Benromach Peat Smoke 2010/2018 (59.9%, OB, Sherry Cask Matured, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, 34ppm, 22/11/2018)

Benromach is not new to these pages. This is in fact already the eighth review of Benromach on these pages, and before looking back, I wondered which of the Benromachs I reviewed, or didn’t review, I remembered the most. The one that popped up in my mind first was the old Benromach 18yo. I liked that one a lot right from the start, even though it was only bottled @ 40% ABV. It was time anyway to do a new Benromach review before the bottle I’m about to review was empty and done with. I did already start taking tasting notes for it, before I had a look at one of Ralfy’s reviews of Mortlach. Mortlach is a big name in the circles of Whisky aficionado’s, a sort of hidden secret, due to it’s austerity, meatiness and special distilling regime. Just look at the wonderful 16yo Flora & Fauna bottling.

Back to Ralfy. In this particular review he mentioned the similarities between Mortlach, Longrow and Benromach. Well if these are somewhat similar, I’m now even more than ever, interested in Benromach again. I love Springbank and the Springbank Distillery output is harder and harder to come by these days, which recently put me on the trail of Ledaig as a tasty alternative. Mortlach has always been on the radar and isn’t all that easy to get as well. Now that Ralfy also put Benromach in the grander scheme of things (for me), isn’t it now more than fortunate that I have here this Peated (and Sherried) Benromach? Planets aligned for sure!

Color: Copper brown, Bourbon.

Nose: Young, slightly milky, cold gravy, with lots of Sherry (smells of PX), and only then, very soft peat as well as some sharpish smoke. Dry oak. Very dry and dusty smelling. The alcohol is quite upfront as well. Lots of influence from (fresh) oak. Spicy, lots of vanilla and cinnamon, fruity and Sherried, this one seems to have it all. Creamy vanilla underneath, butter and pudding with some chocolate powder. Smoke from burning newspapers mixed with toffee aroma, like standing next to someone vaping a toffee scented liquid, and burning off old newspapers at the same time. Well why not, cigarette smoke as well, from very spicy tobacco. Hints of sulphur, but in a very warming and non-offensive way, like pre-lit matches. At times more flinty and closer to fireworks than rotting eggs or a liberating fart. Hints of burning plastic. All in good measure though, and the whole is quite appetizing. Modern, yes, maybe, but everything is in its right place. Smells fine, more than fine, to me.

Taste: Big! Prickly and hot. Sherried and dry, creamy (toffee again), sweet and sooty, like solid smoke. Rubber, ashes, tar and black coal. Industrial, yes very, but also lots and lots of red fruits, cocktail cherries, licorice, black and white powder and cinnamon, with steam and more black coal following up. Pencil shavings and a wee bit of motor oil. Dare I say it’s a bit meaty, now that Mortlach was mentioned above? Sure I do. This Benromach is meaty, there you have it. This one is big in many ways, and a good one as well, steam punk! Slightly minty in the aftertaste, which otherwise comprised of more of the above. After Bladnoch another type of extreme. Reminds me of aroma’s from a while back, when Whisky was different. So this one smells more modern, but it tastes less modern. Interesting. All aroma’s are big and upfront. It’s actually not very complex, nor does it show a lot of development. This Whisky wants to show it self and given the opportunity (an open glass), everything leaps out immediately, like an Olympic 100m dash. (By the way, Smoky P. Rubber, running in Lane 8 for Scotland, was the surprising winner).

This particular bottling seems to divide opinions a bit, just like Bladnoch does, and that is probably true for every “extreme” Whisky. Since I’m already an older guy, with some experience in Whisky and still a working memory, for me, this really shows (at times) a quality similar to Whiskies from another time. However, like was the case with Bladnoch 10yo, this might not be for you. If you are a novice and prefer OB’s or more middle of the road Whiskies, you might want to skip this one. If you really know your way around Whiskies you might think my score is too high, since it lacks development and distillery character might be pushed back a wee bit too much. However, I think this is very well balanced, big, and damn tasty. Add to that some aroma’s from a time long gone, so this is definitely for me. Amazing result for a Malt less than 10 years old. For me (again), time to look into Benromach some more (again), but it yet too early to say if it somehow comparable to Mortlach and Longrow. I really need to do a lot more testing/tasting for that!

Points: 89

P.S. The empty (covered up) glass the next day: big medicinal peat, wow!

Bladnoch 10yo (46.7%, OB, Limited Release, Bourbon Expression, Bourbon Barrels, 2018)

Wow, this is just the second review of Bladnoch on these pages. Bladnoch is one of those distilleries that look charming, but for the knowledgeable consumer, it has (or had) a bit of a wonky reputation for being buttery and somewhat unbalanced. I understand why some people might dislike Bladnoch, having tasted quite a few Bladnochs over the past twenty odd years. In the mean time, the only other Bladnoch I reviewed until now, is this 8yo, and this one was most definitely a learning experience. However it was a Whisky that grew on me, which also prompted an updated review, which I rarely do. Maybe it didn’t score as high as many other Whiskies reviewed here, but I still do remember it fondly.
In 1993 the distillery was bought by Raymond and Colin Armstrong and they sold it again in 2015. Raymond and Colin probably spent most of their money on purchasing the place, because it showed, there wasn’t a lot of money around. Simple bottles, not a lot of different labels, no boxes and no big refurbishments to boot. But the feeling was great. Raymond is an outspoken and accessible figure, who “did” the distillery, opened Bladnoch forum on-line, (again very a rudimentary looking affair), where aficionado’s could talk about many Whisky topics, with Raymond often participating, and last but not least, the famous Bladnoch Forum, independent bottlings of casks from other distilleries. All simple looking, home printed labels, and very nicely priced. This was a great time, and I’m sorry this didn’t last a lifetime, although Raymond’s son Martin continued the concept with Whiskybroker.co.uk.

2013 was the last year, many officially released bottling were released, but in 2014 & 2015 not so much. Finally, in 2015 Bladnoch was bought by Australian David Prior. With new management came an extensive two year refurbishment and a different and way more sophisticated look. The money was now certainly coming to Bladnoch. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. Distilling commenced in 2017. In 2016 with the releases of Talia, Samsara and Adela, the first new bottlings saw the light of day. Yes these are whiskies and not David’s daughters, at least I don’t think so. Just like the new Glenallachies, I tasted the new Bladnochs at the Whisky Show in London, and again the younger more “simple” expressions seemed best, or most promising. Of everything that was available to taste, I liked the 10yo best, it seemed to be the most interesting, and there even was this 25yo Talia to be had, just sayin’. So this 10yo is much less expensive and easily matches the others in quality. So no strange thing than, that the 10yo was the first one I bought, which has recently been replaced by an 11yo, which I recently bought as well. I guess the future of Bladnoch looks rosy again.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Extremely malty, biscuity and slightly dusty. Warm summer air with the smell of oak planks (in the sun). Sweet malts with some distant citrus notes (the flesh, not the skins), mixed with cinnamon, green apple skins and dry banana. Warm slightly toasted bread with molten butter, cereals and dust. Grassy and dry, with some soft hay and cardboard. Perfumy (chic) and highly aromatic. Sugared yellow fruits. Friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. White latex wall paint. This is not only sweet, but also has a rough edge to it. At times, sweaty, dead leaves and organic. There is a lot here, and it’s quite big as well. There is nothing like it, and it seems almost like a style on its own. Who said a lighter style of whisky can’t be big? Remember St. Magdalene? Meaty, cold gravy, but also some milk chocolate and some more cinnamon. Soft ice cream melting in the sun. The combinations may seem strange, and to be honest, Bladnoch can be a strange Whisky at times, different from others, but in this lies also its charm. I can say that, because for me, for a long time, Bladnoch has been some sort of a guilty pleasure. I liked it a lot even when I shouldn’t. I liked it better than my scores showed. (Thinking of intrinsic quality here). Funny how this works. It’s strangeness is quite appealing (to me). I do like extremes. Sherry bombs and Peat monsters as well, and a big buttery Lowlander is an extreme as well, these three are the points of a triangle.

Taste: Sweet and fruity, definitely some sweet apple in here as well. Malty check, cinnamon check, it goes great with the sweet apple aroma. Quite quickly the woody notes, complete with some bitterness, exert themselves. Still lots of butter and vanilla and this creamy texture. Fatty and waxy. And this wax is the carrier for the bitterness of the oak. Less of the cardboard kind, which is more like paper here. Lots of aroma’s in the nose, because these must have been some pretty active casks giving off a (smoky) bitterness. Citrus fruits and some more sweet sugary yellow fruits aroma’s form on top of the body. These notes are sharper and more acidic and go together well with the more fatty base or body of this Whisky. Passion fruit and maracuja maybe, hard to tell right now which fruits make up the fruity bit.

Even though this is clearly a Lowland style Whisky, it differs from all the others Lowlanders that still operate. I remember I needed some time to get used to this, and some of that shows in the review of Bladnoch 8yo (look towards the end). To be honest the 8yo and this 10yo do have a lot in common. Even though I found it an odd one out, I really developed a liking for the strange style of Bladnoch. Here we have this new and initial, fairly standard bottling @ 10 years old, with a price to match and I really do like it. I like it for what it is and also for its style. Distilled by Raymond, and now the new owners are reaping the benefits. It seems to me the new owner is also doing the best he can to put Bladnoch out there again and putting out several expressions at reasonable prices. It is possible this style of Whisky isn’t for everyone, and if you bought it because of me and don’t like it (too extreme), I apologize, but for me this is a very nice gig fatty Lowlander, and I can’t wait to try some more expressions of Bladnoch in the near future.

Points: 86

Tomatin “Earth” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #3, Peated, Refill Hogsheads, Sherry Hogsheads and First Fill Bourbon Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017

After “Wood” and “Fire” here is #3 in the Five Virtues series. Wood was named wood because of three different kinds of oak used for that Whisky: American, French and Hungarian oak. Fire was named fire because of the de-char and re-char treatment of the casks, so these casks were set on fire twice. Earth is named earth because it’s made with peated malt, and peat, as we all know, comes from the earth. So until now, “the logic makes sense”. If I’m not mistaken, this may very well be the first and only peated Whisky bottled under Tomatin’s own brand name. (The peated Cù Bòcan, although made by Tomatin, is a different brand). Earth was distilled in 2006 and made from 50% refill hogsheads, 25% Sherry hogsheads, most likely from American oak, and 25% first fill Bourbon casks, so it must be 10 or 11 years old.

In a way “Earth” has quite some similarities to An Cnoc’s “Rascan”. Both are peated Whiskies from distilleries that aren’t known for their peated Whiskies. Both Whiskies are NAS and quite light in colour. Both claim they’re highland Whiskies even though many Whisky writers place Knockdhu in Speyside. Knockdhu is the distillery, An Cnoc the brand name, by the way. So it came natural to me to start a flight of Whiskies with said “Rascan” and to follow it up with this “Earth” or vice versa. Well, these two are both decent Whiskies, but they absolutely don’t work with one after the other. Both are able to bring out the worst of each other. No matter which one was tasted first. How odd, I wonder why. Rest assured, for this earthy review there was no Rascan in sight.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Sweet, soft and dusty peat with citrus notes on top. Hint of glue (only when the Whisky is freshly poured). Smells more mature than “Rascan”, lacking the milky new make note Rascan initially has. Very nice spicy wood notes, American oak vanilla notes with sweet citrus on top. Warming peat and only slightly smoky. Rain water, Gin-like. Very aromatic. Smells quite tasty. Hints of sweet coffee with milk, and some added runny toffee. Dust and paper. Old damp wood in a cellar. There isn’t a lot of peat to begin with, but it also dissipates a bit, or is it my nose that gets used to it? Fruity, typical tropical yellow fruits, typical for the best Tomatin’s. Sweet yoghurt with white peach? Slightly peaty and well balanced. After you set you garden waste on fire, it smells like the glowing remnants of the biggest branches in the pile, just before it dies out. I’m sure some of you will share such an experience with me. Coffee candy comes back, together with a whiff of perfume, old almonds and some pencil shavings. When smelled in the morning, the fruits have more to say than it does in the evening. So for me this is more of a day-time dram than it is an after-dinner dram. It maybe is too delicate for after dinner or to pair it up with a cigar. It’s soft peat and sweetish fruit, but it isn’t smoky. It’s not a bonfire dram. This is a lovely peated Whisky, that’s more fruity than it is peaty (or smoky). Fruit comes from the earth as well, so the name is still valid.

Taste: On entry, the sweet and the fruit come first, as well as the almonds from the nose. After this, some prickly smoke and another sweet touch. Only after sipping the smoke comes forth in the nose with some pencil shavings. Creamy and fruity with a tiny hint of bitterness for good measure. Fruit, biscuits and cookie dough. The sweetness is just right, the peat is hardly detectable, yet present. This is a bowl of ripe fruits in a kitchen where preparations are made for baking a apple pie (just no apples in this nose, or are they…), no it’s about the dough. Even though this is peated (can’t be much), this is still easily recognizable as a Tomatin (when you know your Tomatin’s of course). Not super complex, but actually this is a very nice and interesting Tomatin. Sure we have Cù Bòcan, but I’m really interested how another peated Tomatin would turn out, hopefully bottled at cask strength this time, if they care to repeat the experience.

I have to say, that after the first three Five Virtues, this series is quite likeable. All three turned out to be decent Whiskies with interesting differences, and I believe the best is yet to come.

Points: 86

One point above Wood and Fire. All three are good and different, but this one is even more tasty and slightly more special.

Ledaig 12yo 2008/2020 (45%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Wood Finished, Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 year finish in Hermitage Casks, 4440 bottles, 20/074)

The previous reviews have shown that the industry is getting the hang of how to successfully incorporate Red Wine Casks into the production of decent Whisky. The three Longrow Red’s reviewed last, were all pretty good. So maybe it’s time to have a look at a different example of this practice. But first this: for one reason or another, the interest in Springbank (and, Hazelburn and Longrow, but to a lesser extent as well), has skyrocketed in the past year of two. Maybe the best example is the latest rendition of the Springbank Local Barley over which people really went ape-shit, and really, there is no other way to put it, ape-shit indeed! Why is that, one might wonder, the colour, more money to spend because of the pandemic? In many markets this latest Local Barley was near impossible to get, and just have a look what people are willing to pay today for one of these at auction. It’s a 10yo! Even when Springbank Society is releasing a bottle these days, you have to enter a ballot! Even though costs have risen considerably across the world, due to Brexit, people are going ape-shit after those as well. Not only aficionado’s and fan’s but many bottle flippers as well, since most of these releases are readily available, in great numbers, I might add, at the next action. A few years back, Springbank Society didn’t even sell everything and you could get a second bottle without any problem. Times are a-changing.

So now that Springbank is often impossible to get (in a normal way), I tried to figure out what would be a nice alternative to Springbank. Well, that is a rather personal question, and the answer might differ from person to person. However I did come to some sort of a conclusion for myself, and figured out it is the peated distillate of Tobermory, we all know better as Ledaig. There are probably more alternatives one can think of, but let’s stick with Ledaig for now. First of all, Ledaig is getting better by the year, (they used to have a rather wonky reputation), it’s readily available, especially through independent bottlers, and it’s damn tasty stuff, even at a young age. I have bought quite a few Ledaig’s in the past year, so I could have, and probably will have it permanently represented on my lectern. So, Ledaig it is for now, and after three Longrow Red’s, here is a Hermitage Wine finished Ledaig. Hermitage is a French Red Wine from the northern Rhône region, made with Syrah grapes. Let’s see if this is really a worthy alternative for the Longrow Red’s. A final remark before digging in, this Gordon & MacPhail offering has been reduced to 45%, where the Longrow Red’s are bottled at cask strength, we’ll see if that matters much.

Color: Vibrant orange brown, like a bourbon. No pink Red Wine hue.

Nose: The bottle I’m reviewing now is less than half full, and this really needed to breathe a lot to get where it is now. When freshly opened, I was really disappointed, asking myself, is this it? Quite unbalanced. Yet today, it is another story altogether. Bonfire smoke and the fur of a wet dog, or maybe an animal with a more coarse fur, lets say wet bear then. Dried out cow dung in the middle of summer. Ledaig always has these “animalesk” notes to it. Fresh air with a whiff of paper and chlorine, this is not a bad thing, because it fits the whole. Smoke, nutty, winey, funky and sweet smelling fatty peat. Also licorice is present in this peat. There is a lot going on in this peat-bit alone. Some wood, nice laid back oak. Hints of fireworks (sulphur). The whole is dark and brooding based around great peat and smoke. Motor oil, coffee flavoured candy, and some vanilla. Creamy. Smallest hint of red fruits only, so the influence of the Red Wine casks is somewhat different to other Red Wine finished Whiskies. Partly floral. Yes after the big aroma’s played their part, a more floral note comes popping up from below. There is definitely a lot happening here. Many entirely different aroma’s come together in harmony. Nevertheless, this seems to me to be dirtier than your average Islay Malt, however I’m not entirely sure right now, if this dirtiness hails from Mull or Southern France, my guess would be the former. Good Ledaig again. Smoke, floral, soap and fresh fruit notes now. I can get used to this. So let people get ape-shit some more on the output of Campbeltown, we’ll join in occasionally, and apart from that, we’ll have Mull as our (dirty) little secret. Amazing how this managed to get from this unbalanced state when freshly opened to this harmonious and balanced Whisky it is now.

Taste: On entry, somewhat sweet (red fruit syrup, in part artificial), toffee, animalesk-peat, crushed beetle, ginger bread, caramel and nutty. With a slightly soapy slippery feel to it and woody bitterness for good measure. Amazingly this also has a little red pepper sting to it. Here, it is all slightly less big and powerful and it tastes somewhat diluted compared to the Red’s. I know there are a lot, and I really mean a lot, of cask strength Ledaig’s out there, but this one would benefit from some more ooomph as well. Still, it is what it is and it is a good Ledaig again. Way less complex here than it was on the nose. Hence less words are needed to describe the taste than the nose. Warming bonfire and cigarette ashtray in the finish and warming meaty aftertaste with coffee candy and surprisingly some mint. Very warming indeed.

First of all, this one definitely needs a long time to breathe and if you allow it to, you’ll be rewarded. Just leave the cork off for a day or two after opening, and repeat this process if necessary. Second, just like the Red’s, here we have another successful Red Wine cask finish. By the way, remember this Deanston? The reputation of Mull is growing and before you know it, (it might take a few years), it just might catch up with Campbeltown altogether. It’s a worthy alternative, and it is not more of the same. Luckily, even though the output of Springbank Distillery is very, very good. But we aficionado’s do like the differences that can be had. One minor gripe. Even though this is yet another good Whisky, the reduction to 45% ABV is very well noticeable. Historically these finishes were bottled by Gordon & MacPhail @ 45% ABV, but with the revamp of the different series they had, towards the “new” Connoisseurs Choice, maybe there should be some Cask Strength Wood Finishes as well?

Points: 86

This one is for Luke Todd-Wood, who recommended it to me, without even knowing. Cheers Luke, I guess you already finished your bottle by now!

Longrow Red 10yo “Refill Malbec” (52.5%, OB, 7 years Bourbon Barrels, 3 years Refill Malbec Barriques, 10.000 bottles, 2020, 20/187)

Well time moves fast, and before I even managed to write the reviews of the 2019 Pinot Noir and the 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and get them out, already this 2020 Refill Malbec has been released, the second Red in 2020. Looks like someone’s in a hurry? Is it time to cash in a bit on output from the distillery which isn’t branded Springbank. I really don’t know about the popularity of Longrow and Hazelburn (and Kilkerran) compared to Springbank. But looking at auctions, all are doing quite well, but Springbank itself seems to still perform best. However, it looks to me like the Red series is getting really popular. I’m guessing Springbank Distillery are stocking up on wine casks now and finally have a plan what to do with a lot of the Longrow distillate. But all of this is pure speculation. So what Master Quill initially intended as the two latest Red’s back-to-back, in comes this third one, and hey, after the results of both previous Red’s, I’m not complaining. I got in touch with Nico again and yes here is another bottle share between the two of us. Still not sure about those Red’s, ‘eh Master?

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Initially young, somewhat milky and dusty, and quite oddly, hay and grass we know from Grappa! Young Malt with raisins and old dried out, grated Swiss cheese. Burnt wood and slightly tarry. Dry virgin oak and a pool of fresh rain water. Wait a minute. Just let it breathe for a while. Wow, this is an entirely different Red again. Toasted oak, burning newspapers, pencil shavings and red fruit candy (raspberry), with a tiny acidic note on top. It all comes out in layers. Where the 2019 Pinot Noir shines because of its balance, this…well, this doesn’t, initially. I use the word initially, because experience tells me that these kinds of funky notes often wear off, and this is the start of my half bottle which probably hasn’t seen a lot of air to breathe with. This has red fruits, fresh and artificial. Hints of peat, but the peat is not dominating. This Red, even though it is one of the younger expressions, and as we all know, young peat is the strongest, has soft milk-chocolaty peat. Just compare it to a Longrow 18yo for instance, also soft peat. Some more dull smelling paper, wood and woody spices emerge, otherwise this is (initially) a simple expression or starts out as a very closed one. Bad breath, Winey, candy like, with hints of mint, nice, sweet mint and finally some smoke. Bonfire smoke on a cold night. So bits of peat and soft wood and milk chocolate, that’s the story here. Not very complex and starts out pretty basic. All the slightly less positive remarks made above dissipate after some extensive breathing. The Grappa is gone by now, never to return. The Whisky really gains balance and smells in a way like it wants to show you how it will taste. The 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon still has a much, much better, far more sophisticated and appealing, dare I say, near perfect, nose. I just did, didn’t I? The Pinot Noir works like a good alternative to Oloroso. Let’s not compare the smells of both any further, and by the way, the strength of the 2020 Refill Malbec lies even more in the taste, as we’ll soon find out.

Taste: Initially this comes across as a younger and less balanced expression than the previous two reviewed ones, yet right out of the gate this is still a very tasty bugger! To capture the taste of this Red in one sentence: Liquid smoke mixed with sweet ripe red fruits and red chillies. It certainly has a sting to it and a sweetness that follows. Slightly syrupy and notes of oaky bitterness. Hints of tar and liquorice which matches up well with the red fruit syrup. Salty (and smoky) lips. Definitely more peat here than in the nose, as well as more smoke. Add to that, red fruit jam, rubber and some arome-de-ashtray. In a way this is a bit thin. Not a big rounded out Malt but more of a big flat circle. The sweetness hasn’t enough power to sustain a big body. In many ways it is big (in 2 dimensions), but lacking a bit of depth (the third dimension). So peat smoke and red fruits make up the two dimensions, but in the end it thus lacks some sweetness to counterpart the smoke, peat and wood, to round things out. This sometimes has an element of sulphur. At this point, who cares about the balance and the initial Grappa. This is a fun Red! This is a Big Red (in a way)! Gives off a nice feeling and aftertaste going down. Sweet with peated toffee and the red fruit jam. This one just needs some air to shine even more. Tiny hints of black fruits in the finish. Sweet and again a flinty and slightly burned note. Both are very welcome here. Also remember, Malbec Wines aren’t sweet Wines, so where the sweetness comes from is a mystery to me. Excellent birthday cake. Hints of fireworks and sulphur. Again these are welcome notes, don’t get me wrong. Black tea, a slight bitterness, late pencil shavings and all the time very tasty. Rougher then the previous two reviewed Red’s, but a welcome variant on the theme nevertheless.

Well, this one might be a little rough around the edges, still it surely sort of matches up in quality with the “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” which brought me back into the Red fold in the first place. Sure it starts a tad funky and wonky, but it pulls itself together rather quickly. Interesting. In the end not the same score for both, the taste is almost in the same ballpark quality-wise, but the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon simply has a much, much better nose.

Points: 86

By the way, here is a list of officially released Red’s:

2012 11yo   7 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 4 years Fresh Cabernet Sauvignon Hogsheads (Country unknown)
2013 11yo   6 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 5 Years Fresh Australian Shiraz Hogsheads
2014 11yo 11 years Fresh Port Casks
2015 12yo 11 years Bourbon Casks and 1 year Fresh New Zealand Pinot Noir Casks
2017 13yo 12 years Bourbon Barrels and 15 months Fresh South African Malbec Barriques
2018 11yo   9 years Bourbon Barrels and 2 years Fresh South African Cabernet Franc Barriques
2019 11yo   8 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years Refill New Zealand Pinot Noir Barriques
2020 13yo 10 years Bourbon Barrels and Refill Sherry Hogsheads and 3 years Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels
2020 10yo   7 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years South African Refill Malbec Barriques

Longrow Red 13yo “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” (51.6%, OB, 10 years Bourbon Barrels & Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 years Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels, 9.000 bottles, 2020, 20/08)

Of all the Longrow Red’s that have been bottled, most follow some sort of recipe: first a long maturation in Bourbon casks, followed by a shorter term finish in casks that previously held a Red Wine. Only two deviate from this recipe: 2014’s Fresh Port, which had a full 11 years maturation in Port casks, the other one this 2020’s Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, where part of the initial maturation was carried out in Sherry casks. By the way, the Wine casks for this edition were sourced from Mont Gras’ Intriga Estate in Alto Maipo, Chile.

As mentioned in the introduction of the previous review for the 2019 Pinot Noir edition of Red, when I tasted this Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 edition, I really liked it, so I got half a bottle. Still not sure ‘eh Quill? Probably not. One simply doesn’t put an open bottle in storage, nope, open bottles belong on the lectern here in Master Quill’s castle, and should be enjoyed right away. When tasting through this half bottle, especially when it was still half full, the smell and taste had some great funky organic peat going on, which I really liked, so I even went further and finally bought myself a full bottle, and put it directly in storage, because there is no room for closed bottles on said lectern. Lectern’s aren’t all that big, you know. Nope, there is no need to have the same whisky open twice one right after the other. This shared bottle is now almost empty, usually the moment the distillate of the Springbank distillery is at its best, so time to write up this review…

Color: Bright orange gold. Radiant with a pink hue.

Nose: Warm and creamy peat and dusty. In a way, hints of Wine, but not so much a Cabernet Sauvignon (a Red Wine), but at times more like a fragrant Alsatian White Wine with a little bit of added bonfire smoke for good measure. Definitely more Winey than the 2019 Pinot Noir edition. On top, hints of citrus combined with some funky organics with hints of bad breath. Not actually sweet, but sweeter than the Pinot Noir. Some recognizable notes of Oloroso Sherry, as can be found in several Hazelburn offerings. Wood, pencil shavings, paper and peat with hints freshly crushed green grapes, acidic, as in not very ripe grapes. Aromatic, farmy and perfumy (vetiver?). Soft and fruity, (little forest strawberries?), peat and some sweet and soft smoke. Bonfire smoke again. It starts with fatty and creamy peat, but before you know it, the smoke quietly displaces the peat. Wee hints of vanilla. This vanilla bit seems to be integrated with the fruity notes, like a custard with fruit syrup poured over it. Creamy. Not hard to smell this is a Wine finish though, and once you smell it, it can’t be un-smelled. Toasted Wine infused oak and some more pencil shavings. Faint smell of unlit Cuban cigar. Soft fresh wood and in part resembling the cigar box itself. Sweet funky organic note emerges next, this overall funkiness works wonders in this Malt. Nutty with raisins and next, the smell of an old bar of soap, this particular smell from an old ladies closet. Winey and perfumy. Hints on incense, cold air at night, maybe with a wee puff of smoke, integrated with the air, from an odd fireplace. Now some fragrant and perfumy fresh oak. Definitely some fresh sawn oak, although it doesn’t remind me of virgin oak Whiskies. Red ripe fruits hovering above all the other aroma’s, and a slight hint of yellow fruits well in the body of this Malt. This fruit takes a while to show itself. At times, it smells a wee bit to sweet, if you ask me, but this is only a minor gripe. Nicely balanced and smells accessible. Quite complex and the wood works wonders in this one. The Pinot Noir is the more likeable nose, but this Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely more complex.

Taste: Diluted red fruit syrup, again somewhat sweeter than the Pinot Noir was. Red Wine right from the start, which is easy to spot, when you’ve had Deanston’s Bordeaux offering earlier. Peat and toasted oak only come next, with a short smoky sting from peat and smoke, all very upfront. Almonds, semolina pudding with red berry sauce. Coarse rural toffee. I don’t even know if it exists, but the sweetness tastes like rough and crumbly toffee, not the smooth and runny kind we all know. More aroma’s of (new) wood. Sweet underneath, but with smoke and to a lesser extent peat on top, this is balanced out a bit. Some tar and smoke and some rubber even. Macaroons, After the sweetness and the prickly and smoky bits a more dryer note comes forward, as well as some virgin oak bitterness, almost sappy, savvy? Clay. Without the peat this would be suitable for almost every Whisky drinker, like the aforementioned Deanston, but luckily this has peat and smoke, making it different and for some, more exciting.

In most cases the distillates of Springbank distillery, only get better over time. Gaining in balance and overall taste and smell. we say it has to breathe and needs some time to reach it’s full potential. Here this is not really the case. This is one of those rare “Springbanks” that lose a bit of balance towards the end. The top probably lies around the half full bottle mark, but after that it goes downhill a bit, it doesn’t get bad, but its “deterioration” is noticeable, it loses a bit. In the end this is still a good Whisky, and sometimes it happens that a Whisky somewhat oxidizes, that in itself is no fault. Personally I need to find out if the (Red) Wine finishing is something for me. Still, this one is good, and the Deanston I reviewed last was good as well. Maybe it’s growing on me?

Points: 87

Longrow Red 11yo “Pinot Noir” (53.1%, OB, 8 years Bourbon & 3 years Refill Pinot Noir Casks, 9.000 bottles, 2019, 19/003)

I have to admit that the first few releases of Longrow Red weren’t my favourite Longrows on the market. I’ve tasted quite a few by now and from the first few releases, starting in 2012, I believe I liked the 2014 Port version best. However, even that one didn’t really impress me that much back then, since I didn’t go out of my way to buy it. Even today I still proceed with caution when a Whisky, in general, has had a Wine treatment, especially when the cask previously contained Red Wine. Fast forward several years later. On one occasion someone, probably Nico, shoved the 2020 edition of Red under my nose (The Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon), and that one did impress me a bit, so I got half a bottle in a bottle share, but more about that next time (spoiler alert). In the mean time, I visited Nico one day and saw an open bottle of his 2019 Pinot Noir edition, and with half a bottle of the 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon edition already sitting at home, and thinking of Master Quill and a comparison between both, I asked for a sample of his 2019 edition and the rest, as they say, is history…

Color: Copper gold. No pink or red hue.

Nose: Soft peat. Initially hints of classic red fruit from good Oloroso Cask matured Whiskies from yesteryear. Aroma’s working well together with the soft peat. Please bear in mind, no Sherry casks were used for this edition, so this can only come from the Pinot Noir casks. Appetizing stuff. A very hidden, tucked away, organic and deep sweaty and Winey note. Mild wine gums, soft wood bordering on cardboard and water based paint. Peated mocha with some smoke. Give it some more air, and the fruity and the (sometimes acidic) winey notes exert themselves some more, retaining throughout, the soft peat and the little bit of smoke. Salty toffee. Fresh, fruity, with an almost summery feel. Citrus notes (lemon) and floral hints, but also some milk chocolate and caramel. It smells sweet, acidic and salty, all at the same time. The peat gets softer and softer, as if it is a much older distillate. Receding peat leaves some more room for the smoke and a new flinty note emerges, as well as, some pencil shavings. Bad breath and soft moist wood. The Winey note gains some plastic along the way. Nevertheless, having smelled other Longrow Reds, the aroma profile comes as no surprise, although this is a particularly good one. This is what you get from peated Malts combined with different Red Wine casks. For instance, Gordon & MacPhail’s Ledaig Hermitage moves in the same direction. More about one of those later (another spoiler alert). For now, this Pinot Noir edition smells quite sophisticated and well balanced. Much better than earlier Red’s including the first outing of Pinot Noir in 2015.

Taste: A sweet and fruity entry. Sugary sweet mixed with the fresh notes of lemon juice. Soft and chewable peat. Slightly bitter wood. Almonds, full on toffee, caramel and only slightly fruity. On the sweet and fatty body, the winey acidity is there, but slides off quite quickly, noticeable yet not overpowering. Nice soft lingering peat and some prickly smoke. Amazing balance right from the start and again amazingly likeable. Next, some more fresh wood, which at times is quite spicy. The red fruity bit comes to the fore. Hints of fresh almonds. Very appetizing. I’m sure the Red series was a learning experience for the people at Springbank, but they are really getting the hang of it. The Red’s seem to get better and better as time progresses.

Wow, this is much better than the Red’s I know to date, especially the nose, which is this Malts strong point. I was wrong, because I’m human and not a bot, to have lost focus on this series after the first few expressions. Should have sticked with it. I’m reviewing this one from a sample, Nico kindly provided. He says this expression was at its best right from the start, so this does suffer a little bit from oxidation. So don’t take too long finishing this bottle. I haven’t tasted them all yet, but this might very well be the best of the Red’s.

Points: 89

An Cnoc “Rascan” (46%, OB, Bourbon Barrels, Peated (11.1 ppm), 18.000 bottles, L15/188, 2015)

The distillery is Knockdhu (est. 1894) and a while back the Whisky itself bore that name as well. Not to further confuse the public, the name of the Whisky was changed to An Cnoc, since there already is a distillery, a village, a house and a Whisky, called Knockando (est. 1898). Knockando today is owned by Diageo (humongous conglomerate with even a headquarters in the L.A. of Blade Runner 2048), and Knockdhu by Inver House Distillers (small conglomerette), so guess who changed the name of their Whisky. Inver House owns five Scottish Whisky Distilleries in total: Balblair, Knockdhu, Pulteney, Speyburn and Balmenach distillery. All, apart from Balmenach, are also marketed as a Single Malt Whisky. I don’t know why, but An Cnoc is highly underrated, almost never heard of so not a lot of people visit them at Whisky shows. This makes me wanting to root for this underdog, wishing all of their output being nothing short of great, showing all those people who haven’t been taking an interest, what they are missing. So when a few of these peated versions popped up in a local store, I picked out two different ones, to see what it’s like. Rascan (yes, a NAS Whisky) is the first one of those two to grace my lectern, and the first An Cnoc on these pages. Under the radar? Check!

Color: Very light, lightly coloured water, not even White Wine.

Nose: More perfumy and creamy than peaty, but there is certainly some peat in this. This starts out with a whiff of mustiness, but this also dissipates rather quickly, maybe still a shadow of the huge off-note from the freshly opened bottle? When this was freshly opened, I was really disappointed. Young, milky, new make-like and definitely not done yet, highly unfinished and unbalanced. Lagavulin 10yo all over again. Still, that shouldn’t put us off, because we are experienced, so we know that 90% to 95% of all Whiskies get better over time. When the level of liquid becomes lower, more air gets in the bottle and reacts with the Whisky, allowing the spirit to open up and reach a better balance. When writing this review, already over half of the Whisky is gone, and it is a totally different Whisky now than it was earlier. If there was ever an example to show you that a Whisky needs to breathe, this is it. Now it is friendly, lightly peaty and citrus fresh, with a wee spicy and gingery note to it. Appetizing and quite appealing. Creamy biscuits, cookies, and fresh air. Lemon skins in fine pastry, complete with powdered sugar. The milky new make has gone to the place behind the rainbow, the eternal hunting fields, which is a big, big bonus for us. Medium strength dried kitchen spices. Light bonfire resembling that of the Lagavulin Distillers Edition I reviewed last, just more perfumy. A snuff of black pepper, unlit tobacco and some mint, adding to the light spiciness, whilst still remaining friendly and citrussy. As it has become, I quite like it, no, actually, I like it a lot. It’s a solid performer now. I don’t regret getting this for a minute now. Sure, it maybe light and maybe even a bit simple and easy going, but it still has a lot to offer and seems to have some power as well, because it can change te perception of the Whisky tasted following this one. I like it very much, and I’m glad I do.

Taste: Here it starts rather young and biscuity, with and excellent amount of sweetness (toffee). A light creamy sweetness with prickly smoke and a hint of sweet licorice and some other soft spices. Some bitterness from oak, (but it’s not woody, nor has it much American oak vanilla), and again, nice, crisp lemon sherbet freshness. Lemon curd. Next, a peaty aroma somewhere in between plastic, tar, wax and licorice. You can feel it going down. Yeah. Mucho salty lips. It’s a NAS bottling and definitely young, and sure, not very complex, but still this is a well made, balanced and really nice Whisky. I hoped for it and I’m happy it delivers in the end, after maybe a wonky start, that is. A heed of warning for some of you. Yes, this may very well be a peaty Whisky, but please don’t expect a heavy hitting Islay style Whisky. It isn’t, it contains peat alright, 11.1 ppm, but it’s only lightly peaty, with some sweetness and some more nice citrussy elements. This is almost a nice summery peaty Whisky so to speak, with high drinkability. It seems to me the longer this gets to breathe, the better it gets, as often the case. I even left a dram overnight (with a lid without a 100% seal), and the next day it was even better still. How is that for a hidden strength. Quality stuff for sure.

By now, every bottle I open, I leave the cork off for at least a day, as said before, almost every Whisky benefits from it, and especially full bottles. The nose showed some unfinished (off)notes when freshly opened, but this Malt reacts excellently to air. It gets better and better after breathing. By now, it shows no off notes whatsoever, and what became an enjoyable dram, now even shows the high quality it possesses. If you work on it a bit, this what might seem to be anonymous Whisky at first, might surprise you whit what it has on offer. An Cnoc is now definitely on my radar. I’m going to look for a cask strength expression from a refill hogshead which will tell me more about the distillate.

Points: 85

Lagavulin 2002/2018 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv.4/507)

Lagavulin is a great distillery with great people and has a great output of very high quality, although, my firm Lagavulin-faith was rocked a bit with the more recent releases of the 8yo (@ 48% ABV) and the 10yo (@ 43% ABV). I still have to review the 9yo Game of Thrones Edition (@ 46% ABV) and the 11yo Offerman Edition (@ 46 % ABV). Before we get to those, I have this modern classic on my lectern, yes @ 43% ABV, this is a bit of yesteryear’s ABV, but The Distillers Edition has always been good and and already tried by many. I would be surprised if you were reading this and never had tried a Lagavulin Distillers Edition before.

In 2016, I already had an earlier edition of a Lagavulin Distillers Edition on these pages. The 1996/2002 lgv. 4/490. That is most certainly an oldie compared to the one I’m about to review. In fact, this one was distilled when the earlier one was bottled. Just like all the other Lagavulin Distillers Editions, this was finished in Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks. PX is a sweet fortified Wine, so expect some sweetness, although in general, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Also, this Whisky has been coloured with Caramel, why? The 1996 edition was bottled in clear glass, but this 2002 was bottled in smoke coloured glass, so why still alter the Whisky with E150? This is something that was on my mind reviewing the Lagavulin 12yo for the friends of the Classic Malts as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Nice warming peat, with quite a lot of iodine. Bonfire in winter. Fire place at Christmas. Smoked vanilla and toffee. Cold outside, quite hot inside the log cabin. PX is recognizable, giving off a sweet raisiny, meaty and fruity aroma. Wood, burnt wood, scorched wood. Tarry. Licorice. More smoky than peaty, but warm peat is certainly here as well. Wonderful balanced nose. After a while breathing in my glass, the rougher notes of smoke and, to a lesser extent, peat, dissipate a bit, leaving more room for a sweeter more syrupy note. Syrupy is not always a good note, mind you, and here it offers a cloak of sweetness masking some of the wonderful notes from the beginning. Apart from the iodine laden smoke a more perfumy note emerges as well. Big and smoky not light and fruity. This is essentially what one might call a winter dram. Wonderful nose. Amazing at this price point.

Taste: Initially lighter and thinner than the nose promised. Lacking a bit in the oomph department and with it killing a bit of the depth this probably had. Here bitter smoke and quite a lot licorice seems to be upfront, something, if present, that seemed masked in the nose. Sweet sugar-coated anise-like licorice. The sweetness kicks in now. It works wonders with the bitter notes of smoke (fire place!) and peat. Crushed beetle and vanilla. Still a very tasty Islay dram different from the rest, a potential masterpiece. Again more smoky than peaty. By now I really wish I could have had the chance to try this before it gets diluted, that version must be surely stellar. Salty lips, very dark chocolate bitterness. Is it me or does this really have notes of red fruit syrup, not much, but detectable. Way to easily drinkable @ this ABV. I’m actually amazed this bottle is already so far gone, when did that happen? Every time I want to take another sip to expand on these notes, the glass is also empty. This is also a Malt the works better with bigger sips. A Malt to be drunk. The sweetness even makes it into the finish, with chocolaty bitterness in the aftertaste. Again, like the nose, well balanced. Good stuff, more please. I have to refill my glass. Nom, nom, nom.

Really dear readers, If you can get a 16yo, which is utterly wonderful, and/or this Distillers Edition, of which I almost forgot how good it really is, there is absolutely no need to buy the 8yo and/or the 10yo, both are so much less of a Whisky than these two and offer nothing more or new, they seem unfinished and come across as an afterthought. It absolutely pains me to say this about these two offerings from one of my most beloved distilleries, but please do yourself a favour and avoid both the 8yo and the 10yo, and if you know them and feel one of both are very good, are you sure you have tried the 12yo Cask Strength, the 16yo or one of these Distillers Editions? Are you sure? Because for me the difference is amazing. Just like Ardbeg with their Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, Lagavulin also has truly great Whiskies in their core line-up with the 16yo and the Distiller Editions. So really good Islay Whiskies can still be had at a very reasonable price point. All four belong on a bang-for-your-buck list.

Points: 88

Bruichladdich 8yo The Organic 2009 (50%, OB, Bourbon and Tennessee Whisky casks, Mid Coul Farms, Dalcross, 18.000 bottles, 17/333, 2017)

The last Bruichladdich on these pages was the 2007 Islay Barley, and I suspect this Organic 2009 should be somewhat comparable to it. These two (Islay Barley and Organic), together with the Bere Barley expressions, seem to be Bruichladdich’s answer to Springbank’s Local Barley series. Both distilleries are sure that terroir matters, and you lovers of good food already know to use local, seasonal and fresh products. Where on every Local Barley bottle there is a statement of the Barley variety used, in this case Bruichladdich only mentions the use of 100% organically grown Scottish Barley. The Barley was sourced from Mid Coul Farms, Dalcross which is just to the north of Inverness and has Inverness airport as its closest neighbour, quite an odd place to grow organically. So no pesticides, but jet exhaust instead? Odd. As we already know, distillation took place in 2009 and the Barley used was from the 2008 Harvest.

Lets make it ourselves easy this time and finish off this introduction with the official introduction to the organic 2009 by Bruichladdich themselves: “The whisky we distil from the organic barley of Mid Coul reflects the complex natural flavours of the landscape. Just as our stillmen refuse to abandon the traditional crafts of distillation in favour of automation or industrialisation, so farmer William Rose rejects the use of herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Crop rotation is key. Our barley must take its turn in a seven year farm cycle that also produces organic cattle, sheep, oats, beans, grass, carrots, market gardening and a megawatt of green electricity. Respecting the land, the soil and the climate nourishes a genuine and thorough understanding of terroir and the results are pure Bruichladdich”.

Color: White Wine

Nose: Initially cereal and biscuits, very clean. Briefly the aroma of cherries on syrup and almonds, but when air hits this Malt, this is soon gone, never to return again. Powdery and some vanilla, yet still fresh and clean. Warming mocha, creamy latex paint and a hint of light chocolate powder. No sign of new make spirit though, even though this is a pretty young Malt. Sure, I’m probably somewhat biassed by the organic name, but this smells like a honest Malt an “integrity” Malt and I’m happy to report no jet-exhaust at all! Next, some development letting a citrussy and more fruity bit through. Sweeter and slightly more floral now, whiffs of perfume whizz by. Soft wood, very soft wood. A breath of fresh air and this brings me back to the days in the noughties of many Cadenhead hogsheads, bottled in their Authentic Collection. Ahhh, memories… More milk chocolate, wood, also some fresh mud now. Instant coffee powder and also these half-sweet yellow fruits. After a long while the woody bit gets some more room and smells a bit like pencil shavings (and a wee bit of ear-wax) and a wee-er bit of Spanish cedar as well. Sometimes I even get the original Nivea cream. It may be young, but it smells impressively balanced already, sure it lacks the depth of a well aged Malt, but you already knew what to expect, when buying this didn’t you? (I did).

Taste: Sweet, just the right amount, and not really the oomph of 50% ABV. I did let it sit in a glass for a while, maybe the oomph evaporated? Just kidding, or aren’t I? It’s most definitely not harsh now and actually quite soft. Sweet barley and more wood than initially showed up in the nose, and after a while, some bitterness emerges. Vanilla and the wee bit of ear-wax from the nose is present on the palate as well. Quite nutty. Sweet floral lemon balm on my lips. Runny caramel which fits perfectly with the fruity acidic notes. This may not be a very complex Malt, but I wouldn’t make the mistake of calling this simple. This is a well made Whisky, with a lot on offer.

I’m writing this review from a bottle that has about one third left, and the Whisky is more mellow now and better balanced than it was when freshly opened. It might have even been a bit harsh on opening. Many of you know the difference between tasting a malt in an controlled environment, (no I don’t mean a laboratory), like your living room or man cave for instance, a place you know well. Tasting a Malt outside, with it’s constant flow of fresh air, I often don’t pick up on certain markers from a Malt, I most definitely do pick up on inside. The tasting experience outside, therefore differs for me, from inside. Having said all that, this Organic 2009 actually works wonderfully well outside. This malt just needs some more fresh air, and with this, it shows you more, as if amplified. At least today it does, and it is quite a grey and windy day. Not a dull day, mind you, hard wind and rolling clouds are fun to watch, as well as the stuff blowing by my window. Circumstances not unknown to Bruichladdich. Just pour it and leave it there for a while, again a Malt that needs your attention (like the Ben Nevis I just reviewed). This may very well be an anoraky Whisky. Personally I like it a lot and have a lot of fun with. Somewhat of a hidden gem if you let it. Good stuff, just like Islay Barley 2007, scoring the same.

Points: 86