Port Askaig 10yo “10th Anniversary” (55.85%, Elixir Distillers, P/000247, 2019)

As far as I know there is no distillery called Elixir nor is there a Port Askaig distillery. Maybe there will be in the future? Nope, this Elixir distillers is a brand of the people behind The Whisky Exchange (London, UK). When creating an Single Malt Islay brand, you have some more room than a single distillery, because you have the opportunity to use the output from more than one distillery, as long as you keep it a Single Malt. So one distillery at a time in a particular bottling. I haven’t got any other Port Askaig’s lying around at the moment, but on the back label of this particular bottle it is mentioned that this comes from a distillery on the north-east coast of Islay. Historically Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila, and more recently also Ardnahoe is situated there. The back label also mentions that the distillery is close to Port Askaig, so geographically it is most likely this Whisky was distilled by Caol Ila. This Whisky was blended from just 33 casks (distilled in 2008). 20 refill American hogsheads, 8 first fill Bourbon barrels and 5 ex-solera Sherry butts. If these are true solera casks, then the casks could have been used for Sherry for quite some time. Last but not least, this hasn’t been chill-filtered and no caramel colouring has been added. Why should they when the glass bottle is this dark. So why 55.85% ABV I hear you ask. Well, The latitude of Port Askaig is 55.85º N. The longitude is -6.11º W, and to be honest, -6.11% is quite useless for an ABV.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Soft fruity and tea-like peat. Elegant indeed. A special mix of fruitiness and florality (and dust). Citrus mix and a wee note of sweet red fruits. Friendly and elegant. For some, this might be slightly too perfumy and the fruity bit slightly too fruity (sweet), but personally this all sets it apart from other modern Islay Malts, making it rather unique in that respect. Very interesting blending result. Even though this mostly has been in contact with American oak, something did overpower the vanilla note one would expect. I wonder what the 5 Solera casks could do to this Whisky. The peat is soft and elegant as well, without smelling salty or tarry. Extremely well balanced. This bottle is now almost 90% empty and since it didn’t get the attention it clearly needs (more about that below), I couldn’t even tell you how it compares to a freshly opened bottle. After pouring, the nose still develops over time, getting better (as in, it shows more of itself). The development becomes apparent when re-pouring this dram. The freshly poured Whisky seems a quite different from the Whisky after breathing for a while and constantly sipping it. So it has a lot to give. Slight notes of burnt herbs, warm dry earth and freshly peeled almonds. Hints of old Malt, so for a 10yo, quite a feat. A worthy anniversary bottle. After a long while and after extensive tasting, the nose produces an iodine note combined with soft oak. The next day, the empty glass simply oozes with Iodine, and when cleaning with only water, even more Iodine notes come to the fore. Amazing.

Taste: Less fatty and fruity than the nose, so quite a surprise here. Seems thinner and sharper yet still soft. Prickly (sweet) smoke, slightly sweet chocolate powder and plenty of warm tar. Chewy and sweetish licorice in many guises. Warming. Less complex and quite different from the nose. Here the vanilla is present. Even though it seems less fruity at first, there still is a lot of nice fruits to behold. Acidic fruits well integrated with the smoke and peat. Again nicely balanced. The finish seems medium to short initially, but there is a lot that stays behind, and comes back for a nice and lingering, warm aftertaste. All in all a very interesting and well made Malt. Good job, showing a different side to an Islay Malt.

Again a Whisky that needs your attention to get the most out of it. I had a lot more fun and picked up on a lot more now when analysing it for this review, than I had when carelessly and randomly pouring it for a dram in the evening. It has a lot to offer, so make sure you focus a bit on it. Just give it the attention it needs and deserves. However, in this also lies its fault. If you don’t give it this attention, and you do carelessly sip it (as we usually do), this might pass a bit anonymously. This has probably to do with its softness and elegance, so maybe a bit too much of that?

Points: 87

Royal Brackla 14yo 2006/2020 (59.5%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength Connoisseurs Choice, Refill Hogshead #310821, Batch 20/110, 281 bottles)

Wow, on it for a long time, and still I manage to review a Scottish Single Malt Whisky that has never been featured on these pages before. How nice, and it’s not a new distillery either. This distillery was founded back in 1812 and called itself Royal since 1835, a title awarded by King William IV. Today Royal Brackla is part of the Dewar’s portfolio, owned by Bacardi-Martini since 1998. Other Scottish Single Malts in this portfolio are Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie and Macduff (marketed as Glen Deveron). Apart from Macduff that was owned by William Lawson Distillers as well as the William Lawson’s Brand, the other four distilleries, as well as the Dewar’s Brand, were bought from the newly formed Diageo to avoid a monopoly position. Of the five Single Malt Whiskies, Royal Brackla was the only one absent from these pages until now. As said, the company also owns two blends: Dewar’s and William Lawson’s, both big sellers, and since both are big sellers, Bacardi didn’t do a lot to market the five Single Malts at first. Only since 2014/2015 a big relaunch of the Single Malt portfolio was carried out. They called them The Last Great Malts, a bit of an ominous or sad name to be frank.

Color: Pale White Wine

Nose: Very appetizing, barley, barley sugar and yellow fruits. Very nice perfumed wood, hay, American oak, very elegant. I already love the nose. It reminds me of Whiskies like this that were bottled twenty years ago. Floral and fruity and both go together well. Soft, yet this still manages to leap out of my glass. Mocha and barley. Since the fruit is the dominant aroma, this also smells a bit fruity/sweet. Red fruit (raspberry) candy (again a sweet smell) mixed with some wet wood. The wet wood is a softer (greenish) wood aroma, setting it apart from more spicy dry oak. This is an extremely balanced smelling Whisky for a sunny day and a happy mood. This is not a melancholic drop, but in a way it also is, when it reminds me of Whisky from a while back. For a simple ex-Bourbon cask matured Whisky, this is really likeable and nice. Well made, aged in a good cask. Well done USA! Nice aroma’s and quite some complexity to it as well. There is a lot happening between the sprit and the active cask. Lots of organic and green notes. I would love to have this, when lying on a blanket in some quiet field on a hot, yet slightly windy, summers day. Far from everybody and everything. Yup, melancholic mood Whisky it is. After a while, slightly more oak, with a hoppy note, still green and wet though. Hints of vanilla and some indistinct dry kitchen spices. Hot butter and wax. Good stuff. The more air this gets, and time obviously, the fruitier it becomes. Definitely melancholic, or is it just me?

Taste: Sweet on entry. Very fruity, right from the start. A nice slight white pepper attack, with waxy and quite some wonderful woody and nutty aroma’s following suit. After the first sip, the nose even gets better than it already was. The Whisky evaporating inside your oral cavity, helps the smell further along. The fatty sweetness does dissipate quite quickly for a short acidic burst, leaving room for another yet shorter peppery attack and a somewhat thinner feel. The wood, still green and vegetal, now also shows an austere bitter note. Sappy, as in tree sap. After this happens, the balance can’t really match up with the wonderful balance of the nose. When the bitter note appears in the taste, aroma’s come to the fore, that aren’t really in harmony with each other. The nose itself remains wonderful though, maybe even better than before. Still a kind of bitterness in the finish that doesn’t match the whole, and even for an almost 60% Whisky, a light and shortish aftertaste. Whiskies like this need to be sipped in a high frequency.

So it comes apart a bit in the finish, but the nose is very good en even grows over time, so give it time. I will have fond memories of this one, even though it has this slight “defect” towards the end. Its a defect that can be sorted by upping your sipping speed. So at first you have to be slow, to let it breathe and after that the “race” begins. Like a stage in the Tour de France that ends in a sprint.

Points: 87

Cardhu 11 (56%, OB, Special Release, 2020, L0120CM004)

When I think of Cardhu, or Cardow as it was used to be called, I always remember the fond memories first. The official 22yo, a special release from 2005 was really good. So Cardhu is indeed able to make a Whisky worth noting. Sure, a lot of Cardhu is sold around the world, which doesn’t automatically mean it is very good. It can be, but often it is not. In the core range we have a 12yo, a 15yo and a 18yo, as well as “Amber Rock” and “Gold Reserve”. The Game of Thrones is a variant of the Gold reserve, and let’s not forget the Special Cask reserves which ran somewhere between 2007 and 2012. Most of these I have tried and none of them scored 80 points or higher. (I have yet to try the 18yo and the GoT edition, and surely the 18yo should be able to score in the 80 point range, don’t you think?). For Master Quill, I tried the 2010 Special Cask Reserve and that was a rather disappointing experience. I have tried some Cardhu from the 70’s, and even at 8yo and 43% ABV Cardhu could really rock. So even with this wonky reputation, I was really pleased to see a cask strength 14yo pop up as a special reserve in 2019 (and again in 2021), as well as this 11yo in 2020. This 11yo, was offered at a special price for a short while, and not having bought a Cardhu in a long long time, (and really digging the label), I went for it…

Color: White Wine

Nose: Malty, bread-like (toast), a bit waxy and with some yeast. Clean and fresh otherwise. Citrussy. Quite fruity actually, slightly sweet, with more of the (sugary) barley notes. Slightly milky, which to me is a note of underdevelopment. Luckily this note seems to dissipate after a while. Yellow fruit jam. Very friendly. Soft hints of wet wood, toasted oak and wet earth, combined with some mocha. Leafy and green. This is a lively and friendly Whisky. Floral perfume and slightly soapy. You’d imagine your grandmother liking this (if she drinks anything else beyond tea). Slightly dusty, with a tiny hint of heavily diluted apricot and peach syrup,as well as some (new) cardboard. Sometimes faint notes of a sweet White Wine crop up. As said above, this Malt has a (milky) youth to its nose, which is somewhat masked when you have it by itself (it is noticeable right before the fruity bit kicks in, and definitely more noticeable when the bottle was freshly opened). If you pour yourself another dram before or after this, this milky youth becomes apparent still. So, in the end, this Malt is fruity and floral and the two go together quite well in this Cardhu. This promises to be a highly drinkable Malt, lets see if that is the case here.

Taste: Sweet and peppery. Waxy, very, very fruity, fatty and nutty. Appetizing. Sometimes, this reminds me a bit of Bladnoch, but the fruit sets it apart. The nose does have this greenish note to it, lacking though on the palate. Dry compressed fruit powder candy, as well as canned syrupy yellow fruits. Peaches in sweet yoghurt. Again in the vicinity of the fruity aroma, this Malt also shows its youth here. Showing some slightly underdeveloped notes. The wet wood from the nose is here as well, complete with a slight bitter edge. This is not a problem at all, since the syrupy sweetness quickly takes care of any bitterness, although the feeling of a woody backbone remains. The wood morphs a bit into cold dishwater. Sounds worse than it actually is. Interesting combination of yellow fruits, (stingy) white pepper and the tiniest hint of sweet licorice. Chalk and fruit. Supple juicy fruit aroma’s with quite some alcohol, yet with a dry and chalky feel to it. Fruity sweetness and licorice in the finish and a tasty and warming aftertaste with quite some length.

This is a morning Malt to be had by itself. It is at its best by itself, because it is quite a good Malt, when it’s not compared to anything that might follow. Nevertheless be warned that this doesn’t have a morning ABV to match the feel of this Malt. Apart from that, this is quite a nice Cardhu to boot, with quite some balance to it as well. However, for me personally, it also shows a sort of underdeveloped side of itself, keeping me from scoring it even higher than I did. It is very good and very nice, just has some minor flaws to it. Still, one of the best official Cardhu’s I have tasted. A good buy and it went pretty fast, always a good sign.

Points: 87

Arran “Batch 3” (51.5%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 728 bottles, 50 cl)

As a volume, 50 cl should be just enough, or some would say, barely enough. I do the occasional bottleshare with friends, and half of a full bottle (35 cl), well that’s actually not enough for me, I believe that 50 cl is the bare minimum of acceptability. Earlier, way back in 2015, I actually reviewed Batch 4 of Arran from the same bottler. I have to admit, I totally forgot about that one. When backtracking a bit on my own website, I just found my review of Batch 4, which gave me quite the scare, since in this case the review for Batch 3 came first, an this introduction was the last bit to write. Both Batch 3 and Batch 4 have the same label, and for a moment there I though I’d written a review of the same Whisky again. Fortunately I didn’t, even though it would have been quite interesting to compare both reviews. That would have been a happy accident. Just to be clear, I would have posted this review anyway. Since I don’t remember Batch 4 any more, I can’t compare both to each other, which is quite unusual for me, since I usually do remember almost all Whiskies I’ve tried.

Color: White Wine, quite pale.

Nose: This has it all, tropical fruits, barley, bread, barley sugar, milk chocolate, hint of vanilla and very soft wood. Leafy. Lively. Fresh and also sweet smelling. Toffee and wine gums, and sometimes a bit like a Rum, but also a nice fresh golden Beer and Gin. What a remarkable combination of smells. Also a tiny flinty and smoky note, coming from, I guess, the toasted oak. It’s not very woody though, although over time, some more soft (virgin) oak moves in. Besides the big fruitiness, it is also somewhat perfumy and somewhat sweaty. Not soapy, mind you, it just smells so friendly and nice. Hints of fresh air, cow pasture and paper, only adding to the complexity. It may hardly have a colour, and yet it is a NAS bottling, but in no way does it smell like a young or under-matured Whisky. Amazing how much is going on in this one. No off-notes whatsoever. Wonderful smelling Malt.

Taste: Sweeter than expected and fruity. Vanilla, toffee and mango ice cream. Much simpler than the nose was. Fresh and lemony. Cold dishwater with lemon detergent and almonds. Wood shavings and sawdust. Fresh oak playing a larger role here than it did on the nose. I can feel the bitterness on the back of my tongue already. Very tasty and well balanced yet less complex. In a way this is a winter warmer. Despite all the fruit it isn’t a sunny Malt. Nice warmth when descending down the pipe. After the fruit moves away, the aftertaste also has this slight bitter lingering note, and present as well (finally it’s there, I’ve been expecting it for quite some time now) a slight soapy feel. The finish itself is medium at best, it doesn’t have a great length, and even the aftertaste leaves quite quickly, hinting at some youth. Still, what this Malt is able to offer, despite its supposed youth, it is amazing. If only the taste was as good as the nose was, than you’d be amazed what I would have scored this.

I didn’t buy Arran for a very long time, after a plethora of very young and initial releases, some of which already were very good. (Remember the Champagne finishes?) Not by choice or prejudice though, it just fell under the radar somehow. I bought this Arran at auction by chance. I wanted to buy a Boutique-y bottle, placed several lowish bids on some of them, and this was the only only one nobody seemed to care for and I was never overbid. So after a while is was Arran time on my lectern, and I opened this one, and it is great. Unexpected. NAS, very pale, so I didn’t expect all that much to be honest, yet this is a very good Arran. So after having tried this one, I immediately scored me some more Arran’s at auction. After this Arran, I’m not so sure 50 cl is acceptable to me any more. I fear this will be gone too soon.

Points: 87

Paul John (59.5%, Single Cask #1906, 210 bottles, 2015)

In the previous review we delved into Paul John single cask #1051, although that particular one turned out to be a tad wonky. So I just had to compare it to another Paul John unpeated single cask. I still have some samples lying around from the golden Shilton Almeida era, probably the most passionate brand ambassador out there, and amongst others, certainly one of the best. Still baffled Paul John let him go, and since Shilton left the company, I don’t see a lot happening on-line yet at Paul John headquarters. Shilton moved on from the Goan sun to the sun that bakes Tel Aviv. One of Shilton’s samples is of cask #1906, like #1051, hailing from the same glorious year that was 2015. For most people certainly a better year than the virus infested, war ridden years we are living through these days.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Super fruity at first, and different from cask #1051. This just leaps out of my glass, with a nice sweet, fruity and surprisingly, flinty toasted cask notes, reminding me a bit of Pouilly Fumé. This cask also has more complexity to it, with a nice floral note as well as some lemon detergent, giving it more cleanliness, dûh, and freshness, even though it might sound horrible to some. Waxy and paper-like, meaty even, dry meat, beef jerky. No, this one is definitely more appetizing than #1051. More complex as well. The pencil shavings are here too, but much more toned down. The pencil shavings are overshadowed by the fruitiness, which is nice. Very nice spicy wood, just the right amount. Fresh butter. Well balanced stuff. This is from a 75% full sample, so this had a lot of time to interact with some air. To be honest, the cold dishwater is also recognizable, just less heavy handed and it has less of it than cask #1051 had. After some more air in my glass, the pencil shavings component does become more apparent, but it never gets to the same level as it does in #1051. The woody bit is more spicy, and evolves a little. More herbal and green. With this one, all seems to fall right in its place, much more balanced. Nice fruity nose, something that is lacking from #1051. A pleasant experience, as well as a pleasant surprise (after #1051). The Pouilly Fumé bit in the nose, makes this one extra special, since that flinty note works so well for this Malt.

Taste: sweet and waxy, (including a distinct paper or cardboard note), with an even bigger (red pepper?) sting to it. Distant mocha and milk chocolate. Quite some ripe yellow fruits. Wow, excellent. #1051 seems gloomy compared to this. #1051 is more like a winter Whisky, and shows nothing of the tropical shores of Goa. Quite some wax in this one again, as well as some soapy detergent. More wax than I expected and the woody bitterness is helped along by the wax. Less bitter than #1051. Appetizing stuff this one, with again quite a lot of influence from the wood. Next some more fruit, fresh, not over-ripe yellow fruit and some fresh citrus for zestiness and likeability. Also the acidity of red berries. Giving it an extra layer over #1051. In the finish some soft notes of anise and sweet licorice. Again not a big aftertaste, more like a lingering warmth, with a wee soft bitterness.

Well, in this review I compared this #1906 all the time to #1051 which I reviewed right before this one, so there isn’t a lot more to comment about here really. To sum things up: #1906 is a way more friendly example, more fruity, and the gloomy bits that overpower #1051 are here as well, just less of it. #1906 is also better balanced, and just better overall. Having tasted quite some Paul John single cask offerings, I would recommend you to pass on #1051, because there are a lot of better examples around, #1906 is just one of them, and #1906 isn’t even one of the very best, close, but not quite. Final observation: personally, I like the peated single cask offerings of Paul John even more than the unpeated ones. The peating levels are not very high, but highly effective and very tasty.

Points: 87

Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask (58.6%, OB, B111209041A, 2017.07.11, 184 bottles)

After the minion-Solist I reviewed last week, here is the first true Solist on these pages. I guess that any journey into the world of a particular Single Malt should actually start with the result from maturation in a cask that previously held Bourbon, because casks like these, especially refill casks, show the distillery character best, not overpowering the true nature of the spirit. So here we have a Solist, an ex-Bourbon single cask bottling bottled at cask strength. Beforehand I was quite excited to find out if this Malt would be closer to an Indian Malt or more like an aged Scottish Malt. As said in the previous review, Kavalan is mostly made with Scottish imported barley, but matured in the hot Taiwanese climate, whereas Indian Malts are predominantly made with Indian Six-row Barley, but also matured in a similarly hot climate. By the way, another fun fact, the Indian distilleries do import something else from Scotland though: Peat, and maybe Kavalan does so as well. I’ll look into this when reviewing a peated Kavalan. But first back to basics…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Spicy, sweetish, fresh and modern. Buttery and creamy. Microwave popcorn (the buttery/salty one, definitely not the sweet one) and latex paint for walls. (Not talking about solvents here, although maybe the tiniest hint of some acetone is noticeable, like you get from fermenting over-ripe yellow fruits). Pretty fruity from multiple yellow fruits, as well as a nice Asian florality. After a while the fruit turns slightly syrupy or jam-like. Medium spicy wood. Fresh and herbal. White pepper and pencil shavings. Slightly dry and dusty as well. Mocha and light milk chocolate with distant ice-cream. Some vanilla and wood spices, suggesting of course, American oak. After some breathing the more dusty and cardboard-like notes emerge, adding to the complexity. This is a very good example for a well aged Bourbon cask Whisky, only well aged in Taiwan has thus a different meaning than it does in Scotland. It takes much less time there than a similar example of Whisky aged in Scotland. This particular Kavalan reminds me a bit of Bourbon cask matured Glen Keiths from Signatory, but it could be similar to many other well aged ex-Bourbon cask matured Scottish Single Malt Whiskies as well. The point being, that the aforementioned Glen Keith’s are some 20 years old and I don’t think this Kavalan is a lot more than 5 or 6 years of age. So quite the result for a young Whisky. All in all, a clean smelling Kavalan, this is. Thank you, Mr. Yoda for that.

Taste: Very nutty and prickly, right from the start, fresh almonds. Nice sweetness but also a wonderful fruity acidity complements the sweetness very well, making it fresher and “lighter” than a similar Scottish counterpart. Didn’t pick up on a lot of this nuttiness on the nose though. Cocoa powder, wax and clay and with just the right amount of sweetness counter-parted by spiciness. Fresh and citrussy as well. Very fruity, very tasty. On the body, since a lot is already happening, not a lot of wood is discernible, but in the finish a bitter edge is there. Warming going down. Sure it has quite a high ABV, but it really doesn’t come across as one. Well balanced stuff this, just slightly less complex than the nose was.

This, (ex-Bourbon), is one of the more nicely priced Solists available, and if the price stays as it is, it most definitely is a good alternative for an older Bourbon cask matured Single Malt. It is also closer to a Scottish Single Malt than an Indian Whisky is, and with this, Kavalan seems to be not really carving out its own niche…but rather fishes in exactly the same pond as the Scots do. In that light some of the Solists have some pretty hefty prices. Nevertheless, this “basic one” is very well made, and it takes a lot less ageing time to match the quality of a Scottish Single Malt. Recommended.

Points: 87

Entirely by chance, I found out this malt works extremely well outside on a sunny day in spring (so when it’s still a bit chilly outside), combines very well with (cold) fresh air.

Lagavulin 11yo “Offerman Edition” (46%, OB, 750 ml, 2019)

If I would have written this review a bit earlier, than this particular review would have concluded the Lagavulin-prequel-quartet of the 8yo, 9yo, 10yo and this 11yo. However, just recently, yet another Offerman Edition has been released, this one finished in Guinness casks. Damn, now I have to find me that one as well, and just like the original Offerman Edition, this one isn’t destined for our European market. This Offerman is mostly US-only. They kept the new one at 11yo as well, because I suspect they wouldn’t dare on touching on (another) 12yo, as to not confuse the public too much with the annual cask strength version. This Offerman Edition is made with hand-picked Bourbon and rejuvenated Bourbon casks, in part by Offerman himself. Especially when you’re in Europe, you might wonder who this (Nick) Offerman is? Nick Offerman is an American Actor playing the role of Ron Swanson in the TV-series called “Parks & Recreation”, and Ron just loved Lagavulin (because Nick loves Lagavulin).

Color: Gold, lighter than the 9yo GoT version.

Nose: Wow, this has a mild, farmy, clay like start. Hay from healthy, fatty, full grown grass, making it somewhat different from the 8yo, 9yo and 10yo. Loving this. Otherwise, it does resemble the 9yo a bit. Just like I expected before reviewing the GoT Edition, this time again, I expected something more along the lines of the 8yo and 10yo, but with the 9yo already being quite the surprise, this one does even smell better. It smells a little bit like a…Brora! Man, if this tastes like it smells, please take my money now Diageo and thanks to you, Nick Offerman, for picking these casks! But wait a minute, let’s not get ahead of ourselves now. Iodine (and a tiny hint of chlorine as well) comes knocking on the door, especially when this gets some time to breathe in your glass. I suspect Nick especially sought out this Iodine. Old, wet wood spice. Slightly perfumy even. Tiny bonfire and a wee bit of prickly peat. This Malt has it all, including the underlying (candied) fruit. Wet iodine laden peat with salty seaside notes. The Broraness wears off and Lagavulin emerges some more, Lagavulin we know from the 16yo (which has Sherry) and especially the GoT edition. But the farmy bit that remains is still very nice, turning a bit meaty even. Not a lot of smoke any more. Dull vanilla powder, with still this zesty citrus note as well. Is there something like dry almond powder? Overall quite a soft edition, but one that works quite well. The GoT has slightly more of the creamy and buttery vanilla notes than the Offerman, but the bonfire notes are the same.

Taste: Starts as thin like the GoT, but this time with some crushed beetle and some fresh, slightly crushed almonds, and a very nice sweetish fruity bit. This one has even more of a licorice-peat note than the GoT. Fruity and appetizing, like cola on a hot day. It does have cola notes, hence the association. Almonds again and a wee bit of hot plastic. Warming and soft, so not this burning sensation when going down. This one has some sweetness as well, but definitely less so than the GoT. Slightly less complex than the nose, with seemingly less development. I like the lingering bonfire notes. It gives me a happy association, because who doesn’t like sipping a good Whisky when sitting and staring at a bonfire in the woods, or some pieces of wood in the fireplace.

This one turned out to be like a better variant of the GoT, but a variant of it nevertheless. Offerman offers us more than the GoT did, especially on the nose. Nice profile. Dear Nick, since you are a Lagavulin aficionado, why not pick some more casks like this, and bottle them at cask strength? Since this is Bourbon casks only, a fitting choice by an American if I may say so, it is more of a prequel to the 12yo, yet it is different in its profile. The empty glass (after a while), is iodine laden, where the empty glass of the GoT (the next morning) smells of peat and warm plastic. Looks like this (Iodine) is what Lagavulin and Nick went for.

Points: 87 (so the odd’s clearly beat the evens)

After the Offerman, I tried the GoT again, I find that there are a lot of similarities, but it is also lacking an entire (farmy) level. The Offerman is just a better and expanded version of the GoT. Tried it again and yes, the GoT is just simpler, still good, yet simpler. I haven’t seen Parks & Recreation yet, but I wonder if it’s also a better TV-series than GoT. Apart from some states in the US, this edition seems to be hardly available any more, thus prices are rising at auctions and the secondary market. Prices as I see today are such that even though this is a good Lagavulin, I can’t recommend it to you, because when taking the price into account, I believe you are better off with the 16yo and the Distillers Edition as well as the Game of Thrones version which turns out to be a very nice Lagavulin as well, is less expensive and more readily available. If you can spare the cash, please do buy it, because it’s another good Lagavulin differing from the others.

Hampden 13yo 1992/2006 (66.2%, Cadenhead, “HLCF”, Pot Still, Jamaica)

The previous review was of a more recent official release and I wrote down some sparse and basic early history of Hampden Estate. Well, since all good things come in pairs, I’ve managed to unearth, from my stash of samples, a nice companion to the previous review. If you call the official one bottled at 60% “Overproof”, then surely this Cadenhead’s offering fits that bill as well, clocking in at 66.2% ABV. Since the previous review turned out to be quite a long one, I decided to leave it at that and keep the rest of the information I gathered for that review for future reviews of Hampden Rums. Well, the next one came along rather quickly, so I can now use this space to tell you some more about the recent history of Hampden as well as some basic info about the marks of Hampden.

By 2003 Hampden Estate was nearly bankrupt, and the government of Jamaica stepped in to save a lot of local jobs, since lots of people were employed by the estate as a whole, working for the sugar factory, the distillery, the great house and working the 750 acres of sugar cane fields. A lot of legalities were exercised between 2003 and 2009, when finally the Jamaican government sold Hampden Estate at auction. The new owners became Everglades Farms Ltd. owned by the Hussey Family. The Hussey’s are well known on the island owning several (different) businesses on the island.

When making Rum for different purposes, one can aim for a certain ester count. So for instance, when making Rum as used in baking, a high ester count is key, for it gives off a lot of aroma with a tiny amount of liquid. For our purpose, the more esters the heavier and more flavorsome the Rum becomes. Are you a Rum aficionado, then you likely prefer a high ester count, are you a novice, the lower marks are best places to start your Rum journey on (if you can find them on the label that is. Again I’m going to steer you towards Matt, since he has, yet again, a very informative page on his site about the marks of Jamaican Rum, as well as to the site of Marius where he comprised a list of which marks were produced in which years at Hampden Estate (especially useful for the independent bottlings of Hampden). We can put this to the test and look up 1992 and sure enough, 1992 is coupled with HLCF. HLCF stands for Hampden Light Continental Flavoured and has an ester count of 500 to 700 g/hlaa (grams per hectolitre of absolute alcohol), which in comparison to most other Rums on the market is very heavy, but for Hampden, this mark can be found on the bottom half of the list!

Before we dip into this Rum here is the list of Hampden Marks:

  • DOK – Dermot Owen Kelly – 1500-1600 g/hla
  • C<>H – Continenal Hampden – 1300-1400 g/hlaa
  • H/GML – Hampden George MacFarquhar Lawson – 1000-1100 g/hlaa
  • <>H – Hampden – 900-1000 g/hlaa
  • H/LCF – Hampden Light Continental Flavoured – 500- 700 g/hlaa
  • LROK – Light Rum Owen Kelly – 250- 350 g/hlaa
  • LFCH – Lawrence Francis Close Hussey – 85- 120 g/hlaa
  • OWH – Outram Warmold Hussey – 40- 80 g/hlaa

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Banana (only in the first nano-seconds or so) and some soft dull wood, cold gravy and tree sap. Even more banana and papaya come next, and like the previous Hampden a lot of fruit in the pre-rot phase, especially pineapple. Passion fruit ice cream mixed with vanilla ice cream and a wee sprinkle of wee (lukewarm urine, acidic). Wow all this just leaps at you. Vegetal, with dried pineapple and an undefined solvent. Dry and dusty notes with licorice (of the all sorts kind), announcing wood. Funk, dried cow dung (lying in the sun) and leather. Artificial fertilizer and a slight note of warm plastic, like the electrical cable mentioned in the previous review. Cold black tea. Very fruity with lots of spicy and woody notes for balance (I don’t get the wood all the time though…). 17th century spices. Sailing ship hold after a spice transport. Very well balanced. The freshly emptied glass reveals cinnamon, and dare I say that it smells even better than the glass still containing the Rum. Maybe the high ABV gets a bit in the way of things, although normally that isn’t a problem for me. Soft wood, and more different spices, still this associated with times lone gone. I don’t know why, it just doesn’t smell like anything from the past two centuries I guess. The note mentioned earlier turns into a more organic urine note, steamed up sauna full of people. Died out fire, cold burnt wood, charcoal. Very complex and laid back. Hints of grenadine lemonade and even the slightest whiff of cola and unripe green apples. Amazing stuff, very different from those dosed and utterly sweet and cloying Rums, some people believe to be true Rum. Remember the Rums of A.H. Riise and even worse, Don Papa? Freak out!

Taste: Starts with most of the fruits from the nose as well as the wood, and its bitterness, and the urine notes with some added ear wax notes. Might sound horrible, but isn’t, although it’s impossible to shed this association. I guess this makes this Rum not for everyone, but I don’t think “everybody” will seek out this Rum that was bottled a good fifteen years ago. Fruity with ashes. Oranges and lemons to some degree, but it seems to be those aroma’s without being all that citrussy. Hope this still makes sense… Warming and friendly. Some toffee and warm caramel, but to a lesser extent than your usual Rum. Very well balanced. I would never have guessed this was as high in ABV as it is. Quite tasty but with, in some areas, medium staying power. Some bitterness in the finish, as well as the urine and some varnish and/or resin.

This is a Rum (I mean Hampden in general) that in nose and taste, is closer to “extreme” than “middle of the road”. It is very big and unusual. Rivière du Mât is another good example of this. I guess both Rums are not for you, if you are new to the game of Rum, nor if have a mind unlike a parachute (works best when open). An acquired taste.

Comparing the Cadenhead’s offering to the Overproof shows us something interesting. First of all, the Cadenhead’s is five years older, yet the Overproof is darker in colour. That in itself isn’t saying much, however, the Overproof is made up of foremost lighter marks OWH and LROK (OK, and a wee bit DOK for good measure) and the Cadenheads offering with H/LCF, but smelling both side by side the Overproof seems fuller, less fresh and acidic, yet more syrupy and glue like, so more of this indistinct solvent mentioned above. The average consumer would associate the smell of Overproof more like a “classic” Rum. The Cadenhead’s offering smells quite different and more complex (as it should). Both are actually quite good, and quite different as well. Both have their good and bad sides to them. Cadenhead’s needs some work and experience from the taster, Overproof is more forgiving and surely would please more people. For me personally, the Overproof just might be the better Rum overall, although that obviously is a matter of taste, but the Cadenhead’s has the better, definitely less cloying and more complex finish. The Overproof seems to be also a more modern Rum, where the Cadenhead’s brings back times long forgotten. Both Rums have been a blast to review.

The empty glass (the next day) smells of wood and hints of chlorine, yet soft and waxy, hints of lemon (acidity) and wood and a wild mix of herbs. Old machine oil, like lying on the bottom of an old motor vessel that hasn’t run for many years. (Rivière du Mât has also this old machine and industrial feel to it, maybe even more so). Smelling an empty glass the next day, can reveal things you didn’t pick up on when tasting, and especially with Hampden Rums this seems true.

Points: 87

Réunion Cask Strength 7yo (60.5%, Rum Nation, Cask Strength, Rhum Traditionelle, 3.000 bottles, 2018, Réunion)

This is not the first Rum from Rum Nation on these pages and not even the first Rhum from Ile de la Réunion. Earlier I reviewed a Rhum from Rivière du Mât and I thought that one was nothing short of amazing, even though it was a reduced to a measly 42% ABV. Rivière du Mât isn’t even the most popular distillery from the Island, that honorary mention goes to Savanna, and then especially to the Rhum Agricoles Savanna produces. Savanna distillery was founded in 1870 in Saint Paul on the north west corner of the island and supposedly made Rhums based on molasses only. Fast forward many years. Since 1964 the distillery runs a continuous still. In 1992 the distillery moved to Bois-Rouge on the north eastern corner of the island, by today’s standard, some 50 kilometres by car. Today the distillery makes Rhum Agricoles, for which it is now mostly known, as well as Rhum Traditionelle (molasses based), some of the Rhums are of the high ester kind.

The Cask Strength series is a somewhat recent addition to the Rum Nation portfolio. The first Rum released in this series is actually this 7yo rum from Réunion, probably distilled at Savanna, and matured in ex-Cognac casks. Savanna uses a lot of ex-Cognac casks, because may of the official releases have been matured in Cognac casks as well. After this, examples from Jamaica and Guyana were also released.

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Fruity and creamy. Fresh (air) with toffee and caramel. Slightly funky and somewhat sweet smelling. Lightly waxed. Sweet White Wine, mocha, licorice and leather. Some dust on rainwater. Definitely has some traits from Rhum Agricole. The nose reminds me of J.M Agricoles. More J.M than, lets say, Rivière du Mât (Rhum Traditionelle). Initially some sweet citrus bathroom cleaner, soft chlorine and ozone from a pool or jacuzzi. These aroma’s are short lived, and are gone soon, never to return again (unless you pour yourself another one). Black tea with lemon. Hints of cookie dough, moist brown sugar, wood and sweet mint candy. Malty and biscuity, and thus some very soft oak. A whiff of fresh air, yet also spicy, a mix of many dried kitchen spices, yet also some cinnamon and hints of toasted oak (soft). Some unripe banana and also the brown bits of a banana skin and some aroma’s of overripe, almost rotting yellow fruits. Don’t worry, the Rhum still smells quite nice and is nicely balanced as well. Rum Nation also bottles quite a lot of Cask Strength Savanna’s, and I have one here to compare it with. Based on the smell of both, it is safe to assume this 7yo is a Savanna as well, nevertheless, one can be never entirely sure (please read on). By the way, the day after, the empty glass smells just wonderful. Very fruity and with hints of the fireplace at Christmas, or a nice bonfire. Love it!

Taste: Big and still sweet, although the back label mentions this is “for connoisseurs that don’t like excessive sweetness“, it is sweet but not excessively so. This sweetness is balanced out with quite some spicy wood, and toasted wood as well. Distant pine anyone? Quite hot going down. Brown sugar and candied cinnamon mixed with cola notes for freshness or zest. Very tasty. Well balanced stuff of high quality. Now for an interesting remark. Where the smell is all Savanna, there are some notes in the taste that do remind me a bit of Rivière du Mât (also from the Island of Réunion). An industrial, fatty, motor oil aroma. Crushed almonds with some woody bitterness mixed with brown sugar. I’m still convinced this is a Savanna, the smell is there and since Rum Nation has many other Savanna’s in their portfolio it is simply highly likely, but as said above, one can never be sure. Even though this is bottled @ 60.5% ABV, it isn’t hot all the time, like many other high strength R(h)ums. Licorice and Cognac, (really?), in the finish, as well as some wood. The aftertaste shows even some more wood accompanied by its bitterness. The Casks used must have been quite active or caught a lot of sunshine.

I say, high quality, big and very tasty. Lance mentions in his review: “It’s very much like the new wave of Jamaican rums now making such big waves – Hampden and Worthy Park in particular, because this presses many of the same buttons“. This is my sentiment exactly. It presses the same buttons without even being really close to those in smell nor taste. Its big and estery and bottling this @ 60.5% ABV helps the Rhum come across big time. Since this has been bottled in Rum Nation’s Cask Strength series, only mentioning it is a 7yo hailing from Réunion, thus calling it an entry level Rhum, (yeah right), this therefore also damn affordable. Heartily recommended and definitely not for novices to R(h)um. If you are just that, you should by it all the same, but do not open it just yet.

Points: 87

Tomatin “Metal” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #4, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

The five virtues are coming along quite nicely. Metal is already the fourth out of the five virtues. Earlier I reviewed the first three: Wood (85 points), Fire (85 points) and Earth (86 points), the last one a rare peated Tomatin. On Paper, Metal is a fairly simple Whisky compared to Wood (which was made with three different kinds of wood), Fire (made with de-charred and re-charred wood) and Earth (three different kinds of casks and also made with peated barley to boot). Metal is made solely with first fill Bourbon barrels, filled with distillate from 2003 thus making it also the oldest expression of all the five virtues. It should be 13 or 14 years old. In earlier reviews I mentioned, that my journey with the Tomatin five virtues series actually started with this Metal (and Water) expressions in London 2018. I liked both and this made me backtrack a bit, buying the first three of the series. All three earlier versions didn’t disappoint, so let’s see if the last two are the best of the bunch, as I currently believe from memory. As said before, I did buy the whole set eventually, but the last two reviews will be based on samples I brought back from London.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fruity and very likeable. This brings back memories! Sweet barley and cardboard. Perfumy soft wood (and paper), with mocha notes and dusty. Ever so slightly meaty with a tiny hint of lavas and an indistinct melange of dry herbs. Definitely well aged and this oozes style and class. Its very refined, but lacks a bit in the complexity department, (maybe this is the reduction to 46% ABV). I’m already smelling this for a while now, and not a lot of evolution is happening to be honest. Nevertheless all that is there is very fine and balanced and easily recognizable as a Whisky from ex-Bourbon casks. Vanilla notes and slightly creamy. Faint flinty note as well as a faint menthol note. I have to say that what is here does go together rather well together. Based on the nose alone, easily the best of the five virtues (’till now).

Taste: Sweet and fruity, something that is present in all good Tomatin’s from ex-Bourbon. Just have a look at the 30yo, which offers this in spades, tropical style. Here there are yellow fruits like maracuja and dried pineapple mixed with vanilla pudding or custard. Right next to this, or behind it, if you like, quite a firm backbone of oak, pencil shavings and a little bit of smoke (probably from toasted oak, which matches the flinty note from the nose). There is most definitely quite some influence of wood to be noticed in the back. Strong and spicy and even some bitterness, not too much though, the bitterness is adding to the whole, not taking it over. Sweet mint. The whole is pretty straight forward and comes as no surprise to those who know their Tomatins. Just don’t make the error believing this is simple, because it’s not. Very nice expression this one, and also after tasting it, still the best of the five virtues. I wonder how this compares to a recent, regular 15yo also solely from American oak casks, which is slightly older and slightly cheaper.

When pouring this, I was quite surprised, the colour being only White Wine, or straw as some people call it. This is said to be from first fill Bourbon casks, and especially first fills can impair quite some colour onto the Whisky, especially after some odd 13 years. Also, I wonder why this was called “Metal”. If I would pick a Whisky to show off the Metal from the still, I would have picked (third) refill hogsheads. These casks would certainly not overpower the distillate thus showing off the most distillery character. But then again, these first fill barrels aren’t overpowering anything as well. Considering the colour of this Whisky I still have a hard time believing this came from first fill casks. Based on the nose as well, I would still not believe this is from first fill Bourbon casks. Tasting it, however, there might just be a possibility this has seen some first fill Bourbon casks, since there seems to be quite some influence from wood, yet it is different from the “Wood” expression. Lets just forget about all this and conclude that this “Metal” is a very good Whisky. Tomatin does well in American oak, especially when it gets the time to mature for a prolonged amount of time.

Points: 87