Ardmore 20yo 1996 (49.3%, OB, 1st Fill Bourbon and Ex-Islay casks, L817757B)

Sometimes Ardmore can be quite stellar. Once, I even wrote that it has the potential to be the new Brora. Back then, there weren’t any plans to reopen Brora, so today probably Brora itself has more potential to be the new Brora than Ardmore. However, the owners of Ardmore don’t do a lot with this Malt and most independent bottlers, bottle Ardmore at quite a young age. Why is that? In comes this official 20yo. I immediately bought two of those, guided by my own statement and hoping for, (expecting), the best. As I said, Ardmore can be great, and this one has some pretty decent age to it and a nice ABV to boot.

When I opened this bottle, it was very much closed and stayed like that for a long, long, and even longer, time. I even left the cork off for several days, and still it wouldn’t budge, bumming me out. Disappointing and annoying, and along the way it never really became a favourite of mine. I usually wait until the bottle is half full/half empty to write a review so that the Whisky had a chance to grow with air and over time. This bottle is now 1/3rd full, and still I’m not sure how it really is. I usually can remember Whiskies I tasted a decade ago, but every time I return to this Ardmore, I haven’t got a clue how it actually is. This is really a difficult one. So for some reason or another, I once tasted it in the morning et voilà, there is more to this in the morning, than in the evening with a tired palate. This is a delicate morning Whisky, with the emphasis on delicate, so I had to write some things down in a wee morning session! How unusual (and how nice actually).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Quite fruity, with already a little hint of smoke and slightly rubbery peat. Very nice combination of old style, yellow half-dried fruits and wax. Whiffs of old style Malt yet sometimes also a whiff with a lack of balance, a strange or less well integrated fruity bit. Luckily this phenomenon doesn’t happen on every occasion. Quite light as well. Fruity sugared pineapple, shiny apple skins. Mocha with walnuts, hazelnuts in whipped cream. More of the nice waxy note comes forth and still it knows how to improve over time with more airing in the glass. This Malt really is dependent on air, it needs truckloads of it. This is therefore not an easy Malt. You really have to work at it a lot to get everything out, and don’t be fooled, this really has quite a lot more than meets the eye (?) initially. The waxy bit interacts quite well with a nice and soft woody note (American oak style), especially when the little bit of smoke somewhat stings the insides of your nose. The waxy bit finds a companion in some clay. After a while, good balance is reached as well at the end of the development. It just suddenly stops giving off new layers. Hardly any alcoholic notes in the nose, seems lower than the 49.3% ABV. With a lot of time and air, this nose does deliver. Quite wonderful.

Taste: Soft and creamy. Somewhat sweet vanilla and diluted whipped cream. Do I detect some faint notes of strawberry ice-cream? The sensation of cream with a little bit of water. Fruity yes and even the peat from part of the casks is noticeable. Prickly smoke on the sides of my tongue. Waxy and peaty. Almonds? After a while the oak starts to show more and more of itself, along with its bitterness, yet it never really overpowers. For twenty years, this has been in contact with wood alright. All of this, not in the greatest of balances to be honest. Also somewhat simpler than I would have expected from Whisky of this age. Lacking the complexity of a 20 year old malt, as well as the development. The finish is medium at best, actually quite short, whit a decent and warming aftertaste though. Very delicate stuff. Brittle, apart from the wax and the wood.

Technically, this must have been one of the most delicate Whiskies I have ever tried (when also analysing it). This one has managed to learn me something. You can sip your way through a bottle over a prolonged period of time in the evening and essentially having no clue what the Whisky really had to offer. Just this freak accident to have a sip in the morning, showed me that there is a lot more to this Ardmore. Treat this as a morning Whisky. Still, perfect it is not, not by a long shot. But hey, most of us usually sip our drams not-in-the-morning, so please take this into account. This is definitely not a casual sipper. Not bad at all, but should have been better than it actually is.

Points: 85

Talisker 8yo (57.9%, OB, Special Release, Carribean Rum Cask Finish, 2020)

Talisker is no stranger on these pages, and this 8yo is already the fifteenth Talisker reviewed, and why not, I ask you. Talisker has a lot going for it. It is an excellent distillate, has some peat, although not as much as some others on the market, and has a distinct and maybe unique feature, it is often considered to be peppery. A lot of wonderful aroma’s can converge in a Talisker. Works well in both Bourbon and Sherry, and the core range 10yo is already a very good Whisky. One other distillery manages to tick all these boxes save one. The distillery’s name is Springbank and the box not ticked is the box for pepper, I did say it was an unique feature, didn’t I?

In 2018 the first 8yo was released in Diageo’s annual special releases series. That “first” 8yo, was a very good one, and I remember back then, (and this is not that long ago), the talk of the town were the plethora of NAS releases (in general). At the time, there were many Talisker NAS bottles released as well. This 8yo was so good, a lower number like 8 suddenly became acceptable again, and the public always seem to prefer an age statement, so better a low number than none at all. I guess this took Diageo a bit by surprise, who knows, because there wasn’t an 8yo released in 2019. In 2020 this Caribbean Rum version saw the light of day (rushed maybe?) and earlier this year, another 8yo was released, from the smokiest stock they could find. Looks like the 8yo is here to stay. We’ll see what next year brings.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Initially milky and young. Tasted blind, I would have guessed this was a Lagavulin, since it has some similarities with the 8yo and the 10yo, similarities, which, I didn’t like by the way. I really, really like Lagavulin, never came ‘cross one that was sub par. So when coming across the 8yo and the 10yo, it felt a bit like a sell-out by Diageo, and I was overly disappointed, damn, I didn’t think they would stoop so low as to mess with the ‘vulin. But I digress, back to the Talisker at hand. Sweet tea leaves (wet), rain water and dead dry leaves on the street in autumn. It shows more (quite nice) wood spices when the initial milky component wears off a bit. Spicy, with mild sulfury organics, sweet mint and orange powder. Smells of a distant wood fire whilst walking on a snowy street at night (by yourself). This bit is great. When drinking this Whisky casually, I have a hard time to find any notes of Rum, both in the nose and in the taste. I do now, but for me they are more similar to a Rhum Agricole than the Caribbean Rum that is stated on the label, and by the way, Caribbean Rum, that isn’t really narrowing it down now doesn’t it? So Rum yes, but there isn’t a lot of it though. I feel all the alien notes this Talisker shows us, maybe aren’t even coming from the Rum casks at all, but they probably are. Diluted smoky toffee notes and hints of Brazilian Rum (Epris 15yo). At times sharp. The wood turns towards, toffee, coffee, mocha and pencil shavings. This will improve a lot with air, so give it time, but if you pour yourself another dram, the whole experience starts anew, including the wait for the nose to improve. Recognizable as a Talisker though. Apart from the wonky start the nose is all-right.

Taste: Starts with coarse alcohol, like Wodka, right from the start, not balanced. Paper and cardboard and some residual (barley) sweetness. Not much later the wood and all the lovely aroma’s from American oak kick in, as well as a peppery attack, yes, there it is. The aroma’s are there but the balance still struggles, like its missing a component. The wood also impaired a healthy amount of bitterness onto this Whisky, but since this Whisky also has a bit of sweetness, the bitterness is kept in check. The bitter notes take residence right on the very back of your tongue. Smoky and thus a peppery attack as well, so it’s still a Talisker after all. Fresh almonds, wood and latex paint. Come to think of it, this one isn’t really all that complex. The body of the work is good, the ending a bit less, so the finish shows the unbalance again, and the aftertaste does so as well, and shows us again the bitter notes this has.

First piece of advice. Pour this dram and put it away, let the air do its job first, because the first aroma’s that escape from your glass are too close to new make spirit. And after a long wait the whole experience is much better. The nose improves a lot and therefore the taste is helped along. In the end it is an interesting Talisker, no regrets opening it and it wasn’t a nasty chore to finish it as well (not empty just yet, but it will be soon). I won’t be opening a second bottle anytime soon though. Buy the 2018 version in stead, and well see about the 2021 edition in the (near) future.

Points: 85

Tamnavulin 8yo 2009/2017 (59%, A.D. Rattray, Cask Collection, Bourbon Barrel #700628, Finished in a First Fill Bourbon Barrel for 16 months, 229 bottles)

This will be an interesting bottle. After the Dalmore I reviewed last, here is another example from a distillery from the portfolio of Whyte and Mackay, and yet another independent bottling. This is the first review of a Tamnavulin on these pages and to be honest, I never ran out of the house to fetch me a Tamnavulin. Tamnavulin just doesn’t have such a reputation. I did buy a nice, and very old, example from Duncan Taylor once, in the USA many years ago, but that’s about it. A few years back I visited the stand of A.D. Rattray at the Whisky Show in London, and tasted this Tamnavulin, I though it was rather nice and being a Tamnavulin, I bought it at the show shop. I couldn’t have been very expensive then.

Apart from the taste, I really liked the idea of maturing a Whisky in a Bourbon Barrel and then finishing it in another first fill Bourbon Barrel. This may imply the first cask it matured in wasn’t a first fill, but I might be wrong. The other thing that grabbed me was the mention of the number of the first cask it matured in (#700628), yet not the number of the cask it was finished in. But wait, there is even more. The label claims this was first matured for “over” 7 years and then received a finish of 16 months, so 100 months or more. Distilled on 10.05.2009 and bottled on 31.08.2017 equals less than 100 months. Being a Tamnavulin and all this wonky information on the label, and having tasted it, I just needed to have it, especially since Tamnavulin is rather a scarcity on my lectern.

Color: Medium gold (and seemingly not filtered to death).

Nose: Vanilla and soft oak. Malty and biscuity. Pleasant and fruity. Quite floral and perfumy. Classy. Underneath a more sweetish and fruity bit. Big and bold, with lots of aroma’s and an open character. Even though it is quite a young Whisky, there are no traces of new make and it smells quite mature. The oak gives off some spicy notes, but not much. Seems to me the initial cask wasn’t all that active and the second maturation wasn’t long enough for that cask to dominate the strong oaky notes. Interesting finish this is. Notes of yellow fruits are a bit overshadowed by this perfumy and soap-like aroma. The more I nose this, the more spices are noticeable, but all under this floral cloak. Smelling harder pulls out the yellow fruity bits, as well as some mint and a wee hint of horseradish and rainwater. The fruit turns slightly acidic. Maybe this makes the balance department suffer a bit, but it’s not a big problem though. After a while it turns a bit dusty and the mint vapor has some staying power in my nose. The sweetness picks up some licorice as well. This is an autumn Whisky (based on the nose alone at his point). Given more time, notes of cold dish water, bad breath and honey, these are adding to the complexity, but again making the balance suffer some more. Still this is still not a big issue though. I know “interesting” often has a negative ring to it, but without implying any negativity, this one just is interesting, due to the complexity and the oddness of the aroma’s this Whisky gives off.

Taste: Ahhh, nice. Spicy, slightly bitter and sweetish. Vanilla, nutty and some nice wood, that seemed not to be there in the nose. Warming and highly drinkable. Meaty as well. The vanilla bit grows slightly stronger when you hold this in your mouth. The first sip sort of repairs the nose, focusing it on the more lovely floral bit. Very appetizing and much better balanced than the nose was. Sweet and nutty, honeyed nuts. However the wood gave off plenty of spiciness to counterbalance the sweetness, which is definitely here, yet masked by the wood. Tasty example this is, and seems definitely more mature than the 8 years it (only) has. Apart from the sweetish yellow fruits on the palate, this Tamnavulin also has some zesty citrussy notes. Here it works well, in the nose the acidity isn’t helping the balance of it, however, on the palate this Tamnavulin is well balanced and the slightly bitter notes, this shows towards the finish, can put off some tasters, who don’t like bitterness altogether, but it does add to the balance. The dishwater and soapy bit in the nose, does play an unexpected role here in the aftertaste as well. Unexpected because it arrives late and I didn’t expect it at all to be honest. Along with this bitter note the nose shows us some licorice to go with it, changing the Whisky a bit. Nice complexity thus. Still an autumn Whisky I would say.

I like this Tamnavulin. The two casks worked quite well together. It’s mature and tastes great. The first cask must have been a refill cask, not giving off too much woody and bitter notes from the cask for the stated 7 years. The second cask, a more active one, did have enough time to impair its creamy and vanilla notes, but after 16 months, it didn’t have enough time to give off a lot of woody aroma’s, making for a reasonable well balanced young Whisky without the wood dominating the palate, nope the wood is just about right.

Points: 85

Dalmore 2001/2015 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Refill American Hogsheads, AE/JBAC, 05/03/2015)

So here’s Dalmore. Dalmore isn’t a Whisky I have many bottles of, if any. It was also a long time ago Dalmore’s were featured on these pages. This is now the third review, after the two reviews I did back in 2014. Obviously one from the distillery itself, the 12yo from around 2004 (so also a while back) and one 11yo independent offering from Kintra Whisky from The Netherlands. Both a bit under my radar to be honest, not spurring a lot of interest in buying more Dalmore’s, (which I didn’t). Dalmore also seems known for some affordable middle-of-the-road bottles, as well as quite some super rare, super premium, super old bottlings, giving Macallan a run for its money. How odd. After all those years, yet another Dalmore managed to emerged on top of the heap of samples. After many of my own bottles, here is sample for a change. As often happens with distilleries and their owners, they tend to change hands more often than they used to back in the day. In the year of both other Dalmore reviews, namely 2014, the company that holds Dalmore, Whyte and Mackay, was bought by Philippines’ largest liquor company called Emperador. Just to refresh your memory, Whyte and Mackay doesn’t only operate Dalmore distillery, but also in their portfolio are: Fettercairn, Tamnavulin, Jura and Invergordon (grain).

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fruity and Malty, with a tiny hint of smoke in the back. When freshly poured this is big on fruit, candied fruit, but a lot of this is just blown away rather quickly. Smells of toffee, caramel and apple, caramelized apple to be precise, but also fresh apple flesh and hints of apple skin. Warm cookie dough. Apple pie, but most definitely without the cinnamon, no cinnamon in this apple pie whatsoever. Fresh air and an even sharper breath of air, probably because of the smoky note this Whisky has. Maybe this comes from the toasted oak. Not sure right now. The Malty notes are getting more of a say and seem to introduce some more waxy notes, like the wax from the skin a red apple. With this waxy note comes the promise of some bitterness in the taste, we’ll see if that is the case here. By now, more wood as well. Sawdust from plywood. Dusty altogether. Hints of lemon peel and some remarkable horseradish notes, I didn’t expect here. Smells like a modern Whisky, although tasted blind, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this was coming from some sort of refill Sherry cask (as well). For me this doesn’t have (only) the classic refill Bourbon notes we all know so well by now. No, this one has something else as well, something I also picked up on in the Dalmore 12yo, being different from others.

Taste: Soft, spicy, slightly woody and creamy. Sugar water. Wood, paper and a nice sweet chewiness. Waxy and indeed slightly bitter. Having this in your mouth makes the nose expand a bit. Not really fruity though, but it is vegetal. Highly drinkable, but not easily drinkable, it seems to have a taste profile more cut out for aficionado’s or connoisseurs. It has too much fresh oak notes and it might be a bit too bitter for the general public I guess. It’s also rather simple and thin, although it does have good balance. However, after tasting this, the nose expands, more and more is showed there. I’m wondering if this effect of the nose evolving and the taste being rather simple, comes from too much reduction of this particular example. Medium finish at best, disintegrating a bit, but the aftertaste is nice and warming, shows some of the sweetness and paper-like bitterness this Whisky possesses.

Definitely different from both other reviewed Dalmore’s, and it is not as bad as it seems. It has to be worked a bit and personally, I wouldn’t like to try this as a novice. I like the vegetal notes it shows, but it needed a very long time in my glass to show this. More than 30 minutes for sure…

Points: 85

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

Ardbeg 5yo “Wee Beastie” (47.4%, OB, 05/05/2020)

Looking at Ardbeg’s core range (at the time of writing), one release was missing on these pages. After An Oa, this 5yo Wee Beastie is the latest member of the Ardbeg core clan. Since demand has risen considerably for Single Malt Whisky, one of many reactions of the industry was to expand the NAS portfolio, to be able to sell younger Whiskies and lay down larger ageing stock for the future. The public however, as often the case with changes, wasn’t very keen on NAS bottlings, feeling the consumer would be paying a higher price for younger Whiskies, which is largely true anyway. To give an example, Talisker “Skye” or “Storm” or “Port Ruighe” actually were new NAS bottling sold for more than the original 10yo. In the end, the consumer kept asking for an age statement, and in the process was already warming up to Whiskies with a low age statement. When Benromach released their 5yo a while back, the move towards a low age statement, compared to other NAS bottlings with a funny (Gaelic) name was welcomed beyond belief. Industry baffled. So low age statements are now rather accepted, and with Islay Whiskies, younger expressions are also interesting because the peat should be more pronounced,fresher and heavier than in well aged releases (peat gets softer over time). Ardbeg, always being different in their ways, saw the time fit for a new addition to their core range, and thus one with a low age statement (5yo) ánd a name (Wee Beastie), thus promising hefty peat!

Color: Light Gold.

Nose: Appetizing peat yet not really beastie, more of a gangnam poodle style. Tiny hint of smoke from the fireplace. It doesn’t hit you in the face like Iron Mike would. No, quite the opposite actually. It’s rather friendly, warm, dusty and citrussy. Like Iron Mike hugging you in the ring, you feel the soft gloves in your back. Mike is whispering peaceful words in your ear, in stead of biting it off. Surprising, so not really beastie to me. Iodine, perfumy smoke and cold ashes from the fireplace. Remember Christmas when it’s cold outside with lots of snow? Salty and soapy. Sometimes some battery acid, acidic fruits, black and white powder and licorice. Sometimes milky (this is the youth showing, we know this from young Lagavulin’s and other mostly NAS peated whiskies, (there will be some more reviews of this “effect” in the near future, I can tell you that). The citrus bit is borderline milky, new make spirit and it is a big part of the freshly opened bottle. Luckily, this acidic fruity milky bit wears off a bit when this gets enough time to breathe. Doing the dishes with pink or yellow rubber/latex gloves. If fire would have a smell, this might be it. Ardbeg Fire, which is still a masculine name. After a while more, the fruit shows itself, with crushed beetle. Quite a soft and friendly nose with lots of aroma’s. Appealing, definitely young, but given time it gets balanced. I like it very much, smells tasty! So not really a wolf in the nose but more a domesticated poodle wearing a Christmas jumper. Adorable.

Taste: Sweet, young (but not milky), malty and biscuity. A lot of sweet black and white powder from the nose, sweet smoke, licorice, warming. Plastic, stormy seaside, sea spray laden with salty air. Soap powder. Burning garden surplus off. Slightly less balanced than the nose. Still this soapy, slippery feel on my palate and tongue. The soapy taste is kept in check though. Licorice with crushed beetle. Black tea, fruity. Quite nice and somewhat different than expected. Beast? A very friendly beast! Young but not too young. Very appetizing. The taste may be a wee bit too young though, with a little bit of new make spirit to it, slightly underdeveloped. Just like the nose, this wears off after a while in my glass. Through the fruity bit some slightly bitter and slightly prickly wood emerges and this soapy edge stays behind in your mouth (a.k.a. the aftertaste).

Maybe they should add an 8yo expression which would make an interesting comparison with this 5yo, or maybe a cask strength version of this Beastie as well while they’re at it? Yes, in the end this is yet another very good core range bottling. If you have this Wee Beastie, Corryvreckan and an Oogie, what else do you need from Ardbeg, apart from their beautiful older bottlings? A big compliment is due for Ardbeg, for keeping a very high standard in their core range. Amazing, so not only Kilchoman does well @ 5 years. Although Kilchoman at this age shows no milky new make bits at all. You just gotta love Ardbeg, for the first time ever, a distillery puts out a core range that might be better than most of their NAS special releases. In this day and age, that is truly amazing. In my opinion both Ardbeg and Kilchoman do a lot better at this young age than f.i. Lagavulin. In a way, far fetched as it might be, this Beastie reminds me in a certain way of Perpetuum, has it something to do with that? Is it some sort of younger version of it?

After a few hours, the empty glass smells of soft iodine, smoke and burnt plastic.

Points: 85

Thanks again to Nico for the sample!

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

Tomatin “Fire” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #2, Heavily Charred Oak, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

Where “Wood” is #1 in the Five Virtues series, here is #2, which is called “Fire”. It is called “Fire” because of the char and toast of the wood, and char and toast come about through the ways of fire. Tomatin “Fire” comes solely from a batch of stripped and (heavily) recharred oak casks. It is said that the distillate is from 2005, one year only this time, making this a Single Malt which is 11yo or 12yo, which these days is quite old for a NAS. “Wood” was blended from distillates between 1999 and 2006, and since 2006 is more recent than 2005, “Fire” is officially an older Malt than “Wood”  even though much older Malts were used for it.

What this bottling also might want to prove is: should you buy a new (or used) American oak cask, when you can also scrape out the insides, hopefully without losing the soul, of your old, dead tired and worn out cask and set it on fire to rejuvenate it? Boys do like to set things on fire don’t they? After this, one might have a reusable cask again. Recycled and good for the environment, maybe apart from the burning that is. Maybe very responsible and certainly sustainable. One less tree to cut down. This should be certified green!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Again, a woody Whisky, but this time a more vanilla driven Malt. American oak alright. Sweet, fragrant, slightly floral and right from the start this slightly acidic and creamy strawberry aroma. Sometimes a bit dusty even. Not as much char as I expected from something called “Fire” or “heavily charred”. Hardly any char really. Quite fresh, fruity and milky. The milky notes scared me for a while, but dissipate after a while in my glass and these milky notes disappear completely when the bottle cbecomes emptier. Paper and woody notes and initially not all that different from “Wood”, but after enough time to breathe the difference is bigger than I imagined possible. The “Fire” I do get from this Malt is the aroma of a burning wood fire in winter, minus the sharp smoke. Just like “Wood” this essentially is again about (recharred) Wood, and the woods in “Wood” are charred as well. To me it is more like a sequel to “Wood” so they might have called it “Wood II” just the same, but this probably would not have worked inside the Five Virtues framework.

Where “Wood” was about the blend of different kinds of wood, this is a little bit closer to a virgin oak type of bottling, just a bit more refined, especially after some breathing. This really needs to open up, because it really was disappointing when freshly opened. Where “Wood” was creamy, this is even more creamy. Again no new make aromas, but it is slightly closer to new make than “Wood”. Lots of fresh oak notes, creamy and yes, lets call it green. Fresh plants and garden notes. Breaths of fresh air and some burned toast notes, but not a lot. Initially quite simple, it seems much simpler than the “Wood”. Reminds me sometimes of Bruichladdich Islay Barley. That sort of simple, yet lovely, stuff. Only, Bruichladdich reaches that already after 5 to 6 years, Tomatin takes twice the time. Maybe simple, but especially after a while in the glass, it becomes quite nice. In the end a nice example of an honest Malt matured in American oak. Good smelling stuff, just not right from the very start, be warned.

Taste: Again, it starts fairly simple. Tea with a dash of sugar. Latex wall paint, sweet custard and definitely sweet malt. Mid-palate a cloying burnt note. Sometimes a slight hint of cigarettes being smoked in the distance, an aroma blown over by cold wind. I also pick up on some minty notes and some tasty ripe red fruits. Quite a short finish at first and a fairly non-existent and unexciting aftertaste. But buyer beware, don’t get fooled, this Malt also has a trick upon it sleeve. Yes it is more than a bit unbalanced when poured from a freshly opened bottle, but responds extremely well to some air, gaining lots of depth and some very nice black fruits suddenly emerge from nowhere. Wow, first we had the ripe red fruits and now these black ones. The return of fruity Tomatin, something absent from “Wood”. See how some Malts need to breathe? Quite some evolution. However, even after some breathing, the finish is still quite short and malty again and dare I say it, it remains a bit unbalanced.

It started out a bit really disappointing (not more than 82 points), but by now it is definitely on par with “Wood”, but I have to admit, you have to work at it a bit, and maybe have some experience (and patience) as a Whisky drinker, to see the beauty in this one. So “Fire”, in the end, turns out to have a nice, fragrant start and beautiful body, better than “Wood”, but it keeps struggling towards the end, the finish stays short, with hints of Beer, strange enough, and a thin, slightly woody and bitter aftertaste, and some creamy notes as well, which by now aren’t creamy. fatty or big enough to make the finish better. The second half of the experience therefore is definitely won by “Wood”. This is surely a flawed Malt on the outside, but with hidden beauty inside. Personally I find it very tasty right from the start with an additional fruity and appetizing body, just be very careful with it when freshly opened. I kept the cork off for at least a day after the initial disappointment. Did it lots of good. Interesting stuff and certainly an education.

Points: 85

Tomatin “Wood” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #1, French, American & Hungarian Oak Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

I like my Tomatin’s. Good Whisky. Good people work there and represent it, with wit, honesty, intelligence and humor, no funny business. Lots of releases too. From 2017 onwards, they started with this five part series, showing what the five virtues of Whisky are. Wood (2017), Fire (2017), Earth (2017), Metal (2017) and last but not least, Water (2018). Although all five are NAS Whiskies, I was told, that no young Whiskies were used throughout the range, and all would have some proper numbers comprising of two digits if they would have been bottled with age statements. Thank God, because I feel Tomatin spirit really does need it’s time in oak. Young Tomatin’s can be milky, somewhat sour and heavy on new make characteristics.

When I visited the Tomatin stand at a show in 2018, I tried the “Metal” and “Water” expressions, which I liked very much. I bought both of them, and looking at the two bottles, yes, I’m human too, I just couldn’t resist to find the previous three releases of this series. I have this series complete, and will open them one after the other, in stead of opening them all at once, due to a lack of room for too many open bottles. Well, actually there is never really a lack of room, but I do have to restrict myself a bit, Whisky madness and all. “Wood” here, is the first of the Five Virtues, and this one was matured in a combination of different oak casks, French oak (70%) and American oak (20%) we know, but this time also some Hungarian oak (10%) found its way into the mix. Am I already expecting Tokay now? The spirit used for “Wood” was distilled between 1999 and 2006.

Color: Light Orange Gold

Nose: Barley sugar and lots of cereal notes with late woody notes. Sweet, soft and fresh. Deep and accessible. Appealing. there is a lot happening in a furthermore very balanced nose. Quiet and distinguished. A sort of Steely Dan Whisky. American oak vanilla. Creamy, with vanilla pudding, custard, that kind of thing. Sweet fruity (peach) yoghurt. Some nice slightly acidic White Wine notes, again well balanced. It all works well on the nose. I don’t care for young Tomatin’s and luckily there is non of that here, so even when this is a NAS, it also tastes like there is quite some age to this. Quiet creamy and slightly funky. Nutty as well. In the distance a nice edge of toasted, and again, creamy and sweetish oak. The toasted oak also brings a slightly smoky note, which works very well for this fragrant expression.

Taste: Less creamy, (but still enough), than the nose promised and definitely some more of the acidic White Wine notes mentioned above. Fresher and lighter. Still not overly woody, but enough wood notes to warrant the name and thank god, not young tasting as well. Warming. A little bit of creamy wood and quite unexpectedly, some cocktail cherries. Sweetened fruit yoghurt. Sweet and acidic at the same time. After a while the more sweet notes from the nose come to the front. The body of this Malt is not as big and thick as one might think by now. It has more toasted oak (and wee licorice) than the nose had. Overall somewhat simpler than the nose was and even that wasn’t nuclear science to be honest. Still a very nice, somewhat sweet easy drinker. Both the nose and the taste show a lot of balance, yet the balance suffers a bit towards the finish. The fruity acidity seems to unhinge from the main, creamy, body, to hover above it and some woody bitterness emerges (finally). Still, in this case, the fruity acidity still has a positive effect on the whole. For an expression which was called “Wood”, it may have been blended from the various mentioned woods. French, American and Hungarian Oak that is, but it is not really a wood driven Malt. Although on some occasions, when trying this, I do pick up on some woody bitterness. Today a lot of over-oaked, new or virgin oak, bottlings emerge, but this isn’t one of them, even when carrying the “Wood” name. This has a nice nutty and warming aftertaste. Tasty too, but not as big as the nose promised. Final thought: this maybe more of a wood-Malt than I initially thought, because, this Tomatin lacks the typical tropical Tomatin fruitiness, so maybe this really is a wood-expression after all…

For a lot of people Tomatin is not the most well known Malt, which is a shame really, because over time, I’ve come across many well made and well blended Tomatin Single Malts. When I tried “Wood” for the first time, I was more than pleasantly surprised by this expression. I’m a bit afraid I may have not given this malt the attention it deserves. This is an easy drinking Malt and I carelessly reached for it many times. Now when it’s almost gone, and I’m analysing it more carefully when writing this review, before its all gone, I do come across very nice balance and some nice aroma’s. Yes I do regret not giving this Malt enough attention, since, this really is one that deserves it. Its a great example of a malt that is nice to analyse and contemplate a bit about the woods used for this Malt. Very nice indeed.

Points: 85

Thank you Alistair, Stan, Krish and Scott. This one’s for you!

Laphroaig ‘Brodir’ (48%, OB, for Travel Retail, L8239, 2018)

We can now conclude our Laphroaig Travel Retail Trilogy with a rather recent batch of the Laphroaig ‘Brodir’. ‘Brodir’ looks more like a Laphroaig we know so well with its pristine white label and black lettering, but this time with a big fat bordeaux colored band on it. ‘Brodir’, not unlike other bottlings, starts its life in ex-Bourbon barrels and is finished in Port pipes made of European oak. Beforehand this seemed to me to be the one of the Travel retail Trilogy to be the safest bet buying a whole bottle of. The ‘Cairdeas’ from 2013 (also a Port finish), as well as previous batches of Brodir, gained a lot of fans.

If I’m not mistaken, the first ‘Brodir’ that saw the light of day was the one bottled for Viking Line in 2012. The next try was the 2013 ‘Cairdeas’ already mentioned, although ‘Brodir’ was not on the label since ‘Cairdeas’ already was. In 2014 ‘Brodir’ Batch 001 surfaced, Batch 002 in 2015 and since 2016, no batchnumbers were given. Odd, since, batchnumbers are pretty popular with the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’ versions, but there probably is a reason for this.

Color: Orange gold with a reddish hue.

Nose: Some peat but way more smoky than it is peaty. Right from the start a bit harsh. Winey and industrial. Very smoky indeed yet also a breath of sharp and fresh sea air. Ever been under water too long? Remember the moment you sniffed up some water right before coming up a bit too late. Well, this smells like that to me. Like breathing in water. Metallic. Hints of licorice. Italian laurel licorice. Warm log fire. Smoked mackerel. A harbour with some motor oil floating on top. The Port seems well integrated and used with taste. After it had some time to breathe, this develops a more perfumy edge to it.

I can’t help but feel that even though the Port did it’s work, this shares some common ground with the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’.

Taste: Starts with smoke and almonds. Ash tray. A bit raw. Meaty maybe. Burnt paper, ashes, bitter licorice. Hints of vanilla way back. Coal and steam. Plastic and rubber. Not bad. Although a NAS bottling, in no way does it come across as too young. It has quite some complexity, and seems to be a nice version of Laphroaig. A sort of Industrial Revolution version of Laphroaig. The licorice turns sweet a bit. The sweetness, which doesn’t reach ‘Lore’ levels, adheres to the smoke and to a lesser intent, the peat. It doesn’t taste like Port sweetness. But then again, this doesn’t feel very “Porty” to me.

Personally ‘Lore’ is an all-right yet a-typical Laphroaig. The ‘1815 Legacy Edition’ turned out to be quite a surprise, after all the on-line negativity. Since I liked ‘An Cuan Mor’, I expected a weakened or ruined version of the ‘An Cuan More’, but au contriare. So very nice it is, and worth the reduced price it is sold for today. The original price, which most markets still have, is a bit too much compared to the competition. Finally here we have this ‘Brodir’. A Laphroaig that feels like having some proper Laphroaig under the bonnet, just differs on the outside. ‘Brodir’ is nothing to scoff about even though the first batches are said to be better. There are many aspects I like, so I’ll remember this one fondly. In the end I guess I may have liked the ‘The 1815 Legacy Edition’ best, but this one is hot on it’s heels, and sometimes I feel it might be even better. If you try these Whiskies in the order published, all goes well, however for me the ‘1815’ is lost when tasted after ‘Brodir’ making the ‘Brodir’ the bigger Whisky. I’m not even trying the ‘Lore’ after ‘Brodir’.

Points: 85