Paul John “Christmas Edition 2018” (46%, OB, Batch 1, 3.000 bottles, 2018)

No, you’re dead wrong! I wasn’t hibernating. I know it’s march already, but in my defence, I opened this on december 25th, as it should be. By now, I had plenty of time to try it several times and write something sensible about this stuff. Even when spring is almost upon us, this is still available. How is that even possible with a limited edition of 3.000 bottles worldwide? Don’t say because it’s Indian, because it’s more like; even when it’s Indian. Indian Malts have managed to find their own place upon the world market and expanding on it by the day.

The people of Paul John are busy spreading the gospel about their Whisky, the people in the background are busy working on ideas for new expressions. Where, in the not to distant past, we only had a few standard expressions and some single casks, It wasn’t long before we had the green “Select Casks”, the 7yo Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish, a Kanya and a Mars orbiter. Still in the pipeline are a PX Sherry Cask Finish and the “Nirvana”. A strange move into the world of 40% ABV Whisky. An entry-entry level Malt, placed even before the Brilliance, upping the status of that one in the process. The point I was trying to make is that Paul John is expanding its range, and one of their expansions is this Christmas Edition 2018. My guess would be that it is highly possible, there will be a Christmas Edition 2019. Hopefully, for the fun of it, making it different in composition from the 2018 edition.

Color: Copper gold, cloudy.

Nose: Fruity and waxy, Paul John style. Extremely fruity. Red fruits and sugared yellow fruits. Tiniest hint of peat, no smoke and most definitely no pine cones. Vanilla, but everything comes through this barrier of fruit. Wood comes next, fresh, almost virgin oak, pepper and pencil shavings. Vanilla. Waxy. Sugared mango, sugared pineapple and sugared papaya. However I also pick up on something more like apple, Calvados comes to mind a bit. Sweet mocha and toffee finally pop out as well, after some breathing and swirling. Almonds and Amaretto. Oloroso finish? It seems to be done sparsely and tastefully. It seems to be only there, on the sides of my tongue, right upon entry and in the finish. For me? This one is about wood, wax and almonds, these are the key markers, and balance. Good stuff again from the tropical shores of Goa.

Taste: Sweet. Toffee and caramel. Wood. Fruity with a light bite of peat. And a separate fruity and slightly acidic layer of unripe red fruits. Again no smoke. Lots of the waxy almondy and Amaretto notes I got from the nose. Both fit together nicely. Nutty with definitely almonds in the finish, and a lovely development towards the aftertaste. Both the nose and the taste were not as complex as I might have thought, since this is peated ánd unpeated Paul John distillate married and finished in Oloroso casks. Still no complaints here. I like it.

For me this is the fourth member of Paul Johns entry-level output. This particular expression seems to be a mixture of casks intended for “Brilliance” and “Edited” as well as (unpeated) Whisky that was finished in Oloroso casks for a short period of time. Like “Brilliance”, “Edited” and “Bold”, this “Christmas Edition 2018” lays down a very high standard for a Whisky at very fair price-tag. It’s really amazing stuff. Sure, Indian Whisky is different from Scottish Whisky (for instance), and if you’re hooked on that, and somewhat conservative, I can imagine Indian Whisky is not for you (yet), but otherwise it is great stuff. For me Paul John, as well as Amrut (more about that later), were true eye openers, which changed and expanded my Whisky world. Rampur is a third, worth a mention, which seems to have potential.

Points: 85

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Caol Ila 10yo 1996/2006 (57%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Cask #732-735)

Here is an old one from the dungeons of Master Quill’s castle. (Independent) Caol Ila #11, yes another Independently bottled Caol Ila. The eleventh already on these pages, and I have yet to review an official bottling of the stuff. It’s not as if there aren’t any around now, aren’t there. Although it is a sunny day today, the nights are still cold, so no problem whatsoever to pick me another peaty dram. This time we’ll have a look at a Caol Ila bottled by independent bottler Berry Brothers & Rudd. Although it was distilled back in 1996, it is a mere 10 years old. Young Islay Whisky with a healthy ABV. I expect a nice peaty Whisky. I remember a 1996, which was also 10yo, bottled by Cadenhead’s which I liked very much. I have one of those lying around, so if this Caol Ila turns out to be great, maybe I’ll break out that one as well. Or is it time for an OB? Only time will tell.

Color: White Wine, straw.

Nose: Peaty, but in a christmassy way. Dried orange skins with cloves. Spicy. Otherwise clean. Slightly sweet, aromatic, yet light. Soft wood, almost like cardboard. Definitely refill Bourbon, and the color shows for it. Hints of pepper and overall very friendly. I no way does this smell like a Whisky with lots of alcohol or peat. Appetizing. Next the usual suspects when reviewing Whisky aged in refill American oak. Soft wood, butter, creamy and vanilla. Hints of coal and dust. What’s especially nice is the peppery bit. It suits the nose well, pulling it more to the middle, away from too much creaminess or sweetness.

Taste: soft spices, hints of cannabis and crushed beetle. I only got cannabis in some Bunnahabhains up ’till now. Nice balance. Wow, very soft indeed. Creamy and ashy. Here the ashes replaces the pepper from the nose. Nice green notes as well. Even an Islay profile like this, seems to be already gone from modern peated Whiskies. It doesn’t smell like a high ABV. Whisky, but it also doesn’t taste like one. The profile is so soft and warming. The peat is soft as well, so no heavy hitting Islay here. Spicy, green, ashy and now also fruity. There is an acidic note and the fruit closes to the aroma I pick up on is apple. Green apple, but also cooked apple. Apple sauce. However, this Whisky has also a soapy trait, like cold dishwater at the end of the body, well into the finish. This brings the whole down a notch. There is this brief moment I have to “get through” before the finish picks itself up for the very rewarding and warming aftertaste. This Whisky has a summery feel to it. Countryside in the sun, with fruity and floral bits thrown in.

Amazingly soft and totally different from what I expected. No heavy peat, no heavy alcohol, and not big at all, but friendly stuff, with a kind heart. Smells great. This has a lot of nice and almost rare aroma’s to it. It seems like something distilled longer back than 1996. Yes I’ve got it, this is a melancholic Whisky, which is able to move you, when remembering the carefree good ol’ days…

Points: 85

Longmorn 20yo 1992/2013 (52.3%, Kintra, Bourbon Hogshead #86624, 132 bottles)

Longmorn probably was one of the best Whiskies coming out of the sixties and seventies of the previous century. There are so many remarkable bottlings coming from that time, it’s nothing but amazing. Because of this, it also might be its curse. It is almost impossible to drink something like this (a Longmorn from the eighties and later), without having high expectations and looking back to the old stuff instead of comparing it to its contemporaries. Sure we all know stuff from “back then” is different from the stuff today, but still, Longmorn, has a special place with me…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fruity, biscuity and malty. Fruity it is. Passion fruit and some pineapple, mixed with vanilla powder. Sugared and dried yellow fruits, but also a more waxy note. Meaty as well. Old warm dusty warehouse, more like a Kentucky warehouse than a cold and damp one in Scotland to be honest. So a lively, sunny, and dusty Whisky, from a dry warehouse with a summery feel to it. Nice fruity aromatics aided by a more creamy and vanilla note, backed by dust and oak. Character building. Nutty, with hot water. Overall laid back with a quiet disposition.

Taste: A sweet, nutty and spicy entry. Sometimes with a beer-like and hoppy note to it. The woody bit can taste this way when you try this early in the morning, when your palate is till fresh. In the evening its woody and spicy, nothing more. Typical Bourbon Hogshead Whisky. Funky green sweetness from the start, and even though not extremely high in alcohol, it does exert itself. Definitely fruity and nuttier than the nose. passion fruit again with old apricots next. Hints of toasted oak, this time more warming than sharp. Hints of clear glue and lots of fruits, apricot and to a lesser extent: peaches, even dried pineapple comes to mind. Nice touches of sweet vanilla and ice-cream, but never turning overly sweet and dessert-like by the backbone of spicy oak and toasted oak. Nice development though. It evolves over time.

Nice Longmorn, nice Whisky, but also almost anonymous. It could have been anything, apart from the amount of fruit in this one, which gives it away a bit. Keep in mind that this is from a Bourbon hogshead, so the distillate hasn’t been masked by Sherry or some kind of finish. This is pure Whisky. Its good, it does the job, however it’s almost not a ‘Longmorn” to me. Maybe I’m a bit harsh, maybe I’m a bit prejudiced and maybe I’m not truly objective as well. Am I capable to let the memories of old Longmorn go, for a review like this? I don’t know. This is a good one, but not a must buy for me, sorry. Come to think of it, this does have some similarities to the profile of the old Longmorn 15yo OB. That one is good as well, but also a bottling I don’t neccesseraly need to have. it doesn’t completely click with me. So If you really like the 15yo, by all means get this one as well when it pops up at an auction somewhere. For me, I’m glad I’m taking notes here, because after some time, I might forget how this tasted like, but thinking of the 15yo I’d probably remember.

Points: 85

Booker’s 6yo (62.45%, OB, Batch C01-A-18, 750 ml)

In 1987, Booker Noe, grandson of James “Jim” Beauregard Beam (you might have heard of Jim Beam), introduced Booker’s. Booker’s is uncut (so no added water) and thus bottled straight from the barrel. Booker’s friends and to no lesser extent, Booker himself, really liked the cask strength Whiskey, so Booker introduced it to the grand public in 1992, making it the first of Jim Beam’s “small batch series”. Already in 1984 Elmer T. Lee (you might have heard of him as well), from the Buffalo Trace distillery, introduced the first widely available cask strength Bourbon by releasing Blanton’s, so the people at Jim Beam already knew there was a market for these high strength Bourbons.

Other additions to the original Jim Beam small batch collection were: Baker’s, which is 7yo and bottled at 53.5% ABV and Knob Creek, 9yo and reduced to 50% ABV. Essentially all Bourbons made by Jim Beam come from the same recipe, and variations are only made by different ages, different ageing (hotter or cooler parts of the warehouse) and dilution with water. There is one exception though. Basil Hayden’s is a Bourbon made with the original recipe used for Old Grand-Dad which is the final addition to the original small batch series.

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: A short whiff of acetone. Very fragrant and spicy wood. Sawdust and altogether quite floral. Honey, paper and cardboard. Smells of an old barber shop (shaving cream, perfume, old furniture). Fresh almonds and more dusty wood. Cigar box and a minute amount of pencil shavings. Tiny, tiny hint of lavas. Cookie dough and leather. Not very creamy nor sweet, but there is some vanilla to it, however less than expected. Sometimes hot, lots of alcohol and it has a lot of aroma, but still you can’t call this really “big”. Sometimes its even soapy and highly drinkable. A sort of feminine counterpart to Old Grand-Dad. Definitely Jim Beam (Jug) yeast this time, with a minor role for rye. Wood driven, but all kept well in check, very balanced wood. More dust later on, and meaty notes after that. This keeps on giving. Excellent.

Taste: Starts hot, with lots of wood and woody bitterness. Next some wonderful tobacco and even more wood. Waxy, soapy and woody. More honey as well. I gather this came from the hot part of the warehouse. Nutty, fresh almonds and cotton. Slightly perfumy in the taste as well. Funky sensation. Grassy, and sometimes a bit green. Spicy old wood, like in an old attic of a wooden house, thus more perfumy notes. Indistinct hard fruit candy. Yellow fruits, not the reds. Big entry and a big body. Warming, not hot. Remarkably short finish with matching aftertaste (short), nothing mentioned above really stays behind apart from the soapy elements, which takes away a bit from this Bourbon. I can imagine other batches of this bottling have the potential to perform better than this particular expression. This is in a way a bit simple, although the nose showed a lot of complexity. At times it’s a bit to floral, so pick your moment wisely with this batch. Still, this is a very good Bourbon which I can easily recommend.

If I had to pick only a few bottles made by Jim Beam it would be this one and Old Grand Dad 114, these two sum it up for me. This the best they can do, and these two, if you can handle the high ABV. makes all the others a tiny bit obsolete. With these two yeast strains you get all Jim Beam has to offer.

Points: 85

Ardmore 1996/2014 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, Refill Sherry Hogsheads)

Why review one Ardmore, when you can review two? Hidden far away in a wooden box, where I keep my odd-shaped sample bottles, I found this more recent Ardmore. All Ardmores I reviewed up ’till now, were somewhat older bottlings, and this one is more recent. 2014 is not that long ago isn’t it? Gordon & MacPhail released 1996 Ardmores in 2013 and 2014, and both are still available, so I guess they hold off a new release, untill both of these sell out. Where on one side we have official bottlings (OB’s), in this case the range released by Beam Suntory (the owners of Ardmore), on the other side we have independent bottlers (IB’s). Usually, firms that buy casks of Whisky and bottle them as a single cask (usually).

However, this particular Gordon & MacPhail bottling lies somewhere in between. This series is known as the licensed bottlings, but are also known as the distillery labels. This comes from the time the owners of certain distilleries allow Gordon & MacPhail to bottle a Whisky and market it as the “official” release, since back then the owners didn’t release an official bottling themselves, probably using the output from that distillery for blends.

Gordon & MacPhail do their own wood management (The wood makes the whisky). They bring in their own casks and fill them at a distillery. Sometimes they leave the cask to mature at the distillery, but more often they take it with them to their own warehouses.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and ice-cream, oh and Sherried as well. On top some smoke. Right from the start this is very well-balanced. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. Sherry casks from American oak. Very sweet, big and thick smelling. Nutty. Almonds, with hints of clay. Add to this a fruity cloying sweetness with an edge of perfect peat, with sometimes some burnt match-stick aroma’s, with only a tiny hint of the sulphur. The sulphur is a mere trace, and I don’t pick it up every time I try this. Next to this the Sherry gives off a funky note which should be an off-note, but here, it works well in the construct of the nose. Almost like artificial orange powder (Sinaspril). Fire-place in the middle of winter. Almost christmas. Lots of vanilla comes next and the smoky note stays. Works very nice together. As I said, very well-balanced indeed. Medium complexity though, and it shows its hand quite quickly. After that, not a lot of development is happening.

Taste: Ahhh, yes. Nice (simple) sweet, creamy, nutty and (red) fruity Sherry nose, mixed in with vanilla and big toffee. Cold black tea. It’s big on the Sherry, the almonds and the cream this is. Also a slightly bitter oaky edge. Peat, but it’s aroma is different from the nose. Stricter and more modern. The fruit evolves in acidity. Excellent smoky note. Come to think of it, where is the wood influence? The wood may have made this Whisky (imho, the Sherry did), but where is the wood itself? Sure it has a lot of vanilla and creamy notes, so American oak was used, I believe, this one would have been better in European oak. A similar thing happens as it did with the nose. Everything is there right from the start and hardly any evolution happens after that. Balanced, yes, sure, but not as much as the nose. Lacks even more complexity than the nose.

Right from the start I thought it was nice, and it is. The journey, however, I was about to take with this Ardmore didn’t happen. Alas. A good Whisky, but it is what it is. The start was promising, and it started with a nice statement from the nose. After that it all went a bit downhill and simple. The Ardmore I reviewed last, also has its flaws, and I can’t say this one is better, hence the similar score. Both are good, but I expected a bit more, especially since in this one, the Ardmore distillery character is obvious in the nose, but not on the palate.

Points: 85

Bowmore 1996/2014 “Aniseed Pastille” (46%, Wemyss Malts, Single Cask Release, Hogshead, 344 bottles)

This is not the first Wemyss bottling on Master Quill, but it is definitely the second and most certainly not the last. In the previous review I mentioned something about William Wemyss, so I won’t repeat that here.

Wemyss Malts (Edinburgh) was established in 2005 by William, who previously made a name for the Wemyss family in the wine business, producing Fonty’s Pool (Western Australia) and Rimauresq (Provence, France). Wemyss is Scottish and owns land where in the early 19th century John Haig’s first distillery, Cameronbridge, was built. Wemyss also grows barley there, that is used by several Scottish Malt Whisky distilleries, so historically the interest in Whisky has always been there.

Wemyss Malts releases vintage single cask Whiskies from many different distilleries as well as a few Blended Malts (since 2005), a Blended Whisky called Lord Elcho (since 2012) and through another company, a Gin (Darnley’s View, since 2010). The single cask bottlings are reduced to 46% and get a “name” in a similar way SMWS uses a flavour descriptor on their Whiskies. In 2013 William entered a new phase in their Whisky-adventure by purchasing the Kingsbarns distillery project at East Newhall Farm in Fife from Douglas Clement, who had problems raising money to fund the building of the distillery. The distillery is managed under Wemyss Distillery Ltd. which is a separate company from Wemyss Malts. Kingsbarns produces spirit since January 2015, so maybe we can expect their first Single Malt very soon. Since it is supposed to be a light and fruity Whisky, I expect it during summer. At first Douglas stayed on as founding director and as manager of the visitor centre. However, Douglas eventually left the distillery by the end of 2016 to ‘pursue other projects’.

Color: Light citrussy gold.

Nose: Big and fresh. This jumps out of my glass, like a young dog, full of life, wanting to lick you in the face. I hope this makes you understand, that this doesn’t smell like a heavy hitting Islay Malt, but a more friendly one. Nice soft peat, with a spiral of smoke rising from our bonfire. Fresh almonds, but it’s not a nutty Whisky. Apart from that, it’s quite citrussy, fresh and thus fruity, hence the friendliness of this Malt. Salty smoked fish with hints of sea-spray. Yes a bit of creamy vanilla, but no real woody notes. Only a tiny bit of wood and an even tinier hint of liquorice. Cigarette ashes? Proper refill hogshead. If smelled longer and more vigorously, I also get some more soft red fruits, ripe raspberry’s come to mind mixed in with some mud and a black pepper edge. Dirty friendly stuff. Smells excellent!

Taste: Sweet on entry. Toffee and runny caramel. Here comes sticky sweetness. Waxy and quite some soft peat. Ashes and slightly tarry. Already suffers a bit from reduction. Orange skins (bitter) and a bit of paper. Nutty notes again, not much though, followed by more smoky notes embedded in the sticky sweetness, giving some sharpness. Paper-like note keeps coming back to me. On the sides of my tongue there is this slight bitter note of aniseed. The power of suggestion? Yes I do get aniseed, but the sweetness is different. Not the dry, hard sugar of the pastilles, but rather soft toffee. Otherwise, I find this Bowmore a wee bit too simple in the taste department. Lacks development as well. It doesn’t have a long finish, nor a lot of aftertaste, which is built around sweetness and smoke (and secretly some black fruits I love in Bowmore), but where is the wood? Again, easy to drink, but a bit too simple. Depending on your day, because you, the taster, are far from being objective, the bitterness shifts in or out of focus. The second time around I tasted this for this review, on another day, I found it to be more bitter than the first time around (more fruity). Isn’t that complexity?

Comparing this Wemyss version of Bowmore, to Bowmore’s own take on Bowmore, I decided to do a head-2-head with “White Sands” an official 17yo travel retail Bowmore reduced to an even more un-modern 43% ABV. This bottling comes with the special recommendation of Eddie MacAffer, and yes, the “White Sands” is a bit more special, read: different. First of all it has development on the nose and more depth. More industrial, oily, smoky and burning notes. Brooding and more woody. However, if I had both bottles open at the same time, the Wemyss would be finished sooner…

Points: 85

Elements Eight Gold (40%, St. Lucia)

Elements Eight. Named after the eight elements needed for the production of (this) Rum: Terroir, Cane, Water, Fermentation, Distillation, Tropical Ageing, Filtration and Blending. Funny, since the base of this Rum are molasses from Guyana, which paints a somewhat different picture than the handpicked cane mentioned on the bottle. The Rum is marketed, no, Marketed with a capital M, by The Elements Eight Rum Company based in London, England which was founded in 2005 by Carl Stephenson and Andreas Redlefsen. Earlier, both have worked at J. Wray & Nephew. Remember Appleton from Jamaica? Right!

The Rum itself is produced at the St. Lucia Distillery, we know from Admiral Rodney, Chairman’s Reserve, 1931 or even the Plantation St. Lucia I reviewed earlier. Besides this Gold, there were three other Rums offered in the original line-up from 2006: Platinum, Spiced and Criollo Cacao. In 2016, after ten years the brand was completely revamped with four “new” expressions: Exotic Spices (aka Spiced), Vendôme (aka Gold), Platinum (aka Platinum, dûh) and Republica (new). The latter one a 5yo blend of one Rum from Cuba and one from Panama, so the Criollo Cacao got dropped, but might return at a later date. Apart from the Republica, the Rums are blended together from eight (although ten was the number mentioned on the old bottles) different Rums produced at the St. Lucia distillery, which has a John Dore double retort copper pot still for the heavy, flavourful components, depth and finish; a Vendome Kentucky Bourbon copper pot still, which gives the rather unique flavour profile and a steel columnar still for the lighter components (sentence stolen from Lance), apart from that, three different yeast strains were used for the production of these eight Rums. By the way, the oldest Rum used in this blend is 6yo, although marketing states that the whole was aged for 6 years. Luckily no sugar was added during production of this Rum, for a unadulturated experience.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Sugar cane. Fresh and clean. Mocha, milk chocolate with a nice wooden edge. Dusty. Vanilla powder and coffee creamer. With some air, more spicy, with notes of lavas (Maggi), black pepper and lots of dry grass. Cold tea. Tiny hint of fresh (unlit) cannabis and licorice. In a way, meaty. Pancake syrup and powdered sugar. Excellent nose. Dry, complex and with good balance. The nose develops nicely with air and time, and it develops over a long period of time. Warming with hints of sea breeze. Not a middle of Summer nose, but one for autumn, with wind and rain, the moment you understand summer is over…

Taste: Aiii, rather thin and definitely suffers from too much reduction. What a disappointment after the wonderful nose. Hints of toasted cask. A good bitter woody edge, with enormous staying power. Some caramel and toffee, but still not sweet. Almonds! The spices from the nose, finally show themselves, trying to save what can be saved. Well, when I let this stand for a while it definitely gets better than the initial disappointing sip. It really needs to stand around for a while. More complexity and definitely a bit industrial. Water based paint. Nice finish, with the bitterness forming tha mainstay of the aftertaste.

I do like St. Lucia Rums but this might not be on top of my list. If you let this breathe for a while it is able to show its heritage and the quality it must have had at a higher strength. Excellent example of a Rum that was reduced too much. Although this comes from the same distillery as the aforementioned Plantation, both couldn’t differ more. Having said that, there are some similarities too, and it is not hard to tell, when tasted blind, this is an offering from the island of Saint Lucia. This has a wonderful nose and taste-wise it starts weak but will grow on you,  if you let it. If you’re really patient with it, it will redeem itself. Interesting stuff and nice to see another example of this distillery. One that definitely grew on me.

Points: 85