Glentauchers 13yo 2002/2015 (55.6%, Five Lions, Private Collection, 2nd Fill Bourbon Barrel)

Within the realm of Whisky one can find a lot of different tastes and smells. But hey, that is also true for Rum and many other aged distillates. This is one of the reasons one can never really stop talking or writing about it, because there is always a lot more to say. Whisky isn’t dead, there is a lot of evolution in Whisky as well. Once only Blended Whiskies were the ” thing” and most distilleries owe their life to being part of a big selling blend. There was also a big move towards ageing Whiskies in Spanish Sherry casks, butts and puncheons. Who doesn’t like those excellent 60’s and 70’s Sherry driven Malts like the Macallan, Glendronach, Longmorn and Strathisla to name but a few.

More recent and more evolved are Whiskies in less traditional casks like Red and White Wine casks. Today everything goes. Casks after Rum, Cognac, Calvados, Sweet Dessert Wines, or Sherry’s put on American Oak casks rather than the traditional European Oak. The Sherry drinking public finds these Sherry’s more friendly and accessible. The art being how to use all those different casks, and for how long. A fine example turned out to be this recently reviewed Deanston finished in Bordeaux casks. When talking to people who… well the world knows them as anoraks, aficionado’s or connoisseurs, when talking about the different styles of Whisky, these people always seem have a soft spot for Whiskies that have been aged for a good while in refill Bourbon barrels and Hogsheads. These casks tend to less dominate the distillate and add more creamy and vanilla flavours (coming from American Oak). Whiskies that have been aged this way always leave some room for the quality of the distillate, which differs from distillery to distillery, making these Whiskies extremely interesting.

Here we have an example of this. A Glentauchers, aged for 13 years in a second fill Bourbon barrel, nothing more. So what we have here is the distillate and a previously used cask, nothing more. I bought this one at auction and it didn’t break the bank, and I felt this would do just fine. Glentauchers makes a nice distillate, the cask is a second refill, so not worn out, not tampered with, recharred or something and always a plus, the Whisky was bottled at cask strength, giving it enough power to bring all those lovely flavours forth. Lets dig in!

Color: White Wine

Nose: Starts nutty and waxy. Dried out yellow fruits with a little bit of honey. Big breaths of fresh air and a citrussy acidic note as well. An ever so slight edge of smokiness. A huge layer of perfumed paper and a slight burnt note as well. Soft wood bordering on cardboard and the skins of almonds. Initially not as fruity as expected. So it seems not fruity nor woody at first. However, having said that, there is definitely some fruit here, but it is all fresh citrus notes. Oils from the skins. Hidden fruits. Thus the cask might have been less active, making this an excellent example of a malt where only time and the quality of the spirit determine the outcome, and the cask did do something as well obviously, but to a lesser extent than in most other cases. Still, this is a giving Malt, it is quite big on the nose, very fragrant and aromatic. Soft blend of licorice and spices in cold dishwater (a wee bit soapy), which isn’t as horrible as it sounds. This is a very laid-back Malt were nothing really stands out. A soft and quiet spoken Malt. The one that sits in the back at a birthday party, aptly dressed for a party and wearing fine floral cologne. It is more than happy to observe in stead of taking part in idle and utter boring conversation, biding his time until it’s time to finally go home again. Slightly (saw)dusty and the fresh air just keeps coming. Hints of cold gravy. After a while the floral note becomes clearer. Jasmine. not so much the fresh flower itself, but more like the scented rice or the tea. I’m actually still struggling a bit to distinguish the other fruits. Some unripe pineapple and unripe waxy mango skin. The malt is friendly and accessible, which often spells: “fruit”, but no, that doesn’t seem to be the dominant aroma this time (apart from the citrussy top note, and maybe some unripe fruits). Good one this though. Balanced, I like it.

Taste: Sweet and wood-spicy on entry. Hints of mocha cream on a cake. A friendly, and citrussy fresh, entry. Wood and wax and definitely more fruit than in the nose, the sweetness helps that along. Yet still not a very fruity Whisky though. The wood adds some restrained bitterness. Licorice all sorts, including the anise. Wow, remarkable. Quite hot going down. Lightly smoked toffee with some cumin and minty toothpaste. Light honey aroma’s make up the rest of the sweetness. Hints of wood, cardboard and a leafy note. Some smoke, pineapple and lemon hard candy. In the end the woody bitterness stays behind in the aftertaste. Sometimes it even tastes a bit soapy. Alcohol definitely there. Sweet, nice, and a very tasty Whisky indeed.

Even though one might consider this less interesting because of the cask used, and therefore one may find it even a bit boring. If you do, you might be missing the point. For me, this is a well made Whisky which does have a lot to offer. All is good and all is in its place. It’s a Malt of integrity and honesty and to be honest, this one pleased me a lot more than the dark coloured and Sherried Glenallachie 15yo I reviewed recently.

Points: 86

Glenallachie 15yo (46%, OB, 2019)

After a few independent bottlings of Glenallachie, here is finally one of those new official bottlings from Billy Walkers new pet project. After Glendronach and Benriach, now Glenallachie gets the Walker treatment, and the results are here for all to be seen. When this new core range was released in 2018, it included a Cask Strength 10yo, a 12yo, a 18yo and I believe a 25yo. Today there are many, many more of those blended and reduced bottlings available. A year after the introduction came this 15yo. Even without trying it, I already, really, really liked the look of it. The wonderful Sherried color looks nice, the blue label looks nice, and since the other Whiskies from the core range were pretty good as well, the 15yo appeared very promising to me. But buyer beware, looks can be deceiving, but hopefully not this time…

Color: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Sherried, slightly tarry and dusty. Cask toast, cookie dough and oranges. Milk chocolate, raisins, cherries and vanilla ice cream with quite a lot of floral aroma’s, as well as some perfumed wood. In part a perfume and ever so slightly, the smell of hair lacquer. Modern and clean. Very modern Sherry notes, which is miles away from the notes of Sherried Whiskies distilled in the 60’s and 70’s. Sweet (pink bubblegum) and mildly fruity, ever so slightly rotting fruit with a strange acidity to it. Weird. Lots of succulent raisins combined with dry dust. Vanilla and soft wood with lots of sharp fresh air and mint. Painted oak cask ends and dried virgin oak. Yes soft and dry oak is here to stay. Citrus fruit confectionery, you know, the ones coated with sugar. Where initially there was a sense of fruit to this, after some breathing this turns a bit darker and less fruity-friendly, yet retaining its (ultra) modern (woody) quality. Freshly opened, this didn’t seem all that interesting to me, somewhat closed and thin. Luckily this is no longer the case, at least not to this extent. Enough happening now after 1/3rd of the bottle gone.

Taste: Initially a bit thin and quite sweet, toffee and caramel sweetness, not even fruity sweetness. Now tar, cardboard and toasted oak, raisins and yes, some cinnamon. Wow lots of raisins in what seems to be a full bowl of vanilla ice-cream. It’s like (PX) raisins are dissolved in here. Further back a little woody bitterness. Initially a short-lived unbalance with some sort of acidity that doesn’t seem to integrate well (the rotting bit from the nose maybe?) Sometimes the “thin” bit returns as well. Fruity wood-infused sugar water. A strange sort of fruity sweetness. Not very fruity at all actually. Cookie dough and a trickle of smoke from the fire place. Quite a short finish though, just the warmth (and some oaky acidity and bitterness) stays behind for a while longer. Actually,, it is sometimes a bit too sweet or off. Orange skins, and yogurt acidity.

This is a Malt that does some things right and some things well, yet it doesn’t convince me enough as a whole. It seems a bit cold and too modern. In no way do I manage to click with it. A digital Malt. Vinyl aficionados will understand. On the plus side, this is quite different from the 12yo and the 10yo cask strength editions, which warrants its existence. On the down side, it’s just not that big, full, fruity or inspiring. I really expected a lot more from an official Sherried 15yo. In a way, I also expected a bit more from the Tamdhu 15 as well, but for me that one turned out to be nicer than this one though. Enough nice aromas on the nose here, but I feel this could have been and should have been better. I’m sure this will improve with future batches, since the newer distillate seems to be better. That’s why for me, for now, the first 10yo Cask Strength version is the most recommendable from the ever-expanding core range. But there are so many bottlings now, and I’ve hardly tasted them all. By now three more batches exist, so I hope those are carrying on the torch lit by the first one.

When tasting these new Glenallachies for the first time, it were the younger ones which surprised me the most and just seemed the most interesting since they seem to be showing the way forward, seen from the perspective of the newer distillate, predominantly, yet not exclusively, aged in Ex-Bourbon casks. I believe from this, that Glenallachie will be better with every passing year, as long as they manage to source the better quality casks available. Since the initial releases, it seems like every month a few new expressions see the light of day, and they aren’t all single casks as well. Somewhat similar to what Highland Park is doing now and Benriach did earlier. At the time of writing, three different virgin oak expressions were released…

Since I liked the 10yo Cask Strength version and the 12yo, and the 18yo only scored just one point more than the 12yo (at more than twice the price), I went for this 15yo, which seemed like a safe bet. I thought it should be at least as good as those mentioned earlier, and well, it is quite a dark colored expression, which didn’t break the bank, so I went for it without much thought and opened it before the aforementioned expressions I picked up earlier than the 15yo. Well this 15yo is a funny puppy. First of all, it doesn’t taste like a proper 15yo, but more like a NAS Sherry bottling. Somewhat designed and maybe rushed to the store perhaps? I don’t know. OK, the bottle has been open for only a few weeks and is still nearly full. Maybe it needs some more time and air. For now it lacks depth and it is more about cheap cream Sherry and PX, than good old quality Oloroso, which I expected. I’m actually a bit disappointed to be honest. Sure, oak and toasted cask are present, but the sugar water still dominates. Seems to me this was brought to the market as a direct competitor to the equally sweet Glendronach 15yo “Revival” and maybe the Tamdhu 15yo. In the end it never really grew on me, and it didn’t really get much better with time. It was fixed to much in its place hindering development, as if it was told not to. I finished the bottle rather quickly, which took me by surprise a bit, so, why did this go so fast? Did it become that good after some more breathing? Not exactly, in fact the Whisky is nothing more than OK, do-able, and yes, it luckily did have its moments, however, it went down so fast because it bored me and I wanted it out of the way for something better. So for a while it became the Whisky to start an evening with, until it was gone…

Points: 83

Deanston 10yo (46.3%, OB, Bordeaux Red Wine Cask Finish, for Travel Retail, 2019)

Deanston, once the ugly duckling of the Scottish Whisky world, its reputation then just a hair better than that of Fettercairn (no offence), but look at Deanston now. Deanston, may have started the race from the pits, after yet another engine change, but are making their way up the field in an impressing manner. If you look closely it is easy to see they took a hard look at what Springbank is doing (right). Maybe even asked for some advise, and if so, they clearly got the point as well. They left nothing to chance. First of all, the quality has improved a lot. Quality sells by word of mouth, because I don’t see a big marketing ploy behind either Deanston nor Springbank, and Deanston surely has grown a lot more popular.

Besides the quality, Deanston is issuing very good Whiskies in different price brackets, and the amount of single cask, or small batch releases have grown. Next, where Springbank is (again) successful with “Local Barley”, Deanston plays the “Organic” trump card. (Bollocks, Trump, these days this is almost a dirty word). Even the new bottle design of Deanston resembles the Springbank bottle a bit. Just look at the base of the bottle where words show up in the glass itself. So they adapted a successful formula and rightly so. It clearly works. Even the people I know are into Springbank (I’m one of them), are now also very much interested in Deanston, and liking it. Did I already mention, that the keys to the success of Springbank and thus more recently, Deanston, are its people? They are! Kudo’s to you!

Color: Orange gold, no red hue (looks like a Bourbon)

Nose: Wonderful creamy notes with nice red fruity notes, tiniest hint of apple pie and a sharper woody note. Floral as well. Smoky toffee. Very creamy in fact. Nothing Wine-like at all, although, maybe just a bit. Would I still feel the same if I had smelled this without knowing it was a Wine finish? Maybe so, yet the more this breathes, and if you are patient enough to let is sit in your glass for 10 to 15 minutes, the Red Wine nose becomes more pronounced. There is this slightly burned and slightly tarry aroma from the wine cask and this unmistakeable red fruit candy aroma, that always pops up with Red Wine cask finishes. We are still just starting with smelling this Malt and it already smells like something that was finished for just the right amount of time. Also, the base Whisky that was finished like this must have been of pretty high quality as well. Definitely American oak came first, it’s creamy with vanilla underneath. People at Deanston are really knowing what they are doing now, with a smell like this, and this after a Bordeaux Finish. In the early days of finishing, Red Wine casks, weren’t my favourites, not by a long shot. They were often severely overdone. Lets get back to smelling. Next a nice fresh green note. Plants on the window sill on a warm day. Lots of creamy warm milk chocolate. Quite soft after the sharper (oaky) start. The oak is still here, by the way. Within the soft notes some wet cardboard emerges, along with more sweet red fruit water. Forest strawberry lemonade. Well balanced altogether and smells very distinguished and mature. Is this really only a 10yo with a Bordeaux finish? It seems just too good for that. It surely doesn’t come across as such. I really like the smell of this. Amazing accomplishment.

Taste: Soft wood, thin, runny caramel, toffee and Winey red fruits, sweet and sour. Lemon acidity. American toasted oak vanilla with chewy toffee but also spicy wood and spicy spices. Yet the whole is still quite soft. Soft, warm milk chocolate and fresh almonds. Here the Wine finish is on top of the toffee and milk chocolate. Seems slightly less balanced than the nose was. Its a liquid Mars bar, Twix and Ferrero Rocher in one! The Wine finish is done with taste so it must have been used sparsely. Nothing wrong with this Wine finish. This Malt drinks like chocolate milk, dangerously easy going. Wine in the finish, as well as some hazelnuts and toast. Dare I say it also has some soapy notes? It does, is that a problem? This time it isn’t. As long as you don’t start foaming from the mouth (I didn’t). Somewhat simpler in the taste than the nose was but still a good and accomplished Malt. After sipping this, the nose becomes even better. Warming going down, like warm chocolate milk. Medium finish at best and finally a creamy aftertaste. One bottle of this isn’t nearly enough. Costs next to nothing compared to what you are getting for your hard earned cash, (I got it even on sale). Get more, should still be widely available. Finally a word of warning. This actually deteriorates a bit (even more soft, even sweeter and a bit too velvety) with air, so don’t have it in your glass too long. It’s best when freshly poured (spicier).

There is a danger to this Malt. When I opened this, I was really surprised how nice this is. Liked every drop of it, and the first half of the bottle went pretty quick, and all of a sudden I had enough of its big, sweet, tarry and winey profile. I had to push it to the back of the lectern to get away from it for a while, so lesson learned and just don’t overdo it. It is a good Malt, with an in your face profile, which can take you hostage for a while. If this happens to you, don’t worry, just press “Pauze” and after a while you can press “Play” again, and all is back to normal. Good one for a more than decent price. Like it.

Points: 86

Highland Park 10yo “Viking Scars” (40%, OB, Circa 2019)

Highland Park, never has there been a distillery whose output can really inspire me the one time and make me pretty sad and disappointed the next. Especially the official bottlings. Looking back at my reviews of official releases, I have to go back to 2015 to find a very good 18yo (bottled in 2012). Still the 18yo is wonky at best, since the 18yo (bottled in 2014) didn’t even come close to the 2012 expression. And this is the second time this happened to me with two earlier editions of the 18yo some ten years before. One batch, very good, the next not so much. I’m all for batch variation like Springbank does, but Springbanks seem to be always good yet can differ quite a bit. Every batch is made with different results in mind. With Highland Park you can see they were aiming for more or less the same profile, just the quality suffered a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I really have a soft spot for Highland Park. Heck, this is already the 17th Highland Park on these pages! It was the first Malt I encountered that really connected with me, wow, how I looked up to it. For instance, have you ever tried the 18yo wide-neck version? Just sayin’. Maybe with a change of owners, a change of management, a change in views, came some sort of downfall of the core range for me. To be honest, I haven’t been looking at Highland Park for a while now, but luckily this bottle-share with Nico came up. Maybe I’ve set myself up for another disappointment, since this is a 10yo bottled at 40% ABV. I hope Highland Park is able to put out a decent entry level Malt.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: If I would say, heather and honey, would I still be believable? But yes, for me its that and this is thus most certainly a Highland Park. Smells good, floral (sometimes even borderline soapy) and has definitely some Sherry-notes as well as some warm barley aroma’s. Warm oak and do I detect a whiff of smoke right there in the back? Vanilla with some cask toast and milk chocolate. Cloves, birch sap and smells from the fire place at Christmas. Candied yellow fruits. Besides the perfumy and quite floral notes also some minty ones appear. American oak vanilla and a nice refreshing citrus note as well. Also some sweetish ripe green apple skins. If you sniff this well, it has a nice dirty note there in the back as well. Quite a lot going on for a modern Malt at 10 years of age, one that also has been reduced so much. The smokey, fire place note is very interesting in this one. The whole works well and the well-balanced nose surely doesn’t disappoint. Very nice!

Taste: Thin, somewhat watery, waxy and paper-like. Initially sweet and heather smoky and than an ever so slightly bitter note from wood. More birch than oak though. Sappy. I have to hurry to put another sip in before everything disappears. Oooh it does smell really nice though. So this is thin with a short sweet run and some wood. Heather yes, honey, nope, the sweetness is more of the refined sugar kind to me. Quality sugar water with alcohol. Warming. Sweet with thin runny caramel and sticky toffee and some nutty notes as well. Whilst dramming, keep smelling this, because it lifts the taste. After sipping, the smoky notes in the nose get bigger and more wonderful, the smoke creeps into the taste as well. However, I fear the overall taste suffers more than a bit from the reduction I guess. The nose is very good and there are more than a few hints in the taste of this Whisky that it should be quite good at a (much) higher ABV. Since it seems a bit syrupy sweet, it sometimes drinks like it is 30% ABV. Just when going down, you know there has to be some (but not even a lot) more alcohol here than you might think. Some woody bitterness, plantlike and again a bit cardboardy. The finish is obviously short. The aftertaste is comprised of a syrupy film, toffee, wax and heathery and this light bitter woody note. Hint of milk chocolate with a floral edge. Five seconds later all is gone and Viking Scars turn out to be only superficial cuts and probably will leave no lasting marks. Not bad though, I expected worse to be honest.

As I said in the intro, I had some kind of reason to lose interest in Highland Park and somehow built up some kind of prejudice. Well this bottling sure feeds this prejudice in a way, yet there are also some leads in the smell and taste offering hope. In its defence, this is not expensive, and good smelling, but must have been targeted at a more careless consumer, who might want to use it in a Whisky and Coke. Well, I obviously don’t fit that bill (I prefer a good Rum in my ginger beer by the way, thank you very much). This bottling is most definitely not targeted at the members of HPAS (Highland Park Appreciation Society), these members turn their attention to the many single cask bottlings bottled at cask strength. I’m sure though members of HPAS have tasted this bottling and have some at home as well. Not sure if they are drinking it on a regular basis though. I have to get me a sample or a bottle of one of those single cask expressions. I’m curious about those. If you are really into Single Malt Whisky, well, you might want to skip this one or at least don’t have too high expectations for it and the nose will certainly surprise you…

Points: 82

Yet another sample from Nico, who quite liked this and I do understand why. Thanks again mate!

Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram” (46%, OB, First Fill Bourbon & First Fill STR barrique)

Happy 2021! After dry Januari, finally the moment has arrived to forget about the past year, may it never return, in no shape or form whatsoever. However, all is still not well with the world at the beginning of 2021. I hope this review reaches you in good health and sound mind. With this new year, I’ll kick off with a new dram from a new Distillery. Kingsbarns is the new distillery owned by the Wemyss-family, a name we already know as an independent bottler of Single Malts like the Bowmore “Aniseed Pastille” and the Clynelish “Cayenne Cocoa Bean“, Malts I reviewed earlier.

Kingsbarns Distillery lies approximately six miles from St. Andrews, close to the Kingsbarns Golf Links. This is not a coincidence since the distillery was the dream of former Golf Caddie Douglas Clement. Word is that clients of Douglas’ were asking for directions to the nearest distillery, for “refreshments” after a strenuous game of golf, and since there really wasn’t a distillery close by, Douglas came up with the idea of having a distillery much closer to the golf course. Douglas found a suitable site close to the Golf Links. He found the derelict East Newhall Farm that serviced Cambo House and Estate. The buildings originated from around 1800 as part of the East Newhall Farm. Owned by Thomas Erskine, the ninth Earl of Kellie, and were restored for the use as a distillery in the original style. The farm, now distillery, overlooks barley fields, what else do you need? Kingsbarns Distillery opened in November 2014 and began filling casks from March 2015.

Raising money for a distillery was too much for Douglas alone, so he looked for financial backing, eventually finding the Wemyss family. Some reports mention that Wemyss simply joined the project, where others mention Douglas was bought out by Wemyss. As far as I know, Douglas worked together with Wemyss to fulfil his dream. The Wemyss family themselves probably were interested in the project, because they already did have a Whisky business and thus know their way around, but also have a historical link with this site as well. The 7th Earl of Wemyss owned part of the Cambo Estate between 1759 and 1783.

Color: White wine

Nose: Very Malty and grassy, but also pleasant. Young and creamy with hay, cereal and citrus aroma’s. Yes. very Lowland. Somewhere between soft and fresh ‘n zesty. Young, but not really new make spirit young (so nothing like young Tomatin, which is more milky and acidic to boot). Vanilla pudding with a little bit of American oak (vanilla and some wood spice), soft wood. Sweet mint candy. Menthos and vanilla ice-cream. With some air more friendly floral notes emerge. Already quite balanced and accomplished for such a young malt, but young and simple nevertheless. The nose can be compared easily with something like Bruichladdich Organic (the vintage ones @ 50% ABV), which are around twice the age, and still those are considered to be very young. The Bruichladdich tastes much bigger though. Tiny hint of toasted oak and a winey top-note. What was STR-cask again Kato? (Shaved, Toasted en Re-charred). Nice nose, better than expected. After some more breathing a little bit of new make does show up, but not much. However once this note shows up, it never leaves again, so definitely a young expression, but that’s what we expected now, didn’t we? Perfumy and aromatic next, like a Dutch Korenwijn or Jenever. A light Whisky for springtime, an introduction.

Taste: Sweet and citrussy, floral and grassy, but also a bit (sugar) watery (with licorice) and simple. Again, this whiff of toasted cask, lemongrass and young sweet malt. The sweet note makes for an instant gratification Malt, be it a very simple one. Here the youth is even more noticeable. It definitely lacks a lot of complexity and some balls. What you taste is what you get. It doesn’t really evolve much in my glass. It’s very soft and friendly, like a soft spoken person. Humble and kind. Lowland-ish in style. Luckily, some backbone is offered by a peppery note and warm wood. Cold White Wine storage complete with a whiff of new cardboard. The higher ABV of 46%, does help to lift things a bit up, although I do believe this Malt could have done with an even higher ABV. Very short sweet finish, peppery and warming, dessert-like, with hardly any aftertaste.

The nose shows this distillate really has potential. I guess this will be very nice when it gets more years behind its belt. The Lowland quality is there, time and the people of Kingsbarns will do the rest. A Malt to start your evening with. Treat this as an introduction, a young whisky to present itself. We now know what style to expect. It is most definitely not a full blown Whisky yet, and if you buy a bottle expecting a proper aged Whisky, you’ll be disappointed. Nice one for building expectations. We’ll be watching this one to see how this develops further.

Points: 76

Thanks go out to Nico, for this sample of his Whisky.

Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, L5055CM000, 2015)

I don’t think this review will need a long introduction, since this Whisky will be compared to the 10yo bottled in 2019. It’s more than likely, but not necessarily true, that this review will have a longer than normal conclusion. So the previous review was about the Talisker 10yo bottled in 2019 and right now we’ll have a go at the same expression bottled in 2015. Rack ’em up and see how they compare!

Color: Gold, slightly darker than the 2019 version, and yes caramel colored.

Nose: Quite perfumy with only a hint of peat, softer than the 2019. Paper and cardboard notes. Quite fruity and friendly. Distant peach yoghurt, dried apricots and sinaspril. The balance in this one is reached sooner. Again, seems softer than the 2019, but both seem quite similar at first glance. Diageo will be pleased (for now). Companies hate batch variation in an offering like this, which relies on consistency. Definitely softer and carries a promise that is more sweet (cocktail cherries and vanilla) and with less toasty oak notes. Vanilla powder, pencil shavings and cardboard. It looks like the woody bits from the 2019 are here too, but they are more masked by the fruity bits. Just like “the other” version, this picks up more balance when left in your glass for a while. 5 minutes will do, as will do the warmth, the love, from your hand. Keep it moving, waltzing, swirling in your glass. Fruit emerge and even some farmy notes. The 2019 expression being less soft, seems to have more of a backbone (wood), but this 2015 seems more complete overall, it just offers a bit more.

Taste: Even sweeter on entry. Much fruitier, sweeter and again friendlier. Short sting of Talisker pepper. Less wood, less toast, less woody bitterness even. It is quite waxy though. Chewy peat and some chocolate chip cookies. This can stay in the glass longer than the 2019, which grows thin and a bit out of balance. I would say that in the details, the 2015 is a summer version and the 2019 is an autumn version of Talisker 10. This 2015 is definitely the tastier version of the two, it’s tastier and downright better, and the difference is quite easy to detect as well. Aiiii. Diageo won’t like that, Talisker 10yo should always taste the same. Bugger they say and I say bollocks. Nothing wrong with a wee bit of batch variation if you ask me. Just look at the output of Springbank, although they seem to serve a completely different group of clients. Who are you, when you want your Whisky to always taste the same?

Both offerings are quite soft, and although some might say they both smell pretty similar, the difference is right in front of your nose and easily spotted, which, I have to admit, is much easier when you have the opportunity to try both at the same time (just not in one glass). The 2015 is fruitier, the 2019 has more peat and wood. (Toasted) oak, sandal wood and pencil shavings. The fruit doesn’t play a big role in the 2019, it’s not about that at all. Maybe it is simply lacking in the 2019. Which nose I prefer best depends on the mood I’m in. Neither nose is better than the other. (When tasted in the morning, I preferred the 2015, in the evening I preferred the nose of the 2019. Taste-wise the difference, like the smell, is the same, woody as opposed to fruity, and yet it is here (in the taste) that the 2015 easily eclipses the 2019. 2015 shines (like a sun) and the 2019 is a true autumn Malt, with more wood, but also more gloomy, cloudy and grey (dull). Even the empty glasses, after a whole day, show the difference easily. The final test was Mrs. Quill, she hated the nose of the 2019 (you can imagine a particular facial expression now) and said the 2015 smelled a lot better, why? It smelled sweeter and fruitier. Only afterwards I explained both are Talisker 10yo, just bottled in different years, but she didn’t hear me, already lost interest… Was it so hard to even fake an “OK” or a “Wow”? Jeeez!

Points: 86

Thanks go out to Nico for the sample!

Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, L9275CM003, 2019)

When talking to a good buddy of mine, Nico, one day, Talisker 10yo came up as one of those malts that is always consistent in quality, always tasty, highly affordable and really widely available. Earlier I reviewed a bottling from around 2002, which was more than pretty decent. I even tried earlier bottlings, and they could be truly stellar. So with all these memories in mind, and the statement from Nico, I just left him sitting there where he was, and ordered a current 10yo. What I got the next day was this bottle from 2019. When freshly opened, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to be honest. It also reminded me more than a bit of the 57 North I reviewed recently. I gave Nico a sample of the 2019 10yo and he found it again to be pretty decent. He seemed to like it more than I did. I got a Talisker 10yo, bottled in 2015 sample from him in return, so guess what will be the next review…

Color: Gold, but who cares, it’s colored. (Why? they used to color the glass, so get back to that, and leave the Whisky alone).

Nose: Light peat and slightly sharp. Sweet malt with diluted toffee notes. Hints of Calvados, cookie dough and dishwater. When smelled/snorted more vigorously, toasted oak comes forward (as well as a perfumy note). I keep smelling some apple, so Calvados it is then. The nose seems a bit off-balance at first, but this is corrected with some breathing, actually reaching a quite nice level of balance. Let it settle in your glass for a few minutes. More mocha and soft toasted wood add to the balance. With this, the apply notes are shoved right to the back. Sandal wood notes emerge next, this is all going in the right direction now! Brown sugar, toasted malt and the occasional whiff of cigarette smoke. This is rapidly becoming very nice indeed. After some longer breathing, the Calvados is gone, or maybe got overpowered or masked by the rest of the aroma’s. New is a distant whiff of fireworks and even later the perfume returns (we got this already, when sniffed vigorously in the beginning).

Taste: Sweet on entry. Smoky and cask toast. Light and waxy and a little bit of bitter on the side. Slightly milky and young, similar to the recent 57º North. Some paper and some wood, but not much. Less complex than the nose. After sipping, the nose turns slightly sharper. Coffee, ashes and slightly waxy. Sweet licorice. Nutty with quite some woody bitterness. The nose needs some breathing, but don’t let it stand around for too long. That would be a mistake. It gets a bit unbalanced again and also a bit thin. This is achieved by extensive breathing, so don’t overdo it.

Sure, this Talisker 10yo is pretty decent, but miles away from the 10yo from 2002, and there are quite a few more expressions of Talisker 10yo that can be called truly stellar. But times change, barley changes, the distillery changes, demand changes, everything changes. Take all of this into account and compare this to other Whiskies of this age and what you have here is still a pretty decent dram, for a very, very affordable price. Let’s say for the price of a lottery ticket. Do you feel lucky? If not and you need some comfort, get this, chances of winning are pretty slim anyway. Your choice.

Points: 84 (Nico scored it higher)

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!

Cragganmore 1999-2019 (51.2%, Malts of Scotland, Bourbon Hogshead, MoS 19038, 312 bottles)

Finally a chance to review a sample of Whisky, instead of one of my own bottles I have to hurry to review before it is gone. Cragganmore it is then, which has been probably a long time since I had one. Sure, I did already do a few reviews already, but since those works of art, I probably haven’t touched a Cragganmore at all, even outside of reviewing. I do have two or three bottles at home, but never got around to opening one of those. It isn’t also one of the favourite distilleries amongst my friends. I’ll have to check with them. Somehow it also never got rid of the “under the radar” status I mentioned earlier and yet it isn’t one of the worst Whiskies either. So, what is it with Cragganmore, that makes it so invisible? Maybe it should deserve this onder-the-radar-but-very-nice status or is it a hidden gem? Time to have another go.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Biscuity. Clean and fruity. Strong aroma. This leaps out of my glass like a happy puppy when I come home. Tail wagging! Latex paint and very soft wood throughout. Fresh and quiet now (you know the introvert type). Not a puppy any more. Vanilla and caramel, but no signs of toasted oak. Thus no heavy cask influence. The color is also witness of this. The Malt is sweet and accessible. Slight hint of rotting grass, well rotting is maybe a bit of a strong word, let’s say cut grass that has been lying around for a while. Ice cream with more floral and plant-like aroma’s. Dried autumn leaves. Also a fruity note in the back, like dried apricots and fresh hazelnuts. Do I detect a hint of smoke there in the back as well? More vanilla ice-cream, lemon sherbet and smoked and sugared lime peel. Excellent. However, the beauty lies in the details, as is often the case with Malts like this. So if you are a fan of Sherry monsters only, this is not for you. Refill Bourbon hoggie fans will know what to do with this one.

Taste: Very sweet on entry. Yes, vanilla ice-cream and lemon sherbet. Mocha, hard coffee candy (hopjes) and chocolate custard. Dare I say a hint of cannabis, or does that make me Dutch? Very tasty and very friendly. Fruity and not too sweet. Some wood in the background, like a wooden frame around the vanilla and lemon dessert notes. It’s not really bitter, but the bitter notes are quite interesting in this Malt. You have the obvious bitterness you get from oak, but here there is also this bitterness you get from lemon peel, or lets say, the white fluffy bit from the inside of the peel. This doesn’t seem very complex, especially for a 19yo or 20yo Malt. It also doesn’t show a lot of evolution, but what is there is balanced and just tastes very good. This Cragganmore is from the same class as a Signatory Vintage Glen Keith. The finish is similar to the body and than slowly fades away. Medium finish, maybe some vanilla and cannabis in the aftertaste and a woody sensation on the sides of my tongue.

Well a light colored Cragganmore, from a single not so active cask, well if this isn’t aficionado territory then what is? But here we have a perfect example of a quiet Whisky at cask strength from a good distillate with time as an ingredient. Maybe not entirely a surprise how this older refill Bourbon Hoggie performs. If the distillate is good and the cask isn’t worn out or has a bad vibe, what could go wrong? This combination always seems to give us decent Whiskies.

Points: 87

Thanks go out to Rik for the sample!

Caol Ila 10yo 2005/2017 (54.0%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel #301553, for Vinotek Massen Luxembourg, 210 bottles, 170927)

Funny how things can go. When I posted the review of Caol Ila #301535 a month ago, I didn’t even have this #301553. I have posted two Tamdhu’s, and I already was well underway with the next tandem of Malts, why not write some reviews in pairs, adding the possibility of comparison one to the other? Nope no spoiler alert needed, you’ll just have to wait and see what comes next. I can only reveal that the next tandem will make for a very interesting comparison. Next, the sound of the doorbell ringing…twice…because the postman always rings twice*, and she brings me my latest auction winnings. One of which is the sister cask of #301535: #301553. So with some further ado, I present you the Caol Ila that went to Luxembourg. Thus, here’s the final ado: Just like the other one, we know the exact distillation date: 21-02-2005 (back label), which is the same day as this one, so the distillate is exactly the same, but, (spoiler alert), the outcome isn’t ! We also know the exact bottling date: 07-08-2017 (printed on the glass), so this Malt is almost 12.5 years old, and aged for almost 25% longer than the previous one. Onwards with the review now Quill, stop your ado-ing!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft peat. Very perfumy, distant hint of coffee and plastics (only when freshly poured, the plastics will be gone soon). Big. Wood, mocha and milk chocolate. Warm. Underneath quite fruity and on top a breath of fresh cold air (after the rain). Moderate fatty peat, crushed beetles and some really nice smoky characteristics, almost not Caol Ila-like and to me this smells like an exceptional cask. Everything is in its right place, and it hits all the right spots. It is really wonderful already, complex and already shows some nice development in my glass. Initially quite sharp. Wood, but not your usual oak, but more like wood lying in a forest. Mild yellow fruits with a promise of fruity sweetness. Apples, mint and meat. In this version of Caol Ila there is this soft layer of smoke that always hangs over it, like smoke or clouds in the sky. Well balanced Malt. Smells more adult than the aforementioned sister cask, and that one already had a stunning nose. Since this is exactly the same distillate, did the 2.5 years more make such a difference or is there more to it? As Gordon & MacPhail already tried to tell us earlier, does the wood make the Whisky? I’m smelling this for a while now, without tasting it, and this really develops in my glass big time! If this is as good to taste as the nose is right now, than we’re in for a real treat. I’m giving this one much time, since this is a freshly opened bottle. What a wonderful, well aged nose this is. One might expected this to be from a similar barrel as its sister cask, but it doesn’t have to be. If so, these must have been some well selected staves then. A cooper with a keen eye, knowing what to pick? This one really smells a lot better, it really is remarkable. More details, better defined and better development. Where #301535 dulled down when smelling for a while, and remember, it was a good one to boot, this #301553 just never stops performing. Amazing!

Taste: Wow, initially very soft on entry (the other one was softer and definitely soapier, here most, not all, of the soapy bit is replaced by a sweet fruity bit). Peppery and spicy smoke and strong going down, and then turning soft again, and again sweet. Sweet cardboard and paper notes. White pepper and yellow fruits. Sweetish and cold ashes from the fireplace come first. Nutty and fruity, but as I said, lots of ashes. I have to give it some more time, but it seems to me to be different from its sister cask, it is also a bit different than I expected considering the nose. Surely this must be from another line of Barrels? The middle part is fruity and accessible, but towards the finish more ashes, paper and a wood-bitter note. Although the finish is of medium length. It is warming, somewhat soapy (at times) and leaves for a nice, nutty and woody aftertaste. Much better balanced than its sister cask if you ask me. Benefits from the warmth of your hand when breathing, but never really lives up to the amazing level of the nose, but it is still better than its aforementioned sister cask. Especially if you warm this one up in your hands.

When this was sold in Luxembourg it was quite cheap especially considering the quality this Malt possesses. I paid a bit more than the initial price at auction, but still feel I got a good deal. Later I found out that the quality of this particular example is well known in circles of anoraks and aficionado’s and bids can be even (much) higher than my final bid. First of all, this Luxembourg edition surpasses the already good nose of the Belgium edition. It is quite amazing in fact, look how the nose changes and even unlocks another dimension after a few sips. In the taste Luxembourg seems a bit sharper and more complex, less soapy with even more ripe fruits. After #301535, I was not sure about getting a similar bottling, 84 points is good, but not that good. I read somewhere, this one was better and in the end I couldn’t help myself. If given the chance, I bid on two, and that way often securing just one or none even, because one or more of you often overbids me in the last minute, but this time no one did and I got both. In hindsight: Yey!

Amazing how medicinal the empty glass smells the next day. Extreme. The empty glass of the other one smells different. Both seem to have some pine resin, which wasn’t there before. The empty Luxembourg one smells more like a sauna now. How’s that for complexity.

Points: 88 (the nose, if scored by itself, would score well into the 90’s)

* Final ado: I was lying earlier, from where I’m sitting, I can’t even hear the doorbell, the sound is too soft.