Lagavulin “Jazz Festival 2017”


The Jazz Festival series is Lagavulin’s second annual series of special releases, bottled to commemorate the Islay Jazz festival every autumn. As I noted in my review of the 2015 Jazz Festival release, this series doesn’t seem to inspire the mania of the summer Feis Ile releases. This is doubtless due to the unpredictable vagaries of the collectors’ market which is anything but rational. Certainly, I liked the 2015 Jazz Festival release a lot. That bodes well for this 2017 release which, like the 2015, is comprised of spirit matured in refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts. This is not the standard regimen for these releases: the intervening 2016 release—which I picked up a bottle of at the distillery in 2017—was matured only in American oak. In practice, however, the 2015 release did not betray much, if any, palpable sherry influence; I’m curious to see if this will be any different in that regard. Let’s see. Continue reading

Bowmore 21, 1996 (Old Malt Cask for K&L)


Let’s continue with the review of the recent K&L exclusive casks. And no, they’re not paying me for all this free, extended coverage of their whiskies. For that matter, they don’t even appear to be enjoying it. Ah well, can’t please everyone.

Speaking of not pleasing everyone, Bowmore is also a distillery that has not always pleased everyone. This is mostly due to folly on the part of the fraction of everyone who have not been pleased. Bourbon cask Bowmore from the early 1990s on is usually a very good proposition. So much so that I’ve even really liked a K&L exclusive cask in that vein. Last year they had an OMC 22 year old that I purchased on Sku’s recommendation while in Los Angeles and loved to the tune of 91 points. I won’t need this to be that good to make me happy but I will also not object if it is. Let’s see. Continue reading

Ardbeg Drum


This was Ardbeg’s 2019 Feis Ile release. I have to admit I stopped paying attention to Ardbeg some years ago. The 10 year old is still an Islay classic and my last bottles of the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan were very good too (albeit neither were anywhere close to being recent releases), but most of the noise emanating from the distillery—or rather from its owners—has seemed for a while to be in the service of high-concept silliness. I thought 2018’s Feis Ile release, the Grooves, was fairly ordinary. Why then am I reviewing the 2019 release? Well, largely because in theory at least bourbon cask Ardbeg finished in rum casks does not seem like a bad idea. (Of course, they say they’ve “rested” their spirit in rum casks; unlike all those other distilleries who make their spirit ride treadmills and run marathons in finishing casks.) Will the reality of this whisky in fact match up with that theoretical promise? Only one way to find out. 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

Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive, 2017


I visited Scotland for the first time in 2017. And on that trip I visited Islay and I visited Lagavulin (here is my account of the excellent Warehouse Experience with the even more excellent Pinkie McArthur). That was in June right after Feis Ile. I picked up a bottle of the Feis Ile release but I don’t believe this distillery exclusive was on the shelves then. It was apparently made in a fairly complicated manner that involved 16 yo spirit finished in moscatel casks and vatted with younger bourbon cask spirit. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered moscatel-finished Lagavulin before—Diageo must have had some casks surplus to requirements from the Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition (is that even made anymore? I don’t see anything but the Lagavulin and Talisker Distiller’s Editions in Minnesota, not that I’m looking so very hard). Of course, I have no idea what the proportions of the vatting may have been: the moscatel influence may well be minimal. Let’s find out. Continue reading

Glengoyne 21, 1996 (Old Malt Cask for K&L)


So far this month I’ve reviewed three of K&L’s recent exclusive casks. They’ve all been 23 yo malts distilled in 1995 (Clynelish, Glen Moray, Allt-A-Bhainne). I liked them all a lot (87 points each) though I had differing estimations of the price to quality ratio each present. Today I have another recent K&L cask but this time it’s a 21 yo distilled in 1996. Will I finally go above or below 87 points?

This is a somewhat unusual whisky in that it’s a Glengoyne from a bourbon cask—most official Glengoyne is sherry cask driven. It’s also unusual because it’s an independent cask of Glengoyne. It’s not a name you see very often from the indies. On Whiskybase it’s the very rare distillery that doesn’t have any releases listed from prolific indies, Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory (and there are only 12 indie releases total listed for 2019). So it should be an interesting proposition all around. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Glendronach 10, 2002, Virgin Oak


Behold, I, a wise man from the East, bring to you this day tidings of a whisky born of virgin oak!

Glendronach—the distillery that understands the word “single” in a manner different from the rest of us—is almost entirely associated with sherry cask-matured whisky. Very little non-sherried Glendronach ever seems to make out into the world, but some does from time to time. This cask is one of them. However, it is not likely to be one that can give me a sense of what Glendronach’s spirit is like away from the heavy influence of sherry that has become their calling card. This because not only is it not a sherry cask, it is a virgin oak cask, and chances are always good with virgin oak casks that the oak—not yet tamed by serial maturations of whisky—will be very talkative if not entirely overpowering. Let’s see if that proves to be the case here. Continue reading

Bowmore 14, 1996 (A.D. Rattray for BevMo)


This Bowmore was released at a time almost a decade ago when one of the most popular memes in whisky geekdom was to complain about Bowmore’s distillate being marred by overly perfumed and soapy notes. The only thing that was more popular was to complain about sulphur. Now, it’s true that through most of the 1980s Bowmore’s distillate was seemingly marred by these qualities but it was almost entirely gone from 1989 onwards. The proof of this could be seen in none other than A.D. Rattray’s releases of Bowmore distilled in the early 1990s. Perhaps due to family connections to the distillery, Rattray, more than any other indie bottler available in the US, seemed to have a line on not just a lot of casks of 1990s Bowmore but a lot of excellent casks of Bowmore. I’ve reviewed a few of these (see this 20 yo from 1991 and this 20 yo from 1990). This particular cask, bottled for BevMo in California is a bit younger and from the middle of the decade. This is not the only Bowmore 14, 1996 Rattray bottled for BevMo. In the days before the blog I purchased and finished another cask with a much longer number. My spreadsheet doesn’t note that cask number and Whiskybase has no record of it but I know it was real! I’m also pretty sure I would have saved a 6 oz reference sample from that bottle, as that was my standard practice at the time. Well, if I like this one a lot that will be sufficient motivation to try and dig that out from the vault.  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

Allt-A-Bhainne 23, 1995 (Old Particular for K&L)


Let’s keep the reviews of recent 23 yo K&L exclusives distilled in 1995 going. So far I’ve reviewed their Clynelish and their Glen Moray. I gave them the same score (87 points) but not the same “buy” rating (“yes” on the Glen Moray, “no” on the Clynelish). Today I have another ex-bourbon cask from an unassuming distillery. Will I finally have a different score? Let’s see.

Allt-A-Bhainne 23, 1995 (50.7%; Old Particular for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Very nice bourbon cask nose. Lemon mixed with malt and mild grassy notes; cooked tart apple and pastry crust behind. As it sits the apple expands and it smells more than a bit like a kitchen in which an apple pie was baked the evening before. Water emphasizes the malt and knocks back the fruit. Well, it knocks back the apple/pie: there’s more lemon now. Continue reading

Glen Moray 23, 1995 (Old Malt Cask for K&L)


On Monday I had a review of a 14 yo Glen Moray bottled for Old Malt Cask’s 20th anniversary. Here now is another special Old Malt Cask bottling of Glen Moray. This is almost a decade older than Monday’s bottle and is part of K&L’s recent run of exclusive casks. I reviewed another of those last week—their Clynelish 23—and, alas, David OG of K&L was not very pleased with me. My review of the whisky itself was positive (I gave it 87 points) and my notes not too far away from his own on the K&L site. So I’m guessing his anger is actually at my suggestion that $250 is way too much for what that whisky is. But, these being the times we live in, he seized on an embarrassing but really inconsequential error on my part in my closing comments. I suggested there that rather than spend $250 on that Clynelish people might instead pick up something like the Springbank 18 and have money left over for a bottle of the Laphroaig 10 CS. I made this suggestion because the last time I had the Springbank 18 it was a pretty heavily sherried malt (composed of 80% sherry casks). I’ve not kept up with it—again on account of the high price—and so did not realize that at some point in the last few years the formulation changed to emphasize bourbon casks. An understandable error, you might think, and not surprising from someone who always notes he doesn’t really follow the industry closely anymore. But as far as David OG is concerned this error of fact invalidates my entire review—presumably he’d care less if they’d already sold out of the Clynelish (there seems to still be a fair amount of it in stock). Continue reading

Glen Moray 14, 2004 (Old Malt Cask 20th Anniv. Release)


Earlier this year I reviewed some ten of the many releases the Laings put out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their popular Old Malt Cask line. And then a few months later, just when people thought this was finally an OMC 20 Anniv-free zone I hit you with another (this Auchroisk 24). Maybe you thought that was the last of it, but no, here’s another. But this finally is the last of it. I actually opened this a while ago. I took my time drinking it down to the halfway stage, at which point I took these notes and also set aside a sample for Michael K. of Diving for Pearls. After that I drank the rest at a faster clip, checking in on my notes each time to see if there were any major departures I should note (there were not). Here now are my notes. I mentioned setting aside a sample for Michael K.—as it happens, this is yet another of our simul-review packages. We did a week of simul-reviews of peated whiskies in November (the Offerman Lagavulin, Laphroaig 10 CS, Batch 011 and a Ledaig 6). We didn’t agree on all of those and I’m interested to see if we will today. As always, we have not seen each other’s notes or discussed them in any way prior to posting. I’ll be reading his review in the morning and will link to it once I’ve seen it (and here it is). Continue reading

Springbank 12 CS, Batch 19


I’ve sung the praises of the Springbank distillery so often that I am not going to bother doing it again. Suffice it to say that in an industry that for the last decade has been seeming to move further and further away from what’s in the bottle, Springbank (and their younger siblings at Glengyle/Kilkerran) have been keeping it real, making the whisky they’ve always been making. And one of those whiskies is the 12 yo, cask strength. I’ve had a number of batches of these over the years (and I’ve reviewed a few) and I do believe I’ve liked them all a lot. The formulation has changed over the years; there’s now more bourbon casks than sherry in the mix—indeed, if the Whiskybase entry can be trusted, this is composed from 65% ex-bourbon and 35% ex-sherry casks. The 18 yo and above and their single cask releases are all priced quite high—this is my only major complaint about them—but the 10 yo and the 15 yo are still relative bargains and at <$80 this will be too if it’s as good as previous batches. Let’s see. Continue reading