Longrow 14 Years

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Distillery/Brand: Longrow | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
Every time I write a review of a single malt from Campbeltown town I spend the first few minutes gushing on about how irrationally infatuated I am with this region for no particular reason at all.

But I’m happy to reveal that my fascination is quite justified. Barring a few bad apples (Glen Scotia 18, anyone?) it has largely been a parade of interesting and generally above-average whiskies to come out of this small region.

Specifically Springbank which produces three completely different expressions from basically the same hardware which I think is sheer genius – the Longrow being my favorite with Hazelburn as my least.

This, now sadly discontinued, 14 year old, has been finished off in sherry casks. There’s not a lot of literature to find, unfortunately, and my research didn’t turn up a whole lot. For example I don’t know how long it was finished for or the type of sherry it was.

My guess is three years finishing in Marsala – largely because it has such a dry nose and palate. This particular sample is from an open bottle about a third finished packaged at a nice 46% ABV

Nose: Mild peat. Sweet perfume. Mild chocolate. Salt. Brine. Hint of citrus. Wet bandage. Apple cider. Brown sugar. Banana. Ginger. Starts of quite sweet followed by something coastal before finally settling down to a savory finalé. Lovely nose.

Palate: Medium bodied. Spicy at first. Cinnamon. Oak. Brown honey. Gets fruity mid-palate. Plums. Apple. Citrus. Pineapple strudel. Ginger. Salt. Slightly burnt. Not as good as the nose but good nevertheless. Evenly spreads over your palate. Gets dry towards the end.

Finish: Fairly long. Dry. Cinnamon powder. Wood. Lingers.

An accomplished whisky need not be over the top to tick all the boxes. Nicely controlled elegance.

Rating: 89

Glen Garioch 1997 Vintage

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Distillery/Brand: Glen Garioch | Region: Highland | ABV: 56.7% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
My first Glen Garioch (pronounced Geeree By the way – don’t ask me why) was a 1797 Founders Reserve. I thought it was OK. Nothing to really excite me. Pleasant enough without being marvelous and I think that’s fine. I just place far too many expectations on every whisky I try for the first time I feel.

My second Glen Garioch is this 1997 Vintage (bottled 2012) at a lovely cask strength of 56.7%. This is more to my liking. I think the higher strength manages to shift the delicate flavors I remembered from the 1797 Founders Reserve into a higher gear here.

Glen Garioch, like Glenrothes, prefer to put vintages on their whiskies rather than age. I actually prefer that over the age statement (and definitely over the No Age Statement!). Tell me when it was distilled and bottled and let me do the math, thank you very much. The more information you give me the more I will be interested in your product.

This particular expression was distilled in 1997 (sorry, no month mentioned here) and bottled in 2012 and is batch no 12 (I’ll leave you to do the math). A travel retail exclusive at 56.7%.

Nose: Lots of wood. Tropical fruits. Jack fruit. Banana. Yellow pears. Pecan nuts. Reminds me of pancakes. Strawberry jam. Aniseed. Honey. This one is completely unsmoked. I remember the 1797 have a wisp but not this one. Very fruity. Very estery.

Palate: That banana. So strong. Honey. Nuts. White pepper. Soft chocolate caramel. The tropical fruits are back. Soft apricots. Pears. Oak. Confident mouthfeel and I feel the high ABV accentuates all the flavors.

Finish: Long. White pepper. Black licorice. Toffee.

I think this is quite a nice single malt. One of the more fruity ones I have come across of late. I think my interest in this distillery has been piqued.

Rating: 89

Highland Park Thor

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Distillery/Brand: Highland Park | Region: Islands | ABV: 52.1% | Color: Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
I remember when the Thor came out. I scoffed. I saw the fancy packaging (and believe me when I say fancy I mean Norse boat fancy), the really high price (high for a 16 year old, that is) and I said ‘whatever, dude’.

Another marketing gimmick, I thought to my self. So sick of these distilleries packaging youngish spirit in fancy boxes and selling them for so much. So as a matter of principle I decided not to even bother.

Then I started reading some reviews and they were all good. I mean really good. I relented. I said fine, I’ll get one. But when I tried looking I couldn’t find a single bottle. The only ones I saw were sitting on auction blocks put up by smart investors. And they were more than four times the original price!

Well, now I was definitely not going to bother.

So it was a nice surprise to see an open bottle sitting on a friends’ shelf which I duly took down to see what all the fuss was all about.

The first of four in the Valhalla collection this sherry matured liquid is served up at 52.1% and is one of 23,000 bottles sold worldwide. My sample was from a bottle two-thirds over and would have benefited from some oxidization.

Nose: Clove. Sherry. Mango. A very unusual oak. I think the oxidization may have taken away some of the malty notes. I’ve notice HPs lose their brine/malty aroma after a while. Red berries. Cherry cola. Cinnamon. Red licorice. Touch of iodine. Pinch of salt. A very balanced and unique nose.

Palate: Crisp sherry. Chocolate. Black peppers. Cola. Cherries. Brown sugar. Grapes. Dark citrus. Hint of nuts. A lovely delivery. Very smooth and very confident.

Finish: Long. Oily. Juice with a touch of spice.

Such a lovely expression! Crisp and confident. I’m kicking my self for not picking it up when I had the chance.

Rating: 93

Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old XXV

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Distillery/Brand: Bunnahabhain | Region: Islay | ABV: 46.3% | Color: Old Sauternes
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
Bunnahabhain represent the lighter side of peat on Islay. That’s because the distilleries water is piped down from streams on the Margdale Hills and is considered less peaty than most water used for distilling on Islay.

Bunnahabhain also hold the distinction of being one of the few distilleries founded in the ‘whisky boom’ of the 1920s and to still be around today.

I’ve had a few Bunnas in my time (the 12, 18, Darch Ur, Toiteach and now the 25) and find that they carry a similar thread in both the nose and palate. Must be those consistently good sherry casks they employ.

This 25-year-old release runs to just 400 bottles and comes presented in an Alder wooden box lined with Hessian and closed with solid brass fittings.

Nose: Robust sherry. Quite dry on the nose. Chocolate fudge. Moist dates. Sandalwood. Dark honey. Nice oak. Wisp of smoke. Salty Nuts. An absolutely gorgeous nose that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Palate: Medium bodied. Orange fudge. Ginger. Cinnamon. Butterscotch toffees. The oak dries a touch mid-palate. Nougat. And the moist dates are back. I expected it to be a lot more creamier, though.

Finish: Satisfyingly long. Cinnamon. Chocolate.

There’s a lovely maturity to this spirit and the flavors work seamlessly together. Add to this the great presentation box and you almost don’t mind shelling out 200GBP for it.

Rating: 93

Longrow Red 11 Year Old Fresh Port Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Longrow | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 51.8% | Color: Copper
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Review
My obsession with Campbeltown continues. And my latest area of interest is the Longrow – the peatiest of the three whiskies produced at Springbank. The other two, of course, being Springbank and Hazelburn.

It started when I pulled out a 14 year old Burgundy Wood Longrow more than two years after opening it. Having not cared much for it earlier it’s transformation had me transfixed. It had become quite magnificent.

I then decided to start looking at these peaty Campbeltowners with a bit more interest. And so far I’ve not really been disappointed.

The Longrow Red series is an annual bottling of 11 year olds matured in casks that previously held a red spirit. The first one was matured in Cabernet Sauvignon, the second one in Australian Shiraz and the one I’m talking about matured for 11 years in port casks.

Quite a reddish / orange hue to this cask strength spirit served at 51.8%

Nose: Quite sweet. Cherries. Red licorice. Cough syrup. Strawberries. Smooth caramel. Sandalwood. Black pepper. Mild peat. Pinch of salt. The nose is quite tart but still decently balanced.

Palate: Red berries. Black pepper. Cinnamon. Oak. Red apples. Maple syrup. Cherry cola. Pomegranate. Quite nice on the palate. The flavors hold quite well. It gets spicier mid-palate.

Finish: Long. Minty. Cinnamon. Oak.

I like the concept behind this range. The whiskies themselves may not be earth shattering but at least someone somewhere is trying to do something interesting. And I respect that.

Rating: 88

Ardbeg Supernova 2010

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 60.1% | Color: Pale Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 |Rating: 91

Review
Ah, yes! The old school Ardbegs from the great forgotten era of 2010. Back when peat monsters ruled and the world was getting it’s first taste of NAS whiskies.

Second in line after the inaugural 2009 release of the same name this one ups the ante with an extra 1.2% of alcohol.

What is an extra 1.2% you ask? Everything! Just ask my stinging taste buds!

Definitely a youngish whisky (7-9 years if you ask me) with everything cranked up to maximum. Peat levels of upwards of 100ppm (other Ardbegs measure around 50ppm) and a very high strength ABV of 60.1%

I remember having this when it first came out and being suitably blown away. I was young and naive, much like this spirit, and easily overwhelmed. Now it takes a touch more to impress. And I have to admit the spirit does it’s best!

This review is from bottle code L10 070 16:22 6ML

Nose: Reminds me of the Still Young. That same youngish malt with classic Ardbeggian aromas. I know the peat here is cranked up but it still comes across as understated. Sharp lime. Lemon sorbet. Vanilla. Green apples and pears. Honey crust. Sugarcane. Let it breathe and it becomes more sooty. But with an underlying sweetness to it. Now with more herbs. Some cardamom. An essay in balance.

Palate: Lots of black and white peppers. Prickly green chilies. Lemon. Sugarcane. Dry honey. Slightly bitter oak. Melon. Mint leaves. Quite savory belying the nose. Fires up the tastebuds that’s for sure! Made me salivate. But the spices dominate. Is the high strength trying to mask something? Seems like it.

Finish: Oily. Tobacco leaves. Limestone. The same spices. Touch of smoke.

This is a fine dram. Need to sit with it for a while as it evolves. As of this writing I have not had the 2009 version which I’ve heard is off-the-hook. I’d love to make a comparison.

Overall great nose and finish with the palate marginally behind.

Rating: 91

Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask #537

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Distillery/Brand: Sullivans Cove | Region: Australia | ABV: 47.5% | Color: Deep Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
I read about Sullivan Cove’s award winning single cask whisky only quite recently after it won some of the top accolades at the World Whisky Awards this year.

I don’t really care much for awards, mind you, but this one truly deserved all the praise it was getting. It was cask #525 which was responsible for taking the whisky world by storm.

I was lucky enough to sample that and was suitably impressed. OK extremely impressed. Here’s a link to that review if you don’t believe me.

Now I was quite curious to see how the other casks would play out. After a bit of hunting I managed to get my hands on Cask 537.

While quite competent it does not hold a candle to the award-winning Cask 525 which, in my opinion, is asking for a lot. And it is precisely the reason why whisky fascinates me so much. The same spirit matured in exactly the same way can yield such contrasting results.

Nose: Clove. Cinnamon. Chocolate. Red plums. Lots of berries. Black peppers. Mocha. Caramel Marchiato. Red grapes. Overwhelming red apple. Sandalwood. It’s a nice unusual offering with the French Oak imparting a lot of spices.

Palate: Not a lot on offer here. Oak. Apples. Brown dates. Chocolate mocha. Cinnamon. And did I mention oak? Doesn’t deliver the same level balance and intensity as 525.

Finish: Medium. Cinnamon. Oak.

While this sample may not have lived up to it’s brothers’ stellar reputation I respect the art of the single cask process. Spirit the way it’s supposed to be.

Rating: 87

Springbank Gaja Barolo

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Distillery/Brand: Springbank | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 54.7% | Color: Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
Springbank is pretty much a genius distillery in my opinion. The way it produces three different whiskies from one set of stills is quite remarkable. And the fact that each whisky is pretty darn good is further testament to it’s stellar reputation.

It’s fought it’s fair share of wars with sulphur but then who hasn’t? Springbanks are primarily sherried and gently peated with an air of coastal sea salt around them. Their 10 & 12 year old cask strength versions are a joy to behold. As is the rather pricey 21 year old.

This particular expression is not as old that. Bottled at nine years it spent it’s first four years in a bourbon cask and the last five in a fresh Gaja Barolo barrel.

The Gaja Barolo is a type of red wine produced in Northern Italy using the Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes. I’ve, frankly, never had a Gaja Barolo so I’m not really sure what to expect.

The sample I have was distilled in February 2004 and bottled in October 2013. It is one of 11,000 bottles and served at 54.7% ABV.

Nose: Quite grainy. Dusty. Green. Herbaceous. Hint of talcum powder. Very mild peat. Faint cardboard. Ginger gratings. Dry wood. Honey. Sea salt. Could have been stronger overall. Lacks the depth and complexity, in my opinion.

Palate: Lots of pepper. Oak. Berries. Sea salt. Mild peat. Cinnamon. Dark chocolate. Tannins. Tobacco leaves. Brown sugar. A bit rough around the edges and a touch bitter. It’s not a disaster, mind you. But it so easily could have been.

Finish: Woody. Coffee beans. Some spice. Berries. Bitter ash.

Not entirely sure whether the experiment is working. It’s interesting enough, I suppose. Not sure why this particular wine was chosen to mature the spirit. I wish I could get my hands on an actual bottle of Gaja Barolo just to understand.

Not my favorite Springbank, that’s for sure.

Rating: 85

Amrut Fusion

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Distillery/Brand: Amrut | Region: India | ABV: 50% | Color: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
Those of you who know me know that I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to anything Amrut. I heard about this distillery from Bangalore from an Indian friend of mine and was then pleasantly surprised to hear that a certain Mr Murray had rated it as his Top 3 for the year.

Intrigued I set about trying to snag a bottle but given the distillery’s ridiculously tiny output and (at that time) limited distribution it was proving to be an extremely tough assignment.

Anyway, after much perseverance (twelve calls to the distillery and a friend traveling from India) I somehow finally managed two. Luckily for me it was totally worth the favor I had to reluctantly pull.

At 46% they were intended for the local Indian market which gave me a hankering for the 50% export expression. By that time my local distributor had some in stock so it was much easier scoring a third bottle.

Amrut Fusion is a blend of peated Scottish barley and un-peated Himalayan barley. Distilled separately using water from Punjab both spirits are left to mature independently for three to five years in ex-Bourbon barrels and then married together to create what is, arguably, my favorite thing to come out of India.

PS: If my wife is reading this I meant to say second favorite thing.

This sample is from Batch No 10 bottled in May 2011 and opened over two years ago. The oxidization seems to have made this even better than I remember.

Nose: Strong barley. Honey. Peat. Salt. Coffee. Chocolate. Mocha. Perfectly ripe bananas. Crisp pears. All spice. Hint of husk and breakfast cereal. Funnily enough it has a sherry quality to it even though there is none involved. A warm captivating nose.

Palate: Creamy mouthfeel. Peppers. Orange marmalade. Honey. Raisins. Figs. Almonds. Cream puff. Chocolate. And that oak. It’s the perfectly crafted oak that makes this delivery quite sensational.

Finish: Oily. Long. Spices. And that magnificent oak.

This is the dram that put a traditional rum making distillery on to the whisky map. The expressions that followed were genius but they were dared on the back of this savant.

Rating: 93

Compass Box The General

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Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 53.4% | Color: Full Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94

Review
Everyone loves a good story. None more so than me when it comes to whisky. And Compass Box seem to have a ton in store. Given the lopsided state of the whisky industry where stories (read marketing gimmicks) trump whisky quality it is natural to be a bit weary of enticing tales.

But when the spirit inside the bottle just happens to be a cut above so many of the others then a good story makes it that much more special.

Which is precisely the case with this gorgeous and extremely unique blend.

Compass Box, in my opinion, are possibly the finest independent bottlers of blended whisky today. From the Spice Tree to The Flaming Heart and now to this beautifully crafted gem there is seldom an instance when they are sub-par at their craft.

One day a strange thing happened at the Compass Box offices. A cask turned up claiming to be around 33 years of age which included spirit that had already been blended when young and left to mature. Now this is a strange thing to have in ones’ possession.

However, what is stranger still is that another cask was brought into their possession which also happened to have blended spirit in it and this one had been maturing for over 40 years. But no one really knows for sure.

The delightful mystery is that no one really knows what kind of whiskies were in both casks or even what sort of casks they were. So Compass Box did what they do best. They experimented.

They felt the only way this could work was if both the spirits were blended to make one whisky. And so after many tries at the correct ratios they finally arrived at The General. This blend is named after the 1926 Buster Keaton movie where he takes an old steam locomotive (The General) on a wild ride to find the love of his life.

One of 1678 bottles and bottled at 53.4% this is one of the finest blends you can try.

Nose: Equally strong sherry as well as bourbon. Very dry. Lots of oak. A lovely weathered oak at that. Warm chocolate oranges. Clove. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Wood varnish. Sweet brown sugar. Sandalwood. Maple syrup. Dry autumn leaves and the faintest of peat. A lovely and strong nose.

Palate: Cinnamon. Dark honey. Maple syrup. Chocolate. Apple stew. Hints of cumin. And that beautifully textured wood. So mature and held together with amazing poise.

Finish: Long. Oloroso sherry. Cinnamon. And the mature oak is back.

This is a lovely whisky which seems to have worked as a result of creative blending. And every time I try a different Compass Box release I fall in love with their style a little more.

Rating: 94