Caol Ila 11yo 2004/2016 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for Milano Whisky Festival 2016 & Bar Metro, Refill American Hogshead #306662, 348 bottles)

Once nowhere to be found, now maybe one of the most bottled Islay Malts today. Caol Ila. For me at least, Caol Ila is always a nice Whisky which also ages well. This is a pretty young one, bottled less than four months shy of its 12th birthday. In fact, this Caol Ila has matured for precisely 4.275 days. It was bottled for the Milano Whisky Festival & Bar Metro in 2016, I picked this up at a well-known German auction and didn’t have to pay much, nor did I have a lot of competition for this bottle, so maybe there’s something I should have known? At the same auction I picked up its sister-bottling from Glen Elgin bottled for the same festival in 2016 and didn’t have to pay much for that one either. I bought these two, because I found out I had a lot of cask strength bottlings on my lectern, so I wanted to buy some bottles, to start an evening with. A bit reduced to work up an appetite. Gordon & MacPhail have (or had) lots of casks from the 3066XX-range, bottled in many different series; “Cask Strength”, “Reserve”, “Spirit of Scotland” and more “Exclusive’s” as well, so there is enough around for comparison. For instance, Refill American Hogshead #306664 was bottled for Maison du Whisky @ cask strength in the Exclusive range. By the way, some of the casks from this range are Sherry casks. Let’s find out now if this hoggie is any good.

Color: Straw.

Nose: Quite restrained. No big smoky peaty notes. Fresh, zesty but also a bit tame (at first), as in sweet barley with a wee bit of soft peat only. When the flow rate of air through the nose has been increased, lots more seems to be emerging. A prickly sensation awarded to a smoky note. Burning newspaper, and even more earthy peaty notes, still restrained though. Next more creamy notes of vanilla and pudding. Well balanced although I’m not sure yet about its complexity. Hints of sugared, or sweet, yellow fruits. Warming toffee and more soft barley, marzipan and almonds. Even a little bit of honey. All very restrained without it being closed. Dusty. All aroma’s work together nicely. Good balance. A cold and misty day with hardly any wind. As this Whisky picks up air, the good balance even gets better, definitely the forté of this Whisky, and it gets bigger, bolder and more aromatic as well. Quite a surprise. The longer it stays in my glass and I don’t hurry it, the better it gets. More of the fruity notes emerge and the marzipan, very nice. Some wood and ashes as well. So this needs a bit of air and patience. If you hurry this one, you’ll miss the reward of this Whisky.

Taste: Sweet, fruity and smoky, with a funky red fruit acidity on top (it may could do without). Yes, peat as well. Slightly too watery (at first), but as I wanted a “starting Whisky” this does the job quite well. Very nice fruity sweetness, the sweetness of ripe fruits rather than plain old sugar. Very balanced again. Milk chocolate, chocolate mousse, mocha and a tiny hint of coffee with lots of milk. Mint. Just like the nose, the sweetness moves into the territory of vanilla and pudding retaining the minty note. More toffee, caramel and mocha. Chocolate cake, custard, crème brûlée even, with the added bonus of peat, charcoal and ashes. Finally a green, leafy note. Earthy.

The finish is warming yet falls a bit short and I can’t say the wonderful balance reaches the aftertaste. A slightly acidic note peels of from the rest of the Whisky. Where the finish was somewhat short, the aftertaste recovers winning it a bit back for the team. Nevertheless a very nice Caol Ila again, and this probably its sisters as well, deserve your money. I for one, will try to find a G&M 2004 cask strength version from such a hogshead again.

Points: 86

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

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

Color: Dark copper brown.

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

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

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

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

Points: 89

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

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

Linlithgow 18yo 1982/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Vintage Collection, Cask #3002, 472 bottles)

Here we have a rather “young” Linlithgow, a.k.a. St. Magdalene. I really, really loved the extremely layered St. Magdalene 19yo, that was released three years prior to this one, so when this came out in 2001, I snapped up a few, expecting a similar experience to the one year older and cask strength expression mentioned above. Hey it was reduced a bit, and only one year older, so it could happen, and it was half the price of the 19yo! At the time, Whiskies from the Vintage Collection were never expensive, as was the case with this one. They sold this at the price of what a Springbank 10yo sells for today. Remember, even in 2001 this was already a closed distillery, so go figure. It was a different Whisky world back then. If I look around the net today retail price for this one is £699,-, and if you read this in 2025 it will probably be even higher, or have we all moved on to something else? If that is the case, why are you even reading about an old Whisky nobody cares for anymore?

Color: Pale gold, straw.

Nose: Extremely malty. hints of sugar-water and ear wax. Fruity and grassy. A Lowlander alright. A breath of fresh air. Toned down, almost shy, but don’t think this is light, because it’s not. It shows quite some aroma. The quiet (big) guy in your class, but you already know there is more to it than meets the nose. Yellow fruits and whiffs of American oak, It is definitely something from the past. Somehow Whiskies today aren’t like this anymore. Its like sitting alone in a field, middle of summer, nothing more than crickets and almost inaudible distant sounds of the rest of the world. Life is beautiful. Hints of cold butter and hay. Warm wood and a bit of old vanilla. Definitely not as multi-layered as the Rare Malts bottling mentioned above, and it hasn’t its evolution either. This is more straightforward and shy (again). Perfectly balanced nose. It got plenty of time to breathe and it can handle the air. No worries then of oxidation. By the nose alone another great example of the variety of St. Magdalene. Closing this distillery is a real loss, and this one is not coming back, so what you are holding in your glass is a piece of history, hence the hefty price-tag.

Taste: Sweet on entry. Malty, barley sugar. Slightly warming. Paper and cardboard. Creamy, with toffee on entry but it gets thinner towards the finish. Lots of fruits emerging at different moment when you keep it in your mouth, making for a sweetish, fruity, friendly Whisky. Only a slight bitterness reminiscent of toasted wood emerges. Less “big” than the nose suggested. In comparison to other Whiskies from this distillery, this might be a rather simple expression, (is it?), but still it oozes something special. Memories of black coal, and motor oil. If so, this can only have trace amounts noticeable, because in essence it is a sweet fruity Whisky. Simple, maybe, but it rewards you with aroma’s from the past, coming from a distillery like no other. Near the end of the body a somewhat burnt note emerges, burnt wood, hot machine (oil). Very nice industrial edge after the friendly fruitiness.

I spent a lot of time with this Whisky over the years, and I remember, when freshly opened, it showed a lot more of the waxy notes and even quite some bitterness. So don’t be afraid of oxidation, even when this is a reduced Whisky, because it will only get better. In the end it turns out much better than I have always thought it was…

Points: 86

Talisker “Port Ruighe” (45.8%, OB, 2017)

This is another recent “NAS” Talisker, released in 2013, right after “Storm“. The bottle reviewed here is a newer batch from 2017 (L7317CM015). Back in 2013 when all these NAS Taliskers arrived on the market, a lot of people feared for the classic 10yo to be discontinued or moved to a market different from ours (This happened to the JW Green label), but it didn’t happen. In 2015 the same exercise happened again with the release of “Sky”. We’re in 2018 now and there is still no sign of the 10yo being discontinued or even an “update” of the price. The 10yo is still going strong and usually is still well priced below all these NAS bottlings. And I believe it is also still better than all these new NAS-sers.

Port Ruighe was matured in refill casks (of both American and European oak). It was then transferred to deeply charred casks and yet again transferred to receive a finish from Port Wine (infused) casks. That seems like a lot of ado, to give this, probably young Talisker, its own aroma. Is it an experiment of sorts? Let’s see…

Color: Copper gold, but not the pinkish hue you tend to see with Port finishes.

Nose: Starts with peat. Nice fatty peat. Toned down obviously, since this is not a heavily peated Malt. I mention peat a lot right now, because since this is a NAS bottling, this could also have smelled “young” and it doesn’t. “Storm” had that, but this doesn’t. Thus, nice peat, a little bit of smoke and butter, so a bit of youth is there nevertheless. Since it is a Port finish, it could have smelled winey and sweet, but it doesn’t at first. It starts simply with peat. No storm, just a calm sea. Easy and quiet. The protection of a harbour, or port maybe? Could it be thát designed? Next some soft notes, reminiscent of a claret matured Jenever I have, (the acidity). Nope, still bobbing in the harbour with our soft peat. No dark storm, no storm even, just me and this peaty breeze. Hints of vanilla and honey emerge and some sort of sweet cloaking perfume, yup, we have our Port here. Turns sharper and a bit more warming as well. Hints of Malt and vanilla powder. This is spicy as well. Nice soft wood and the slightly burned cask. It may be NAS, but it shows complexity and I feel everything works well in the nose-department of this Malt. Still no really true Port notes, and maybe that is a good thing, since Ruby Port casks can easily overpower a Whisky. Wonderful nose, I kid you not.

Taste: Already sweet, creamy and quite fruity when it touches my lips. Peated Whisky with some smoke and a big fruity follow-up. Sweet, buttery, yet also young, and strange enough, right beside the sweetness, also a brief watery edge. Where the youth was absent from the nose, it is definitely here, but to a lesser extent than in “Storm”. It is also less complex than the nose. Bolder and more simple with a slight burnt-spicy edge to it. Increasing with air are the winey notes, but still well in check, although there is an overall sweetness and waxiness to it, that gets in the way of drinking more than one dram of this at a time. At the same time the complexity, that already wasn’t great to begin with, decreases. This is a shame because the Whisky takes a turn where you don’t want this to go. The road of NAS, simplicity, lack of complexity and the mismatch with the promising nose. The finish is medium at best, and to be honest, falls flat on its face. It disintegrates when hitting the ground. Aiii. Some peat, but very sweet and winey. Too much. It has been overpowered by the Port, which probably says a little about the quality of the Port, or the wood used, but maybe more about the age of the Whisky itself, because one might expect Talisker to be able to handle a little bit of Port now, don’t we?

It is nice to have had the opportunity of yet another take on Talisker, but this is one I’m not keen on repeating (buying another bottle, that is). “Neist Point” although more expensive in many markets, and too expensive in some, it is definitely a better experiment than this one imho. Neist Points was released right on the heels of “Storm” it is nevertheless different from Storm. This is way more mature. Is it older Whisky (guess not) or did the Port finish hide the “young-Malt experience”? Although criticized by many, I have no real beef with this pair of 2013 NAS-releases from Talisker, but I do understand a lot of the comments made.

So this is young Whisky, in the end overpowered by the Port, however, based on the nose alone, there was a lot of potential, maybe if the Whisky was aged longer and the Port and/or the casks it aged in was slightly better, this might have been a great Whisky, and we may see one like this in the future.

Points: 83

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color: Almost copper gold.

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

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

Wonderful Glenburgie, extremely drinkable, even at cask strength.

Points: 89

The Benriach 10yo “Curiositas” (46%, OB, Peated, Circa 2006)

After all those very special expressions of “The” Benriach, it’s finally time to have a look at a more mundane Benriach. The standard 10yo, with peat, carrying the less mundane name of “Curiositas”, since it must have been very, very strange for Benriach to use peat? One just has to love the names they give their Whiskies. Curiositas was released in 2004. The expression I’m about to review was bottled in 2006 or earlier, so this is one of the firsts. Today the Curiositas is still a part of Benriachs core range, so it has proven itself to be quite a success.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fat peat, creamy and fruity. It’s peat alright, but elegant peat, if there is such a thing. Sounds a bit like an elegant Hummer or like claiming a pair of muddy Wellington’s can ever be called elegant. Compared to scruffy and iodine laden peated Whiskies from Islay, this is peated alright, but also very different. Crushed bugs (you had to be there), dabs of mud and gentle smoke. Big aroma at first, and also soft. However, the “bigness” gets less with breathing. Floral and soapy notes emerge. Cold dish water with a plethora of spices. Not really “farmy” but definitely a vegetable garden, Were Rabbit style.

Taste: Wow, this wasn’t what I expected. This starts out fruity and sugary. Very fruity in fact. One might ask, where is the peat? Cardboard and paper, soft wood and even more fruit turn up. A tiny smoky prickling sensation comes next, quickly followed by nice licorice notes. Creamy vanilla pudding with hints of coffee candy. Not a big body though, and to be frank, (not Dave), this has quite a short finish as well. This peated Whisky isn’t about power at all (alas), but more about the Speyside fruitiness, maybe rightly so. Ain’t that curious, yet logical too, when you think about it for a while. You gotta love the name now.

Peated Whiskies are very interesting, since especially “young” peated Whiskies can be very good without long ageing. Although I understand the Whisky, it’s not an expression I like best within the peated category. It’s nice, but from the body onwards. I feel, lacks too much oomph. I would have liked it much better if it would build more on the groundwork laid out by the nose., which seemed more peaty and smoky, but also more complex. Maybe it got better with the later batches.

Points: 82

Inchgower 25yo (1980/2006 (53.2%, Dewar Rattray, Sherry Cask #14161, 486 bottles)

After the “old” Teaninich, let’s have a look at something else from the attic that was also bottled a long time ago. Just like Teaninich, Inchgower is another lesser known Distillery owned by Diageo. And for me one of the better ones as well. I’ve come across quite a few really good Inchgowers. Long time no Inchgower though on these pages. It’s almost six years since I reviewed another Inchgower. One from 1982 bottled by Raymond Armstrong, remember Bladnoch? The 1982 was quite hefty and although very good, it was another Whisky, like the Teaninich F&F I reviewed just now, that needs a lot of attention, wearing you out if it didn’t get the attention it wanted. If carelessly sipped, it will kill you, so even though it is a very good Whisky with a quite a high score, I was glad when the bottle was finally finished. Strange ‘eh? Here we have another Inchgower from the beginning of the eighties, so I’m already bracing myself, especially since this is a Sherried one as well…

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Boiled eggs (not rotten). Very buttery and milky. Luckily, these off notes dissipate quite quickly. I have to say right off the bat that this Whisky got a lot of time to breathe. When it was freshly opened this had a lot of Sulphur. When the milky, baby vomit notes dissipate, it shows more woody notes. A minute amount of sulphur and some bitter black tea. Underneath (sniff hard), brown sugar and even some honey. Sulphur still detectable and now it rears its head (is it ugly?) like swamp-gas. Although a lot seems wrong with this, I seem not to dislike it. I never belonged to the I’m-allergic-to-sulphur-police, so I’m able to deal with it. In the depth, where the brown sugar is, are also the more soft woody notes. Some whiffs smell like Rum actually. Sulphur seems to be dying down, but when you move the Whisky around in your glass vigorously, you’ll be able to get some more. Spicy, yet not woody. Vanilla powder and altogether funky. Give it time to breathe. In the end the Sulphur is kept in check and all the remaining wonderful aroma’s get their room to shine. What a wonderful nose this is. The sulphur didn’t bother me that much, but the milky part did, this must breathe before sipping.

Taste: Big, woody and slightly soapy. After swallowing, the first sip, the soap, again, this time around, no too bad, is followed by a wave of liquid bitterness (and fruity acidity). I know, a strange sentence indeed. Fruity underneath and mouthcoating. Sweeter than expected, very, red, fruity. Cold black tea. And the bitterness seems ok. Very funky floral notes which mix well with the red over-ripe fruits. Berries, raspberry, little ripe forest strawberries. Mouth coating, very, mouthcoating indeed, leaving behind some bitterness, but more important, some priceless black fruits as well. For me the black fruits are the holy grail of Whisky. Nice finish, but who cares, if the long aftertaste shows you all those black fruits, dark chocolate and some wood. Sure it isn’t able to shed all of the soapyness, but with fruits like these, I’m happy to forgive it it’s soapyness and the many other flaws it shows. Special stuff.

Some Whiskies like this, over-the-top, can be bad. This one has a lot wrong with it but it’s not bad, There is a lot of fun to be had, if you like the extreme ones, if you are able to deal with a Whisky like this. If you are a novice, steer clear, please. If you are an anorak, a whisky-geek with tendencies towards SM, please pick it up at an auction, because as I said, it is not a bad Whisky. Too much of a lot, but therein lies the fun. A guilty pleasure. Aficionados like it, that’s why this doesn’t pop up a lot at auctions. I’m sure that when I’m going to clean my glass, it will foam like crazy! (It did). For me a no-brainer if it shows up somewhere. Don’t bid against me please!

Points: 91

(Freshly opened, without breathing, the score would be 84, so you’d better let it breathe, long time!)