Balvenie 17 Year Old Sherry Oak

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Color: Copper
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
This particular expression has a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. It was my first serious purchase of a single malt. I remember looking at it sitting on the shelf at my duty free and thinking what is that insanely captivating bottle with that deep dark liquid inside of it?

I picked it off the shelf and, unlike what I do nowadays, I literally uncorked it the moment I got home. This was a number of years ago and I had no idea about sherry maturation or generally anything to do with single malts. All I knew was if something tasted this good then I was on the right path.

I’ve tasted a number of Balvenies down the road and they are one of the few extremely reliable distilleries when it comes to releasing top stuff. I like the different experimentations they have been up to also with different casks.

First launched in 2007 this 17 year old expression has been matured exclusively in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks. There is always the danger of the sherry overpowering the spirit when you do that, however, when you have master craftsmen at work that seldom happens.

My sample is from a brand new bottle (2012) and served at 43%

Nose: Vanilla. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Fruit cake. Christmas cake. Raisins – the big dark kind. Clove. Dark plums. Berries. Sugarcane. Ginger. Oak. Cola. The nose is thick and quite syrupy. But not in a sickly way. It just makes you feel warm inside.

Palate: Chocolate. Oak. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Fruit cake. Maple syrup. Rose water. Tobacco leaf. Vanilla. Classic Oloroso flavors. Brilliantly put together.

Finish: Sweet. Vanilla. Maple syrup. Rose water.

One of the truly good whiskies of our time.

Rating: 93

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Ardbeg 17 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 40% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Review
They say love is illogical and fascination need not have a reason. I say they. I actually mean me. Early on in my journey as a malt nerd I decided that I would devote my irrational emotions to a little known distillery by the name of Ardbeg.

It started with the 10. Then the Uigi. The Corry was followed by the Alligator and I began getting hooked. Desire trumped logic and I flippantly decided that I would make it my life’s mission to acquire as many Ardbeg expressions as I humanly (read financially) could.

And, thus, for no reason other than personal satisfaction began my journey towards financial ruin. Of them all there was one which got my attention above all the rest. It was the 17 year old. I don’t know why. I proffer no explanation other than there was something mysteriously beautiful about it.

Given that it was getting increasingly rare on the ground I had a hard time finding one at a good price but somehow managed. Not wanting to crack my full 70cl open for a few nips I managed to procure a couple of minis for a tasting.

And so after lusting behind this malt for over four years I finally sat down and fulfilled my silly little love dream.

Nose: Very mild peat. When I say mild I mean it’s really mild. Delicate soot. Tangerines. Cured meats. Sweet fish oil (if there is such a thing). Apricots. Dehydrated berries. Pineapple. Iodine and eucalyptus. It gets sweeter over time with a cherry cola quality. It is quite possibly one of the mildest Ardbegs on the nose ever. After a while you could be forgiven for thinking it might actually be a Speysider. There’s none of the real Ardbeg aromas. It’s not bad but it seems like everything is bit subdued.

Palate: Mild. Cardboard. Sweet lemon. Fruits with a wisp of smoke. Very faint peppers. Touch of mint. The palate is once again on the softer side. Everything is held back a touch.

Finish: Disappears at first but then comes back well. Oily with hints of oak and fruit spearmint.

Jim Murray had a hand in crafting this expression and it was the first one to emerge from the distillery when it re-opened under Glenmorangie’s leadership. I think the intention was to re-introduce the distillery to a much much wider audience with flavors deemed palatable to the novice drinker.

I wish I had drunk this many years ago when it first came out. I would have liked it much better then. Today, while I still think this is a fine dram, I missed the robustness of the Ardbeg flavors that I am so used to.

But love is blind and I am happy that I was able to cross this one off the top of my list.

Rating: 88

Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years

Nikka Taketsuru 17
Distillery/Brand: Nikka Taketsuru | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
Taketsuru San is a legend. He worked in Scotland during the early part of the 20th century at Longmorn and then at Hazelburn all the while carefully plotting a plan that would take the whisky world by storm.

He went back to Japan armed with whisky making knowledge and a Scottish wife (of no relevance to this review by the way) and began work at Kotobukiya (which would later become Suntory). Then in 1934 he decided to open up his own distillery and chose Yoichi on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaid. He believed that this part of the country most resembled Scotland.

This distillery would be named Nikka.

This pure 2013 pure malt is a homage to the great man who is responsible for some of my finest moments in whisky drinking. This blend also has the distinction of winning the 2014 World Whiskies Award for Best Blend. Not that I give a toss about whisky awards.

Nose: The sherry influence is is obvious. Dark honey and marmalade fig jam on slightly burnt toast. There is a touch of fresh mint and almonds too. It gets fruitier over time with pears and red berries. All this against a backdrop of decadent oaky chocolate cake.

Palate: Rich. Robust. Creamy. Unmistakable sherry raisins and chocolate maple. The black coffee peppers bring the spice while the ripe sultanas add a touch of fruit.

Finish: Spicy date on autumn leaves.

This is quite a bold whisky and unashamed of it’s flavors. I’d love to see a cask strength version of this.

Nikka, are you reading this?

Rating: 92

BenRiach 17 Year Old Solstice Second Edition

Benriach 17 solstice

Distillery/Brand: BenRiach
Region: Speyside
ABV: 50%
Colour: Young Sauternes

Nose: 22
Taste: 21
Finish: 21
Balance: 22

Review
I have developed a fascination with BenRiach ever since I tasted a truly horrendous 20 year old. Vowing never to touch another one I went back on my words and actually ended up binge buying eight expressions. This 17 Year Old Second Edition Solstice is one of them. The First Edition is supposed to be legendary, unfortunately, this one is not.

Nose: Finished in Tawny Port pipes and using strong peated barley the nose reminded me of an understated Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Probably had to do with all that smoky peat and iodine on the nose. Purple grapes and cherry drops offer up the sweetness. It then takes on salty overtones with a slight hint of dankness. Get around it and there is a bubbling meat stew underneath it all. Certainly a lot going on here.

Palate: Smokey with burnt toast smeared with chocolate molasses. There’s a hint of toffee apples and some nuts but overall the delivery is fairly one dimensional.

Finish: The finish of cardamom and dark fruits left me wanting. It was completely absent on the first sip yet there on the second. I don’t know why.

This is a decent whisky but I suspect a step down from the First Edition.

Rating: 86

Ballantines 17

Ballantines17

Distiller:
Ballantines

ABV:
43%

Colour:
Pale Gold

Review:
At first I was a little daunted with writing a review of Jim Murray’s Whisky of the Year 2011 but then I said to my self ‘Bah! Who cares what Jim thinks!’

Let me tell you what I think.

This is truly an absolutely brilliant blended whisky. It’s strength lies in delivering every single element in subtlety and perfect harmony.

The nose is like digging through a multi-layered dessert using a big fat silver spoon. The first layer is honey and a beautiful pudding. Dig deeper and you will find a thin layer of butterscotch and vanilla on top of which are thin slices of juicy, moist pears. (I’m drooling just writing this!). The base of the dessert is made up of delicate bran crumble pastry sprayed with just the slightest hints of something floral. One of the sweetest, most delicate noses you will find.

The palate is a full bodied, slightly oily, silken affair with your taste buds. As the first, more prominent, sweeter profiles start to fade there comes a mysterious complexity about this blend. The tiniest wisp of chocolatey smoke coupled with an elegant woody grace make this one of the most astonishing of spirit deliveries. The gentle spices and that gorgeous, but minuscule, after taste of a Cuban cigar box wrap up, what has to be in my books, the Whisky of the Year.

What? Jim already said that? Bah! Who cares what he thinks!

Rating : 94

Suntory Hibiki 17

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Distiller:
Suntory Hibiki

Colour:
Young Sauternes

Review:
The nose is very sweet and floral with touches of honey and lavender. Extremely sweet and scented. On a second sniff I got a smattering of nutty almonds. There is a hint of cereal in there some where. The palate is quite dry and extremely sweet but is overpowered quickly with spices. Adding two drops of water opens up the nose even more and delivers strongly on the palate. The spices are gone with the addition of water. The finish is very oaky and full of woody pencil shavings. A very nice dram

Rating : 88