Very similar to last year’s release. (A good thing, since it was wonderful!) Very smooth, with layered sweetness (toffee, fig cake, nougat, maple syrup), dark fruit (black raspberry, blueberry), cinnamon, and polished oak on the finish. A whisky of elegance and sophistication. (Editor's Choice)
Though Brora has acquired cult status, it has to be said that for a few years these Special Release Broras went through an off-putting butyric phase, which might well have put off newbies to this legendary closed site, who must have wondered what all the fuss was about.
One nose of the 2010 SR shows that these days have been consigned to the past. This is classy from the word go. Gold in color; the nose manages to be both overtly waxy — I’m reminded of waxed paper — and fragrant. Behind that is coal smoke, rather than the heavy peatiness of earlier vintages (Brora’s peating levels varied in its last years). In other words, this is robust and powerful, with an evocative aroma that speaks of old sea chests, the seashore, and vellum. Hugely concentrated, with massed fruits — quince especially — following behind. This is amplified with a drop or two of water.
The palate is unctuous and heavy. Tectonic plates move more quickly than this does in the mouth. When it does, the oily/waxy textures and flavors move slowly — camphor, peach, membrillo, hints of citrus, and toward the finish a growing brininess (akin to olives) and a hint of smoke. Elemental and one of the best Broras for years. [not available in the U.S.]£280
An excellent example of an ultra-mature, sherried whisky done the right way. Much darker and more decadent than the other two releases here. Silky texture. Rummy, jammy fruit, toasted walnut, leather, spice (cinnamon, clove), tobacco, and dark chocolate, with a foundation of juicy oak. Tasting this whisky, you know it’s old, but you also know it’s very good.
This was my second lowest rated whiskey from the 2009 Collection (a 91 rating). This one is an impressive whiskey, and an improvement from last year. It’s soft (for a straight rye), well rounded, and easy to embrace, with tamed spice (cinnamon, mint, vanilla, mocha), nougat, toffee, fruit (bramble, subtle citrus), subtle date, and polished leather on the finish. Buffalo Trace is playing a shell game with this aged rye (being stored in stainless steel tanks over the past several years until new stocks mature), but in this instance there seems to be a prize under every shell. Well done! (Editor's Choice)
Very close to last year’s release in personality, with great balance between the sweetness, spice, and fruit. Nicely structured, with clearly defined notes of toffee, molasses, cinnamon, vanilla bean, dried citrus, brittle mint, roasted nuts, tobacco, and polished leather on the finish. (Editor's Choice)
The new ultra-mature release, following its 33 year old predecessor (bottled by previous owners). It’s nice to see the higher ABV, given that the 33 year old was only 40%. Very soothing. Quite deep on the nose and viscous (almost sappy) on the palate, with gobs of juicy oak and old oak (its age is obvious but not imposing), dark raisin, black raspberry, orange marmalade, roasted nuts, and freshly roasted coffee beans. All of this is peppered with cinnamon, ginger, and charcoal. Polished leather on the finish. I like that it’s sherried, and the sherry is kept in balance. Those of you who liked the 33 year old will also enjoy this one (assuming you can afford it).
There’s precious little reticence about this beast, which leaps out of the glass blowing peat smoke everywhere — then comes raffia, Lapsang Souchong tea, seashore, wet rocks, Elastoplast, talcum powder, bog myrtle (laurel), vetiver, and the aromas of a just-expunged peat bonfire with apples baking on it. Huge and complex, in other words. The palate starts with a fug of smoke being belched at you (non-peat freaks look away, now) then distinct saltiness enlivens the tongue before everything plunges down; intense sweetness takes charge for a moment before it shifts into charred creosoted timbers. This begs for some water, and when it’s added, out comes sandalwood and peat smoke and tar and an orris root-like character — it’s not often I get gin-like notes on Lagavulin, but it’s here — which rolls over you as you roll over and succumb to its power. After this year’s sublime distillery-only bottling, it’s clear that Lagavulin is in a real purple patch. Superb.
The only setback from last year’s Antique Collection release, when I rated it an 84 because it was showing too much wood (especially compared to the 2007-2008 releases). The 2010 release is back on track, with great balance, and showing very traditional notes of vanilla toffee, rummy molasses, dusty corn, soft summer fruit, and a sprinkling of spice (cinnamon, mint, cocoa), with oak resin to balance out the sweet notes. (Editor's Choice)
Jefferson’s Presidential Select, 18 year old, Batch #27, 47%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90.00
I’ve tasted several batches of this whiskey (made at the old Stitzel-Weller distillery), from the inaugural Batch #1 when it was a 17 year old, to this new release. It’s not surprising that they taste progressively older. My favorite is still the first batch, but this whiskey holds up nicely and shows a similar flavor profile with a bit more wood influence: blackberry jam, nutty toffee, nougat, creamy vanilla, cinnamon, and a touch of polished oak on the finish. Nice texture, too, with good viscosity and grip on the finish.
Made from whisky aged in second fill American oak sherry casks, distilled between 1973 to 1987. Richly malty, with honeyed citrus, juicy oak, chocolate fudge, and nougat. More subtle floral notes, licorice (red and black), ginger, and chamomile tea. Polished oak on the finish balances the sweetness. A great whisky to honor a great whisky maker! (Only 200 bottles for the U.S.)
Now the one that peat freaks wait patiently for every year, which makes it the bottling that produces the most debate. For me, this is up there with last year’s bottling, which itself ushered in a return to high standards after a slight dropping-off in expressiveness.
This is different, however. Yes, the color is as pale as ever — has anyone ever tasted an over-oaked Port Ellen? — and yes, the nose initially shows all of the distillery’s austere notes: think of a wet fish counter and the sensation of the sea rather than overt ‘fishiness,’ while there’s also a chilled cucumber note. The difference is the sweetness, which is more to the fore, and also, it would seem, a slight dropping-off in massive smokiness. Here the peat is integrated into the whole.
The palate has a numb spot right on the front, then wasabi-like heat coupled with olive oil. Soon the sea rolls in and it stands there like some creature from the Black Lagoon covered with balls of tar, draped in wet seaweed, encrusted with barnacles and clams — and clutching a kipper. But don’t forget the sweetness that spreads across the tongue and slowly drifts into fresh spice and antiseptic. Complex…and there’s a scant 3,000 bottled for the globe. [not available in the U.S.] £280
One of the best Handy offerings yet. Very vibrant with dynamic spice (firm mint, warming cinnamon, allspice, hint of clove) and lush fruit (citrus, orchard fruit, golden raisin, brandy, and teasing coconut), all tamed by a bed of soothing caramel and honey. It’s not easy for a whiskey to come across as excitingly youthful, yet nicely matured. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, but this whiskey pulls it off. (Editor's Choice)
Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey finished in a port pipe. This is veteran master distiller Lincoln Henderson’s newest creation, and it’s a beauty. Richly textured, silky, and well-rounded, with ripe berried fruits, candied tangerine, light toffee, maple syrup, and creamy vanilla, sprinkled with spice (cinnamon, hint of mint). Smooth, silky finish, and dangerously drinkable! The port pipe notes dovetail perfectly. Lovely just the way it is, but it’s begging for a cigar. My only gripe: why not 45 or 50% ABV? But I’m splitting hairs. I really enjoy this stuff!
Enjoyable, dark sweet notes: molasses, maple syrup, fig, grilled corn. The spices are there, too (cool mint, cocoa powder, warming cinnamon, nutmeg). They’re well-rounded and show up more toward the finish (along with some tobacco and polished leather). Soft, reserved, and slightly past its prime, but it still maintains its dignity.
This isn’t quite a distillery-only bottling so much as a bottle only available at the distillery — which isn’t exactly the same thing. Bottled more than 10 years ago to mark the distillery’s centenary, incredibly a small amount is still available, and it is well worth pursuing.
Until relatively recently Ardmore was an industry secret, cherished by those in the know. But the peaty and feisty no-age-statement Ardmore Traditional has introduced the malt to a new generation of drinkers, and last year’s sweet and fruity 25 year old suggested that the distillery has a potentially diverse range of future treasures to be excited about. This bottling is light, soft, sweet, and juicy. Orange flavors and peat team up to steer a middle way for what is a delicious and highly more-ish malt. Its only flaw is in the finish, which dies away too quickly for this palate. Perhaps a slightly higher strength would have improved it. No matter, it’s like the fade out of the guitar solo at the end of your favorite track; it’s a bit frustrating because you want it to go on and on, but it doesn’t stop you going back and listening to it all again.
BenRiach Pedro Ximinez Finish 1995 Vintage (Cask 7165), 52.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $95
This is the heavily peated expression of BenRiach. (BenRiach does not differentiate their peated expressions with a different name, as Springbank does with Longrow, or Tobermory with Ledaig.) It’s also finished with the dark, lush “PX” sherry. Both influences are very evident, with the deep, heavy, earthy, smoky notes complemented by dark, fleshy, dried fruit. I think the two different influences marry very nicely here and I really enjoy drinking it. (Bottling at cask strength is a bonus!)
A seductive Dalmore. Very fruity too, with Seville orange, peaches in syrup, clementine, pineapple, and bramble. Sugared almond, powdered vanilla, ginger, and lush sherry on the finish add depth and dimension. Consistent on the nose and palate, and with great balance. I’m glad they stopped the amoroso finishing when they did. I feel that any more sherry influence here would have been counterproductive. Very lovely!
A special bottling to celebrate a major distillery expansion in 2010. So nice to see this whisky bottled at cask strength and not chill-filtered. Silky smooth, velvety texture. Creamy sweet foundation of vanilla fudge and caramel-coated almond. Plenty of fruit, too (golden raisin, honeyed peach, ripe nectarine, hint of banana bread). Richly textured, good weight (but not cloying), and the flavors combine seamlessly. A celebratory whisky indeed.
Aged in a refill American oak cask. Quite lively for its age, and the oak (surprisingly and happily) plays a supporting role rather than dominating. Creamy and mouth-coating, with vanilla wafer, coconut cream pie, caramel, nougat, and bright fruit (sultana, apricot, tangerine, and pineapple in syrup). Soothing finish. A very nice whisky. (Not available in the U.S.)£450
There’s something enigmatic and highly attractive about this distillery and its deceased brother, Brora. Perhaps it’s the unpredictability; there are plenty of independent releases of varied and often questionable quality, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to turn up. Even iconic expressions such as the 30 year olds can vary from quite sublime to appalling and sulfury when in the wrong hands.
When the malts from both distilleries are good, though — and the official bottlings tend to be — they’re very, very good. This Clynelish is a delightful surprise from the beginning, its nose some way removed from the official 14 year old, and more in common with some recent Diageo-release Broras, mixing soft maritime notes with squiggly peat and some fruit notes. The palate is complex and attractive, with savory peat, sweet pineapple, salt, light fish, drizzled lemon, pepper, chili, and cardamom. It all makes for a big, complex, evolving (and grown up) whisky — and great value for the price tag.
You want and expect rich and peaty malt from Lagavulin and you get it here in droves, though not in the most obvious way. This version is somewhere between the cask strength 12 year old and the Distiller’s Edition, rather than the standard 16 year old, but it’s an absolute peach and a treat for lovers of this distillery. The nose is constrained and shy at first, with lychee and kiwi fruit offering a sweet and gentle carpet to coastal peaty notes. The palate is big, rich, full, and peppered, with sharp apple and citrus fruits. It benefits from water, too, as there’s a delightful swell of fruit, chili, peat, and soft licorice. As with all great Lagavulins, the tarry peatiness lingers longest in the finish.
The latest limited release from this brand. This whiskey spent most of its life aging in a bourbon barrel and then spent 9 months in sherry casks. (“Twin wood” is synonymous with “finishing.”) This one’s triple distilled (think Bushmills distillery) and is the first Knappogue Castle to be aged in two types of wood. It’s a very nice whiskey, with an array of bright fruit lying on a bed of creamy vanilla, toasted nuts, marshmallow, marzipan, and powdered cocoa. Excluding the original 1951 Knappogue Castle release (from the long gone B. Daly distillery), this is my favorite of the “modern day” Knappogue Castle whiskeys.
A. D. Rattray (distilled at Bowmore), 18 year old (Cask #2075), 53.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $100.00
The fruit (orange marmalade, tangerine, fresh pineapple) is nearly as dominant as the leafy smoke. Sweet notes of nutty caramel, honeyed barley, toffee, and nougat round out the palate. Ginger, cinnamon, telicherry pepper, tobacco, and ash play a supporting role. Lingering fruity, smoky finish. For those who like sherried Islay whiskies.
A polished whisky, light-medium in body with well-rounded flavors. Fruity (ripe orange, lemon gumdrops, candy apple), with creamy vanilla and a honeyed, toasted malt foundation. Soft, gentle oak throughout. What a lovely, gentle-natured whisky, straight down the middle! Bonus points for versatility.
Credit to Glengoyne for coming up with something different. There are just 100 bottles of this malt available this year, with a further 100 or so released each Christmas from the same cask each year until 2014, effectively offering malt enthusiasts the chance to plot a work in progress. Better still, this first effort is one of the best releases ever to come out of the distillery.
The name is spot on; it really is Christmas in a glass, with the almost feminine aromas of rosewater, flowers, candy stick, and fruit giving way to a huge sherry note on the palate. Dark chocolate, cherry, orange, and chili notes combine to offer up a bold and full malt. Some special bottlings from Glengoyne have been over-oaky or marred by sulfur, but not this one. This is clean, pure, and classy. Can’t wait to see where it goes next.
This is like a blast from the past, with much in common with the sherried Cask Strength of old, and a welcome treat for any fan of the big, sherried Macallans. All the red berry and blood orange notes are present on the nose, along with cocoa and a dusty smokiness. The palate is full, velvety and chewy, with Christmas cake, oranges, and some nuttiness. Nutmeg and cinnamon fill out the mouth feel, before a long and classic sherried finish.
For me, Talisker 30 year olds have paled in comparison to the same distillery’s 20 and 25 year olds. This, however, immediately shows promise. Gold in color, and while it’s another one that starts ever so slightly restrained, the giveaway peppery note soon reveals itself as smoked pimento and Szechuan pepper, mixed with extra virgin olive oil spread over hot smoked salmon. There’s also a touch of putty — something which you usually only see in youthful expressions — suggesting that here’s another refill maturation.
As with many of these older whiskies, water isn’t the best option for the palate, but a drop does help release the sweet fruitiness that always lurks in Talisker’s heart, this time accompanied by an herbal note (mint and fennel). It’s almost as if it is looking back at itself as an 18 year old, but here the firm granitic grip of age takes hold.
The palate starts slowly but opens well with a gentle, yet assertive revealing of the aromas on the nose. It seems to dip in energy just in the center before sparking back to life when the smoke emerges, like the last flash of defiance from an old-timer.
A blend of two straight whiskeys: a very young 2 year old high rye content whiskey and a 16 year old rye whiskey with a lower rye content. Perhaps the spiciest American whiskey I have ever tasted, yet at the same time, quite tame and mellow. Complex notes of mint, clove, cinnamon, licorice root, pine nuts, and dark chocolate, with a surprising dose of gin botanicals throughout. A soft underbelly of caramel, sweet corn, and soothing vanilla provides an interesting counterpoint. Very easy-drinking, too (hard to believe it’s 46%). Intriguing, and a must-try for rye whiskey aficionados — even if only to satisfy your curiosity.
Evan Williams Single Barrel 2001 Vintage (Barrel #1), 43.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $26
While last year’s vintage was a more delicate expression of Evan Williams, I loved it for its elegance, charm, and balance (and gave it a 95 rating). This one is darker in flavor and bolder, with more caramelized sugars (caramel, toffee, maple syrup) along with some underlying fruit. It’s also drier, spicier, and with more wood influence (resin and polished leather). It still maintains its balance on the nose and majority of the palate, but with more wood on the finish than I would prefer to rate it in the 90s. (One more thing to consider: it’s a single barrel bottling and no two barrels are alike.) Value Pick
Signatory (distilled at Aberlour), 20 year old, 1990 vintage, (Cask No. 101777), 56.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $110.00
Matured in a bourbon hogshead. Floral nose. Soft, creamy, and elegant, with honeyed malt, custard, subtle butterscotch, and delicate fruit (orange, peach) peppered with spice (powdered vanilla, nutmeg). Well-balanced, gently dry, and easy drinking. A charming whisky (for a lazy Sunday afternoon, perhaps?)
The new version, at a higher proof and not chill-filtered. That helped — especially on the palate — with greater texture and more well-defined flavors. But the flavors are essentially the same: nutty, toffee, light molasses, vanilla fudge, with delicate fruit (citrus, dark berries) and a hint of brine. Very comforting. Extra points for versatility — this whisky will accommodate many moods and situations.
If Cragganmore is sometimes overlooked, then what of this poor Lowlander whose qualities are consistently overlooked? Again, here we have a pale color suggesting use of refill casks, but whereas Cragganmore was reticent to the point of being mute, this is expressive and lively. The nose, with intense floral notes of lilac blossom, freesia, and chamomile, is a revelation. These are backed with a thick, unsalted butter note that suggests that the cask might not have been as quiet as first imagined. Give it time, and out come boiled sweets and a fresh green note, like a just-whittled stick. A hint of wheat chaff and fragrant grasses brings to mind lying in a summer meadow watching the dust motes dance in the sunshine. The mouth is sweet and lemon-accented with a pickup of a pleasant chalkiness on the nose that gives it the suggestion of a fino sherry or Vin Jaune. I like its energy, and feel that the addition of water reduces its vibrancy, so for drinking purposes I’d have a glass of ice cold water on the side. All in all impressive, with just a hint of soap on the finish taking it below the 90 mark.
Aged in bourbon casks, then sherry casks, then finished in bourbon casks. An interesting (and original?) approach, but is it worth all the effort? I think so. The sherry notes are clean, not cloying, and there’s plenty of oak resin on the palate for texture, and to balance the sherry’s sweetness. Liqueur-ish fruit (orange, raspberry, cherry, caramelized peach), along with a good peppering of dried spice (vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, anise). Distinctive resin on the finish props up the rest of the flavors.
Poor old Auchroisk. Not only couldn’t anyone pronounce it correctly (it’s “Oth Rusk,” in case you’re interested), but in recent years it’s seen its Singleton prefix hijacked by other larger distilleries — Glendullan, Dufftown, Glen Ord — leaving it somewhat forgotten by malt mavens. Part of the old J&B stable, it continues to make a malty/nutty spirit, a style which is also somewhat out of favor in the world of single malts.
Maybe this bottling (in a rather spiffing retro pack) will redress the balance. The color is full gold, and though initially the nose shows the high bottling strength to the max, beneath the prickly heat is eucalyptus oil alongside those signature nutty/cereal notes. But here’s the difference; there’s sweetness, too: toffee and thick clover honey, even a touch of sawdust and pencil shavings before a drop of water brings out malted milk and powdered hazelnut. In other words, there’s plenty of distillery character, but good cask development.
In the mouth, when neat, the needling alcohol slightly numbs the tongue and the effect from start to finish is a bit fragmented. Add water, however (not too much), and there’s a soft, creamy effect across the tongue with praline, almond, and a dark chocolate note as well. Be careful with the water though, as you need to retain the zesty acidity on the finish.
Connemara is the peated Irish whiskey from the Cooley distillery, and this one is their (and Ireland’s) smokiest offering yet. This is the first time I ever detected dung (albeit subtly) in a whiskey — and only on the nose, thankfully. It’s curiously intriguing. The style of peat used, along with the youth of this whiskey, has a distinct impact of the whiskey’s flavor. It’s sweet and smoky, which works well. Throw in some bacon fat, diesel oil smoke (like at a boat dock), anise, ginger, honeyed malt, barley, lime, and pear. Underneath all that peat lies what seems like a fairly young whiskey, because it is very brisk and vibrant, but not excessively so. Bonus points for distinctiveness.
Unusual, insofar as this is the one chance a year that drinkers get to try Caol Ila’s other expression: the unpeated version, which — and here’s a bit of history for you — helped save the distillery during the lean period of the whisky loch in the early 80s. Rather than this just being Caol Ila with the peat stripped out, the team made it in a different fashion — but there are still hints of commonality.
For example, the grassy note that usually lies beneath the smoke is the lead aroma here, and it’s not any old grass, but wet grass — like skidding on a football (soccer) field. The mind keeps looking for smoke, but apart from a hint of birch smoke (which could come from the (refill) cask), it’s whistle-clean and fruity, and with a touch of water, fills with an aroma of toffee popcorn, custard, and pears.
The palate continues in this light fashion with melon balls and fruit cocktail. This potentially bland fleshiness is given a perkiness thanks to the high alcohol and, again, a jag of acidity. Bizarrely, on the finish, I pick up slight saltiness. A fun dram.
Aged in a refill sherry puncheon, and the sherry is evident in appearance and on the palate. Soft and sweet, with caramel-coated mixed nuts, toffee apple, rhum agricole, currant (red and black), plum, cinnamon, and surprising brisk mint (especially toward the finish). A pleasing, non-aggressive expression of a mature, sherried whisky. (Not available in the U.S.)£340
The rich, sweet Sauternes dessert wine adds its signature. Quite lush, with golden raisin, crème brûlée, rhubarb pie, honey-kissed citrus, and creamy vanilla. A lovely example of a dessert whisky — comforting, warming, and embracing. (I would also enjoy this after a brunch of crepes, fresh fruit, and maple syrup.)
The fifth peated release of Edradour. This one is aged in Marsala casks. Sweet, with clinging fruit and thumping raw smoke. Youthful, embracing, and fleshy in the middle, with ash, anise, and espresso that grow toward the finish. These Ballechin releases keep getting better. Reminds me of a young Islay whisky without the brine and seaweed.
An intriguing whisky. Blueberry cobbler, crushed grape, maple syrup, nougat, and spice (cinnamon, nutmeg). The oak is polished and unimposing. Liqueur-ish. A nice contrast to its younger sibling, and it’s more polarizing because of its distinctiveness.
Visit Springbank’s tasting room and you’ll find distillery-only bottlings of all three whisky styles produced by the Campbeltown distillery. But it’s this malt that will probably attract the most interest. Glengyle was officially re-opened in 2004, and in recent years Springbank has released a work in progress each year. What makes this unusual is the fact that the maturing malt is held in a cask which is kept at least half full, and each year it is topped up with malt from 2004, through the solera method. This year, then, the oldest malt is six years old. The nose definitely suggests a work in progress, and is immature, rootsy, and meaty, though some orange and citrus fruit notes are there, too. On the palate there’s plenty to be encouraged by, with some spearmint and menthol, developing fruitiness, earthy peat, and distinctive salt and spice.
Mackillop’s Choice (distilled at Mortlach), 1989 vintage, 21 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $80.00
Certainly not the best Mortlach I’ve tasted, but it’s a solid effort and at a good price for a 21 year old. Nicely balanced — Lorne Mackillop’s hallmark — and somewhat reserved, too (for a Mortlach), with intriguing lime, kiwi, caramel, floral notes (on the nose), nutty toffee (especially on the palate), soaked barley, and charcoal, with a rather syrupy, mouth-clinging texture toward the finish. Worth a look.
This young distillery’s fourth release, aged entirely in bourbon barrels. (This is the first one available in the U.S.) The two previous releases that I tasted and reviewed (the inaugural release and the Autumn 2009 release) were finished in sherry casks. I miss the sherry, to be honest. I think it softened the whisky, added a new dimension, and perhaps even masked some of the youth. Still, this is a very nice effort: brisk, vibrant, and bracing, with plenty of raw peat smoke and tar, along with pear, citrus, vanilla, licorice root, bourbon barrel char, clove, bitter chocolate, and suggestions of olive brine and high-end mescal.
This distillery-only bottling strips away the sweet gloopiness of the standard 12 year old — and is all the better for that. The nose is soft and gentle, with rose petals and rose hips over a base of ripe plum and a touch of ginger cake. The palate is intriguing and holds the attention, with citrus fruits, bitter apple, spice, and a touch of peppermint. It is all very clean, sophisticated, and pleasant. The finish is long and warming, and the overall experience is highly enjoyable. Justified as a distillery-only bottling? Without a doubt.
Without water, this is an aggressive malt, sharp and acerbic. With water, it’s still more in your face than any official bottling. Where you tend to associate Caol Ila with oily, peaty, and maritime characteristics, this is altogether more feisty and ballsier, with a glance to the big three peaty distilleries in the south of Islay, and even a nod to its peppery cousin on Skye. On the nose there is peat, but it is tempered by dark chocolate; some citrus there, too. The taste is quite sharp, with bitter lemon, licorice, and sooty peat to the fore. Certainly an interesting take on this intriguing distillery, and far removed from last year’s relatively gentle 25 year old release, but there are questions over the balance, and whether it’s a better whisky is a moot point.
Springbank’s tasting room bottling of its triple-distilled malt will not disappoint any fan of the official bottling; all its rounded and honeyed characteristics are firmly in evidence here. The nose is soft and sweet, with praline and a touch of condensed sweet malt joining creamed vanilla. Without water, the malt is surprisingly robust and prickly. Dilute it, though, and it’s a very pleasant drink, with crystallized grapefruit, traces of hickory and menthol, some honey, and sweet candy. Later on, spice comes through, and the finish is long, fruity, and spicy. An interesting take, but not a radical departure from the official bottling.
A “branded” malt, meaning we don’t know which distillery this whisky came from. Fresh and quite fruity (peach, nectarine, golden raisin, orange, pineapple) with a nice underlying honey, vanilla, and caramel sweetness. Soft, gentle, malty finish. It’s clean, nicely balanced, and pleasant.
Tobermory’s peated offering. Great to see Ledaig hitting its stride, with a brisk punch of peat and not chill-filtered. There’s a bit of a raw edge too, quite bracing but still plenty of soothing sweetness. Earthy peat smoke, ripe barley, honeyed vanilla, bourbon barrel char, black licorice stick, espresso bean, olive brine, and suggestions of beef jerky. In some respects, it even tastes younger than 10 years old, but I’m balancing that with bonus points for distinctiveness.
Finished in virgin oak casks, so I would expect to find some wood influence here somewhere. Indeed I do, particularly on the finish. There’s no age statement, but on the nose it comes across as a bit youthful. Honeyed vanilla, lemon, pear, fresh-cut grass, and wood shavings on the nose. More of the same on the palate, with sweet notes to the fore, and virgin oak influence (wood shavings, polished leather, and a firm oak grip). Very individualistic, but the flavors don’t seem fully integrated. (Perhaps a bit more aging in non-virgin casks?)
Another whisky that will not disappoint fans of the brand, but it doesn’t do enough to bring any converts on board. The nose is fresh and sweet, with barley and ginger and not much else. The taste is perfectly acceptable, and at this strength better than the standard bottling. Water brings out a sweet malt and barley core, some gentle spice, and a rich sweetness.
Somewhat sidelined thanks to the presence of Glenrothes and Glen Grant (not to mention Speyburn) in the same village, Glen Spey gets on with producing fillings for numerous Diageo blends (primarily J&B). As a result, it’s rarely seen as a single malt, with even independent bottlings pretty thin on the ground.
This 21 year old is the color of old gold, and while the nose initially surprises with a hint of suet dumplings, there’s a rich and dangerously hedonistic sweetness behind, which is strangely hard to pin down. Coconut cream? Suntan lotion? Blackening butter in a frying pan? Eventually it appears to settle in the crème brûlée area, along with a fruity base (sweet, of course). There’s a light green note that suggests it might be distillery character coming through, but water suggests it’s new wood.
In the mouth, there’s vanilla fudge and toffee, before a hint of muesli alongside dried mango. Overall it’s a bit like eating breakfast in a new ski chalet. Showy and impressive, but for me the wood’s in charge.
Sweet corn, along with caramel, vanilla, and more subtle ripe summer fruits (on the nose and palate). Light, slightly brash finish. Rather sweet, somewhat youthful tasting, straight-forward, and unpretentious. Not something I would be drinking neat, but it does fare better on the rocks. (The ice and cold water cut through and calm the sweetness.) I think a little more aging would add some depth, and balance some of the sweetness with more oak spice.
The lightness of the hue suggests a very slow maturation in refill casks, and while I tried hard to get to grips with this, I found the nose simply too discreet. There’s a hint of the burning bonfire which indicates the subtle smoke that underpins Cragganmore; there’s even some parma violet, dried berries, and a hint of sulfur.
The palate picks things up a little, showing ferns, wet moss, Oolong tea, and dried apple, as well as citrus and — surprisingly — some just-lit cigar fuminess. It’s all rather understated, however. This is one of my top distilleries, but compared to the recent Special Releases and magnificent Friends of the Classic Malts bottlings, this is slightly underwhelming.