Paul John (59.2%, Single Cask #777, Peated)

Yes, again in this case, I could find another Malt to accompany the previous Paul John Whisky. After last weeks Paul John, we are finishing off this rather terrible year with this Paul John. I’m sure this Whisky will be better than this horrible year was, although there were some silver linings to this year as well. Here we have an officially released single cask: Cask #777, although to truly honour this past year, this should have rather been cask #666. Which, hasn’t been released, yet, and if it exists, I’m not sure I have the nerve to buy one with the number of the beast on it! I hope 2021 will be a lot better! Not a lot is known about this Malt, no age statement, no distillation or bottling year, no cask type. It’s all a mystery.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Medium peat, clay and nuts. Sharpish and spicy. Almonds with a whiff of bad breath which turns quickly into something wonderful, (toothpaste) mint. Warming, sweet, like smoked runny caramel and vanilla. Fresh air, toffee, perfumed wood, warm sawdust. The wood note is so soft, so good. This is already truly wonderful and very appetizing. Amazing balance. Hint of fresh citrussy zest. Warm smoke from a fire place down the street. There is a lot happening and everything is in the right place. The perfumy bit turns a bit soapy, and where this is often a problem, not here. Here there are so many aroma’s that work together with it, that it just works. In the back a plethora of fruits. Ripe red fruits, ripe yellow fruits, even some baked banana. Some funky organics emerge next, next to the clean woody profile, mixed with a perfumy bit (including some orange zest) and the smoke/peat. I have been very fond of many Amruts, I had open and reviewed earlier, as well as the Cadenheads Paul John from last week, but this one “bidens” (trumps) them all. This one clicks with me even more. Paul John is different from Amrut, but both are really good. Go India! I have to say that I prefer these Indian Malts at cask strength, for me they just work best like that. Sure the 46% ABV and 50% ABV versions are very good as well, but for me, the single cask versions of Amrut and Paul John are the best of the bunch.

Taste: Hot and woody, but not too woody, just enough I would say. A medium sugary sweetness works in tandem with the wood. Toffee and smoke. Prickly fire place smoke and toasted, salty and smoky almonds. I can feel it going down. Ripe fruit sweetness, and some more smoke (and tar). Asphalt melting on a hot street in Marseille. Warm asphalt, complete with droplets of motor oil. Warm industrial wind from a beach near an industrial estate. Light bitterness, which in part originates from smoke and from wood as well. Again, just enough bitterness. Cold ashes and some organic (farty) toffee. By now not a lot of vanilla actually, but the fruity sweetness remains, as well as some runny caramel. The taste matches the nose perfectly. It is what you would expect from the nose. Where the nose is a very complex organ that is able to pick up upon many details and nuances, the mouth is a more crude organ. Yes, the taste of this Whisky might be simpler, or less complex, than the nose is, yet sipping this whisky enhances the nose even more. At times some of the soapiness returns, this time taking away a bit from the finish. The bitter notes seem to be fond of the inner side of your cheeks, so it can be found over there. So, we have some bitterness and some soapiness but the rest is very nice. Good stuff.

I hope to welcome another single cask @ cask strength here soon. Maybe an unpeated one from Paul John’s own releases? Who knows. The peat is an added bonus on top of the quality the Cadenheads bottling already showed. Add to that the “better” sweetness of #777, since this has some more on offer. It may very well be present in the Cadenhead bottling, but maybe in a more masked way. It was more short lived in that expression to begin with, taken over by dry spicy wood. #777 has sweetness in the right amount giving it incredible balance. This is a very tasty expression. The planets aligned for this one.

A final peculiar remark. The nose needs quite some time to show all its beauty, but the liquid itself doesn’t need as much time as the nose does, simply because in this time frame it gets too much air and deteriorates a little bit. The remedy is, pour it, keep it there, warm it up in your hand, and when you are done smelling, pour some more before you start sipping. May sound strange, but for me this worked best. All in all, this is a very good Paul John, amazing stuff this #777!

Points: 90

Paul John 6yo (56,3%, Cadenhead, Refill Bourbon Barrel, 330 bottles, Summer 2018)

Here is yet another bottle of an Indian Malt I have to hurry to review before it is gone. Tasty stuff, I can already tell you that! What is it with those Indian Malts I like so much? Is it the Barley used? Indian six-row barley? Is it the wonderful exotic aroma achieved, from a simple Bourbon cask, without adding any wonky stuff to the Whisky? Probably all of the above and I guess some more. I already mentioned how good Amrut is, but this newer kid on the block is doing quite well for itself as well. In case you might wonder, there is already an independent offering from SMWS called Ringo George.

I remember my introduction to the Paul John brand (and Shilton, I might add) at The Whisky Show in London vividly. I was immediately amazed. Loved the flavours. When I bought my first bottle, (Brilliance, Batch No. 1), and let others taste it, it wasn’t all that well received every time, to be honest. I like it very much. Maybe some people just need some time to get used to it, I guess, since today a lot more people seem to like it. On the other hand, some people just don’t get used to it, because they don’t like the flavour profile, and maybe it is an acquired taste? Prices keep rising though, for more recent bottlings. OB and IB alike. So there must be more like me, who really like it. The aforementioned Ringo George was a 5yo 2nd refill Bourbon cask bottling and already cost a hefty £150 upon release, and sold out rather quickly. What’s in a name you might ask? Older bottlings on auctions are fetching quite a lot of money as well, these days. So the mantra probably should be: if you like it, and still can find it for a decent price, get it, because if you don’t…

Color: Orange-Brown Gold. Bourbon. Slightly misty. Indian mist.

Nose: Wood and pencil shavings. Sawdust and almonds. Drying, sharpish and wood-spicy. No peat! Slightly waxy and nutty. Trace amounts of vanilla and toffee. Aromatic in a dry style. The wood is speaking here, like a men’s fragrance. Gucci Pour Homme, but less classy, I suspect the difference being that Gucci has some stuff thrown in that is definitely not allowed in Whisky! Cloaked (acidic) fruits, but not the red fruits mentioned on the back-label. If so, the fruits are very un-ripe. You smell them, but do you really smell them? The fruit is hard to point out. Fragrant, yet not floral. There are many aroma’s here that seem to originate from wood. Earwax with a hint of ginger and toffee, and more dust and wood. Not overly complex, but not simple as well. Somewhat single minded. Letting it breathe for a while doesn’t do as much for this Malt as I expected. When I pour myself a new dram, the fruit is shortly obvious, so it seems that the yellow (not red) fruit aroma, dried apricots for about a second or three, dissipates quite quickly, to be replaced by a lot of spicy and woody bits. By the way, no typical Indian spices I can pick up on in many other Amruts and Paul Johns. Quite a restrained expression this one, but clearly a Paul John. A woody Paul John, and a nice smelling one too. Needs a lot of attention to get the most out of it. Not for careless dramming. Also, this needs a lot of time to really open up.

Taste: Starts out quite closed, this is true for the nose as well. When it opens up, more of the same. Earwax, lots of sweetish (as in not too sweet) toffee and wood. Right after pouring, it tastes of sweet toffee, but this is quickly overpowered by the dry woody bits, which is a bit of a shame, since this toffee note did add to the balance. Ashes and dust, with some hidden woody fruitiness. Dried orange and lemon peel with vanilla, yet much less orange peel oil than for instance Amrut Naarangi has, but every Whisky has less orange peel than Naarangi has! I like it better here. (Naarangi’s Orange comes from prepared Oloroso casks, but more about this in the future). This Paul John comes from a refill Bourbon barrel, so the source for this orange note is different. Distant hint of peat. Starts woody, and when that passes, there is some room for a very short sweeter note, without it being really sweet to boot. Also some woody bitterness pops up. Seems a bit thin due to the lack of sweetness. However, the short sweetness is soon again dominated by this dry wood note, that also makes up the finish. Nose and taste are more or less the same. Some (orange) honey in the aftertaste of mostly wood and some of its bitterness. The more this breathes, the sweeter it seems to get (up to a point). In the end, this Paul John is still a pleasure to drink. When you know what you are getting (wood instead of fruit), it’s alright. Again, this may not seem like a top example at first, but it is a pretty decent Dram nevertheless, as long as you are willing to put some effort into it. Definitely sold out by now. I wouldn’t pay top money for this at auction, only if you are something of an anorak and know your way around “difficult” Malts like these, or if you are a Paul John collector obviously. This is a pretty good Whisky, but there are quite a few better single cask expressions of Paul John to be had. This is really a high quality Malt, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t show its merits easily. I do feel this is a classy Whisky, just not Gucci classy.

This Malt, just like the first Christmas edition, is slightly hazy. That one even more than this. When asked, they explained to me that Indian Six row barley is high on proteins causing this Indian mist, but not every Paul John expression is misty. So probably this has to do with the level of filtering?

To conclude this review, I still have to mention, for completists, that this Whisky has aged for 5 years in Goa, India (Hot), and a year in Campbeltown, Scotland (Cold), what this two continent approach did for this Whisky, I couldn’t tell you. Finally, the label mentions this was bottled in summer 2018. Printed on the glass: 02/04/18 18/152, so summer comes early in Campbeltown! I know, I know, it was released for the summer season, quite strange though, since this is not a fruity expression, yet more of a woody winter warmer.

Points: 87

Amrut 4yo 2009/2013 (59%, OB, Single Cask, for Europe, Charred American Virgin Oak & Port Pipe #2712, Peated Barley, 357 bottles)

What again? Yes here is another tandem Malt. After last weeks Amrut here is another one. This time not a direct comparison, there was no reason for that, but I did compare both behind the scenes, to assess which one is better and for the height of the scores. I do love Amrut. Most Amruts I have tasted are at least good, and some are better than that. Lovely stuff and definitely a different and exotic take on Single Malt Whisky. Maybe the people at Amrut don’t even know how to produce a bad Whisky, or maybe they are out there, but I haven’t encountered them yet? Who knows. Amrut is most welcome to the world of Single Malt Whisky, since they do bring something new into the fold.

In 2013 a few single cask bottlings emerged, especially bottled for Europe, but there should be versions for other markets as well, even bottled in a different year. Earlier, I already reviewed a virgin oak and first fill Bourbon barrel version and a charred American virgin oak and PX Sherry butt version. All good things come in threes, so the third version they released that year is this Charred American Virgin Oak and Port Pipe. This time the barley was peated. Amruts standard is so high, that even the “simple” and affordable peated and especially the unpeated cask strength versions turned out to be very tasty, and in hindsight the charred American virgin oak and PX Sherry butt version may have been somewhat less than perfect, still it was slightly better than the peated cask strength version. The peated cask strength version is my lowest scoring Amrut on these pages, and it still was a Whisky I liked. I will probably buy it again sometimes, just to see how it fares.

Color: Orange-brown gold. Bourbon.

Nose: Initially fruity and milky. I often have this Malt right after the Kadhambam, and it definitely has this milky quality to it. Even some expressions of Paul John tasted right before or right after this one makes that evident. Don’t worry though, in the nose the milky bit mostly wears off. I’m guessing this is from the Virgin oak. Fruity and very PX-like. Nosed blind I would have guessed PX instead of Port. Dusty, deep, dark and brooding. Some underlying heavy sweetness, like warm syrup and tarred wood. Treacle. No Indian spiciness, so for me the cask overpowered the original Malt. Mind you, this wasn’t initially matured in Bourbon casks, but rather in virgin oak casks. Red fruit lemonade. Strawberry and raspberry syrup, with still this tarry and treacle note underneath. Fire place smoke, yet hardly peaty. Not peaty at all actually. Pencil shavings and crushed dry leaves from trees. A more fresher citrussy note emerges next, as well as some faint mackerel in oil aroma. Since this was matured in a hot climate, the virgin oak works differently, compared to its Scottish counterparts. No harsh, creamy or sappy wood, we can pick up from Scottish Single Malts matured (in part) in virgin oak. Maybe here the milky bit is the way the virgin oak exerts itself? Also a floral bit now. Soft and delicate rose notes combined with sharper whiffs of smoke from the fire place. This is a winter Malt, bordering on Christmas. Certainly brings you in the mood. It’s a big Malt this. The aroma’s are big and bold and never stop giving…

Taste: Tarry wood. Spicy autumn leaves. Quite sweet and prickly (smoke). Treacle and cookies. Black coal. Carbon powder, gun powder. Big, very big. Almost a bit like Rhum Agricole mixed with a heavy Demerara Rum. Steampunk locomotive. Yes Port, but again, it is also not that far away from a heavy PX cask. Well balanced. Chocolate and Brownies. Candied cherries. Licorice and smoke, but also a green note. Oak, but not like the virgin oak we know. No vanilla notes to be honest. Red fruit syrup towards the finish, warming log fires as well. Some residual bitterness, from burnt down logs of wood. Since I got this heavy Rum note, its hard to picture it without it. This has a very long finish, very warming and a perfect aftertaste of everything mentioned before. All is here and all stays with you for a long time. Very good stuff.

Here a lot of the aroma’s are quite big and overpowering, so it is near impossible to make out the Spicy Indian Spirit. So for me maybe less typical than other expressions, but nevertheless a very tasty piece of work again. The beauty lies in the details, but here the details are masked. Luckily the result is still quite nice. There were more casks bottled like this. I bought cask #2714 as well. I’m especially curious now if that one will have this milky note as well as this one. Something we’ll find out in the future…or not…

Points: 89

Amrut Kadhambam (50%, OB, Batch No. 6, Bourbon matured, Rum, Sherry & Brandy Finish, 2017)

If you read my reviews back about Indian Malts, you know they are quite to my liking. However, the last review I did was way back in 2019, remember those pre-Corona days? How different life was back then? So it is about time to review a few more. Today I’m having a look at another Amrut. This time Kadhambam, which is the Tamil word for mixture. Well, what they have concocted here is a mixture of different finishes. The Amrut standard Single Malt (Bourbon matured) has been further matured in casks that previously held Rum, Sherry and Brandy. Those casks are then married together to form this Single Malt.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Malty, somewhat less Indian spices than expected but there is still a lot here, in part masked by a lot of other aroma’s. Dusty and sweet. Toffee with nice organics. Fruity, jam-like sweetness and almonds. Vanilla and powdered orange candy. The base Bourbon matured Malt is easily discernable, so the finishes didn’t overpower the Malt. It is also definitely noticeable, that a lot of different casks were used. The Brandy bit is recognizable from my earlier experiences with Port Charlotte CC:01 which was Cognac cask matured. When I smell this with a low flow rate, let’s say 5 seconds worth of snorting (which is quite long, just try if for yourself), lots aroma’s pass by. It is soft and spicy at the same time, very fruity and appetizing. Quite late in the mix the woody bits come forward. Licorice, pencil shavings and the familiar toasted oak. Cold sweet black tea, more licorice and a slight hint of tar. This might seem like a Whisky where just a lot was thrown together, yet still it manages to reach such a high level of balance. Amazing. This turned out very nicely.

The aroma’s of this Malt are transported well. 50% ABV is a very good strength for this. 40% ABV is rather weak for a Modern Malt and 60% ABV can be quite overpowering for some. Old Malts were made differently from different barley varieties, maybe different yeast strains and the cask may have been different. Old Malt’s could be easily diluted to 40% ABV. Just look at G&M’s Longmorn from 1971. Not everything was working At 40% ABV, but a lot did, and today that percentage would be lower. I don’t think Douglas Laing bottled their Old Malt Cask Whiskies at 50% ABV by accident, although I do suspect some economics were applied as well. If you reduce Whisky (a bit), you end up with more bottles to sell. But hey, Whisky is also a business, even though for some of us it feels like a charity. So nothing wrong with the business of it all. Luckily for us aficionado’s, Douglas Laing stopped diluting at 50% ABV. A heartfelt thanks for that!

Taste: Starts sweet and fruity, but thinking back to Port Charlotte CC:01, I don’t really remember that cask giving off this kind of sweetness. Toffee, runny warm caramel, fruit syrup and jam. The perfect sweetness takes a while to move over. Indian spices, almonds and licorice, toasted oak, sweet ripe red fruits and green banana. Let it breathe, it may be a bit closed at first (especially when you’re dealing with a freshly opened bottle). Wood in the back, as well as some cold ashes from the fireplace. There is a lot happening in this Malt, so all this stuff needs a while to break free. Very well balanced with a fruity and nutty aftertaste. Tasty! The longer this stands the nuttier the taste becomes. Amazing balance. Another cracker!

The price is gradually rising over the past few years, but at today’s price-point it is still very recommended. I guess the score reflects that.

Points: 88

Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, L5055CM000, 2015)

I don’t think this review will need a long introduction, since this Whisky will be compared to the 10yo bottled in 2019. It’s more than likely, but not necessarily true, that this review will have a longer than normal conclusion. So the previous review was about the Talisker 10yo bottled in 2019 and right now we’ll have a go at the same expression bottled in 2015. Rack ’em up and see how they compare!

Color: Gold, slightly darker than the 2019 version, and yes caramel colored.

Nose: Quite perfumy with only a hint of peat, softer than the 2019. Paper and cardboard notes. Quite fruity and friendly. Distant peach yoghurt, dried apricots and sinaspril. The balance in this one is reached sooner. Again, seems softer than the 2019, but both seem quite similar at first glance. Diageo will be pleased (for now). Companies hate batch variation in an offering like this, which relies on consistency. Definitely softer and carries a promise that is more sweet (cocktail cherries and vanilla) and with less toasty oak notes. Vanilla powder, pencil shavings and cardboard. It looks like the woody bits from the 2019 are here too, but they are more masked by the fruity bits. Just like “the other” version, this picks up more balance when left in your glass for a while. 5 minutes will do, as will do the warmth, the love, from your hand. Keep it moving, waltzing, swirling in your glass. Fruit emerge and even some farmy notes. The 2019 expression being less soft, seems to have more of a backbone (wood), but this 2015 seems more complete overall, it just offers a bit more.

Taste: Even sweeter on entry. Much fruitier, sweeter and again friendlier. Short sting of Talisker pepper. Less wood, less toast, less woody bitterness even. It is quite waxy though. Chewy peat and some chocolate chip cookies. This can stay in the glass longer than the 2019, which grows thin and a bit out of balance. I would say that in the details, the 2015 is a summer version and the 2019 is an autumn version of Talisker 10. This 2015 is definitely the tastier version of the two, it’s tastier and downright better, and the difference is quite easy to detect as well. Aiiii. Diageo won’t like that, Talisker 10yo should always taste the same. Bugger they say and I say bollocks. Nothing wrong with a wee bit of batch variation if you ask me. Just look at the output of Springbank, although they seem to serve a completely different group of clients. Who are you, when you want your Whisky to always taste the same?

Both offerings are quite soft, and although some might say they both smell pretty similar, the difference is right in front of your nose and easily spotted, which, I have to admit, is much easier when you have the opportunity to try both at the same time (just not in one glass). The 2015 is fruitier, the 2019 has more peat and wood. (Toasted) oak, sandal wood and pencil shavings. The fruit doesn’t play a big role in the 2019, it’s not about that at all. Maybe it is simply lacking in the 2019. Which nose I prefer best depends on the mood I’m in. Neither nose is better than the other. (When tasted in the morning, I preferred the 2015, in the evening I preferred the nose of the 2019. Taste-wise the difference, like the smell, is the same, woody as opposed to fruity, and yet it is here (in the taste) that the 2015 easily eclipses the 2019. 2015 shines (like a sun) and the 2019 is a true autumn Malt, with more wood, but also more gloomy, cloudy and grey (dull). Even the empty glasses, after a whole day, show the difference easily. The final test was Mrs. Quill, she hated the nose of the 2019 (you can imagine a particular facial expression now) and said the 2015 smelled a lot better, why? It smelled sweeter and fruitier. Only afterwards I explained both are Talisker 10yo, just bottled in different years, but she didn’t hear me, already lost interest… Was it so hard to even fake an “OK” or a “Wow”? Jeeez!

Points: 86

Thanks go out to Nico for the sample!

Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, L9275CM003, 2019)

When talking to a good buddy of mine, Nico, one day, Talisker 10yo came up as one of those malts that is always consistent in quality, always tasty, highly affordable and really widely available. Earlier I reviewed a bottling from around 2002, which was more than pretty decent. I even tried earlier bottlings, and they could be truly stellar. So with all these memories in mind, and the statement from Nico, I just left him sitting there where he was, and ordered a current 10yo. What I got the next day was this bottle from 2019. When freshly opened, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to be honest. It also reminded me more than a bit of the 57 North I reviewed recently. I gave Nico a sample of the 2019 10yo and he found it again to be pretty decent. He seemed to like it more than I did. I got a Talisker 10yo, bottled in 2015 sample from him in return, so guess what will be the next review…

Color: Gold, but who cares, it’s colored. (Why? they used to color the glass, so get back to that, and leave the Whisky alone).

Nose: Light peat and slightly sharp. Sweet malt with diluted toffee notes. Hints of Calvados, cookie dough and dishwater. When smelled/snorted more vigorously, toasted oak comes forward (as well as a perfumy note). I keep smelling some apple, so Calvados it is then. The nose seems a bit off-balance at first, but this is corrected with some breathing, actually reaching a quite nice level of balance. Let it settle in your glass for a few minutes. More mocha and soft toasted wood add to the balance. With this, the apply notes are shoved right to the back. Sandal wood notes emerge next, this is all going in the right direction now! Brown sugar, toasted malt and the occasional whiff of cigarette smoke. This is rapidly becoming very nice indeed. After some longer breathing, the Calvados is gone, or maybe got overpowered or masked by the rest of the aroma’s. New is a distant whiff of fireworks and even later the perfume returns (we got this already, when sniffed vigorously in the beginning).

Taste: Sweet on entry. Smoky and cask toast. Light and waxy and a little bit of bitter on the side. Slightly milky and young, similar to the recent 57º North. Some paper and some wood, but not much. Less complex than the nose. After sipping, the nose turns slightly sharper. Coffee, ashes and slightly waxy. Sweet licorice. Nutty with quite some woody bitterness. The nose needs some breathing, but don’t let it stand around for too long. That would be a mistake. It gets a bit unbalanced again and also a bit thin. This is achieved by extensive breathing, so don’t overdo it.

Sure, this Talisker 10yo is pretty decent, but miles away from the 10yo from 2002, and there are quite a few more expressions of Talisker 10yo that can be called truly stellar. But times change, barley changes, the distillery changes, demand changes, everything changes. Take all of this into account and compare this to other Whiskies of this age and what you have here is still a pretty decent dram, for a very, very affordable price. Let’s say for the price of a lottery ticket. Do you feel lucky? If not and you need some comfort, get this, chances of winning are pretty slim anyway. Your choice.

Points: 84 (Nico scored it higher)

Cragganmore 12yo (58.4%, OB, Special Release 2019, Refill American Oak, 18.000 bottles)

Why not? Yeah, why not make it a pair again and write about another Cragganmore and yes, this one is from another sample bottle. This time we’ll go for last years official special release 12yo. As mentioned in the previous review. Cragganmore can be the under the radar malt, but somehow people caught on up pretty quick with this one. Maybe not a lot was made, wait a minute! 18.000! That’s not very limited, and still it sold as hot cakes, holy mackerel, this must have been good then!

So maybe Cragganmore isn’t all that very well known, yet Diageo has released already quite a few expressions as a special release: It started in 2003 with a 29yo from 1973 (scored that one 87 back in the day). Probably one of the Cragganmore’s in my collection. They weren’t extremely expensive back then, and didn’t sell very well. These early special releases were quite often very affordable when on sale, and that happened a lot in the early days of these series. I remember I got both 36yo Glenury Royals and Quite a few Talisker 25yo’s for a very nice price. The special releases replaced the Rare Malts, remember those? 2004 saw the release of a 10yo from 1993 (scored that one 86). In 2006 a 17yo from 1988 was released. In 2010 a 21yo from 1989 was released. In 2014 a 25yo from 1988 (again) was released. In 2016 a quite expensive NAS was released. In 2019 this 12yo (year not stated) and finally (for now) this year, a year that everybody will remember (2020) a 20yo from 1999 was released. I guess we’ll see some more Cragganmore’s down the Special Release line. But first, lets have a go with last years model…

Color: Pale White Wine.

Nose: Big, sharp and alcoholic, initially not that great. Funky organic start, bad breath and somewhat unbalanced. Malty and biscuity with some metal and menthol. Unlit cigar and sandalwood. Dough and a bit bread-like. Clean (but not too much) and fresh. The wonky start clears up. Fresh ice-cold milk with a snuff of chilli powder. Quite some upfront citrus notes. Sea spray and ozonic, keeps prickling my nose. Hint of smoke? Oak, partly toasted. Fresh and likeable. Something old skool underneath, hard to put my finger on right now. Hints of sweet licorice and soft wood. Next, it is dusty and the citrus returns. The fresh ozonic/menthol smell doesn’t ware off completely, it stays behind. Weakens a bit, but is holding the fort. Complex. The longer this breathes, the better and more balanced it gets. Showing more and more complexity. Tea and farmy. Somewhat nutty. Latex paint and some rainwater. This needs a while to really open up. Amazing how this keeps developing over time. By now I’m really enthusiastic about this one. Is it too late to still get a full bottle? Truly wonderful nose.

Taste: Very big on fruit and candy, but also a bit hot. Wonderful prickly spices. Fruity, with the right amount of sweetness and after going down, it turns a bit creamy. Nice wood for balance. This is a hot malt, the high ABV exerts itself. Much sweeter and very nutty as well. Dare I say there is some heather in here (like there is in Highland Park?). Stays hot for a while. Medium finish and also the aftertaste leaves the building in a hurry. Definitely some woody bitterness and still this uncatchable note. Old skool in the taste as well. Intriguing. Lemon fresh, but also toffee thick. It has a decent sweetness and a hint of dark chocolate with a balsamic twist. Cherry liqueur and a drying, almost smoky, note. Not that sharp, prickly, smoke, but a bit more, yes, peaty, yes really, and a fatter sort of smoke with burned plastic thrown in for good measure. Wonderful spiciness and dry black tea. Toasted almonds with a woody and peaty bitterness. Quite unexpected… The plastic bit carries well into the finish, as does this bitter note. Let it breathe, it needs air!

Well what can I say, very well done Cragganmore. Nice pick Diageo. Smoky and slightly peaty, and combined with the fruity character of Cragganmore, makes for a very interesting Malt, and a very good one as well!

Points: 89

Thanks go out to Nico again, source for many samples! Cheers mate!

Cragganmore 1999-2019 (51.2%, Malts of Scotland, Bourbon Hogshead, MoS 19038, 312 bottles)

Finally a chance to review a sample of Whisky, instead of one of my own bottles I have to hurry to review before it is gone. Cragganmore it is then, which has been probably a long time since I had one. Sure, I did already do a few reviews already, but since those works of art, I probably haven’t touched a Cragganmore at all, even outside of reviewing. I do have two or three bottles at home, but never got around to opening one of those. It isn’t also one of the favourite distilleries amongst my friends. I’ll have to check with them. Somehow it also never got rid of the “under the radar” status I mentioned earlier and yet it isn’t one of the worst Whiskies either. So, what is it with Cragganmore, that makes it so invisible? Maybe it should deserve this onder-the-radar-but-very-nice status or is it a hidden gem? Time to have another go.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Biscuity. Clean and fruity. Strong aroma. This leaps out of my glass like a happy puppy when I come home. Tail wagging! Latex paint and very soft wood throughout. Fresh and quiet now (you know the introvert type). Not a puppy any more. Vanilla and caramel, but no signs of toasted oak. Thus no heavy cask influence. The color is also witness of this. The Malt is sweet and accessible. Slight hint of rotting grass, well rotting is maybe a bit of a strong word, let’s say cut grass that has been lying around for a while. Ice cream with more floral and plant-like aroma’s. Dried autumn leaves. Also a fruity note in the back, like dried apricots and fresh hazelnuts. Do I detect a hint of smoke there in the back as well? More vanilla ice-cream, lemon sherbet and smoked and sugared lime peel. Excellent. However, the beauty lies in the details, as is often the case with Malts like this. So if you are a fan of Sherry monsters only, this is not for you. Refill Bourbon hoggie fans will know what to do with this one.

Taste: Very sweet on entry. Yes, vanilla ice-cream and lemon sherbet. Mocha, hard coffee candy (hopjes) and chocolate custard. Dare I say a hint of cannabis, or does that make me Dutch? Very tasty and very friendly. Fruity and not too sweet. Some wood in the background, like a wooden frame around the vanilla and lemon dessert notes. It’s not really bitter, but the bitter notes are quite interesting in this Malt. You have the obvious bitterness you get from oak, but here there is also this bitterness you get from lemon peel, or lets say, the white fluffy bit from the inside of the peel. This doesn’t seem very complex, especially for a 19yo or 20yo Malt. It also doesn’t show a lot of evolution, but what is there is balanced and just tastes very good. This Cragganmore is from the same class as a Signatory Vintage Glen Keith. The finish is similar to the body and than slowly fades away. Medium finish, maybe some vanilla and cannabis in the aftertaste and a woody sensation on the sides of my tongue.

Well a light colored Cragganmore, from a single not so active cask, well if this isn’t aficionado territory then what is? But here we have a perfect example of a quiet Whisky at cask strength from a good distillate with time as an ingredient. Maybe not entirely a surprise how this older refill Bourbon Hoggie performs. If the distillate is good and the cask isn’t worn out or has a bad vibe, what could go wrong? This combination always seems to give us decent Whiskies.

Points: 87

Thanks go out to Rik for the sample!

Caol Ila 10yo 2005/2017 (54.0%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel #301553, for Vinotek Massen Luxembourg, 210 bottles, 170927)

Funny how things can go. When I posted the review of Caol Ila #301535 a month ago, I didn’t even have this #301553. I have posted two Tamdhu’s, and I already was well underway with the next tandem of Malts, why not write some reviews in pairs, adding the possibility of comparison one to the other? Nope no spoiler alert needed, you’ll just have to wait and see what comes next. I can only reveal that the next tandem will make for a very interesting comparison. Next, the sound of the doorbell ringing…twice…because the postman always rings twice*, and she brings me my latest auction winnings. One of which is the sister cask of #301535: #301553. So with some further ado, I present you the Caol Ila that went to Luxembourg. Thus, here’s the final ado: Just like the other one, we know the exact distillation date: 21-02-2005 (back label), which is the same day as this one, so the distillate is exactly the same, but, (spoiler alert), the outcome isn’t ! We also know the exact bottling date: 07-08-2017 (printed on the glass), so this Malt is almost 12.5 years old, and aged for almost 25% longer than the previous one. Onwards with the review now Quill, stop your ado-ing!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft peat. Very perfumy, distant hint of coffee and plastics (only when freshly poured, the plastics will be gone soon). Big. Wood, mocha and milk chocolate. Warm. Underneath quite fruity and on top a breath of fresh cold air (after the rain). Moderate fatty peat, crushed beetles and some really nice smoky characteristics, almost not Caol Ila-like and to me this smells like an exceptional cask. Everything is in its right place, and it hits all the right spots. It is really wonderful already, complex and already shows some nice development in my glass. Initially quite sharp. Wood, but not your usual oak, but more like wood lying in a forest. Mild yellow fruits with a promise of fruity sweetness. Apples, mint and meat. In this version of Caol Ila there is this soft layer of smoke that always hangs over it, like smoke or clouds in the sky. Well balanced Malt. Smells more adult than the aforementioned sister cask, and that one already had a stunning nose. Since this is exactly the same distillate, did the 2.5 years more make such a difference or is there more to it? As Gordon & MacPhail already tried to tell us earlier, does the wood make the Whisky? I’m smelling this for a while now, without tasting it, and this really develops in my glass big time! If this is as good to taste as the nose is right now, than we’re in for a real treat. I’m giving this one much time, since this is a freshly opened bottle. What a wonderful, well aged nose this is. One might expected this to be from a similar barrel as its sister cask, but it doesn’t have to be. If so, these must have been some well selected staves then. A cooper with a keen eye, knowing what to pick? This one really smells a lot better, it really is remarkable. More details, better defined and better development. Where #301535 dulled down when smelling for a while, and remember, it was a good one to boot, this #301553 just never stops performing. Amazing!

Taste: Wow, initially very soft on entry (the other one was softer and definitely soapier, here most, not all, of the soapy bit is replaced by a sweet fruity bit). Peppery and spicy smoke and strong going down, and then turning soft again, and again sweet. Sweet cardboard and paper notes. White pepper and yellow fruits. Sweetish and cold ashes from the fireplace come first. Nutty and fruity, but as I said, lots of ashes. I have to give it some more time, but it seems to me to be different from its sister cask, it is also a bit different than I expected considering the nose. Surely this must be from another line of Barrels? The middle part is fruity and accessible, but towards the finish more ashes, paper and a wood-bitter note. Although the finish is of medium length. It is warming, somewhat soapy (at times) and leaves for a nice, nutty and woody aftertaste. Much better balanced than its sister cask if you ask me. Benefits from the warmth of your hand when breathing, but never really lives up to the amazing level of the nose, but it is still better than its aforementioned sister cask. Especially if you warm this one up in your hands.

When this was sold in Luxembourg it was quite cheap especially considering the quality this Malt possesses. I paid a bit more than the initial price at auction, but still feel I got a good deal. Later I found out that the quality of this particular example is well known in circles of anoraks and aficionado’s and bids can be even (much) higher than my final bid. First of all, this Luxembourg edition surpasses the already good nose of the Belgium edition. It is quite amazing in fact, look how the nose changes and even unlocks another dimension after a few sips. In the taste Luxembourg seems a bit sharper and more complex, less soapy with even more ripe fruits. After #301535, I was not sure about getting a similar bottling, 84 points is good, but not that good. I read somewhere, this one was better and in the end I couldn’t help myself. If given the chance, I bid on two, and that way often securing just one or none even, because one or more of you often overbids me in the last minute, but this time no one did and I got both. In hindsight: Yey!

Amazing how medicinal the empty glass smells the next day. Extreme. The empty glass of the other one smells different. Both seem to have some pine resin, which wasn’t there before. The empty Luxembourg one smells more like a sauna now. How’s that for complexity.

Points: 88 (the nose, if scored by itself, would score well into the 90’s)

* Final ado: I was lying earlier, from where I’m sitting, I can’t even hear the doorbell, the sound is too soft.

Tamdhu Dalbeallie Dram No.3 (60.7%, OB, Sherry Oak Casks, 1.000 bottles, 2020)

Well, since I already have one of these lying around, why not make it two official Tamdhu’s in a row. After the (initially) slightly disappointing 15yo, I just expected more of a Sherry monster I guess, I gather this special release should have no trouble eclipsing the 15yo. First of all, it has more oomph (higher ABV), more color (A lot darker) and with a mere 1.000 bottles produced, they probably did something special, don’t you think? So I expect a proper Sherry monster again! I’m only human, and I don’t seem to really learn from my mistakes, or so it seems, nevertheless I still do expect a Sherry monster this time.

The first edition of Dalbeallie was released in 2018 at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, and gets its name from the Dalbeallie station. Tamdhu itself opened in 1897 and the station just two years later in 1899. The railway played a key role in the supply of barley and Sherry casks for Tamdhu. The station closed in 1965, but has since been fully restored. Dalbeallie is an annual release, so editon II was released at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2019 and our number III was released this year (2020) on-line, due to Covid-19. Every edition up ’till now, counts only 1.000 bottles.

Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Thick Sherry, with licorice, lots of wonderful fresh oak, crushed dried autumn leaves, nuts and dust (and sometimes some cardboard). Very aromatic and fresh. Old, worn down leather and also meaty. However, like the 15yo, this has a rather large fresh ‘n’ fruity acidity to it. Citrus acidity, more of the lemon and lime kind than oranges, or is it… Floral perfume and some cloves (and some oranges now?). Sometimes whiffs of ozone (like you get from ozone cleaned pools). Initially a bit closed but this is quickly “resolved” with some breathing. Thick, slightly tarry, hints of petrol and brooding, yet not syrupy. Hints of paint and gravy. Seems odd, but odd combinations work well in Whisky. Cardboard and some candied red fruit sugar gello, (or jam for short), deep down below in the nose. Nice wood notes to balance it out, fresh wood and sawdust. The wood notes emerge more and more, the longer this stands in your glass and breathes. Cigar-box sandal wood is linked to the old style perfume. Extremely balanced and a truly wonderful nose. Yes it really does smell like a Sherry monster, 2.0-style.

Taste: Big Sherry. Hot and woody. Fresh dried wood, again remembering cigar boxes. Red fruits with a shadow of sweetness (as in, you know it’s there but you can’t touch it), and definitely some cigar aromas. Cigar box, cigar a cru (the smell of an unlit cigar) and cigar ashes. Powerful wood (bitter). Full of wonderful aroma’s and tastes, yet also lightly unforgiving. Starts out fresh, (new) wood and hot, but picks up caramel and some velvety softness whilst going down. For a millisecond, this is syrupy and sweet and then the dry wood kicks in, and it kicks in good. The wood sticks to the palate. Nice wood, powerful, yet not the overpowering (mouth drying) wood you get from very old Malts. It disperses eventually, making room for cookie dough and letting through a tiny bit of the sweetness I’m sure more is in here somewhere. Extremely tasty. Wow! Just like the 15yo, this is quite fresh and somewhat acidic on top. The aforementioned wood has some cloves and a sharpish edge to it. Freshly sawn oak. A truly wonderful Malt. This is essentially a Sherry monster, but with these fresh characteristics and these more than appropriate wood notes, works very well together. Big, yes, cloying, no. Hints of menthol also pop up. In a way it is almost Christmassy.

It also reminds me a bit of the high powered 2007 Glenlivet’s from Signatory Vintage. First fill Sherry, with extremely high ABV. These Glenlivets are flooding the market since 2017. I really have to open one of those soon, to see if I remember those well. This Dalbeallie seems a wee bit softer. However, it’s really not a soft Malt, the wood is too present for that. It is still a Sherry monster though, but as I said before, in a more modern 2.0-style. Even more wood in the finish than in the body. Not drying, but somewhat soapy. Through the soapy bit (which isn’t a problem by the way) comes the first sign of some real woody bitterness. This bitterness remains for the aftertaste as well as some, almost hidden before, red fruit hard candy. Nevertheless, this is a magnificent dram.

I love it! Definitely worth the price of admittance. I got half a bottle in a bottle share with Nico. I should have gone for the whole thing. Oh well…

Points: 89.

The wood influence is quite big and this takes away a bit from the underlying red fruits and if these fruits would have had a chance to exert themselves some more, this would have been a Dram scoring in the 90’s. Still a very good Whisky!