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

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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

Port Ellen 32 XOP

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Distillery/Brand: Port Ellen | Region: Islay | ABV: 53.9% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 9.3 | Palate: 9.4 | Finish: 9.2 | Overall Score: 9.3

Review
We trudged in single file along the narrow road leading out of Bowmore and up towards the Gaellic school. The six of us, all wearing Malt Activist t-shirts in a show of solidarity, were headed to a Douglas Laing tasting by the name of Favourite of the Feis.

Having attended one last year we were eager to meet again the lovely Caroline and the affable Jan Beckers from DL. I had been in touch with Caroline over mail in the weeks running up to the event and had requested her to organise something special for our little group of first-timers. She accommodated with this stunning Port Ellen XOP.

Distilled in 1982 and bottled 32 years later I decided I was going to spring this as a surprise to the group once the official tasting was over. They had no idea and I couldn’t wait to see their faces.

As soon as the last dram had been consumed I motioned everyone to remain seated and with a flourish, from inside my bag, pulled out six vials of the precious liquid. I was immediately greeted with loud whoops, back slaps and even a spontaneous hug. That reaction was well worth keeping this little secret bottled up inside of me for more than two months.

We trooped outside to the terrace of the Gaellic Centre and, with the sea air blowing in our faces, toasted our trip to Islay. For some of us it was the first time tasting a Port Ellen and I could not have thought of a better backdrop to have it against.

Served at a natural cask strength of 53.9% our sample is from cask 10658 and one of only 115 bottles produced.

Nose: Delicate smoke. Beautifully understated as it lingers long. Very mild peat. Surprising to still find it there. Nuts. Wild green berries. Green apples. A nice green citric element to the proceedings. Malted barley. Gets sweeter over time. White chocolate brownie (Is there such a thing? If not then there should be!). Very well rounded. No jarring edges. Just beautiful. 9.3

Palate: Boom! Always big. Very nutty. A nice pinch of green tobacco. Coastal sea salt (not sure if the liquid or the setting, to be honest). A faint touch of smoke. That wonderful Islay grist – just good clean barley coming through. A profile that I admire the most and consistently use as a yardstick to measure quality. Coming out in spades here. Speck of dark chocolate. Lovely balanced liquid. 9.4

Finish: Nice and long. Drying with a touch of oak and spice. 9.2

Overall Comments: Well, what can I say. A whisky from a bygone era. The joy of being on Islay amid friends. We could have been drinking turpentine and it wouldn’t have mattered. The fact that the whisky was stunning was just an added bonus to the proceedings.

Overall Score: 9.3

Laphroaig Cairdeas 12

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 57.5% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 8.4 | Palate: 8.6 | Finish: 8.5 | Overall Score: 8.5

Review
Every couple of weeks I wake up with a hankering for Islay and since I don’t have the luxury of being spontaneous I do the next best thing. I go over the hundreds of pictures and videos I have in my collection and try and re-live those moments.

Among the coveted memorabilia from that tiny island is my little notepad with the word NOTES scrawled across the cover. As you might have guessed it contains tasting notes on pretty much every single whisky I tasted while I was there. Thus, whenever I feel nostalgic I riffle through the ones I haven’t shared with you yet and bring them out.

If you know me you know Laphroaig is in my top two distilleries of all time – no mean feat given my overly critical personality and a penchant for theatrics. But they have more solid whiskies than duds and that’s enough to keep me satisfied.

We were in Islay for the Feis (Festival) and had a number of things planned for this day. Started off with a nice tasting at Bowmore after which we made our way to Islay Breweries to soak in the sun and drink some ales. After a couple of lazy hours at the brewery we headed over to Laphroaig to experience their famed Premium Tasting.

The session was conducted by our good friend James and we had a number of excellent whiskies on the menu. We started off with the 10 which was followed by the new 15 and then the softly understated 21 year old. A stunning 16 year old single cask from Warehouse 1 (not for general release) and finally this Cairdeas in question.

Released back in 2009, signalling the appointment of John Campbell as the new distillery manager, this beauty is 12 years old and harvested from a host of first-fill Makers Mark bourbon barrels. My sample is from an open bottle and served at 57.5%

Nose: Brilliantly Laphroaig. Creamy. Buttery. But with a sharp citric quality typical of the distillery. Like a razor sharp lime. Let it breathe and it becomes a more rounded. Now a touch softer. Some minerals. Limestone. Meanders into a nice fruitiness. Cherry liquorice. Now a touch of rock salt. Soft peat. Wisp of smoke. Some wet wood. If you’re a fan of Laphroaig there’s nothing wrong here.

Palate: Crisp. Sharp. Bold. Quite drying. That mineral quality again. Limestone. Quite nutty now. Almond husks. That sharp lime is the dominant force now. Starts off sweet and then moves to a sea-saltiness. Lovely maritime flavours. Once again, as a fan of the distillery, you’d be hard pressed to find a lot wrong.

Finish: Long. Drying. And that lovely limestone again.

Overall Comments: This is my sweet spot for whiskies (as it is for a couple of other friends of mine); twelve years old, first-fill bourbon and bottled at cask strength. Sometimes I wish all whiskies were made like this.

Overall Score: 8.5

Glenlivet Cipher

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Distillery/Brand: Glenlivet | Region: Speyside | ABV: 48% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 6.2 | Palate: 6.0 | Finish: 6.1 | Overall Score: 6.1

Review
I laugh at whiskies like these.

Correction.

I laugh at marketing tactics like these.

All well and good for the casual drinker hurrying through Travel Retail looking to bring home a story. But grumpy bloggers like me, who have a point to prove, can only roll their eyes as far back into their sockets as they’ll go and emit distasteful snorts.

First up, let me tell you how I feel about Glenlivet.

They are the reason I drink whisky today. If I hadn’t accidentally picked up a bottle of the 15 year old French Oak Reserve I might still be stocking my bar with two litre bottles of Grey Goose. That whisky taught me about flavours, balance and above all a delicious subtlety that I could never have related to a spirit like whisky. It’s not the best whisky in the world, far from it, but I have a special soft spot for it.

I then fell in love with the 16 year old Nadurra Cask Strength. The old school release. I challenge anyone to defy this perfectly matured and wonderfully crisp expression that has my heart racing every time I take a sip. It is the reason why I’m such a sucker for high strength whiskies today. Once again the flavours and balance are spot on.

While the majority of their whiskies may be borderline boring (read classic Speyside) I give them their due for championing their easy-going brand of liquid among the masses. Alongside Glenfiddich they deserve a ton of credit for putting dependable single malt whiskies in the hands of the new generation.

Which brings me to the second time they’ve pulled this little trick. The first one was called the Alpha. A whisky with absolutely no information. In an era where consumers are increasingly asking for more information Glenlivet decided it would be a fun idea to do exactly the opposite. No age, no cask, no notes; absolutely nothing. Drink it and figure it out.

Sure, why not. I’ll come along. You have me intrigued. The fact that the spirit was barely average didn’t help but, hey, these things happen. I played along as did everyone else. Now if you could please go back and make some tasty whiskies that would be great.

Well, they didn’t. They started making some really bad whiskies. Discontinued the 12 year old and replaced it with the Founders Reserve; absolute piss. Bastardised my favourite Nadurra by taking away the age and corrupting it with over-oaked Oloroso. Generally taking everything they stood for and began running it into the ground.

And on top of that decided to re-hash the experiment that never worked in the first place and released yet another mystery malt. Come on! No one cares! Just because this time around it comes with a website where I have to guess the flavours doesn’t make this a good whisky. Because it’s not.

Had at a party, where my gracious host unveiled it for all of us to try it was greeted with clucks of disapprovals and shaking of heads. And that’s what my biggest peeve is. Customers who spend good money to buy marketing spiel in the hope of creating a positive experience by sharing it among friends. And imagine when it has the absolute opposite effect.

Sad.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 48%

Nose: Don’t have to tell me it’s sherry. Lots of it. Immediate on the nose. You know it’s Glenlivet thanks to the vanilla. The strong green apple. Red berries. Now more chocolate. Dark. The oak is quite distinct here. Doesn’t bode well for the palate, methinks. 6.2

Palate: Just as I suspected. That oak has taken over everything. Very drying. Pencil shavings. Some ginger spice. Vanilla. Quite tannic. Dark chocolate. Dark honey. Those red apples again. But the oak’s made everything too bitter for me to like it. 6.0

Finish: Medium. Very dry. Very oaky. 6.1

Overall Comments: I think I’ve said what I had to say. Cool bottle, though.

Overall Score: 6.1