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
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
I look forward to the release of the Laphroaig Cairdeas every year, even though Laphroaig has not consistently been giving me very many reasons in recent years to look forward to it. I liked 2018’s Fino cask finish but last year’s Triple Wood CS and 2017’s Quarter Cask CS were acceptable but not at all special. The distillery seems to have got caught in an endless cycle of cask finishes; a far cry from 2011 and 2012 which saw them release excellent bourbon cask whiskies (neither of which, I realize, I’ve reviewed). And the only truly excellent Cairdeas since then—2015’s 200th anniversary release—was also from bourbon casks. But there’s no excitement in bourbon cask releases, I guess. Will next year be a rum cask? A marsala cask? Or will we see another Frankenwine release like this year’s (a vatting of port and wine casks)? Well, I suppose if the results taste good there’s no point complaining about the high-concept gimmickry. Let’s see if that is indeed the case. Continue reading
Okay, let’s make it two Ardmores in a row. I really liked the 20 yo I reviewed on Monday. Like this one, that was also bottled by the SMWS. Unlike this one, however, that was from a refill bourbon cask. This one very much is not. Well, it started out in bourbon cask but ended up in a red wine cask for some reason. I’m yet to come across any compelling reason to finish whisky in red wine casks. Will this change my mind? Let’s see.
Ardmore 13, 2006 (58.1%; SMWS 66.161; red wine finish; from a bottle split)
Nose: Fairly jumbled with some pickled/acidic notes, some char, some oak, some red fruit. On the second and third sniffs there’s quite a bit of lime. As it sits the smoke takes on a slightly plasticky/acryclic character. The nose settles down with time and air and the plastic/acrylic note recedes. Water brings out a cured meat note. Continue reading
Okay after two reviews of things that are not whisky, let’s get back to whisky. But this might be barely whisky. It’s a Murray McDavid red wine-bothered Bunnahabhain, and Murray McDavid wine-bothered anything is rarely a good idea (see, for example, this Bowmore from red wine casks and also this Bowmore from white wine casks). The only sign of hope is that this is one of those peated 1997 Bunnahabhains and that kind of heavy, organic peat (as opposed to Bowmore’s more delicate, floral variety) can theoretically stand up more successfully to the depredations of a red wine finish. Will that be the case here though? Let’s see.
This is another sample that I acquired a long time ago—from Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail—and am only getting around to opening now. Continue reading
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
Let’s close out the week with another wine cask-finished whisky, another peated whisky, and yet another Bowmore bottled by Murray McDavid. This was distilled and released a few years after Wednesday’s Viognier finish. And unlike the other Bowmore and Monday’s Port Charlotte 13 the wine casks used for this whisky’s finish had previously held red wine—syrah to be exact. Even though I really liked that Port Charlotte and also thought the Viognier-finish Bowmore was quite pleasant, I am a bit apprehensive about this one as red wine finishes are the source of my prejudice against wine cask finished whisky. Anyway, let’s see what this is like.
Bowmore 10, 1999 (46%; Murray McDavid; bourbon and syrah casks; from a bottle split) Continue reading
As I noted in passing in my review on Monday of a wine cask-finished Port Charlotte, I am not generally a fan of wine cask-finished whiskies. Most of the ones I have had—like that Port Charlotte—have emerged from Bruichladdich. So too in a sense has this Bowmore. It was bottled by Murray McDavid, the indie bottling arm of Mark Reynier-era Bruichladdich, and a label that put out a large number of wine cask- finished or, as they liked to call them, “ACE’d” whiskies. This particular release started out in bourbon casks and ended up in viognier casks. Well, Monday’s Port Charlotte was from French white wine casks as well and I unexpectedly quite liked it. Will the positivity continue with this one? Let’s see.
Bowmore 11, 1995 (46%; Murray McDavid; bourbon & viognier casks; from a bottle split) Continue reading
I reviewed the (then) new Ben Nevis 10 early last year and really liked it. In fact, I asked—largely rhetorically—if it was the best entry-level malt whisky on the market (and it was very fairly priced too). In response it promptly went off the market. The distillery apparently ran out of stocks that would have allowed them to continue to make it to the same specifications—there’s an account of this in a review on Whiskybase or you could take a look at Michael K.’s recent review which summarizes matters. Rather than go completely off the market the distillery formulated this one-off cask strength release, which is a vatting of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-wine casks. And it is a vintage release from 2008 distillate. Since then the regular 10 yo has indeed come back on the market. This is good news, but it must be said that I have not read any reviews of the new release and am therefore only hopeful that it will be very similar, if not identical to the batch I really liked. This cask strength release I can tell you—spoiler alert—I don’t like as much, I opened it not too long after buying the bottle some months ago and thought it was just okay. I then took it to one of my local group’s tastings and it did quite well there. The bottle has since sat at below the halfway mark for a couple of months—I’m curious to see if it has improved further. Continue reading
As long-time readers (the few, the imaginary) know, I am not generally a fan of wine-finished whiskies. But I am a fan of giving things a chance if they don’t cost too much. Here therefore is a young Ledaig distilled in 2007 and finished in Pomerol casks. How many Pomerol casks, I’m not sure. The bottle label lists three cask numbers with a total outturn of 689 bottles. That would seem like three bourbon hogsheads worth. So either three bourbon casks got emptied into a large Pomerol cask or each ended up in a separate Pomerol cask before being vatted for bottling. I’d guess the latter as I think only the cask(s) that last held the spirit can be listed on the label. However it was made, I got two ounces from a bottle split last year. I’ve recently had a number of high quality young Ledaigs from around this period and it seemed like a decent bet. It’s still available, by the way. Continue reading
If all has gone well, I am in Edinburgh as you are reading this and probably jet-lagged out of my whisky-loving mind. Please be assured that this review was not written in that state. I It was written more than a week ago in a slightly more lucid state in Minnesota.
I’m going to be up in the Speyside for the first time very soon and accordingly will be posting a number of reviews of Speyside whiskies this month. First up is a two-fer: head-to-head reviews of two releases from Gordon & MacPhail’s distillery, Benromach. I hope to be able to stop at the distillery briefly when we visit Elgin and environs at the end of the week. I’ll be interested to see if they have any distillery exclusives. Given how much I liked the 10 yo 100 proof, odds are good I’d buy anything similar if available for a reasonable price. The whiskies I’m reviewing here are not, however, anything similar. They were distilled in 2005 and 2006 and finished in red wine casks: Hermitage and Chateau Cissac casks, respectively; both were released in 2014. I’m really not sure why anyone ever wants to finish whisky in red wine casks—I’m yet to taste one that I particularly like, but hey, hope springs eternal. Let’s see what these are like. Continue reading
In which I start the month with a timely’ish review. The foolishly named Ardbeg Grooves is this year’s entry in Ardbeg’s annual exercise in folly. The regular release comes out on Ardbeg Day, otherwise known as June 2; this higher strength release came out a few weeks ago to whet the appetite of those who cannot get enough of Ardbeg and their folly. Despite being a fool myself, I’ve skipped these shenanigans entirely in recent years; and eventual reviews of their recent annual releases have not made me feel foolish about having done so. However, this year when the opportunity arose to taste the latest “Committee Release” via a bottle split, I decided to go for it. For some reason I thought I’d read very positive reviews of it—though I have not subsequently been able to track down what it is I’d thought I’d read. This whisky apparently contains some significant fraction of spirit matured in ex-red wine casks. The press materials tell me that these casks were charred extensively, producing grooves in them; evidently, Ardbeg’s proprietary cask charring system allows them to produce effects that fit with whatever silly concept they’ve hit on for the year (see also the Alligator). Also, Ardbeg was groovy in the 1960s and whatnot (yes, this is actually part of their sell). Continue reading
The 2016 edition of the Laphroaig Cairdeas has been in the US for almost two months now and I’ve finally got my hands on a bottle (okay, two bottles). I am very happy to say that I paid only $5 more per bottle than I did for my first bottle of Cairdeas back in 2011. And I’m also very happy that those of us in the US still have no difficulty purchasing the Cairdeas which is always widely available here, unlike every other Feis Ile release which require trips to Islay or large amounts of money or both.
Last year’s edition of Cairdeas was a classic bourbon cask Laphroaig. This year’s edition, however, returned to the wine cask experiments that marked the previous few years (the 2014 release was double matured in amontillado sherry casks and the 2013 in port casks). This year’s has been double matured in “Madeira seasoned traditional hogsheads”. I assume these means that these were not casks actually used to mature Madeira. The wine influence should therefore be mild. I’m curious to see what it’s like—though as a Laphroaig aficionado the odds are against my not liking it (please keep this bias in mind). Continue reading
This is the Springbank whose existence Ol’ Jas denied over Easter weekend. Springbank has released a few madeira casks in the past. I’ve previously reviewed a 14 yo single cask that was a K&L exclusive. I liked it but not as much as the old 11 yo (which I have not reviewed yet on account of a reluctance to open my last bottle). Both of those and this one are from 1997 but obviously not from the same set of casks: those were full-term matured in madeira casks whereas this one was matured for the first 10 years in refill bourbon casks and then for the last six years in fresh madeira casks. So, obviously it’s not a finish either; more like true double maturation. Springbank seem to be the only distillery that does this kind of double maturation as a matter of course (they’re also probably the only distillery that doesn’t make a lot of silly noise about these kinds of releases). And probably because they do double maturation and not quick finishes their wine cask releases tend to be really well integrated with the usual distillery profile. Continue reading
I am not generally a fan of whiskies finished in red wine casks. A lot of this is Glenmorangie and Murray McDavid/Bruichladdich’s fault, but when I see that a whisky has been finished in a red wine cask I assume the worst. That said, peated malts seem to survive such encounters the best and this here is a Caol Ila. Like Friday’s Ardbeg, this was bottled by Malts of Scotland for van Zuylen in their “Dunes An Oir” series (Gaelic for “dunes of gold”, I believe) and it was finished in a Banyuls cask. Banyuls is a sweet, fortified wine, and so, in theory, at least, it may end up closer to a sherry or madeira finish than to a regular red wine finish. I think this was matured for 15 years in a bourbon cask and probably only saw a very brief “finish” in the wine cask—I’m guess the original cask was bourbon both from the outturn and on the basis that it’s unlikely anyone would do a wine finish on top of sherry maturation. Anyway, this is a rusty red in the glass—let’s see what it’s like on the nose and palate. Continue reading
Three whisky reviews in three days—what is this, a whisky blog? Yes, despite my unhealthy obsession with gaining acceptance from Foodgawker, it still is. And to make up for all the food posting that my core readership (the few, the not-so proud) have been putting up with I’m adding a little bonus whisky content.
This is my first Benromach review and frankly I’ve not had very many Benromachs. This is largely because there haven’t always been very many Benromachs to try in the US. There’s been the Traditional (with a name like that you know it’s NAS), the 10 yo, a 18 yo, 21 yo, a 22yo, a 25 yo, a 30 yo, a bunch in this Origins series and a bunch of wine finishes. Fine, fine, scratch that: there are in fact a large number of Benromachs in the US and there’s no good reason for my not having tried very many of them. Okay, let’s be exact, I’ve only had two of them before: the Traditional (which I might review next month if I can actually get around to picking up the sample a friend in town has for me) and the 10 yo (I liked the bottle I finished some years ago fine but never got around to replacing it). Continue reading
Here is the review of the Springbank 12, Claret Wood that was promised to Ol’ Jas long ago. I hope he’s happy.
This is from a long deceased bottle (the 4 ounce sample was saved when the bottle was above the halfway mark). This is from a series of “wood expressions” Springbank released in the late 2000s. Others in the series included whiskies from Madeira, Gaja Barolo and Marsala casks as well as a series of 12 year olds from various types of sherry casks. Some of these were full-term matured in the relevant casks; others were matured for an initial, longer period in bourbon casks and then transferred to the cask on the label for a few more years. This Claret Wood was of the latter type, spending nine years first in bourbon and the last three in the wine casks.
This approach, which Springbank has continued with its more recent “exotic” cask releases (such as the calvados wood), seems closer to me to double maturation than to what usually gets described as “finished” whisky. Certainly, all of Springbank’s releases in this vein that I’ve tried have seemed to me to be very well integrated and far from “winesky”. That is my memory of this one as well but it’s been a while since I last tasted it. Continue reading