Balblair 2003, First US Release

So few Balblairs reviewed on this blog. It’s almost as though I have something against Balblair. But I assure you that this is not true. I am pro-Balblair; while I could not say that some of my best friends are Balblairs (I barely even know any people named Blair), I am certainly Balblair-positive. Which is not to say that I have been infected by Balblair, merely that I am positively inclined towards Balblair. Why is this? you ask. Well, I cannot say. It’s not the case that I’ve had any Balblairs that have made me want to rhapsodize (though I do have a sample of one from the mid-1960s that might fit that description). But their whiskies are always solid and they put vintages and age markers on them, and generally don’t engage in much marketing malarkey. I am hoping to stop at the distillery on our planned trip to Scotland in June, and may even attempt to convey my appreciation of these qualities to a befuddled distillery employee. But enough folly! What Balblair is this? It is a 11 or 12 yo from the 2003 vintage. The first US release, says the label from the industrious Michael K.—which leads me to believe that there may have been another twelve or seventeen releases since. Well, I don’t know if any of those have been any good but I will soon be able to tell you what I think of this one.  Continue reading

Glendronach 25, 1968

A third 25 yo whisky to end the week and this is an official release with a rather big reputation: a Glendronach distilled in 1968 and bottled in 2003. I’ve had small pours of it on a couple of occasions before; this large sample came to me from the ever-generous Sku. This is a throwback to Glendronach’s past, distilled and bottled before the Billy Walker era (which itself ended last year). Indeed this whisky was bottled when the distillery was still owned by Allied Distillers and before it was mothballed in 1996. It’s an old-school sherry monster that does more at 43% than most others of its kind do at cask strength, and I’m looking forward to making its acquaintance again.

By the way, the usually restrained Johannes van den Heuvel gave this whisky 97 points! I’m not sure when in his whisky tasting career he rated this or what he would make of it now. Anyway, let’s get to it.  Continue reading

Craigellachie 25, 1990 (SMWS 44.67)

Let’s do another 25 yo today. Unlike Monday’s Caol Ila 25 from the Bladnoch forum, this was not bottled almost a decade ago. Which is not to say it is a very recent release: it was bottled in 2015 or 2016. It’s also an independent release, this time from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They gave it the “fun”, or more accurately, highly stupid name, “Charming Chalice of Cha-Cha-Cha”—which means that this is the rare occasion when one prefers to use their complicated coding system to refer to the cask. Said cask was a refill hogshead and represents the oldest Craigellachie I’ve yet tasted. It’s also the first ex-bourbon Craigellachie that I’ve tasted. As such, I have no expectations.

Looking forward yet again to our trip to the Speyside this June, I should ask if anyone particularly recommends an in-depth visit to Craigellachie. My plan is to do drive-by visits of a number of distilleries in that general area—Craigellachie among them—and only tour Aberlour. (Elsewhere in the Speyside, I will probably tour Benromach, Glen Moray and Glenfiddich). Again, as this is a family trip, I will be restricting myself to a single tour on the days that I do visit distilleries. Anyway, on to this Craigellachie!  Continue reading

Caol Ila 25, 1984 (Bladnoch Forum)

Here’s a very untimely review to start the week and it takes me back to the time when my interest in single malt whisky had just gone from enthusiasm to pathology. I’d joined the then-vibrant WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum and was learning more and more about independent bottlers not seen in the US. One of these was the Bladnoch Forum. This was a side concern of Raymond Armstrong, then the proprietor of the Bladnoch distillery, and it offered single casks at unbelievably reasonable prices to members of the forum (though in practice you didn’t really have to be a member). I think this is pretty much where Martin Armstrong’s Whiskybroker business may have had its origin. These offerings included single casks of Port Ellen for less than £100 (unless my memory is exaggerating) and also a number of excellent older Caol Ilas. This is one of them. I acquired this sample in what may have been my first-ever swap, not long after it was released. I took a few sips then and put it away for another day. That day is here.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 18, 1997, Cask 54 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)

A while ago I reviewed a Laphroaig 18, 1997 bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd for the The Whisky Exchange. That one was one of the best recent releases of Laphroaig I’ve had, packing a big fruity wallop alongside the expected smoke and phenols. Here now is another Laphroaig 18, 1997 bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd. I believe this one was bottled for Whisky Import Nederland (you’ll never believe it but they’re based in the Netherlands). Like the TWE cask, this one was a bourbon cask and it’s only 8 serial numbers away from the other; I think it’s safe to assume that they were filled at the same time in 1997 and probably bottled at more or less the same time in 2015. Given all of this it seems safe to expect this one to also be quite fruity. After all, many whisky geeks believe deeply in the shared qualities of particular vintages, and you’d accordingly expect two casks of the same type, filled with distillate made at the same time, and then bottled after the same period of maturation to be very close to each other. However, oak can be an unpredictable variable and whisky isn’t actually whisky till it’s matured in oak. Will this cask have given or taken away what the other did? Let’s see.  Continue reading

Glen Ord 28

Benromach isn’t the only distillery from the northern Speyside/Highlands region that I have not reviewed very many whiskies from. This is only my sixth review of a Glen Ord. Given that Glen Ord is a workhorse producer for blends—which means its casks are no strangers to the warehouses of brokers and independent bottlers—there’s less obvious reason for my not having reviewed very much Glen Ord than there is for Benromach. Especially as I rather like almost everything I’ve tasted from Glen Ord—though next month I will probably have a review of the Singleton 12 yo…Of the prestige bottlings that Diageo has seen fit to release, I’ve previously reviewed the 30 yo that was part of their 2005 Special Release slate and the 25 yo that was part of their 2004 Special Release. Here now is my review of the 28 yo that came out before both of those in 2003. I don’t think Glen Ord has shown up as a Special Release since 2005—presumably because their malt might have been diverted to feed the Singleton monster. Anyway, I hope Diageo will get around to releasing more official Glen Ord beyond the Singleton sometime soon. The marriage of orchard fruit and oak in Glen Ord can be really special.  Continue reading

Benromach 9, 2001

I’ve reviewed far too few Benromachs on the blog. As with some other distilleries, this is largely because there are very few Benromachs available from independent bottlers. In fact, while I haven’t looked it up, I suspect that the vast majority of indie Benromachs are from before Gordon & MacPhail purchased the distillery (in 1992) and brought it back online (in 1998). I guess when an independent bottler purchases a distillery, making their malt available to the competition is not high on their agenda. Then again, I am probably wrong and if so, I apologize to the good people at Gordon & Macphail for impugning their generosity.

This release, put together from seven first fill bourbon barrels, came out in 2010 and apparently hung around for a long time. It contains malt distilled in the G&M era.  Continue reading

Tobermory 18, 1994 (Wilson & Morgan)

Let’s start the month with a review of a malt from a distillery that is probably one of the most acquired of tastes in all of whiskydom, and a taste that I have not yet quite managed to acquire: Tobermory. The two Tobermorys I’ve liked the most have both been from sherry casks (this 19 yo from The Whisky Exchange, and this much older one from Alambic Classique). I’ve not fared as well with ex-bourbon Tobermory, where the idiosyncrasies of the distillate really get a chance to shine. I’m not a fan of the official 10 yo and nor was I particularly enthused by the 17 yo from Glen Fahrn that I reviewed in January—though I did find things to like about it. (It’s a different story with their peated variant, Ledaig, which I’ve been getting more and more into in the last few years—both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon.)

Well, let’s see how this 18 yo goes.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 14, 1998 (Archives)

Here is another untimely review of a bourbon cask, peated Islay whisky released in 2013. This is a bit older than last week’s Bowmore and was released not by Malts of Scotland but by the lads at Whiskybase under their Archives label. It was part of a set of releases that marked the first anniversary of the launch of the Archives line—hence the “Anniversary Release” moniker (at least I think that’s what the anniversary was of). I own a couple more of these Anniversary Release bottles (a 22 yo Caol Ila and a 22 yo Littlemill) but given how long it has taken me to open this one, I’ve no idea when I will get around to those. This was their second release of a teenaged, bourbon cask Laphroaig. There was a 13 yo in their first release (I reviewed it a while ago). I can tell you that this one is as good as that one was: I opened it last month for a tasting of peated whiskies for my local group and I’ve drunk down the rest of the bottle at a very rapid clip. As I type this introduction only a couple more pours remain. Here are my notes.  Continue reading

Bowmore 11, 2002 (Malts of Scotland)

In December I reviewed a couple of recently released and very well received Bowmores: the OB 18 yo Manzanilla cask and a 15 yo bottled by Signatory for the Whisky Exchange. Today I have a younger cask released a a few years ago by Malts of Scotland. It was distilled in the same year as the Signatory cask, and is also a bourbon cask. As Malts of Scotland puts proprietary cask numbers on their bottles it’s not possible to know if this was from the same run of casks as the Signatory. Nonetheless, it should be possible to see through lines and get some sense of what might have been gained or lost in a few more years of maturation.

Young bourbon cask Bowmore remains a decent value in the single malt world. There’s a weird contradiction between the distillery’s standing and the average whisky geek’s continued suspicion of the character of their distillate; at least when it comes to bourbon cask whisky—heavily sherried Bowmore moves off the shelf quite quickly. Well, more for those of us who like this stuff. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Blair Athol 25, 1988 (LMDW)

As per Whiskybase, there have been 44 casks of Blair Athols from 1988 released in the last three years. I guess someone acquired a huge parcel of those casks and sold them on. And given that most of the releases are from Signatory, I’d guess they’re that someone and are the source for many of the other indie releases as well. Given that there were a decent number released just last year, I suspect we’ll continue to see Blair Athol 1988s for a while.

I’ve previously reviewed three other 1988s in the 25-26 yo range. I very much liked this 25 yo from van Wees and this 26 yo from Signatory for K&L; this 26 yo—also from van Wees—I liked a bit less. The one I’m reviewing now was bottled by La Maison Du Whisky, the famed Paris whisky store. It’s part of their “Artist” series—all of which have very pretty labels. As to whether the prettiness of the labels says anything about the contents of the bottles, I don’t know; I do know the bottles are pretty expensive. I didn’t pay for a whole bottle of this one; this was part of a bottle split—which is really a very good way to try a lot more whiskies than would be feasible otherwise. Anyway, let’s see if this is as good as the others.  Continue reading

Glenfarclas 1989-2013, The Family Casks (for Astor Wines)

Glenfarclas’ “Family Casks” series of single cask releases has a very strong reputation among whisky geeks. Here in the US, we see very few of them and so when I saw that Astor Wine in New York City had one as an exclusive bottling, I picked up a bottle. Distilled in 1989 and bottle in 2013 this is either 23 or 24 years old. It cost a fair bit more than the standard 25 yo but I rationalized the purchase given the higher abv and the general reputation of the Family Cask line. Of course, that reputation is largely based on the sherry casks that form of the majority of the series, and this one—though it doesn’t say so on the label—is from a bourbon cask. Still, I was looking forward to opening it, which I did about a year ago for one of my local group’s tastings. While some in the group really liked it, a few of us were unconvinced: the nose was very nice but it seemed over-oaked on the palate. I’d hoped that time and air would fix a lot of that. Let’s see if that’s happened a year later with lots of air and time.  Continue reading

Benriach 21, “Authenticus”

Hello! This is the Benriach 21 Authenticus, one of the long line of whiskies with silly names released in the Billy Walker era at the distillery; this one was peated to boot. It was discontinued some years ago and replaced with a 25 yo. I have no idea if that 25 yo has since been replaced by a NAS whisky named Feinticus Erroneous, though I rather expect it has. I purchased this from Binny’s as well right before it went off the market and only recently got around to opening it for one of my local group’s tastings. It was a big hit there, not least for displaying certain characteristics that you may be able to discern by reading between the lines of my opaque notes below. These characteristics, surprisingly, are not noted by everyone who has reviewed it—Serge, for example, mentions them not. Michael K., on the other hand, recognizes them gleefully, and if anyone should know, it is he. (Let’s just say that he has a great enthusiasm for horticulture.) Anyway, on to the untimely review!  Continue reading

Longrow 10, 100 Proof

This is the US edition of the Longrow 10, 100 Proof. That means it was bottled at 50% rather than the 57% of the 100 Proof editions sold in the UK and Europe. There were a number of those UK and Europe releases; I’m not sure, however, if there was more than one in the US. I got this from Binny’s in the summer of 2013, and I think it might have been released a year or so previous—if you know better, please write in below. Part of the reason it has taken me so long to open the bottle is that about two years ago Michael K. and Jordan D. published negative reviews of it. As our palates usually align more than they don’t, I figured I wouldn’t care for it either and kept pushing off opening it. And then last month I was putting together a tasting for my local group featuring different flavours of peat and there was finally a reason to open it. And wouldn’t you know it, I quite liked it, as did most members of the group (who all tasted it blind). Here now are my formal notes. If you’ve tried it as well, do write in below.  Continue reading