Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve (45%, OB, Jamaica)

A few years back I had a Worthy Park from Rum Nation on my lectern, which was definitely not bad. Nope, not bad at all. Here is another one, but this time it’s not bottled by an independent bottler, but by the owners themselves! Hurray! Finally some more worthy OB’s! I’m already sort-of happy this was bottled at 45% ABV and not a lackluster 40%, which often hurts the Rum, just look at both offerings from Foursquare: Both Doorly’s 12yo and the 9yo Port Cask Finish were bottled at 40% ABV, and suffered a bit from reduction if you ask me. Especially Rum, and this is my personal view, fares well at higher strengths. Sure I like it better, but I also feel it presents itself and all the flavors and aroma’s better. Sure, when starting out with Rum I had no beef with lower strength Rums and found lots of Rums were quite good (even the one’s that aren’t all that good in hindsight). As time and experience progresses, I find that the higher strength really does matter considerably. However, as said before, this may not be true for you, so please don’t take my word for it and make up your own mind. The owner of the bottle I’m about to review found this quite alcoholic in comparison to The Rum Nation Guadeloupe I reviewed not too long ago. Let’s see in a few years time what his thoughts are about this Rum.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Yes Worthy Park alright, I recognize it immediately from the Rum Nation bottling I reviewed a few years back. Funky banana, sweet wax and nutty. Lots of fruity banana. Very fragrant. Very fruity. Runny toffee, with an edge of fresh oak and almonds. The big fatty note subsides a bit to show more dry and slightly woody notes. Dried vegetable powder. Sweet Grain Whisky reminding me of Girvan. Vitamin C dust, sawdust and Pisang Goreng (baked banana), complete with the dough and powdered sugar. Milk Chocolate. I have to say I really like the play between the sweet banana toffee notes and the dryer grainy, tea-like and woody notes. More sugared yellow fruits and even some warm licorice. After more breathing, a more alcoholic and green note appears. Showing some apparent youth, which in this case is certainly not bad. More warm licorice and cooked vegetables. Cold gravy. Easily recognizable as a Worthy Park though, but also some surprises are here to be had. I like this one, it smells good.

Taste: Wow, definitely less sweet than the nose promised. I may have used that line before. In fact, this is also thinner than I thought. Less fatty and less sweet. The big nutty and banana note almost seem absent. Starts with (slightly bitter and slightly nutty) wood, Greek green olives and tea. Warming. Quite dry, which is a nice surprise after the banana smell, unless you are expecting a banana nose as well. Already the body seems to un-balance itself, which is a pity. The balance was never this Rums biggest fortay since the difference between the nose and the palate is easily noticeable. Somewhat short in the finish-department as well, lacking warmth, with the bitter wood note having the longest breath. Salty on the lips, like the brine from the Greek green olives.

This is a nice Worthy Park, but for me this doesn’t eclipse a lot of independently bottled Worthy Parks. This in fact surprised me a bit being dryer than most Worthy Parks I tried from the independents, thus showing a somewhat new side to me. Is it the best? Certainly not, it is a bit thin on the palate, but it certainly isn’t pointless at all, I really like the dry profile. This is definitely worth knowing, and I do like it. It is an education, and I’m happy I have been given the opportunity to try it. I don’t think you need the whole bottle for the experience. On par with the Monymusk I just reviewed, but I have to admit this one is growing on me. If I would have an open bottle of this, this might grow on me as well. So in time I will get back to this for sure.

Points: 82

Thanks to Auke for the sample.

Rhum J.M Cuvée 1845 (42%, Vieux, Hors d’Age, Martinique)

After the XO and the Millésime 2002 this is the third J.M Rhum on these pages. This Cuvée 1845 is a blend of Rhum’s aged for 10 years in refill Bourbon barrels. Released in 2015 for the 170th anniversary of production. 170 years, since 1845! I feel that the time has come with this third J.M review, to dive into a little bit of history. If you’re bored easily, please read on, I’ll keep it brief.

Lets begin our journey in 1663 when Jean-Baptiste Labat was born in Paris, France. At the age of 20 he entered the order of the Dominicans, thus becoming better known as Pere (father) Labat. In 1693 Jean-Baptiste travelled to Martinique (amongst others) to do missionary work. There he became proprietor of the Fonds-Saint-Jacques estate where he started to modernize the sugar industry, quickly followed suit by others. In 1706 he returned to Europe, in 1716 returned to Paris and died there in 1738. The Fonds-Saint-Jacques estate changed hands (and names) several times until we finally arrive in 1845, when Jean-Marie Martin bought the estate. Due to other sources for sugar, especially in Europe, production was reduced, however, since distilled spirits were on the rise. Jean-Marie (J.M) thought it would be a good idea to build a distillery on his estate to produce Rhum, thus creating J.M Rhum (Agricole). The distillery (and the estate) changed hands several times since, but the J.M brand stuck.

Color: Orange golden brown

Nose: Vegetable, spicy and dusty. Much more typical Agricole than the Rum Nation Guadeloupe I reviewed recently. Very aromatic. Again this bad breath note combined with (slightly burnt) cola, dates and figs. Some nice polished (oily) oak with old leather. Dusty, green and earthy. Earthy like a sack of soil you buy for your garden (that has been laying in the sun for a while). Sweetish notes like toffee, caramel and vanilla with red fruits, candied cherries and hints of mango and passion fruit. Soft and elegant. Quite floral as well and slightly sugared. I’m sure its not added to this Rhum, but this does have the smell of white sugar diluted in warm water. Powdered sugar dust. Sugared almonds, some honey coated, some fresh. A very quiet and distinguished expression. One that sits back in the corner of the room, but in the best leather chair. After some breathing more oak emerges and lukewarm black tea (yes, with a little bit of sugar in it). Fresh oak and white latex wall paint, very creamy and clean smell. Almonds, warm apple sauce and fresh air. Sniff hard and give it lots of time and this turns out to be way more complex than it showed upon pouring. The well balanced aroma’s seem to emerge endlessly…

Taste: After the complex nose, the taste sometimes starts out a bit thin (not when freshly poured). Less sweet than expected. Rich toffee and typical Agricole notes. An edge of toasted cask complete with a light bitter edge. Vegetal, clean sugar taste. Green spices (celery) and aromatic. Little sting of pepper(oni) and a nice half sweet licorice and sometimes cinnamon note. Definitely less sweet than expected, yet very well balanced. Mocha and hopjes (Dutch coffee candy), milk chocolate and caramel. Milky Way bar. Sometimes even some citrussy notes emerge. At 42% ABV I do feel I have to work at it quite a bit to get all the riches out, which doesn’t mean it should have been bottled at a higher ABV. For me maybe yes, but I guess the ABV suits this Rhum and the market is was bottled for. Just look at the looks of this bottle, it’s just not looking very cask strengthy now does it? I don’t think Daddy Warbucks would appreciate this being high ABV when he picked this at the bar. Warming going down, and very well made. This is a Rhum for a hot day, this needs a little bit of ambient warmth to present its riches, on a cold day, and at this ABV, it is too light and stays too closed.

Quite light in style, careless sipping of this particular Rhum will most certainly mean you will miss a lot and would probably think it isn’t as great than it really is. This is definitely from the same family as both J.M’s I reviewed before, the XO (simpler) and the 2002 (more raw and bigger), but in a different softer and more elegant or luxury style. I guess it depends on my mood if I would prefer the aforementioned 2002 or this 1845. It could be that this 1845 is better than the 2002. I sure would understand if you say so. Personally, when I grab this bottle carelessly and don’t give it full (almost analytical) attention, its almost like mishandling the Rhum. I’m missing most of it, find it thin and un-complex, and that’s where the 2002 shines. Even when you don’t give it enough attention, it still is able to show its true self. Thus lets say the 2002 is always good, the 1845 has some highs and lows. The low being that it just demands your attention, if not, it will chew on your remote, or piss against the couch…bugger.

Points: 87

Rivière Du Mât Extra Old XO (42%, Ile de la Réunion, Circa 2014)

I found my first Rivière du Mât bottle (The Brut de Fût), sitting rather sad, covered in dust, with its blue box missing, shoved behind another bottle on the shelf in a shop. It looked like it didn’t get a lot of love from the people selling it, not even having it’s own place on the shelf. Nobody seemed to be interested in it as well. However, I am a sensitive guy and I liked the bulky bottle. I had no idea what was inside, but being an adventurous guy, and having read good things about Rum distilled on Ile de la Réunion, I bought it and gave it a lot of love by storing it in a dust-free, dark cardboard box, surrounded by many Rum-friends, some of which speak French as well! That bottle still sits waiting patiently for me to uncork it, chatting away to its friends about the wonderful ile it comes from. I hope they have a good time over there. Once in a while I open those boxes greeting them. A joke here, a pat there, sometimes wiping away the dust on a shoulder. Anoraky isn’t it? What? Creepy? What do you mean with “go heal yourself”, or “turn yourself in”?

Much later I had a meeting with my Dutch Whisky club, in Hamburg, Germany. Remember the time this was considered normal? Obviously we went to a nice well-known, friendly and well stocked shop in Hamburg that alas must remain anonymous here, (Weinquelle, on the Lübecker Straße 145). In stead of buying Whisky, I ended up with a couple of Rivière du Mât bottlings. I bought the XO and the 2004 Vintage, and not the heaps of Whisky the other guys bought. By the way, if you plan to go to this shop you don’t know about, look at their site you can’t find. They don’t have enough space to have everything they sell in the shop, luckily they have the rest in the back, so come prepared (I did).

Ile de la Réunion, “wez dat”? You can find the island when sailing east from Madagascar. Surely you know where Madagascar is? You misplaced the DVD? Jeez, not the film! Another island close by is Mauritius, which lies further east.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Different from other Rums I have nosed before, maybe some resemblance to the imagined combination of St. Lucia and Caroni. In part it’s industrial and dusty, hints of bad breath, short-lived licorice, vanilla, latex paint and hot motor oil, but also very warming and special. Bonfire. Almonds and fruity. It has a warm sugary water aroma reminding me of the Epris I had before. This is so different, that I have to dissect this in my mind. What is it, the nose is made up from? Dates, yes, but with a sort of motor oil quality to it. Nutty as well. Ginger and very soft wood. Very well balanced. Its wonderful. Especially from a not-full bottle. This does need air. After a while a nice mixture of almonds, ethanol and oak emerge. In a way it smells a bit reduced, you feel it could have been so much bigger. This probably would be truly stellar at cask strength. I must have a look for something like that, if it exists.

Taste: Sweet on entry, honey and spicy ginger. Classic molasses Rhum with a (sweet) twist. Alas also a bit thin. Hints of tobacco, and a waxy quality. Tea biscuits (and butter). The bad breath note in its liquid form, resembles almost burning molten plastic (and more almonds). I know it sounds so horrible but it is just a part of the balance, and it works well in this. Quite aromatic and warming. Licorice and more soft wood. Some ashes and a tiny bitter oak edge. Well balanced. Even though this is quite aromatic, for a Rhum Traditionnel (molasses), you can call this a light R(h)um, and proves that a light R(h)um can be very exiting. This one reminds me of many aroma’s encountered for the first time when getting into Single Malt Whisky, so this Rhum fits me perfectly.

I only wish this was bottled at a higher strength than the 42% ABV they did. This is sooo good, and I’m sure it would have benefited immensely from the higher strength. Nevertheless an excellent Rhum, very tasty. I also noticed that the lower the level of the Rhum in the bottle, the better it got, the smell got deeper, the taste more balanced. This needs lots of air, people, I can’t stress this enough. When this is empty I will replace it with another Rhum from Ile de la Réunion for sure, because this one was a cracker. I understand there is plenty more good stuff made on the island…

Points: 88

Guadeloupe Vieux (40%, Rum Nation, Guadeloupe, 2016)

This is a bottle I found in my collection and I really can’t remember why I bought it. I do remember tasting some Guadeloupe Rums that were truly wonderful, but these were all bottled at cask strength, like this Gardel and this Bellevue. So why did this 40% ABV version came floating to the surface of my stash? OK, no problem for sure, since, as I said, I still have to stumble upon a bad or even a mediocre Rhum from Guadeloupe. No complaints with Rum Nation so far. I like these “new” dumpy Rum Nation bottles, sometimes called entry-level when in fact it is a little bit more than that. Even the label looks excellent, with its beautiful color combinations of black, medium brown, ivory and gold. I raise these questions of doubt, because of the back-label. This label has statements like: “designed with a lighter aroma in mind” and “an introduction to the world of French-style Rhums”. 40% ABV. Well, excuse me prrrrincess, but by now I don’t need an introduction, not even a refresher course, and I’m not your guy for very light Rums (sometimes boring, yet sometimes the beauty lies in the details). Nevertheless, it is here, and this nice looking bottle will be “plopped” just the same.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fresh, fresh air, floral and slightly alcoholic. Quite perfumy. Warm light wax and Sinaspril (artificial orange flavoured headache pill for children). Dusty with soft wood and cinnamon. Hints of crushed beetle (acidic). Soft overall. Sweetish toffee and runny caramel. Its almost closer to a Single Malt Whisky than your typical Rhum Agricole. This might be interesting in a blind tasting, depending on the taste. Cookie dough and cinnamon again. Appetizing and light. Tiniest hint of gravy and more (virgin-like) oak. Good balance. Hints of sweet apricot and sweet super-ripe oranges in sweet yoghurt. Very light though and in this case it means you have to work at it a bit. Keep it moving around in your glass to get aroma’s out. Snorting it as if your life depends upon it. The more this stands the more fresh and floral it gets. More vanilla as well and a little bit of toasted oak. Given a lot of time this is a wonderful smelling Rhum. Just an hour more and I would be talking to you about several flowers. Jasmin for instance, but there are more. Just where is the Agricole? Quite nice and out of the ordinary (for an Agricole). A breakfast Rhum.

Taste: Sugar water. Red fruit lemonade, Cola without the sparkle and without the heaps of sugar. Nothing floral in the taste. Extremely simple and definitely lacking in the (Rhum) Agricole-department. Dusty and soft wood. Some wax again (the more it breathes the more waxy it gets) and sometimes a bitter woody note, mostly masked. Hardly a finish let alone an aftertaste, a little waxy again. Still warming. Some wood and something resembling licorice, but it might be me imagining this. And that more or less is it.

As a quick-fix quite underwhelming. This needs too much time to show itself. When given time, the nose gets very, very nice and balanced, Taste-wise this will never get there, it’s just too simple. Has it been drowned in water? As mentioned above, we were already warned by the label on the back of the bottle. This was designed (taking away from the art of making Rhum, or maybe this is actually the art of being able to design it) as a light Rhum. The label also claims that due to its lightness this is an introduction to French style Rhums. Since for me this is lacking most of the typical Agricole style, this is in no way an introduction to French style Rhums. yes, this may be an introduction to light style R(h)ums, but aren’t all light style R(h)ums an introduction to light style R(h)ums to begin with? For me this resembles Abuelo Añejo, so that might also work very well as an introduction to French style R(h)ums. Only, isn’t Abuelo a Spanish style Ron? Yes it is! Nope, this Guadeloupe Vieux is definitely not an introduction to French style Rhums just like the Abuelo isn’t. Nope. Not at all. Get it only when you’re a novice of mixologist, or get the Abuelo Añejo, which should be cheaper.

Points: 78

P.S. The only clue given by Rum Nation about the distillery responsible for this is that the distillery is that its 100 years old, and that the Blanc they bottled in 2015, comes from the same distillery. This still leaves us with several options like Poisson (of Père Labat fame) and Reimonenq (less known). Bellevue is almost 100, so for now I’ll leave it alone and won’t hazard a guess as to which one it is. (Sure I do, I assume (the mother of all fuckups) that its Poisson). If you have more info, please drop me a line…

Monymusk 12yo 2003/2015 (46%, Kill Devil, 309 bottles, L15 008 PB, Jamaica)

After the Moka Intense, why not try another Rum while we’re at it. Lance was nudging me in the ribs for quite some time and I started to feel a bit sore and guilty actually for letting him down for so long! Yesureebob! This time I’m going to have a look at a bottle of Rum I bought when visiting the U.K. a few years back. When visiting one of my favorite retailers, I found three different Kill Devil Jamaican Rums. Kill Devil is the Rum brand of Hunter Laing, best known as an Independent Whisky bottler. Maybe Old Malt Cask rings a bell? For reasons I really can’t remember now, I chose this one to be the first of the three to open.

Monymusk, for Whisky-people at least, maybe known as a Scottish village. It isn’t even a Jamaican distillery. Monymusk in fact, is the sugar factory next to the big and modern Clarendon Distillery and name giver to this “brand” of Rum. So Monymusk is made at the Clarendon distillery, which is owned by NRJ (National Rums of Jamaica) and Diageo (for Captain Morgan). NRJ itself, is owned by the National Sugar Company (Jamaican Government), Maison Ferrand (of Plantation Rum fame) and Demerara Distillers Limited (we know for El Dorado Rums). What a partnership! Imagine being invited to a party thrown by these people! I imagine a very sweaty Caribbean night indeed. By the way, NRJ also owns the Long Pond distillery and the now defunct Innswood distillery, which is now used for aging casks. After WWII (in 1949 to be exact), Clarendon was built with Pot Stills and much later (somewhere around 2009) the modern addition was made, housing Column Stills. Since our Monymusk was distilled in 2003, we know which stills “did it”…

Color: Straw.

Nose: Ahhh, Jamaican Funk, with dust and vanilla powder, yet also extremely fresh. Big and grassy. Mocha and milk chocolate. Old leather. Almonds and a lemon and lime peel note in the back, maybe even some orange peel, but to a lesser extent. Whiffs of gun-powder occasionally fly past, as well as a different burnt note, more like well roasted meat, roasted (not burnt) to a crisp. More almonds and ear wax. What I quite like is the citrus combined with the thick Jamaican funk, well maybe not that thick, not very thick at all actually. This is more like funk light. Jamaican funkette. Its there but balanced out by a fresh beach/sea note and obviously the citrussy aromas which combine very nicely. Some nice soft wood washes ashore (along with some paper). A light Monymusk, but quite balanced and appealing. Easy going and all is well integrated. Don’t confuse lightness with reduction to 46% ABV. Even cask strength Rums can be light, and this Monymusk surely was probably light in its cask strength form as well.

Taste: Waxy and funky. Short sweetish and nutty burst that washes down quickly. Paper and cardboard followed by a sweet honeyed note and some licorice, finishing the first sip off with a medium pepper attack. Warming. Second time around, more wood is showing and the paper/cardboard note returns as well. More bitter this time, bitterness from wood and again this ear wax aroma. Green and spicy and also a bit minty. Laurel licorice, that’s it! Given more time, some sweeter notes do appear. Sweetish cold black tea with more almonds and dried out yellow fruits. Dry pineapple comes to mind. Since there isn’t actually that much wood (apart from the bitter notes), I’m guessing this wasn’t a very active cask otherwise. Light color and the weak finish also tell some tales. After a while some medium bitter, waxy and sometimes even industrial notes appear, which takes away from the balance a bit. After some breathing, it’s also dryer than expected. The Jamaican funkette seems to have taken a back seat, or maybe found it’s way all back into the boot/trunk (or the trailer for that matter). Not a long finish actually, similar in lightness, to the Cadenhead Epris I reviewed earlier (only in lightness mind you, the similarity ends there). Light aftertaste, but not much at all. Although the laurel licorice seems to have some staying power.

Although not the world’s most powerful Monymusk, it has good drinkability. Definitely a better nose than taste. The body falls down a bit, and it is also a bit weak in the finish and aftertaste. The nose was better balanced as well, but hey, no real off-notes. It is a decent Jamaican Rum, but also nothing more than that. There are many better offerings of Monymusk to be found, and if you already bought this, you’ll have no problem finishing it. I haven’t. Yes, quite light in style, which is OK and reduced in ABV as well, which maybe somewhat less OK to be honest. I wonder how this was at cask strength although you really can’t make up for quality that way, but I’m sure in this case it would surely have helped a bit.

Clarendon can make a lot of different marks, from light to very, very, very heavy (lots and lots of esters), so from such an uninformative label as Kill Devil has, you never know what you’re gonna get. You don’t say, Forest! Its Jamaican and its Monymusk, but that’s about it. Excellent introduction to the Jamaican Rum-style if you’re a novice, although I do wonder if a novice would go for a Kill Devil bottle to boot or any other independent bottler? I don’t know. Entry-level it is not, but definitely second tier. Maybe Hunter Laing (and the others) should not reduce Rums at all, we well experienced (Rum) drinkers and anoraks are willing to pay more for a cask strength Rum. Yes we do, don’t we Lance?

Points: 82

Clément 5yo 2010/2015 Très Vieux Rhum Agricole (42.2%, Bourbon Cask #20100409, Moka Intense, 412 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

Earlier, I reviewed both the 100% Canne Bleue (the original single cask bottling) and the first variation upon the single cask theme, called Vanille Intense. Where the first version was marketed with the emphasis on the sugar cane variety (Canne Bleue), the second, or so it seemed to me, more marketed towards the wood, since vanilla is an obvious marker of American oak, but sure, it can emerge from the Rhum as well. Here we have the next variant called Moka Intense, boasting mocha and coffee notes. I’m a big fan of coffee, so this variety is most welcome. However in the back of my mind the Vanilla Intense variety wasn’t quite as good as the original 100% Canne Bleue was, so I’m really expecting something along the lines of Vanilla Intense. Still these are single cask bottlings so it isn’t said that all 100% Canne Bleue are better than every Vanille Intense bottling. This Moka Intense is half the age of the other two. Maybe the coffee notes are more obvious in younger Rhum?

Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Soft, vanilla, slightly nutty. Lozenges and soft wood. Nice Agricole notes. Sometimes it’s too soft really. Hint of sugared orange skins and cherry liqueur with some dark chocolate. Black tea, infused for a short while, with lots of sugar in it. Mocha? maybe, not now at least. Coffee, nope, sorry. Very soft and un-complex. Its really simple really. Sugared. Wait a minute, I do get a sweet coffee note somewhere in the back, but actually it is a note that can be found in many other R(h)ums. So not a coffee that stands out. Mocha is softer and definitely present. I have to admit this Rhum does need some breathing. It opens up nicely and starts to show more of the above but now with better balance. Nose-wise this is now better than the Vanille Intense was. It has a very appealing quality to it, but it does need a lot of time to get there. Nice stuff nevertheless.

Taste: Not cloying, but definitely sweet. Warm going down, with bitter notes from the wood, maybe that’s why it was bottled earlier than the other two examples. Canne Bleue underneath but cloaked. Some notes of diluted sugar in warm water, without the taste being overly sweet. Just like some Whiskies go soft and smooth by caramel colouring. Personally I steer clear from distillates that are called soft and smooth. Never a good thing. On the palate this is definitely a wood driven Rhum. Even after extensive breathing that helped the nose forward, it doesn’t bring complexity to the palate. Alas. The body of the Rhum is black tea, typical Agricole notes, somewhat nutty, with a slight acidic edge. Lacking a bit in balance to be honest. Finish is not very long, and even less balanced. Is this the age? Sure it is. Aftertaste, some more typical Agricole notes and some sugar, that’s more or less it.

Since this is younger than the other two expressions I expected something more raw and bold, but au contraire, it turns out to be quite austere. I was afraid this next variant would be somehow less good than the original and it is. Although this still is not a bad Rhum, not at all, but both the Vanilla and especially this Moka Intense, seem to be out of their depths compared to the original single cask 100% Canne Bleue. This is a softer version, but with that, also more boring than the 100% Canne Bleue and even less interesting than the Vanille Intense. Now that I have reviewed all three, I’m now very interested how another batch of 100% Canne Bleue would perform. Anyone? For now, I would recommend you get the 100% Canne Bleue and forget both variants which add nothing more to the world of Clément single casks to warrant you, buying all three.

Points: 83

This one is for Lance who had to wait a long time for me to review a R(h)um again!

Talisker 57º North (57%, OB, L5054CM000, 2015)

I opened Talisker 57º North, not as a direct replacement of Amrut Cask Strength, because that was already done by Amrut Peated Cask Strength, but it does have the same “function”, in my collection of open bottles, similar to Amrut Cask Strength. All three fit the bill of NAS and high ABV Whiskies. All three are sold at a decent price point, and all three offer pretty high quality as well. Talisker, in general, is a wonderful Whisky, there are many wonderful bottlings to be had, and I’m sure that in my stock, Talisker might just be the distillery most represented. Official bottlings and independent bottlings. Old stuff and new stuff. However, the sign of the times is that many brands are hastily pushed forward by their owners, suddenly offer you many NAS bottlings, counting on you to want them all, or tailored for different markets, but there are many reasons.

Talisker may very well be Diageo’s most popular distillery, so with Talisker, we have “Skye”, “Storm”, “Dark Storm”, “Port Ruighe”, “Neist Point” and now even a “Game of Thrones” edition and today’s victim: “57º North”. This one is already around for quite a while, longer than the others I mentioned. This is the only one of those, sold at higher ABV. 57º North was first released in 2008, and the version I’m about to review was bottled in 2015. Like many offerings that are made regularly, there is some batch variation, and the sentiment you get with that is people believe the first, or earlier bottlings to be better than later or more recent bottlings. I’m not saying these people are wrong, because I know many first versions that are most definitely better than recent bottlings. Ardbeg Uigeadail and Hazelburn 12yo come to mind. However even recent bottlings of Uigeadial are very good, but different. I tried one of those earlier bottlings of “57º North” and it was stellar. Older readers can tell you how extremely good the Talisker 10yo was when it was released before it became part of the classic malts. So lets have a go with this litre bottle of 2015 “57º North”…

Color: Light orange gold

Nose: Dusty, soft oak, a little vanilla and unexpectedly quite vegetal as well. Initially sharp fresh air, but turning soft and staying soft, quite quickly. As a bonus some whiffs of milky new make. I don’t care for that. Hints of clay and at times, slightly meaty. Wood and some hidden sweetness. Fresh vanilla ice cream and coffee (with milk and a wee bit of smoke and caraway). Amazing how soft this is. At this ABV, I expected something closer to Thor’s hammer, but it’s more like Mario’s wrench. Next some white chocolate with enough wood influence to counter it. Warm vegetable oil. Sweet oil. Appetizing. Distant hint of peat and sometimes whiffs of cardboard and an old bar of soap. Musky, perfumy, more coffee and soft oak. More floral than spicy. Sometimes a breath of fresh air. No sign of this being 57% ABV though, so soft. When freshly opened, this was quite closed, but by now, with 80% of the bottle gone, it opened up nicely.

Taste: Powerful, sweet right from the start and slightly acidic. Immediate pepper attack. Well, lets call it a moderate attack. Next, definitely some oak influence. Sometimes fresh oak, and sometimes sweetish oak. When this starts to wash down, space opens up for a much more sweeter and definitely a nuttier note and quite some candied and dried yellow fruits as well. Toffee with a nice acidic note (again) and lots of nuttiness (again) in this one. Creamy and soft. Towards the end of the body a more bitter attack, toasted oak. Fruity and fresh. Next sip, mouth seems more coated. After the astringent bits, sweeter and more toffee and vanilla notes (re)appear. Luckily no sign of the new make the nose had. Both the nose and the taste show a lot of balance. Not a very long finish though, and I’m not sure about the balance as well at this point. I guess this is where it may show its youth. Vegetal aftertaste with hints of cardboard. Essentially turning “green”.

This definitely came around with lots of air. Word is, this might be axed, but word was also the 10yo was going to be axed after the emergence of all those NAS-bottlings like “Sky” and “Storm”, but the 10yo still around. I enjoyed this 57º North. No problem this being a litre bottle. Personally, I would have liked the youngest part of this blend to be matured a bit longer, and pay more for it. When this loses it’s new make whiff it sometimes has, it could be much better. Just sayin’.

Points: 85

Talisker Select Reserve – Game of Thrones – House Greyjoy (45.8%, OB, 2019)

Sooner or later, one of these Game of Thrones bottlings was bound to show up on theses pages now, wouldn’t it? Hard to miss them, especially since Diageo is throwing some serious money towards marketing them. But don’t you feel they missed the boat, since the series already came to a close some time ago? The question remained, which one of those bottlings would make it first. For a long time it looked like Lagavulin would be the first, but before I could open that one, I got my hands on the 10yo Lagavulin for travel retail and opened that in stead. Since the 8yo and in hindsight this 10yo weren’t very impressive, I really wasn’t in a hurry to open the 9yo Game of Thrones bottling fearing more of the same, so this is how Talisker beat Lagavulin to pole position.

Color: Orange gold, so pretty sure this was caramel colored.

Nose: Dry, dusty and malty but with a very nice funky note to it. Dirty toffee, in part, reminiscent of the smell of caramel colouring, cloying, fatty and creamy. Yes caramel colouring does have a smell, and it does have an effect on Whisky. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Nevertheless, this Whisky is still very likeable. You have to work at it a bit to focus on the aroma’s underneath. Nutty with hints of second hand cigarette smoke and hints of toasted cask and virgin oak. Old cabinet and very aromatic. It has an “older” smell to it, as well as a heavily engineered and doctored feel to it. Spicy, almost Indian Whisky spicy. Lots of cinnamon and cookie dough. Some smoke and some fresh oak. Also it seems some virgin oak found its way into this. On top of that, a lemony fresh acidity which really helps the whole forward. Yet also this feel of uncomplexity, helped along by this cloak of added caramel. An instant gratification Malt. Toffee notes, but in this somewhat suspicious way. However, I really like the Indian spices and lemon combination. Much friendlier than the milky unfinished notes of those new Lagavulins I mentioned above. I really like this nose (to a degree). If you are into Amrut and Paul John, you may like the smell of this (or not).

Taste: Nice entry. Somewhat sweet. Big, sweet, spicy and nutty attack, but also in a way thin. The fatty and creamy start is washed away by the alcohol, leaving room for more peaty and slightly smoky notes, but also some spicy wood and yes, a tiny pepper attack. Hints of ripe red fruits on top of the toffee and cinnamon. Sometimes it is almost like a Christmas pudding. Next, some virgin American oak. A vanilla note intertwined with cinnamon. A little bit of “older” wood as well as a slightly burnt note, maybe some smoke even. Cookie dough, even more than the nose had. Don’t we all like cookie dough? Sure, this has plenty of added caramel roundness to it, which kills some bits of it. It’s beating down the complexity this must have had. Slightly hot going down, with pepper in the finish and especially in the aftertaste. Highly drinkable though. A bottle of this won’t last you long. Easy and without any off-notes. Easy and even more drinkable than “Neist Point”, and that already was a highly drinkable Malt that didn’t last me long.

Wait a minute. Greyjoy? Wasn’t that from the Iron Isles. Sure, Talisker is also known as the Lava of the Cuillins, but this expression of Talisker has nothing to do with lava, and it tastes more like it was made on the shores of Goa. So hardly rugged Cuillins. Do you remember the weather and atmosphere on the Iron Isles? Boy, this house really doesn’t match the Whisky. Maybe Diageo should have paired this with 50 Shades of Grey in stead of Game of Thrones, or maybe House Tyrell, the house of sweet Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). That would have been a far more convincing match imho.

I sure can understand when people don’t like this. Because it may lack a bit in the complexity department, and has definitely been tampered with added caramel big time. Still, I had plenty of fun with this one. Sure, no high flying Malt, but since this is often sold for “not a lot”, it sure surpasses many other entry-level Malts. A bit of a guilty pleasure maybe?

Points: 84

Thanks to Auke for the sample!

Cardhu Special Cask Reserve (40%, OB, Batch Cs/cR.10.09, 2010)

Wow, here we have a Diageo NAS bottling “selected from very old casks”. Really? So instead of just putting the number up, lets say 30yo or maybe 40yo, and ask a hefty sum, they let you have this for a song, just by replacing the very old age statement by “Special Cask Reserve”. Lets not tell anybody, and let this be our little secret! Sush. What a wonderful idea! Who said Diageo isn’t thinking of their consumers! Well if this is a very old Cardhu. I’m expecting quite a lot now! A few years back I reviewed a Diageo Cardhu 22yo, that did have an age statement, and at only 22yo, this was truly very, very good! And as this must be older… But hey, wait a minute, reading that post I mention that I didn’t like the Special Cask Reserve. Did I already try this particular Cs/cR.10.09 earlier (which was already out at the time) or was it from another batch? Thud! That was the sound made by my expectations lowering…

Color: Light gold, with a slight pink hue

Nose: Fresh and fruity. Lively. Malty with hints of toffee. Summery with an unexpected meaty note, maybe even some sushi. Some funky notes, I have a hard time putting a finger on. It is a meaty, slightly salty smell, somewhere in between bacon and cold gravy, combined with lavas maybe? lavas I’m getting for sure. On top a slightly fruity note and on top of that a slightly meatier floral note. (This bit I like). I have to breathe as if my life depends on it, because the whole is pretty weak. It already smells pretty reduced. I’m guessing I know, by experience, what was there, but somehow got washed away by reduction. Still, no off notes, so nothing obtrusive to report here. I really feel I have to hurry smelling this before all the smell is gone, and I have to poor it again, to smell something. This really suffered a lot from reduction, because the nose, when you work on it hard, does show some interesting sides of itself. I wonder how this would be at cask strength.

Taste: Some sweetness, like a very weak Rhum Agricole, with quite some added sugar, paper and cardboard. Hints of cigarette, and some toasted wood notes, with added bitter notes shortly thereafter. Sweaty notes next, like the isolated sweaty notes of Sauvignon Blanc with added sweetness to the sweat. It’s not me, I have just showered. Hints of sweet fruits, but so diluted, that I can’t even tell witch fruit that can be, apart from the color, yellow. Papaya and peach, some banana in sweet yoghurt? Definitely some fresh butter in here as well. Super-short finish and a non existent aftertaste. Still slightly warming going down and even when this has no aftertaste, the meaty lavas bit of the smell (rancio?) does have some staying power.

Well…well, what can I say about this? I have to admit, it has been a long time I have tasted something as weak as this. It is so weak I would have difficulty, when tasted blind, telling if this is a Whisky to boot. I have never had a Whisky before which after you swallow it is immediately gone. Amazing, this isn’t worth your money, nor is it worth your time. Since this was brought to you by Diageo, and they do things on purpose, they must have an market in mind. I’m so curious how they would describe the consumer wanting stuff like this. Maybe its meant for mixing? having said all that, and I am rightfully so, pretty negative about this malt, I have to say the nose does bring a smile on my face. From an anoraks point of view, this is even an interesting Malt. Who would have thought…

Points: 76

Tormore 12yo 2004/2017 (59.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, First Fill Bourbon Barrels #901 & 902)

Sometimes less obvious Whiskies just hit the right spot with the drinker. No big names, no big marketing ploy. Usually these are workhorse Whiskies originally meant for blends. Just like Inchgower (I just reviewed this 1998 bottled by Gordon & MacPhail as well) is mainly used in three well known blends. White Horse, Bell’s and Johnny Walker. Teaninich is another right-spot Whisky for me, but there are more. Tormore is one of those right-spot Whiskies as well (and used in several blends too). Tormore has a profile I rarely encounter elsewhere. Sometimes funky or even sulphury, sometimes industrial and frequently metallic. It doesn’t seem right, but it is most definitely not wrong either.

So what is it about Tormore? Maybe it is safest just to call it an acquired taste? Sure, I’m the first to admit that the markers I mentioned above don’t sound all that appetizing, but for me the strange profile works wonders. It broadens the horizon a bit, if you will. Entertaining and interesting. Unique and a bit strange. I first had this click with an metallic and industrial Tormore from the hot 13yo Cadenhead’s bottling I reviewed quite a while back. Tormore may not be entirely for novices, I’m sure it isn’t, but I found that people who are “doing” Whisky for a longer time, secretly have a soft spot for this Malt! I’m so curious now, I can hardly wait to take a sip…

Color: Very light gold, White Wine.

Nose: Cereal, barley, wood and strange enough, since this is coming from Bourbon barrels, some sulphur, but a nice light sulphur it is. Warming, funky, almost like a nice smelling fart. Don’t be offended, you’ve been there, admit it. There is another association I have with this smell. When growing up near a rural area I used to poke a stick into the bottom of a pond or stream, and the sulphury bits of this Tormore remind me of the bubbles coming up. Just like previous Tormore’s, it’s also metallic and nicely spicy. Funny when Tormore just seems dead wrong, it still is right (for me). It’s a bit off (or is it just different), but I just like it. Old dusty vanilla and fresh citrus notes. Ginger. Dry vanilla powder. One moment perfumy and chic. Fireworks and striking matches the next. (including the gas-passing, mentioned above). So, when did you have that last in a Whisky? The “off” notes, wear off a bit, showing more of the fruits and ginger underneath. Zesty, fresh and citrussy and still this huge breath of fresh air. When smelled vigorously, a meaty note comes to the fore. After a longer while, old furniture pops up. Dusty old furniture. My minds eye sees this old furniture, lit by a ray of sunlight falling into the attic through a small round window. My god what a nice farty, complex and interesting philosophical Whisky this is!

Taste: Quite sweet on entry. Fatty and creamy. Toffee and vanilla ice cream. All these creamy notes are masking the high ABV, because in no way does this taste like a near 60% ABV Whisky to me. Big and bold. Spicy, stingy, but then this soft, cloaking, toffee layer takes away the pain. Milk chocolate, mocha flavoured cream. You can sense that there is wood and there is most definitely quite some bitterness present, but the big, bold and creamy aroma’s just don’t let it all through, well sometimes it does. Alas, not as complex as the nose, but tasty nevertheless. Sugared mint towards the finish. I’ll even throw in the chocolate again, to make it an after eight type of experience. Hints of ashes, mere hints only. Cow manure (this is the sulphur talking again, showing one of its guises), mint, toffee and caramel, without being overly sweet. What a nice Whisky. The longer you keep this in your glass the more the mint excels. The bitterness turns out to have some longevity to it though. Luckily it is not too much.

In ways even science can’t wholly explain, I manage to have a soft spot for Tormore, and this example is no exception. But buyer beware, this is me and you are you, you might dislike it as much as I like it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I think it is wonderful in its uniqueness and for me, one to relax, recline a bit and watch a good looking and good sounding version of the Matrix. This Tormore somehow has the same feel as this movie…

Points: 87