Kavalan Sherry Oak Matured (46%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, 2017.08.07)

Kavalan has been founded in 2005, built in 8 months and thus in 2006 the first spirit already started to run off the still. Fun fact, most of the Barley that goes into the Whisky is imported from…Scotland. Kavalan is a big distillery (very big actually, and they keep expanding it), and lies an hours’ drive away from Taipei (the capital of Taiwan). Kavalan makes and bottles a lot of Whisky in lots of expressions. In 2009 the first Solist saw the light of day. Solists are single cask expressions, although officially released in batches, so maybe not every batch is from a single cask? Solists are bottled at cask strength, and not only coming from ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, there are a lot of other variants as well, some of which are quite expensive, for a NAS-Whisky. Me, already being a fan of Indian single cask Whiskies, the Solists are the ones I was most keen on trying, buying and reviewing.

Indian Malts, made from Indian six-row Barley (which makes a difference), as well as the Whisky made in Taiwan “suffer” from a lot of evaporation (a similarity). In these countries with their hot climates, numbers between 10% and 15% evaporation from the cask, per annum, are quite normal. So, Kavalan is made with Scottish barley and put in casks that also could have wound up in Scotland, the water is obviously different, but the biggest difference is thus the climate ensuring a more speedy maturation. Before I get to reviewing a true Solist, here is first a sort of lighter version of a Solist bottling called, Kavalan Sherry oak, bottled at 46% ABV. Presentation looks quite similar to a Solist, surely these must have been made in (small) batches rather than a reduced single cask.

Color: Deep dark brown, slightly orange/red.

Nose: Cherries, Oloroso Sherry and maybe a wee hint of PX for good measure. Figs, light black coal, herbal licorice and spicy wood. Very aromatic. Fresh oak and toasted oak, and no tarry notes to be smelled. Sometimes very clean and modern (at first), yet at other times almost old skool in style, but also just damn nice smelling, very appetizing. No tar, but it does have this classic fatty black coal note. Quite some American oak vanilla. Slightly nutty and cardboardy with vanilla pods. Hints of dust, more licorice, horseradish, lavas, clay and meat. Fresh air and an even fresher minty bit. Thick syrupy fruit, red fruit jam. Dust from a bookshelf and stinging sawdust. Milk chocolate. Even though this is quite dark, this isn’t a big, heavy, black coal and tarry, old style Sherry monster, no, it does have lots of those aroma’s, but they are fresh and fruity, and considering this has been reduced, the total package is more of a Sherry Whisky suitable for a lukewarm sunny day, whereas the monsters are more for an cold yet calm, and not entirely unpleasant evening in autumn. Having said all that, after some more breathing, the Whisky gets deeper. Honey, even more licorice, raisins and more syrupy. Maybe I spoke to soon. The nose moves more towards a dark, sweet Sherry, more towards the profile of a PX, even though this has been solely made with Ex-Oloroso casks. The vanilla note stays throughout, so most casks used, if not all, were probably made with American oak. The darker tone evaporates again like it was blown out with a whiff of fresh air. More of the milk chocolate now combined with a toffee note and a hint of creamy latex paint, and a more dry and warm summer wind. It also retains its modern feel as well as the older style notes. Well balanced, and yet another example of a Malt that really gets better with some extensive breathing, at least the nose did.

Taste: Well, dare I say it, It’s tarry now, diluted red fruit lemonade, with an light to medium oaky bitterness. Less sweet than expected, yet more acidic. This feels like it’s sweet, but it got somewhat masked by the wood. Very drinkable and sometimes a bit thin on entry. It’s big on aroma, if you give it some time. The sweetness is a bit odd though, it has this cloying taste, even though the texture remains thin. It tastes a bit like overly sugared food does, or even better, come to think of it, Rum with too much added sugar. Like A.H. Riise or Plantation. Now I can even smell the Plantation Grenada Rum. Wood, dosed Rum and licorice, also hindering the balance. Now that it somehow tastes like a Rum, the point of no return (to Whisky) has been reached. These must have been very active, first fill Oloroso casks, overpowering the distillate an turning it into an Oloroso finished Rum. Tastes good though, it really does, but it’s not what I’m looking for when I’m buying a Sherried Single Malt Whisky. So, wonderful nose, Rum-like on the palate. Big bodied aroma, with some thin moments, but a rather short finish and hardly any aftertaste to speak of.

Up ’till this point I haven’t had the opportunity to taste a lot of Kavalan’s. But with this Sherry Oak edition and some others that I did taste, I have to say that the distillate is quite good, although in this one, exactly that has been completely masked. I will try to get my hands on some more expressions, most likely some Solists, since I just love cask strength. In the introduction of this review I mentioned Indian Malts, but I feel now, for the time being, that Kavalan, as a whole, has more similarities with Scottish Malts, than Indian Malts, so the six-row Barley (and maybe some other regional factors present in India) does its job, creating a little bit of uniqueness…

Points: 86

Empty glass (the next day) smells of wood, red fruit jam and surprisingly, horseradish.

Lagavulin 9yo “Game of Thrones” (46%, OB, “House Lannister” L9016CM008, 2019)

For a Long time, Lagavulin was the unknown jewel in the crown of what is now Diageo, known to only a few. Lagavulin saw more recognition when it became part of the Classic Malts. Before that, Lagavulin was more or less only an utterly wonderful 12yo. Later came the also stellar 16yo and a nicely done Distillers Edition, again a very, very good version of this great distillery. Last of the newer regular releases the return of a 12yo, this time from Bourbon casks only and since 2002 bottled annually as a special release at cask strength. Some batches of these Whiskies have been reviewed on this site earlier.

Personally Diageo was taking a wrong turn starting with Talisker for me, with the release of a lot of mediocre (NAS) “versions”. I might have mentioned this already in several previous reviews, (Talisker is Diageo’s best selling Malt). The 10yo is still by far the best affordable Talisker, although it suffers sometimes of batch variation, just have a look at the following two more recent releases from 2015, and 2019. Incomparable to an earlier bottling from 2002. When NAS wasn’t all that accepted at first, Talisker tested out a rather young Malt, but gave it an age statement. The 8yo from 2018, is a very good Whisky, but the follow-ups from 2020 and 2021 are less so. Alas. I have tried them all, but have yet to review them here.

Back to Lagavulin. When Talisker was being taken advantage of (to up the sales), by all those aforementioned releases, Diageo left Lagavulin alone, at least for a while. Then all of a sudden in 2016 the 8yo and in 2019 the 10yo surfaced. In hindsight, both editions are gnawing away at the perfect reputation Lagavulin had (for me). Sure, both releases are not bad, especially the 8yo was acceptable (for a Lagavulin), but the downward spiral is easily noticeable. A disappointing and depressing feeling for me. Well, the time has come to look at the next one. Between the 8yo and the 10yo came a 9yo, bottled in 2018 in the Game of Thrones range, yeah because coupling up this Classic Malt with a TV-show makes sense now does it. And sure it does, from a business standpoint. I’m sure it’s making Diageo a lot of money and even selling more of the less popular Whiskies from the Diageo portfolio in the Game of Thrones series. Amazing how many people I know, have the whole range at home, some even got the GoT Johnny Walker editions. I respect the fact Diageo is in the business of making money and are not only aficionado’s. I’ve met several Diageo employees who have no clue what it is what they’re selling (but look the part and talk the talk) and only care about their monthly sales and what car they will be allowed to drive next. On the other hand I’ve also met several Diageo employees that are true aficionado’s and big ones as well! (This second group is usually a bit older than the first group).

Having said all that and with the experience I had with the 8yo and the 10yo, I’m not having high hopes for this 9yo, especially with the caramel colouring remark on the back label, but nevertheless here we go!

Color: Gold, slightly brownish.

Nose: Slightly sweet, with nice bonfire smoke and peat notes. Even some (dried) meaty notes crop up. Underneath, a little bit of fresh lemon skin acidity, as well as some menthos you are already chewing on. As always, the E150a cloaks the smell a bit, but also adds some artificial balance, as per design, although I also feel not a lot of colouring was needed for this one. Whiskies with lots of colouring tend to be dull and cloaked. But credit where credit’s due, this is a pretty good smelling Lagavulin. Nice and fresh. Since this is supposed to be first fill Bourbon casks only, is it really? Since it has this added caramel, it still has a decent spicy, ashy, waxy and fruity feel to it. On occasion, I even encounter some floral dishwater-detergent kind-of-job aroma. Spicy with some hot tar and smoking embers. Some molten plastic, clay, wood, some (burning) paper (and ashes), but some red fruit notes seem to point at Sherry, but no Sherry casks were used for this one. Yup, this is a very nice smelling Lagavulin. If the taste is on par with the nose, which has some classic Lagavulin traits to it, I’m in for a nice surprise.

Taste: Here it is a bit thinner than the nose promised. Sweet with obvious licorice and black and white powder right from the start, as well as the sweet lemon skin note from the nose. Smoky toffee. Here the caramel colouring seems to have a greater effect than it had on the nose. Nice chewy peat, nicely framed by some smoke. Waxy. Some cloaking caramel, and creamy, fatty hand ointment, but it’s also letting though some nice red fruity notes. Appetizing. Towards the finish the woody bits show some slight bitterness, fitting the rather large licorice profile quite well. However, for the profile it has it is actually a little bit too sweet. One glass of this on an evening is enough.

Well, this one is a bit of a surprise, I didn’t expect much of it to be honest, considering I’m not really a fan of the 8yo and especially the 10yo, as well as coupling it to a TV-show was a bit suspicious. The Talisker GoT was pretty decent as well. Nothing of the milky, new make-ish, youthful notes I got from both other mentioned Lagavulins. Maybe the E150a did some good here (yeah right, hahaha), or maybe the casks were just better (more likely). This would be a really really good Whisky if it was somewhat less sweet and bottled at a higher strength. Still, this was bottled at 46% ABV instead of the 43% ABV of some other Lagavulin releases. This is a review from a particular batch (L9016CM008) from 2019. I haven’t tried any others, so I can’t comment on batch variation, but there is always a chance that different batches have (slightly) different outcomes.

Points: 86

Kilchoman 5yo 2012/2018 (50%, OB, Sauternes Cask Finish, 10.000 bottles)

In the previous review, I wrote that the way to go with Kilchoman, (for me at least), are the red labelled ones. Nice single cask bottlings, with quite some ooomph, like this Belgian and German one. Often still young, but already finished. Not a sign of extreme youth or new make spirit in sight. Bourbon casks work well with the Kilchoman spirit and all the other varieties, are definitely not too bad either. Time maybe for a green labelled one. I just can’t claim the red ones are the best, without even considering Kilchoman’s other colours now can I? A while back Nico and I did a bottle share of this Sauternes cask finish. This, in itself is odd, since both Nico and I do have a fondness for bottlings that came in contact with Sauternes. I guess Nico wasn’t too sure about Kilchoman back then, and I’ll have to ask him how he feels about Kilchoman right now. Sauternes, by the way, is a sweet White Wine from Bordeaux (France). You may have heard of Château d’Yquem?

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft, creamy and dusty. Cookie dough. Sweet smelling, perfumy and fruity (white peach in sweet yoghurt comes to mind). Fruity acidity, yet not only citrus. Apples with a hint of exhaust gasses from a small, yet efficient, petrol car. Dusty with cold motor oil. Spicy as well, dry kitchen herbs, cinnamon and some white pepper. Old cardboard box, bad breath and cold dishwater. Nice soft wood and some mint. The typical Kilchoman bonfire smoke note is here again, but toned down a little. Overall quite elegant, although some of the off-putting notes, I just wrote down, seem to indicate differently. Nevertheless, elegant it is. Let’s say Islay style elegant, with Kilts and muddy wellies. The whole Whisky seems slightly toned down, compared to the Bourbon single cask bottlings (the red ones, remember) I reviewed earlier. Slightly less sparkly. Light vanilla notes combined with mocha flavoured whipped cream, mixed in with pencil shavings and a wee bit of menthol. Dry garden waste lying in the sun in autumn. This nose keeps giving and giving and evolves, it’s just not as powerful as the German Single Cask. This is again a quality Malt from Kilchoman, more complex than a Bourbon cask alone, and this one is also softer. Hint of sweet mint now. It shows a different side of Kilchoman. Very appetizing and very good again. It seems a bit more harmonious than a single cask Bourbon expression, and as said, it gained some complexity with the Sauternes finish. However, in all the aromas presented, it is impossible to find any true Sauternes notes. I no way I can smell a sweet White Wine in this Whisky. All the elements that went into making this Whisky do work perfectly, so it seems. Very good Kilchoman again.

Taste: Paper and ashes. Wax and sugar syrup. Dry tall grass and hay foremost. Borderline Grappa. Creamy and sweet candied yellow fruits. Less strong than the single cask expressions. Clearly reduced. A very appealing sweetness, aromatically close to a sweet apple. Fresh air after some rain. Ashes, black and white powder (licorice), hints of spicy wood and some (sweet) bitterness. Warming going down. Little bit of molten plastic in the finish. I know, this sounds terrible, but rest assured, it isn’t. This is a very drinkable expression, due to the balance and probably the reduction to 50% ABV. The aftertaste does pick up some more on the medium bitterness. The nose was definitely more complex than the taste. This, in all fairness, tastes simpler than expected. All is good and tasty, yet not as complex as the nose promised, (and the buzz in the anorak-y part of the Whisky world). I believe the recently tasted German Single Cask expression may have even tasted more complex. This is more of an instant gratification Malt (and the reduced ABV helps with this).

This offers a (slightly) different take on Kilchoman. It’s good and definitely softer than the Single Cask expressions I reviewed earlier. Sauternes, well, if I tried this blind I might not have picked up upon the White Wine finish, although there are some hints in the depth of the taste, some sort of brooding sweetness, if that makes any sense to you. For some, this offers a more likeable Kilchoman, personally I still like both earlier reviewed red labelled ones better. Can’t wait to open another Kilchoman though, to have some more Kilchoman’s under my belt for comparison and a better view of the Whisky that is Kilchoman. Impressive Whisky, especially considering the age of the reviewed stuff.

Points: 86

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

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

P.S. I found this Whisky works best in a larger Whisky glass, my favourite glass for this Whisky was the Holmegaard Perfection Spirit Glass.

Paul John 2011/2015 (60%, Malts of Scotland, Bourbon Barrel MoS 15066, 210 bottles)

In the previous post I mentioned that I always have two Paul John Malts open, as well as two offerings from Amrut. I’ve grown quite a fondness for Single Malt Whiskies from India. I’m sure that when more room comes available for open bottles, India will be the first to get more room on my lectern. The previous post was about the peated official Paul John single cask #745 I currently have open, and it’s a stunner again, after #777, and now we’ll have a go at another unpeated one. This time I chose one, bottled by German independent outfit Malts of Scotland (and in this case: Malts of India, really, it says so on the label). This is not the first Malts of Scotland’s Paul John on these pages though, in 2018, I reviewed a different cask, MoS 15068, that matured longer and contained peated Whisky, and again yet another stunner. Both Malts of Scotland and Paul John need no further introduction, so lets move on to the tasting.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Malty and biscuity. Cookie dough with fresh citrus notes, occasionally sweet mint, and quickly taken over by more woody and dusty notes. This one smells a bit younger and simpler than #745 and #777, lacking some age maybe and the added bonus of peat. This is a back to basics kind of a smell. Since the peat is not here, there is more room for this Malt, or the Paul John distillate in particular, to show its more floral side (borderline men’s cologne). The wood is, well woody and waxy, and somewhat spicy, but not your typical Indian or exotic spiciness though, but a kind of spiciness that can be had in a Scottish Malt as well. Let’s say spices coming from the wood. So, kind of heavy, but the rest is fresh, floral and friendly. The sun is shining in this one even though the “heavy” bit can dominate at times. This is definitely a less complex Paul John, but a Paul John nevertheless, very recognizable. At first I thought this was maybe a closed Malt and given time it would develop some more, but no this is more or less it. Not bad, but simpler.

Taste: Initially sweet and fruity. Wax and ear wax. The sweetness is quite quickly pushed aside. A little sting from wood, some woody acidity as well. This must have been quite an active cask and maybe it aged right under the roof in hot surroundings. Quite some woody bitterness now. Big and hidden sweetness now, with a lot of wood spices. Barley (sugar) and biscuity. Soapy feel on my tongue. But even for this quite young Paul John, this is still remarkably balanced and very tasty. Again dangerously easy to drink, even though it is wood driven and bottled at 60% ABV. Quite hot going down, this sure is a 60% Malt. The finish is more of the same, wood, wax and to a lesser extent, some fruit in the aftertaste. Quite some bitterness stays behind in the middle of my tongue. I’ve spent some time with this Malt, again thinking it might be somewhat closed, but no, again it is what it is and for me it is quite a simple expression dominated by a few big aroma’s mentioned above.

So there you have it, all in all a simpler take on a Paul John single cask, quite young and dominated by wood. The wood gave off quite some bitterness, that I believe they couldn’t even leave it ageing for longer even if they wanted to, before the bitterness would be taking over, and dominating this Malt. As it is now, the bitterness is still acceptable, but definitely present. Luckily there are some other dominating factors in the Malt as well, not to let the bitterness rule. So still, a good, rather young and simple Malt. I say young, but coming from India this has nothing to do with the aroma’s of new make spirit, so don’t you worry ’bout a thing! This is still a good Malt and I’ve spent many happy moments with it, especially when it’s sunny.

Points: 86

Ardbeg NAS “Perpetuum” (47.4%, OB, Bourbon & Sherry casks, 72.000 bottles, 30/03/2015)

Most of today’s Ardbeg core range has been featured on these pages now. I already liked Ardbeg in the past, but all modern Ardbeg’s seem to be to my liking as well, but they are quite different from the old ones obviously. I have to say that the core range of Ardbeg might be quite unusual to some; a 5yo (Wee Beastie), a 10 yo (Ten), and three NAS bottlings of which one has a lower strength (An Oa) and two are at a rather high ABV (Uigeadail and Corryvreckan). These bottlings show that Ardbeg is still a wonderful Whisky today. This prompted me to look beyond the core range and buy (at auction), some of the special releases Ardbeg has been doing for a while. First one up, is one that has been released for the 200th anniversary of the distillery, and honouring this fact, this must be a stellar release. Looking at auction, this might not be the case, since prices are still reasonable today, even at the time of writing. Sure 72.000 bottles is not really a limited release, but even with the popularity of Ardbeg, these are still widely available (at auction) and affordable, although at least twice the price of any of the core range bottlings.

Color: Light pale gold.

Nose: Right upfront soft peat and warm smoke from the fire place, soft wood and tar. Sea spray, barley sugar (quality Rum sweetness) with a hint of cardboard. Tarry rope. Salty, aromatic and balanced. After a while, more iodine is noticeable as well as some lemon notes. Grandma’s old bar of perfumed soap, found after many years in the back of a closet (behind her rather large knickers). Nice subdued yellow fruit. Green garden plants (not flowers, nothing blooming), just the leafy stuff. Black tea (the dry leaves) and do I detect some chlorine (mixed in with the lemon)? The “hefty” peat notes that jumped out of my glass before, dissipates rather quickly, making the nose rather soft. I’m guessing this is quite a young Malt or has at least quite some young stuff in the blend, without it being anyway near new make. Nothing wrong in that sense, because young Ardbeg can be damn good. When the peat takes a back seat, the iodine I already mentioned, is accompanied by some plastic and pencil shavings and some deeper older peat, so probably some older casks were used as well. Since this is another modern sea faring Malt, lets call it tarry nylon rope, shall we? The warm smoke I mentioned before, has some more staying power. More of the faint citrussy note, as well as some cold butter and maybe even some unripe yellow fruits, but as I said, it’s faint. Late in the mix another faint note of spices emerges. This is again a very nice smelling Ardbeg, still a force from Islay to reckon with. This promises a lot for what is to come next…

Taste: Sweet, soft and friendly. Somewhat fruity already with molten vanilla ice cream and toasted wood. Lots of licorice, black and white powder and chlorine on the palate as well. Salty. Fruit and fruity acidity. Initially lacking a bit of balance, and it seems overall simpler as well. It tastes a bit like a dram to which I’ve added a little bit too much water. (I haven’t added any water at this point). Wee hint of a bitter note in the back and traces of coffee. Quite tasty, but not truly powerful. A fruity Ardbeg. Crushed beetle, prickly smoke and not so soft peat. More fire and fireplace. Sometimes it seems like the fruit and the peat aren’t very happy with each others presence. For instance, the fruit and the peat did like each other much more in the Benriach Latada I reviewed recently. Also, the promise made by the nose, isn’t kept by the taste. A shame really, because the nose is really good. So what went wrong here? Has this suffered from too much reduction? I do think that might be one of it’s problems, as well as the youthy bit and therefore lacking some depth of the whole. Seems to me they tried to get too many bottles out of this batch. Maybe this should have had a higher ABV and maybe some more older casks blended in. I don’t know, I’m not a blender. However, having said that, I do like this expression quite a bit, there is a lot good stuff here, and it sure has some weak points, in the end it has more strong points. I had a lot of fun with this one. The Ardbeg quality is certainly there.

In the big world, this is quite an unloved Ardbeg, This is the quintessential Ardbeg, that in the beginning of gym class never gets picked for the side, even when it’s liked by everyone. It just doesn’t seem to perform or isn’t considered a winner, and we play to win now, aren’t we? There is most definitely nothing wrong with the nose, because this is a very nice nose with lots of nice things to smell. Taste wise, yes, sure, it is a bit weaker, reduced, but given some time to breath this Ardbeg do catches its breath and reaches a higher level. This would make for a nice addition to Ardbeg’s core range as a third high ABV, NAS bottling. But as is, this might be something of an underdog. Lets be clear, the nose is nothing short of wonderful and the taste, although lacking some oomph, is likeable and easily drinkable. An easy Malt to be around with. Soft and friendly, with a good character and tasty as well. If you feel, taking part is more important than winning, than this is still a good Ardbeg if you allow it to be. If you are critical and expect every Ardbeg has to be an absolute winner or stunner, than no, this is not for you. Get a Twenty Something instead, which is relatively recent and easily a 90+ points Whisky to boot.

Points: 86

Because its different from my two favourites out of the core range: Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, then sure, you can get this and it won’t fail you. It didn’t fail me. But in the end, both NAS bottlings are slightly better and both together cost more or less the same as this one Perpetuum by itself, definitely something to consider.