Evan Williams 10yo 2003/2013 (43.3%, OB, Single Barrel #654)

Whisk(e)y certainly is a very global thing. Just read back a few posts and we have already been in Speyside, Scotland, Bangalore, India, and for this review we’ll cross another big Pond to have a look at a Bourbon called Evan Williams Vintage 2003 from Kentucky. This is a single barrel bottling. The barrel was filled on the eleventh of february 2003 and bottled on the last day of July 2013. Evan Williams himself, was a character who at the time of choosing the name, was supposedly the first person to distil Whiskey in Louisville Kentucky. In the end we may never know who was the first since not a lot is known from that time. Evan Williams Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made by Heaven Hill Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, but bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky. Today the range consists of a Black Label, a Bottled in Bond (White Label) a 1783 (small batch) and we will have a look at this 2003 vintage single barrel. In the past also a special 23yo was released.

Evan Williams Vintage 2003Color: Light orange gold.

Nose: Nicely sweet and toffeed. Good wood notes. Nutty and organic. Very spicy, balanced with quite some vanilla from the virgin oak. Pencil shavings, sawdust and quite a lot of honey and hot bees wax. It also carries hints of grass and cherries. Smells strict and modern.

Taste: Initially light and vegetal. Dry leaves, soft oak, but quickly followed by a nice mixture of wood and sweetness, with a hint of licorice. Very appetizing and likeable. Short finish, and the its way to light too. The watery finish drowns the plethora of aroma’s that are still there. Bummer. Luckily it does leave a pleasantly sweet, sawdust and honeyed aftertaste.

What baffles me the most is the strangely low ABV for a super premium bottling Bourbon, especially since there are quite a few other expressions of Evan Williams around that are also low proof. Maybe this is Heaven Hills low proof Bourbon brand? This is a very nice Bourbon, but still seems to be marketed as an easy drinking Bourbon for the masses despite its super premium status. I would like to see a single barrel bottling like this, (with this mashbill and ageing plan), to be bottled at barrel strength. Not necessarily replacing this reduced version though. I would like to see it as an addition.  I’m hoping that cask strength vintage Evan Williams can be really a stunner. Sure Heaven Hill has other brands, but I like the taste and the flavor profile of the Evan Williams and would like to try it at cask strength. Please?

Points: 84

Compass Box 20th Anniversary of Delilah’s (40%, OB, 6324 bottles)

Well here is a novelty from the Compass Box Whisky Co. This Blend was made for the 20th anniversary of Delilah’s, a Chicago based punk rock whisky bar Delilah’s in 2013. It was meant to go well with Beer and was intended to let it “think” it’s a Bourbon.

Compass Box Delilah'sThis Blend was made by John Glaser with the help of Mike Miller, the owner of Delilah’s. On The website of Compass Box they mention that the Whisky used has aged in a mix of experimental new American oak barrels and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads.

Color: Almost gold.

Nose: Grainy and fruity. Candy and waxy too. Very light. The nose is dominated by American oak, as I suppose John was aiming at. The (paper like) grain smells nice, and the fruitiness is nice too. Obvious vanilla from the American oak. Quite a simple offering and for me it is exactly what you would get blending Grain and Malt Whiskies, matured in American Oak. Pudding, custard. Yes all vanilla.

Taste: Sweet vanilla Ice cream, with a backbone of oak. Very tasty. Light, sweet and simple, but very, very pleasant and highly drinkable. Clotted cream. Towards the finish the oak plays a greater role, and dries the whole out a bit. The wood actually moves into the realm of pencil shavings. The finish itself is quite short, no surprise there, and leaves a light and pleasant aftertaste. It’s almost too drinkable. Well made stuff and pretty good for a modern blend.

As I mentioned above, the Blend should be close to Bourbon, and in a way it is. It is pretty sweet, yes, but Bourbon-y, no, not really. For me it is a typical mixture of a lot of grain Whisky and (fruity) Malt Whisky. It’s all about grain, malts and wood. Giving notes of wood, vanilla and cream. Sure it is sweeter than most other Whiskies, but not too much. It’s not overpowering.

Points: 83

Campbeltown Loch 30yo (40%, Springbank Distillery, 09/507)

I get this all the time. “You always write about Single Malt Whisky, as if there is no other Whisky”. Yes, those people might have a point, but I do prefer Single Malt over today’s Blends, but forgetting about blends altogether, would be a mistake. Just have a go with a blend from the olden days to convince yourself. Mind you, most of them still are very inexpensive at auctions, so it doesn’t cost a lot to be adventurous.

Here we have a Blend that was brought to you by the good people of Springbank. Hence the use of the standard Springbank bottle. For now, let’s give this 30yo blend a go, and more about the ingredients of this Blend later…

Campbeltown Loch 30yoColor: Gold.

Nose: Grainy, dull at first, with some paper notes. Cola freshness. The whole is very malty and light, so there probably is a lot of Grain in this Blend. Not a lot of old Whisky aroma is oozing out of my glass. Hints of old Sherried Malt, yeast and cardboard. Next some old wood emerges with dusty and, slightly smoky, notes of very dried out apricots. So slightly fruity and waxy, typical for old Bourbon casked Malt. Oak spice and some woody mint, but not as much as you would expect after 30 years.

Taste: Grainy, Malty and sweet. Very light. Light mocha and milk chocolate notes. Nice cookie dough and waxy depth and although quite thin, it has a bit of chewiness to it. Still, the body remains very light and fragile, grainy and lightly fruity. Towards the end a vegetal and a soury note from the oak leads into the weakish and quite short finish. It comes across as watered down, and hardly seems 40% ABV at all. You know what my next remark would be…

Before we continue, here is what Springbank had to say about this Blend: “Around 45% of the Campbeltown Loch 30yo is made up of the old 25yo, which was allowed to mature on. That 25yo blend was almost 100% malt and contained some 1964 Springbank along with other single malts including 1977 Ardmore, 1977 North Port, 1978 Tomatin, 1977 Imperial, 1976 Glengarioch, 1976 Ardbeg and 1976 Glen Grant. 30yo grain from Girvan was added to that, to complete the new 30yo Campbeltown Loch.“ Well I couldn’t have said that any better myself.

The old 25yo they mention was made from almost 100% Malt Whisky, so it almost was a Blended Malt, or Vatted Malt we used to call it back then. This 30yo however, contains only 40% Malt Whisky, so a lot of that Girvan was added to the old 25yo.

Yes it’s nice, but also very light. This Blend has a lot of fans and why not, just read the list of its contents again. Check out the age again. Personally, I don’t really get a lot of the old malts in this blend and I don’t think the Girvan was matured in very active casks, that mask the old Malts even more. Nevertheless, nice stuff and I won’t have a problem finishing this, but I can’t help but feel this could have been even better by adding less Girvan and bottling fewer bottles, since there weren’t any more old Malts available. I do hope I get to try the old 25yo Blend someday…

Points: 85

Ledaig 16yo 1997/2013 (56.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, for The Whisky Exchange, Refill Sherry Hogshead #465)

Third of October and right now the doors are opening for the 2015 Whisky Show in London, England. As many years before I’m attending this wonderful Whisky fest, the best few days of the year. Maybe not even the Whisky, but the people. I really can’t wait for it to begin. For those of you that are not there I’ll have a go here at a Ledaig (a.k.a. peated Tobermory) that was picked by The Whisky Exchange. This was a Whisky that was bottled a few weeks after the Whisky Show 2013, but luckily I got a chance to try from Gordon & MacPhail, before it was bottled. People from the Netherlands will know its sister cask #464 which was also excellent but much, much lighter in color.

Ledaig 16yo 1997/2013 (56.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, for The Whisky Exchange, Refill Sherry Hogshead #465)Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Fatty peat and candy sweetness. Animalesk and organic. Wild stuff. Hints of burnt cable. Unlit tobacco and dark chocolate powder. Very vegetal. Thick and full of itself. Big. Hints of vanilla and cream. Some dried grass and yes some wet grass from a muddy field in October as well. Funky fresh fungi. This never stops giving. Great peat that is balanced out nicely by the Sherry, but the former is the more dominant in this bottling.

Taste: Excellent entry. Sweet, mixed perfectly with licorice and lots of almonds. Even the wood is almondy. Utter and perfect balance. What a great integration of flavours. Red fruits and berries and hints of Gin. Fresh at times. Sea spray and hints of blobs of fresh fatty tar. Remember Lightning McQueen? Hints of stable (cow) and a bit of wood, but not much. Strange enough, with this amount of aroma and at almost 57% ABV., this only  has a medium finish, it gone sooner that you would want. Great aftertaste though. Almonds and red fruit. Salty lips!

If this would be older (tasting), had a longer finish and had even more added depth it would score well into the nineties. If it had more notes of curry and red peppers you could eat this dram. What a near-perfect modern dram this is. Excellent stuff can still be made. I’m happy I had some prior knowledge to snap this up when it was released.

Points: 90

St. Magdalene 1981/1999 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, II/BJ)

If you thought both Cragganmores were bottled a long time ago, then you must have a look at this St. Magdalene. This one was bottled one century ago. The 20th century to be precise. Nope its not antique yet since this was only bottled in 1999. Remember Prince? St. Magdalene itself is alas no more. Closed in 1983, it’s buildings now housing people ins stead of casks. An eternal shame led by economics of the eighties. In those days we had a Whisky loch (lots of unsold Whisky), and today almost a shortage. Big disappointment here, since St. Magdalene is my favorite Lowland distillery. Just have a look at my review of the legendary 1979 Rare Malt edition. By the way, bottles of this 1981 Gordon & MacPhail that were sold in Germany had stickers on the back that informed the public about caramel coloring…

St. Magdalene 1981/1999 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, II/BJ)Color: Gold.

Nose: Nice, grassy and citrussy. Quite nice and elegant after all those heavy hitters I reviewed before. Waxy and fruity, again in sugared and dried apricots. Quite grainy too, it’s almost like an old blend from the sixties. Vegetal, less grassy actually but more like fern and almost flowery. Sweetish and waxy apple skins. Marmalade. With some air mare grassy and vegetal. Dry grass and hints of hay, making this an easily recognizable Lowlander. Distant white pepper and some slightly rotting wet wood or bad breath. (not bad here). Not un-complex, and very pleasant to smell. A shame this style is almost disappearing. Do cherish your old Magdalenes and Rosebanks people!

Taste: Sweet (paper) and fruity. Pleasant stuff. Yes, quite light and fragile, but that is helped along by the sweetness. After the sweetness comes wax, paper and cardboard, still quickly overthrown by a delicious fruitiness. Warm apple juice with apricots, Short peak of prickly black pepper. Hidden behind the fruity (not sugary) sweetness a hint of black coal. Highly drinkable. Decent finish with a nice fruity aftertaste.

I thought this would be killed by reduction and caramel coloring, but no. It still has a lot of life in it, just like the ancient Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla 30yo I have on my lectern. That’s also elegant, brittle and light, but still giving a lot. I feel old malts could “take” a lot more than today’s modern Malts.

Points: 87

Cragganmore 1988/2002 “Distillers Edition” (40%, OB, Double Matured in Ruby Port Wood, CggD-6553)

As could have been expected by reading the last review here is the Cragganmore Distillers Edition, and just like the 12yo this particular bottle, was also bottled in 2002. Cragganmore is seen by many as a top Whisky. Blenders see it that way, and especially Diageo see it that way too. Although it has been part of the original Classic Malts range from 1988, it never was the most popular of the six. I don’t have to spell them out for you don’t I? Well OK, the original six were: Lagavulin (Islay), Talisker (Skye: Islands), Oban (marketed as West-Highlands), Glenkinchie (Lowlands, which many thought it would be Rosebank, but economics decided otherwise), Dalwhinnie (Highlands) and Cragganmore (Speyside). Still some aficionado’s are very keen on Cragganmore because Cragganmore is said to be a complex malt by using hard water and have stills with flat tops. History also teaches us that Cragganmore used a lot of Sherry casks.

Cragganmore 1988/2002 "Distillers Edition" (40%, OB, Double Matured in Ruby Port Wood, CggD-6553)Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Creamy and waxy, this time with a winey note, which makes it instantaneously more interesting than the 12yo. Fresh air with licorice and black and white powder. The yellow fruits from the original 12yo have been replaced by the red (berry) fruits from the Port finish. Tiny hint of Calvados. Red apple skin. Creamy vanilla is still here though. Hints of Sinaspril (a children’s headache medicine I remember from the seventies). Fruity candy powder (synthetic).

Taste: Seems spicier, but still a bit too light. Watered down Ice-cream. Quite sweet. Sugar water with a tiny amount of forest fruit syrup. If this would have been cask strength, the harshness you get from Ruby Port finishes probably would have been easily noticeable. Instead, the reduction and the sweetness are able to keep the Ruby Port in check. Just like the 12yo I reviewed last, this has a pretty weak again and it has a finish with some cask toast thrown in for good measure, but it helps. Up untill the body, the Whisky has quite some good aroma, and then the finish comes which has the length of a snuffed out candle. It’s alight for one moment and gone the next. This really needs to be slightly higher in strength, as well as the 12yo. If 46% ABV is too much, at least adopt 43% as a minimum strength for Single Malt Whisky. Sure in the olden days a lot of Malts were 40% and held their ground, but today’s yield driven more modern Malts seem to need a higher strength than that…

Personally I find the choice for Ruby Port always very tricky. Whereas Tawny Port is easier to use and gives usually better results, because Ruby Port finishes can be very harsh and are easily overdone. Luckily here the finish seems to be OK. The 12yo was quite simple, fruity and sweet, but for me this Distillers Edition has something more to say, especially on the nose. Concerning the taste, the Port is not always good match for the sweetness of the Cragganmore Malt. The first time I tried it, it didn’t work, the next day I liked it, but maybe that’s saying more about me than the Malt. It still is an easy peasy Malt, not all that complex. It is quite interesting and I do quite like it. I prefer it over the 12yo.

Points: 84

Cragganmore 12yo (40%, OB, Circa 2002)

A short introduction: Cragganmore was founded in 1869 by Glenfarclas’ John Smith and stays within the family untill 1923 when it is sold to the newly formed Cragganmore Distillery Co. In 1927 Cragganmore is 50% owned by DCL, one of the precursors of todays Diageo. In 1965 DCL buys the second half of Cragganmore to become 100% owner. In 1988 this Cragganmore 12yo becomes part of the Classic Malts Series, and in 1998 the Cragganmore Distillers Edition sees the light of day (more about that later), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and have a go at this 12yo that was bottled back in 2002…

Cragganmore 12yo (40%, OB, Circa 2002)Color: Gold.

Nose: Fruity and malty. Quite some hints of caramel. Chilled produce, sugared yellow fruits and some candied orange. Waxy with an air of menthol. Hints of cardboard and toasted oak. Perfumy and vegetal. Fern on a dry forest floor. Sweetish, but also some oak acidity. Give it some time and the oak turns more spicy. Otherwise it is light, with creamy vanilla, wax and candied sweet yellow fruits.

Taste: Waxy and toffeed. Quite fruity and light. Dried peach and old dried apricots. Hints of clay. Warming. Damp earth from the forest again. Maybe some mushroom? Yellow fruit sweet yoghurt. A funky acidity creeps in. Very soft warm oozing caramel. Soft distant wood. Cigar box wood. Simple, light and likeable. Tiny hint of beer and hops in the finish, which comes as a surprise, also quite sweet with a burnt wood edge too it.

In the end I still feel that it is bit anonymous really. The distillery character is somehow hidden behind fruity sweetness, caramel and wax. Nice fruitiness though. Very easily drinkable. Again an entry-level malt to get you going. Nothing wrong with it, but also nothing special. One you’ll finish quite quickly and you’ll start wondering afterwards where it has gone. If anything, it does invite you to take another sip, as I will do right now..

Points: 81