The (Correct) List of Sherried Whiskies To Try Before You Die

I like making lists. Nothing OCD. Just helps me channel my thought process. For example if I have a number of people to kill I’ll probably make a list. Deciding who to off first. What weapon of choice to use. You know, the usual shit.

Anyway, the other day I was lounging in my recliner, cigar in one hand and the last of my Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 002 in the other, when I realised I hadn’t made a very important list. That of the sherried whiskies.

And not the usual blasé list that you see so many supposed whisky writers write about. Those who’s only method of research is scouring social media to see what other people are talking about.

I’m talking about a list that’s been put through the paces and means something. My criteria for this collection is simple: The whisky must be tasty as fuck (obviously) and should have spent a majority of it’s life being matured in sherry casks. I mean I could have insisted that it spend it’s entire life in a sherry cask but there’s one on my list which doesn’t meet that criteria and it would be unfair to not include that.

Anyway, it’s my list and I can decide what to put on it. Also I haven’t really looked at price and availability as my criteria, to be honest. Though most of them you can find quite easily and, still, at reasonable prices.

Here they are, in no particular order.
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01 Glendronach CSThis is the one I was sitting with when I thought of putting this list together. Up to Batch 6 now I got the first batch more than five years ago. It’s without an age statement, which I’m fine with, as long as you don’t charge me an arm and a leg. Matured in a combination of PX and Oloroso casks this one has been blended together at cask strength and bottled at natural color. The ABV varies from batch to batch but expect it to be around the mid-50s which means it still packs quite a bite. I love the sweetness of the PX and the meatiness of the Oloroso. Together they work beautifully. A tiny drop of water will make this one sublime.
You can get this one online for around £56 / US$70

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02 Glenfarclas 105 20I’m a huge fan of the regular 105 which is roughly half the age of this beauty but served at an equally awe inspiring Cask Strength of 60%. I first had this at one of my clubs’ tastings and immediately went into shock. First the 60% hits you, then the pinging black peppercorns and, once your palate has gone numb in submission, the sweetness of the dark chocolate emerges. This one is not for the faint hearted. You could make a case for a couple of droplets of water but then you miss the sensational feeling of your tongue giving up half way through the dram. For that alone you must try it ‘as is’. Now there’s not a lot of literature on this regarding the type of sherry used to mature this but I will go out on a limb and say Oloroso. Seems the only legit fit here. This one is for the hardened among us.
You can get this one online for around £200 / US$250
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03 aberlour abunadhThe darling of the sherried whiskies. What an absolutely awesome series this is. Sadly I only came into contact with it when it had reached Batch 32 (they’re up to 55 now, I think) and I’ve heard that earlier batches were just insane. Not to say that the later ones aren’t. The 45 is a peach. The 49 is gorgeous. But my favourite is Batch 37 (though to be fair I’ve only tasted around 15 different batches) so there probably is some stellar liquid in earlier bottlings which I’ve not had the pleasure of throwing down my gullet. They come in a short dumpy bottle with a huge red wax seal on top which I love. There’s something old school about that. Also served at cask strength after having spent it’s entire life in Oloroso sherry casks this what you call a sherry monster. A proper sherry monster.
Can be yours for an agreeable £56 / US$70
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04 Balvenie17 sherryOakThis is literally the first whisky I bought when I decided I was going to waste away my life and my money on this dastardly habit. I hadn’t even heard of Balvenie but, my word, that bottle and the color of the liquid inside had me transfixed. Released in limited quantities in 2007 it’s been matured it’s entire life in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks. How this whisky is not a piece of shit I have no idea given such an enormous length of time in such a strong cask. But I guess that’s the magic of Sir David Stewart. He really knows how to craft his whiskies. And this one is no exception. I still have some of it left after so many years and it’s really held up. They’re not making any more of this so I have it sparingly. There’s a few bottles lying around on sites here and there if you’re interested but be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for it. I paid £60 for it a few years ago.
Not easy to find but expect to pay around £300 / US$380 for it.
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05 Tobermory15
I must admit I have been extremely lucky in picking up whiskies without really knowing my ass from my elbow. Either 95% of whiskies on shelves were amazing or the whisky Gods had a plan for me. Nevertheless I ended up picking gem after gem with my eyes closed. This expression is one of them. To be completely honest I picked this up because it came in a beautiful presentation box with the shape of the Isle of Mull cut out in it. But it’s the liquid inside that is supreme. Matured in Gonzalez Byass Oloroso sherry casks it has the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. You gotta give this one a try. Super.
Not very easy to locate but if you do expect to pay around £120 / US$150 for it.
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06 Amrut Intermediate SherryI have seen a bunch of these so called ‘Best Sherry Whisky’ lists and hardly anyone has this ultimate expression on it. Which confirms my hypotheses that all other lists are shit. I mean how do you not include this marvel of whisky making in your list you sorry buffoons? Made by the LSD popping folks over at Amrut, India, this whisky is called Intermediate for a reason. First matured in ex-bourbon and virgin oak it is then transferred to sherry casks for a fair bit of time before settling back into bourbon casks. Get it? Intermediate. And what is even more amazing about this maturation is that when the spirit is in it’s first phase of maturation it is shipped (cask and all) to Spain where it is transferred to sherry casks and then shipped back to India to complete it’s final two phases of maturation. This prevents the sherry casks from getting contaminated during transport or needing sulphur treatment as is the case with so many sherry casks plaguing the Scotch industry. Proof that if you love the whisky you make you will go through any lengths to make sure to shield it from the evils of the world. Get a bottle of this now and drink it immediately. Then come back to this page and thank me. Profusely.
Easily available for around £85 / US$106
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07 Kilchoman Loch GormKilchoman are proof that if you really hone your craft, pick some stellar casks and pluck the spirit out at the right time you can flick a middle finger at age and bottle some amazing whiskies. With an average age of five years across the Kilchoman range it has been producing gem after gem for the last 10 years. In fact it was only late last year that they finally bottled their 10 year old. But enough about that. Let’s talk about the Loch Gorm. It has an average age of 5 to 6 years and has spent it’s entire life in an Oloroso sherry cask. Not sure whether it’s first or second fill but the young age and solid spirit means that it retains it’s integrity without letting the sherry overpower and that’s what makes this a super dram.They release a batch every year in fairly small quantities so snap it up before it disappears.
Can be yours for around £56 / US$70
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08 Macallan 10 Cask StrengthThis was the whisky that changed my life. I had no idea what cask strength meant. I didn’t know where sherry came from. And I thought Macallan was a luxury car. Oh to be young and naive again. Only to feel the thrill of discovering something that blows your mind. That’s what this Macallan did to me. Had at a tasting very many years ago I remember going home thinking ‘Holy Mother of All That Is Sweet & Spicy what was that whisky?’. Matured exclusively in sherry from Jerez it is one of the only Macallans you will find at cask strength. The one I had was 58.6% so to my tender palate it was like being shot in the face with a .44 Magnum. But in a good way. This was the bottle that told me whisky was not for pussies.
Next to impossible to find. If you find one buy it and mail it to me. You’re probably not worthy of drinking it.
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09 kavalan solist finoI love falling in love. And this whisky did that for me. My first Kavalan and so I didn’t know what to expect. Once again the whisky Gods were looking down on me because I could have picked any Kavalan but instead was served this at my buddies house. It almost knocked me on my ass. One of the more scarce types of sherry Fino is from Spain and is the driest of all the sherries out there. Well, Kavalan thought it would be good idea to mature their young spirit in these barrels and the result is a a luscious dark liquid at 57% which smacks your tastebuds all over your palate. Sublime experience.
Easily available but can set you back £225 / US$280 a bottle
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PS – don’t ask me why I didn’t put Glendronach 15 Revival on it, OK? I don’t like that whisky. Sue me.

10 Whiskies You Can Find At The Grocery Store That Will Blow You Away

There’s many lists, I know. But they’re all crap. They either have agendas or have been written by writers who’s only experience with this wonderful spirit has been watching YouTube videos on how to correctly pronounce the names of different whiskies.

I am the real deal. I’ve come up the ranks the hard way. I’ve been young and inexperienced and nearly poisoned my self by drinking an entire bottle of Vat 69 in under 10 minutes in one of the stupidest dares I have ever accepted. I have bought expensive whisky and been thoroughly disappointed. I’ve bought cheap whisky and been wonderfully surprised. I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks.

If you’re young, broke – well, somewhat broke cuz whisky aint cheap bro – and have a dream then these 10 whiskies are the ones for you to take on.

My criteria is simple. Cheap(ish). Easy to find. Lovely.

In no particular order :

01 Chivas Regal 18 03One of the better mass produced blends out there. Genuinely consistent quality. Price hasn’t seen the stars. Sweet, wonderful flavours of toffee, butterscotch, milk chocolate and the tiniest tinge of smoke. Quality whisky that can be had straight, with ice, a dash of water or dunked in a cocktail. Available at every Duty Free in the world. If you don’t buy this you’re stupid.
Price : £52 / US$64

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02 JW DoubleBlackSimilar to the Chivas Regal 18 this is another wonderful mass produced blend. A step up from it’s younger brother (the Black) this one has a much more sweeter profile which works better with the smokiness that the Caol Ila brings (Johnnie Walker’s main component is Caol Ila – the Islay single malt known for it’s restrained smokey flavours). Good whisky this. I prefer it straight. I don’t mind it with some ice. Water kills it, in my opinion and doesn’t make for very good cocktails. Another one to have on the shelf if you’ve run out of the Chivas 18. Once again available at every single Duty Free in the world.
Price : £36 / US$44

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Ardeg10
If you have’t tried this whisky then I have no idea which planet you’ve been living on for the last 10 years. Or have you been avoiding it because it’s too peaty? Well, then you don’t deserve to be drinking whisky. This is the best value for money single malt out there. It is also one of the best regardless of how cheap it is. Citrus, ash and a gentle smoke have made this a firm favourite among connoisseurs and newbies alike. This is Arbdeg’s greatest gift to the world. After that is Jackie (she runs the visitor centre at the distillery). Drink it straight like I do or drop an ice cube if the sun is still shining overhead. That’s it. If you don’t have this on your shelf I’m going to give you 48 hours to get off your ass and correct this mistake.
Price : £43 / US$53

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04 glenfddich15You probably drink single malt whisky today because of Glenfiddich. If it wasn’t for them you’d still be proudly displaying large bottles of Grey Goose at your club table in the hopes of attracting young women instead of sitting with like minded friends at a whisky tasting and dissecting the finer nuances of this lovely spirit. They have put single malt whisky in the hands of so many people crack dealers go to them for sales advice. To have the most consistently above average mass produced single malt whisky is no small feat. And this fifteen year old is a testament to that. I won’t explain the Solera vatting system to you or your brains will explode. I’ll just remind you that the next time you’re picking up Peach Schnapps for your whiney girlfriend pick up a bottle of this. Blood oranges, almonds and dark chocolate will help you cope with her mood swings. Drink it straight, there’s no need for water. It’s 40% ABV. Any lower and you might as well drink breast milk. You fucking baby.
Price : £31 / US$38

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05 glenlivet15 frenchoak
If it wasn’t for this whisky I might still be drinking Jack & Coke and proudly calling my self a whisky drinker. This is the ultimate first dram of the day whisky. Sweet, smooth & uncomplicated. When I’ve come back from work having closely avoided mowing down my co-workers with an M-16 this is the dram I turn to. Unlike my wife it doesn’t ask me too many damn questions. It knows what I want from it and it delivers. Tender, sweet flavours without taxing my brain. Once again there’s no need to mix this with anything. Have it straight like I do.
Price : £31 / US$38

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06 talisker10
The last of the great Taliskers. Most of the new ones, named after severe weather conditions, are pretty shit. Don’t bother with those. Get this. It’s 10 years old. Belies it’s age. As any good, young whisky should. Has a nice sharp bite. You’ll get used to that if you aren’t already. Rather like S&M. Hurts a little in the beginning but then becomes an addiction despite the pain. In fact the pain actually releases endorphins and triggers the pleasure cells. Or so I’ve heard. Are we still talking about whisky? I think so. Swirling smoke and citrus give this one a winter morning crispness. Available every where so you don’t really have an excuse.
Price : £28 / US$34

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07 amrutFusion
OK, so maybe not as easy to find as the others on this list but still widely available without being a unicorn. It’s from India. And it’s tasty as fuck. When I first heard of it I almost went insane finding a bottle (that was early days when it had just launched and hadn’t reached cult status yet). And when I finally did it was like making out with your crush of ten years. The satisfaction was unreal. This whisky is pretty much close to being perfect. In fact most from this distillery are. And the best part is they will experiment worse than Emmet Brown from Back To The Future. Barley from different countries, maturations on different continents, five flavour staves in one bloody cask. They’re the mad scientists of the whisky industry but instead of blowing shit up they blow our minds (and taste buds).
Price : £41 / US$53

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08 benromach10 100proof
This is the best whisky you will ever taste in your life. It is fucking beautiful. I had no idea it existed until I went to buy it’s weaker brother – the 10 year old at 43%. I noticed this sitting next to that one and thought Hmmmmm, same age but with a far more fiery temperament? What a no brainer. This one comes in at a lovely 57% ABV. Full of tasty tobacco, earthy peat and dark chocolate. I remember drinking this for the first time and thinking OK, I’m done – no need to accomplish anything more in life. This one is just staggeringly good. The flavour profile is a nod to the bygone era of Speyside whisky-making complete with coal-like peat. When you’ve accomplished something in life and want to feel good about your self come home and open this bottle, sit down by yourself, light up a cigar and feel the world thank you for your existence.
Price: £37 / US$45

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09 laphroaig quarterCask
If you want to feel like a man (or a woman – I don’t care) then this highly divisive whisky is the one for you. If you want someone who’s never had whisky to hate whisky then give them a cup of this in the morning. I guarantee they’ll either slip into a coma or refuse another dram for the remainder of their lives. For the rest of us this whisky is the bomb. Densely packed flavours of iodine, seaweed, salty fishnets, burning embers and vanilla sweetness transport you to the rough and stormy flavours that is Islay. Matured in a smaller cask to pack in more flavours this is a cult classic and many a weathered whisky drinker swears by this dram. As do I.
Price : £41 / US$50

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10 mortlach70
Did you really think so? What an idiot.

Port Ellen Tasting

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Distillery/Brand: Port Ellen | Region: Islay

Review
I’ve been sitting on these tasting notes for a few months now. Apart from the fact that I’m a lazy git I genuinely wasn’t quite sure how to put pen to paper. I mean how are you realistically supposed to write a review about five Port Ellens? That’s right, FIVE of them. At the same time. Sprung on us as a surprise tasting on a rainy Islay afternoon.

By now I’m sure you know of my short hop over to the peaty island a couple of months ago to meet up with some friends from the other side of the world. To say the five of us made some crazy memories is an understatement.

Distillery visits, NFL picks, bouts of arm wrestling, making friends, discovering Punk IPA, drinking 50 year old Lagavulin, scrambling up slippery ruins to gaze out over the Straits of Moyle, playing Guess The Malt with Jackie from Ardbeg – it’s hard to imagine we managed all of this in four days.

Yet none of that compares to one miserable afternoon we spent shut indoors thanks to a torrential downpour and gale force winds. Our planned journey to Jura on the day was aborted when we realised we couldn’t even walk without the wind knocking us off our feet so crossing over on a ferry was out of the question.

However, my buddy Curt Robinson had better plans for us miserable louts. He had, extremely generously may I add, carried with him all the way from Canada a number of Port Ellen samples for an occasion such as this. I mean it was Islay – we were bound to get rained in at some point, right?

So there we were, in our cottage in Bowmore, excitedly sat around the table, me with my note pad in hand, staring with gleaming eyes at this buffet of awesomeness.

Port Ellen Curt Guys

Granted we look like a motley gang of ex-cons planning a bank heist but that’s just you being judgemental.

We tasted them Right to Left with each one nominating a different favourite. I thought of rating each one but there’s really no need. They were all fantastic and there’s no point in splitting hairs.

1. Port Ellen 24 Years Old
Dewar Rattray Cask Collection
ABV 60.6%
Distilled : 13.10.1982
Bottled : 17.09.2007

Nose: Citrus. Green lime. Lemons. Some vegetal notes. Green herbs. I like the barley sugars here. Crisp. Dry hay. White pepper. Smells quite sweet.
Palate: Big! Thank you 60.6%! Quite spicy. Oily. Buttery. Dries mid-palate. Soft smoke. That barley sugar I got on the nose. The greens are back. Unspecified vegetation. Cereal notes.
Finish: Very long. Drying. Oaky.

2. Port Ellen
5th Special Release
25 Years Old
ABV 57.4%
Distilled : 1979
Bottled : 2005

Nose: Very oily. The smoke is quite faint. Just a year older than the Rattray but has an added complexity. Quite fruity. Soft melon. Sweet candy. Oranges. Similar unspecified greens. Quite earthy now. Damp dunnage. But in a good way. Pink grapefruit. Vanilla.
Palate: Drying. Again quite big. Settles down to a more fruity profile. Melons. Tropical fruits. Vanilla custard.
Finish: Long. Oaky.

3. Port Ellen
6th Special Release
27 Years Old
ABV 54.2%
Distilled : 1978
Bottled : 2006

Nose: Hmmmm. Immediately seems better balanced than the first two. Which is saying a lot since they were pretty top notch. The mix of fruits and smoke is perfect. Tangy oranges. Sweet lemon candy. Lime. Tangerines. A very citrusy notes counter-balanced by the smoke. Beautiful.
Palate: Sweet as well. Oaky. But a good oak. Again the balance here is lovely. The circus comes screaming through. Limes. Lemons. Oranges. Now red berries. The smoke is understated but apparent. Oily.
Finish: Long. Quite magnificent if you ask me. Dry. Love it!

4. Port Ellen
8th Special Release
29 Years Old
ABV 55.3%
Distilled : 1978
Bottled : 2008

Nose: Not as big as the first three. A little mellow if you ask me. This one has more dark chocolate. Oily. Butter. The smoke is peaty. But mildly so. The familiar citrus overtones but now with a touch of pineapples. And the tiniest of oak.
Palate: So sweet. Sweeter than all the others. Smoke. Oak. Quite dry. Sweet lemons. Fruity. Hint of cinnamon. Maybe. This one has big flavours but certainly not as complex as the 5th Release.
Finish: Medium. Dry. Toasted barley. Oak.

5. Port Ellen
9th Special Release
30 Years Old
ABV 57.7%
Distilled : 1979
Bottled : 2009

Nose: Quite tangy. Sour candy. Pink grapefruit. Quite sweet. Faint smoke. Sweet barley sugar – quite a common thread here. Tropical fruits. Red liquorice. The same generic greens. And, of course, the citrus. Lemons. Lime.
Palate: Very drying. The oak is king here. Sweet. Lemon. Limes. Sweet candy. Herbaceous. Smoke. Vanilla custard.
Finish: Long. Sweet.

Overall Comments: There’s nothing much to say here other than God, damn what a rush! Miserable afternoon turned into one heck of a tasting proving once and for all that whisky will solve any problem. All the whiskies were quite scrumptious but my pick of the session was the 6th Release. That one just worked for me. Each one of us had a personal favourite which, again, is another thing that never fails to amuse me. Another memorable memory to add to my growing list of Special Islay Moments.

Special thanks to Curt for hooking us up. Big time!

Amrut Blackadder Raw Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Amrut | Region: India | ABV: 62.3% | Colour: Dark Copper
Nose: 8.8 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 8.6 | Overall Score: 8.6

Review
I don’t need to remind anyone of my complete and obvious bias towards Amrut whiskies. Pioneers of fearless whisky making is what they are. They do things to their whiskies that would make the collective Scotch Whisky Association turn in it’s grave. Once it’s dead and buried, of course.

Cask seasoning, multiple flavour staves in one barrel, maturing on different continents – you name it, they’ve done it. They’re the mad scientists of the whisky world except instead of blowing stuff up they make some of the most delicious liquid on the planet.

Aside from their weirdly wonderful experimental expressions are their single cask offerings which are universally quite phenomenal if you ask me. And independent bottler Blackadder seem to think so too. They’ve bottled this sherry cask as part of their Raw Cask series which essentially means that the spirit is drawn straight from the cask without any dilution or filtering. Proof of which you can see in the form of charcoal bits floating in the bottle.

Whisky the way it’s meant to be drunk, I strongly believe.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a scrumptious 62.3%

Nose: Coffee. Lots of it. Tiramisu. Dark chocolate. Burnt caramel. Betel nut. Betel leaf. Starts off sweet then turns savoury. Green cigar leaf. The oak here is solid. Cracking nose this. High-pitched aromas hinting at a young whisky but enough complexity and intensity to keep me entertained. 8.8

Palate: Big. Big. Drying. The oak is the dominant force here. Just about threatens to overwhelm but is pulled back by a late dark chocolate and cinnamon coffee arrival. With water it mellows out a touch. The chocolate is a touch sweeter now and more pronounced. However, overall it remains quite savoury. 8.4

Finish: Huge. Oaky. Drying. Quite spicy. Touch of fruits with a drop of water. 8.6

Overall Comments: Great little whisky this. I don’t expect any less from these guys. My first Blackadder bottle as well and so I’m quite happy to search for new ones. Find it. Drink it.

Overall Score: 8.6

Lagavulin 50 1966

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: UNKNOWN | Colour: Pale Straw

Review
I’ve decided not to score this. Only because I will cheapen the memories by assigning it a score. And since there is no way anyone is ever going to drink this whisky a score is pretty much moot.

And don’t get me wrong. The only reason you’ll never be able to drink this is because it will never go up for sale and we pretty much scraped the bottom of the barrel to bring out a few drams to taste. It’s all gone.

OK let me start from the beginning.

I was in the midst of an extremely impromptu trip to Islay thanks to the persistent arm-twisting of my good friend Curt Robinson of AllThingsWhisky fame. He and three of his buddies had made the trip over from Canada and it just seemed like too good of an opportunity to share drams to pass up.

So there I was.

One of the things we were really looking forward to on the trip was the famed warehouse tasting with Lagavulin legend Iain Macarthur. Let me tell you if there’s one thing you do on Islay is attend one of his tastings. Regardless of the fact that we tasted some ridiculously gorgeous single casks ranging from twelve to 34 years it was his company and delivery that really made the session unforgettable.

Amid all the chatter and pouring of whiskies I happened to notice a lone cask sitting in the corner with 1966 stencilled on the side.

1966? Why, that must mean there’s 50 year old whisky sitting inside that dinosaur. I was completely distracted now, stealing sidelong glances at the cask much like a middle-school nerd would do to his crush in the school cafeteria. I kept wondering how it would taste. What would the color be like. What would it smell like.

As the session ended we tried hanging around for a bit but were politely asked to make space for the next group. My heart sank. There went my opportunity to beg Iain for a sip of that 50 year old. Oh, well. It would have made for a great story.

After the tasting we made our way behind the distillery to the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle to share some pre-packaged drams. The weather was excellent and we even managed to spot a couple of playful seals in the water.

As we headed back to catch the bus we, as luck would have it, ran into Iain as he was making his way back from another warehouse tasting.

What are you boys still hanging around here for? He asked in his strangely endearing high pitched Scottish voice.

We were hoping you’d share some of that 50 year old with us. I said shamelessly.

It took him all of one second to say Well, hurry up then! Your bus will be here any minute!

And with that, glasses in hand, we made a mad dash to the warehouse. Grabbing a valinche he plunged it into the depths of the cask and drew out 50 years of history and generously poured it into our glasses.

Happy now? He asked with a huge grin on his face.

We nodded vigorously with even bigger grins on ours.

Unfortunately we couldn’t drink it at the distillery or I would have missed the last bus back to Bowmore and consequently my flight back home.

As we sat on the bus sharing 50 year old whisky among us I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Here in our hands was almost priceless liquid, a piece of history and it was just casually shared with us by the nicest of chaps. And the fact that we were passing it around whilst using public transport seemed like the most natural thing to do. Such is the DNA of Islay. It’s what makes it what it is.

There is no ABV on this liquid. I suspect the cask was a second or third fill bourbon given it’s rather pale coloring.

Nose: Quite sweet thanks to the 50 years. Creme caramel. Toffee. Condensed milk. Spent sugarcane bark. The tiniest and I mean the tiniest of oak. Vanilla. High pitched aromas of milk chocolate. As it settles it becomes more grassy. More wet. More clay like. Red clay if you ask me. Still has some vibrancy after all these years.

Palate: Sweet. White granulated sugar. Mildest of oaks. The tiniest whisp of smoke. Milk chocolate. Hint of spice. Some fennel. Some cloves. Some aniseed. Dry spices. Changed nicely mid-palate without even us noticing.

Finish: Wonderfully long. Drying with some oak.

Overall Comments: How this spirit managed to retain it’s flavours is beyond me. It should have been tired and spent a long time ago but against all odds it’s not. I believe it might have been an absolute corker had it been discovered a decade or more earlier. But I’m glad it wasn’t or we wouldn’t have been lucky enough to get free pours of it that fateful day on Islay. Here’s to you Curt, Steve, Danny & Tone.

Overall Score: Who cares?

Stagg JR – Batch 5

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Distillery/Brand: Buffalo Trace | Region: America | ABV: 64.85% | Colour: Mahogany
Nose: 8.2 | Palate: 8.2 | Finish: 8.2 | Overall Score: 8.2

Review
I’m desperately trying to close out 2016 on a positive note. Personally as well as from a whisky review perspective. Of late it seems all I’ve been doing is getting angry at whiskies and their masters for letting me down. Some have in mildly irritating ways and others in much more spectacular fashion.

But the general aim this year has been to upset me and, along with fattening the books, they seem to have met their target. But I won’t let them drag me down to their level. No, thank you.

So while I do have some scathing reviews tucked away they’ll be better suited to the dawn of a new year. My objective now is to comment only on whiskies that make me happy until this dreaded year is finally over. I look forward to an interesting ten days.

And that brings me to the Stagg Jr.

For those who know me know that I am in love with the senior. It changed my perspective on how I perceived bourbons especially ones that came close to spontaneously combusting thanks to inhuman levels of alcohol strength. I’m talking 70%+ here ladies and gentlemen. To achieve a bouquet of flavours and balance in a beast that strong is almost an unfathomable work of art.

And that’s precisely what the Antique Collection is. A work of art.

The Stagg Jr comes from the same pedigree as the senior. Introduced back in 2013 as a younger alternative to the George T Stagg it uses a blend of whiskies 8 or 9 years old and the same mash bill – Mashbill #1. The recipe is pretty much a secret and all we know is that #1 uses less than 10% rye in the overall mix. As for the remaining grains I’m sure there’s a large percentage of corn and then some wheat. There could be some barley too. But I’m not certain.

Panned by critics when it first came out it was considered an unworthy alternative to the George. However, later batches saw the same set of non-believers warm up to this rather tasty barrel proof bourbon. I have sat in my glass Batch 5, recognisable by the proof hastily scribbled on the label. Mine sits at a wonderful 129.7 which, in layman’s terms, is around 64.85% ABV. My sample is from a half empty bottle opened just a week ago.

Nose: That familiar sweetness. Instantly took me to the George. Peppers. Black berries. Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. Chocolate milkshake. Did I mention chocolate? Touch of black liquorice. Brown curry powder. In a good way! Burnt caramel marchiato. Breakfast toast. Ripe watermelon. Watermelon? Seriously? Quite drying with a ton of cooking spices on a dry forest fire. What’s not to like? 8.2

Palate: As you would expect. A nuclear explosion of pinpricks brought under control by a dark chocolate. Like a Lindt red chilly. Cherries. That smoke from that fire. Milk chocolate. Quite tannic. Dries mid-palate. The oak is quite pronounced. As are the spices. Not as sweet as I expected it to be. A hint of maple syrup. Feels youngish for some reason. But I love the strength. 8.2

Finish: Long. Long. Long. Oaky. And oily at the same time. Barbecue rub. 8.2

Overall Comments: First up let’s consider what is on offer here. A solid whisky made from the same recipe as the George. A touch younger, yes, but when you compare the price point it’s a no brainer. Pick this up for no more than US$60-70 (the later batches, of course) instead of mortgaging your children for the George T Stagg – that is, IF YOU CAN FIND IT! Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges but aren’t we all? In fact that’s what makes us so endearing, doesn’t it?

Overall Score: 8.2

Chivas Regal Ultis

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Distillery/Brand: Chivas | Region: Scotland | ABV: 40% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 6.4 | Palate: 5.4 | Finish: 5.6 | Overall Score: 5.8

Review
2016 has not been a stellar year and few will disagree with me on that. From beloved icons to hairy primates we’ve lost a lot in the last 350 odd days. Many people I know, my self included, will be glad to get rid of ’16 much like a corrupted tooth that’s been making your entire head hurt.

Notwithstanding the troubles rife in all the world there is also the alarming downward tailspin that is the whisky industry. And I don’t mean that in terms of commercial worries.

Oh no. Quite the contrary.

The giants have enjoyed this resurgence immensely. There’s not enough whisky to go around and distilleries / blending houses are struggling to meet with demand.

That’s all good.

What is tailspinning out of control is the unabashed pandering of, and I say this with the largest grain of sand that has ever existed in the history of the world, luxury whiskies to an unsuspecting public. A public that, in the midst of all these crises, still manages to loosen their purse strings in the hope of deriving value. A public that does not know any better. And a public that is routinely being hoodwinked.

It’s a shame.

I’ve written so many of these rant type reviews of late that it almost feels like it’s becoming my signature style. And I don’t want that. Because that’s not who I am. That’s not why I decided to start this little site. It was, in fact, to discover great whiskies and share them with the world. Not to put down the ones that didn’t meet with my satisfaction.

But this year has been harsh. Everywhere I’ve turned I’ve seen expensive suits, flashy invites, stunning venues, beautiful packaging, brilliant PR and, in the midst of all the fanfare, bullshit spirits devoid of any depth or complexity.

It’s almost as if they’ve latched on to a formula for success. Brand ambassador – check. Expensive venue – check. Entertaining distractions – check. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

And the really sick part is that, despite knowing all of this, people like me still latch on to the hope that this time, maybe this time, they won’t take us for a ride. That the heavy price tag genuinely reflects the quality and craftsmanship that the brand so proudly boasts about.

When I first came across the press release for the Chivas Ultis I was immediately drawn. I love vatted malts, thanks in large part to Compass Box, and was really curious what was being done with this. It had a nice story – five malts for five blenders – as a homage for their services. Nice. Comprising of five whiskies from five Speyside distilleries, Tormore, Longmorn, Strathisla, Allt A’bhainne and Braeval, it had the makings of something special. The packaging looked sleek and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

I sent out a mass message to all my friends to pick one up if they encountered it during their travels. And it was not a small favour to ask given it’s US$200 price tag. One of my close friends happened across this at Heathrow and put down his hard-earned money to do me this favour.

And as I sat at his table unboxing the bottle and poured my self a drink the only thing I could think of was Please don’t suck.

That’s it. Not I hope this blows me away. Just Please don’t suck. We are literally in that sorry stage of acceptance that it if it’s simply average we’re relieved. Of course, that wasn’t meant to be.

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

Nose: Lots of sherry. Butterscotch. Vanilla. Toffee. Soft red apples. Some cinnamon. Christmas fruit cake. Becomes a touch dry after a bit. Blood oranges. Black liquorice. Cherries. A very strong minty aroma now. Close to spearmint. Quite strange. As it settles stale coconut oil. Started off promising but somehow failed to keep me impressed. 6.4

Palate: Light bodied. Extremely weak delivery. Was expecting velvet to quote my mouth. What a let down. Peppercorns. Cinnamon. Bitter chocolate. Trouble getting any flavours out thanks to the low ABV. I tried, believe me. 5.4

Finish: Medium. Woody. Touch of limestone. 5.6

Overall Comments: What do you want me to say? Unbalanced. Devoid of any real depth. Weak. When I first read about this I made a little joke about the name. You see Ultis in Hindi means many vomits and I observed that this was probably not the best name to go with given the penchant that many Indians have for Chivas Regal. But in hindsight it seems like a fitting name given the state the industry is. Don’t waste your money on this bullshit.

Overall Score: 5.8