Glenfiddich Project XX

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Distillery/Brand: Glenfiddich | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 7.7 | Palate: 7.7 | Finish: 7.7 | Overall Score: 7.7

I previously wrote about Glenfiddich’s new direction, #Experimental, where they’ve taken it upon themselves to break the mould of traditionalism and appeal to a younger target audience.

Crazy bartenders, cool new graphics, an IPA influenced expression and ultra snazzy bottle designs are just some of the ways they’re trying to live up to this new claim.

And so it was in the spirit of experimentation that they brought together twenty Glenfiddich brand ambassadors from around the world, including the legend Ian Millar, to hand select casks from their warehouse which would then be blended together by Mr Brian Kinsman and named Project XX.

Cool name, I think.

We were lucky enough to be sat with Russian ambassador Denis Pankratov who brought with him spirit that he had selected for the mix. I don’t remember the age (I think 18 years) but it was a first-fill bourbon with a strength of over 60%. I have to tell you that was one of the most delicious whiskies I have drunk in a while. I would love for them to just bottle this and sell it as a one off. But we all know that’s never going to happen. Fingers crossed, though.

Project XX finally saw seventeen bourbon barrels and three sherry barrels make it to the mix. The exact recipe is a secret which no one other than Kinsman knows so we’ll have to live with that.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 47%

Nose: This is more like Glenfiddich than the IPA. Quite fruity. Typical Glenfiddich fruits of figs and raisins. But then also darker fruits like plums. Berries. Oily. Little buttery too. And then again the familiar. Honey. Blood oranges. Malty too. I like the nose. It works for me better than the IPA. I shouldn’t be comparing but I did have it back to back and that’s a good reference point. 7.7

Palate: Still fruity. The same raisins. But now more stewed apples. A bit tannic as well. Those sherry casks must have been insanely strong. Treacle. Dark jam. Quite sweet. Hint of oak. Becomes a touch sharp mid-palate. But overall I like it. 7.7

Finish: Those sherry casks are back in play. But so are the apples. Figs. 7.7

Overall Comments: I like it. I think it works. Can’t be easy crowdsourcing a blend. Each one with their own tastes and preferences. But somehow Kinsman has made it work. There might be an off note here and there but by and large it does a good job. And like the IPA the price point is just fabulous (around 50GBP). In this day and age that’s got to be a plus. If not for my self I might just pick it up for a friend and impress him with the cool bottle. And the spirit’s not bad, either.

Overall Score: 7.7

Glenfiddich IPA

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Distillery/Brand: Glenfiddich | Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Colour: Light Gold
Nose: 7.1 | Palate: 7.1 | Finish: 7.1 | Overall Score: 7.1

For those of you unfortunate enough to read my reviews you know that I have always given Glenfiddich it’s due praise as being the giant that truly champions the single malt cause among the fickle masses.

For someone who produces such vast quantities of spirt for them to maintain that level of above average consistency is quite remarkable. I have not yet met someone who has anything bad to say about them. Sure, they might not have the stunners we seek every now and then but I think to be on average above average is no easy feat. And for that they have the tip of my hat.

Which brings me to this interesting new direction they’re taking. I like that because they’ve decided to take the odd risk every now and then. Having been shackled to their core range for the longest time they’ve decided to step out of their comfort zone and meet the new world head on.

And that comes in the shape of their new #Experimental campaign. This broad direction is taking everything from bartenders with crazy ideas to expressions that push the boundaries. Should some boundaries be pushed is a different matter altogether but I’m in favour of this new attitude in general.

Launched at the World’s Most Experimental Bartender competition, which I was fortunate enough to judge, we sat down with Dennis Pankratov, the Russian Brand Ambassador, to go over this anomaly. Matured first in bourbon, followed by 12 weeks in barrels that previously held an IPA and then back to bourbon for another few years. Notice the conspicuous lack of numbers here. Obviously pretty young.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Starts off similar to the 12 year old I feel. Youngish. But at the same time retains the signature green apples and pears that you find in the entry level. The similarity is quite strong. Vanilla. Custard. Also the barley is prominent. Not sure if that’s because of the IPA influence. Quite malty. It’s not a nose I look for in a whisky but it’s enough to keep me interested. 7.1

I think the beer influence is stronger here. I don’t know if I have a great palate or it’s simply the power of suggestion. Again quite malty on the palate. But now with a touch of spice. Peppercorns. That dry ginger that I normally associate with Glenfiddich. Vanilla. Some more custard. Again, not something that’s going to blow me away but enough to keep me intrigued. Slightly better with a couple of drops. 7.1

Finish: Hint of bitterness. Citrus. 7.1

Overall Comments: What do I think? I think why not. I like it when traditional tries harder. It’s a good sign. It reflects in the bottles which are by far the trendiest I’ve seen in a while (after Compass Box, that is). And the price point of 40GBP is almost a no-brainer. They’re obviously appealing to young voters thanks to the IPA touch and chic bottle style. And they’re the ones they have to impress. Not us irritating snobs pretending to have lofty standards.

Overall Score: 7.1

Ardbeg 21

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 46% | Colour: Wheat
Nose: 8.6 | Palate: 8.8 | Finish: 8.7 | Overall Score: 8.7

It’s seven in the morning here in Islay. The sun refuses to rise. It’s been spitting for the last 24 hours. The wind is auditioning to be in an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. And I still can’t get the taste of the Ardbeg 21 out of my mouth.

It took me three flight connections, an overnighter in Glasgow and a bumpy plane to Islay to make this impromptu trip. I’m normally not spontaneous but when my buddy from Canada said he was going to be there, along with three other friends, I began thinking. And when Ardbeg sent me a mail inviting me over to try the new Ardbeg 21 I knew there was no way I was going to be able to refuse.

I was at Ardbeg twenty minutes after my plane touched down in the morning and the sign on the bench, as you turn into the distillery, couldn’t have rung any truer for me. Rest and be thankful for you have arrived.

I love that saying.

As we milled around the visitors centre we were greeted by the supremely kind and generous Jackie who poured for us, among other absolutely magnificent old-school Ardbegs, this hugely anticipated release. We sat in the Old Kiln Cafe and took our first sip of the 21 year old.

Matured exclusively in bourbon my sample is from an open bottle and served at 46%

Nose: There’s first the unmistakeable smoke and peat bacon that you can only attribute to Ardbeg. A sweetness but it’s not entirely from fruits. More from a sugared barley. Quite salty. Mussels. Fishnets. Let it relax and it starts to curl open. Green lime. Now there’s some green apples. Melon rind. Red liquorice. And a hint of purple flowers. I love it. Solid. And on point. 8.6

Palate: Still savoury as the nose suggests. But with more citrus this time. The green lime is bigger. As is the lemon. But it all comes on the back of a sooty, charry coal smoke which completely puckers up your taste bud. It’s a warm arrival that coats your mouth and forces you to chew. Dries mid-palate with just the slightest hint of pineapples. This is really working for me. 8.8

Finish: Medium to long. Drying again. Touch of green chillies. 8.7

Overall Comments: I had been constantly second-guessing my self all along my journey here. Was the whisky going to be worth it? Was this trip a good idea? But the allure of Islay and the opportunity to meet friends was strong. Besides Ardbeg had somewhat redeemed themselves with the Committee bottling of the Dark Cove so it was their game to lose. And guess what. I think they’ve hit it out of the park.

Overall Score: 8.7

Balvenie 25 Triple Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 7.6 | Palate: 7.0 | Finish: 5.9 | Overall Score: 6.8

This is the part where I write about how Balvenie is a super solid distillery and how David Stewart is arguably one of the best whisky makers the industry has ever seen. And that I have yet to meet a Balvenie that I didn’t like. I mean, I may like some less than others but never truly disliked one, per se.

Until now.

OK, maybe dislike is a strong word. How about meh? Yup, I like meh.

But wait! What if the whisky costs upwards of US$500? Is it then justified to convert the meh into boo? Yup, I think it is. Definitely is.

So boo, you 25 year old lacklustre whisky. Hiding behind dollar signs and that smooth talking salesman at the Duty Free. Shame on you for making a fool of my friend who thought he was going to surprise all of us at his tasting but instead had to graciously agree with us snobs that he had been well and truly hoodwinked.

*exhales slowly* OK I’m done now.

The Triple Cask is the latest of the Balvenies to hit travel retail with an entry level 12 followed by the 16 and this 25 year old. Neither one is cheap for it’s relative age, mind you. Three casks in play here as the name suggests. Sherry, first-fill bourbon and something called traditional whisky cask (which I can only assume means second-fill bourbon). If that is really the case then why they wouldn’t just say that? If it’s something else then please enlighten me.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% – WAIT! 40%? Are you kidding me? Who drinks whisky at 40% anymore? Maybe Glaswegian middle-schoolers but certainly not me. This whisky is getting on my nerves now.

Nose: Soft. Weak or understated I can’t tell. Honey-comb. Wild flowers. Heather. I feel the sherry is the more dominant of the three casks. Possibly has a higher percentage in the vatting. That brings out more raisins. OK after all that it’s not so bad. It’s not wooing me like a sultry older woman like it should but it’s certainly trying to flirt. 7.6

Palate: Is this the 12 year old? If I hadn’t slit open the seal my self I would have been convinced that my friend was trying to pull a fast one. But he’s an honest chap and I did, after all, open the bottle my self. Which makes it a rather sad state of affairs don’t you think? Pay five times as much for something which tastes the same if not a tad worse. Oh, well. Oranges. Lindt chocolate. Not dark. Milk. You can feel the sherry again. The 40% is being really tested to it’s limits here because I’m struggling with the mouth. It’s a decent start but peters out mid-palate. I don’t hate it. I’m just irritated.7.0

Finish: You piece of shit. 5.9

Overall Comments: I hate it when this happens. Buy something expensive only for it to taste exactly like something half it’s age and a quarter of it’s price. Like buying a Business Class ticket only to find out you’re in row 54 stuck between a colic baby and a fat sweaty man who has no respect for other peoples’ personal space. Just get me off already.

Overall Score: 6.8

Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 008

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 59.2% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 8.8 | Palate: 8.8 | Finish: 8.8 | Overall Score: 8.8

Is this one of the greatest Islay whisky series ever? I’m inclined to think so.

I first came across this series when the Batch 003 caught my eye. I didn’t know much about whiskies back then but I knew I liked cask strength whiskies and I liked Islay whiskies. And at 35GBP this one was a no-brainer.

Of course, once I opened the bottle and had my first sip I knew that I would have to own every single release from this series – past and future. Given the fact that I have mild OCD anything with a numbered batch meant I had to have the entire set.

Thus, began my journey of securing earlier releases and, like a hound, finding new ones and adding them to my collection. I was fortunate enough to grab the last few straight from the distillery. Believe me there’s nothing like drinking this whisky straight from the bottle while sitting on the stone pier in front of Warehouse No. 1

Ah, nostalgia.

The CS series is matured in first-fill bourbon casks and bottled at natural strength. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a whopping 59.2%

Nose: Iodine. Lots of it. Red fruits. Moschino cherries. Red grapes. Liquorice. Fishnets. Sea salt flakes. Green tobacco leaf. Mint leaf. Dark cherry chocolate. Cardamom. Betel leaf. Toasted oak. Hint of spice. Very sweet nose which mellows out to a touch of savoury. Fantastic. 8.8

Palate: Boom! Big. Strong. Lots of bite. Strong oak. Jolts the taste buds. Lindt red chilli chocolate. The red grapes again. Fennel. Dries mid-palate. Sea salt. Ceylon black tea. With some water the iodine increases. Becomes even more dry. Prefer it without water, for sure. 8.8

Finish: Long. Oak. Cardamom. Spices. Green tea. 8.8

Overall Comments: Well, what can I say. This one is an absolute corker. Love everything about it. Love it all the more for bringing back memories of Islay.

Overall Score: 8.8

Bruichladdich Feis Ile 2016 PHD

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Distillery/Brand: Bruichladdich | Region: Islay | ABV: 50% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 7.4 | Palate: 7.0 | Finish: 6.8 | Overall Score: 7.1

If you’re into dancing and drinking whisky at the same time then I highly recommend visiting Bruichladdich’s open day during the Islay Whisky Festival.

Food trucks. Multiple bars. Live band. And over 300 dancing people at any given time. It’s an atmosphere hard to beat. Everyone’s having the time of their life.

Including us as we strolled in after a tasting at Ardbeg. After grabbing some much needed pizza we manhandled our way to the back of the distillery premises where the makeshift bars had been set up.

Along with this years’ official Feis bottle there were two more Laddies on the menu. The 2006 and 2008 Islay Grown both terroir whiskies from local processes. Both quite decent. However, the highlight of the day was the auction of two bottles of the 25 year old Yellow Submarine. Because once the auction was over they brought two more 30 litre bottles and proceeded to freely pour it out to an eager crowd. Mighty generous if you ask me.

After shamelessly going back for seconds (and it might have been thirds, too) I settled down at one of the picnic tables to sample this particular offering. This is a fifteen year old vatting of bourbon and wine casks with a virgin oak finish. It proudly states Progressive Hebridean Distillers – PHD – on it’s side followed by the age of the distillery : 135 (years). Hence, known as the Bruichladdich _PHD 135

My sample is from an open bottle (one of 1881) and served at 50% ABV

Nose: Quite sweet. Tangerines. Sweet melon. Vanilla. Cookie dough. It’s a touch floral. Some light honey. Poached red apples. At first there’s a hint of oak but which then starts to become quite prominent. White raisins. Lemon custard. Coffee cake. Not bad. 7.4

Palate: Ooooh. Oak. Maybe too much. Cinnamon. Very drying. Over brewed green tea. I’m not a huge fan of that taste profile, if I am to be completely honest. Ginger. Spice of an uncertain nature. Now more sweeter mid-palate. Dry honey. Melon. Kinder Eggs. Small oranges. Maybe some papaya. The over-oak prevents it from being very good. 7.0

Finish: Medium long. Quite drying. That oak again. That strong green tea. Again. My least favourite part. 6.8

Overall Comments: What can I say? It’s not an entirely bad whisky. I mean I wouldn’t call it lacklustre but it certainly doesn’t have the oooomph to send your tastebuds into overdrive. And I think it has to do with that damned oak. Not sure if the virgin oak is the culprit or it’s a few extra years too old. I guess we’ll never know.

Overall Score: 7.1

Kilkerran 12

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Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 8.4 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 8.4 | Overall Score: 8.4

About five years ago at my clubs’ monthly mystery tasting I decided to take with me a relatively unknown whisky. Well, unknown to most of us, that is.

It was something I picked up on a whim without really knowing anything about it or the distillery. That whisky was the Kilkerran WIP 4. Met with many a raised eyebrow and unabashed lip smacking it became an instant hit at the gathering and ultimately my obsession.

For those who know me know two things about me.

Number 1 : I have a mild case of OCD. Which means if you give me something that is numbered and part of a series then I will move mountains to make sure I have the entire collection. It’s a sickness, I admit it.

Number 2 : I am irrationally fascinated by Campbeltown whiskies. No rhyme or reason. Just am.

Now imagine my state when you put both those things together. Even more so when the spirit in question is just so damned delicious. And, thus, began my quest to collect all the WIPs.

Glengyle Distillery, makers of Kilkerran, released the WIP 1, which was a five year old whisky, as a way of sharing the spirits’ journey until it’s final form as a 12 year old. Also no doubt as a crafty means of generating revenue which is fine by me. This was, you guessed it, followed by the WIP 2 and so on until last year they released their last and final WIP (the 7) which was a stunning bourbon cask bottled at cask strength.

And, finally, around two weeks ago they released their standard entry level – the 12 year old. I have been following this journey for a while now and was understandably excited when they announced the release. After making my pre-order I somehow managed to have it with me for a tasting I hosted a couple of nights ago.

Geeks that we are we didn’t try it straight and instead decided to do a vertical with the WIP 5,6 & 7 followed by the 12.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 46%

Nose: Immediate grill charcoal. Faint coal smoke. Almost industrial diesel. Not in an overpowering way but in a way that only Campbeltown can make appealing. Himalayan pink salt. Green olives in brine. Mexican lime. Vanilla. Very mild honey. Wild heather. Dry flowers. Love the nose. There’s an old-school oiliness to this that I love.

Palate: Touch bitter. But in a good way. Vanilla. Sweet lemon. Touch of oak. Consistent layer of smoke. Wet pebbles. That salt again. Get’s sweeter mid-palate. Butterscotch. And then black pepper pricks. Solid.

Finish: Medium to long. Oak. Lindt 90% cocoa. Ceylon black tea.

Overall Comments: I love it. I love the WIP 7 a bit more but this one is quite lovely. I love it because there is an element of old-fashioned whisky making that somehow comes through it’s oiliness and the fact that it’s more savoury than sweet. Something which I really like in a whisky. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it certainly is mine. What I appreciate even more is the highly affordable price tag. Under 40GBP in a world that has gone crazy is something to be lauded. So thank you Glengyle for not being greedy gits. And for producing this gem.

Overall Score: 8.4