Highland Park was once one of my very favourite distilleries but it’s been a while since I cared to keep up with what they were up to. Of course, this is not a reflection on the distillery itself but on the owners but they’ve gone down an increasingly silly path of premiumization over the last half decade, with prices increasing and NAS releases proliferating. As I’ve stopped following them, I had no idea they’d launched a new cask strength edition until the chance came up to go in on a bottle split on the first release from 2020. Though as I say that I’m not sure that it is in fact the first release—or rather, what that means. As per Whiskybase, this is the first release of this particular Highland Park Cask Strength (subtitled, “Robust and Intense”). But Whiskybase also lists four other cask strength distillery releases, the last of which came out in 2019—all of those were 350 ml bottles for the Swedish market. So, it may be more appropriate to say that this is the first general release of a cask strength line under the “Robust & Intense” moniker. There’s been a second release in 2021 as per Whiskybase. Unlike the Swedish casks, which don’t specify, this first release is listed as having been matured in “sherry seasoned American oak casks”; the second added sherry seasoned European oak casks to the mix. That one seems to have come to the US too—I’ll keep an eye out for a possible bottle split of that as well. Continue reading
A week of Mortlach reviews began on Monday with a 10 yo bourbon cask bottled by Signatory and continued on Wednesday with a 12 yo sherry cask bottled by Sovereign for K&L. It concludes today with a 20 yo bottled by Gordon & MacPhail from a refill sherry hogshead. As I’ve said before, Mortlach usually shows its best side in the context of sherry maturation and this week’s reviews bear that out. Will a refill sherry cask be as good of a frame for Mortlach’s spirit as the darker 12 yo sherry cask was? If the cask was relatively spent then the extra eight years of maturation may not mean much in terms of imparting sherry character. In any event, I think the point I would make is that what we think of when we think of Mortlach’s “distillery character” is not just the character of the spirit as produced through distillation but also the character of that spirit as transformed through sherry cask maturation—see here for a post from several years ago that goes into this idea of “distillery character” at more length. At any rate, it’s interesting to try a distillery’s spirit from three different types of oak in close juxtaposition. Let’s see how this goes. Continue reading
As you may remember from Monday’s review, this week is a Mortlach week. This in order to try to redress the weak impression people who don’t know the distillery’s spirit well may have received from last Friday’s review of the official 14 yo for travel retail. Well, while Monday’s 10 yo release from Signatory was better, it didn’t exactly light my hair on fire either. Will that happen with today’s 12 yo? On the plus side, it is a sherry butt and Mortlach generally shows its best side with heavy sherry maturation. On the less than plus side, this was bottled for K&L and sold for just about $60. A seeming good deal at K&L can often/sometimes (depending on your point of view) be too good to be true. Hopefully this is not one of those cases. Certainly, I was not overly impressed by the last cask of K&L Mortlach I reviewed—which, like Monday’s Signatory, was also a bourbon cask. Was this one leftover in my stash from that same round of casks or did I acquire it in a separate bottle split? I can’t remember. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
Friday’s Mortlach, an official release for travel retail, didn’t impress very much. As I have some readers who are not very familiar with Mortlach I feel I must try to not leave them with a ho-hum impression of the distillery. Accordingly, I’m following that review with a full slate of Mortlach reviews this week. I’ve not tasted any of these bottles before but am hopeful that at least one of them will give a better idea of what Mortlach whisky’s appeal can be than that Alexander’s Way did. First up, is a 10 yo bottled by Signatory in its Un-Chillfiltered Collection series for Spec’s in Texas. As per Whiskybase a number of these 10 yos from 2008 were bottled by Signatory for stores in the EU as well, all matured in bourbon barrels just as this one was. Indeed, this one is a vatting of four bourbon barrels for a total release of 964 bottles. I believe barrels generally yield a little over 200 bottles. Dilution down to 46% brings the number up. I’ve always had a soft spot for Signatory’s UCF collection—when I first started out buying indie releases this was one of the lines I bought a lot of bottles from. It used to be pretty ubiquitous in the US and pretty reasonably priced. As to whether this Mortlach was reasonably priced on release in 2018, I don’t know—but I do hope it’s a good one. Continue reading
And so a week of reviews of official distillery releases comes to an end. It started on Monday with an outstanding Springbank 10 (the 2021 release) and continued on Wednesday with a typically solid Clynelish 14 (from 2018). I have another 14 year old to end the week, this one from the Speyside. This Mortlach is not from the distillery’s core range; it is rather a travel retail exclusive. It bears the name “Alexander’s Way”. This refers to a prior owner of the distillery who apparently came up with their unique so-called 2.81 distillation regime—which along with their use of worm tubs as condensers—creates the idiosyncratic character of Mortlach’s spirit. You have to hand it to Diageo: these days when a distillery release has the name of someone like that on its label it usually does not bear an age statement. But Diageo have gone ahead and given us a 14 yo. Of course, they haven’t gone so far as to give it to us at 46%, leave alone at cask strength. This is bottled at 43.4%. That extra .4% of abv above the bog standard 43% must be doing a lot of work. And nor have they offered any guarantee that the spirit in the bottle comes by its dark amber colour honestly. But if it tastes good that’s all that matters. Let’s see. Continue reading
The week and month got off to a great start on Monday with the 2021 release of the Springbank 10. Here now is another official distillery release, the Clynelish 14, once one of only two releases from the distillery (along with the rarely seen Distiller’s edition). When I first started drinking single malt whisky this was one of my very favourite whiskies. I remember purchasing a bottle along with one of the Lagavulin 16 from Astor in New York in the mid-2000s. Thanks to Astor’s then seemingly permanent Lagavulin sale I got both for $100. Anyway, though I liked it very much in those days, I’ve lost track of the Clynelish 14 in the last several years. Indeed, I haven’t reviewed it since 2014 and that was of a bottle purchased before 2010. And so I was very happy to take the opportunity to reacquaint myself with a recent release (this is from 2018). Let’s see what it’s like.
Let’s start the month with the closest thing there is to a sure thing in the world of Scotch whisky: a malt from the Springbank distillery. It’ll also kick off a week of reviews of official distillery releases.
This is the 2021 release of Springbank’s 10 yo, which is still their entry-level malt. The price has gone up quite a lot in just the last couple of years. I purchased two bottles in 2019 for $55 each; now the cheapest price I can see in the US appears to be about $85. Which is still a bargain compared to the prices asked for the now annual Local Barley releases, which have been of the same general age. I’ve liked all of those a lot and am curious to see how the regular 10 yo compares. The last of these that I reviewed was from the 2017 release (that was all the way back in 2018). I thought that was very good indeed and if this is as good I will be pleased. Let’s see. Continue reading
This week of reviews of peated whiskies began on Monday with an indie Port Charlotte that is said to have some sherry involvement. It continued on Wednesday with the 2018 release of the official Ledaig 10 that may or may not have sherry casks in the vatting. Here to close out the week is another indie that is unambiguously sherried. Indeed it’s from a single sherry butt and a first-fill butt at that. It’s a 10 yo Ballechin—or peated Edradour—from Signatory, who’ve bottled a number of sherried Ballechins of this general age in the last few years. I’ve liked the ones I’ve tried and so have high hopes for this one. Let’s see if they’re borne out.
It just struck me, by the way, that this week ended up having a secondary theme: not only were these all peated whiskies but they’re all the heavily peated variants from distilleries that are at least nominally known for unpeated/lightly peated malt. Continue reading
It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed a distillery release of Ledaig. Almost 7 years, in fact: I reviewed the Ledaig 15 in 2015, which was not exactly a current release at the time. In fact, I’ve only ever reviewed one other official Ledaig and that was the 2014 release of the Ledaig 10 which was then already the version in the new updated lineup from the distillery, bottled at 46.3% and not chill-filtered and so forth. I liked the palate on that one but found too much rubbery smoke on the nose. Since then I’ve reviewed a lot of independent releases of Ledaigs of that general age—there have been a lot of them about, especially from sherry casks and especially from Signatory. Some of those indie releases have been rather good indeed. I can’t say I had an active curiosity about the official releases—which now also include an 18 yo and an inevitable NAS bottle—but when the opportunity presented itself to try a relatively recent release (this is from 2018) I went for it anyway. Let’s see if I like it more than the previous. Continue reading
Last week’s reviews were all of peated whiskies that had spent at least some time in port casks. The week began with a Bunnahabhain that spent three of its eight years in a tawny port cask and ended with a Longrow that spent all of its 11 in a refill port pipe. In between was an 8 yo Kilchoman that was finished in a ruby port cask. This week’s whiskies do not involve port—not that I know of anyway—but they are all also heavily peated. First up is a Port Charlotte 14 bottled by Master of Malt’s That Boutiquey Whisky Co. label. I’m not too sure about how these TBWC batch releases work. This one apparently comprised 662 bottles but they were all 375 ml, which makes it not the largest batch. Indeed, the total volume would approximate 331 regulation 750 ml bottles—which is between a hogshead and a butt. So if a batch was put together from more than one cask (as you would expect) it might be the marriage of a bourbon hogshead and part of a sherry butt. This is all speculation, of course—but in the absence of detail from the bottlers it’s all I’ve got. My sample came to me from the redoubtable Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls (see here for his review). Continue reading
The first two entries in this week of peated whiskies that spent time in port casks were both from Islay, were both 8 years old, and were both distilled in 2013. Monday’s Bunnahabhain (bottled by Cadenhead) was double matured in a tawny port cask. Wednesday’s Kllchoman received a (presumably briefer) ruby port cask finish. Today’s Longrow (also bottled by Cadenhead) is both older than the other two by three years and spent far more time in a port cask: indeed, it was matured fully in a port cask. That may make it seem likely to be far more port-influenced than the others but it was also a refill port pipe. Depending on how many fills that port cask had gone through the port influence may in fact be quite muted. This is not my first review of a Longrow from a port cask—that would be the Longrow Red release from 2014 which was also a full-term port maturation, albeit in fresh port casks. I didn’t find that one—coincidentally also an 11 yo—to be overly wine-dominated but I also did not think it was anything so very special. Will this one be better? Let’s see. I did like both the Bunnahabhain and the Kilchoman a fair bit and it would be nice to end the week on a high note. Continue reading
Port and peat week started at Bunnahabhain on Monday. That was an 8 yo that spent 5 years or so in ex-bourbon casks and the rest of the time in ex-tawny port casks. I’d call that a proper double maturation. That cask was bottled by Cadenhead and I rather liked it. Today I have for you another 8 yo and another whisky from an Islay distillery. It’s from Kilchoman and is an official release (are there any indie Kilchomans?). This one is billed as a ruby port finish. As to whether that means it spent just a few months in the port cask or quite a bit longer than that, I don’t know. It was released in the US as part of the “Cask Evolution” series by Impex, who are Kilchoman’s importers in the country. (And no, I have no idea what the other releases in this “Cask Evolution” series are or what the concept of the series is supposed to be.) Will this be as good as Monday’s Bunnahabhain or will my general fears of port cask whiskies and finishes—to say nothing of port cask finishes—be realized? Only one way to find out. Continue reading
After a week of wacky mezcals—which began with one distilled with Iberico ham and ended with one distilled with mole poblano—let’s do a week of wacky single malts. Well, not really that wacky. These are all whiskies that involved port cask maturation or finishes. They’re also, as it happens, all peated whiskies. I’m not generally a fan of port cask maturation but—as I believe I’ve noted before—I think it’s in a marriage with heavy peat that it shows to its best advantage. Bunnahabhain may not be what you think of when you read the words “heavy peat”…or maybe that isn’t true anymore given how much peated Bunnahabhain, indie and official, has hit the market in the last decade. At any rate this is peated Bunnahabhain. It is eight years old. It was distilled in 2013 and spent five years or so in a bourbon cask and then three years or so in a tawny port cask. That pretty much counts as double maturation in my book. And hopefully that means the usual problems of wine finishes will be held at bay. Let’s see. Continue reading
I must apologize for lying to you. On Monday I said that all three of this week’s reviews would be of 20 yo Ben Nevises distilled in 1997. This was true of Monday’s Berry Bros. & Rudd cask and also of Wednesday’s Exclusive Malts cask. But it turns out that this one—bottled by The Daily Dram—was actually distilled in 1999. It is a Ben Nevis though and 20 years old, which means I’m only 33% a liar. It’s also different from the other two in that while those were both sherry casks—well, the Berry Bros. cask does not specify but it seems pretty obviously a sherry cask—this one is not. Okay, so this one does not specify the cask type either but by the looks of it this seems very much like an ex-bourbon cask. Will it be more quintessentially Ben Nevis than the other two were? I did like both of those but felt the sherry covered up the Ben Nevis funk a bit too much. In theory, at least, the bourbon cask should let more of that out. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. Continue reading
Another day, another 20 year old Ben Nevis distilled in 1997. Monday’s iteration was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd; today’s was bottled by the Exclusive Malts/Creative Whisky Company. If I’m not mistaken the company is now defunct (a thousand apologies if that’s not true). Unlike Berry Bros. & Rudd, they specified the cask type: a refill sherry hogshead. I hazarded the opinion on Monday that the Berry Bros. & Rudd cask might also have been refill sherry. Let’s see if I like this one as much as I did that one.
Ben Nevis 20, 1997 (51.9%; The Exclusive Malts; refill sherry hogshead #38; from a bottle split)
Nose: Musty oak off the top and quite a bit of it; a leafy quality too (like damp, rotting leaves). On the second sniff the oak turns to cedar and some sweet orange begins to push its way out. As it sits the citrus becomes more tart/acidic and there’s a mineral, slightly chalky edge to it. With time the oak more or less fades here and is replaced by sweeter notes of butterscotch and brown sugar. Fruitier with water as the orange is joined by some papaya and hints of tart-sweet mango. Continue reading
Let’s start the month with a trio of Ben Nevis. After that we’ll be ready for anything. All three that I’ll be reviewing this week are 20 years old and distilled in 1997. I’m curious to see how much variation there will be across the set. First up, a cask from Berry Bros. & Rudd, a name that is generally a reliable marker of baseline quality. True to form, they do not specify the cask type but, as you’ll see, I have a guess.
Ben Nevis 20, 1997 (54.6%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 85; from a bottle split)
Nose: That very Ben Nevis mix of ginger, salted nuts, white pepper and malt off the top. On the second sniff there’s a faint whiff of diesel as well plus bright citrus. Continues in this general vein. With water there’s the diesel turns to paraffin and the ginger and citrus turn to citronella. Continue reading
Monday’s Glen Grant 13 was a very pleasant surprise. Here’s hoping the last whisky of the month—also from a Speyside distillery—will be in that vein. It’s from the less than storied Speyburn distillery. I wasn’t aware that they now put out an official 15 yo but apparently they do. Or at least they released one in 2017—I’m not seeing any others listed on Whiskybase. Did no more releases follow? This was put together from spirit matured in American oak and Spanish oak casks. The Spanish oak casks would be sherry casks; and though American oak is also used to make sherry casks, I’m assuming it refers here to bourbon casks—otherwise they’d be trumpeting all-sherry maturation for sure. This sample came to me from Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls—the source of a number of March’s other reviewed samples. He has reviewed this one too—he too reviewed a sample and then seemingly liked it enough to purchase a bottle. Will that be true for me as well? Let’s see. Continue reading
After two weeks of peated whiskies (a week at Ardmore and then a week on Islay, at Caol Ila, Laphroaig and Bowmore) let’s end the month with what should be a pair of milder Speysiders. First up. a bourbon cask Glen Grant, distilled in 1993 and bottled at 13 years of age by James MacArthur (are they still around?).
Glen Grant 13, 1993 (57.7%; James MacArthur; bourbon cask 121926; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Tart fruit off the top (a mix of apples/cider and orange) along with some oak and a bit of chalk. Maltier with a bit of air and the fruit turns a bit muskier (over-ripe pear, a hint of pineapple). The oak turns first resinous and then leafy and the citrus gets tarter (lime now rather than orange, some of it makrut lime). With time and air the musky fruit and the malt expand. Water pushes the acid and oak back and brings out more of the sweet fruit along with some cream. Continue reading