Highland Park 18 Years

HighlandPark 18

Distillery/Brand: Highland Park | Region: Island | ABV: 43% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 93

I’ve done a review before of the Highland Park 18 but that was back when I didn’t know my peat from a kiln. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way from then. However, what’s true is that I loved it back then and I love it still.

Highland Park routinely use Oloroso Sherry casks to mature their spirit but what gives their spirits it’s unique profile is the peat that they use. Orcadian peat, sourced locally, is predominately compressed herbacious plants and heather (unlike peat from farther south, which is partially formed with tree matter and/or seaweed). The peat character is mild, however, as only 20% of the mashbill comes from Highland Park’s own floor maltings (and of that, only half is peated). The rest is unpeated malt imported from the Scottish mainland

This little dance between heavily sherried casks and lightly peated spirit is what sets their expressions apart from the others.

Nose: The sherry is perfectly balanced against a back drop of green leaves and a touch of delicate peaty smoke. It’s a bit tinny to start off with but that tapers off as you let it breathe a touch. Subtle hints of cereal and juniper berries amid a crush of red grapes. Brilliantly balanced.

Palate: That delicate smoke is back and with it a fine salty creme caramel. Then a cinnamon dusted fennel with an underlying of chocolate spread.

Finish: Long with lovely black pepper and smoked chocolate.

There is probably not a lot that can be said about this malt that has already been said but it certainly needs to be reiterated.

Rating: 93

Springbank 10 Years

Springbank 10

Distillery/Brand: Springbank | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Color: Light Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Campbeltown, and more importantly Springbank, expressions are always on top of my love list. They have an allure which I can’t explain and I love the fact that simply by being creative they can create different spirits from essentially the same equipment.

The Springbank has the distinction of being distilled two and a half times (not two and not three) unlike all other spirits being produced in Scotland.

This one is a 10 year old bottled at 46% and has seen some sherry casks along the way.

Nose: Initially quite malty with strong salt, brine and coastal sea air. The sherry starts to peek through quickly after that. Dark chocolate oranges infused with cardamom and a hint of delicate peat with some brown bread thrown in for good measure.

Palate: Very true to the nose. The chocolate citrus is there but now with over ripe dates and raisins. There is sweet but the savory side is stronger. Cardamom and cinnamon round off the spicy notes.

Finish: Medium. With salivating oily cinnamon.

This is a very accomplished whisky and serves as a basis for the older geniuses that follow.

Rating: 88

Glendronach 15 Year Revival Sherry Cask

Glendronach 15

Distillery/Brand: GlenDronach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 46% | Color: Young Sauternes

Nose: 21 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 86

Glendronach seem to have a cult following. I follow their page on Facebook and can see the intensity and the passion that the fans have for it. And I think that’s fair. It is a wonderful distillery with some very special releases. Their single casks are a stuff of legend, though, I feel that their core range could do with a bit of a lift.

This 15 year old sherry bomb has quite a reputation and even before I started writing anything about it I posted a pic of it on the Malt Maniacs Facebook page. The response was immediate and quite flattering.

But do I think this one is the stuff of legends? Well, not really.

Nose: I think I can sniff out the Oloroso Sherry cask from a mile away. It is so strong and meaty that there can be no doubt. Once the black salts fade away you are greeted with a black pepper rum and fudge cake liberally sprinkled with chopped pistachios and cardamom seeds. Oxidization brings out red wine tannins and black raisins. I think the Oloroso overpowers and doesn’t let the malt speak.

Palate: Chocolate and mocha form the base of this delivery. They are then layered with black peppercorns, cinnamon and cardamom pods. Once again quite thick and chewy with the Oloroso.

Finish: Creamy long with cinnamon.

I like this whisky but I think the sherry is far too overbearing in all aspects. I would have liked to see a more measured sherry finish because I feel the base malt is quite good. But maybe that’s what the people want. And I’ve seen enough fans to prove that.

Oh well…

Rating: 86

Glencadam 10 Years

Glencadam 10

Distillery/Brand: Glencadam | Region: Highland | ABV: 46% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 90

I have not consumed a lot of Glencadam in my life. At least at the time of writing this post. I picked up a few expressions early on in my journey as a malt-head and simply stored them away in an attempt to build a collection.

It was only recently that I decided to give this 10 year old a chance and, I must admit, I was quite pleasantly surprised.

Nose: Very crisp and full of sharp barley. Sweet brown sugar and macaroons on rice crackers with a touch of allspice. No, seriously. I’m not kidding. After a while the nose turns green with light edamame and salt. It does keep opening up the longer you keep at it. After about 30 minutes there were scented mangoes, apricots and toffee. One of the better noses I’ve encountered of late.

Palate: The same crisp barley and toffee are back. Not the sweetest of deliveries so imagine an almost savory chunk of jaggery, toffee and mild creme brulee. The sweet notes are quite mild. However, subsequent sips bring about a white wine quality to it. Almost like a Chenin Blanc.

Finish: Minty medium with faint spices.

This is quite a lovely malt which ticks all the right boxes. But I feel it’s holding onto dear life to be good. If it lets go it just might be sensational.

Rating: 90

Brora 18 – 1981 Signatory


Distillery/Brand: Brora
Region: Highland
ABV: 43%
Color: Sunlight

Nose: 24
Taste: 23
Finish: 23
Balance: 23

This is the first ever Brora I have ever tasted, although, I have a couple of original bottles stashed in my bar for a momentous occasion. I have always been fascinated with this distillery given it’s consistently well-reviewed bottles; original or independent.

Now I’m a bit wary of independents given the uncertainty of flavor one may find in various bottlings. However, I seem to have struck gold with this little sample.

Picked up as a 5cl mini from an auction site this 1981 Signatory bottling of this 18 year old spirit (matured in a sherry butt #1081) is an absolute class act. I have never experienced a nose change so dramatically as this (especially after being left to breathe for over an hour).

Nose: Immediately good quality sherry. Not so much from the color, mind you, but the first nose is unmistakable sherry with a dash of peat. Extremely fresh and extremely sweet. Like a hard-boiled butterscotch sweet smothered in grass. The sweet perfumed citrus is next covered in a dollop of honey and delicately smoked piece of vanilla wood. Quite glorious.

Leaving it breathe for an hour turned the nose on it’s head. It took on a peculiar supermarket aisle quality – fresh grains in a jute bag surrounded by detergent and cleaning liquids. I’m not sure where that came from but it was a huge surprise to see the nose change so much. It wasn’t bad, mind you. I was just taken aback, that’s all. This is probably one of the most complex and multi-layered noses I have ever come across.

Palate: There’s brittle honey and dark sugar with just the right amount of smoke. The butterscotch re-enters the fray only this time with a sprig of mint and a squeeze of citrus in it’s corner. The extended oxidization gave the spirit a lovely lemon sponge cake quality. Quite homely.

Finish: The long dry finish is quite woody with vanilla drops on cinnamon.

I had built up the Brora in my head and this independent offering managed to, not only prevent me from disappointment, but further fueled my curiosity about this great lost distillery.

Rating: 93

Bowmore 15 Year Old – Darkest


Distillery/Brand: Bowmore
Region: Islay
ABV: 43%
Color: Full Gold

Nose: 22
Taste: 22
Finish: 22
Balance: 22

I initially had a rocky relationship with this distillery, having sampled some less than stellar expressions earlier on in my quest as a malt enthusiast. Luckily a friend of mine, who has an obsession with this single malt, insisted I keep trying.

Good call.

This 15 year old was finished in Oloroso sherry for three years after spending the first twelve in bourbon barrels.

Nose: Quite dry like autumn potpourri and crushed leaves. The strong Oloroso sherry is remarkably balanced with a nice dark chocolate and treacle mix. Red wild berries covered in black salt are next followed by a nice woody vanilla and rustic raisins.

Palate: Medium bodied delivery which at first sip seems a bit weak but gathers steam as your palate plays with it. Fresh red berries on dark salt strewn over a plank of cedar cinnamon vanilla. Finally tasty autumn fruits with a touch of peaty smoke.

Finish: Medium long with slightly drying clove.

This is a solid malt which one can drink without being too overwhelmed. And I mean that in a good way.

Rating: 88

Springbank 12 Year Cask Strength


Distillery/Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
ABV: 55.3%
Color: Young Sauternes

Nose: 22
Taste: 24
Finish: 24
Balance: 23

Those of you who know me know that I have an irrational attachment to anything that comes out of Campbeltown. Not because I’m an expert on Campbeltown expressions; far from it. It simply has some sort of mystical allure that I can’t define.

So be it.

The spirit is a blend of 60% first fill sherry hogsheads and 40% re-fill sherry butts and served up at a lip smacking 55.3% and is from a December 2011 bottling.

Nose: My initial impression was of strong rubber flip flops which made me suspect the influence of sulphur. However, a bit of air and patience takes care of that quite well. The nose is quite thick with treacle marmalade and black peppercorns. The sherry is quite dry with a touch of cinnamon smoke.

Palate: Gorgeous delivery! An intense dark spice and cocoa powder rub on a basket of oranges. The chocolate treacle is back and gives it a lovely bitter sweet edge.

Finish: Spectacular! Long and intense with oily chocolate, wood and black peppers.

This is pretty much one of my favorite malts to come out of Campbeltown. What a class act this distillery is.

Rating: 93