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
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
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
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
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
At this point everyone knows that a whole slew of casks filled at Littlemill in the 1988-1992 period and bottled 20+ years later by various indies has made us forget how awful the distillery’s official releases before it closed were. One wonders how many distilleries with indifferent to bad reputations that scenario might not work out well for. All this to say, I’m expecting this sample to blow my socks off and if it doesn’t then I will blame Michael K.
Littlemill 22, 1990 (54.3%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 17 for Total Wine; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Lemon, grapefruit, tart pineapple, a whiff of gasoline. Chalkier and more mineral on the second sniff and there’s some gooseberry in there too now. With a few drops of water the acid backs off a bit and there’s some cream and a leafy note. Continue reading
Here is another 10 yo Teaninich from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This was distilled a year after Monday’s Teaninich 10 and was bottled a year later as well. The 2008 was a quintessentially austere Highlands whisky from a bourbon cask that had not seemingly interfered too much with the base spirit: the fruit was tart and joined by wax and mineral notes. I don’t say “quintessential Teaninich” above because I’ve not had enough to be able to rule on that. At any rate, I liked it a lot. Will this one be as good? The SMWS in their wisdom called it “This Ain’t No Pussycat”. Hopefully it’s not a dog either. Let’s see.
Teaninich 10, 2009 (58.4%; SMWS 59.58; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Less austere than the other, this presents with a lot of fruit from the get-go (pear, tart apple, lemon) along with wax and a peppery, mineral quality. After a few minutes there’s a fair bit of cream and also a leafy note; the wax moves towards paraffin. Water takes the lemon and the paraffin towards citronella and pulls out bits of pineapple and gooseberry. Continue reading
A Speysider to close September (this Longmorn) and a Speysider to start October (this Glenburgie); let’s move to the Highlands for a bit. Here is a 10 yo Teaninich, the first of two this week, both bottled by the SMWS in the last couple of years. Unlike Longmorn and Glenburgie, Teaninich does not have a reputation for very fruity malt; its profile is quite a lot more austere in comparison. So at least have been most of the few I’ve had—the one exception being this very old one from Malts of Scotland). At 10 years old I doubt this will be quite that fruity. Let’s see if that in fact proves to be the case.
Teaninich 10, 2008 (56.2%; SMWS 59.56; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Quite austere to start with a bit of olive oil, wax and a touch of lemon and grass (but not lemongrass); some tart green apples too. Some sweeter fruit as it sits but also some bitter lemon peel. Continues in this vein. With a lot more time and air it becomes less austere and there’s some cream now and a fair bit of malt and cereals. Water softens it further and pulls out more of the malt and turns the fruit muskier. Continue reading
I closed out September with a review of a bourbon cask whisky from a Speyside distillery; let’s start October with another bourbon cask whisky from a Speyside distillery. Glenburgie is only about 20 minutes away from Longmorn—which is where Wednesday’s whisky was distilled. I guess that’s not saying much as most distilleries in the Speyside seem to be within 20 minutes drive of each other. Like Longmorn, except even more so, Glenburgie is not a heralded distillery, producing mostly for Pernod-Ricard’s blends (Pernod-Ricard also own Longmorn). I say “except even more so” because Longmorn has a strong reputation via indie bottlers, especially for their whiskies from the 1960s and 1970s. Glenburgie, on the other hand, I don’t think anyone has ever gotten very excited about. They make excellent whisky though and I’m always happy to try a Glenburgie. Let’s see if this one bears out my confidence. Continue reading
Okay, let’s close out the month with another teenaged malt from a Speyside distillery. Unlike Monday’s Cragganmore, however, this has no wine involvement. This is a straight-up bourbon cask whisky, a Longmorn issued in Chivas’s old Cask Strength Edition series that was originally available only at their distilleries. Every whisky I’ve had in this series has been very good at the least. I’m not sure if the series is still on the go though. I’d hoped to find some releases when I visited Strathisla, Aberlour and Scapa in 2018 but didn’t see any. Anyway, I’m looking forward to this one. All the excitement about Longmorn is about older vintages from the ’60s and ’70s and contemporary Longmorn doesn’t have much of an identity—and not very much of it shows up from the indies anymore either. The few I’ve had suggest that the modern distillate could also produce real greatness if allowed to age up to 30 years or more. Of course, if any such modern Longmorns are ever released in the next few years, I won’t be able to afford them… Continue reading
There isn’t a lot of indie Cragganmore about—especially in the US. I’ve reviewed a grand total of 3 Cragganmores before this one. And so when I had a chance to get in on a bottle split of this Cragganmore from the SMWS I took it even though it’s a madeira finish and even though the SMWS gave it the name “Coconut Curry Down the Douro Valley”. My general antipathy to wine finishes is no secret and I don’t think I’ve yet found anything resembling any kind of curry in any whisky said to be reminiscent of it. Let’s see if this one surprises me on either front.
Cragganmore 16, 2001 (56.4%; SMWS 37.127; madeira finish; from a bottle split)
Nose: Sweet, spicy toasted wood to start—rosewood? cherry wood? On the second sniff there’s some cherry (the fruit), some orange peel, a bit of cinnamon. Gets more floral as it sits (yes, roses). Gets more savoury as it sits and I hate to admit it but I am indeed getting aromas of coconut milk infused with herbs. The savoury notes recede with time and it’s the sweet red fruit that’s ascendant. Water pushes the cherry back, pulls out some cream and makes the whole mellower. Continue reading
Oh, okay, I’ll try a little harder. This is a single bourbon cask bottled by the German outfit, Whisky-Fässle in 2015. That was near the very end of the golden age of independently bottled Scotch whisky, when 20+ yo whiskies of high quality were available for not much more than $100. These days high quality indies of any age at good prices seem very thin on the ground. In fact, I can’t remember the last indie bottle I purchased—not that I purchase much whisky of any kind any more. Anyway! Official Bunnahabhain is usually heavily sherry-bothered and so it’s always nice to try bourbon casks from independent bottlers. I’ve reviewed two others this year: this 6 yo bottled for the Whisky Barrel, and this 30 yo bottled by Old Particular for K&L in California. It pains me to say that I liked the 6 yo more than the 30 yo (but it also pleases me to say that I had not purchased a bottle of the 30 yo). As a better portent, I did like the last Bunnahabhain 1991 I reviewed (this 25 yo, also from K&L)—though that was from a sherry cask. Let’s hope this is as good. Continue reading
Benrinnes 21, 1997 (60.6%; SMWS; refill bourbon barrel; from a bottle split)
Nose: Pretty tight at first. As it sits there’s some cereals, some wax, some pepper and some lemon. Softens as it sits and there’s some cream too now. With more time the cereals and wax expand and there’s a sweeter note too—dried pineapple? Softer and creamier with a few drops of water; the lemon turns into citronella and the pepper turns into a light sooty note.
Palate: Pretty much as on the nose and, as expected, hot, hot, hot. This is going to need a fair bit of air and then some water. With time the lemon expands and the wax follows suit and the texture gets more full. Still pretty hot though. Okay, let’s add water. Sweeter at first with water and then there’s a burst of slightly bitter lemon peel. Continue reading
I reviewed the Balblair 2005, First Release in May and in that review I noted that I do not understand how Balblair’s vintage releases worked. That has not changed. And so I can tell you that this was distilled in 1990 and released in 2015 and that it was described as the “Second Release” even though there was another with the appellation released in 2014 and again in 2016. Just typing this made my head hurt and glad again that Balblair has now moved to regular age-stated whiskies (though given the jump in price the occasional headache may have been a good deal). This was matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks but my understanding is that the sherry is more pronounced. On the one hand, the last sherried Balblair I had—this 10 yo—did not do very much for me. But on the other, the last Balblair 1990 I had was from a single sherry cask—this 21 yo—and I really liked that one. Let’s hope that the shared vintage and general age makes this more likely to be on the level of its sibling. Continue reading
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
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
Here’s a 19 yo Caol Ila bottled several years ago by the Whisky Exchange for their annual Whisky Show. That’s it, that’s the introduction.
Caol Ila 19 (55.9%; The Whisky Exchange for the Whisky Show, 2012; single bourbon cask; from my own bottle)
Nose: Ah yes, this is one of those “Port Ellen, who?” Caol Ilas. Lemon, oyster liquor, kelp, green olive brine, mineral smoke: it’s all here. A couple of minutes later there’s some ash and smouldering leaves mixed in with the mineral smoke, giving it a slightly bitter, vegetal quality. A few drops of water and it’s a mix of citronella, ash and vanilla-cream.
Palate: As predicted by the nose but with more phenols in the smoke and some sweeter notes as I swallow (vanilla). Gets more acidic as it sits and the leafy note from the nose begins to make its way to the palate as well. More acid with water—more preserved than fresh lemon now—and the phenols back off a bit (the ash doesn’t though). Continue reading
I started the month with a heavily-peated Islay that was a bit of a misfire (this year’s Cairdeas). Let’s continue with peated whisky but move on to the eastern highlands, to Ardmore who are not known for heavily peated whisky. Interestingly—and also worryingly—however, this particular 20 yo release was apparently finished in ex-Islay casks after an initial maturation in ex-bourbon casks. If these were casks from Laphroaig (possible given that Beam Suntory owns both distilleries) then there’s a good chance that the usual combination of mellow, peppery peat and fruit that characterizes the best Ardmores might get lost in a phenolic overlay. On the other hand, if the casks were ex-bourbon Bowmore casks—Bowmore being another Beam Suntory distillery—then that might actually be a good match. Let’s see how it goes. I’m a big fan of Ardmore, even though we don’t get very many opportunities to try their malt in the US, and I am hoping for the best. Continue reading