Ardbeg 15 Years Cadenhead 1994

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 56% | Color: Chardonnay
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

There’s a certain old school way of making single malt whiskies that I really like. No frills. Just good old-fashioned traditional whisky making.

Distill some quality spirit. Stick it in a high quality bourbon cask. Let it sit and pull out all the flavors. Don’t mix it with any other liquid to balance out any flavors. Serve it at cask strength. Sit back and enjoy.

I miss those days. Of whisky making, that is. I’m not old enough to miss those actual days. But I sure as hell can appreciate them. Which brings me to my first ever Cadenhead whisky. It is also my first ever independent Ardbeg. And most importantly it is my first ever single cask Ardbeg.

So there’s a lot of special firsts here for me. And I tell you this is well worth the occasion.

There’s not a lot of literature for this particular bottling (most independents are notoriously difficult to get info on) and so the only thing I know is that this was distilled in 1994, bottled in February 2010, matured exclusively in a bourbon hogshead for 15 years, one of 268 bottles produced and served at a cask strength of 56%.

Nose: Peat. Grist. Lemon. Lime. Citrus. Fruits. Melon. It’s very sweet. Crystallised sugars. Cigar ash. Vanilla. Liquorice. Barley. Oak. Toast. Smoked oysters. Green apple. Reminds me of the Still Young when I first had it. Same controlled peaty elegance. Also very similar to the recent spate of young Kilchomans that I’ve been tasting. This is a beautiful nose. Something very old-fashioned about it.

Palate: Lemon. Spices. The delivery is quite sharp. Sponge cake. All spice. Mid-palate it starts to get a little burnt. Oak. Cigar leaf. Quite salty. But very crisp. Young green apple crisp.

Finish: Long. Oak. Spices. There’s something mildly bitter here.

I love whiskies like this. Straight up no nonsense. No maturing in ten different casks with ten different types of vatting. No marketing BS. Let the spirit speak, I say, if you’re brave enough.

Also makes me realize why Ardbeg is cult. All the stock from the 90s that I’ve tasted is insane. Why are they having such a hard time re-creating the magic? Why?

Rating: 93


Stronachie 10

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Distillery/Brand: Benrinnes | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 86

I was on a bit of a shopping spree when I came across this funny sounding whisky. What’s a Stronachie? I asked my self. Never heard of it. Tried to do a bit of research but there was precious little.

After much digging I managed to unearth some facts. Independent bottlers AD Rattray wanted to re-create spirit from a closed distillery and decided to go with Stronachie, a Highland distillery closed sometime in 1904.

However, rather than actually create a unique spirit (like how Richard Paterson did for the Mackinlay or how The Lost Distillery Company does with it’s Stratheden, Gerston and Auchnagie) AD Rattray figured that the spirit over at Benrinnes Distillery was the closest to what Stronachie would have tasted like.

So, in essence, this is simply a 10 year old Benrinnes bottled by AD Rattray under the Stronachi name.

Oh, well.

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

Nose: Citrus. Malt butter. Pineapple. Touch of dough. Hint of oak. Custard. Chocolate. Floral. It’s quite fresh. Delicate. Lingers. Some turmeric. Gets more malty with water. More floral. Some musk. Black salt.

Palate: Quite thin prickly delivery. White pepper. Citrus. Custard apple. Pears. Fruity. Becomes slightly bitter mid-palate. Oak. Bourbon. Chocolate. Herbs. Vanilla. Mellows with some water. The spices fade.

Finish: Long. Lingering. Some spice. Oak. Citrus.

This one is quite understated. No real fireworks here. Wasn’t sure what to expect. One dimensional at best. Not entirely bad. Great value for money, though.

Rating: 86


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Distillery/Brand: Sia | ABV: 43% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

I was just going through my emails when I saw one from a certain Carin Luna-Ostaseski. Who’s she? I wondered.

As it turns out she’s a former digital creative who decided that it would be a good idea to develop a new brand of blended Scotch whisky from scratch. So she took her proposal to Kickstarter to get it funded.

Then she got none other than Douglas Laing to put together the blend for her. It boasts a fairly high malt to grain ratio (40/60) with whiskies from three regions Speyside (50%), the Highlands (40%) and Islay (10%).

Through 245 backers she managed to raise US$45k and realized her dream of creating a blended whisky.

And she was nice enough to send over sample for me to have a go at. Now let me tell you something. I don’t fall for transparent marketing ploys – no matter how good the story if the liquid inside isn’t worth my time I’ll call it like it is.

However, this one is.

Nose: Melons. Hint of peat. Dark honey. Very sweet. Cloves. Citrus. Pineapple. Apple strudel. Butter malt. The caramel explodes. Hint of salt. The nose is quite big. Lots and lots of fruity sweetness. I like it

Palate: Hint of peat. Honey. Melons. Quite fruity. Creamy. Mild spices. Peaches. Creme Brulee. Vanilla. Nuts. I like the delivery. It has a nice robust mouthfeel. Must be the high ratio of malts in play here.

Finish: Short. Oak. Spices. Wisp of smoke.

I think if you look past the alluring stories this is quite an accomplished tipple. Seems like it’s been thought through at all levels. From the stylish packaging to the approachable flavor profile. I quite like this.

And I like it more because it’s making whisky approachable to a completely different audience. And that can only be a good thing.

Rating: 89

Benromach 10 Years

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Distillery/Brand: Benromach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Color: Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 90

I’m writing this review hot on the trails of my latest love affair from the same distillery – The Benromach 10 100 Proof. However, it was this standard 10 Year old bottling responsible for us meeting. And for that I owe it a debt of gratitude.

I am, like many other whisky enthusiasts, a fan of Ralfy and his modest yet honest ways. So when he announced this single malt as his whisky of the year I was naturally quite curious.

Benromach has had a history of closures and re-openings, however, it’s greatest fortune has come at the hands of legendary independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail. Having acquired the distillery in 1993 (10 years after it closed down) they fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning and running their very own. And it was finally in 2004 that they bottled their first whisky.

However, what I truly love about them is that they have decided to go back to Speyside roots and re-create the classic flavors of the 60s. Using stock acquired from Diageo as a benchmark they set about re-creating a lightly peated (12ppm) spirit reminiscent of the old days.

And I have to admit this is turning out to be quite a stellar comeback. Steeped in traditionalism the distillery is run by just three people and the only computer in the distillery is used to check emails. Which means that the process and the end product is truly a reflection of skill and the perfection of this art.

This is a smart blend of 80% bourbon and 20% sherry hogshead married together for it’s final year in first-fill Oloroso casks thus completing it’s 10 year journey.

My sample is from a brand new bottle with a strength of 43% and has been bottled on 07.08.2014

Nose: Mild peat. Honeysuckle. Fruit wax. Quite earthy. Vanilla. Dark chocolate. Faint spices – maybe ginger. Hint of oak. Green peas. Tobacco leaf. Dried green tea. Touch of nuts. This is wonderfully balanced with no off notes.

Palate: The delivery is quite thin without being weak. Silky is more like it. Ginger. Honey. Quite sweet with a touch of spice. Vanilla. Tobacco. Chocolate. Nuts. Roasted dark caramel. Wisp of smoke. Nice and balanced bordering on easy drinking. Very approachable.

Finish: Medium. Tobacco. Oak. Bitter chocolate.

This is a fantastic little whisky which ticks a lot of the right boxes. I really like this style of Speyside. I hope other established Speysiders can take a leaf from Benromach’s book and try and re-create the magic.

Rating: 90

PS: I don’t normally do this but if you’re in the mood try and pair it with a dark chocolate. Stunning.

Benromach 100 Proof

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Distillery/Brand: Benromach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 57% | Color: Old Sauternes
Nose: 24 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 96

This whisky is the reason I take time out from my busy schedule and inflict slow damage to my liver. Just to let my whisky colleagues know that there are treasures out there simply waiting to be discovered.

I’ll be honest. Benromach was not on my radar as a must-try. I was going to get there eventually but I was in no rush. But then Ralfy decided it would be a good idea to declare their 10 year old as his whisky of the year. While I usually scoff at such titles Ralfy is a dependable chap.

So I decided this was a good time as any to put his claim to the test. So while I was in the process of procuring said title holder I saw this particular expression sitting by the 10 year olds’ side. Labelled as 100 proof it came in at 57% compared to the measly 43% that the standard 10 year old was bottled at.

What I love is that Benromach has decided to re-create the classic Speyside flavors of the 60s which means that there is a small amount of peat used in the barley (12ppm in the final product to be exact).

This 10 year old spirit is a blend of 80% bourbon and 20% sherry hogshead married together for it’s final year in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks. My sample is from a brand new bottle dated 25.09.2014

Nose: Crisp sherry. No off notes here. Green tobacco leaf. Chocolate. Oak. Dates. Dark fruits. Cinnamon. Some fudge. Dark currant jam. Strawberries. Red apple. Vanilla. Let it breathe and it becomes a little more savory. Fresh green peas. Hint of ginger. Gets dry over time. This such a beautiful nose. It’s not overly complex. All the aromas are on point and beautifully represented. This is close to being perfect.

Palate: The tobacco is king here. Smoked oak. Some sherry. Touch bitter. But a manly bitter. Nothing off here.Chocolate. Cinnamon. Maple syrup. Christmas cake. Rum topf. Caramel. The Oloroso really comes into play here. Leads the way but never overpowers. Let’s the spirit speak.

Finish: Long. Tobacco. Touch of mint. Oak.

This is an insanely beautiful whisky. Hats off to Benromach (and G&M for reviving it) for embracing traditionalism in favor of mass production and NAS profits. Truly a masterclass in elegance and a glimpse into the glorious past that is Speyside whisky.

Rating: 96