Talisker 15yo (57.3%, OB, Special Release, Freshly Charred American Oak Hogsheads, 2019)

We have already seen quite a few special releases from Talisker, probably the most popular distillery in the Diageo portfolio. For instance, there have been two releases of 20 yo’s in 2002 and 2003, an annual release of a 25yo. Between 2004 and 2009 the 25yo was bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 it was reduced to the “Talisker strength” of 45.8% ABV. There have been several 30yo, again, between 2006 and 2010 bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 reduced to “Talisker strength” as well. There have been some other special releases as well. Since 2018 Talisker showed up in the annual special releases with a 8yo, in 2019 with this 15yo and in 2020 another 8yo was released, this time finished in Caribbean Rum casks. I expect Talisker to be a main stay in the forthcoming years of annual releases. Let’s have a look at one of those three new annual releases. The one I have open in my glass right now is this 15yo from 2019, an expression matured in freshly charred American oak hogsheads. Usually these are refill casks that have been used multiple times, and have grown a little bit tired. A long time ago these casks would have been scrapped, but these days theses cask are rejuvenated, their lease of life extended by re-charring them and opening up another layer of wood, giving an aroma closer to virgin oak than a refill cask would. So lets have a look at this tired old oak release, to see if it’s any good…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Very aromatic. Hints of Rhum Agricole and sweet funky organics. Dry, big and fatty. A promise of sweetness, but it’s not only this, it also has a sharper and very fresh side as well, like a windy seaside view complete with sea spray. Nutty, sweet and creamy with some ground coffee, not freshly grounded mind you, a bit faded, maybe old ground coffee. Paper and a bit of cardboard, but also very old, soft spicy wood. Kitchen spices. Lovely and fruity sweet organics. Peppery attack with a big alcoholic, well, attack as well. Hints of peat combined with different funky organics. The initial, almost ozonic, layer makes up the first series of aroma’s, but when these pass, more fruity notes emerge. Some of the fruity notes are quite acidic and it seems there are several acidic notes, not all of which seems to be well integrated initially. A razor sharp Malt. When this gets more time to breathe, and especially when the bottle becomes emptier and emptier, it shows a more woody note mixed in with something very nice. Still fresh and very oxygenated, and also more balanced. I get lots of notes I don’t encounter all that much. A special release indeed. Fresh pineapple, sweet apple meat, mixed with a wee bit of cream. Tiniest hint of smoke and tar, but different from Islay smoke and tar, here it is more refined and combines with creamy wood and American oak vanilla. Sometimes, I swear, I even get a note of rotting wood and cold water left over after washing the dishes the evening before. All of this is partly masked by the fruity bits on the nose. Salty meat is next. Polish dried sausage. Complex it is!

Taste: Big, very big, with a short sweet and vanilla sensation and an equally short slightly bitter attack. Clay, sharp smoke, burnt wood, warm peat and lots of nuts. Industrial and it differs quite a bit from the nose. Salty and dried fish. The sweetness evolves after the initial attack. Salty and dried meat come next, with later on, after the first sip, a nice nutty and wonderfully creamy body with the classic Talisker pepper attack. The smell of clean steamy bodies in a sauna, how is that for funky organics? It has been a long time since I had a Malt this salty. The feeling of salt on my lips. When this opens up a bit, some nice yellow fruit notes emerge. Nice fruity acidity better integrated than it was in the nose. More peat and smoke (and clay again). A really good Talisker yet not perfectly balanced though. There is this difference between the nose and the taste, but also not everything I can taste seems to be in it’s right place. Don’t worry, this is only a minor grievance. Quite hot going down. But this is also why we like Talisker. Fruity and also some winey notes. Lips still salty. Long finish (with less balance than the body has) with a very warm aftertaste in which the wood, the dried yellow fruit and the toasted oak resonate. Personally, I find this to be another very good OB like the 8yo from 2018. Both welcoming releases after all those lesser and less inspired NAS bottlings. I hope Diageo will continue to release good and interesting Talisker’s in the annual special releases.

Let it breathe for a while, this needs quite a lot of time and air to find more balance.

Points: 88

Last year I reviewed the Talisker 57° North and since that has an almost identical ABV, let’s do a H2H between North and this new 15yo. First of all, the North is ever so slightly darker, most likely from caramel colouring. On the nose North is much softer and definitely a lot younger. Much closer to new make spirit. That’s exactly the difference between a NAS and a 15yo. The 15 has more wood, and is more mature. North has more cream, like creamy sweet yoghurt. On the palate the North is way simpler, sweeter, rounder and again much younger as well. The North by itself is a nice high ABV Talisker. However, if you compare it to a Talisker with some proper ageing, the differences couldn’t have been greater. Different puppies altogether.

This is review #800.

The Benriach 18yo “Latada” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Madeira Finish. 4001 bottles, 2015)

The Benriach Limited Production 18yo’s. It took me a few years but now we can finally put this trio to rest. In the year 2015 three 18yo’s were released, but not on the same moment. Albariza (PX finish) was the first one, reviewed in 2018, Dunder (Rum finish) the second, reviewed in 2015 and finally this review of Latada (Madeira finish) in 2021. Quite a lot has happened in the world in this space of time. In 2017 also two second edition’s were released, both 22yo, so the original casks for these two, were filled earlier than those for the 18 yo’s. However, this tells us nothing about length of the finish. Albariza and Dunder were thus repeated, but there is no 22yo Latada. Were the Madeira casks used for finishing unavailable or did they forget to produce it? Were the results unsatisfactory and the decision was made to hold it back, or maybe the original 18yo Latada didn’t sell all that well or was somehow unpopular and they just didn’t bother to repeat it. Who knows? So, let’s find out for ourselves, shall we?

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fruity and very pleasant light peat. Latex paint, vanilla powder and warm apple sauce. Very pleasant nose. I’ll let you in on a little secret with this Malt. You can force this Malt to smell like a 1976 Benriach or Tomatin. Fruit, fruit, fruit, tropical fruit, well you catch my fruity drift now, yes? Excellent old-skool Benriach fatty, sweet and succulent yellow fruit. If you pour this Malt in your favourite glass and cover it up right away, allowing for the aroma’s to concentrate under the lid. Leave it there for a few minutes (or even better, hold it in your hands to speed up the process). When you feel confident, take the lid off and smell it… Remember, you heard about this here first! This Benriach has this amazing trick upon its sleeve. Thick sunny fruit with a nice black peaty edge. Good balance. Warm smoked apple sauce and moisturising hand cream (Nivea). Crushed beetle and smouldering leaves. Fresh oak with nice medium wood spices and some bonfire notes. Amongst all these Benriach’s that were released under Billy Walkers reign, with labels in colours you didn’t even know existed, these three finishes (Albariza, Dunder and Latada) really stand out for me, as if these received some kind of extra care. Benriach is already a great distillate and Malt, and these three are certainly no slouches. Otherwise this Latada seems to be somewhat simpler and less peaty than both Albariza or Dunder.

Taste: Sweet and sour fruity acidity. Apple sauce, sugared yellow fruits, slightly nutty (like a mix of freshly burnt and unsalted nuts you buy at the market on Saturday) and cigarette ashes. Thick (sweetness + peat) and thin (acidity) at the same time. Some nice wood, more than the nose had, but not very much, not a lot of bitterness as well, which is great. This leaves more room for the fruit and the peat. I expected even some more peat here though, and maybe even some prickly smoke, but foremost this Malt shows me ashes first, apart from the fruit that is. Soft and (light) peat do come next. Only next, comes some sweet licorice and again some wood. All in all a very tasty Whisky (hints of diluted Fanta), but less complex than expected. Excellent finish though. Nice warming and peaty aftertaste. Sure, of the three, Latada makes you work the hardest to show you what it’s got, but it is still a very nice one. The body of this Malt is narrower than both the Albariza and Dunder and as said also somewhat less complex.

Keep a lid on this one! Focus them aroma’s!

Points: 87

I understand that the scoring of Albariza (89 Points), Dunder (88 Points) and Latada (87 Points) seem a bit “coincidental”, but for me these scores reflect perfectly the quality of all three Malts and the differences between them. All three are very good, and some finishes just work a little bit better than the next. Keep in mind that this is my personal opinion, and it is highly likely, your preferences will differ. The perception one has, concerning the PX, Rum and Madeira finishes is also a matter of taste and can differ from one person tot the next. So for me the PX finish works best, but the other two are very nice as well. All three finishes work very well with the peat, and I can recommend all three. Considering these 18yo’s, I could be tempted to buy the Albariza and the Dunder back, but luckily these two have 22yo’s versions, so I’m getting those in stead. If a 22yo Latada would have existed I would have bought that one as well, because the 18yo version is still a good Whisky, receiving a well deserved 87 points. It would be interesting though to see how the 22yo would have been. However, I’m not sure if I would be getting the 18yo Latada again. For me it is still the least one of the three if you compare them to each other, and it is also the one that needed the most work to get everything out of it. Albariza and Dunder are easier in that respect. Get them all, they are good and differ quite a lot from each other. I would only recommend opening them in reverse order, so Latada first, than Dunder and finally Albariza. That will work best.

Bowmore 15yo 1996/2011 (57.3%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Sherry Finish, Butt # 960005)

I don’t know why, but every time I saw this bottle on a shelf, (when it was still readily available), I just wanted it. Which is quite strange. I’m not the world’s biggest Bowmore’s fan. Bowmores from yesteryear surely yes, but more modern Bowmore’s somewhat less so than other Islay distillates. Maybe this has something to do with Bowmore’s FWP*-problem from the eighties? Who knows. But why did I want this one? 15yo sounds nice, Bowmore, definitely not so bad, Sherry, yes, finished, what?… but why not? Wilson & Morgan and Sherried bottlings (Macallan, Mortlach, yes pretty damn good!) And last but for me certainly not least, I have always been a sucker for green glass bottles. Dark Whisky just looks fantastic to me through green glass. I even hosted a large Whisky tasting once, you guessed it, only with Whiskies bottled in green glass.

So, I always felt, more likely assumed, (the mother of all fuckups), but there is some educated guessing involved here, this would be a good one. Excuse me for this unnecessary complex sentence. Right after getting one of these Bowmores, I found another discounted one, so I snapped that one up as well, just in case. Better safe than sorry ‘eh? As most anoraks/aficionados/connoisseurs already know, Wilson & Morgan is an Italian private bottler, led by the über-Italian Fabio Rossi, who seems to prefer to focus more on bottling Rums lately, and doing a great job there as well. I already reviewed some Rums bottled by Fabio’s Rum brand; Rum Nation, as well as Whiskies from his Wilson & Morgan range. Ohhhh that Mortlach, nom, nom…

Color: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Perfect peat and smoke. Syrupy Sherry. Spicy chilli pepper powder. Vanilla and boiling vegetable water. Hot motor oil, licorice, tar and a faint whiff of plastic and latex paint, all adding to the complexity. Raspberry jam. What an amazing smelling Malt. The label states this as a Sherry Finish. Often Oloroso comes to mind, but in this case it reminds me more of PX, not claiming this really came from a PX cask though. Leafy, vegetal. Fresh air in between the peat and the smoke with some hidden vanilla underneath. Excellent wood spice, and fresh oak vanilla. Soft, creamy and lovely. Cigarette ashes from an ashtray. Licorice and some minty black and white powder. The Sherry finish brought a lot to this Malt without overpowering it. It is still an Islay Malt, with this added bonus to it. Wonderful work Fabio. I wonder how the original Malt was before it was finished to see what this finish exactly did. I guess we will never know. The smoky and ashy industrial feel wears off a bit over time, exposing some burnt newspaper, sinaspril and chlorine as well as the vanillin of American oak. Excellent balance throughout the nose. Dark cherries on syrup and a tiny whiff of the oil from orange skins and warm mineral oil as well. It’s just the orange skin oil, but it isn’t very orange-y. Some cigarette smoke as well as some more tar at this point. Black tea and leafy with hints of smoked kippers and some clay. Quite a complex Malt, changing directions several times, yet always well balanced. When Bowmore gets is right it can really hit it out of the ballpark.

Taste: Ahhh, wonderful, strong and prickly peated plastic and smoked rubber on entry. Gravy and lots of (tarry) red fruits. Black fruits and ripe strawberry. Sweetish at first, turning dry. Black coal, steam and tarry with rubbery cherry syrup. Bitter licorice. Laurel licorice. Unlit cigarette. It really does taste thick. Quite some wood but never really bitter, the wee bitter note here comes from the smoke. It’s dry and smoky throughout and quite fruity as well. Ashy. If this wasn’t peaty and smoky and spicy, it would have been a lemonade. I’m sure, part of the smoky notes come from the Sherry cask and not the Whisky alone. On the palate it may not be as wonderfully complex as the nose, but at this point, who cares, this is such an outstanding Malt. Wonderful. Quite a dry aftertaste, waxy and woody with the plastics and the peat, the medium waxy bitterness has the longest breath.

This one right after Tamdhu Dalbeally No. 3 is simply stunning, Dalbeally brings out the best out of this one, coal, machines etc. Man, when Bowmore is great it is truly stunning. Never thought a Bowmore from the nineties could be so great. If I had tasted this blind, I would have guessed this was an older Bowmore, probably from the seventies costing a lot more than this one did me.

Points: 92

*French Whore Perfume

Springbank 18yo (46%, OB, 11/14)

Whenever one walks in, there are always several Springbank’s on my lectern. I always have to be careful not to empty the bottle before the review has been written. Amazingly the last Springbank featured here is the 15yo bottled in 2018. The review was written in 2019, so no Springbank was reviewed in the whole shitty year that was 2020, how is that even possible? Never mind, here is the review of the Springbank 18yo bottled in 2011. One with the nice old black label that has already been replaced with the blingy and shiny purple label we still have at the time of writing. As said many times before, one of Springbank’s strong points is batch variation. No release of the 18yo is similar to any of the other releases, and this one is no exception. The 2011 never was considered to be one of the best, so let’s see why this one gets less love than other editions of this Malt.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fatty, yet fresh. Citrussy and fruity, but also waxy and some (wet) hay and dry coconut. Sometimes a bit farmy. Smoked sweet toffee, latex paint and soft wet wood. Wood that has been under water for quite some time. Burnt wet paper. Old matches (lit a long time ago). Very aromatic as a whole. In part a men’s perfume and otherwise quite fruity. Warm motor oil. Fatty. Easily recognizable as a Springbank. Smells balanced and really appetizing. This has a very good nose. Yellow fruits like white peach and tropical fruits like passion fruit and maracuja with a wee edge of smoke. Sweet and ripe smelling. Lime, candied pineapple and some almonds. Hints of sweat combined with the men’s perfume. The whole Whisky smells like a Whisky from yesteryear, you know, one of those Malts, people say, “they don’t make them like that any more”. Smells extremely well made and thus a wee bit old fashioned maybe, but then again, Springbank never smelled anything like anything else out there. Some more caramel and toffee, and some alcohol as well. Alcohol like you get from a cherry liqueur with a wee snuff of old white pepper, so not fully aromatic white pepper. Faded white pepper and add to that some warm anise (milk). Maybe this is a bed-time dram? Not woody at all, but there is this sense of toasted wood, although not much.

Taste: The taste is less big than the nose is. Well, initially it is, but the big fatty, nutty and fruity start dissipates rather quickly (making room for some wood and its bitterness). Still fruity, but also a bit thinner, maybe a tad more watery. Still quite warming going down. Here the age exerts itself through more wood and loads of almonds. With the second sip, the more waxy and nutty notes come to the front. Toffee and paper. Wax with citrus aroma’s blended in. Lemon and lime notes, not your orange or tangerine aroma’s. Although the woody bitterness does resemble the oils from orange peel a bit. Nice soft wood with (just) enough bitterness to let you know this is a well aged Whisky, and yes it aged in a wooden cask alright. Upfront are the waxy and toffee bits with the citrus and tropical fruits, the start of the body is the best. The more time you spend with this sip, brings out the more astringent woody bits and especially the bitterness of which there were no early warning signs of its arrival. The nose seemed so sunny and friendly and now this somewhat gloomy bitterness shows itself. It’s not bad, but it does come a little bit unexpected considering the nose. The finish is of medium length at best, and the aftertaste is somewhat dominated by the wood and its bitter friend. However, when this bottle was freshly opened, I don’t remember this bitterness at all. I guess this is what the breathing accomplishes. I have to admit, not every day is the same and personally it depends on the day how I get on with bitterness. Springbank almost always needs a lot of breathing, here with this one that is not the case. Strange, and again unexpected.

Yes, this is still a classic Springbank offering, yet not a big and bold one. As happens with a lot of offerings from this distillery, it only gets better over time. These Whiskies need to breathe to develop even beyond a point you couldn’t imagine when freshly opened, and this one was a good one right from the start, and as said above, quite different from Springbank 18yo bottlings form other years. We just love batch variation here! This one did develop to a high quite soon, but also managed to get past its top, and found its way down again. I don’t get that a lot with Springbank. As said earlier, this is not a Big Springbank, hence its reputation, so in this particular case the Whisky probably would have been even better at a slightly higher ABV. Around 50% I would say. This one is still a good one, hence the score.

Points: 87

Glenallachie 26yo 1992/2019 (54.8%, Cadenhead, Bourbon Hogshead, 240 bottles)

Here is another example of a soft spot Whisky that has been aged for a good while in a (refill) Bourbon Hogshead, like the Glentauchers I just reviewed, although this Glenallachie is twice the age of the Glentauchers. In my recent reviews of Inchgower and Tormore, I mentioned Whiskies although they may be lesser known to the public, I particularly like. This may very well be, and most definitely is, a personal thing. I believe one of the interesting aspects of one’s Whisky adventure is finding a Whisky that suits you personally. One that clicks. Often these lesser known Whiskies come from work-horse distilleries built for the sole purpose of making whisky for some big volume blend. In the case of Glenallachie that was the Clan Campbell blend. Well, Glenallachie might just be another one of those work-horse distilleries that could suit my palate just right. Up ’till just recently, only bearded extremist, poncho wearing, aficionado’s had ever heard of Glenallachie and knew what the distillery was capable of, and sure enough, even Master Quill did only write about independent bottlings of Glenallachie until the recent review of the official 15yo. So the tradition has already been broken, but here is yet another independent bottling of Glenallachie, this time one bottled by Cadenhead.

Fairly recently things have changed considerably at Glenallachie. Billy Walker cashed in big-time by selling Benriach and Glendronach, and turned his eye upon Glenallachie for his next project. Similar to what has happened with Benriach and Glendronach, a lot of Single Cask bottlings and a new and extensive standard range, with lots of variants, is hitting the markets as we speak. Hot stuff! At the Whisky Show in London, I had the opportunity to try a lot of these newly released Glenallachie OB’s for the first time, and, I have to say, I was quite impressed and especially pleasantly surprised by the “younger” expressions. The 12yo OB as well as the first few batches of the cask strength versions of the 10yo were very good. I am liking the potential here and will keep an eye out for this distillery and its offerings.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Spicy, fruity and appetizing. Smells a bit like (any) classic Cadenhead refill hogshead bottling I know from 20 years ago. Citrussy, almost the clean and cold citrussy (lemon) smell of a freshly cleaned toilet. Wonderful soft wood. Even the toilet paper seems to be here. It is definitely not as bad as it sounds, it is actually quite appealing, but I find a freshly cleaned toilet also appealing (and inviting). So fresh and clean it is (The Whisky). Next, a more warming and medium spicy wood smell next to the citrus. Pencil shavings. Nice development as well. It’s aromatic, but it is not big. Next, more sweeter (diluted honey). The fruit is never far away just like this impression of sweetness. Some seriously fine fruity aroma’s emerge. For instance, green apple emerges quite late. Damp forest floor as well as some plants in the summer. Slightly minty and hints of Calvados. Dry lavender pouch from grannies drawers and lots of fresh air too. The citrus I already mentioned, but also some ripe sweeter kinds of yellow fruits. This needs some time to open up. Excellent balance between the wood and the fruit. Probably from a (second, or more) refill Bourbon Hogshead. This one is just about the cask and the distillate, giving us some nice results. The recently reviewed Cragganmore 12yo Special Release, is also a Whisky built around this theme (as well as some unexpected smoke, in that particular case). A perfect example of a Whisky where the beauty lies in the details, which works excellently in a flight of Whiskies like these. Top Tip!

Taste: Hot entry, where the wood has a louder voice than it had on the nose. Alcohol first. Caramel, toffee, cold chocolate milk and a candied apple on a stick. Sweetness second. Starts with only a clear hint of wood. Sharpish (painted) wood (old paint), yet not a lot of it. Wood third. Quite pleasant. Sweet and lots of sugary sweet yellow fruits, very, very appetizing. The start of this Malt is really wonderful and well balanced. Very tasty. Towards the body of the Malt and especially in the finish, there is also quite some, lets say, some less hidden wood, which is no surprise after 26 years. The wood becomes quite pronounced towards the end of the body and especially in the finish. The wood shows quite some bitterness as well, which takes away a bit from this Dram. Plant sap and oak. A bit hot going down. Drying on my tongue, making the malt more astringent. The sweet start is entirely pushed away. The fruit is still there but the wood replaces the sweetness, making it less lively and less “tropical”. The bitterness has some staying power but not much. Actually, nothing has a lot of staying power, so this definitely is of medium length at best. A light bitter woodiness makes up the aftertaste.

Yes this is a good Malt and I understand the people who say they really like it. It has some really good traits. For me personally though, losing the sweetness along the way and the wood, and its bitterness, taking over like this, takes away a from this Malt. But hey, this is a 26yo Malt, so there is bound to be some wood in here, don’t you think? I wonder how this was when it was younger. Would the wood have less to say, less drying and less bitter? Would the fruit be still as developed as it is now or would it be more youthful and vibrant? Maybe we’ll find out some day from a sister cask that was bottled several years earlier. In the intro I was wondering if Glenallachie might be another work-horse distillery which would suit my palate? Well after the Glenallachies I tasted up ’till this point, I wouldn’t place it in that category with Tormore and Teaninich just yet…

Points: 86

Glentauchers 13yo 2002/2015 (55.6%, Five Lions, Private Collection, 2nd Fill Bourbon Barrel)

Within the realm of Whisky one can find a lot of different tastes and smells. But hey, that is also true for Rum and many other aged distillates. This is one of the reasons one can never really stop talking or writing about it, because there is always a lot more to say. Whisky isn’t dead, there is a lot of evolution in Whisky as well. Once only Blended Whiskies were the ” thing” and most distilleries owe their life to being part of a big selling blend. There was also a big move towards ageing Whiskies in Spanish Sherry casks, butts and puncheons. Who doesn’t like those excellent 60’s and 70’s Sherry driven Malts like the Macallan, Glendronach, Longmorn and Strathisla to name but a few.

More recent and more evolved are Whiskies in less traditional casks like Red and White Wine casks. Today everything goes. Casks after Rum, Cognac, Calvados, Sweet Dessert Wines, or Sherry’s put on American Oak casks rather than the traditional European Oak. The Sherry drinking public finds these Sherry’s more friendly and accessible. The art being how to use all those different casks, and for how long. A fine example turned out to be this recently reviewed Deanston finished in Bordeaux casks. When talking to people who… well the world knows them as anoraks, aficionado’s or connoisseurs, when talking about the different styles of Whisky, these people always seem have a soft spot for Whiskies that have been aged for a good while in refill Bourbon barrels and Hogsheads. These casks tend to less dominate the distillate and add more creamy and vanilla flavours (coming from American Oak). Whiskies that have been aged this way always leave some room for the quality of the distillate, which differs from distillery to distillery, making these Whiskies extremely interesting.

Here we have an example of this. A Glentauchers, aged for 13 years in a second fill Bourbon barrel, nothing more. So what we have here is the distillate and a previously used cask, nothing more. I bought this one at auction and it didn’t break the bank, and I felt this would do just fine. Glentauchers makes a nice distillate, the cask is a second refill, so not worn out, not tampered with, recharred or something and always a plus, the Whisky was bottled at cask strength, giving it enough power to bring all those lovely flavours forth. Lets dig in!

Color: White Wine

Nose: Starts nutty and waxy. Dried out yellow fruits with a little bit of honey. Big breaths of fresh air and a citrussy acidic note as well. An ever so slight edge of smokiness. A huge layer of perfumed paper and a slight burnt note as well. Soft wood bordering on cardboard and the skins of almonds. Initially not as fruity as expected. So it seems not fruity nor woody at first. However, having said that, there is definitely some fruit here, but it is all fresh citrus notes. Oils from the skins. Hidden fruits. Thus the cask might have been less active, making this an excellent example of a malt where only time and the quality of the spirit determine the outcome, and the cask did do something as well obviously, but to a lesser extent than in most other cases. Still, this is a giving Malt, it is quite big on the nose, very fragrant and aromatic. Soft blend of licorice and spices in cold dishwater (a wee bit soapy), which isn’t as horrible as it sounds. This is a very laid-back Malt were nothing really stands out. A soft and quiet spoken Malt. The one that sits in the back at a birthday party, aptly dressed for a party and wearing fine floral cologne. It is more than happy to observe in stead of taking part in idle and utter boring conversation, biding his time until it’s time to finally go home again. Slightly (saw)dusty and the fresh air just keeps coming. Hints of cold gravy. After a while the floral note becomes clearer. Jasmine. not so much the fresh flower itself, but more like the scented rice or the tea. I’m actually still struggling a bit to distinguish the other fruits. Some unripe pineapple and unripe waxy mango skin. The malt is friendly and accessible, which often spells: “fruit”, but no, that doesn’t seem to be the dominant aroma this time (apart from the citrussy top note, and maybe some unripe fruits). Good one this though. Balanced, I like it.

Taste: Sweet and wood-spicy on entry. Hints of mocha cream on a cake. A friendly, and citrussy fresh, entry. Wood and wax and definitely more fruit than in the nose, the sweetness helps that along. Yet still not a very fruity Whisky though. The wood adds some restrained bitterness. Licorice all sorts, including the anise. Wow, remarkable. Quite hot going down. Lightly smoked toffee with some cumin and minty toothpaste. Light honey aroma’s make up the rest of the sweetness. Hints of wood, cardboard and a leafy note. Some smoke, pineapple and lemon hard candy. In the end the woody bitterness stays behind in the aftertaste. Sometimes it even tastes a bit soapy. Alcohol definitely there. Sweet, nice, and a very tasty Whisky indeed.

Even though one might consider this less interesting because of the cask used, and therefore one may find it even a bit boring. If you do, you might be missing the point. For me, this is a well made Whisky which does have a lot to offer. All is good and all is in its place. It’s a Malt of integrity and honesty and to be honest, this one pleased me a lot more than the dark coloured and Sherried Glenallachie 15yo I reviewed recently.

Points: 86

Glenallachie 15yo (46%, OB, 2019)

After a few independent bottlings of Glenallachie, here is finally one of those new official bottlings from Billy Walkers new pet project. After Glendronach and Benriach, now Glenallachie gets the Walker treatment, and the results are here for all to be seen. When this new core range was released in 2018, it included a Cask Strength 10yo, a 12yo, a 18yo and I believe a 25yo. Today there are many, many more of those blended and reduced bottlings available. A year after the introduction came this 15yo. Even without trying it, I already, really, really liked the look of it. The wonderful Sherried color looks nice, the blue label looks nice, and since the other Whiskies from the core range were pretty good as well, the 15yo appeared very promising to me. But buyer beware, looks can be deceiving, but hopefully not this time…

Color: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Sherried, slightly tarry and dusty. Cask toast, cookie dough and oranges. Milk chocolate, raisins, cherries and vanilla ice cream with quite a lot of floral aroma’s, as well as some perfumed wood. In part a perfume and ever so slightly, the smell of hair lacquer. Modern and clean. Very modern Sherry notes, which is miles away from the notes of Sherried Whiskies distilled in the 60’s and 70’s. Sweet (pink bubblegum) and mildly fruity, ever so slightly rotting fruit with a strange acidity to it. Weird. Lots of succulent raisins combined with dry dust. Vanilla and soft wood with lots of sharp fresh air and mint. Painted oak cask ends and dried virgin oak. Yes soft and dry oak is here to stay. Citrus fruit confectionery, you know, the ones coated with sugar. Where initially there was a sense of fruit to this, after some breathing this turns a bit darker and less fruity-friendly, yet retaining its (ultra) modern (woody) quality. Freshly opened, this didn’t seem all that interesting to me, somewhat closed and thin. Luckily this is no longer the case, at least not to this extent. Enough happening now after 1/3rd of the bottle gone.

Taste: Initially a bit thin and quite sweet, toffee and caramel sweetness, not even fruity sweetness. Now tar, cardboard and toasted oak, raisins and yes, some cinnamon. Wow lots of raisins in what seems to be a full bowl of vanilla ice-cream. It’s like (PX) raisins are dissolved in here. Further back a little woody bitterness. Initially a short-lived unbalance with some sort of acidity that doesn’t seem to integrate well (the rotting bit from the nose maybe?) Sometimes the “thin” bit returns as well. Fruity wood-infused sugar water. A strange sort of fruity sweetness. Not very fruity at all actually. Cookie dough and a trickle of smoke from the fire place. Quite a short finish though, just the warmth (and some oaky acidity and bitterness) stays behind for a while longer. Actually,, it is sometimes a bit too sweet or off. Orange skins, and yogurt acidity.

This is a Malt that does some things right and some things well, yet it doesn’t convince me enough as a whole. It seems a bit cold and too modern. In no way do I manage to click with it. A digital Malt. Vinyl aficionados will understand. On the plus side, this is quite different from the 12yo and the 10yo cask strength editions, which warrants its existence. On the down side, it’s just not that big, full, fruity or inspiring. I really expected a lot more from an official Sherried 15yo. In a way, I also expected a bit more from the Tamdhu 15 as well, but for me that one turned out to be nicer than this one though. Enough nice aromas on the nose here, but I feel this could have been and should have been better. I’m sure this will improve with future batches, since the newer distillate seems to be better. That’s why for me, for now, the first 10yo Cask Strength version is the most recommendable from the ever-expanding core range. But there are so many bottlings now, and I’ve hardly tasted them all. By now three more batches exist, so I hope those are carrying on the torch lit by the first one.

When tasting these new Glenallachies for the first time, it were the younger ones which surprised me the most and just seemed the most interesting since they seem to be showing the way forward, seen from the perspective of the newer distillate, predominantly, yet not exclusively, aged in Ex-Bourbon casks. I believe from this, that Glenallachie will be better with every passing year, as long as they manage to source the better quality casks available. Since the initial releases, it seems like every month a few new expressions see the light of day, and they aren’t all single casks as well. Somewhat similar to what Highland Park is doing now and Benriach did earlier. At the time of writing, three different virgin oak expressions were released…

Since I liked the 10yo Cask Strength version and the 12yo, and the 18yo only scored just one point more than the 12yo (at more than twice the price), I went for this 15yo, which seemed like a safe bet. I thought it should be at least as good as those mentioned earlier, and well, it is quite a dark colored expression, which didn’t break the bank, so I went for it without much thought and opened it before the aforementioned expressions I picked up earlier than the 15yo. Well this 15yo is a funny puppy. First of all, it doesn’t taste like a proper 15yo, but more like a NAS Sherry bottling. Somewhat designed and maybe rushed to the store perhaps? I don’t know. OK, the bottle has been open for only a few weeks and is still nearly full. Maybe it needs some more time and air. For now it lacks depth and it is more about cheap cream Sherry and PX, than good old quality Oloroso, which I expected. I’m actually a bit disappointed to be honest. Sure, oak and toasted cask are present, but the sugar water still dominates. Seems to me this was brought to the market as a direct competitor to the equally sweet Glendronach 15yo “Revival” and maybe the Tamdhu 15yo. In the end it never really grew on me, and it didn’t really get much better with time. It was fixed to much in its place hindering development, as if it was told not to. I finished the bottle rather quickly, which took me by surprise a bit, so, why did this go so fast? Did it become that good after some more breathing? Not exactly, in fact the Whisky is nothing more than OK, do-able, and yes, it luckily did have its moments, however, it went down so fast because it bored me and I wanted it out of the way for something better. So for a while it became the Whisky to start an evening with, until it was gone…

Points: 83

Deanston 10yo (46.3%, OB, Bordeaux Red Wine Cask Finish, for Travel Retail, 2019)

Deanston, once the ugly duckling of the Scottish Whisky world, its reputation then just a hair better than that of Fettercairn (no offence), but look at Deanston now. Deanston, may have started the race from the pits, after yet another engine change, but are making their way up the field in an impressing manner. If you look closely it is easy to see they took a hard look at what Springbank is doing (right). Maybe even asked for some advise, and if so, they clearly got the point as well. They left nothing to chance. First of all, the quality has improved a lot. Quality sells by word of mouth, because I don’t see a big marketing ploy behind either Deanston nor Springbank, and Deanston surely has grown a lot more popular.

Besides the quality, Deanston is issuing very good Whiskies in different price brackets, and the amount of single cask, or small batch releases have grown. Next, where Springbank is (again) successful with “Local Barley”, Deanston plays the “Organic” trump card. (Bollocks, Trump, these days this is almost a dirty word). Even the new bottle design of Deanston resembles the Springbank bottle a bit. Just look at the base of the bottle where words show up in the glass itself. So they adapted a successful formula and rightly so. It clearly works. Even the people I know are into Springbank (I’m one of them), are now also very much interested in Deanston, and liking it. Did I already mention, that the keys to the success of Springbank and thus more recently, Deanston, are its people? They are! Kudo’s to you!

Color: Orange gold, no red hue (looks like a Bourbon)

Nose: Wonderful creamy notes with nice red fruity notes, tiniest hint of apple pie and a sharper woody note. Floral as well. Smoky toffee. Very creamy in fact. Nothing Wine-like at all, although, maybe just a bit. Would I still feel the same if I had smelled this without knowing it was a Wine finish? Maybe so, yet the more this breathes, and if you are patient enough to let is sit in your glass for 10 to 15 minutes, the Red Wine nose becomes more pronounced. There is this slightly burned and slightly tarry aroma from the wine cask and this unmistakeable red fruit candy aroma, that always pops up with Red Wine cask finishes. We are still just starting with smelling this Malt and it already smells like something that was finished for just the right amount of time. Also, the base Whisky that was finished like this must have been of pretty high quality as well. Definitely American oak came first, it’s creamy with vanilla underneath. People at Deanston are really knowing what they are doing now, with a smell like this, and this after a Bordeaux Finish. In the early days of finishing, Red Wine casks, weren’t my favourites, not by a long shot. They were often severely overdone. Lets get back to smelling. Next a nice fresh green note. Plants on the window sill on a warm day. Lots of creamy warm milk chocolate. Quite soft after the sharper (oaky) start. The oak is still here, by the way. Within the soft notes some wet cardboard emerges, along with more sweet red fruit water. Forest strawberry lemonade. Well balanced altogether and smells very distinguished and mature. Is this really only a 10yo with a Bordeaux finish? It seems just too good for that. It surely doesn’t come across as such. I really like the smell of this. Amazing accomplishment.

Taste: Soft wood, thin, runny caramel, toffee and Winey red fruits, sweet and sour. Lemon acidity. American toasted oak vanilla with chewy toffee but also spicy wood and spicy spices. Yet the whole is still quite soft. Soft, warm milk chocolate and fresh almonds. Here the Wine finish is on top of the toffee and milk chocolate. Seems slightly less balanced than the nose was. Its a liquid Mars bar, Twix and Ferrero Rocher in one! The Wine finish is done with taste so it must have been used sparsely. Nothing wrong with this Wine finish. This Malt drinks like chocolate milk, dangerously easy going. Wine in the finish, as well as some hazelnuts and toast. Dare I say it also has some soapy notes? It does, is that a problem? This time it isn’t. As long as you don’t start foaming from the mouth (I didn’t). Somewhat simpler in the taste than the nose was but still a good and accomplished Malt. After sipping this, the nose becomes even better. Warming going down, like warm chocolate milk. Medium finish at best and finally a creamy aftertaste. One bottle of this isn’t nearly enough. Costs next to nothing compared to what you are getting for your hard earned cash, (I got it even on sale). Get more, should still be widely available. Finally a word of warning. This actually deteriorates a bit (even more soft, even sweeter and a bit too velvety) with air, so don’t have it in your glass too long. It’s best when freshly poured (spicier).

There is a danger to this Malt. When I opened this, I was really surprised how nice this is. Liked every drop of it, and the first half of the bottle went pretty quick, and all of a sudden I had enough of its big, sweet, tarry and winey profile. I had to push it to the back of the lectern to get away from it for a while, so lesson learned and just don’t overdo it. It is a good Malt, with an in your face profile, which can take you hostage for a while. If this happens to you, don’t worry, just press “Pauze” and after a while you can press “Play” again, and all is back to normal. Good one for a more than decent price. Like it.

Points: 86

Highland Park 10yo “Viking Scars” (40%, OB, Circa 2019)

Highland Park, never has there been a distillery whose output can really inspire me the one time and make me pretty sad and disappointed the next. Especially the official bottlings. Looking back at my reviews of official releases, I have to go back to 2015 to find a very good 18yo (bottled in 2012). Still the 18yo is wonky at best, since the 18yo (bottled in 2014) didn’t even come close to the 2012 expression. And this is the second time this happened to me with two earlier editions of the 18yo some ten years before. One batch, very good, the next not so much. I’m all for batch variation like Springbank does, but Springbanks seem to be always good yet can differ quite a bit. Every batch is made with different results in mind. With Highland Park you can see they were aiming for more or less the same profile, just the quality suffered a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I really have a soft spot for Highland Park. Heck, this is already the 17th Highland Park on these pages! It was the first Malt I encountered that really connected with me, wow, how I looked up to it. For instance, have you ever tried the 18yo wide-neck version? Just sayin’. Maybe with a change of owners, a change of management, a change in views, came some sort of downfall of the core range for me. To be honest, I haven’t been looking at Highland Park for a while now, but luckily this bottle-share with Nico came up. Maybe I’ve set myself up for another disappointment, since this is a 10yo bottled at 40% ABV. I hope Highland Park is able to put out a decent entry level Malt.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: If I would say, heather and honey, would I still be believable? But yes, for me its that and this is thus most certainly a Highland Park. Smells good, floral (sometimes even borderline soapy) and has definitely some Sherry-notes as well as some warm barley aroma’s. Warm oak and do I detect a whiff of smoke right there in the back? Vanilla with some cask toast and milk chocolate. Cloves, birch sap and smells from the fire place at Christmas. Candied yellow fruits. Besides the perfumy and quite floral notes also some minty ones appear. American oak vanilla and a nice refreshing citrus note as well. Also some sweetish ripe green apple skins. If you sniff this well, it has a nice dirty note there in the back as well. Quite a lot going on for a modern Malt at 10 years of age, one that also has been reduced so much. The smokey, fire place note is very interesting in this one. The whole works well and the well-balanced nose surely doesn’t disappoint. Very nice!

Taste: Thin, somewhat watery, waxy and paper-like. Initially sweet and heather smoky and than an ever so slightly bitter note from wood. More birch than oak though. Sappy. I have to hurry to put another sip in before everything disappears. Oooh it does smell really nice though. So this is thin with a short sweet run and some wood. Heather yes, honey, nope, the sweetness is more of the refined sugar kind to me. Quality sugar water with alcohol. Warming. Sweet with thin runny caramel and sticky toffee and some nutty notes as well. Whilst dramming, keep smelling this, because it lifts the taste. After sipping, the smoky notes in the nose get bigger and more wonderful, the smoke creeps into the taste as well. However, I fear the overall taste suffers more than a bit from the reduction I guess. The nose is very good and there are more than a few hints in the taste of this Whisky that it should be quite good at a (much) higher ABV. Since it seems a bit syrupy sweet, it sometimes drinks like it is 30% ABV. Just when going down, you know there has to be some (but not even a lot) more alcohol here than you might think. Some woody bitterness, plantlike and again a bit cardboardy. The finish is obviously short. The aftertaste is comprised of a syrupy film, toffee, wax and heathery and this light bitter woody note. Hint of milk chocolate with a floral edge. Five seconds later all is gone and Viking Scars turn out to be only superficial cuts and probably will leave no lasting marks. Not bad though, I expected worse to be honest.

As I said in the intro, I had some kind of reason to lose interest in Highland Park and somehow built up some kind of prejudice. Well this bottling sure feeds this prejudice in a way, yet there are also some leads in the smell and taste offering hope. In its defence, this is not expensive, and good smelling, but must have been targeted at a more careless consumer, who might want to use it in a Whisky and Coke. Well, I obviously don’t fit that bill (I prefer a good Rum in my ginger beer by the way, thank you very much). This bottling is most definitely not targeted at the members of HPAS (Highland Park Appreciation Society), these members turn their attention to the many single cask bottlings bottled at cask strength. I’m sure though members of HPAS have tasted this bottling and have some at home as well. Not sure if they are drinking it on a regular basis though. I have to get me a sample or a bottle of one of those single cask expressions. I’m curious about those. If you are really into Single Malt Whisky, well, you might want to skip this one or at least don’t have too high expectations for it and the nose will certainly surprise you…

Points: 82

Yet another sample from Nico, who quite liked this and I do understand why. Thanks again mate!

Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram” (46%, OB, First Fill Bourbon & First Fill STR barrique)

Happy 2021! After dry Januari, finally the moment has arrived to forget about the past year, may it never return, in no shape or form whatsoever. However, all is still not well with the world at the beginning of 2021. I hope this review reaches you in good health and sound mind. With this new year, I’ll kick off with a new dram from a new Distillery. Kingsbarns is the new distillery owned by the Wemyss-family, a name we already know as an independent bottler of Single Malts like the Bowmore “Aniseed Pastille” and the Clynelish “Cayenne Cocoa Bean“, Malts I reviewed earlier.

Kingsbarns Distillery lies approximately six miles from St. Andrews, close to the Kingsbarns Golf Links. This is not a coincidence since the distillery was the dream of former Golf Caddie Douglas Clement. Word is that clients of Douglas’ were asking for directions to the nearest distillery, for “refreshments” after a strenuous game of golf, and since there really wasn’t a distillery close by, Douglas came up with the idea of having a distillery much closer to the golf course. Douglas found a suitable site close to the Golf Links. He found the derelict East Newhall Farm that serviced Cambo House and Estate. The buildings originated from around 1800 as part of the East Newhall Farm. Owned by Thomas Erskine, the ninth Earl of Kellie, and were restored for the use as a distillery in the original style. The farm, now distillery, overlooks barley fields, what else do you need? Kingsbarns Distillery opened in November 2014 and began filling casks from March 2015.

Raising money for a distillery was too much for Douglas alone, so he looked for financial backing, eventually finding the Wemyss family. Some reports mention that Wemyss simply joined the project, where others mention Douglas was bought out by Wemyss. As far as I know, Douglas worked together with Wemyss to fulfil his dream. The Wemyss family themselves probably were interested in the project, because they already did have a Whisky business and thus know their way around, but also have a historical link with this site as well. The 7th Earl of Wemyss owned part of the Cambo Estate between 1759 and 1783.

Color: White wine

Nose: Very Malty and grassy, but also pleasant. Young and creamy with hay, cereal and citrus aroma’s. Yes. very Lowland. Somewhere between soft and fresh ‘n zesty. Young, but not really new make spirit young (so nothing like young Tomatin, which is more milky and acidic to boot). Vanilla pudding with a little bit of American oak (vanilla and some wood spice), soft wood. Sweet mint candy. Menthos and vanilla ice-cream. With some air more friendly floral notes emerge. Already quite balanced and accomplished for such a young malt, but young and simple nevertheless. The nose can be compared easily with something like Bruichladdich Organic (the vintage ones @ 50% ABV), which are around twice the age, and still those are considered to be very young. The Bruichladdich tastes much bigger though. Tiny hint of toasted oak and a winey top-note. What was STR-cask again Kato? (Shaved, Toasted en Re-charred). Nice nose, better than expected. After some more breathing a little bit of new make does show up, but not much. However once this note shows up, it never leaves again, so definitely a young expression, but that’s what we expected now, didn’t we? Perfumy and aromatic next, like a Dutch Korenwijn or Jenever. A light Whisky for springtime, an introduction.

Taste: Sweet and citrussy, floral and grassy, but also a bit (sugar) watery (with licorice) and simple. Again, this whiff of toasted cask, lemongrass and young sweet malt. The sweet note makes for an instant gratification Malt, be it a very simple one. Here the youth is even more noticeable. It definitely lacks a lot of complexity and some balls. What you taste is what you get. It doesn’t really evolve much in my glass. It’s very soft and friendly, like a soft spoken person. Humble and kind. Lowland-ish in style. Luckily, some backbone is offered by a peppery note and warm wood. Cold White Wine storage complete with a whiff of new cardboard. The higher ABV of 46%, does help to lift things a bit up, although I do believe this Malt could have done with an even higher ABV. Very short sweet finish, peppery and warming, dessert-like, with hardly any aftertaste.

The nose shows this distillate really has potential. I guess this will be very nice when it gets more years behind its belt. The Lowland quality is there, time and the people of Kingsbarns will do the rest. A Malt to start your evening with. Treat this as an introduction, a young whisky to present itself. We now know what style to expect. It is most definitely not a full blown Whisky yet, and if you buy a bottle expecting a proper aged Whisky, you’ll be disappointed. Nice one for building expectations. We’ll be watching this one to see how this develops further.

Points: 76

Thanks go out to Nico, for this sample of his Whisky.