Longrow Red 13yo “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” (51.6%, OB, 10 years Bourbon Barrels & Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 years Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels, 9.000 bottles, 2020, 20/08)

Of all the Longrow Red’s that have been bottled, most follow some sort of recipe: first a long maturation in Bourbon casks, followed by a shorter term finish in casks that previously held a Red Wine. Only two deviate from this recipe: 2014’s Fresh Port, which had a full 11 years maturation in Port casks, the other one this 2020’s Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, where part of the initial maturation was carried out in Sherry casks. By the way, the Wine casks for this edition were sourced from Mont Gras’ Intriga Estate in Alto Maipo, Chile.

As mentioned in the introduction of the previous review for the 2019 Pinot Noir edition of Red, when I tasted this Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 edition, I really liked it, so I got half a bottle. Still not sure ‘eh Quill? Probably not. One simply doesn’t put an open bottle in storage, nope, open bottles belong on the lectern here in Master Quill’s castle, and should be enjoyed right away. When tasting through this half bottle, especially when it was still half full, the smell and taste had some great funky organic peat going on, which I really liked, so I even went further and finally bought myself a full bottle, and put it directly in storage, because there is no room for closed bottles on said lectern. Lectern’s aren’t all that big, you know. Nope, there is no need to have the same whisky open twice one right after the other. This shared bottle is now almost empty, usually the moment the distillate of the Springbank distillery is at its best, so time to write up this review…

Color: Bright orange gold. Radiant with a pink hue.

Nose: Warm and creamy peat and dusty. In a way, hints of Wine, but not so much a Cabernet Sauvignon (a Red Wine), but at times more like a fragrant Alsatian White Wine with a little bit of added bonfire smoke for good measure. Definitely more Winey than the 2019 Pinot Noir edition. On top, hints of citrus combined with some funky organics with hints of bad breath. Not actually sweet, but sweeter than the Pinot Noir. Some recognizable notes of Oloroso Sherry, as can be found in several Hazelburn offerings. Wood, pencil shavings, paper and peat with hints freshly crushed green grapes, acidic, as in not very ripe grapes. Aromatic, farmy and perfumy (vetiver?). Soft and fruity, (little forest strawberries?), peat and some sweet and soft smoke. Bonfire smoke again. It starts with fatty and creamy peat, but before you know it, the smoke quietly displaces the peat. Wee hints of vanilla. This vanilla bit seems to be integrated with the fruity notes, like a custard with fruit syrup poured over it. Creamy. Not hard to smell this is a Wine finish though, and once you smell it, it can’t be un-smelled. Toasted Wine infused oak and some more pencil shavings. Faint smell of unlit Cuban cigar. Soft fresh wood and in part resembling the cigar box itself. Sweet funky organic note emerges next, this overall funkiness works wonders in this Malt. Nutty with raisins and next, the smell of an old bar of soap, this particular smell from an old ladies closet. Winey and perfumy. Hints on incense, cold air at night, maybe with a wee puff of smoke, integrated with the air, from an odd fireplace. Now some fragrant and perfumy fresh oak. Definitely some fresh sawn oak, although it doesn’t remind me of virgin oak Whiskies. Red ripe fruits hovering above all the other aroma’s, and a slight hint of yellow fruits well in the body of this Malt. This fruit takes a while to show itself. At times, it smells a wee bit to sweet, if you ask me, but this is only a minor gripe. Nicely balanced and smells accessible. Quite complex and the wood works wonders in this one. The Pinot Noir is the more likeable nose, but this Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely more complex.

Taste: Diluted red fruit syrup, again somewhat sweeter than the Pinot Noir was. Red Wine right from the start, which is easy to spot, when you’ve had Deanston’s Bordeaux offering earlier. Peat and toasted oak only come next, with a short smoky sting from peat and smoke, all very upfront. Almonds, semolina pudding with red berry sauce. Coarse rural toffee. I don’t even know if it exists, but the sweetness tastes like rough and crumbly toffee, not the smooth and runny kind we all know. More aroma’s of (new) wood. Sweet underneath, but with smoke and to a lesser extent peat on top, this is balanced out a bit. Some tar and smoke and some rubber even. Macaroons, After the sweetness and the prickly and smoky bits a more dryer note comes forward, as well as some virgin oak bitterness, almost sappy, savvy? Clay. Without the peat this would be suitable for almost every Whisky drinker, like the aforementioned Deanston, but luckily this has peat and smoke, making it different and for some, more exciting.

In most cases the distillates of Springbank distillery, only get better over time. Gaining in balance and overall taste and smell. we say it has to breathe and needs some time to reach it’s full potential. Here this is not really the case. This is one of those rare “Springbanks” that lose a bit of balance towards the end. The top probably lies around the half full bottle mark, but after that it goes downhill a bit, it doesn’t get bad, but its “deterioration” is noticeable, it loses a bit. In the end this is still a good Whisky, and sometimes it happens that a Whisky somewhat oxidizes, that in itself is no fault. Personally I need to find out if the (Red) Wine finishing is something for me. Still, this one is good, and the Deanston I reviewed last was good as well. Maybe it’s growing on me?

Points: 87

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

An Cnoc “Rascan” (46%, OB, Bourbon Barrels, Peated (11.1 ppm), 18.000 bottles, L15/188, 2015)

The distillery is Knockdhu (est. 1894) and a while back the Whisky itself bore that name as well. Not to further confuse the public, the name of the Whisky was changed to An Cnoc, since there already is a distillery, a village, a house and a Whisky, called Knockando (est. 1898). Knockando today is owned by Diageo (humongous conglomerate with even a headquarters in the L.A. of Blade Runner 2048), and Knockdhu by Inver House Distillers (small conglomerette), so guess who changed the name of their Whisky. Inver House owns five Scottish Whisky Distilleries in total: Balblair, Knockdhu, Pulteney, Speyburn and Balmenach distillery. All, apart from Balmenach, are also marketed as a Single Malt Whisky. I don’t know why, but An Cnoc is highly underrated, almost never heard of so not a lot of people visit them at Whisky shows. This makes me wanting to root for this underdog, wishing all of their output being nothing short of great, showing all those people who haven’t been taking an interest, what they are missing. So when a few of these peated versions popped up in a local store, I picked out two different ones, to see what it’s like. Rascan (yes, a NAS Whisky) is the first one of those two to grace my lectern, and the first An Cnoc on these pages. Under the radar? Check!

Color: Very light, lightly coloured water, not even White Wine.

Nose: More perfumy and creamy than peaty, but there is certainly some peat in this. This starts out with a whiff of mustiness, but this also dissipates rather quickly, maybe still a shadow of the huge off-note from the freshly opened bottle? When this was freshly opened, I was really disappointed. Young, milky, new make-like and definitely not done yet, highly unfinished and unbalanced. Lagavulin 10yo all over again. Still, that shouldn’t put us off, because we are experienced, so we know that 90% to 95% of all Whiskies get better over time. When the level of liquid becomes lower, more air gets in the bottle and reacts with the Whisky, allowing the spirit to open up and reach a better balance. When writing this review, already over half of the Whisky is gone, and it is a totally different Whisky now than it was earlier. If there was ever an example to show you that a Whisky needs to breathe, this is it. Now it is friendly, lightly peaty and citrus fresh, with a wee spicy and gingery note to it. Appetizing and quite appealing. Creamy biscuits, cookies, and fresh air. Lemon skins in fine pastry, complete with powdered sugar. The milky new make has gone to the place behind the rainbow, the eternal hunting fields, which is a big, big bonus for us. Medium strength dried kitchen spices. Light bonfire resembling that of the Lagavulin Distillers Edition I reviewed last, just more perfumy. A snuff of black pepper, unlit tobacco and some mint, adding to the light spiciness, whilst still remaining friendly and citrussy. As it has become, I quite like it, no, actually, I like it a lot. It’s a solid performer now. I don’t regret getting this for a minute now. Sure, it maybe light and maybe even a bit simple and easy going, but it still has a lot to offer and seems to have some power as well, because it can change te perception of the Whisky tasted following this one. I like it very much, and I’m glad I do.

Taste: Here it starts rather young and biscuity, with and excellent amount of sweetness (toffee). A light creamy sweetness with prickly smoke and a hint of sweet licorice and some other soft spices. Some bitterness from oak, (but it’s not woody, nor has it much American oak vanilla), and again, nice, crisp lemon sherbet freshness. Lemon curd. Next, a peaty aroma somewhere in between plastic, tar, wax and licorice. You can feel it going down. Yeah. Mucho salty lips. It’s a NAS bottling and definitely young, and sure, not very complex, but still this is a well made, balanced and really nice Whisky. I hoped for it and I’m happy it delivers in the end, after maybe a wonky start, that is. A heed of warning for some of you. Yes, this may very well be a peaty Whisky, but please don’t expect a heavy hitting Islay style Whisky. It isn’t, it contains peat alright, 11.1 ppm, but it’s only lightly peaty, with some sweetness and some more nice citrussy elements. This is almost a nice summery peaty Whisky so to speak, with high drinkability. It seems to me the longer this gets to breathe, the better it gets, as often the case. I even left a dram overnight (with a lid without a 100% seal), and the next day it was even better still. How is that for a hidden strength. Quality stuff for sure.

By now, every bottle I open, I leave the cork off for at least a day, as said before, almost every Whisky benefits from it, and especially full bottles. The nose showed some unfinished (off)notes when freshly opened, but this Malt reacts excellently to air. It gets better and better after breathing. By now, it shows no off notes whatsoever, and what became an enjoyable dram, now even shows the high quality it possesses. If you work on it a bit, this what might seem to be anonymous Whisky at first, might surprise you whit what it has on offer. An Cnoc is now definitely on my radar. I’m going to look for a cask strength expression from a refill hogshead which will tell me more about the distillate.

Points: 85

Lagavulin 2002/2018 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv.4/507)

Lagavulin is a great distillery with great people and has a great output of very high quality, although, my firm Lagavulin-faith was rocked a bit with the more recent releases of the 8yo (@ 48% ABV) and the 10yo (@ 43% ABV). I still have to review the 9yo Game of Thrones Edition (@ 46% ABV) and the 11yo Offerman Edition (@ 46 % ABV). Before we get to those, I have this modern classic on my lectern, yes @ 43% ABV, this is a bit of yesteryear’s ABV, but The Distillers Edition has always been good and and already tried by many. I would be surprised if you were reading this and never had tried a Lagavulin Distillers Edition before.

In 2016, I already had an earlier edition of a Lagavulin Distillers Edition on these pages. The 1996/2002 lgv. 4/490. That is most certainly an oldie compared to the one I’m about to review. In fact, this one was distilled when the earlier one was bottled. Just like all the other Lagavulin Distillers Editions, this was finished in Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks. PX is a sweet fortified Wine, so expect some sweetness, although in general, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Also, this Whisky has been coloured with Caramel, why? The 1996 edition was bottled in clear glass, but this 2002 was bottled in smoke coloured glass, so why still alter the Whisky with E150? This is something that was on my mind reviewing the Lagavulin 12yo for the friends of the Classic Malts as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Nice warming peat, with quite a lot of iodine. Bonfire in winter. Fire place at Christmas. Smoked vanilla and toffee. Cold outside, quite hot inside the log cabin. PX is recognizable, giving off a sweet raisiny, meaty and fruity aroma. Wood, burnt wood, scorched wood. Tarry. Licorice. More smoky than peaty, but warm peat is certainly here as well. Wonderful balanced nose. After a while breathing in my glass, the rougher notes of smoke and, to a lesser extent, peat, dissipate a bit, leaving more room for a sweeter more syrupy note. Syrupy is not always a good note, mind you, and here it offers a cloak of sweetness masking some of the wonderful notes from the beginning. Apart from the iodine laden smoke a more perfumy note emerges as well. Big and smoky not light and fruity. This is essentially what one might call a winter dram. Wonderful nose. Amazing at this price point.

Taste: Initially lighter and thinner than the nose promised. Lacking a bit in the oomph department and with it killing a bit of the depth this probably had. Here bitter smoke and quite a lot licorice seems to be upfront, something, if present, that seemed masked in the nose. Sweet sugar-coated anise-like licorice. The sweetness kicks in now. It works wonders with the bitter notes of smoke (fire place!) and peat. Crushed beetle and vanilla. Still a very tasty Islay dram different from the rest, a potential masterpiece. Again more smoky than peaty. By now I really wish I could have had the chance to try this before it gets diluted, that version must be surely stellar. Salty lips, very dark chocolate bitterness. Is it me or does this really have notes of red fruit syrup, not much, but detectable. Way to easily drinkable @ this ABV. I’m actually amazed this bottle is already so far gone, when did that happen? Every time I want to take another sip to expand on these notes, the glass is also empty. This is also a Malt the works better with bigger sips. A Malt to be drunk. The sweetness even makes it into the finish, with chocolaty bitterness in the aftertaste. Again, like the nose, well balanced. Good stuff, more please. I have to refill my glass. Nom, nom, nom.

Really dear readers, If you can get a 16yo, which is utterly wonderful, and/or this Distillers Edition, of which I almost forgot how good it really is, there is absolutely no need to buy the 8yo and/or the 10yo, both are so much less of a Whisky than these two and offer nothing more or new, they seem unfinished and come across as an afterthought. It absolutely pains me to say this about these two offerings from one of my most beloved distilleries, but please do yourself a favour and avoid both the 8yo and the 10yo, and if you know them and feel one of both are very good, are you sure you have tried the 12yo Cask Strength, the 16yo or one of these Distillers Editions? Are you sure? Because for me the difference is amazing. Just like Ardbeg with their Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, Lagavulin also has truly great Whiskies in their core line-up with the 16yo and the Distiller Editions. So really good Islay Whiskies can still be had at a very reasonable price point. All four belong on a bang-for-your-buck list.

Points: 88

Bruichladdich 8yo The Organic 2009 (50%, OB, Bourbon and Tennessee Whisky casks, Mid Coul Farms, Dalcross, 18.000 bottles, 17/333, 2017)

The last Bruichladdich on these pages was the 2007 Islay Barley, and I suspect this Organic 2009 should be somewhat comparable to it. These two (Islay Barley and Organic), together with the Bere Barley expressions, seem to be Bruichladdich’s answer to Springbank’s Local Barley series. Both distilleries are sure that terroir matters, and you lovers of good food already know to use local, seasonal and fresh products. Where on every Local Barley bottle there is a statement of the Barley variety used, in this case Bruichladdich only mentions the use of 100% organically grown Scottish Barley. The Barley was sourced from Mid Coul Farms, Dalcross which is just to the north of Inverness and has Inverness airport as its closest neighbour, quite an odd place to grow organically. So no pesticides, but jet exhaust instead? Odd. As we already know, distillation took place in 2009 and the Barley used was from the 2008 Harvest.

Lets make it ourselves easy this time and finish off this introduction with the official introduction to the organic 2009 by Bruichladdich themselves: “The whisky we distil from the organic barley of Mid Coul reflects the complex natural flavours of the landscape. Just as our stillmen refuse to abandon the traditional crafts of distillation in favour of automation or industrialisation, so farmer William Rose rejects the use of herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Crop rotation is key. Our barley must take its turn in a seven year farm cycle that also produces organic cattle, sheep, oats, beans, grass, carrots, market gardening and a megawatt of green electricity. Respecting the land, the soil and the climate nourishes a genuine and thorough understanding of terroir and the results are pure Bruichladdich”.

Color: White Wine

Nose: Initially cereal and biscuits, very clean. Briefly the aroma of cherries on syrup and almonds, but when air hits this Malt, this is soon gone, never to return again. Powdery and some vanilla, yet still fresh and clean. Warming mocha, creamy latex paint and a hint of light chocolate powder. No sign of new make spirit though, even though this is a pretty young Malt. Sure, I’m probably somewhat biassed by the organic name, but this smells like a honest Malt an “integrity” Malt and I’m happy to report no jet-exhaust at all! Next, some development letting a citrussy and more fruity bit through. Sweeter and slightly more floral now, whiffs of perfume whizz by. Soft wood, very soft wood. A breath of fresh air and this brings me back to the days in the noughties of many Cadenhead hogsheads, bottled in their Authentic Collection. Ahhh, memories… More milk chocolate, wood, also some fresh mud now. Instant coffee powder and also these half-sweet yellow fruits. After a long while the woody bit gets some more room and smells a bit like pencil shavings (and a wee bit of ear-wax) and a wee-er bit of Spanish cedar as well. Sometimes I even get the original Nivea cream. It may be young, but it smells impressively balanced already, sure it lacks the depth of a well aged Malt, but you already knew what to expect, when buying this didn’t you? (I did).

Taste: Sweet, just the right amount, and not really the oomph of 50% ABV. I did let it sit in a glass for a while, maybe the oomph evaporated? Just kidding, or aren’t I? It’s most definitely not harsh now and actually quite soft. Sweet barley and more wood than initially showed up in the nose, and after a while, some bitterness emerges. Vanilla and the wee bit of ear-wax from the nose is present on the palate as well. Quite nutty. Sweet floral lemon balm on my lips. Runny caramel which fits perfectly with the fruity acidic notes. This may not be a very complex Malt, but I wouldn’t make the mistake of calling this simple. This is a well made Whisky, with a lot on offer.

I’m writing this review from a bottle that has about one third left, and the Whisky is more mellow now and better balanced than it was when freshly opened. It might have even been a bit harsh on opening. Many of you know the difference between tasting a malt in an controlled environment, (no I don’t mean a laboratory), like your living room or man cave for instance, a place you know well. Tasting a Malt outside, with it’s constant flow of fresh air, I often don’t pick up on certain markers from a Malt, I most definitely do pick up on inside. The tasting experience outside, therefore differs for me, from inside. Having said all that, this Organic 2009 actually works wonderfully well outside. This malt just needs some more fresh air, and with this, it shows you more, as if amplified. At least today it does, and it is quite a grey and windy day. Not a dull day, mind you, hard wind and rolling clouds are fun to watch, as well as the stuff blowing by my window. Circumstances not unknown to Bruichladdich. Just pour it and leave it there for a while, again a Malt that needs your attention (like the Ben Nevis I just reviewed). This may very well be an anoraky Whisky. Personally I like it a lot and have a lot of fun with. Somewhat of a hidden gem if you let it. Good stuff, just like Islay Barley 2007, scoring the same.

Points: 86

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

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

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

Color: Light Gold.

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

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

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

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

Points: 85

Thanks again to Nico for the sample!

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

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

Color: Light pale gold.

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

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

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

Points: 86

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

Talisker 15yo (57.3%, OB, Special Release, Freshly Charred American Oak Hogsheads, 2019)

We have already seen quite a few special releases from Talisker, probably the most popular distillery in the Diageo portfolio. For instance, there have been two releases of 20 yo’s in 2002 and 2003, an annual release of a 25yo. Between 2004 and 2009 the 25yo was bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 it was reduced to the “Talisker strength” of 45.8% ABV. There have been several 30yo, again, between 2006 and 2010 bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 reduced to “Talisker strength” as well. There have been some other special releases as well. Since 2018 Talisker showed up in the annual special releases with a 8yo, in 2019 with this 15yo and in 2020 another 8yo was released, this time finished in Caribbean Rum casks. I expect Talisker to be a main stay in the forthcoming years of annual releases. Let’s have a look at one of those three new annual releases. The one I have open in my glass right now is this 15yo from 2019, an expression matured in freshly charred American oak hogsheads. Usually these are refill casks that have been used multiple times, and have grown a little bit tired. A long time ago these casks would have been scrapped, but these days theses cask are rejuvenated, their lease of life extended by re-charring them and opening up another layer of wood, giving an aroma closer to virgin oak than a refill cask would. So lets have a look at this tired old oak release, to see if it’s any good…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Very aromatic. Hints of Rhum Agricole and sweet funky organics. Dry, big and fatty. A promise of sweetness, but it’s not only this, it also has a sharper and very fresh side as well, like a windy seaside view complete with sea spray. Nutty, sweet and creamy with some ground coffee, not freshly grounded mind you, a bit faded, maybe old ground coffee. Paper and a bit of cardboard, but also very old, soft spicy wood. Kitchen spices. Lovely and fruity sweet organics. Peppery attack with a big alcoholic, well, attack as well. Hints of peat combined with different funky organics. The initial, almost ozonic, layer makes up the first series of aroma’s, but when these pass, more fruity notes emerge. Some of the fruity notes are quite acidic and it seems there are several acidic notes, not all of which seems to be well integrated initially. A razor sharp Malt. When this gets more time to breathe, and especially when the bottle becomes emptier and emptier, it shows a more woody note mixed in with something very nice. Still fresh and very oxygenated, and also more balanced. I get lots of notes I don’t encounter all that much. A special release indeed. Fresh pineapple, sweet apple meat, mixed with a wee bit of cream. Tiniest hint of smoke and tar, but different from Islay smoke and tar, here it is more refined and combines with creamy wood and American oak vanilla. Sometimes, I swear, I even get a note of rotting wood and cold water left over after washing the dishes the evening before. All of this is partly masked by the fruity bits on the nose. Salty meat is next. Polish dried sausage. Complex it is!

Taste: Big, very big, with a short sweet and vanilla sensation and an equally short slightly bitter attack. Clay, sharp smoke, burnt wood, warm peat and lots of nuts. Industrial and it differs quite a bit from the nose. Salty and dried fish. The sweetness evolves after the initial attack. Salty and dried meat come next, with later on, after the first sip, a nice nutty and wonderfully creamy body with the classic Talisker pepper attack. The smell of clean steamy bodies in a sauna, how is that for funky organics? It has been a long time since I had a Malt this salty. The feeling of salt on my lips. When this opens up a bit, some nice yellow fruit notes emerge. Nice fruity acidity better integrated than it was in the nose. More peat and smoke (and clay again). A really good Talisker yet not perfectly balanced though. There is this difference between the nose and the taste, but also not everything I can taste seems to be in it’s right place. Don’t worry, this is only a minor grievance. Quite hot going down. But this is also why we like Talisker. Fruity and also some winey notes. Lips still salty. Long finish (with less balance than the body has) with a very warm aftertaste in which the wood, the dried yellow fruit and the toasted oak resonate. Personally, I find this to be another very good OB like the 8yo from 2018. Both welcoming releases after all those lesser and less inspired NAS bottlings. I hope Diageo will continue to release good and interesting Talisker’s in the annual special releases.

Let it breathe for a while, this needs quite a lot of time and air to find more balance.

Points: 88

Last year I reviewed the Talisker 57° North and since that has an almost identical ABV, let’s do a H2H between North and this new 15yo. First of all, the North is ever so slightly darker, most likely from caramel colouring. On the nose North is much softer and definitely a lot younger. Much closer to new make spirit. That’s exactly the difference between a NAS and a 15yo. The 15 has more wood, and is more mature. North has more cream, like creamy sweet yoghurt. On the palate the North is way simpler, sweeter, rounder and again much younger as well. The North by itself is a nice high ABV Talisker. However, if you compare it to a Talisker with some proper ageing, the differences couldn’t have been greater. Different puppies altogether.

This is review #800.

The Benriach 18yo “Latada” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Madeira Finish. 4001 bottles, 2015)

The Benriach Limited Production 18yo’s. It took me a few years but now we can finally put this trio to rest. In the year 2015 three 18yo’s were released, but not on the same moment. Albariza (PX finish) was the first one, reviewed in 2018, Dunder (Rum finish) the second, reviewed in 2015 and finally this review of Latada (Madeira finish) in 2021. Quite a lot has happened in the world in this space of time. In 2017 also two second edition’s were released, both 22yo, so the original casks for these two, were filled earlier than those for the 18 yo’s. However, this tells us nothing about length of the finish. Albariza and Dunder were thus repeated, but there is no 22yo Latada. Were the Madeira casks used for finishing unavailable or did they forget to produce it? Were the results unsatisfactory and the decision was made to hold it back, or maybe the original 18yo Latada didn’t sell all that well or was somehow unpopular and they just didn’t bother to repeat it. Who knows? So, let’s find out for ourselves, shall we?

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fruity and very pleasant light peat. Latex paint, vanilla powder and warm apple sauce. Very pleasant nose. I’ll let you in on a little secret with this Malt. You can force this Malt to smell like a 1976 Benriach or Tomatin. Fruit, fruit, fruit, tropical fruit, well you catch my fruity drift now, yes? Excellent old-skool Benriach fatty, sweet and succulent yellow fruit. If you pour this Malt in your favourite glass and cover it up right away, allowing for the aroma’s to concentrate under the lid. Leave it there for a few minutes (or even better, hold it in your hands to speed up the process). When you feel confident, take the lid off and smell it… Remember, you heard about this here first! This Benriach has this amazing trick upon its sleeve. Thick sunny fruit with a nice black peaty edge. Good balance. Warm smoked apple sauce and moisturising hand cream (Nivea). Crushed beetle and smouldering leaves. Fresh oak with nice medium wood spices and some bonfire notes. Amongst all these Benriach’s that were released under Billy Walkers reign, with labels in colours you didn’t even know existed, these three finishes (Albariza, Dunder and Latada) really stand out for me, as if these received some kind of extra care. Benriach is already a great distillate and Malt, and these three are certainly no slouches. Otherwise this Latada seems to be somewhat simpler and less peaty than both Albariza or Dunder.

Taste: Sweet and sour fruity acidity. Apple sauce, sugared yellow fruits, slightly nutty (like a mix of freshly burnt and unsalted nuts you buy at the market on Saturday) and cigarette ashes. Thick (sweetness + peat) and thin (acidity) at the same time. Some nice wood, more than the nose had, but not very much, not a lot of bitterness as well, which is great. This leaves more room for the fruit and the peat. I expected even some more peat here though, and maybe even some prickly smoke, but foremost this Malt shows me ashes first, apart from the fruit that is. Soft and (light) peat do come next. Only next, comes some sweet licorice and again some wood. All in all a very tasty Whisky (hints of diluted Fanta), but less complex than expected. Excellent finish though. Nice warming and peaty aftertaste. Sure, of the three, Latada makes you work the hardest to show you what it’s got, but it is still a very nice one. The body of this Malt is narrower than both the Albariza and Dunder and as said also somewhat less complex.

Keep a lid on this one! Focus them aroma’s!

Points: 87

I understand that the scoring of Albariza (89 Points), Dunder (88 Points) and Latada (87 Points) seem a bit “coincidental”, but for me these scores reflect perfectly the quality of all three Malts and the differences between them. All three are very good, and some finishes just work a little bit better than the next. Keep in mind that this is my personal opinion, and it is highly likely, your preferences will differ. The perception one has, concerning the PX, Rum and Madeira finishes is also a matter of taste and can differ from one person tot the next. So for me the PX finish works best, but the other two are very nice as well. All three finishes work very well with the peat, and I can recommend all three. Considering these 18yo’s, I could be tempted to buy the Albariza and the Dunder back, but luckily these two have 22yo’s versions, so I’m getting those in stead. If a 22yo Latada would have existed I would have bought that one as well, because the 18yo version is still a good Whisky, receiving a well deserved 87 points. It would be interesting though to see how the 22yo would have been. However, I’m not sure if I would be getting the 18yo Latada again. For me it is still the least one of the three if you compare them to each other, and it is also the one that needed the most work to get everything out of it. Albariza and Dunder are easier in that respect. Get them all, they are good and differ quite a lot from each other. I would only recommend opening them in reverse order, so Latada first, than Dunder and finally Albariza. That will work best.