Kilchoman 5yo 2008/2013 (60.7%, OB, Bourbon Cask #146/2008, for The World Single Malt Germany, 252 bottles)

Although not bad, I don’t really have a fond memory of the early blue labelled Spring 2010 and Summer 2010 bottlings, both are decent but not there yet. Both are showing their youth, and I’m not particularly a fan of Whiskies that still show their new make side. Aren’t all beginnings hard? However, I do have a fond memory of the previously red labelled Single cask bottling for Belgium. All three distillates are more or less from the same period of time, but this red labelled one is just a bit older, not reduced and from a single cask. In my mind, after tasting such Kilchoman’s, the red ones were the ones to go for. I like single casks especially at cask strength, warts and all. In the case of Kilchoman, usually there are no warts. Not a lot anyway. Pretty amazing considering the aforementioned single cask expression isn’t even 5yo and already very, very good and mature for its age, and remember this was matured in Scotland, not the tropical shores of Goa (India, in case you failed geography). So no surprise then, that the next Kilchoman I opened was another red labelled one. Yes, another ex-Bourbon single cask expression, why not. This time a red labelled one bottled for Germany. Let’s see if the Germans got an even better deal than the Belgians did. For starters, the German one is older, it is just over 5yo.

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Soft warming peat, glowing embers, fine bonfire smoke, flinty, with citrus fruit upfront. A combination of lemon, lime, unripe pear, sweet spearmint and menthol. Just sniff it, put it away, wait a minute and start breathing through your nose. Are you getting the menthol now? Soft wood, creamy, toffee and clay. Slightly perfumy and slightly meaty as well. All combined with smoke. Paper and dust. Fresh and spicy. Cedar wood, vegetal. Christmassy smoke emanating from a chimney, that’s it, with more fresh acidic fruit notes. A dram for a silent, snowy evening. Mocha, vanilla powder and maybe even a hint of an unlit Cuban cigar. Next, the promise of sweet, jam-like fruit, as well as a breath of fresh air, significantly different from acidic fruit, although both bring freshness to the Whisky. Smells appetizing and lively, yet also mature. No signs of new make spirit to be found. When snorted most vigorously, a more deeper and brooding animalesk kind of note emerges. I think this smells amazing for a 5yo Malt. Very mature. This must be quality, achieving this, in so little time and in a cold climate. It also has an unexpected depth to it, like Alice’s rabbit hole, the deeper you go, the more mesmerizing are its aroma’s. Take your time with it, it’s really, really good.

Taste: Wood and paper. Sweet red fruits. (Menthol) cigarette smoke in the wind, and more sweetness than expected. Milk chocolate and liquid bonfire smoke, with maybe some plastic in the back? All elements well balanced. It’s even slightly syrupy. Soft white pepper attack combined with fresh, green and sappy oak. Waxy, with a tiny hint of rubber in the back, and a short bitter note that is soon joined by sweet yellow fruits, candied fruits and some more of this peppery attack. Lemonade. The bitter and the sweet go together well. A lot is happening at once, so I’m almost struggling to keep up and write it all down. Speaking of down, this is quite warming going down. Pencil shavings, licorice and slightly tarry. The wood note comes late and when they occur in the taste, it starts to play a bigger part in the nose as well. Slightly less complex than the nose (or is it?). This one shows most of what its got, right from the start, but doesn’t lack in the evolution department either. Towards the aftertaste, the lemon and lime returns, wonderful. Really good stuff this.

This is a really good Whisky which makes me happy. Amazing result after some 62 months from a relatively new Islay distillery. Instant favourite. The bottle is half empty, and I’m not entirely sure, it was already this good when freshly opened, so this seems to be another example of a Whisky that needs to breathe a lot.

Points: 89

P.S. The empty glass smells of black coal, peat, smoke and some plastics, more than the day before, (when the glass wasn’t empty).

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

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

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

Color: Copper brown, Bourbon.

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

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

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

Points: 89

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

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

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

Color: Copper gold. No pink or red hue.

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

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

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

Points: 89

Ben Nevis 19yo 1996/2015 (54.2%, Lombard, Jewels of Scotland, for Distillerie Kammer-Kirsch, Cask #1818, 295 bottles)

Ben Nevis is an interesting distillery. It once had a sort of wonky reputation. In the past, I was warned on several occasions, to try before you buy. However, today it seems like a pretty popular distillery, with official bottlings fetching some very high prices, and definitely better quality. The distillery itself, is still a bit struggling today, so they do deserve to get enough recognition and money to keep on going. I’ve tried some very good expressions along the way. This is the fourth Ben Nevis on these pages and two of those reviews ended with 88 points. I’m happy to report that the official 10yo was one of them. This Lombard expression, I’m about to review, was “won” at an auction. Didn’t “win” it, because still had to offer more for it than the rest of the interested parties, well you now how an auction works. Let’s see if this is worth your, and in this case, my hard-earned cash.

Color: White Wine

Nose: Barley, bread and cookies, Bread dough, cookie dough and sweet bread. Hints of ginger. Quiet yet powerful and very nice smelling, especially when the more fruity note kicks in. Less funky than I’ve come to expect from Ben Nevis, yet also a bit more flinty. Reminds me of several old Cadenhead bottles. Sweet and fruity. Candied yellow and even some candied red fruits. Hints of dust, cardboard, dishwater and bad breath, bordering on soft wood. Reminds me of a grey day after heavy rain, Blade Runner style, with the sun finally getting some room to come out again. Even though the colour is quite light, this doesn’t mean the cask was inactive, because there is a lot here. Even an ever so slight sulphury note, emerging quite late. A very welcoming Malt after stints of dark coloured Whisky from Sherry casks or Wine finished Whiskies. So, back to basics, (refill hogshead), and let the details in the Malt do the talking. More dough and cookies with a slight burnt quality to it. Hints of black pepper and nice interaction with the oaky elements. Nothing is overpowering, so I’m happy to report this Ben Nevis has great balance. Love it. It is slow to evolve, but if you are willing to keep it in your glass for a while, more and more will emanate from your glass.

Taste: Malty and biscuity and quite sweet, but in a very good way. Lots of candied yellow fruit sweetness with white pepper and some hints of cannabis. Based on this and if tasted blind, I would have guessed this was a Bunnahabhain (Signatory). Creamy as well. Nice development in the mouth, especially the fruit gets enough room to shine, even though there are quite a few, woody, peppery and spicy notes present. Some dough and some more candied fruits. Wonderful organics somewhere in between licorice, milk chocolate, mocha and coffee, all somewhat dry, but now try to imagine these notes with this wonderful creamy sweetness added. Spicy and nice soft wood-spice as well. I’m actually amazed how much the sweetness does for this Malt, and don’t get me wrong, this is not a very sweet or overly sweet Whisky to boot, no, this just has the right amount to it. With Whiskies like this, you need to have some experience. It is most definitely not an instant gratification Malt, and you have to work it a bit. Only with experience comes the knowledge to look into the details of the Malt some more, because, obviously, if you don’t, you might miss these details that, for me, define this Malt.

As often this turned out to be a Malt that needed a lot of air to open up. Freshly opened, this is a bit closed and holding back on almost all aroma’s present. I mentioned details in the notes above, and do pay attention to them, this is a Malt that because of these details, does need your full attention, because when sipped carelessly, you might miss out on those wonderful details. Definitely recommended for experienced Malt-heads, and after the bottle is finished, I wouldn’t mind tasting this again somewhere in the future. Don’t think that Sherried Ben Nevis is the only way to go with this distillery…

Points: 89

Paul John (58.2%, Single Cask #745, for Germany, Peated, 2016)

On an average day, I have two open Paul John bottlings on my lectern, if possible one peated and one not peated. Recently I reviewed the two bottles I had open at that time. The official peated cask #777 and an unpeated 6yo Cadenhead’s bottling. Both are gone now, and have since been replaced. Today we are going to have a look at the peated replacement bottle. This one is another official single cask release and even better, it looks like a sister cask of #777. Why would you do that? I hear you ask. Isn’t there a risk that it’s more of the same? A similar cask, with the same distillate in it? Well first things first. #777 was so good (it scored 90 Points), that there is definitely no risk in opening another one of those beauties, even if it is exactly the same (which I doubt). Second, as many Whisky producers and bottlers already tried to show for a few times now, (remember Gordon & MacPhail’s “Wood makes the Whisky” campaign?). Wood makes the Whisky, and no two casks are alike, just have a look at my reviews of Gordon & MacPhail’s Ledaig cask #464 and cask #465. Both the same distillate, the only difference being the cask itself (and what it previously held). So I’m confident the differences between #745 and #777 will be easy to spot and maybe even greater that one would expect.

Color: Orange golden brown.

Nose: Initially fresh and friendly. Lots of honey, oranges and a lot of prepared horseradish (Chrzan). May seem strange, but I get this every time and its here right from the start. Nice clean wood and sometimes fresh sawdust, which changes into more wet wood pulled from a prolonged stay in a pond. More prepared horseradish and ear wax. Fresh, fruity and also some candied fruits. More honey, wax and wood. Licorice. Fatty, organic and perfumy. J.M Rhum from Martinique. Extremely aromatic, complex and right from the start balanced and big. There is so much happening, that the wood has been pushed back quite a bit, I can’t image the wood is that soft, hidden under all these aroma’s. More floral than peaty, with some smoke. Fireplace on a cold winter’s evening, Christmas, but also the smell of horseradish incense sticks, as if they would exist), but not much. Deep smell of waxy almonds, toffee and clay. Smells like a rural house this, a house thoroughly in use, with wave after wave of smells passing by. Furniture smells, smells of preparing food, smells from the fields outside (including the clay), whiffs of a perfumed woman passing by, whiffs of cold dish water, whiffs of funky organic bad breath and warm, almost melting plastic (polyester!) and the smell of the dusty insides of a warm old TV. The plastic/polyester, once smelled, will be around and can’t be un-smelled. What an amazing smell this Malt has. Smells released in many layers, amazing complexity. Tiny hint of smoke trickles in from outside, but the even sharper element in this nose is still the prepared horseradish. You know salted caramel? Well, this one is more horseradished caramel. I like that, since I don’t encounter horseradish a lot in Whisky. More honey, toffee and vanilla powder. It certainly has excellent balance, and layer upon layer of complexity. Very good expression again, I like it very much. It is a wonderful Malt to smell, but beware, it can anaesthetize your nose for some time, since the smell is so wonderful and complex you’ll be smelling this for a long time before tasting. After numbing down your nose, further smelling is futile, after which it is better to have a taste…

Taste: Well, more wood here, and most definitely waxy, nutty and sweet. More of the Rhum Agricole notes as well. Sometimes, yet not always, a hint of cola early in the taste. There is this certain (slightly unbalanced) acidity to it. Smoked toffee and caramel are here, spread thinly, but where is the honey? Well? Undistinguishable sugared ripe fruits. Faint orange skin oil, grapefruit meat. Toffee, corn flakes and quite some licorice, and lots and lots of ashes (cigarettes in an ashtray, the day after). Syrupy sweet, runny caramel. Waxy and fruity. Waxy fruit and ear-wax. This is a bit of a strange puppy, because this has plenty of tastes originating from fire, but they really aren’t from peat and smoke this time. Dry, cured, salty and smoky meat. Cigar smoke and smells I have only encountered in a Sauna. This one is quite ashy. Is there something like waxy cigarette ashes? A quite nice sweetness makes the Malt bigger. Is it fruity underneath? Thus, again a big Malt. Now, more smoke than peat in the nose. No horseradish (well, maybe…). Must have some hidden wood now, because it carries some bitterness. There is so much happening, that even this medium size bitterness isn’t half bad. After extensive sipping, the Horseradish is even more obvious on the nose. I encourage the people of Poland to try this Malt with their excellent szynka, and let me know if the chrzan notes match up. Ashes here too, dominating the aftertaste. Liquid smoke, still not peaty though. The finish is waxy and woody. The aftertaste is warming and somewhat stinging. Smoke and wood spices, somewhat less friendly, but bolder, towards the end. Polyester returns in the aftertaste. Very interesting Malt with a finish of medium length.

This is definitely the most complex Malt I have smelled in a long, long time. This has many layers and many different and unique smells. The empty glass smells of Honey and wait for it, an electrical fire and iodine, something I didn’t pick up on, when smelling the Whisky whilst reviewing.

In comparison, the recently reviewed cask #777 is way more friendly. It’s a dessert in itself. If you compare this to the Swayze brothers, #777 is Patrick and #745 is Don. They both share a lot of genes and it is easy to see that both are brothers. Just #777 is more “beautiful” and #745 is more “rough”, less polished. Maybe it’s even deeper. Even though both Whiskies share a lot of the same markers, #777 just outshines #745, although for some #745 has many amazing bits as well. #777 seems better balanced and more “perfect”. Softer and friendlier. #745 has more power, and a lot more complexity and an amazing layering of smells. The peat comes through better in #777 and it’s heavenly, especially in combination with the Malt’s sweetness. #745 has more honey, wood and waxiness coming through, but it also has a lot of unique aroma’s. Some elements are just bigger and more exaggerated in comparison to #777. I can imagine that over half of the time one would prefer #777 over #745, but definitely not every time, sometimes bigger is just better. Yes, with #745 we have another belter, I repeat, another belter from India on our hands. Life is good.

Points: 89

Amrut 4yo 2009/2013 (59%, OB, Single Cask, for Europe, Charred American Virgin Oak & Port Pipe #2712, Peated Barley, 357 bottles)

What again? Yes here is another tandem Malt. After last weeks Amrut here is another one. This time not a direct comparison, there was no reason for that, but I did compare both behind the scenes, to assess which one is better and for the height of the scores. I do love Amrut. Most Amruts I have tasted are at least good, and some are better than that. Lovely stuff and definitely a different and exotic take on Single Malt Whisky. Maybe the people at Amrut don’t even know how to produce a bad Whisky, or maybe they are out there, but I haven’t encountered them yet? Who knows. Amrut is most welcome to the world of Single Malt Whisky, since they do bring something new into the fold.

In 2013 a few single cask bottlings emerged, especially bottled for Europe, but there should be versions for other markets as well, even bottled in a different year. Earlier, I already reviewed a virgin oak and first fill Bourbon barrel version and a charred American virgin oak and PX Sherry butt version. All good things come in threes, so the third version they released that year is this Charred American Virgin Oak and Port Pipe. This time the barley was peated. Amruts standard is so high, that even the “simple” and affordable peated and especially the unpeated cask strength versions turned out to be very tasty, and in hindsight the charred American virgin oak and PX Sherry butt version may have been somewhat less than perfect, still it was slightly better than the peated cask strength version. The peated cask strength version is my lowest scoring Amrut on these pages, and it still was a Whisky I liked. I will probably buy it again sometimes, just to see how it fares.

Color: Orange-brown gold. Bourbon.

Nose: Initially fruity and milky. I often have this Malt right after the Kadhambam, and it definitely has this milky quality to it. Even some expressions of Paul John tasted right before or right after this one makes that evident. Don’t worry though, in the nose the milky bit mostly wears off. I’m guessing this is from the Virgin oak. Fruity and very PX-like. Nosed blind I would have guessed PX instead of Port. Dusty, deep, dark and brooding. Some underlying heavy sweetness, like warm syrup and tarred wood. Treacle. No Indian spiciness, so for me the cask overpowered the original Malt. Mind you, this wasn’t initially matured in Bourbon casks, but rather in virgin oak casks. Red fruit lemonade. Strawberry and raspberry syrup, with still this tarry and treacle note underneath. Fire place smoke, yet hardly peaty. Not peaty at all actually. Pencil shavings and crushed dry leaves from trees. A more fresher citrussy note emerges next, as well as some faint mackerel in oil aroma. Since this was matured in a hot climate, the virgin oak works differently, compared to its Scottish counterparts. No harsh, creamy or sappy wood, we can pick up from Scottish Single Malts matured (in part) in virgin oak. Maybe here the milky bit is the way the virgin oak exerts itself? Also a floral bit now. Soft and delicate rose notes combined with sharper whiffs of smoke from the fire place. This is a winter Malt, bordering on Christmas. Certainly brings you in the mood. It’s a big Malt this. The aroma’s are big and bold and never stop giving…

Taste: Tarry wood. Spicy autumn leaves. Quite sweet and prickly (smoke). Treacle and cookies. Black coal. Carbon powder, gun powder. Big, very big. Almost a bit like Rhum Agricole mixed with a heavy Demerara Rum. Steampunk locomotive. Yes Port, but again, it is also not that far away from a heavy PX cask. Well balanced. Chocolate and Brownies. Candied cherries. Licorice and smoke, but also a green note. Oak, but not like the virgin oak we know. No vanilla notes to be honest. Red fruit syrup towards the finish, warming log fires as well. Some residual bitterness, from burnt down logs of wood. Since I got this heavy Rum note, its hard to picture it without it. This has a very long finish, very warming and a perfect aftertaste of everything mentioned before. All is here and all stays with you for a long time. Very good stuff.

Here a lot of the aroma’s are quite big and overpowering, so it is near impossible to make out the Spicy Indian Spirit. So for me maybe less typical than other expressions, but nevertheless a very tasty piece of work again. The beauty lies in the details, but here the details are masked. Luckily the result is still quite nice. There were more casks bottled like this. I bought cask #2714 as well. I’m especially curious now if that one will have this milky note as well as this one. Something we’ll find out in the future…or not…

Points: 89

Cragganmore 12yo (58.4%, OB, Special Release 2019, Refill American Oak, 18.000 bottles)

Why not? Yeah, why not make it a pair again and write about another Cragganmore and yes, this one is from another sample bottle. This time we’ll go for last years official special release 12yo. As mentioned in the previous review. Cragganmore can be the under the radar malt, but somehow people caught on up pretty quick with this one. Maybe not a lot was made, wait a minute! 18.000! That’s not very limited, and still it sold as hot cakes, holy mackerel, this must have been good then!

So maybe Cragganmore isn’t all that very well known, yet Diageo has released already quite a few expressions as a special release: It started in 2003 with a 29yo from 1973 (scored that one 87 back in the day). Probably one of the Cragganmore’s in my collection. They weren’t extremely expensive back then, and didn’t sell very well. These early special releases were quite often very affordable when on sale, and that happened a lot in the early days of these series. I remember I got both 36yo Glenury Royals and Quite a few Talisker 25yo’s for a very nice price. The special releases replaced the Rare Malts, remember those? 2004 saw the release of a 10yo from 1993 (scored that one 86). In 2006 a 17yo from 1988 was released. In 2010 a 21yo from 1989 was released. In 2014 a 25yo from 1988 (again) was released. In 2016 a quite expensive NAS was released. In 2019 this 12yo (year not stated) and finally (for now) this year, a year that everybody will remember (2020) a 20yo from 1999 was released. I guess we’ll see some more Cragganmore’s down the Special Release line. But first, lets have a go with last years model…

Color: Pale White Wine.

Nose: Big, sharp and alcoholic, initially not that great. Funky organic start, bad breath and somewhat unbalanced. Malty and biscuity with some metal and menthol. Unlit cigar and sandalwood. Dough and a bit bread-like. Clean (but not too much) and fresh. The wonky start clears up. Fresh ice-cold milk with a snuff of chilli powder. Quite some upfront citrus notes. Sea spray and ozonic, keeps prickling my nose. Hint of smoke? Oak, partly toasted. Fresh and likeable. Something old skool underneath, hard to put my finger on right now. Hints of sweet licorice and soft wood. Next, it is dusty and the citrus returns. The fresh ozonic/menthol smell doesn’t ware off completely, it stays behind. Weakens a bit, but is holding the fort. Complex. The longer this breathes, the better and more balanced it gets. Showing more and more complexity. Tea and farmy. Somewhat nutty. Latex paint and some rainwater. This needs a while to really open up. Amazing how this keeps developing over time. By now I’m really enthusiastic about this one. Is it too late to still get a full bottle? Truly wonderful nose.

Taste: Very big on fruit and candy, but also a bit hot. Wonderful prickly spices. Fruity, with the right amount of sweetness and after going down, it turns a bit creamy. Nice wood for balance. This is a hot malt, the high ABV exerts itself. Much sweeter and very nutty as well. Dare I say there is some heather in here (like there is in Highland Park?). Stays hot for a while. Medium finish and also the aftertaste leaves the building in a hurry. Definitely some woody bitterness and still this uncatchable note. Old skool in the taste as well. Intriguing. Lemon fresh, but also toffee thick. It has a decent sweetness and a hint of dark chocolate with a balsamic twist. Cherry liqueur and a drying, almost smoky, note. Not that sharp, prickly, smoke, but a bit more, yes, peaty, yes really, and a fatter sort of smoke with burned plastic thrown in for good measure. Wonderful spiciness and dry black tea. Toasted almonds with a woody and peaty bitterness. Quite unexpected… The plastic bit carries well into the finish, as does this bitter note. Let it breathe, it needs air!

Well what can I say, very well done Cragganmore. Nice pick Diageo. Smoky and slightly peaty, and combined with the fruity character of Cragganmore, makes for a very interesting Malt, and a very good one as well!

Points: 89

Thanks go out to Nico again, source for many samples! Cheers mate!

Tamdhu Dalbeallie Dram No.3 (60.7%, OB, Sherry Oak Casks, 1.000 bottles, 2020)

Well, since I already have one of these lying around, why not make it two official Tamdhu’s in a row. After the (initially) slightly disappointing 15yo, I just expected more of a Sherry monster I guess, I gather this special release should have no trouble eclipsing the 15yo. First of all, it has more oomph (higher ABV), more color (A lot darker) and with a mere 1.000 bottles produced, they probably did something special, don’t you think? So I expect a proper Sherry monster again! I’m only human, and I don’t seem to really learn from my mistakes, or so it seems, nevertheless I still do expect a Sherry monster this time.

The first edition of Dalbeallie was released in 2018 at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, and gets its name from the Dalbeallie station. Tamdhu itself opened in 1897 and the station just two years later in 1899. The railway played a key role in the supply of barley and Sherry casks for Tamdhu. The station closed in 1965, but has since been fully restored. Dalbeallie is an annual release, so editon II was released at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2019 and our number III was released this year (2020) on-line, due to Covid-19. Every edition up ’till now, counts only 1.000 bottles.

Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Thick Sherry, with licorice, lots of wonderful fresh oak, crushed dried autumn leaves, nuts and dust (and sometimes some cardboard). Very aromatic and fresh. Old, worn down leather and also meaty. However, like the 15yo, this has a rather large fresh ‘n’ fruity acidity to it. Citrus acidity, more of the lemon and lime kind than oranges, or is it… Floral perfume and some cloves (and some oranges now?). Sometimes whiffs of ozone (like you get from ozone cleaned pools). Initially a bit closed but this is quickly “resolved” with some breathing. Thick, slightly tarry, hints of petrol and brooding, yet not syrupy. Hints of paint and gravy. Seems odd, but odd combinations work well in Whisky. Cardboard and some candied red fruit sugar gello, (or jam for short), deep down below in the nose. Nice wood notes to balance it out, fresh wood and sawdust. The wood notes emerge more and more, the longer this stands in your glass and breathes. Cigar-box sandal wood is linked to the old style perfume. Extremely balanced and a truly wonderful nose. Yes it really does smell like a Sherry monster, 2.0-style.

Taste: Big Sherry. Hot and woody. Fresh dried wood, again remembering cigar boxes. Red fruits with a shadow of sweetness (as in, you know it’s there but you can’t touch it), and definitely some cigar aromas. Cigar box, cigar a cru (the smell of an unlit cigar) and cigar ashes. Powerful wood (bitter). Full of wonderful aroma’s and tastes, yet also lightly unforgiving. Starts out fresh, (new) wood and hot, but picks up caramel and some velvety softness whilst going down. For a millisecond, this is syrupy and sweet and then the dry wood kicks in, and it kicks in good. The wood sticks to the palate. Nice wood, powerful, yet not the overpowering (mouth drying) wood you get from very old Malts. It disperses eventually, making room for cookie dough and letting through a tiny bit of the sweetness I’m sure more is in here somewhere. Extremely tasty. Wow! Just like the 15yo, this is quite fresh and somewhat acidic on top. The aforementioned wood has some cloves and a sharpish edge to it. Freshly sawn oak. A truly wonderful Malt. This is essentially a Sherry monster, but with these fresh characteristics and these more than appropriate wood notes, works very well together. Big, yes, cloying, no. Hints of menthol also pop up. In a way it is almost Christmassy.

It also reminds me a bit of the high powered 2007 Glenlivet’s from Signatory Vintage. First fill Sherry, with extremely high ABV. These Glenlivets are flooding the market since 2017. I really have to open one of those soon, to see if I remember those well. This Dalbeallie seems a wee bit softer. However, it’s really not a soft Malt, the wood is too present for that. It is still a Sherry monster though, but as I said before, in a more modern 2.0-style. Even more wood in the finish than in the body. Not drying, but somewhat soapy. Through the soapy bit (which isn’t a problem by the way) comes the first sign of some real woody bitterness. This bitterness remains for the aftertaste as well as some, almost hidden before, red fruit hard candy. Nevertheless, this is a magnificent dram.

I love it! Definitely worth the price of admittance. I got half a bottle in a bottle share with Nico. I should have gone for the whole thing. Oh well…

Points: 89.

The wood influence is quite big and this takes away a bit from the underlying red fruits and if these fruits would have had a chance to exert themselves some more, this would have been a Dram scoring in the 90’s. Still a very good Whisky!

Ledaig 15yo 1997/2013 (59.3%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, for Van Wees, Refill Sherry Hogshead #464, 262 bottles, AC/JICD)

Well, this should be interesting! Fall 2015 saw me doing a review of a sistercask (#465) of this Whisky. The cask next door, so to speak. It was filled the same day with exactly the same distillate, in just another refill Sherry hogshead, but with, probably, a different result, since no two casks are really alike. Both were distilled on 23/10/1997, #464 was bottled 01/08/2013, and #465 was bottled on 30/10/2013. Bottled only three months later but making one a 15yo old and the other a 16yo. #465 is also the darker of the two, but the difference looks bigger than the aforementioned 3 months. Maybe the two casks contained different Sherries. Maybe one cask was more active, or had a deeper char. All can be true.

#465 was bottled for The Whisky Exchange (of London), and #464 was bottled for Van Wees (of Amersfoort). Both casks were refill Sherry hogsheads. I’m opening this #464 now, since #465 is almost empty and it’s time to “kill” it. Don’t believe for a second, since it lasted me this long, it wasn’t any good. It is actually so good, I didn’t want it to be empty soon, second it isn’t really a daily drinker type Whisky to boot. It’s a big, big Whisky. So today I still have a chance to compare the two. Just bear in kind, one has had plenty of time to breathe and the other is almost freshly opened.

Color: Full gold, with some orange.

Nose: Funky, dusty and meaty. Big and sweet-smelling. Fatty, dirty, meaty peat. Almost like an animal was turned into peat along with the plants. Nothing bad here, just very animalesk. Crushed beetle and gasses bubbling up from a pond. Expect no clean earthy peat, or just bursts of sharp smoke. Yes, smoke is here, as well as peat. Smoke from wet wood. Marshland wood. Earthy. Wet and dirty peat. Earthy sweet peat. The smoke is soft. Spicy, vegetal and highly aromatic. Hints of liquorice and dust, mixed in with toasted oak. Vanilla, mocha and more drier wood and sharper smoke. Hints of Rhum Agricole if you ask me. Hints of peppermint immersed in mud. Very organic mud. Do I detect some sulphurous compounds in the back? Wonderful balance though.

Taste: Starts sharp and quickly turns to sweet, with a peppery attack, quickly followed by peat and sharp smoke. Its like the initial sweetness coats the mouth and when that recedes, the sharper element comes to the front of the stage. Maybe fruity even, I’m sure of it actually, but that part is overwhelmed by the rest of the big aroma’s this Whisky has. Licorice power, sweet licorice wood. Ashes, even cigarette ashes. Extremely warming, I can feel it going all the way down. Never get that a lot, not even from cask #465. Sweet, lots and lots of almonds and even hints of anise, barely noticeable: acetone based nail polish remover, and the crushed beetle is here too. This may seem strange and quite off, but let me assure you, this is all positive for the whole of this Whisky. Give it some time and more fruity notes start to develop. Red and yellow fruits. Sweetish, but also slightly acidic. Nutty and waxy. Hints of burnt plastic. Lots of smoke in the taste, along with some cow dung in the finish. Very rural and farmy. Salty lips. What a wonderful Whisky again, utterly complex. There is so much happening. It’s only slightly less balanced than the nose, and cask #465 for that matter. This imperfection is best noticeable in the aftertaste.

In a direct comparison, it is obvious to me that #465 is the more civilized of the two. The same notes appear, but turned down quite a bit. It’s not as “loud” as #464. It’s fruitier, with apple notes and some more red fruits emerge as well. More elegant and less broad, less sweet. Slightly sharper and more acidic. Better balance in the taste and definitely more elegant and less dirty. So not identical twins. #464 is bigger, bolder and has a longer finish. The sulphurous bits of #464 are easier to detect in a direct comparison, since #465 seems to have much less of it, or lacks it altogether.

I love both these Ledaigs, and if you have a preference, it’s because one of the two better suits your profile )of the moment). More elegant or more rough, cases can be made for both. Personally today, I might prefer #465 (it shows coal and black fruit, which I love), however tomorrow I might prefer #464 (big and bold). It just depends. #465 will score higher because it does show a bit more quality and balance, with more of the aroma’s I like, but, who knows, maybe some more breathing will bring out even more in #464. I’m in for a treat the next months/years…

Points: 89

Macallan 9yo 1999/2008 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Speymalt, for Van Wees, First Fill Sherry Hogshead #12378)

Wow, look at his colour! I’ll explain shortly what I mean. Also, unusually dark for a Speymalt from this vintage. For those of you who don’t know, here we have an independently bottled Macallan. Maybe this is the way to go for the non-millionaires amongst us, since the owners of Macallan seem to have gone completely over-the-top bonkers with the “brand”, super premiumizing it, crystallizing the bottles, teletubbying the distillery and… well you know what I mean. Let’s shy away from the marketing and focus on quality then. The quality of Macallan’s distillate, the quality of what we’re getting, putting this quality distillate in a quality Sherry cask the good people of Gordon & MacPhail provided for this distillate and reviewing this drinkers’ Macallan…

Color: Vibrant mahogany! No it’s not just orange-brown, it’s mahogany, and it’s only mahogany when it has this redness to it, a red flame if you wish.

Nose: Restrained for a short while. Wonderful Sherry and woody notes. Ever so slightly waxy and also fresh and airy. Milk chocolate, with a tiny hint of smoke, which most likely came into the mix from the burnt insides of the cask. Next, some pencil shavings. Smells fantastic. Quality Sherry cask. Classic Macallan. Not a lot of vanilla, so, I’m hardly guessing, this was matured in european oak, although I do pick up on a slightly creamy note as well. Hard to explain why, but this smells luxurious, elegant and perfumy. Reminiscent of the great Macallans from earlier decades. Remember the times before Fine Oak, and all the stuff that came after that. Remember the days of, “…which science can’t wholly explain…”? Elegant and fruity and in no way, harsh nor overpowered by the first fill Sherry. Not cloying nor heavy. Excellent cask.

Taste: Smoky and slightly tarry. Black coal. Thin honey, yet not a lot of vanilla sweetness. Initially very, very nice. Reminds me of the Macallans, Strathisla’s and Longmorn’s, when Gordon & MacPhail bottles still had screw caps and were bottled @ 40% ABV. (…and still had enough power)! The body is about Sherry and wood, beautiful spicy, and perfumy, wood, and shows a little bit of nice woody bitterness as well. Soft and silky bitterness, which adds to the overall flavour of the Whisky. Quite fruity and almost drinks like red fruit lemonade. Nice notes of mocha and coffee with milk. Rather short finish though. This is where the relative youth comes in, but I don’t think this should have stayed in cask longer. First fill Sherry can be a brutal thing! Short bursts of warming and red fruity notes. And the aftertaste lingers longer than the finish was. Again classic style.

On the other hand, maybe, this could have stayed in cask longer, since in no way it is overoaked. The flavours could have been more powerful, and the cask itself seems very elegant and good. Or maybe it should have been bottled at cask strength, who knows. This might have had some more to it in the end. For me the best bit of this Whisky is the start, when you take a sip and keep it in your mouth for a while before swallowing. Nice woody and licorice notes start emerging that way. Tar and coal. Wonderful stuff. Tiny hint of the typical acidity from rather new oak, which is a different note from fruity acidity, mind you.

The ABV, is slightly higher than the regular expression of the Speymalt from 1999/2008 which was bottled @43% ABV. Darker as well. Still it manages to come across a bit thin. Would it be too harsh at cask strength or is it an economical move by Van Wees? As in, if you dilute it with water you get more bottles from the hoggie? Probably not since it’s a Speymalt. All things considered, this is a classic Macallan. Wonderful stuff. Sure, maybe more could have come from this, maybe not, but I’d still get it as it is. Most definitely I would. Much better than many, and I mean, many modern Macallans, bottled by the (owners of the) distillery themselves. Highly drinkable, so a bottle of this wouldn’t last long…

Points: 89