Aberfeldy 21 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Aberfeldy | Region: Highland | ABV: 40% | Color: Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
The Aberfeldy 21 was one of the first few whiskies I bought early on. Don’t really know why other than it seemed fairly affordable for a 21 year old whisky and I believe it was generally rated quite high among critics.

What do I personally think of Aberfeldy? I don’t, actually. I’ve had the 12 year old at a bar somewhere and was completely unmoved. I had this one sitting on my shelf for the longest time and was completely unmotivated to open it.

Aberfeldy, owned by Bacardi, is the largest component of malts to go into the Dewars blend which would explain it’s 3.5 million litre annual spirit output.

The distillery itself puts out three single malts as part of it’s original bottles: the 12, 18 and the 21 with the rest going into blends or snapped up by independents.

This 21 year old from the Highland region has been finished off in sherry casks having spent a large part of it’s life in both first and second-fill bourbon barrels.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a weakish 40%

Nose: Honey. Heather. Malt. Fruits. Soft apricots. Poached apples. The tiniest of toasted oak. Puff pastry. Sliver of dough. Eucalyptus. Let it breathe and it mellows. Now more floral. Heathery. Oranges. It’s a nice enough nose. 22/25

Palate: Quite thin. Takes time to evolve. But then comes around nicely. Oranges. Butterscotch. Vanilla. Red apples. That same toasted oak as on the nose. Chew it a while to get some purple fruits. Decent. 22/25

Finish: Lingers. Quite dry. Woody. Hint of spice. Betel leaf. 21/25

Overall comments: It’s very hard to rate a whisky like this. It didn’t offer me the complexity that I was looking for nor offer me anything unusual, to be honest. And maybe that’s the reason it does well in a blend.

I have to understand that not everyone is looking for fireworks when it comes to their whiskies. Some just like to keep things simple.

And that’s exactly what this whisky is.

Rating: 87

BenRiach 1994 Virgin Oak Single Cask

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Distillery/Brand: BenRiach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 55.3% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
It takes a while to get over a bad initial meeting that can, literally, leave a bad taste in your mouth. For those of you read my reviews you probably know that my first encounter with a BenRiach was with a terrible 20 year old.

I can still recall the acrid taste in my mouth as I sipped it for the first time. I vowed never to try another BenRiach again. Of course, my forgiving nature (and reading countless good reviews of other BenRiachs) got the best of me and I gave in eventually.

In fact, trying to make up for lost time, I ended up on a BenRiach binge buying pretty much anything I could get my hands on. What I discovered was a solid Speyside distillery with a beautiful variety of spirits to choose from with almost all of them hitting an above average score in my books.

Like most seasoned whisky drinkers there’s something about single cask whiskies that holds a certain allure. Especially if they’re served at cask strength. I believe this version of whisky is the truest way of consuming the good stuff.

This particular BenRiach in my hands has been distilled in 1994 and put in 344 bottles in October 2013 at a cask strength of 55.3%.

Now this is what I don’t understand. The label on the bottle claims that it is a single cask whisky. But it also states that it is finished in Virgin American Oak (hogshead). Now to the best of my understanding a finish is when you take the whisky out of one cask and put it in another cask for a short period of time towards the end of it’s maturation phase.

So if that’s true this is technically not a single cask is it?

Oh, well. Who cares what the label says when the liquid inside is this good.

Nose: Dark honey. French beans. Caramel. Chocolate. Leather. Tobacco. Roasted cigar leaf. Maple syrup. Banana. Breakfast jam. Vanilla. Coconut. Almonds. Red berries. Gorgeous nose bursting with flavor. Love it! (24/25)

Palate: So creamy smooth. Banana. Chocolate. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Touch of oak. Quite sweet. That dark honey again. Plums. Raisins. Fig. Burnt toast. An honest reflection of the nose. (23/25)

Finish: Long. Jambolin. Salty. Spicy. (23/25)

Such a gorgeous whisky this. The complete package in my opinion. Lovely to nose and taste with the just the right balance of sweet and spicy. So glad I decided to forgive them.

Rating: 93

Macallan Sienna

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Distillery/Brand: Macallan | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 21 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 84

Review
I have had the pleasure of sitting across Mr Bob Dalgarno, the famed Macallan Whisky Maker, for an interview and a subsequent tasting and I have to admit I was left with nothing but admiration for the man.

The painstaking process he undergoes to ensure that all his whiskies are created from careful barrel selection and put together to maintain consistency in taste and color is truly an art form.

Which is why I’m pretty sure it was the sales and marketing team and not Bob him self who felt that the right way forward for Macallan was to base their entry level whiskies on the basis of color.

Stupidest thing I’ve heard in my life.

They spend an entire lifetime trying to tell people that color means nothing, and it does not. Then they come and do the exact opposite because they’ve run out of ideas to market their whiskies by convincing people that darker whiskies are better whiskies.

Look I know stocks are dwindling. Whisky makers and blenders have to start innovating and thinking of new ways to market their whiskies to travel retail. I get that. But to take something as superfluous as color as a sign of quality is surely a great disservice to the patrons of the industry, is it not?

Oh, well. The Bentley needs regular maintenance doesn’t it?

This 1824 travel retail series has four color expressions – Gold, Amber, Sienna & Ruby – each one darker than the previous one. Each one more expensive than the previous one.

The Sienna (the second most-expensive and second darkest whisky in the range) is, obviously, a Non Age Statement and is a mix of first and second fill sherry casks from Jerez. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Butter. Sherry. Nutmeg. Raisins. Hint of oak. Touch mossy. Like bung cloth. Let it sit and the vanilla comes through. Sponge cake. Cinnamon. Green apples. Touch of chocolate. Light hay. Quite a non-descript nose. Starts off smelling creamy but then thins out a bit. (21/25)

Palate: Medium bodied. Oily. Tastes of raw spirit a little. Cake. Nutmeg. Coffee. Those green apples again. Vanilla. Nutmeg. Hint of oak. Sherry. Dark fruits. It’s not the best palate I’ve tasted. Something raw and harsh about it even after 30 minutes of breathing. (21/25)

Finish: Absolutely nothing at first. Pufffff and gone. Very flat. But comes back after a while. Slowly warms your chest cavity and your mouth. Cocoa beans. Coffee. Quite malty. (21/25)

I guess there’s two types of people. The 99% that are reasonably fond of whisky and not very judgemental or critical. And that’s fine and I hold nothing against them.

Then there’s you and me who get upset because this once great brand has resorted to cheap tactics like this.

I get it. Greatness can’t be purchased at the duty free. But it still irks me when brands don’t even try.

Rating: 84

Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 1

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.1% | Colour: Full Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 87

Review
Balvenie is my go to expression when I’m not sure what I want to be drinking. I’ll normally pour myself one as I sit down and ponder. I find that their dependable and comfortingly familiar flavors help me get in the mood for a drink.

The Balvenie 17 Sherry Oak and the 21 Portwood were one of my first ever single malt purchases and what excellent purchases they turned out to be. A solid core range with classic Speyside flavors Balvenie doesn’t give itself a chance to go wrong very often.

The Tun series is quite a nice little concept where David Stewart (Master Blender of Balvenie) picks out a bunch of Sherry butts and Bourbon barrels and marries them in a much larger vessel (the Tun) for a few months before bottling them.

The first in this line was the Tun 1401 which was the name of the 2000 litre vessel in which Mr Stewarts selection was left to marry. So insanely popular was this series that Balvenie was compelled to knock out no less than nine different batches. Each one causing a minor uproar every time it appeared on auction sites.

The next was the Tun 1509 which is an 8000 litre vessel. For Batch 1 Mr Stewart went with a total of 42 different spirits; 35 from ex-bourbon barrels and seven from large European sherry butts. Each cask number written on the label – much to my appreciation. The whisky was left to swim around and get accustomed to each other for a few months before seeing the light of day.

The much larger output may have successfully killed the second-hand / auction market for the Tun series and for that I’m quite glad because the 1401 had reached prices of stupidly epic proportions. But that may not be the only reason for it’s relative lack of demand. For while the 1401 batches were by and large quite tasty this particular expression is not quite in that league.

My sample is from a brand new bottle with a strength of 47.1%

Nose: Intense sherry. Warming. Clove. Endearing honey. Peanut butter. Jam. Bread pudding. Soaked in rum. Stewed apples. Vanilla. Creme brûlée. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Roasted almonds. Dried figs. Raisins. Hint of coal smoke. When I first nosed this I literally swooned. Such a beautifully harmonious balance of aromas. This is what whisky should smell like. (24/25)

Palate: Such a creamy mouthfeel when it starts off. But then an unwanted bitterness creeps in and layers all the flavors. Coffee. Cinnamon. All spice. Oak. Quite savory unlike the nose. Blood oranges. Unsweetened plums. Maybe the nose set it up way too high and the palate just could not compete. What ever the case I felt a little let down at the lack of complexity here. (21/25)

Finish: Medium. Savory. Oak. Cinnamon. Oily. Not the best. (21/15)

I wish this whisky was sweeter. The nose promises a different ride to the one you actually get. Which is a little sad. It’s not terrible, mind you, but I was so looking forward to this blowing me out of the water. And at around 250GBP per bottle it had better.

Rating: 87

Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Release

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Distillery/Brand: Kilchoman | Region: Islay | ABV: 58.2% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 18 | Finish: 18 | Balance: 19 | Rating: 78

Review
Kilchoman is a quaint little distillery that has defied the odds and is fast becoming a name to reckon with.

Good quality whisky making that is leading the way in making people realize that age is but a number. And by that I don’t mean they’re churning out NAS statements like everyone else out there.

Quite the contrary.

They take pride in telling people the exact age of their whiskies. From the time of distillation to the exact day of bottling. They don’t hide behind fancy marketing jargon and instead let the whisky do the talking.

And for that they have my respect.

Their whiskies remind me of old school Ardbegs with their Islay grist and barley smokiness beautifully balanced with a woody sweetness. After an initial run-in with a couple of less than stellar bottlings I am now a fan.

I picked up a mini of the 10th Anniversary bottling when I visited the distillery during my Islay visit last month for the Festival. And since I’ve already made it clear that I’m a big fan this particular bottling comes as a bit of a disappointment.

To mark 10 years since it opened it’s doors the distillery, along with it’s official single cask Feis Ile bottling, released a special expression with whiskies from each year starting from 2005 until 2012 from both bourbon and sherry barrels.

My sample is from a 50ml mini purchased at the distillery and bottled at 58.2%

Nose: Sugarcane. Quite tart. White wine chardonnay. White pepper. Hint of fruit. Dried apricots. Green limes. That lovely Islay peat. Fine grist. Lots of barley. So close to the old school Ardbegs. Brine. Hint of cottage cheese. Whiff of grass. I quite like the nose. (23/25)

Palate: Good weight. Initially the mouthfeel is great. But then you get this wave of bitterness. I have never tasted a whisky this bitter ever. I try and get some fruits but, my word, there is something wrong here. (18/25)

Finish: Bitter. Spicy. Bitter. (18/25)

Such a shame about this expression. There is definitely a bad cask in here somewhere and there’s lots of it, too. A great idea marred by a miscreant.

But that’s not going to stop me from being a fan. In fact it tells me the guys over at Kilchoman are human.

Rating: 78

Ardbeg Kildalton 1981

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 52.6% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
After much planning and fanfare I finally managed to make a trip to Islay for the famed Islay Whisky Festival. It was a long overdue trip made even better with the company of two of my whisky buddies.

While each Islay distillery had a certain allure for me it was definitely the mystique behind Ardbeg that I was most excited about. Of course, once I visited it I realized there was no real mystique behind the name any more. It was just another company that had now taken to producing slightly above average spirit dressed up in marketing glitter.

Quite sad really.

However, that’s the story today. But go back a few decades and you realize why this distillery commanded such awe. Before it closed doors in 1981 there was some real magic happening behind those doors.

Old stock released after it’s re-opening in 1997 shed a giant spotlight on the work that was done during that era. Sadly that era doesn’t seem like it’s going to be revived any time soon.

One of those old stock releases was the 1980 Kildalton and then subsequently the 1981 as a mini as part of the 2005 Story of Peat pack which included the new 10 year old, the Uigeadail, the super rare 17 and this 1981 Kildalton.

I took this very pack with me to Islay hoping to taste it at an opportune moment and it was my friend Nitin (@trailingTheMalt) who had the splendid idea of heading down to the Kildalton Cross, just ahead of Ardbeg, to open and sample the 1981 Kildalton.

The weather Gods were against us that day not giving us more than five minutes of sunshine but finally the sun broke through and for an hour it turned out to be a bright and beautifully sunny day.

And it was right under the Kildalton cross that we each raised our glass and toasted this whisky.

My sample is from a 50ml Mini bottled at 52.6%

Nose: Vanilla. Soft fruits. Honey. Hint of heather. Quite floral. The faintest of smoke. Extremely delicate. Hint of oak. Pineapple. Almost like nosing a fruity white wine. I’m pretty sure this whisky is unpeated or even if it was lightly peated has lost all of it’s peat reek resulting in a sweet delicate fragrance.

Palate: The fruit continues. There’s the hint of smoke again. Vanilla. White spices. Very delicate again. Milk chocolates. Melon. Pineapple. Delicate citrus. And the tiniest of mocha. Very smooth, sweet and fruity.

Finish: Oily. Mouth coating. Touch of oak. Touch of spice. Nice and long.

I read that this whisky was originally commissioned by a private entity or individual but was instead bottled as a distillery release. May explain the departure from the original Ardbeg house style.

Nevertheless this is a wonderfully delicate spirit which simply shows the softer side of Ardbeg. An experience made even better by the symbolic trip we undertook to taste it.

Rating: 93

Laphroaig 14 Years Douglas Laing Feis Ile 2015

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 48.4% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
As part of my trip to the Islay Whisky Festival a couple of weeks I tried to get into as many tastings as I could. One of them happened to be an interesting session with the guys over from Douglas Laing, the independent bottlers.

Douglas Laing are an accomplished whisky bottler claiming to stay as true to the original spirit as possible. The result is some fairly popular expressions.

Big Peat, Double Barrel, Provenance, Directors Cut and Old Particular are some of the names under which they market their wares. However, what I did not know was that they, too, release a festival bottling every year to mark Feis Ile and it is, of course, always something from Islay.

This year they chose to release a single cask Laphroaig aged for 14 years in a Refill Butt (Ref DL10694) under the Old Particular label. Distilled in February 2001 and bottled exactly 14 years later in February 2015 this is one of 636 bottles released.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 48.4%

Nose: Touch of peat. Lime. Lemon. Walnuts. Hint of oak. Hardboiled lemon sweets. Raisins. Ginger. Warm tangerines. Quite fruity too. Peaches. Then the signature Laphroaig flavors come rolling in. A little medicinal. Seaweed. Cherry licorice. This is a wonderful nose. Adds a bit of restrained fruitiness over the traditional house flavors.

Palate: Citrus. Smoke. Barbecue. Peat. White pepper. Spicy. Iodine. After the initial sting of Islay the spirit mellows out towards the sweeter side. Caramel. Milk chocolate. Raisins. Salt. You know this is a Laphroaig but this one has a gentler side to it.

Finish: Sea salt. Char. Citrus. Touch of oak.

This is quite a fantastic little dram which I’m sure will simply fly under the radar amongst the masses. Also because there’s only 636 bottles floating around for consumption. Which is a pity because I feel amid all the distillery fanfare where some of the big names are content to churn out whiskies that are barely decent there are little gems thrown in the middle that don’t get the attention they deserve.

Well I hope my millions of followers are listening and pick this lovely little whisky if they have the chance.

Rating: 92