Distillery/Brand: Amrut | Region: India | ABV: 62.3% | Colour: Dark Copper
Nose: 8.8 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 8.6 | Overall Score: 8.6
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
Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: UNKNOWN | Colour: Pale Straw
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?
Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 56.1% | Colour: Burgundy
Nose: 7.4 | Palate: 7.4 | Finish: 7.8 | Overall Score: 7.5
Another day. Another Islay whisky reviewed. This time it’s the 2016 Feis Ile hand-fill from Bowmore.
Matured for 17 years in a single Pedro Ximenez cask this was scooped out of the barrel and served to us straight as we sat in the distillery’s tasting room at 10.30 in the morning.
The sunny weather was showing no signs of letting up as we sauntered down to the distillery which was but a few minutes stroll from our self-catering cottage on High Street. As we made our way through the gates we were greeted by a hundred strong line of eager shoppers as they snaked their way into the distillery shop and to the ever depleting supply of Feis bottles.
After picking up our tickets at the gate we milled around with the crowd until we were ushered inside to the tasting room.
Joining 20 odd people we took our seats and came face to face with four drams sitting right in front of us.
1. A 15 year old first-fill bourbon hogshead bottled at 53%
2. A 13 year old first-fill Oloroso sherry oak bottled at 54%
3. The Feis Ile 2016 vintage 25 year old finished off in Claret Wine and bottled at 55.7%
And finally number 4 : This years’ festival hand-fill. The 17 year old matured exclusively in a Pedro Ximenez butt and bottled at 56.1%
Now there was a serious debate between which of the two festival bottles was a better one. Some preferring the hand-fill (majority) while some preferring the 25 year old (me). Though, I have to admit it was a mighty close race. Even after I went back and re-tasted the two side by side. Regardless of what the critics say I still prefer the 25 year old. But that doesn’t mean the hand-fill is a sub-standard dram.
Far from it.
My sample is straight from the cask and served at 56.1%
Nose: The PX is up in your face. Very strong and dominant. The smoke is soft and nice. Quite densely packed with flavour. Seems heavy if you know what I mean. Some tannins. Earthy red rum. Like a savoury Old Monk. Molasses. Blackberry. South American chocolates. Grassy overtones. Like the dying embers of a spent forest fire. Opens up a touch with water. A little sweeter. 7.4
Palate: Damn. A lot of spice. Very drying. Full. Cinnamon. Liquorice. Juicy raisins. Bold oak. Black peppercorns. Mocha. That same South American twang. Peruvian coffee beans. Lindt 85%. With water a touch spicier. A touch drier. 7.4
Finish: Long. Again extremely drying. Oak. Cinnamon. Fills your mouth. With water it’s a little shorter. So don’t. My favourite part of the journey. 7.8
Overall Comments: I really like this style of whisky. Unadulterated. Untouched by human hands. Totally unique in it’s own form. I like that. Whether or not I like how it actually tastes is a simply a point of view. But I like this whisky. It’s bold. It’s flavourful. It’s just not spectacular, that’s all. And I have nothing against that.
Overall Score: 7.5
The following is an honest account of my experience at a recent Berry Brothers & Rudd tasting.
We were greeted with a sweet cherry cocktail as we walked into the clubhouse of the Jumeirah Golf Estates, one of the many developments that have sprung up around the outskirts of Dubai. They call it secluded but the phrase that came to my mind was more along the lines of out in the boonies.
Since I was early I perched at the bar and kept my self busy watching, you guessed it, golf on the many HD screens hanging from the walls. Once there were sufficient numbers crowding the waiting area we were ushered into the restaurant and shown to our numbered tables.
The head-chef came out first and explained the menu to us in great detail. Food wise things were looking promising. The chocolate mousse and pistachio dessert was what I was really waiting for. As it turned out the entire meal was absolutely fantastic.
The fresh salmon ceviche was followed by a baked sea bass. Braised beef in a whisky reduction was next and a lovely chocolate mousse with pistachio ice cream was pretty much spot on. Really happy with what I ate that night.
Unfortunately I wish I could say the same for the whiskies that we encountered.
Having been in the business since 1698 Berry Brothers & Rudd are one of the oldest wine and spirits merchants in the UK. They also bottle a hefty number of whiskies which they sell under their BBR label. Counting the four that I had that evening it would bring the total number of BBR whiskies I had tasted up to a whopping 11.
I think that’s enough whiskies to form a general opinion on the overall quality and style of a particular independent. Sure there are some hits and some misses. But when the misses are overwhelming then one has no choice but to cast judgement.
And so I have cast. You, sir, are not to my liking.
The first whisky of the evening was the blended Speyside Reserve. I’d love to know what reserve really means. So many distilleries use it to denote spirit kept aside for a special purpose. What I think it really means is I have no idea what this whisky stands for. Let’s put Reserve in the name and hope for the best.
The young whisky was quite bland and boring as was the speech by Doug McIvor, their Spirits Manager, who read off the cue cards at the beginning of the evening. After which he settled down for his meal and that was the last we heard of him.
Left to our own devices we decided to take the evening seriously and settled down to making some notes.
Note: All whiskies reviewed under were bottled at 46%
Nose: Hello rotting wet wood. Looks like a sulphured cask in here somewhere. Can’t be anything else. Quite overpowering if you ask me. Processed honey. Sugarcane juice. Sweet heather. Love hearts. They all try but the sulphur is a bit much.
Palate: Very light. Uninteresting. Bitter. That sulphur again. Quite spirity and raw. Tries to be sweet. Can’t. What a waste of time.
Finish: Let’s just leave this field blank.
Overall Score: 5.0
The second whisky to be brought out was an 8 year old single grain Girvan. One of the comments left on my Twitter feed after I posted this picture was @WhiskyCliff saying the only reason Girvan existed was to remind us how good single malt really is.
I must admit I laughed a little at that.
Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2014 (see I told you it was 8 years old) it’s not as bad as the comment that was made but let’s just say I’m not rushing out to get t-shirts with I [heart] Girvan printed on them.
Nose: ex-Bourbon barrels have given this a sweet vanilla essence. Faint nectarines. Neutral greens. Jolly Green Giant peas. Mild fennel. It’s not as bad as the previous one. Still no sparks, though.
Palate: Right then. Back into previous territory. Bitter. Quite savoury. Coconut. Vanilla. Hint of oak. Nope. No thank you.
Finish: Still bitter. Still not good.
Overall Score: 5.5
Ah, what do we have here? A closed distillery. And my first Caperdonich.
Striking color on this one. The sherry seems to have done it’s job. And twenty years old on top of that. Here’s hoping.
Nose: Now that’s what I’m talking about. Nice. Very nice. Ripe bananas. Stewed red fruits. Stewed cherries that you ladle on a cheesecake. Cherry Cola. Dry arm chair leather. Pomegranate peel. Mint leaves. Seems like an Oloroso butt here. I really like this.
Palate: Nice oak. Maybe a tad tired but this is not the time to start being cynical. Lindt 70%. Cinnamon. Burnt caramel on creme brûlée. Not as good as the nose (thanks to the oak) but quite drinkable. Let’s order another dram.
Finish: Medium. Nice. Lindt with red chilis.
Overall Score: 7.5
I’m a fan of Arran. Not it’s number #1 fan, mind you. More a there’s nothing wrong with this whisky fan. So I was quite happy to finish off the evening with something that I kind of trusted.
But as Mufasa will tell you trust is a dangerous thing.
A seventeen year old bottled in 2014, matured in ex-Marsala casks and paired with my chocolate pistachio dessert. Bad idea.
Nose: Burnt caramel. Cabernet Sauvignon. Black grapes. Wait, what’s that? Is it sulphur? Maybe. There’s certainly something dodgy going on here. Black salt. Dry all spice.
Palate: Something is definitely off here. Not Defcon 4 off but off. I don’t like it. Caramel. Black peppercorns. Slightly spent oak. Not working for me.
Finish: Medium to long. Oaky.
Overall Score: 6.2
Bit of a disastrous evening if you ask me. The food made up for it, though.
My favourite part of the evening was when one of the serving staff insisted that Caperdonich was an Islay whisky. I merely nodded and smiled. Because, like most of the whiskies tasted that evening, what was the point?
Distillery/Brand: Highland Park | Region: Isle of Orkney | ABV: 59.3% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88
Highland Park does some questionable stuff and some pretty awesome stuff at the same time. The older HPs (18, 21, 25, 30) are all pretty awesome in my opinion. All this other business with vikings and the NAS stuff is by and large quite questionable in my opinion. With the exception of Thor, mind you. That’s a peach.
So I don’t really know what to expect when opening a bottle from this Orkney distillery. Which is irritating because, based on the age statement expressions, I genuinely want to like everything they do.
And so I was in two minds before deciding to open up this SMWS. To be honest I got it only because it was SMWS and was up for sale at a decent price. Also because the name on the label got stuck in my head.
Acrobat In An Orchestra.
I mean, come on! How awesome is that name. It tells me absolutely nothing yet compels me to buy it. In fact, in honor of this creative naming system, I am going to dispense with my boring old method of describing flavors and be as SMWS as possible.
The spirit has been matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel for 14 years. Distilled on October 15, 1999 it is served at a cask strength of 59.3%
Nose: Young girl in love for the first time. Gentle breeze rocks the patio chair. Purple petals fall to the ground. Grandma in the kitchen is prepping for dessert. Two children run excitedly in the tall grass. Father is back from the butchers. It’s the first day of Spring. 22/25
Palate: Everyone at the dinner table. The dog knocks over the fruit basket. Fire roars strong. Crackles and pops. The walls have memories. Family picture hangs crooked. 22/25
Finish: It’s been a long hard day. Hands are calloused. Trying to sleep but the mind is wide awake. 22/25
Overall Comments: OK I have no idea what I’ve written. But you know why I wrote it so you’re going to have to live with it. Don’t blame me. Blame the acid trippers over at SMWS. Do I like it? Yes, of course. It’s pretty damn good!
PS : I’m going to destroy the original notes so that I never come back and taint this version.
PPS : Add a splash of water and it turns to summer.
Distillery/Brand: Kilchoman | Region: Islay | ABV: 60% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89
I’ve been on a bit of a Kilchoman run of late. Nothing intentional. Just a series of coincidences that’s all. Came back from Islay after tasting a bunch. Organized a tasting which featured a couple. Got invited to a tasting which had four expressions on the menu.
So, really, not my fault.
It was at this very Kilchoman tasting that I had the pleasure of sitting down with Peter Wills, son of owner Anthony, who is incharge of marketing for the distillery. A very standup young man who was extremely passionate about his whisky. We went out for a few more afterwards which turned out to be quite a brilliant evening.
The glass in my hand holds spirit from a single cask matured exclusively in a first-fill bourbon barrel from Buffalo Trace. Distilled on 26th August, 2010 and bottled almost five years later on 11th May, 2015 this is bottle number 435 of 2010 and served at a very high cask strength of 60%
Nose: Sweet smoke. Peat. Cardboard. Citrus. Pineapple. So much citrus in this. That nice gristy barley that I’ve come to associate with Kilchoman. A bit of malt. Fresh fruits. Apricots. White wine chardonay. Digestives. Vanilla. Quite drying. Lemon tart. LIme zest. White pepper. Lots of aromas here. I like it. 22/25
Palate: Lemon. Lime. Custard. That sweet smoke again. Char. Oak. Cinnamon. Hint of chocolate. Burnt toast. Quite savory. The spicy arrival is quite massive and needs a touch of water to mellow it down. With water the barley comes through nicely along with that Islay grist. Honey. Very creamy now. Much smoother. With water I would give it an additional point. 23/25
Finish: Very long. Massive spices. Very dry. Cinnamon. With water the finish is nicer. Much smoother. 22/25
Overall Comments: At 60% there is no option but to have this with a touch of water. Normally I would mark it neat but I’ll make an exception this time around. A good powerful whisky with a lot of flavors.
Distillery/Brand: GlenDronach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 55.6% | Colour: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92
I’m not a huge fan of the Glendronach’s standard bottles. I’ve had the opportunity to taste the 12, 15 Revival, the 18 Allardice and the 21 Parliament. I feel that the sherry is far too big in them. All four of these have seen a lot of Oloroso along their way with the 12 and 21 seeing some PX too.
For those who read my reviews know that I’m not a huge fan of sherry overkill, especially Oloroso.
Though, I must admit, one fine evening at Baxters, in Sydney, I had the great fortune of tasting the 31 Year old Grandeur Batch 001 which is truly a masterclass of a whisky. When sherry is done right it is the most gorgeous thing in the world. Else, a nagging annoyance.
Which brings me to the Glendronachs where sherry has been done right. Their Cask Strength series, up to Batch 4 now, is quite a revelation. And, I now realize, so might be there Single Cask (Cask Strength) offerings.
The one in my glass is 10 years old and matured exclusively in a PX Puncheon (though, I couldn’t find any information on whether the cask was first-fill or second). If I was to hazard a guess I would go with second.
My sample is from a brand new bottle, distilled on July 3, 2002 and bottled in May 2013 from Cask #1988 and served at a cask strength of 55.6% (by the way if they had waited a couple of months they could have bottled it as an eleven year old but I guess they didn’t feel like making the extra 20 quid).
Nose: Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. Quite dry. Fresh leather. Pine combs. Raisins. Figs. Liquorice. Digestives. Dark jam. Vanilla. Add a touch of water and it opens to a more fortified wine. Demerara sugar. Daiquiri. I really like the nose. Big. Bold. Beautiful. No relation to the American soap of the same name. 23/25
Palate: Super creamy. Dry spice rub. Ground red chili chocolate. Dates. Cinnamon. Oak. Cigar smoke. Figs. Raisins. Hint of chalk. Adding water makes it sweeter. Less oaky. Now more purple fruits than before. Now with clove. Cumin. I find this one equally good with or without water. 23/25
Finish: Long. Leather. Oak. Cinnamon. Quite dry. A touch rough perhaps. Not much change with the addition of water. 23/25
Overall Comments: I’ve realized why I prefer some sherry bombs compared to others. It’s the alcohol strength. Anything less than 52% shifts the balance in favor of the sherry whereas the higher strength brings the original spirit and the sherry influence closer to a more harmonious offering.
Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 48.4% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92
As part of my trip to the Islay Whisky Festival a couple of weeks I tried to get into as many tastings as I could. One of them happened to be an interesting session with the guys over from Douglas Laing, the independent bottlers.
Douglas Laing are an accomplished whisky bottler claiming to stay as true to the original spirit as possible. The result is some fairly popular expressions.
Big Peat, Double Barrel, Provenance, Directors Cut and Old Particular are some of the names under which they market their wares. However, what I did not know was that they, too, release a festival bottling every year to mark Feis Ile and it is, of course, always something from Islay.
This year they chose to release a single cask Laphroaig aged for 14 years in a Refill Butt (Ref DL10694) under the Old Particular label. Distilled in February 2001 and bottled exactly 14 years later in February 2015 this is one of 636 bottles released.
My sample is from an open bottle and served at 48.4%
Nose: Touch of peat. Lime. Lemon. Walnuts. Hint of oak. Hardboiled lemon sweets. Raisins. Ginger. Warm tangerines. Quite fruity too. Peaches. Then the signature Laphroaig flavors come rolling in. A little medicinal. Seaweed. Cherry licorice. This is a wonderful nose. Adds a bit of restrained fruitiness over the traditional house flavors.
Palate: Citrus. Smoke. Barbecue. Peat. White pepper. Spicy. Iodine. After the initial sting of Islay the spirit mellows out towards the sweeter side. Caramel. Milk chocolate. Raisins. Salt. You know this is a Laphroaig but this one has a gentler side to it.
Finish: Sea salt. Char. Citrus. Touch of oak.
Overall Comments: This is quite a fantastic little dram which I’m sure will simply fly under the radar amongst the masses. Also because there’s only 636 bottles floating around for consumption. Which is a pity because I feel amid all the distillery fanfare where some of the big names are content to churn out whiskies that are barely decent there are little gems thrown in the middle that don’t get the attention they deserve.
Well I hope my millions of followers are listening and pick this lovely little whisky if they have the chance.