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

Glenrothes 12, 2007 (SMWS 30.109)


In my review in the summer of a very old Glenrothes I noted that despite the fact that my introduction to single malt Scotch whisky had involved a number of teenaged OB releases, I hadn’t reviewed any of them on the blog. Indeed, the youngest Glenrothes I’ve previously reviewed was a 15 yo (this Signatory release of a refill sherry butt, reviewed when the blog was just a few months old). Well. I have two reviews of 12 yo Glenrothes this week. Neither are official releases, however. Indeed both are from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society; they were distilled in 2007 and released in late 2019 (or maybe early 2020). Both are also high-octane whiskies from first-fill sherry butts. I’m always a bit iffy about both whiskies with stupidly high strengths and young sherry bombs; these SMWS releases fit both descriptions and yet I went in on bottle splits of them anyway. What can I say? I am large, I contain multitudes. Despite my prejudices, will I find this “strangely soothing”? (That’s the name the SMWS gave this, in case you’re wondering.) Let’s see. Continue reading

Highland Park 12, 2006 (for Spec’s)


It’s been almost two years since my last review of an official release of Highland Park. That was of their 12 yo, now called the “Viking Honour“. Once the Highland Park 12 was the great all-rounder of the single malt world and a whisky I recommended confidently to anyone looking to get into single malt whisky. Alas, I found the Viking Honour—while drinkable enough—to be some distance from the best of the old Highland Park 12. What was missing was the clearer sherry influence of the older versions. That should not be a problem for today’s whisky. It is also a 12 yo but this one is a single cask and a first-fill European oak hogshead at that. The sherry should be big and front and center. Will that add up to a much better whisky? We’ll see. This cask, by the way, was bottled last year for the Texan store, Spec’s—a store from which, in the last of the whisky loch days, I once purchased quite a lot of fabulous older whisky at prices that these days would seem like a lunatic dream if spoken out loud (very old Caperdonich for $150 and so on). Anyway, Highland Park have been releasing (expensive) individual casks for European stores etc. for some time now; I hadn’t realized these were in the US too now. Let’s see what this is like. Continue reading

Ledaig 17, 1998 (A.D. Rattray)


Here is another Ledaig from a sherry cask that was released in the middle of the decade. This is almost twice the age of Friday’s cask and was bottled by A.D. Rattray, not Signatory. It’s also a ludicrously high strength. 65.8% after 17 years? Just where was this cask stored? I have to say I am not a big fan of whiskies being bottled at these crazy strengths (or any other kind of spirit for that matter). Its hard for me to enjoy most drinks fully very much above 55%—and I usually tend to like things closer to 50%. Sure I can—and do—dilute things down to where I like them but it’s an unnecessary level of futzing with your drink, in my view. I realize there’s a layer of authenticity that comes with the “cask strength” tag and that it gets some extra sheen of machismo probably when that cask strength is eye-wateringly high. Add to all of those prejudices that this is a Ledaig—a spirit that can be challenging even at a much lower strength—and I have some trepidation entering this pour. Let’s see how it pans out. Continue reading

Ledaig 10, 2005 (Signatory)

Let’s round out the week with another sherry cask whisky but turn the peat up a little higher past Wednesday’s Bowmore 11. Just about two years ago I reviewed a Ledaig 10, 2004 bottled by Signatory. I was supposed to follow that up with a review of this 10 yo distilled in 2005 and also bottled by Signatory that I’d acquired as part of the same large bottle split but never got around to it. Both are from a large parcel of young sherry casks put out by Signatory (and a few other bottlers who may have acquired their casks from Signatory). Most of these 10-11 yo Ledaigs have been very good indeed—very nice marriages of heavy peat and heavy sherry. I really liked that 2004 and I’ve been drinking this one down at a rapid rate as well since opening it a week or two ago. Here now are some notes on it.

Ledaig 10, 2005 (54.6%; Signatory; first-fill sherry butt 900145; from a bottle split)

Nose: Rubbery smoke with charred, barbecued pork coming up behind alongside some sweeter sherry notes (dried orange peel, pipe tobacco). The salt from the palate pops out here too with time and it gets more acidic too (lemon); and with a lot of air/time the rubber recedes a bit. Water pushes back the salt, pulls out some softer notes (milky cocoa) and ties it all together nicely. Continue reading

Bowmore 11, Feis Ile 2017


My love of Bowmore collides here with my poor track record with whisky that has been in close proximity to wine casks. Yes, this 11 yo Bowmore released at Feis Ile in 2017 was matured in a combination of sherry and wine casks. I was not at Feis Ile in 2017—though I did visit Bowmore a few weeks later. I fear I will never be at Feis Ile, not even after the pandemic ends. I know how important whisky festivals are to many enthusiasts, and I know how important a festival like Feis Ile is to not just the distilleries involved but also to the local economy. But no description I’ve read of the crowds at Feis Ile and the long lines to purchase festival exclusives for purposes of auction flipping has ever made me wish I could have been there. And no, I’m not being hypocritical about the auction part. I purchased this bottle not from an auction but from a store in Tarbert shortly after our week on Islay ended in 2017—and I paid less than was being asked at auction at the time. Three years later, I’m finally opening it. Continue reading

Auchroisk 22, 1990 (Whisky-Fässle)


This is not a Ben Nevis. It was not distilled in 1991 and it was not bottled by Signatory. But it is from a sherry cask and from a distillery that often produces very fruity whisky: Auchroisk. I haven’t had too many—and have reviewed even less—but the best have been very good indeed. Such, for example, was the one 1990 I’ve previously reviewed—this 24 yo bottled by Signatory for Binny’s, which I scored a little lower than I should have. If this one is as good I’ll be very happy indeed; I certainly hope that the sherry maturation won’t have covered up the fruit (as it hadn’t in the case of last week’s Ben Nevis trio). Let’s see.

Auchroisk 22, 1990 (49.8%; Whisky-Fässle; sherry cask; from my own bottle)

Nose: Copper coins, leather and a big dose of fruit running through it (orange peel, plantain, apricot). The orange peel expands as it sits and the oak begins to peep out here as well. Water brightens it up and pulls out malt and toffee. As it sits the fruit gets muskier too (more tropical accents). Continue reading

Ben Nevis 26, 1991 (Signatory)


Let us bring Ben Nevis week to a close. To recap, three sherry casks filled in 1991 and bottled by Signatory at the ages of 22, 24, and 26. I thought the 22 yo was a gem and then liked the 24 even more. Do I dare hope that the 26 will be better still? Of course, we know that age is no reliable predictor of quality—a few extra years can take a cask past its prime just as easily as they can add further depth. I am hoping for good things though as the colour of this sample suggests that this too was not an over-active sherry cask. Hopefully, that funky, fruity Ben Nevis character will be front and center here as well. Let’s see if that’s the case.

Ben Nevis 26, 1991 (57.3%; Signatory; sherry butt 2377; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: That familiar mix once again of musky citrus, powdered ginger, malt and yeast. On the second sniff the powdered ginger moves in the slightly rubbery direction of old-school medicine bottles. With time and air the sweeter fruit from the palate (peach nectar) joins the musky citrus. A few drops of water and there’s more malt and some very milky cocoa to go with all the rest. Continue reading

Ben Nevis 24, 1991 (Signatory)


Here is the second of three Ben Nevis 1991s this week. Like Monday’s 22 yo, this 24 yo was bottled by Signatory from a sherry butt. I loved the 22 yo—will this one be as good? Let’s see.

Ben Nevis 24, 1991 (55.7%; Signatory; sherry butt 3834; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: A very obvious relative of the 22 yo but here the roasted malt and nutty notes are on top of the citrus (which is brighter/more acidic: lime). On the second sniff the citrus is muskier (makrut lime peel) and here’s the powdered ginger too now. Continues in this vein. A few drops of water and there’s a big hit of citronella and then the fruit begins to get first sweeter and then savoury: peach nectar laced with lime juice and a bit of salt. Continue reading

Ben Nevis 22, 1991 (Signatory)


Here starts a week of reviews of sherry matured whiskies from Ben Nevis. All three of this week’s whiskies were distilled in 1991 and were bottled by Signatory. Signatory, by the way, have bottled 31 of the 42 releases of 1991 Ben Nevis listed on Whiskybase. They’ve all but cornered the market on that vintage. My reviews start with this 22 yo; on Wednesday I’ll have a review of a 24 yo; and Friday I’ll have a review of a 26 yo. Assuming the casks were of similar character/quality this may shed some minor light on the effects of a few more years of aging past the 20 year mark. All these samples, by the way, came to me from the excellent Michael K. of Diving for Pearls. Last week he reviewed all three and added on two others for good measure—a 23 yo and a 25 yo. So if you’re interested in that question of the incremental effects of aging you can find more specific data on his blog. I have avoided looking at his reviews so as to not be overly influenced by his silken tones. Continue reading

Lagavulin 1991, The Distillers Edition


As I’ve noted before, the Lagavulin entrty is my favourite in Diageo’s Distillers Edition series. The extra few months in PX sherry casks complements the original spirit very well in my view. My ratings of the 1993-2009 and 1997-2013 releases, which are the previous ones I’ve reviewed (here and here), are appropriately high. This one is from a couple of years earlier still: it was distilled in 1991 and released in 2007. I’ll be shocked if I don’t like it a lot as well.

Lagavulin 1991, The Distillers Edition, 2007 Release (43%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Big phenolic notes mixed in coastal notes (seashells, kelp). The sherry comes up from below with notes both sweet (raisins) and salty. The sweeter notes—including pipe tobacco now—come to the fore after a minute or two in the glass and then dominate. With more time there’s some citrus as well (orange peel). A few drops of water emphasize the fruit: apricot and fig now along with the orange peel. Continue reading

Caol Ila 27, 1984 (Old Malt Cask for the Whisky Barrel)


The week’s first review was of a 19 yo Caol Ila from a bourbon cask. That one was bottled by the Whisky Exchange in 2012. Here now is another Caol Ila bottled the year before by Douglas Laing in their Old Malt Cask series. This one is a fair bit older and is from a refill sherry hogshead. As much as I like bourbon cask Caol Ila, sherried Caol Ila—relatively rare as it is—can be very good indeed and the best ones are among the whisky world’s unalloyed pleasures. See, for example, this one and this one, both also from 1984 distillate. I am hopeful that this will be in the class of those. Let’s see if it is.

Caol Ila 27, 1984 (52.4%; Old Malt Cask; refill sherry hogshead; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Leafy smoke cutting through sherried notes of orange peel, raisins, pipe tobacco and pencil lead. On the second sniff there’s some charred pork and also a hint of savoury sulphur; the smoke is a bit sharper now. The coastal notes emerge as it sits (brine) but it’s not terribly phenolic. Softer with water with a bit of toffee emerging. Continue reading

Amrut Naarangi, Batch 5


So far in August I’ve sandwiched two weeks of brandy and rum reviews between two weeks of single malt whisky reviews. Let’s close the month with a review of a release whose category identity is a little more ambiguous. The Amrut Naarangi—of which this is the 5th batch—is made in a complicated way. Amrut takes casks of sherry, adds Indian oranges to them and lets them macerate. The casks are then emptied, filled with Amrut’s spirit and allowed to mature for an unspecified period of time before it is bottled. In Scotland this could not be labelled whisky. Compass Box’s Orangerie—which is made in a similar manner—is officially a “whisky infusion”. In India, however, genre boundaries are looser—a lot of Indian whisky is, of course, technically rum—and so Naarangi is sold as a single malt whisky. Is this an outrage? I don’t know—a lot of contemporary sherry and wine cask whiskies taste to me like infusions made with far less care. The more interesting question is whether this is any good. Let’s see. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 42, 1970, Family Casks (for K&L)


Glenfarclas week started out with a 15 yo on Monday, which I thought was good but nothing very special. In the middle on Wednesday was a 21 yo that I thought was excellent. Let’s close the week out now with a 42 yo. This was distilled in 1970 and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider buying it when it was released by K&L back in 2012. 1970 is when I was distilled as well and I was on the lookout then for 1970 vintage whiskies to buy and stash for my 50th birthday. But the price was quite high—$500+, I think (and it got quite a bit higher later)—and given my general allergy to K&L’s marketing blather, I decided not to take the chance; especially, as I’d purchased this Tomatin 40, 1970 for quite a bit less for the same purpose a year prior. I then forgot about it until it showed up unexpectedly last month in a box of samples from Sku—also the source of Monday’s 15 yo. I’m very interested to find out now if I should have grit my teeth back then and paid the high tariff. Let’s see. Continue reading

Glenfarclas 21, 1980, Dark Sherry Cask


Today’s Glenfarclas is a bit older than Monday’s in terms of age and a bit more still in terms of vintage. This was distilled in 1980 and bottled from a single cask for Filliers, who—as best as I can make out—are a Belgian concern. The cask is described as a “dark sherry cask”, which I assume means it had previously held oloroso sherry. Monday’s 15 yo also featured a big sherry profile but there the bigness seemed a little “engineered” to me—driven by active oak and tannins that covered up a lot of the fruit. This seems to me to happen a lot with heavily sherried whiskies these days. I have had similar complaints about a number of other sherry casks in recent years. Glenfarclas from the 1970s, however, has reliably been a lot fruitier (such, for example, is the excellent Glenfarclas 31, 1974, which I have not reviewed yet) and I am hoping that this one too will display a lot of fruit as part of the “dark” profile. Let’s see. Continue reading

Benromach 8, 2011 (for The Whisky Exchange)


This is a Benromach blog now. All Benromach reviews all the time. Well, this week anyway. On Monday I reviewed a young bourbon cask that was a UK exclusive. I really liked that one. Yesterday I had a review of the recent sherry cask edition of the distillery’s Peat Smoke release. That one seemed unpromising at first but then improved dramatically with water. Today another young Benromach from a sherry cask, another UK exclusive. This one was in fact exclusive to one particular store, The Whisky Exchange: it was one of several whiskies bottled to mark the store’s 20th anniversary. This is from a single sherry cask, a first-fill hogshead. Good friends were visiting London right when the pandemic hit and they were kind enough to bring me back a couple of bottles recommended by Billy Abbott at TWE (this Inchmurrin was the other). Billy recommended this one highly. When I first opened the bottle a couple of months ago I found it to be a bit too hot and indistinct but it’s mellowed nicely since. Here now are my notes. Continue reading

Benromach Peat Smoke 2010-2018, Sherry Cask


Typical: no Benromach reviews for two years and then two come at once. On Monday I had a review of a lovely young Benromach from a first-fill bourbon cask that was a UK exclusive. Today I have a review of a young Benromach from sherry casks (full-term maturation or finish? I don’t know). The Benromach Peat Smoke has been around for some time but has previously been an ex-bourbon whisky—and released without an age or vintage statement, I’m pretty sure. I’m not sure if this one—distilled in 2010 and released in 2018— was a special one-off or whether it’s an ongoing limited edition release or, for that matter, if it’s now a regular part of their lineup. I could look it up I suppose, but it’s late here in Minnesota—if you know, please write in below. At any rate, I suppose we should be glad they didn’t name it “Profit Maximizer”, or maybe it would have been more honest if they had. We whisky enthusiasts are a silly lot and very little induces us to shell out the big bucks more than the combination of sherry and peat. Well, with Monday’s bourbon cask I noted that the smoke and the old-school Highland peat character was not covered up by sherry. How overbearing is the sherry going to be here? Let’s see. Continue reading