Bowmore 18, Deep & Complex


A Bowmore to close the month. This is a Bowmore 18 but it is not the 18 yo that is part of the core range. No, this is a member of Bowmore’s travel retail collection or at least it originally was. I think all of these whiskies may now be available from regular stores as well in the UK and EU. The 18 yo, at any rate, is certainly listed at a few places in the UK and I got my bottle from a store in the EU. I’ve previously reviewed the two others from that collection that had similar epithets attached to their name: the Bowmore 10, Dark & Intense and the Bowmore 15, Golden & Elegant. I liked the 15 yo quite a bit and the 10 yo rather less (too much sulphur, even for me). Like that 10 yo—but not the 15 yo—this 18 yo is also from sherry casks, being a mix of spirit matured in oloroso and PX casks. What the exact mix is, I don’t know. It’s been a long time now since I last had the standard 18 yo but I rather liked it when I did. If this is as good as that I will be happy enough. Let’s see. Continue reading

Lagavulin Distillers Edition, 2005-2020


Earlier in the month I had a review of the new(ish) Lagavulin 10, which is supposed to be an exclusive for the travel retail market. (I say “supposed to be” because I purchased it from a regular EU store.) Here now is a Lagavulin from the distillery’s core lineup: the Distillers Edition. In the past I’ve always understood this to be the regular 16 yo with a couple of months of a PX finish applied to it—and I’ve also assumed that the same relationship of age and finish applies to all of Diageo’s malts that have Distillers Editions releases. Certainly, all the other Lagavulin Distillers Editions I’ve seen and reviewed (here, here, and here) seemed to be at least 16 years old. This one, however, as I reported earlier, is not. It’s the 2020 release but is from the 2005 vintage. Is this a one-off due to lack of availability of enough 16 yo stock? Or is this going to be the new normal? I guess we’ll see what happens with the 2021 release later this year. In the meantime I assume this is still spirit that would have gone into the 16 yo, just finished and released a year earlier than usual. If anyone knows different or has confirmation from the distillery on any of these points do write in below. In the meantime let’s see what this is like. Continue reading

Blair Athol 24, 1995 (Old Particular for K&L)


Here is another of K&L’s recent exclusive casks to close the week out. Like Monday’s Glenfiddich, I mean “Hector Macbeth”, this one is a twenty something in age and from a sherry cask; unlike it, however, it wears its distillery’s name openly: Blair Athol. K&L has had at least one other sherried Blair Athol of a similar age as part of their exclusives before—and indeed so have a lot of bottlers in the EU. I’ve reviewed a few of them but those were all casks of whisky distilled in the late 1980s. This one is from 1995. As it turns out, Whiskybase lists a large number of casks from 1995 that have been bottled by various indies. They have only two listed from 1994, only one from 1996 and then a whole bunch again from 1997. Clearly the supply of older Blair Athols wanes and waxes—there must be a lot of it moving around for blending purposes. Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad to see this one. Blair Athol of this age from a sherry cask is a pretty reliable proposition and the odds are good that this will get this run of K&L casks back in the right direction after the relative disappointment of Monday’s Glenfiddich (You may recall that I previously enjoyed the teenaged Craigellachie and Bunnahabhain). Let’s see if that’s indeed how it goes. Continue reading

Hector Macbeth/Glenfiddich 23, 1997 (Hepburn’s Choice for K&L)


Okay, back to K&L exclusives. I’ve quite liked the two I’ve already reviewed from this batch of casks—a Bunnahabhain 12 and a Craigellachie 16. Today’s review is of a cask going by name you migtht not recognize: Hector Macbeth. This is a a Glenfiddich that has been teaspooned. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry: it’s nothing kinky. Teaspooning refers to the practice of adding a tiny amount of a malt from a different distillery to a malt to prevent it from being sold as a single malt. It’s a practice certain distilleries engage in to keep their brand from being diluted—from their perspective—on the independent market; or, if not diluted, presented differently than they would like it to be. This K&L parcel contains a number of these teaspooned malts, some of them pretty old. This “Glenfiddich”, for example, is 23 years old. It was finished in a refill sherry butt (what kind of cask the teaspoon came from is unknown). I’m not sure if it’s still available but $120 was the price being asked for it when I last checked. That seems like a great deal in the abstract but my history with K&L exclusive casks with big age statements that are priced like they’re crazy deals has me not overly optimistic. But I’ll be very happy to be surprised. Continue reading

Craigellachie 16, 2003 (Old Particular for K&L)


A Benrinnes review on Monday and there’ll be another Benrinnes review on Friday. In between here is a Craigellachie. This is another from K&L’s recent round of exclusive casks and is from a sherry butt. It’s been three years since my last Craigellachie review and almost four since my last review of one from a sherry cask. I am a big fan of the earthier, meatier style of spirit that Craigellachie produces and in my limited experience it’s particularly good coming out of good sherry casks. Is this one of them? Let’s see.

(And remember, as I announced in my review of K&L’s Bunnahabhain 12 last week, I have an exciting new feature for these K&L reviews: a second rating—Everybody Wins! or EW! for short—that those who get sad when I don’t give everything 90 points can look at and feel happy about.) Continue reading

Ben Nevis 22, 1997 (Single Malts of Scotland)


Okay, let’s get off Islay and head up the western coast of Scotland and make a right turn to Ben Nevis. I reviewed a few 20+ yo indie releases of Ben Nevis towards the end of last year: a 22 yo, a 24 yo and a 26 yo, all distilled in 1991 and released by Signatory and a 21 yo from 1996 released by Whisky Doris. They were all very good, a couple of them exceptional. Those were all from sherry casks and so is this 22 yo released in 2019 by Single Malts of Scotland. Odds are good that this will be at least very good as well. Let’s see if that proves true.

Ben Nevis 22, 1997 (58.4%; Single Malts of Scotland; sherry butt #91; from a bottle split)

Nose: Roasted malt, salted nuts, orange peel and raisins; some powdered ginger too and some dusty oak. There seems to be some richer fruit in the background trying to get out but the alcohol may be holding it back. Let’s give it time and then water. Gets richer as it sits with the orange peel expanding and being joined by some apricot jam and some soy sauce. With a squirt of water the citrus brightens—between orange and lemon now—and then it begins to get more musky with charred pineapple and more apricot. The citrus turns to citronella. Continue reading

Bowmore 25, 1994 (Adelphi)


I’m still on Islay. On Friday I had a review of a 23 yo indie Bunnahabhain; today I have a review of an indie Bowmore that is a couple of years older still. I’ve not had too many Bowmores in this age range and have only reviewed one older than this one (the Sea Dragon). I have had a number of Bowmores from the period in which this was distilled and have liked almost all of them very much indeed. As you may know/recall, 1980s Bowmore does not have a very good reputation—for among other things, a soapy character—and a lot of whisky geeks remained suspicious of the distillery’s output into the early/mid 1990s as well. My own experience—far more limited than some others’—suggests that the problems had begun to sort themselves out by 1989 or so and that by the early 1990s the distillery was once again putting out elegant whisky that displayed fruit alongside its trademark florals. Of course, those floral notes are also not to everyone’s taste but that’s not to say they’re a flaw. Anyway, I’m very interested to see what this one is like, both on account of its age and because it’s from a refill sherry cask. I think all the others I’ve reviewed from this era have been either ex-bourbon or more heavily sherried. Let’s get to it. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 23, 1990 (Archives)


Well, I went almost three weeks but I’m breaking with my run of official distillery releases in order to finish the tour of Islay left incomplete last month. I’ve already hit Kilchoman and Bruichladdich/Port Charlotte this week; here now is a Bunnahabhain. This is quite a bit older than both of the others reviewed this week. It’s a single sherry butt bottled by Whiskybase for their Archives label back in 2014 or so. “Gather round, children, Grampa’s going to tell you how much more affordable single sherry cask whisky past the age of 20 was back then.” Okay, whatever, if you’re going to make fun of me I’m just going to review the damned whisky.

Bunnahabhain 23, 1990 (47.9%; Archives; sherry butt 52; from my own bottle)

Nose: Sweet raisiny sherry with some savoury gunpowder and leather interlaced with it. On the second sniff there’s some soy sauce and a touch of hoisin along with an earthy note of dried mushrooms (more like the soaking liquid). The salt expands as it sits and a big plummy note emerges. A few drops of water emphasize the orange—more juicy than dried now. Continue reading

Port Charlotte PC9, “An Ataireachd Ard”


Let’s stay on Islay and continue with the distilleries I didn’t cover in December. After Monday’s Kilchoman detour here is a stop at Bruichladdich. This was the fifth limited release of the peated Port Charlotte distillate en route to the eventual regular release of the 10 yo. I’ve previously reviewed the PC6, PC7 and PC8: here now is PC9. This is from the 2002 vintage, bottled in 2011 at the age of 9. The series was supposed to end with PC8 but they decided to keep going with more limited releases (this is bottle 1086 of just 6000; compare to the 30,000 of PC8). Well, they did say at the time of the release that this was going to be the last limited release before the “full-scale bottling” in 2012 but as it happens there was a PC10 (I have an unopened bottle). And then the PC11 and a PC12 were also released later. Both of the latter were travel retail releases and I do not have bottles of those. I assume the series ended there. By the way, the info sheet for PC9 only mentioned American oak but the official tasting notes refer to Spanish sherry casks. As it was not touted as a sherry-matured release, I think we can assume it was a vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (most sherry casks are also made of American oak). Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Kilchoman Fino Sherry Matured, 2020 Release


It’s the 18th of the month and this is my seventh review in a row of an official distillery release. No, I don’t know what’s going on either.

I missed Kilchoman on my mini tour of Islay in December and so here now is a review of a Kilchoman. (I also missed Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich and will be stopping in at both of those distilleries this week as well.) I was a big fan of Kilchoman’s early releases of very young bourbon casks but have somehow lost track of them in the last five years or so. I’d hoped they’d graduate to putting out a regular 10-12 yo and it doesn’t seem like that’s happened yet. Their website only lists four NAS releases in their core lineup (of which I’ve reviewed releases of the Machir Bay and 100% Islay) and several annual limited editions. This was one of their limited editions for 2020, vatted from spirit fully matured in 11 fresh and one refill fino sherry butt. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Caol Ila 16, Feis Ile 2020


After Wednesday’s Glen Scotia 14, here is another whisky that was released to mark an annual whisky festival that was forced to go virtual: Caol Ila’s release for Feis Ile 2020. This also now make two weeks in a row of reviews of only official distillery releases. It’s okay to be alarmed: Nostradamus had this as one of the signs of the apocalypse.

At Feis Ile 2019 Caol Ila released a pair of whiskies: a surprise bottle-your-own 28 yo from refill American oak barrels that was only announced on the morning of their Open Day and for their regular release, a 22 yo from what was billed as “sherry-treated American oak casks”. 2020’s release is more in the direction of the 22 yo. The whisky that went into this was matured in refill bourbon hogsheads and then received a finish in “Amoroso treated hogsheads”. It’s also a throwback to 2017’s Feis Ile release which was a 12 yo that had been finished in Amoroso casks. Presumably, all these Amoroso casks are leftovers from fellow Diageo stablemate, Talisker whose Distillers Edition release is finished in Amoroso casks. Well, sherried Caol Ila can be a very good thing. Let’s see if this proves to be one. Continue reading

Tamdhu 15


I’ve reviewed a few Tamdhus over the years but this is my first review of an official release. When I first started drinking single malt whisky the Tamdhu 10 was always a very affordable malt that presented reliable, if unspectacular pleasures. But about 10 years ago the line got revamped—I think there was an ownership change—with new bottle designs (somewhat resembling cola bottles) and higher prices. I still had a few bottles of the older 10 yo in reserve and by the time I got through with them (though I still have one bottle squared away, I think) I had lost touch entirely with the distillery. Indeed when the chance for this bottle split arose I was not sure how long ago the 15 yo joined their lineup. A quick bit of googling suggests that it hit the market in early 2019 as a “limited edition” of 24,000 bottles. And it is apparently entirely aged in oloroso sherry casks, made from a mix of European and American oak. Continue reading

Bladnoch 11, 2001, Lightly Peated


For the last whisky review of the week, month and year let’s go all the way down to the lowlands of Scotland, to a distillery’s whose most famous recent proprietor liked to remind us is close to Ireland than to most of the other Scottish distilleries: Bladnoch.

This whisky was distilled and released in the era of that proprietor, the excellent Raymond Armstrong. Under Armstrong Bladnoch was a unicorn: a small producer that kept its prices down—both for its own releases and those of casks from other distilleries that it released for the Bladnoch forums—and didn’t engage in marketing malarkey. The good times eventually came to an end and the distillery was sold in 2014 or 2015. I’ve lost touch with it since then, as it got the predictable premium coat of paint from its new owners. But I still have a few bottles left of the Armstrong era. This release of their “Lightly Peated” label is one of them. I’ve previously reviewed a 9 yo from this series from 2001 that was a single bourbon cask. This one, featuring sheep on the label, as every Bladnoch fan of the era knows, is a sherry cask and is two years older. Let’s get into it. Continue reading

Glenglassaugh 30, 2016 Release


Let’s go a bit east from Glen Moray to Glenglassaugh, the distillery that sits right outside the Speyside in the eastern Highlands. It’s a distillery with a checkered history: built in 1875, closed in 1907; rebuilt in 1960, closed again in 1986; and then re-opened again since 2008. I have not had any of the malt made since the stills fired up again. This 2016 release of the 30 yo was, of course, made before the distillery’s most recent closure. As I noted in my only other review of a Glenglassaugh—an even older indie release distilled in 1972—the character and quality of this malt will have no bearing on what’s being made there now.

Before I get to that quality, a word or two on the bottle. I hate to talk about packaging but it’s hard not to with this one. It’s a heavy bottle with a striking teardrop—or is it pear?—shape. Much of the weight seemingly is in the stopper—a honking great, garish gold monstrosity that plugs an extra large mouth. God help you if the cork on your bottle breaks as you open if for the first time—no other cork you may have saved up for emergencies will fit. This over-the-top design approach, thankfully, didn’t extend to the box, which is made of cardboard not wood; doubtless saving me another £20-30 at the least. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to have some character in bottle and label design—but maybe lay off the gold a little bit? Anyway, I assume the current releases have regular corks. Maybe I’ll get some use out of this one as a paperweight when the bottle is done. Continue reading

Springbank 12, 1996, Cream Sherry Cask


Let’s stay in Campbeltown, at the Springbank distillery, for one more day; but let’s not get any more timely than last Friday’s 2010 release of the Springbank 18. Indeed, this whisky was released in 2009. It was one of four sherry cask releases for the US market under the “Wood Expressions” banner. All were distilled in 1996. I’ve reviewed two of the others: the oloroso and the fino. This cream sherry cask was actually the first one I opened even though it’s the last I’m reviewing—I’d saved a 6 oz sample from it as used to be my usual practice at the time. Well, usual but not invariable: I have no saved sample I can find of the amontillado cask even though my spreadsheet says I’d consumed a bottle of that around the same time as this one. Ah well. I stopped preserving 6 oz samples from bottles a few years ago, as my shelves had gotten overrun with them and I was worried they’d degrade before I got to them all. Most of the ones I’ve opened recently have been in perfect condition, however, both making me thankful that I saved some of these to try again many years later and making me wonder if I should re-start the practice now so I can savour some of the bottles I’m opening now in another 8-10 years. Time warps and whatnot. Continue reading

Caol Ila 10, 2006 (G&M), Take 2


Having started the month with a review of a peated whisky from the eastern Highlands of Scotland (this Ardmore), it seems only right to head on over to what remains the bastion of peated whisky in Scotland: Islay. This is the first of a few review of peated Islay whiskies this month. We begin right off the ferry at Caol Ila. This is one of several young Caol Ilas distilled in the mid-2000s that Gordon & MacPhail have released in the past few years. Many are vattings of multiple casks, as is this one—a vatting of four first-fill sherry casks. This is actually a whisky I have reviewed before (just over a year ago). That first review was of a 2 oz sample from a bottle split. I liked that one quite a bit but it was fairly hot. The bottle is at 60.2% and the samples were probably poured from a fresh crack. As I noted in the first review, at the time of acquiring that sample I’d forgotten that I already owned a bottle. I decided to open it late last month as I was running low on high-octane peated whisky in my small lineup of open bottles and the first couple of pours confirmed the original review. A week and a half and a few pours later I am interested to see how it may have developed with a bit of air in the bottle. Continue reading

Ben Nevis 21, 1996 (Whisky Doris)


I reviewed three 20+ yo Ben Nevis last month, all from Signatory, all distilled in 1991 and all from sherry butts. I found the 22 yo and the 24 yo from the trio to be excellent and the 26 yo to be merely very, very good. None of them exhibited sherry bomb character, allowing the distillery’s unique funky mix of fruit and malt and mineral notes to come through front and center. Today I have another 20+ yo Ben Nevis from a sherry butt (this time specified as a refill sherry butt). This was bottled not by Signatory but by the German outfit, Whisky Doris—though for all I know, Signatory may be the source of their casks. This one is from 1996, another year from which a number of casks have been bottled. In addition to the official 1996-2012 I’ve reviewed a number of indies as well: an 18 yo from Liquid Treasures; a couple from Cadenhead (this 19 yo and this 17 yo); and another 18 yo from Whisky Import Nederland. Indeed, my very first Ben Nevis review was of a 9 yo, 1996 bottled by Duncan Taylor under their Whisky Galore label. All of them—whether from bourbon or sherry casks—have ranged from very good to excellent; and all have been anything but cookie cutter whiskies. Let’s hope this one doesn’t let the side down. Continue reading

Glenrothes 12, 2007 (SMWS 30.110)


On Wednesday I had a review of a 12 yo Glenrothes distilled in 2007, matured in a first-fill sherry butt, and bottled in late 2019 or early 2020 by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society at a very high abv. Here now is another. Will I like it as much as I did the sibling cask despite it being a young sherry bomb at a ludicrous strength? Let’s see. They named this one “Espresso to the Power of 4” which means…something.

Glenrothes 12, 2007 (64.5%; SMWS 30.110; first-fill sherry butt; from a bottle split)

Nose: This is fruitier from the get-go than the sibling cask, with plum and apricot coming through very strongly. Some raisins in there too and a bit of dusty oak. Water pulls out toffee and light maple syrup and amps the apricot up pretty high.

Palate: Ah yes, all the fruit from the nose, mixed in nicely with orange peel, all framed by a solid backbone of spicy (but not tannic) oak. More approachable and expressive at full strength than the other. Let’s see what water does. It amplifies the fruit further and pushes the oak back a bit. Continue reading