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

The Benriach 18yo “Albariza” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Pedro Ximénez Finish. 3886 bottles, 2015)

2015 saw the release of the first of a trio of a brand new limited production series, “Albariza”, which was finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. I missed out on that one at first, so I started with the second one called “Dunder“, a Dark Rum Finish, which I got upon its release. After buying the final release of the trio, “Latada”, finished in Madeira casks, Master Quill got busy and bought himself Albariza at a well-known German Whisky-auction, to complete the trio. So after the second one, it is now time to get back to the beginning and try this Albariza before finishing off this series with the Latada in the near future. I still have the Dunder around for comparison, but sadly there is not much left. What to do when the time comes to review Latada?

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Nice clean peat. Different from fatty Islay peated Whiskies, but very nice aromatics nevertheless. Breaths of fresh air and warm glue, with peat, peat and peat. Where is the PX? Just like Dunder this seems to be a bottling that has heaps of peat. It’s more about the peat than the particular finish. Maybe this has to breathe a bit more in my glass. Easy does it, be patient. After cleaning MQ’s lectern, and reorganizing the bottles a bit, I came back after some breathing. Well, it changed. Christmas spices, red fruits and black coal fire. More deep and brooding. Hints of sweetness and syrup have been added. So, fruit seems to wiggle its way in, how cute. Very strong aromatics, with sharp (peat) smoke right up my nose, opening it up for easier breathing. Nice fatty, big and dirty. Nice complexity, with a borderline classic peat-smell. Nice syrupy sweetness en fruitiness, but like Dunder this is primarily a Peated Whisky, yet, finished with taste. More than excellent nose if you ask me. Let it breathe.

Taste: I can feel the (sweet) PX when I sip this, the (thin) syrupy texture is there, but before you can taste it, the tarry peat slams it down with a vengeance. Well, almost. Maybe the words are a bit strong. This is definitely a Peated Whisky for sure! Second sip, again PX tries, but more like an engine that won’t start. For these three Whiskies I feel the focus of the naming and the labels, and the text written on it, is wrongly on the cask the Whisky was finished in, but should have been on the peat. Never mind that. Sure its peaty, but the finishes do add something to the whole, and good for us, they merely add, not overpower it. As I said before, finishing done with taste. If you let it breathe for a while, the Whisky gains more balance and the finish shows itself a bit more. Less peat, more smoke that way. More coal, licorice and a taste that brings images to my mind of crushed beetle. This is finishing done right. Excellent stuff and an example that it doesn’t have to be Oloroso alone, considering dark Sherries. PX has something to bring to the tabel as well. Just don’t over do it! Finish is great and of medium length. Aftertaste is short, and a bit too sweet, seems dissonant from the whole experience. If this sweetness would have been replaced by black fruits, this could have been one of the best bottlings from this decade.

Albariza is a very chalky soil, so how to taste this terroir, when the peat overpowers it all? Even in the taste it’s hard to find the PX directly. Again some more breathing is necessary. Dark chocolate and after a while a more sweeter note comes around, together with some ashes. Flint and a slightly burnt Sherry cask note with a hint of christmas again. liquorice in the finish and the sweetness manages to stay around for longer. Here the PX finally emerges.

When entering a shop, I never had a lot of interest in “newer” Benriachs. Some of the standard bottlings were ok, but not more than that and the rest were almost all finishes of some kind with labels in strange colours, looking like a bunch of skittles. However peated Benriach tastefully finished seemed something different, so this series sold very well, and sold out quickly as well. This year (2018) saw the release of the 22yo versions of “Albariza”, “Dunder” and “Latada” at what looks at first quite a hefty price, but then again, not a terrible lot more than these three 18yo’s fetch at auction today. I was already quite impressed with “Dunder” and this “Albariza” is in the same league as well, so I’m sure the 22yo’s will be pretty good as well. If only they would be higher in ABV and less expensive…

Points: 89

“Albariza” is darker and warmer and definitely different from “Dunder”, which is nutty, sweetish and funky. Where the peat subdued, making it more elegant, and the smoke is now more prevailing. I’m assuming since all three Benriachs matured in Bourbon casks first that they were pretty similar before entering the casks they were finished in. What’s similar as well is the peat part. The peat smells the same in both, so that corroborates my assumption. “Albariza” is bigger as well  “Dunder” is lighter and easily recognizable as a Rum cask finish. Rum casks gives off very specific aroma’s, both in the nose and on the palate. “Dunder” is now finished, so it tells you the bottle had plenty of time to breathe. Oxygen did bring out the aroma’s over time, so I’m guessing “Albariza” will change over time as well.

If you’re interested, here is some background on what Albariza actually is by Whisky’s (and Sherry’s) own, Ruben.

Glenburgie 26yo 1983/2010 (53.7%, Bladnoch Forum, Hogshead #9801, 204 bottles)

Kilnflat was founded, by William Paul in 1810. The distillery was closed between 1870 and 1878. When it was opened again, by Charles Hay, he also renamed the place to Glenburgie, a name are more familiar with. In 1884 Alexander Fraser & Co. takes over only to go bankrupt in 1925. Again the distillery changes hands, and this time to those of James & George Stodart Ltd. In 1927 the distillery was mothballed and stays that way untill 1936, when Hiram Walker buys the distillery. In the mean time in 1930, Hiram Walker also gained a majority of James & George Stodart Ltd.

In 1958 the distillery also gets Lomond Stills to produce another SIngle Malt you might have heard of: Glencraig. This will go on for several years but finally in 1981 the Lomond Stills are removed again and replaced by conventional stills, making Glencraig a “closed distillery” and somewhat of a collector’s item. In 1987 Hiram Walker is bought by Allied Lyons. In 2005 Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) buys Allied Domecq becoming the current owner of Glenburgie.

In 2003 the distillery was demolished entirely and replaced (a bit further down the premises) by a new and highly modern distillery. Only the old customs house remains and the four stills, the boiler and the mill were brought in from the old distillery. By 2006 another pair of stills were added.

Unbelievable, this is only my first review of a Glenburgie. Amazing. That’s why I stared with this brief history “lesson”. Not so long ago I was asked about great, lesser known, Malts (from Scotland) a.k.a. personal favourites off the beaten track. Glenburgie managed to get into that top 10, that’s why I’m so amazed this is just the first review of Glenburgie, should have been much sooner. Glenburgie is a distillate that works extremely well in Sherry casks.

Glenburgie might be lesser known as a Single Malt, but that’s because a lot of it goes into the Ballantine’s Blend. In 2017, Chivas Brothers released three Single Malts under the Ballantine’s name. Huh? Yes Glenburgie 15yo (the heart), Miltonduff 15yo (the foundation) and Glentauchers 15yo (the finish), were released as such, to tell the story how they make up the Ballantine’s Blended Whisky.

Color: Almost copper gold.

Nose: Very big aroma, this leaps, or rather, attacks you, with a soothing friendly voice, from the glass. Nutty and fruity. Meaty and dusty. Some soft old oak right after that. Dusty old oak. Quite big and holding a promise of sweetness, sweet (and meaty) apples rather than the usual Sherry notes. The oak has an aroma reminiscent of tobacco and leather and hints of old Calvados. Very fragrant Glenburgie. Nice and spicy. In fact, this holds it all. Quite balanced, and very big, it’s so big it hides the complexity a bit. Try not to forget, this is a 26yo Malt. It doesn’t show a lot of evolution over time as well, it stays more or less the same when nosing it. But with a Malt so big and nice, who needs complexity and evolution?

Taste: Yes sweet on entry, but with a lot more. Cannabis and toffee. Crushed beetle again and lots of nuts. Yes, let’s throw in some caramel as well. The start is sweet and sticky. Quite hot and the 53.7% ABV printed on the label, seems a bit low. Very fruity but grassy as well, thick fat grass notes, different from fresh-cut grass or dry grass and hay, but as mentioned above, also the grass you smoke. It’s fatty grass and cannabis. Do I detect a nice tarry edge right behind the spicy oak? Hot black tea. Dries out towards the finish. What a wonderful complexity and blend of aroma’s. This bottle is now 1/3 down, and that’s a good thing, because right after opening, this was much tighter and closed. Amazing how the nose lacked complexity and evolution, and when tasting it now, it is all but complex and shows a lot of evolution as well. One has to stop oneself writing notes, since, this keeps emitting more aroma’s from my glass…

Wonderful Glenburgie, extremely drinkable, even at cask strength.

Points: 89

Ardbeg “Corryvreckan” (57.1%, OB, 2014, L59815)

Well, here is an Ardbeg of which nothing is known, apart that it was first released in 2009, following up on Airigh Nam Beist, which ran from 2006 -2008. I won’t bore you with my take on the marketing jazz about Corryvreckan being a whirlpool. You can read about that on the box and on many sites across the interweb. Here the golden nugget from Ardbeg’s own site: “Corryvreckan takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture. Swirling aromas and torrents of deep, peaty, peppery taste lurk beneath the surface of this beautifully balanced dram”. Well, what can I add to that!

What I’d like to know is, how this Whisky came to be, and that is definitely more difficult to find out. Every bottling of Ardbeg has some sort of unique twist. Casks that were burnt to a crisp before using, or casks that were forgotten in a swamp, or casks that were kept in space for a while. The unique twist this time seems to that part of the Whisky was matured in new French oak casks, (as opposed to the sole use of the immensely popular American oak). The rest of the Whisky was, of course, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. American oak became so popular since it gives off a friendlier aroma of vanilla, making any liquor softer, creamier and more accessible. European oak, or French oak in this case, is less of the vanilla kind, but more about tannins. All the great Sherried Whiskies from yesteryear were matured in European oak Sherry butts and puncheons. Today the Sherry industry prefers American oak as well for reasons mentioned above. French oak is used a lot in the French Wine industry, so rumour has it, used Burgundy Wine casks were used for this Ardbeg as well. However we don’t know if they were virgin oak, first fill or not and what kind of Wine they contained (if any). A Chardonnay cask will result in a different Whisky, than a Pinot Noir cask…

Color: Full gold (no red or pink nuance though).

Nose: Very ashy and smoky right out of the gate. Licorice wood and sweet smoke. Garden bonfire. Sweet and soft peat. Citrussy, herbal and meaty. Crushed beetle and old tarry rope lying around in the sun. Fresh oak combined with some lemon (not the oil from the skin). Distant vanilla, but it is here. Ripe and sweet strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. More hints of red fruits and more promises of sweetness. Nice soft oak. Dusty. Very well made Ardbeg if it tastes as good as this smells, this will be a keeper!

Taste: Ashy again. Sweet, crushed beetle again, how odd. Big aroma, big body. Lots happening. Initially sweet but it is a good sweetness balanced out with sweet peat and dryness of the smoke. Definitely a type of fruitiness you don’t get from (Bourbon) oak alone, which would support the Wine cask claim. Fat peat and slightly tarry. Empty, off-season, fishing boat in the sun. Visions of an abandoned port. Not hot, only for a moment is shows some higher ABV, but I would have never guessed it is as much as 57.1% ABV. Well balanced, with only a medium, but decent, length. This is where it’s average age is noticeable.

Excellent standard bottling, and a damn good NAS as well, if I may say so. It can be done after all! I’m wondering which of the special releases, which are all more expensive, can beat this one? The 10yo is the entry-level Ardbeg and for me it has lost the most compared to the earlier tens since it has become way too sweet. I guess, that one has to appeal to a larger public, than this Corryvreckan and Uigeadail. I guess the latter are more for connoisseurs and anoraks like me and you. Now I will have to get me a new Uigeadail to compare it to this Corryvreckan. I have high hopes now…

Points: 89

Brora 22yo 1981/2004 (56.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Butt #1561, 611 bottles)

600Post number 600, so lets break out something special. Special for me is Brora. Sure Port Ellen, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, they all are Cohiba’s, but Brora is Trinidad. Brora is extra special (to me). 600 is a round number but it’s not 1.000, 10.000 or even a million. It’s 600, so I won’t be reviewing a 1972 Brora, which for me is the pinnacle of them all. The 30yo OB from 2004 contains lots of 1972 Brora, so look at that review how great 1972 Brora can be. Back to this Signatory bottling from 1981. In 1981 Brora was in production, obviously, but were all over the place. Some expressions are full of peat and some are not. I wonder if this one has some peat to it…

Brora 22yo 1981/2004 (56.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Butt #1561, 611 bottles)Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Fresh and vivid. Definitely Sherry, but in no way funky. Quickly a fresh creamy and toffee note develops and only a mere hint of peat, just inhale vigorously. Needs to breathe a bit. Nice soft woody note, which sometimes take a turn towards old paper turned yellow. A bit dusty as well, (with whiffs of white peach). In no way dry. Quite spicy. I tickles the nose, and again toffee mixed with wax. Chewy would be the word. Mild yellow fruit notes appear, adding some acidity and yet more freshness to the nose. It’s not typically peach, white or other, but some whiffs come across as peach in semi-sweet yoghurt. The wood stays soft and is part of the fruity and creamy mix, instead of giving it a spine. Its nice overall, and does develop al lot, where initially it didn’t seem very complex. Hardly any peat at all and just a splash of smoke.

Taste: Thick, waxy and fruity. Definitely a profile we get from fruity Speysiders from the seventies. Nice soft wood. Toffee, without being very sweet. It has some fruity sweetness, but just the right amount. It has more than 56% ABV, but it’s still friendly. Not hot, nor burning my throat. Very drinkable. To my amazement, a lot disappears towards the finish and the finish itself is medium at best. Only in the aftertaste it starts to come apart a bit, fading out. Just the right moment to take another sip.

This one isn’t about the peat and the smoke, and the ruggedness of highlands, and sea storms after which you need warming. This one is for those moment you need an old Speysider, Bourbon matured, with lots of fruit and wax. Remember this isn’t from a Bourbon cask, but is from a Sherry butt. It has hints of peat and smoke. It’s a bit like the profile Benromach is going for today with the new 10yo and 15yo.

Points: 89

Aberlour 16yo 1995/2012 “Warehouse No 1” (57%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Sherry Cask #4934)

That’s not all! There is more. I hope you didn’t think I would have only hand-filled Aberlours from ex-Bourbon casks now didn’t you? This is a case of saving the best for last, at least so I hope. Experience showed me that the Aberlour spirit fares well in Sherry casks, and often something wonderful emerges. Just take a look at one of the best NAS bottlings in the Marketplace: The Aberlour A’bunadh. Up ’till now I reviewed two batches on Master Quill: #13 and #33 and calling both pretty good would be an understatement. Here we have a sort of A’bunadh only older and coming from a single cask. So who knows, maybe it’s even better!

Aberlour 16yo 1995/2012 Warehouse No 1 (57%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Sherry Cask #4934)Color: Warm and dark orange brown.

Nose: Wonderfully sherried. Toffee and cherries. Slightly tarry and very reminiscent of A’bunadh, so I would go with Oloroso Sherry for this one. Nice soft oak. Slightly burnt caramel and the whole comes across with nice toffee notes, without its sweetness though. Well balanced and definitely older than A’bunadh. With some air more rubbery notes appear and more dry wood. Very dusty actually. Tiny hint of cola sweetness and even a hint of florality? Where A’bunadh sometimes can smell a bit harsh, this oozes softness. Excellent stuff.

Taste: Yes more A’bunadh. Starts with a high note of acidity, that quickly moves into cherries and a tarry woody depth. Nice liquid toffee temporary sweetness. Mocha and cream. Latte Macchiato (with a wee bit too much milk). Sticky toffee pudding. Schwarzwalder kirsch trifle, all again without their usual sweetness. Dusty. Extremely drinkable. Lovely.

Even though its twice the age of A’bunadh, it’s very similar in its initial profile. Forgetting the smoothness and softness brought to this Whisky by ageing, you can see this as a single cask A’bunadh. Both share a lot. Having said that, and more or less claiming this is (easily) recognizable as an A’bunadh, I have to say that it also reminds me a lot of the 1996 Ultimate (and Signatory) Longmorns. Earlier I reviewed three of those: cask 72315, cask #72319 and cask #105091.

Points: 89

Abuelo Centuria Reserva de la Familia (40%, Panama)

You thought I was finished with Abuelo, no? Nope, there is still another Abuelo available. The Centuria was released in 2011, one year after the 12yo in celebration of the distillery’s centennial. It is said to be a blend of the Varela family’s own private reserves. Hmmm, holding on to the best stuff for private use aren’t we? Luckily they have found it in their hearts to share a part of it with the world. For this Rum, only estate-grown sugarcane is used, which could mean that for the other three versions also Rum from molasses may have been used or sugarcane grown elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with that. The Rum was aged in a solera system for up to three decades and matured in American Whiskey barrels (Probably Jack Daniels). 3.000 bottles were produced. For such a limited quantity run, it is quite special that this hasn’t sold out yet. Maybe 3.000 bottles were initially released, but more were made since.

Abuelo CenturiaColor: Dark brown, PX Sherry.

Nose: Fantastic old oak. Dark chocolate. Creamy vanilla and a slightly acidic note. Leather and dark organics. Spicy and hints of orange skins. Gingerbread spices with dried oranges. Sometimes this nose reminds me of a very old Single Malt Whisky. The nose is always centered around the many different wood notes. The wood changes, but will never let you down. It’s the centerpiece, its like nosing the wooden interior of the ball-room of the Titanic (before it sank). You’d almost dress up to nose this.

Taste: Ahh now we’re talking. Coal and tar. Great interaction between dry oak and half sweet, slightly burnt sugar and caramel. Creamy even. Long finish with soft old oak, gingerbread spices and some licorice. Polished furniture. In the distance there is the fresh and acidic fruit. Here it is pushed back a little (by spicy wood) and thus aids the overall taste. In the 12yo this fruit is up-front and ruins the whole balance with its strange acidity. In this one they got it right. I would say, back to the drawing board with the 12yo! Lots of old Rum in this one, but blended masterfully not to let the oak dominate. Not sure if it’s all solera though.

This is hands down the best of the bunch. Even at this price point. It costs about as much as four bottles of the 12yo, today at least, but I expect it to be even more expensive in the near future. However, this is still the one to get. The other three are decent Rums, but each of them can be replaced by many others. A bit anonymous? So, nothing special compared to the Centuria. The Centuria is fantastically unique and is worth its price, even at 40% ABV.

Points: 89