Kilchoman 5yo 2012/2018 (50%, OB, Sauternes Cask Finish, 10.000 bottles)

In the previous review, I wrote that the way to go with Kilchoman, (for me at least), are the red labelled ones. Nice single cask bottlings, with quite some ooomph, like this Belgian and German one. Often still young, but already finished. Not a sign of extreme youth or new make spirit in sight. Bourbon casks work well with the Kilchoman spirit and all the other varieties, are definitely not too bad either. Time maybe for a green labelled one. I just can’t claim the red ones are the best, without even considering Kilchoman’s other colours now can I? A while back Nico and I did a bottle share of this Sauternes cask finish. This, in itself is odd, since both Nico and I do have a fondness for bottlings that came in contact with Sauternes. I guess Nico wasn’t too sure about Kilchoman back then, and I’ll have to ask him how he feels about Kilchoman right now. Sauternes, by the way, is a sweet White Wine from Bordeaux (France). You may have heard of Château d’Yquem?

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft, creamy and dusty. Cookie dough. Sweet smelling, perfumy and fruity (white peach in sweet yoghurt comes to mind). Fruity acidity, yet not only citrus. Apples with a hint of exhaust gasses from a small, yet efficient, petrol car. Dusty with cold motor oil. Spicy as well, dry kitchen herbs, cinnamon and some white pepper. Old cardboard box, bad breath and cold dishwater. Nice soft wood and some mint. The typical Kilchoman bonfire smoke note is here again, but toned down a little. Overall quite elegant, although some of the off-putting notes, I just wrote down, seem to indicate differently. Nevertheless, elegant it is. Let’s say Islay style elegant, with Kilts and muddy wellies. The whole Whisky seems slightly toned down, compared to the Bourbon single cask bottlings (the red ones, remember) I reviewed earlier. Slightly less sparkly. Light vanilla notes combined with mocha flavoured whipped cream, mixed in with pencil shavings and a wee bit of menthol. Dry garden waste lying in the sun in autumn. This nose keeps giving and giving and evolves, it’s just not as powerful as the German Single Cask. This is again a quality Malt from Kilchoman, more complex than a Bourbon cask alone, and this one is also softer. Hint of sweet mint now. It shows a different side of Kilchoman. Very appetizing and very good again. It seems a bit more harmonious than a single cask Bourbon expression, and as said, it gained some complexity with the Sauternes finish. However, in all the aromas presented, it is impossible to find any true Sauternes notes. I no way I can smell a sweet White Wine in this Whisky. All the elements that went into making this Whisky do work perfectly, so it seems. Very good Kilchoman again.

Taste: Paper and ashes. Wax and sugar syrup. Dry tall grass and hay foremost. Borderline Grappa. Creamy and sweet candied yellow fruits. Less strong than the single cask expressions. Clearly reduced. A very appealing sweetness, aromatically close to a sweet apple. Fresh air after some rain. Ashes, black and white powder (licorice), hints of spicy wood and some (sweet) bitterness. Warming going down. Little bit of molten plastic in the finish. I know, this sounds terrible, but rest assured, it isn’t. This is a very drinkable expression, due to the balance and probably the reduction to 50% ABV. The aftertaste does pick up some more on the medium bitterness. The nose was definitely more complex than the taste. This, in all fairness, tastes simpler than expected. All is good and tasty, yet not as complex as the nose promised, (and the buzz in the anorak-y part of the Whisky world). I believe the recently tasted German Single Cask expression may have even tasted more complex. This is more of an instant gratification Malt (and the reduced ABV helps with this).

This offers a (slightly) different take on Kilchoman. It’s good and definitely softer than the Single Cask expressions I reviewed earlier. Sauternes, well, if I tried this blind I might not have picked up upon the White Wine finish, although there are some hints in the depth of the taste, some sort of brooding sweetness, if that makes any sense to you. For some, this offers a more likeable Kilchoman, personally I still like both earlier reviewed red labelled ones better. Can’t wait to open another Kilchoman though, to have some more Kilchoman’s under my belt for comparison and a better view of the Whisky that is Kilchoman. Impressive Whisky, especially considering the age of the reviewed stuff.

Points: 86

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

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

Color: Pale gold.

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

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

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

Points: 89

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

Glen Ord 28yo (58.3%, OB, Limited Edition, 2003)

Back in 2012 I reviewed one of Diageo’s Special releases from 2004, the Glen Ord 25yo. That one was released a year after this 28yo. Amazingly, the review of the 25yo is, untill now, the only Glen Ord on these pages. The Rare Malts series had just been cancelled and the annual Special releases were the new kid on the block. Asking a higher price than they did for the Rare Malts, but that goes without saying, especially today. Back then, the public probably weren’t ready for this and found them too expensive, resulting in many expressions not selling very well. So after a few years Diageo just offloaded those special releases onto certain markets. This way I could get my hands on very reasonably priced Glen Ord’s, all three of them (the 25yo, the 28yo and the 30yo), but also both Glenury Royal 36yo’s and lots of Talisker 25yo’s, from many different years. More or less all the cask strength versions, apart from the first one. Diageo were ahead of their time, asking prices for super premium Malts, the public wouldn’t go for, but today, hey, that’s an entirely different matter now isn’t it. Today people scream, “take my money” and are almost throwing pure gold at “Rare” Single Malts, some of which aren’t even that good to begin with, as the earlier releases which cost a fraction of those recent ones. Fred Laing once said to me: “If only I knew then what I know now…” hinting at all his Brora’s and Port Ellen’s, put on the market for a fraction of today’s prices.

Back to Glen Ord. So, the 25yo Glen Ord has already been reviewed. A good one, especially when analysing it (hence the score of 90 points), but not an easy one for careless sipping. The 25yo does need all of your attention, which can be a nuisance. Therefore, it took a while to finish it, and I can’t say, in hindsight, that I have a lot of fond memories (of a Whisky that scored 90 points!). Yes it is very good, but it didn’t bond with me personally, and I had to work it a bit too much. I remember it as a closed Malt, hot and a bit harsh. This is also why it took me almost a decade (!) to open this next super premium Glen Ord, the 28yo. I expected more of the same to be honest. A decade, wow, amazing how time flies, truly amazing. But I’m an adventurous guy (yeah right, a hand-reader actually read differently a while back), so time has come to dip into yet another super premium Glen Ord and I’ll let you in on a little secret already, nope, I didn’t regret opening this one!

Color: Gold.

Nose: Wow, what an amazing start, aromatic, with sugared dried fruits, pineapple even, with powdered sugar and some dust. Fresh and lively even though it’s slightly dusty. Next, a hint of smoke, waxy, sweaty and big and so appetizing you just want to bite a piece of it off and chew it. These seventies distillates can be so fruity. This should be 75-ish? Reminds me, initially, a lot of Caperdonichs from 1972, which are even bigger and more aromatic. Here, with this Ord, over time the big fruitiness gets less pronounced making room for a thinner and more acidic woody note and a more organic note in the back. This is definitely the wood that is speaking to us. The Caperdonichs I mentioned earlier don’t change like this. A dry warehouse floor, again a dusty and now slightly cardboardy note comes next. Powdered orange candy, a sort of artificial orange flavour like Sinaspril, (orange flavoured Aspirin for kids, remember those headaches when you were a kid)? Funny how open this 28yo is, as well as old and lively smelling. The 25yo was closed to the last drop. An entirely different Ord. After sipping, the woody bits stand out some more in the nose.

Taste: Big, nutty (bordering on peanut butter), slightly grassy (not hay-like), waxy and so fruity. The paper is here as well. Definitely a seventies distillate, and my guess would be that this was matured solely in ex-Bourbon casks. Half sweet. The taste is less comparable to the Caperdonichs than the nose was. Sweet toffee. Waxy and woody, as well as quite some woody (and old paper) bitterness. Strange enough, the oak comes across as quite new or youthful. Not old, matured or settled. Salted caramel, slightly peaty even. Peat might be unlikely, but some smoke may very well be here. The sensation of this peat, or probably smoke, is quite prickly on the ol’ tongue. After dinner the bitterness is less pronounced, so all this depends on the taster and the moment in the day. First, fruit on my palate is again pineapple. Quite hot going down. I still keep getting a slightly smoky note throughout as well as some old Malt mint now. In part animalesk, mixed in with the waxy notes. Very tasty, but not as complex as expected. The complexity of this Malt could have, or should have been comparable to the likes of its peers like the aforementioned Caperdonichs, if it had, than the score would have been higher, because the Whisky would have been even better than it already is. A minor gripe, but an important one nevertheless. Maybe that’s why Diageo is calling it lively, since one doesn’t expect a 28yo form the seventies to be lively. There is often a lot of BS on labels, but this remark is spot-on. As a consumer you only just need to understand the meaning of these words…

Where the 25yo was hard work, it still was very good. The quality was unmistakeable. It was closed and a bit harsh and hot, this 28yo is something different entirely, even though there are many similarities, as you tend to have between siblings. Easy, open, a very damn tasty old Malt this 28yo, one of those they don’t make any more, because they can’t. The times have changed, the methods have changed and the ingredients, barley, yeast, wood from the casks (and the quality of what they previously held) have changed as well…

Points: 91, almost the same score as the 25yo, but I’ll remember this one way more fondly.

I’ll be back with the review of the Glen Ord 30yo somewhere around 2030 I guess…

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

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

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

Color: Copper brown, Bourbon.

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

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

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

Points: 89

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

Bladnoch 10yo (46.7%, OB, Limited Release, Bourbon Expression, Bourbon Barrels, 2018)

Wow, this is just the second review of Bladnoch on these pages. Bladnoch is one of those distilleries that look charming, but for the knowledgeable consumer, it has (or had) a bit of a wonky reputation for being buttery and somewhat unbalanced. I understand why some people might dislike Bladnoch, having tasted quite a few Bladnochs over the past twenty odd years. In the mean time, the only other Bladnoch I reviewed until now, is this 8yo, and this one was most definitely a learning experience. However it was a Whisky that grew on me, which also prompted an updated review, which I rarely do. Maybe it didn’t score as high as many other Whiskies reviewed here, but I still do remember it fondly.
In 1993 the distillery was bought by Raymond and Colin Armstrong and they sold it again in 2015. Raymond and Colin probably spent most of their money on purchasing the place, because it showed, there wasn’t a lot of money around. Simple bottles, not a lot of different labels, no boxes and no big refurbishments to boot. But the feeling was great. Raymond is an outspoken and accessible figure, who “did” the distillery, opened Bladnoch forum on-line, (again very a rudimentary looking affair), where aficionado’s could talk about many Whisky topics, with Raymond often participating, and last but not least, the famous Bladnoch Forum, independent bottlings of casks from other distilleries. All simple looking, home printed labels, and very nicely priced. This was a great time, and I’m sorry this didn’t last a lifetime, although Raymond’s son Martin continued the concept with Whiskybroker.co.uk.

2013 was the last year, many officially released bottling were released, but in 2014 & 2015 not so much. Finally, in 2015 Bladnoch was bought by Australian David Prior. With new management came an extensive two year refurbishment and a different and way more sophisticated look. The money was now certainly coming to Bladnoch. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. Distilling commenced in 2017. In 2016 with the releases of Talia, Samsara and Adela, the first new bottlings saw the light of day. Yes these are whiskies and not David’s daughters, at least I don’t think so. Just like the new Glenallachies, I tasted the new Bladnochs at the Whisky Show in London, and again the younger more “simple” expressions seemed best, or most promising. Of everything that was available to taste, I liked the 10yo best, it seemed to be the most interesting, and there even was this 25yo Talia to be had, just sayin’. So this 10yo is much less expensive and easily matches the others in quality. So no strange thing than, that the 10yo was the first one I bought, which has recently been replaced by an 11yo, which I recently bought as well. I guess the future of Bladnoch looks rosy again.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Extremely malty, biscuity and slightly dusty. Warm summer air with the smell of oak planks (in the sun). Sweet malts with some distant citrus notes (the flesh, not the skins), mixed with cinnamon, green apple skins and dry banana. Warm slightly toasted bread with molten butter, cereals and dust. Grassy and dry, with some soft hay and cardboard. Perfumy (chic) and highly aromatic. Sugared yellow fruits. Friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. White latex wall paint. This is not only sweet, but also has a rough edge to it. At times, sweaty, dead leaves and organic. There is a lot here, and it’s quite big as well. There is nothing like it, and it seems almost like a style on its own. Who said a lighter style of whisky can’t be big? Remember St. Magdalene? Meaty, cold gravy, but also some milk chocolate and some more cinnamon. Soft ice cream melting in the sun. The combinations may seem strange, and to be honest, Bladnoch can be a strange Whisky at times, different from others, but in this lies also its charm. I can say that, because for me, for a long time, Bladnoch has been some sort of a guilty pleasure. I liked it a lot even when I shouldn’t. I liked it better than my scores showed. (Thinking of intrinsic quality here). Funny how this works. It’s strangeness is quite appealing (to me). I do like extremes. Sherry bombs and Peat monsters as well, and a big buttery Lowlander is an extreme as well, these three are the points of a triangle.

Taste: Sweet and fruity, definitely some sweet apple in here as well. Malty check, cinnamon check, it goes great with the sweet apple aroma. Quite quickly the woody notes, complete with some bitterness, exert themselves. Still lots of butter and vanilla and this creamy texture. Fatty and waxy. And this wax is the carrier for the bitterness of the oak. Less of the cardboard kind, which is more like paper here. Lots of aroma’s in the nose, because these must have been some pretty active casks giving off a (smoky) bitterness. Citrus fruits and some more sweet sugary yellow fruits aroma’s form on top of the body. These notes are sharper and more acidic and go together well with the more fatty base or body of this Whisky. Passion fruit and maracuja maybe, hard to tell right now which fruits make up the fruity bit.

Even though this is clearly a Lowland style Whisky, it differs from all the others Lowlanders that still operate. I remember I needed some time to get used to this, and some of that shows in the review of Bladnoch 8yo (look towards the end). To be honest the 8yo and this 10yo do have a lot in common. Even though I found it an odd one out, I really developed a liking for the strange style of Bladnoch. Here we have this new and initial, fairly standard bottling @ 10 years old, with a price to match and I really do like it. I like it for what it is and also for its style. Distilled by Raymond, and now the new owners are reaping the benefits. It seems to me the new owner is also doing the best he can to put Bladnoch out there again and putting out several expressions at reasonable prices. It is possible this style of Whisky isn’t for everyone, and if you bought it because of me and don’t like it (too extreme), I apologize, but for me this is a very nice gig fatty Lowlander, and I can’t wait to try some more expressions of Bladnoch in the near future.

Points: 86

Tomatin “Earth” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #3, Peated, Refill Hogsheads, Sherry Hogsheads and First Fill Bourbon Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017

After “Wood” and “Fire” here is #3 in the Five Virtues series. Wood was named wood because of three different kinds of oak used for that Whisky: American, French and Hungarian oak. Fire was named fire because of the de-char and re-char treatment of the casks, so these casks were set on fire twice. Earth is named earth because it’s made with peated malt, and peat, as we all know, comes from the earth. So until now, “the logic makes sense”. If I’m not mistaken, this may very well be the first and only peated Whisky bottled under Tomatin’s own brand name. (The peated Cù Bòcan, although made by Tomatin, is a different brand). Earth was distilled in 2006 and made from 50% refill hogsheads, 25% Sherry hogsheads, most likely from American oak, and 25% first fill Bourbon casks, so it must be 10 or 11 years old.

In a way “Earth” has quite some similarities to An Cnoc’s “Rascan”. Both are peated Whiskies from distilleries that aren’t known for their peated Whiskies. Both Whiskies are NAS and quite light in colour. Both claim they’re highland Whiskies even though many Whisky writers place Knockdhu in Speyside. Knockdhu is the distillery, An Cnoc the brand name, by the way. So it came natural to me to start a flight of Whiskies with said “Rascan” and to follow it up with this “Earth” or vice versa. Well, these two are both decent Whiskies, but they absolutely don’t work with one after the other. Both are able to bring out the worst of each other. No matter which one was tasted first. How odd, I wonder why. Rest assured, for this earthy review there was no Rascan in sight.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Sweet, soft and dusty peat with citrus notes on top. Hint of glue (only when the Whisky is freshly poured). Smells more mature than “Rascan”, lacking the milky new make note Rascan initially has. Very nice spicy wood notes, American oak vanilla notes with sweet citrus on top. Warming peat and only slightly smoky. Rain water, Gin-like. Very aromatic. Smells quite tasty. Hints of sweet coffee with milk, and some added runny toffee. Dust and paper. Old damp wood in a cellar. There isn’t a lot of peat to begin with, but it also dissipates a bit, or is it my nose that gets used to it? Fruity, typical tropical yellow fruits, typical for the best Tomatin’s. Sweet yoghurt with white peach? Slightly peaty and well balanced. After you set you garden waste on fire, it smells like the glowing remnants of the biggest branches in the pile, just before it dies out. I’m sure some of you will share such an experience with me. Coffee candy comes back, together with a whiff of perfume, old almonds and some pencil shavings. When smelled in the morning, the fruits have more to say than it does in the evening. So for me this is more of a day-time dram than it is an after-dinner dram. It maybe is too delicate for after dinner or to pair it up with a cigar. It’s soft peat and sweetish fruit, but it isn’t smoky. It’s not a bonfire dram. This is a lovely peated Whisky, that’s more fruity than it is peaty (or smoky). Fruit comes from the earth as well, so the name is still valid.

Taste: On entry, the sweet and the fruit come first, as well as the almonds from the nose. After this, some prickly smoke and another sweet touch. Only after sipping the smoke comes forth in the nose with some pencil shavings. Creamy and fruity with a tiny hint of bitterness for good measure. Fruit, biscuits and cookie dough. The sweetness is just right, the peat is hardly detectable, yet present. This is a bowl of ripe fruits in a kitchen where preparations are made for baking a apple pie (just no apples in this nose, or are they…), no it’s about the dough. Even though this is peated (can’t be much), this is still easily recognizable as a Tomatin (when you know your Tomatin’s of course). Not super complex, but actually this is a very nice and interesting Tomatin. Sure we have Cù Bòcan, but I’m really interested how another peated Tomatin would turn out, hopefully bottled at cask strength this time, if they care to repeat the experience.

I have to say, that after the first three Five Virtues, this series is quite likeable. All three turned out to be decent Whiskies with interesting differences, and I believe the best is yet to come.

Points: 86

One point above Wood and Fire. All three are good and different, but this one is even more tasty and slightly more special.

Ledaig 12yo 2008/2020 (45%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Wood Finished, Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 year finish in Hermitage Casks, 4440 bottles, 20/074)

The previous reviews have shown that the industry is getting the hang of how to successfully incorporate Red Wine Casks into the production of decent Whisky. The three Longrow Red’s reviewed last, were all pretty good. So maybe it’s time to have a look at a different example of this practice. But first this: for one reason or another, the interest in Springbank (and, Hazelburn and Longrow, but to a lesser extent as well), has skyrocketed in the past year of two. Maybe the best example is the latest rendition of the Springbank Local Barley over which people really went ape-shit, and really, there is no other way to put it, ape-shit indeed! Why is that, one might wonder, the colour, more money to spend because of the pandemic? In many markets this latest Local Barley was near impossible to get, and just have a look what people are willing to pay today for one of these at auction. It’s a 10yo! Even when Springbank Society is releasing a bottle these days, you have to enter a ballot! Even though costs have risen considerably across the world, due to Brexit, people are going ape-shit after those as well. Not only aficionado’s and fan’s but many bottle flippers as well, since most of these releases are readily available, in great numbers, I might add, at the next action. A few years back, Springbank Society didn’t even sell everything and you could get a second bottle without any problem. Times are a-changing.

So now that Springbank is often impossible to get (in a normal way), I tried to figure out what would be a nice alternative to Springbank. Well, that is a rather personal question, and the answer might differ from person to person. However I did come to some sort of a conclusion for myself, and figured out it is the peated distillate of Tobermory, we all know better as Ledaig. There are probably more alternatives one can think of, but let’s stick with Ledaig for now. First of all, Ledaig is getting better by the year, (they used to have a rather wonky reputation), it’s readily available, especially through independent bottlers, and it’s damn tasty stuff, even at a young age. I have bought quite a few Ledaig’s in the past year, so I could have, and probably will have it permanently represented on my lectern. So, Ledaig it is for now, and after three Longrow Red’s, here is a Hermitage Wine finished Ledaig. Hermitage is a French Red Wine from the northern Rhône region, made with Syrah grapes. Let’s see if this is really a worthy alternative for the Longrow Red’s. A final remark before digging in, this Gordon & MacPhail offering has been reduced to 45%, where the Longrow Red’s are bottled at cask strength, we’ll see if that matters much.

Color: Vibrant orange brown, like a bourbon. No pink Red Wine hue.

Nose: The bottle I’m reviewing now is less than half full, and this really needed to breathe a lot to get where it is now. When freshly opened, I was really disappointed, asking myself, is this it? Quite unbalanced. Yet today, it is another story altogether. Bonfire smoke and the fur of a wet dog, or maybe an animal with a more coarse fur, lets say wet bear then. Dried out cow dung in the middle of summer. Ledaig always has these “animalesk” notes to it. Fresh air with a whiff of paper and chlorine, this is not a bad thing, because it fits the whole. Smoke, nutty, winey, funky and sweet smelling fatty peat. Also licorice is present in this peat. There is a lot going on in this peat-bit alone. Some wood, nice laid back oak. Hints of fireworks (sulphur). The whole is dark and brooding based around great peat and smoke. Motor oil, coffee flavoured candy, and some vanilla. Creamy. Smallest hint of red fruits only, so the influence of the Red Wine casks is somewhat different to other Red Wine finished Whiskies. Partly floral. Yes after the big aroma’s played their part, a more floral note comes popping up from below. There is definitely a lot happening here. Many entirely different aroma’s come together in harmony. Nevertheless, this seems to me to be dirtier than your average Islay Malt, however I’m not entirely sure right now, if this dirtiness hails from Mull or Southern France, my guess would be the former. Good Ledaig again. Smoke, floral, soap and fresh fruit notes now. I can get used to this. So let people get ape-shit some more on the output of Campbeltown, we’ll join in occasionally, and apart from that, we’ll have Mull as our (dirty) little secret. Amazing how this managed to get from this unbalanced state when freshly opened to this harmonious and balanced Whisky it is now.

Taste: On entry, somewhat sweet (red fruit syrup, in part artificial), toffee, animalesk-peat, crushed beetle, ginger bread, caramel and nutty. With a slightly soapy slippery feel to it and woody bitterness for good measure. Amazingly this also has a little red pepper sting to it. Here, it is all slightly less big and powerful and it tastes somewhat diluted compared to the Red’s. I know there are a lot, and I really mean a lot, of cask strength Ledaig’s out there, but this one would benefit from some more ooomph as well. Still, it is what it is and it is a good Ledaig again. Way less complex here than it was on the nose. Hence less words are needed to describe the taste than the nose. Warming bonfire and cigarette ashtray in the finish and warming meaty aftertaste with coffee candy and surprisingly some mint. Very warming indeed.

First of all, this one definitely needs a long time to breathe and if you allow it to, you’ll be rewarded. Just leave the cork off for a day or two after opening, and repeat this process if necessary. Second, just like the Red’s, here we have another successful Red Wine cask finish. By the way, remember this Deanston? The reputation of Mull is growing and before you know it, (it might take a few years), it just might catch up with Campbeltown altogether. It’s a worthy alternative, and it is not more of the same. Luckily, even though the output of Springbank Distillery is very, very good. But we aficionado’s do like the differences that can be had. One minor gripe. Even though this is yet another good Whisky, the reduction to 45% ABV is very well noticeable. Historically these finishes were bottled by Gordon & MacPhail @ 45% ABV, but with the revamp of the different series they had, towards the “new” Connoisseurs Choice, maybe there should be some Cask Strength Wood Finishes as well?

Points: 86

This one is for Luke Todd-Wood, who recommended it to me, without even knowing. Cheers Luke, I guess you already finished your bottle by now!

Longrow Red 10yo “Refill Malbec” (52.5%, OB, 7 years Bourbon Barrels, 3 years Refill Malbec Barriques, 10.000 bottles, 2020, 20/187)

Well time moves fast, and before I even managed to write the reviews of the 2019 Pinot Noir and the 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and get them out, already this 2020 Refill Malbec has been released, the second Red in 2020. Looks like someone’s in a hurry? Is it time to cash in a bit on output from the distillery which isn’t branded Springbank. I really don’t know about the popularity of Longrow and Hazelburn (and Kilkerran) compared to Springbank. But looking at auctions, all are doing quite well, but Springbank itself seems to still perform best. However, it looks to me like the Red series is getting really popular. I’m guessing Springbank Distillery are stocking up on wine casks now and finally have a plan what to do with a lot of the Longrow distillate. But all of this is pure speculation. So what Master Quill initially intended as the two latest Red’s back-to-back, in comes this third one, and hey, after the results of both previous Red’s, I’m not complaining. I got in touch with Nico again and yes here is another bottle share between the two of us. Still not sure about those Red’s, ‘eh Master?

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Initially young, somewhat milky and dusty, and quite oddly, hay and grass we know from Grappa! Young Malt with raisins and old dried out, grated Swiss cheese. Burnt wood and slightly tarry. Dry virgin oak and a pool of fresh rain water. Wait a minute. Just let it breathe for a while. Wow, this is an entirely different Red again. Toasted oak, burning newspapers, pencil shavings and red fruit candy (raspberry), with a tiny acidic note on top. It all comes out in layers. Where the 2019 Pinot Noir shines because of its balance, this…well, this doesn’t, initially. I use the word initially, because experience tells me that these kinds of funky notes often wear off, and this is the start of my half bottle which probably hasn’t seen a lot of air to breathe with. This has red fruits, fresh and artificial. Hints of peat, but the peat is not dominating. This Red, even though it is one of the younger expressions, and as we all know, young peat is the strongest, has soft milk-chocolaty peat. Just compare it to a Longrow 18yo for instance, also soft peat. Some more dull smelling paper, wood and woody spices emerge, otherwise this is (initially) a simple expression or starts out as a very closed one. Bad breath, Winey, candy like, with hints of mint, nice, sweet mint and finally some smoke. Bonfire smoke on a cold night. So bits of peat and soft wood and milk chocolate, that’s the story here. Not very complex and starts out pretty basic. All the slightly less positive remarks made above dissipate after some extensive breathing. The Grappa is gone by now, never to return. The Whisky really gains balance and smells in a way like it wants to show you how it will taste. The 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon still has a much, much better, far more sophisticated and appealing, dare I say, near perfect, nose. I just did, didn’t I? The Pinot Noir works like a good alternative to Oloroso. Let’s not compare the smells of both any further, and by the way, the strength of the 2020 Refill Malbec lies even more in the taste, as we’ll soon find out.

Taste: Initially this comes across as a younger and less balanced expression than the previous two reviewed ones, yet right out of the gate this is still a very tasty bugger! To capture the taste of this Red in one sentence: Liquid smoke mixed with sweet ripe red fruits and red chillies. It certainly has a sting to it and a sweetness that follows. Slightly syrupy and notes of oaky bitterness. Hints of tar and liquorice which matches up well with the red fruit syrup. Salty (and smoky) lips. Definitely more peat here than in the nose, as well as more smoke. Add to that, red fruit jam, rubber and some arome-de-ashtray. In a way this is a bit thin. Not a big rounded out Malt but more of a big flat circle. The sweetness hasn’t enough power to sustain a big body. In many ways it is big (in 2 dimensions), but lacking a bit of depth (the third dimension). So peat smoke and red fruits make up the two dimensions, but in the end it thus lacks some sweetness to counterpart the smoke, peat and wood, to round things out. This sometimes has an element of sulphur. At this point, who cares about the balance and the initial Grappa. This is a fun Red! This is a Big Red (in a way)! Gives off a nice feeling and aftertaste going down. Sweet with peated toffee and the red fruit jam. This one just needs some air to shine even more. Tiny hints of black fruits in the finish. Sweet and again a flinty and slightly burned note. Both are very welcome here. Also remember, Malbec Wines aren’t sweet Wines, so where the sweetness comes from is a mystery to me. Excellent birthday cake. Hints of fireworks and sulphur. Again these are welcome notes, don’t get me wrong. Black tea, a slight bitterness, late pencil shavings and all the time very tasty. Rougher then the previous two reviewed Red’s, but a welcome variant on the theme nevertheless.

Well, this one might be a little rough around the edges, still it surely sort of matches up in quality with the “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” which brought me back into the Red fold in the first place. Sure it starts a tad funky and wonky, but it pulls itself together rather quickly. Interesting. In the end not the same score for both, the taste is almost in the same ballpark quality-wise, but the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon simply has a much, much better nose.

Points: 86

By the way, here is a list of officially released Red’s:

2012 11yo   7 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 4 years Fresh Cabernet Sauvignon Hogsheads (Country unknown)
2013 11yo   6 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 5 Years Fresh Australian Shiraz Hogsheads
2014 11yo 11 years Fresh Port Casks
2015 12yo 11 years Bourbon Casks and 1 year Fresh New Zealand Pinot Noir Casks
2017 13yo 12 years Bourbon Barrels and 15 months Fresh South African Malbec Barriques
2018 11yo   9 years Bourbon Barrels and 2 years Fresh South African Cabernet Franc Barriques
2019 11yo   8 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years Refill New Zealand Pinot Noir Barriques
2020 13yo 10 years Bourbon Barrels and Refill Sherry Hogsheads and 3 years Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels
2020 10yo   7 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years South African Refill Malbec Barriques

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

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