For my last whisky review of the year I have what I think may have been the oldest whisky I drank this year; in terms of maturation, that is (in terms of distillation year that was last week’s Glen Moray 42). This was bottled by the Whisky Agency for the Whisky Exchange last year (or was it a joint bottling?) and is from an undisclosed Speyside distillery. Well, it is technically undisclosed but everyone seems very sure it was a Glenfarclas. Glenfarclas, of course, do not allow their name to be placed on labels of independently bottled casks, but it’s also more usual to see names like Burnside or Speyside’s Finest or references to a family owned distillery on independent releases of the distillery’s whisky. At any rate, there were quite a few of these “Speyside Region” 1973s released in 2016 and 2017, and most of those were from the Whisky Agency—they seem to have come into a parcel of these casks. Anyway, I first tasted this at a gathering in St. Paul in early November that featured a number of excellent older whiskies. This one had one of the best noses of everything on the table that night. Thankfully, the owner of the bottle was happy to share a sample and so I got to take a second crack at it and write up some formal notes. Continue reading
Yesterday I posted a brief look at the Dornoch Castle Hotel. Here now is a review of one of two whiskies I drank at their famous whisky bar: a Bunnahabhain 34, 1980 bottled by/for Whisky Fair. As I mentioned in my write-up yesterday, their bar has a rather impressive collection of whiskies. You can choose between whiskies bottled in the 1970s (and earlier), older whiskies distilled in the 1970s (and earlier) and also many recent and contemporary whiskies of very strong reputation. And the prices are very fair as well—each bottle has its by the pour price marked on it, which keeps nasty shocks at bay. They also have a large printed list. I took a look at it, I looked at everything in the cabinets and on the shelves, and my eyes began to glaze over a bit. Accordingly, I decided to just go with the recommendations of the Thompson brothers as listed with those of other staff members at the front of the whisky list. This was my first pour, Phil Thompson’s value pick from the then-current list. Continue reading
On Wednesday I had a review of an 11 yo Orkney/Highland Park bottled at a ludicrous strength of 63.7%. Here now is a review of an 11 yo Deanston bottled at an even more ludicrous strength of 64.7%. I have to admit I have never understood the appeal of whisky bottled at such strengths—they are almost always too hot, in my experience, and there is not one that I have not found improved radically by bringing it down closer to 55% or less. This is also true of bourbon, a category in which you see these strengths more often, and whose aficionados tend to be more committed to drinking at full strength. To each their own, I suppose, but my recent experiences of young, high strength Scotch whisky is beginning to make me wonder if bottlers are not making a bet that a very high strength may be a selling point in and of itself; a sort of whisky machismo mixed in with notions of cask strength “purity”. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
I guess this has de facto turned into a sherried whisky month—all my reviews save for that of the Loch Lomond 12 have been of whiskies from sherry casks of one kind or the other. Might as well keep that going. Like Monday’s Ballechin 12, this too was released as an exclusive for the Whisky Barrel, and I got this sample as part of the same larger bottle split. This is an Orkney 11 yo, or an indie Highland Park—it seems like new indie releases of Highland Park mostly bear the Orkney nomenclature these days; and I think I read recently that Highland Park may even be cracking down on indie bottlings altogether—shame if that’s true. Anyway, I suppose it’s possible that an Orkney cask could also be from Scapa. But since I know less about these matters than most, I will go along with the notion that Orkney=Highland Park in the indie market unless there is info to the contrary. I was particularly interested in this one as it’s from a PX sherry hogshead (presumably not full matured) and I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those. Continue reading
Back again to the combo of big sherry and big peat. This Ballechin was/is an exclusive for the Whisky Barrel. It was bottled by Signatory and as Signatory owns Edradour—whose peated malt Ballechin is—it seemed a pretty good bet that this would be a good cask. Also relevant: I quite liked the old limited edition Ballechin 4 which was from oloroso casks (or finished in oloroso casks, I can’t remember). I got this sample as part of a bottle split and indeed liked it so much (spoiler alert) that I purchased a couple of bottles. I was surprised to see later that Serge didn’t rate it very highly. This may explain why this is still available from the Whisky Barrel. I think it’s one that requires some time and then water to reveal all its charms. Anyway, I do recommend it highly, especially if you like that combo of big sherry and big peat.
More sherried whisky but this time sans peat. I purchased this bottle at the Tomatin distillery this June and filled it myself (see here for an account of the distillery tour I took that day). Tomatin seems to regularly have five casks on offer for hand-bottling at their distillery shop. Both on this visit and on my brief stop in June 2017 these casks were ex-bourbon, virgin oak, ex-oloroso, ex-PX and an older cask. Last year I bottled just the ex-bourbon 12 yo. This year I bottled both the current 12 yo ex-bourbon cask and this 16 yo PX cask. This after getting tastes of both of these and the oloroso. This was not matured for all 16 years in a PX cask (does any distillery do full-term PX maturation?). Instead, it spent the first ten years in a bourbon cask and then the last six in PX. That’s well past the cut-off for what I would call double maturation. Anyway, while I liked it enough at the distillery to fill a bottle, when I opened it a month and a half ago I didn’t like it as much: it seemed much too hot. However, when I took it too my local group’s November tasting it had clearly settled down with some more headspace in the bottle and it was the top bottle on the night (everyone but me drinks blind). These notes were taken after that tasting. Continue reading
Let’s keep the peated-sherried thing going. Here is a review of a high-octane Laphroaig bottled by van Wees in the Netherlands in late 2011. As I mentioned in my review of yesterday’s Ledaig, the word on the street is that Signatory is the source of much of van Wees’ releases—and indeed the numbering convention of this cask seems to map onto that of Signatory’s Ledaig casks. That’s neither here nor there, I suppose. This came out at a time in 2011/2012 when there seemed to be a lot of 13 year old Laphroaig about. I’ve reviewed a few of them—see the bourbon cask releases from Archives and Malts of Scotland; and also sherry cask releases from Kintra Whisky and yes, another van Wees. I really liked that other van Wees cask (700394 to this one’s 700348). I only have vague memories of this bottle, which I finished before starting the blog, and I think in my head I had run it together with the Kintra Whisky bottle, which I’d found a bit too rough. And so I’m curious to renew this one’s acquaintance (I’d saved a 6 oz sample from the top of the bottle, as had been my wont in those days). God knows there’s not as much indie Laphroaig available now and the price of sherried Laphroaig has risen sharply. Continue reading
On Friday I had a review of a heavily sherried Ledaig, an 11 yo from 2005. Here now is another heavily sherried Ledaig, a 10 yo from 2004. It is from the same series of casks of sherried Ledaigs that emerged a couple of years ago. Interestingly, despite having been distilled the previous year this has a higher cask number 900170 to the 2005’s 900162. A while ago I’d reviewed another of these 10 yo casks from 2004—that one was 900176. Now, I know that distilleries usually restart their cask numbering every year but it seems very coincidental that casks filled a year later, and in turn bottled a year later, should have numbers in the same range. The more likely explanation may be that these are Signatory’s cask numbers. They may have acquired a parcel of sherried Ledaigs from 2004 and 2005 and re-numbered them in this 900xxx series. It does appear from Whiskybase that all the 90014x, 90015x, 90016x and 90017x casks were either released by Signatory or outfits Signatory is said to be the source for (van Wees, LMDW). And they all seem to date from 2004 or 2005. Well, this may not be a very interesting mystery but if you do know the answer or have a better theory, please write in below. Continue reading
On Wednesday I had a review of an excellent heavily peated, heavily sherried malt released in 2012 (the Elements of Islay Pl1); today I have a review of another heavily peated, heavily sherried malt, this one released in 2017. This was also bottled, under the Single Malts of Scotland label, by an outfit in the Whisky Exchange portfolio, the erstwhile Speciality Drinks, who are now known as Elixir Distillers. Apparently this is an autonomous entity; I think the Whisky Exchange shop may have its own releases as well that are not from Speciality Drinks/Elixir Distillers—please correct me if I’m wrong. I am a simple man and find all this hard to keep straight, which is why in my “categories” listing on the blog I just bung them all together under “The Whisky Exchange”. Technically, I suppose this is wrong as Speciality Drinks/Elixir Distillers are independent bottlers who supply to more stores than just the Whisky Exchange.
Anyway, this has been a fascinating introduction to this review, hasn’t it? I bet you could read a lot more about it, but it’s time to get to the whisky itself. Continue reading
The malts bottled by the Whisky Exchange in their Elements of Islay line have been of a uniformly high quality—at least, all the ones I have had have been very good. I remember the very first Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Caol Ila in the series were particularly good (I reviewed those in the early months of the blog: Ar1, Lg1, Lp1, CI1). They were also quite reasonably priced. Since then, as with the whisky market in general, the prices of these releases has risen sharply, making it harder to justify the value of what is after all NAS whisky. Don’t get me wrong, I still buy these when I get the opportunity—now that TWE no longer ships to Minnesota, that opportunity is when I am in the UK—but I am conscious of the fact that I am inclined to cut the Whisky Exchange some slack for their NAS releases that I do not extend to big whisky companies. Anyway, here is my review of the first Port Charlotte released in this series. Unlike the 1s linked above, this was bottled from a sherry cask. It was released in 2012 and I have no idea why I waited six years to open it. I’ve not had any of the others in the series; the Pl2 was from rum casks and the next two from wine casks, and I passed. I see that the Pl5, released this year, is from a bourbon hogshead. I’ll keep an eye out for that one. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
This is by some distance the oldest Balblair I have ever had, one that was distilled before I was born and which was bottled before I began to get seriously interested in single malt whisky. At the time that this whisky was bottled older malts were not yet hard to come by, and were available at prices that seem downright reasonable in comparison to today’s market. When I first ‘began to get serious about the hobby a few years later I had neither enough knowledge, money nor foresight to consider buying any of these whiskies. Thankfully, I was lucky to encounter a number of people on the WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum whose far greater experience and knowledge of whisky was to be an invaluable guide. One of these excellent people, Nick Ramsey, once sent me a sample of his favourite Port Ellen, all the way from England, just because I was dithering over my first-ever Port Ellen purchase, wondering if the distillery’s reputation was warranted. And for good measure he threw this sample of a 38 yo Balblair into the box as well. The WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forums—like most forums on food and drink—are these days sadly moribund, and Nick hasn’t been sighted there much of late, but I want to take this opportunity to not just thank him for this sample but to toast the generosity of so many older whisky geeks who so happily helped MUCH MUCH YOUNGER people like myself into greater knowledge and experience. Continue reading
I reviewed a 28 yo Auchroisk earlier this week. Today’s whisky is the same age but we go south and west to Islay, to Bunnahabhain, and one year in the past, to 1987.
It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Bunnahabhain. Coincidentally, the last one I reviewed was also a 28 yo and also from a sherry cask. That was distilled in 1989 and was bottled last year by K&L in California under their Faultline label. I quite liked it. In theory, this 28 yo, distilled in 1987, should be better as it was bottled by an outfit with a much better reputation, the German independent, Maltbarn—no longer the upstart they once were. This was their 43rd release and I suspect only a bit of the cask was bottled for it. This because there were only 89 bottles in this release and two years later they put out 88 bottles of a 30 yo, 1987 at a very similar abv. In fact, I now wonder if the 121 bottles of the 26 yo, 1987 they’d put out in 2014 was the first release from this cask (similar abv again), and if there’s more being saved for another older release. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but I’ll keep an eye out for more 1987 Bunnahabhains from Maltbarn. Continue reading
Please excuse me as I start a small run of reviews of progressively older malts, few, if any, of which are still available. If I were Serge I’d post all of them together on one day and have another 27 over the new few days but I am a mere human.
First up is this Tomatin 25, bottled a few years ago by the German outfit, Malts of Scotland. Older Tomatin can be very good indeed. I rather liked the old Tomatin 25, a malt that—at 43% abv—probably never sent too many whisky geeks’ pulses racing. I liked even more this Tomatin 25, 1975 bottled by MacKillop’s choice. Even though late-80s Tomatin does not have the reputation of mid-70s Tomatin, I expect to like this one too as the aforementioned Serge’s review, as well as the tasting notes on Whiskybase, lead me to expect a very fruity whisky and that’s my favourite kind these days. Let’s see if reality matches expectations. Continue reading
Here’s a particularly pointless review to start the month. Japanese whisky as a category has been rather fucked for the last couple of years—and probably will be for more than a couple more. Very little is available, very little of that is worth buying, and what is worth buying is not worth buying at the prices being asked for them. (The one exception is the Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, which is now available in the US for a reportedly good price.) And in the general landscape of fucked Japanese whisky there is little as fucked as Karuizawa, the closed distillery all of whose remaining stock was purchased by a cartel that has figured out how to stoke and exploit an overheated market. For reference, the Whisky Exchange recently released a 29 yo and a 31 yo for £6000 each and you had to enter into a lottery for the privilege of making a fool of yourself by buying one. Then again, no one who is paying that amount of money for a single bottle of whisky is particularly concerned about money. Anyway, the Karuizawa I am reviewing today was released well before all this madness began: in 2010. I don’t know how much this cost then but back then you could purchase 28 yo Karuizawa from the Whisky Exchange for less than $200. I think this was bottled for Whisky Magazine Japan for OXFAM. There was another release that bore this “Spirit Safe” label that was a 19 yo. I have no idea what that was like but let’s see about this one. Continue reading