Port Ellen, Pe5 (Elements of Islay)


The fifth Port Ellen entry in the Whisky Exchange’s Elements of Islay series was released in 2011, I think. And it may have been the last of the Port Ellens released in that series—at least Whiskybase does not list a Pe6. I’ve been sitting on this sample since early 2012. I acquired this sample through a rare act of honesty on my part: I had placed an order for a Karuizawa from TWE (this was back when Karuizawas could be acquired for <$200) and due to a glitch in their systems was charged only a fraction of the price. I alerted Tim Forbes who was then doing web stuff for TWE, and who was also a member of the then-very active Whisky Whisky Whisky forums. He confirmed that I was not in fact a winner of a special lottery and, as appreciation for my letting him know, threw a few fancy samples in with the order, one of which was this one. Why it has then taken me almost 8 years to drink it, I couldn’t tell you. Anyway, being released in 2011 it is at least 28 years old (Port Ellen closed in 1983) and probably a bit older. It’s also from a sherry cask, as three of the other four Elements of Islay Pe releases had been as well. It was very well received at the time. I, of course, did not buy a bottle because I thought it was horrendously overpriced. Cut to the present where the multiplier for any Port Ellen released in 2011 is about 10x. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 18, 2016 Release


Way back in the early months of the blog I posted a review of the 2012 release of the Bunnahabhain 18. Because I am so current I have for you today a review of a bottle from the 2016 release. I opened this bottle a few months ago but hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it until a chance mention of it in the minor fracas over my comments on K&L’s recent Clynelish exclusive reminded me that I should. As you may remember, I noted of that Clynelish that I did not think it was the best use for $250. After an initial erroneous recommendation of the Springbank 18 as a cheaper sherried alternative—when I last had the Springbank 18 it was far more sherry-driven than it is now—I mentioned the Bunnahabhain 18 in a similar vein. As you will readily imagine, David Othenin-Girard of the K&L spirits department—who apparently is my most devoted reader—was very pleased with this suggestion: he kindly wished me great enjoyment of the Bunnahabhain 18. Accordingly, I am here now with the details of that enjoyment. Continue reading

Caol Ila 7, 2010 (Sovereign)


Another sherried malt after yesterday’s Balblair 21, and another K&L exclusive. However, this is not from the current run of K&L exclusives, of which I’ve already reviewed a few this month (Clynelish 23, 1995, Glen Moray 23, 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 23, 1995). This was part of last year’s set of exclusive casks, I believe. Sherry-matured Caol Ila can be very excellent indeed. In this case, however, the maturation regime is not very straightforward. This whisky is apparently from something called a “sherry finished butt”. What is a “sherry finished butt”? In this case it is apparently a refill sherry cask that was filled/seasoned with sherry for a while, emptied and then filled with this whisky. If that seems rather bogus it’s because it is but it’s also almost certainly a practice far more rife in the industry than we would hope to be the case (see also Signatory’s “wine treated butts”. It also seems like a recipe for a whisky where the sherry will separate and float free on the palate or finish. Let’s see if that actually happens though. Continue reading

Balblair 21, 1990 (C&S)


Here is a highly untimely review. This Balblair 21 was released in 2011, right around the time when I had begun to buy single malt whisky in a deranged manner. As per my spreadsheet it cost me $80 at the time (and back then the Euro was a lot stronger against the dollar). Sherry cask whisky was widely available then. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking but I also want to say that high quality sherry cask whisky was still widely available then. That is to say, it was possible to get sherried whiskies that didn’t seem to all have been matured in active oak casks that had a few bottle of cooking sherry pressure injected into them for a week or two. Whisky geeks are still enamoured of sherry cask whisky and especially of dark sherried whiskies but they mostly seem like dubious propositions these days, either flabby or raw. I can tell you that the sherry character in this Balblair is more old-school. I’ve been drinking the bottle down with pleasure since I opened it for one of my local group’s tastings a couple of months ago. Here now are my notes. Continue reading

Clynelish 23, 1995 (Signatory for K&L)


As I said in my post looking ahead to this month’s reviews, I recently participated in a split of a large number of bottles from K&L’s recent run of exclusive casks. In so doing I broke a promise to myself that I would not fall anymore for the promise of these exclusive casks, very few of which have in the past delivered for me. But I have poor impulse control. Hence this Clynelish which is being sold for $250 before tax, accompanied by K&L’s usual mix of over-the-top lyricism and incoherence. I don’t really spend this kind of money on any whisky anymore but I couldn’t resist 2 ounces to see if it could possibly live up to the breathless descriptions of it as a “legendary cask” of “superlative quality”, “deep and profound like the ocean itself” posing questions to the unprepared drinker such as “if you were a hotdog would you eat yourself?” and so on. Of course, what they don’t say is that there have been a large number of these sherried Clynelishes hitting the market in the last couple of years, getting more expensive each year—I reviewed a 21 yo, 1995 almost exactly two years ago, a Signatory exclusive for the Whisky Exchange that went for £120. Will this cask, two years older, really be so different from the sherried mean? Let’s see. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 20, 1986, Family Cask #3434


Glenfarclas has always had a very strong relationship with the whisky geek community. A very big part of this is explained by the fact that they put out good whisky in a range of ages and price points. Through the decade of NAS whisky from which we are now emerging Glenfarclas has continued to release age-stated whisky from 10 to 40 years of age. And while prices have risen towards the top of the range it is hard to feel resentful about this when you consider how fairly priced their 25 yo continues to be; it can still be found in the neighbourhood of $150. Compare with whisky of similar age from any other name distillery. Another part of their appeal to the whisky geek community has been that they are an independent family-owned distillery. This latter fact is doubtless connected to the first: they have no shareholders to please by squeezing out maximum profit from the youngest possible whisky, no expensive, gimmicky branding and so on. This is not to say that Glenfarclas does not put out any high-end whisky. Their Family Cask series, an early release from which I am reviewing today, comes in wooden boxes and costs a pretty penny. But, again, when you compare these releases to the excesses being perpetrated by many other distilleries it’s clear how different their ethos is. I believe the Family Cask series was launched in the late 2000s. In fact, it’s possible that this cask from 2007 was from one of the earliest releases, if not the first. If you know more about this, please write in below. For now let’s get to the review. Continue reading

Old Perth 21, 1996


So far in November I’ve done a week of whiskies distilled in the 1990s; a week of whiskies distilled in the 1960s and 1970s; and a week of peated whiskies. Let’s close out the month with another random theme: whiskies that are not single malt Scotch whiskies. First up is one that’s pretty close to being a single malt Scotch whisky.

This Old Perth 21, I am told, is a blended malt—which is to say it is a vatting of single malt whiskies from different distilleries; there is no grain whisky in there. As per the source of my sample, The Mighty Kravitz, there may be Glen Grant in here (I got this from his review which you can read here) and also some species of peated malt. None of that is for certain. What is certain is that this is supposed to be from a single sherry cask. Now, how does a blended malt emerge from a single anything cask? It seems highly unlikely that someone would have blended malts from two distilleries from the get-go and matured the vatting for 21 years in a cask. So, most probably, two casks were dumped into a single sherry cask for some small fraction of the 21 years on the label. And given that the outturn was 330 bottles it seems all but certain that cask was a butt (where did the rest of it go?). Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

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