly what that means in this case as there were 3500 bottles released—probably 6-8 puncheons worth at 59.9%. Were there in fact far more of these triple-matured puncheons, a few of which Pinkie selected to be vatted for Feis Ile 2015? That would appear to be the explanation. That makes you wonder what is happening/happened with the rest. Well, I cannot answer that question but I can tell you what I think of this bottle which I recently opened several years after acquiring it at auction for a king’s ransom (well, maybe not a very important king). Continue reading

Caol Ila 10, 2006 (Gordon & MacPhail)


Let’s do another young sherried Caol Ila to start the month and let’s hope I like it better than the other one I reviewed a few months ago. In fact, I really hope I do as I have a full bottle of this on my shelf—I had forgotten that when I acquired this sample. Like that one this is a vatting of four first-fill sherry casks. Will this show more sherry influence than that one did? Let’s see.

Caol Ila 10, 2006 (60.2%; Gordon & MacPhail; first fill sherry casks 306183+4, 306186+7; from a bottle split)

Nose: Slightly rubbery right off the bat and then there’s a fair bit of salt and phenolic peat below it. This is first-fill sherry? The rubber expands on the second sniff. After a bit the rubber begins to subside and sweeter coastal notes begin to develop (kelp, oysters); quite medicinal now (dettol). Water pushes the rubber back almost all the way and pulls out a lot of lemon to go with the salt and the coastal notes (which now include kippers). Another splash and now the rubber is gone and the lemon, salt, disinfectant and oysters have free rein. Continue reading

Caol Ila 33, 1984 (Gordon & MacPhail)


I said I’d close out the month without a mini-theme but I am a liar. Here’s another sherried whisky, albeit twice the age of yesterday’s Mortlach and made from far more heavily peated malt (I’m not sure what Mortlach’s peating levels are). I first tried this at a tasting up in St. Paul last November. That tasting featured a number of very impressive whiskies. I’ve reviewed some of those: the excellent Archives Ben Nevis 27, 1990; the “Speyside Region” 43 from the Whisky Agency; and another excellent old Caol Ila, a 34 yo distilled in 1982 and bottled by Cadenhead. I really liked that Cadenhead’s cask and at the tasting we had some difficulty deciding on which we liked better. As I recall, this one was smokier and heavier. By the way, though when I filled the label I put it down as a 34 yo, this is in fact a 33 yo. I am intrigued to see what I will make of it almost nine months later. I rather expect I will like it quite a bit more than the last sherried Caol Ila from G&M I reviewed. Continue reading

Mortlach 16, 2018 Release


Okay, after a week of bourbons followed by a week of 20+ yo whiskies followed by a week of peated whiskies let’s maybe close out the month with no theme at all. This is the new’ish 16 yo from Mortlach. It’s all a bit hazy now but some years ago Diageo had suddenly put out a range of Mortlachs, including an 18 yo which replaced the old Flora & Fauna 16 yo (reviewed here). The original range was rather overpriced even by Diageo’s enthusiastic standards, especially considering the bottles were 500 ml. This must have been when everyone thought the market for single malt whisky was going to go through the roof in Asia and that the appetite for expensive whisky would be bottomless. Well, that second part isn’t entirely untrue but high prices on that Mortlach  range didn’t quite work out. Apart from the enthusiast crowd no one really had heard of Mortlach and the enthusiast crowd were not enthused by the high prices (£180 for the 18 yo). And then something rather unusual happened: Diageo withdrew that range and in 2018 relaunched the official Mortlach range with new whiskies at far more reasonable prices. This new 16 yo was part of that and was offered at less than half the price of the 18 yo. It’s matured in American and European oak sherry casks, a mix of first and refill. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading