Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, 14.10.21, 21/159, 2021)

When I wrote the previous review of an older 18yo Springbank (one from 2011), Springbank was readily available in Europe in many guises. Enough to choose from, with decent prices. Today I can paint an entirely different picture. If I would go to several shops I would probably find nothing at all, and with some luck, maybe, and I stress this word, maybe I would be able to buy a 10yo like this, but that’s about it. If I want another Springbank, secondary market is the way to go these days, with secondary market prices as well. Accessibility is low, demand has risen dramatically. Springbank doesn’t have to bother advertising their product anymore, nor do they attend Whisky shows and packaging isn’t necessary as well. It all sells itself. Where does it all go? US, Asia? Well, since this was the only normal buy in recent times, let’s see how the 10yo is doing…

Color: Clear light gold.

Nose: Cardboard and fruity. Slightly creamy and nutty. Recognizable Campbeltown oily funk. A memory of peat, but it is most definitely not up front. Cleaner than I remember other Springbank 10yo’s to be, like for instance the 2003 and 10/342 (2010) editions, yet in the greater scheme of Whisky, clean this is not. Somewhat dusty and waxy. Peaches with a hint of banana, maybe some apricots and a wee backbone of something smoky. A lighter and fruitier take on the 10yo. Sweet fruit yoghurt with more dust and fresh almonds (without their skins). Sometimes I pick up on faint pine resin and/or camphor, or do I fool myself? Band-aids are another strange note that sometimes whiffs by. Very well balanced though. Springbank is just such a good distillery. Amazing smelling 10yo again. As often with Springbank, give it time to breathe. Oxidation is almost always Springbank’s friend. After sipping it for a while, a more green and leafy note emerges adding a little bit to the complexity of this Malt. This is very nice for an affordable 10yo, still one of the best you can get, but wait a minute, before you get carried away, how does it taste?

Taste: Nutty again. Because here there is more wood upfront, it seems less fruity. Very tasty but also a bit thin and rather simple (the nose shows more complexity), still, the balance is here, as well as it is in the taste. However, I expected something more oily or fatty, at least the feel of that, because the oily taste is present, yet the texture isn’t. This is also not very warming going down, so I guess this is more a summer type of Whisky. After swallowing you can pinpoint quite a sharp (woody) bitter note in your mouth, that doesn’t go away for a while. It actually tastes like less than 46% ABV (more like 40% ABV). So the rather thin texture doesn’t help the Whisky along. Nevertheless, this a highly drinkable Malt. Where in the start the wood was masking the fruit a bit, I’m happy to report this has a nice and fruity finish that carries well into the aftertaste (along with the creamy bits).

This isn’t one of the best batches of the 10yo around, yet if I would find myself stranded on a sunny deserted island with a case of this, it still is one of the best you could wish for in a situation like that. Other than that, this is a decent and pretty straightforward and as mentioned earlier, highly drinkable Malt. Just don’t decide for yourself how this one is right after opening the bottle, this really needs some time to properly open up, like most Springbanks do. Drink this too fast is not a good idea, just give it time, put it on your shelf for a day or two without a cork (mind the fruit flies) and you will be rewarded. As said this is definitely not the best batch of the 10yo, but there is still enough here to have fun with or grow a fondness for. I did.

Points: 85 (almost 86)

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Aberlour 13yo (58%, OB, First Fill Sherry Butt #34595)

So what do you do after a few reviews of mostly Ex-Bourbon cask matured Whiskies? Yep, you’ve got it, you try to find a Sherry bomb to review, and as luck would have it, I just have such a thing still waiting on my lectern to be reviewed. Back in the day when one wanted a very good Sherried Whisky, one would turn to the likes of Longmorn, Strathisla and Macallan. After that, I remember Glendronach 15yo, (not the Revival one, no the one before that), was a nice alternative to Macallan 18yo (and the 15yo when it existed in some years). In more recent years, Macallan changed direction somewhat, so, Glendronach, Tamdhu and even more recently Glenallachie seem to be the, more affordable, go to Sherry bombs these days. Glenallachie 15yo seems to be rather popular, although it didn’t really convince me (yet).

Many independent bottlers are coming out with a lot of young first fill Sherry bottlings as well. Parallel to all this Sherry Bomb activity, there has always been Aberlour, especially with their A’Bunadh bottlings, and to a somewhat lesser extent with some single cask bottlings, which are less available and more expensive. Simply because they aren’t flooding the market with those, it’s giving me the feeling that if they do release a single cask bottling, it must be something of an exceptional single cask, a stunner so to speak. So when this was sold locally, I just couldn’t resist the looks of it, and bought it. I’m a sucker for those dumpy bottles, I just had to have it. Now the time has come to find out if this is an exceptional single cask or not, and if #13330 and #4934 are anything to go by, both are first fills as well by the way,…well you’ll understand that expectations run high by now.

Color: Orange-red-brown.

Nose: Sherry alright. Dusty oak and meaty. Cold gravy and animal fat. Quite heavy Sherry and a cellar type smell, yet also vibrant and fresh. Dull dishwater and fresh air, here a wonderful combination. Rhum Agricole from Martinique, not funky enough for Réunion. Very aromatic and again a well balanced nose. The stars seem aligned a bit in my house, since a lot of the previously reviewed Whiskies showed some really good balance as well. Seems a bit syrupy and muddy at times, but not all the time. Quite clean otherwise, due to its freshness and lemony aroma’s. Old dry nuts still in their shell, lying in a bowl on the table, not touched for a while since the nutcracker broke. Still fresh with sometimes a more organic (slightly farty) whiff flying by. Almonds and Sinaspril (an artificial smell of old orange powder). This is a Whisky that needs the warmth of your hand to unlock all the fine aroma’s. So don’t hold your glass by the stem of foot, but just keep it in your hand, moving it around a bit. If anything, this lacks the promise of a wee bit of sweetness or creaminess, although some of this is emerging, (honey notes now), if you keep the glass around for half an hour or so. Only after sipping a tiny hint of spicy sulphur comes forth, mixed in with licorice (Bassett’s, which emerges even later). It’s a bit strict, like teachers used to be. In comes Pink Floyd now…

Taste: Medium syrupy and hot, woody, spicy start. Tarry vanilla powder, somewhat soapy and some artificial cherries, making it less exceptional on entry, but still quite good, don’t get me wrong here. Let’s say right of the bat, that this is not recommended for novices. Next, fruity syrup, some spices and some good old wood. Cinnamon, cola, star anise and a light to medium, (depends on the moment), and soft, woody bitterness, in this case maybe taking away even some more from the exceptionalness (if that’s a word). Still, I have to mention this doesn’t bother me all that much every time around and on some days my perception of this differs from other days. Some hidden sweetness. On entry this might be a bit strange, not exactly perfectly balanced, the body is good though, but the finish shows a sort of fruity acidity which doesn’t fit the Whisky all that much, hurting the balance some more. Maybe the Sherry that was previously in this Butt wasn’t the best? I notice a slight soapy edge (again) on the sides of my tongue some time after swallowing. Medium length finish with some soap to it and this lingers on even longer in a long warming aftertaste. Seems older than 13yo.

This is a bit of a chameleon Malt, on some days I like it more and get something else out of it than on other days, yet another point why this might not be for novices. I wouldn’t even recommend an A’Bunadh for novices though, all of the batches, especially with these kinds of ABV. It definitely has quite a few good sides, but to be honest, when looking at the wonky bits, I’m not entirely sure why this cask was picked out for a single cask bottling, not for the general public I guess. It’s just not exceptional, although it is most definitely a very interesting bottling for anoraks. Sure it has its strange bits, but in a way I do like it, it is another take on Aberlour. Case closed.

Points: 86

Paul John (59.7%, OB, Single Cask #1444, 2014)

While we’re at it, why not continue with yet another Paul John. In the previous two reviews we first had an Amrut finished in cask that previously held peated Whisky and the second Whisky, a Cadenhead Paul John, consists for 40% of Peated Whisky. This time around, we’ll be looking into a single cask of Paul John, a totally unpeated one. Personally I believe Paul John in its peated variant is often at its best. However, like I claimed in the review of the Cadenhead Paul John, there are very good unpeated expressions as well, so lets see if #1444 is one of them.

Color: Light copper gold.

Nose: Very nice entry, with Paul John’s trademark horseradish. A good Springbank has cocos, and a good Paul John has horseradish. Dusty horseradish in this case, like dried out horseradish cream (from a jar). Prickly and spicy, with trace amounts of smoke and floral soap. Appetizing. Cola flavoured wood, and a zesty oak flavour. Appealing in this zesty soda kind of way. Maybe they should carbonate this particular expression of Paul John? The wood now turns a bit vegetal, somewhat virgin, although it is highly unlikely this came from a virgin oak cask. Cold tea. Complex. This has pencil shavings which is also quite normal for a Paul John, but much less than other unpeated expressions, which is a good thing in my book, since that aroma can often dominate the Whisky, masking the complexity it might have and thus resulting in a lower score. So it seems this is a better balanced unpeated single cask than the ones reviewed earlier. The nose benefits hugely from sipping, showing yet more layers. Wow. Sometimes I smell some creamy fruits from an Alsatian Gewürztraminer (not the lychee by the way). How is that for complexity.

Taste: Wood, mocha, ashes and horseradish toffee. Prickly (white pepper?) and somewhat sweet. Again showing great balance. The next wave concentrates more around the sweet bit, now showing a ripe fruitiness. Yet also quite some wood without ever getting bitter. Hints of virgin oak again, but also some dusty old dried out leather books. Classy. A slight lemony acidity (lemon meringue) at the end of the body and well into the finish, which is nice, nutty and long. Walnuts without the bitter skin, the flesh of walnuts only, so to speak. Warming finish and thus this nutty and woody aftertaste with again quite some length.

I have to say this is a very nice dram, and may very well be the best of the unpeated Paul John’s I tried up ’till now. Just compare this one to the other unpeated official single casks: #1906 (87 points) and #1051 (84 points). Great balance and it all works together quite nicely. The aromas in the nose are nice, as well as on the palate, and both the nose and the taste fit together well. Nice finish and a good lengthy aftertaste. Very good example this one, definitely my favourite of the unpeated ones. Funny really, all these single casks look alike especially because a lot of information is lacking. What kind of cask it is, how many bottles, distillation year and so on. So they all look the same, they seem to come all from Bourbon barrels, but the difference between the different casks can still be really great.

Points: 89

Paul John 6yo 2011/2018 (56.6%, Cadenhead, Bourbon Hogshead & Bourbon Barrel, 564 bottles)

Since the last review was of an Amrut Indian Whisky finished in a cask that held peated Whisky, why not review another Indian Whisky I have on my lectern that came into contact with peat. Here we have a Cadenhead’s bottling of a Whisky that originally came from three casks that previously held peated Whisky and two casks that held unpeated Whisky. Since Indian Whisky, due to the local climate, suffers from a lot of evaporation, all this Whisky was vatted together and then transferred to only one hogshead and one barrel. My guess would be 5 years of maturation in India and one year in Scotland. Both casks were dumped together and then bottled. The label doesn’t say anything about a marrying period before bottling, there probably was, we only don’t know how long that was.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Slightly peaty and quite fruity (especially in the beginning). Sharp fresh air with a hint of horseradish, which is quite common for a Paul John. Some leather, wood (pencil shavings, yes) and sweet licorice. Bonfire and smoke. Somewhat creamy, nutty and green as well. Vegetal. Cold chimney and it seems a bit salty. Salty custard. Dry vanilla powder and molten ice-cream. Smells tasty and compared to the Blackadder Amrut, a bit more modern (distant hint of warm plastic) and less, definitely less complex, not a lot of evolution as well, but there is some. It reaches a certain point, and stays there. The aforementioned Amrut was putting out layer after layer, but needed a lot of time to do so. This Paul John shows its colours right away. It’s not a very big Malt but the experience I have with it now, when analysing, is the same as when casually nipping it, which is a good thing. Well, again quite a good balance. I have nothing to complain about in this department for the last few reviews, good! Yes. this is again a very nice nose. A wonderful Malt to smell. The two unpeated casks did bring the peat down a little bit, without adding to much of the nutty and waxy pencil shavings note, most unpeated Paul John’s have in abundance. Sometimes exactly this can be overwhelming, which is why I prefer peated Paul Johns yet there are examples of good unpeated expressions as well. No off notes whatsoever. Good stuff.

Taste: Nutty and peaty. Sugared fruits (pineapple) without being too sweet. Some bitter oak and hops, both with staying power on my tongue. Still, very nice on entry. Different than expected considering the nose. Here the pencil shavings have more to say than it had in the nose. Where on entry it was pleasant, now that the body starts to develop inside your mouth, a lack in balance starts to be apparent, making it less pleasant. Ice-cream combined with a funky organic note as well as some burnt plastic. Where the nose was already not all too complex, the taste is even less complex and less balanced to boot. There is something not quite right when balancing the acidic notes with the bitterness this has on offer. Nice almond-like finish though and also quite warming, but it also has a quite short aftertaste, with a bit of bitterness, cinnamon, horseradish and plastic again. Definitely not for novices, I would say. Drink this in big gulps, and nip it often to counter the somewhat short finish. Thus, definitely one for a more experienced drinker. The bitterness stays behind on my tongue for longer than the actual aftertaste. Drying it out a bit.

In the end, this still is a nice Paul John, with an interesting history to it, and an interesting palate, (plastic) warts and all. Alas it’s definitely not the best you can get, but nevertheless a good one. Good, but not great.

Points: 86

Amrut (61.3%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, Peated Cask Finish, BA26/2016, 165 bottles, 2016)

This isn’t the first Amrut on these pages, (it’s the ninth), nor is it the first Blackadder (it’s the fifth). Looking at Blackadder, this Amrut finds itself in good company with a 26yo Port Ellen, a 28yo Royal Lochnagar, a 28yo Lochside and a 40yo Glenfarclas. All scoring 88 or 91 points. I don’t think this Amrut is as old as these other ones. After 26 years an Amrut cask would probably be empty, all evaporated in the hot and humid local climate. So, this is not the first Amrut on these pages, but it most certainly is the first one bottled by an independent bottler, and somehow this bottler felt the need to finish this Whisky in a peated cask, or did Amrut already do that themselves? Was the original cask a bit tired, the Whisky a bit bland and/or did the Whisky need something of a booster, or did it just seem to be a neat experiment, a great idea? Well there is only one way to find out, and have a go at it ourselves and see if it’s any good. By the way, if you see some black cask sediment on the bottom of your bottle, don’t bring the bottle back to your retailer, it’s supposed to be there, hence the name Raw Cask.

Color: Copper gold (with black dandruff, the bigger chunks of cask sediment are still in the bottle).

Nose: Buttery with vanilla. Creamy, pudding-like, big and bold. Citrus freshness and some nice fresh oak mixed with some fresh air, sometimes even a bit sweet smelling. After the Ledaig, yet another well balanced nose, just much less peated. Green, black tea and somewhat floral with only the tiniest hint of peat, typical Indian barley smell, you can also get from a Paul John, (reminiscent of nutty pencil shavings). Definitely no smoke, but there is a dusty and dry side to it, even though this has this sweetish and chewy cream note. Crème brûlée and some licorice. The green notes are moving into the realm of wood, tree sap with a hint of pencil shavings. Somewhat spicy, as well as spices you get from a nice (oak aged) Chardonnay. Nice whiff of eucalyptus you can smell in a sauna (I only picked up on this after sipping) and unlit Cuban cigar notes. If you put some time into it, it is actually an excellent smelling Malt. It just needs quite some time and air. A nose built around green wood and the many guises of cream. Not a very complex nose at first, but a very nice one indeed, and near perfect after half an hour or so. Works well outside. The fresher the air it gets to breathe, the bigger the reward.

Taste: Sweet, fruity, nutty and somewhat waxy and yes, peaty it is this time. Sweet, wet wood, licorice and white pepper. Cold cigarette ashes and sweet fatty smoke. Menthos and a distant hint of hard red fruit (raspberry) candy. At times quite spicy and almost hot. Still creamy, although masked. Toffee. Behind this is some acidic fruit. Not only citrus, but also some acidity from (red) berries. Some white pepper. Long finish (in the wood realm again) and a nice similar aftertaste, now with a slight bitter (and soapy) edge to it. The perception of bitterness was different from one day to the other. All in all, slightly less balanced than the nose. After a few drams, I managed to anaesthetize the roof of my mouth a bit, so this really is a 60%+ ABV Malt in the end.

Yet another example of a Whisky that needs your attention to “get” everything it has. So maybe this is, in a way, a delicate Malt. For instance, the previously reviewed Ledaig, well, that one doesn’t need your attention. That one will make sure it will get your attention, by leaping out of your glass, and coming after you(r nose). Yup, the beauty of this Amrut lies in the details and the time you are willing to give it. Just leave it in your glass, move it around a bit, take the occasional sip, and only then you will find out what it’s got. I think this is wonderful stuff, but when carelessly sipping it, I didn’t think all that much of it to be honest (and alas I drammed right through most of this bottle that way). So beware how you treat it (and thus yourself). I don’t know why this was finished in a peated cask, but it clearly worked. Kudo’s!

Points: 89

Ledaig 11yo 2005/2017 (61.8%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, Butt, 450 bottles)

As already mentioned in the last review of a Ledaig; Springbank is one of my favourite distilleries. I love the output of it, Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn, all very good. However, the last few years Springbank has become excessively popular, and apart from the 10yo expression, I can’t really buy any of the other expressions normally in my country. Some shops also mark up according to demand, and thus are asking silly money, so my only chance is the secondary market, which is also a pretty expensive these days. When looking at alternatives, Ledaig comes to mind. In the previous review of Ledaig, a 12yo G&M bottling, which was finished for three years in a Wine cask, so may not hove been the best of expressions to check out if this would be a contender to reach out for when Springbank is not available. Ledaig is not really more of the same, it is quite different, however, when you have a craving for something Springbank-y and you don’t have it, or can’t have it, this might come in handy. Tobermory (the distillery that produces a peated expression calling it Ledaig) used to have quite a wonky reputation, and I do have tasted some dodgy Tobermory’s and Ledaigs in the past. But the last two decades or so, they seem to have bumped into their muse and are making some pretty good stuff. Just have a look this official 18yo or the G&M Reserve and G&M Cask Strength I reviewed earlier.

In 2017 Cadenhead had it’s 175th Anniversary, and I believe, Mark W. bottled some of their best stock at the time, recognizable by the extra added copper plate hanging from the neck of the bottle. A thing to look out for IMHO. Just like the 10th Anniversary Port Askaig, this is an almost empty bottle. Low level, because it is just so damn good, and drams like these just don’t stay around on my lectern for all too long…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Ashy peat yet more smoky and sooty than peaty alone. Distant smoked fruits and medicinal, lots of iodine, just perfect. Nice sweet spicy and chewy warm wood note, as well as a faint industrial rubbery and oily note. It’s like the smell of an old steam locomotive, or any other old well-oiled (steam) machine, standing around for ages in a museum. Paint (sometimes borderline polyester), old Martinique Rhum, perfumy (at times fresh and soapy, in a good way) and floral as well. Salty? Dry garden waste, including grass (dry as well) so not the wet or moist rotting stuff. December bonfire and crushed beetle, nutty and milk chocolate. A blend of dried kitchen spices and pencil shavings. No way to contain this. I just put the glass far away from me and still this reaches my nose easily. A nice fruity acidity combines with bold fruity notes. Hints of ripe and sweet black berries. Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts. Clean, chewy and big. After some breathing, hints of oak emerge, as well as some hot oil emanating from a sowing machine. A much cleaner smelling oil than the oil coming from old machines. This one has it all. One of the best balanced noses I’ve come to smell in a long time. This is special stuff with seemingly endless layers of aroma’s. As said earlier, just perfect if you are into this kind of stuff. And this one also works very well smelling it outside in clean fresh air. Amazing stuff.

Taste: Prickly smoke and peat upfront. Dry. Wow. Sweet nutty wax, crushed beetle again, with a rather strange red fruit acidity bubbling up, in part artificial, yet soon to be overpowered by the soot and ashes. Some plastics and polyester pop up, aiding the artificial red fruit feel, or maybe causing it? Medium red fruits and again quite some soot and ashes. Hints of latex paint. Toffee sweetness and chewy as well. The peat and smoke combo remain omnipresent throughout this dram. Simpler than the amazing nose, yet with a nice long and lingering finish and warm bonfiery aftertaste. Wonderful dram. Amazing 11yo. Tobermory distillery is killing it with Ledaig recently.

Yup, here we have an another Ledaig-belter on our hands. The nose is perfect, and the palate, and even though this is somewhat simpler, it is most definitely “not bad” as well, just not in the same league, close though, don’t you worry. In the end, this is pure joy (especially when combined with some great avant-garde live performances of Frank Zappa and the Mothers from the sixties). Big and busy band, big and busy Whisky.

Points: 91

Port Askaig 10yo “10th Anniversary” (55.85%, Elixir Distillers, P/000247, 2019)

As far as I know there is no distillery called Elixir nor is there a Port Askaig distillery. Maybe there will be in the future? Nope, this Elixir distillers is a brand of the people behind The Whisky Exchange (London, UK). When creating an Single Malt Islay brand, you have some more room than a single distillery, because you have the opportunity to use the output from more than one distillery, as long as you keep it a Single Malt. So one distillery at a time in a particular bottling. I haven’t got any other Port Askaig’s lying around at the moment, but on the back label of this particular bottle it is mentioned that this comes from a distillery on the north-east coast of Islay. Historically Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila, and more recently also Ardnahoe is situated there. The back label also mentions that the distillery is close to Port Askaig, so geographically it is most likely this Whisky was distilled by Caol Ila. This Whisky was blended from just 33 casks (distilled in 2008). 20 refill American hogsheads, 8 first fill Bourbon barrels and 5 ex-solera Sherry butts. If these are true solera casks, then the casks could have been used for Sherry for quite some time. Last but not least, this hasn’t been chill-filtered and no caramel colouring has been added. Why should they when the glass bottle is this dark. So why 55.85% ABV I hear you ask. Well, The latitude of Port Askaig is 55.85º N. The longitude is -6.11º W, and to be honest, -6.11% is quite useless for an ABV.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Soft fruity and tea-like peat. Elegant indeed. A special mix of fruitiness and florality (and dust). Citrus mix and a wee note of sweet red fruits. Friendly and elegant. For some, this might be slightly too perfumy and the fruity bit slightly too fruity (sweet), but personally this all sets it apart from other modern Islay Malts, making it rather unique in that respect. Very interesting blending result. Even though this mostly has been in contact with American oak, something did overpower the vanilla note one would expect. I wonder what the 5 Solera casks could do to this Whisky. The peat is soft and elegant as well, without smelling salty or tarry. Extremely well balanced. This bottle is now almost 90% empty and since it didn’t get the attention it clearly needs (more about that below), I couldn’t even tell you how it compares to a freshly opened bottle. After pouring, the nose still develops over time, getting better (as in, it shows more of itself). The development becomes apparent when re-pouring this dram. The freshly poured Whisky seems a quite different from the Whisky after breathing for a while and constantly sipping it. So it has a lot to give. Slight notes of burnt herbs, warm dry earth and freshly peeled almonds. Hints of old Malt, so for a 10yo, quite a feat. A worthy anniversary bottle. After a long while and after extensive tasting, the nose produces an iodine note combined with soft oak. The next day, the empty glass simply oozes with Iodine, and when cleaning with only water, even more Iodine notes come to the fore. Amazing.

Taste: Less fatty and fruity than the nose, so quite a surprise here. Seems thinner and sharper yet still soft. Prickly (sweet) smoke, slightly sweet chocolate powder and plenty of warm tar. Chewy and sweetish licorice in many guises. Warming. Less complex and quite different from the nose. Here the vanilla is present. Even though it seems less fruity at first, there still is a lot of nice fruits to behold. Acidic fruits well integrated with the smoke and peat. Again nicely balanced. The finish seems medium to short initially, but there is a lot that stays behind, and comes back for a nice and lingering, warm aftertaste. All in all a very interesting and well made Malt. Good job, showing a different side to an Islay Malt.

Again a Whisky that needs your attention to get the most out of it. I had a lot more fun and picked up on a lot more now when analysing it for this review, than I had when carelessly and randomly pouring it for a dram in the evening. It has a lot to offer, so make sure you focus a bit on it. Just give it the attention it needs and deserves. However, in this also lies its fault. If you don’t give it this attention, and you do carelessly sip it (as we usually do), this might pass a bit anonymously. This has probably to do with its softness and elegance, so maybe a bit too much of that?

Points: 87

Royal Brackla 14yo 2006/2020 (59.5%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength Connoisseurs Choice, Refill Hogshead #310821, Batch 20/110, 281 bottles)

Wow, on it for a long time, and still I manage to review a Scottish Single Malt Whisky that has never been featured on these pages before. How nice, and it’s not a new distillery either. This distillery was founded back in 1812 and called itself Royal since 1835, a title awarded by King William IV. Today Royal Brackla is part of the Dewar’s portfolio, owned by Bacardi-Martini since 1998. Other Scottish Single Malts in this portfolio are Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie and Macduff (marketed as Glen Deveron). Apart from Macduff that was owned by William Lawson Distillers as well as the William Lawson’s Brand, the other four distilleries, as well as the Dewar’s Brand, were bought from the newly formed Diageo to avoid a monopoly position. Of the five Single Malt Whiskies, Royal Brackla was the only one absent from these pages until now. As said, the company also owns two blends: Dewar’s and William Lawson’s, both big sellers, and since both are big sellers, Bacardi didn’t do a lot to market the five Single Malts at first. Only since 2014/2015 a big relaunch of the Single Malt portfolio was carried out. They called them The Last Great Malts, a bit of an ominous or sad name to be frank.

Color: Pale White Wine

Nose: Very appetizing, barley, barley sugar and yellow fruits. Very nice perfumed wood, hay, American oak, very elegant. I already love the nose. It reminds me of Whiskies like this that were bottled twenty years ago. Floral and fruity and both go together well. Soft, yet this still manages to leap out of my glass. Mocha and barley. Since the fruit is the dominant aroma, this also smells a bit fruity/sweet. Red fruit (raspberry) candy (again a sweet smell) mixed with some wet wood. The wet wood is a softer (greenish) wood aroma, setting it apart from more spicy dry oak. This is an extremely balanced smelling Whisky for a sunny day and a happy mood. This is not a melancholic drop, but in a way it also is, when it reminds me of Whisky from a while back. For a simple ex-Bourbon cask matured Whisky, this is really likeable and nice. Well made, aged in a good cask. Well done USA! Nice aroma’s and quite some complexity to it as well. There is a lot happening between the sprit and the active cask. Lots of organic and green notes. I would love to have this, when lying on a blanket in some quiet field on a hot, yet slightly windy, summers day. Far from everybody and everything. Yup, melancholic mood Whisky it is. After a while, slightly more oak, with a hoppy note, still green and wet though. Hints of vanilla and some indistinct dry kitchen spices. Hot butter and wax. Good stuff. The more air this gets, and time obviously, the fruitier it becomes. Definitely melancholic, or is it just me?

Taste: Sweet on entry. Very fruity, right from the start. A nice slight white pepper attack, with waxy and quite some wonderful woody and nutty aroma’s following suit. After the first sip, the nose even gets better than it already was. The Whisky evaporating inside your oral cavity, helps the smell further along. The fatty sweetness does dissipate quite quickly for a short acidic burst, leaving room for another yet shorter peppery attack and a somewhat thinner feel. The wood, still green and vegetal, now also shows an austere bitter note. Sappy, as in tree sap. After this happens, the balance can’t really match up with the wonderful balance of the nose. When the bitter note appears in the taste, aroma’s come to the fore, that aren’t really in harmony with each other. The nose itself remains wonderful though, maybe even better than before. Still a kind of bitterness in the finish that doesn’t match the whole, and even for an almost 60% Whisky, a light and shortish aftertaste. Whiskies like this need to be sipped in a high frequency.

So it comes apart a bit in the finish, but the nose is very good en even grows over time, so give it time. I will have fond memories of this one, even though it has this slight “defect” towards the end. Its a defect that can be sorted by upping your sipping speed. So at first you have to be slow, to let it breathe and after that the “race” begins. Like a stage in the Tour de France that ends in a sprint.

Points: 87

Cardhu 11 (56%, OB, Special Release, 2020, L0120CM004)

When I think of Cardhu, or Cardow as it was used to be called, I always remember the fond memories first. The official 22yo, a special release from 2005 was really good. So Cardhu is indeed able to make a Whisky worth noting. Sure, a lot of Cardhu is sold around the world, which doesn’t automatically mean it is very good. It can be, but often it is not. In the core range we have a 12yo, a 15yo and a 18yo, as well as “Amber Rock” and “Gold Reserve”. The Game of Thrones is a variant of the Gold reserve, and let’s not forget the Special Cask reserves which ran somewhere between 2007 and 2012. Most of these I have tried and none of them scored 80 points or higher. (I have yet to try the 18yo and the GoT edition, and surely the 18yo should be able to score in the 80 point range, don’t you think?). For Master Quill, I tried the 2010 Special Cask Reserve and that was a rather disappointing experience. I have tried some Cardhu from the 70’s, and even at 8yo and 43% ABV Cardhu could really rock. So even with this wonky reputation, I was really pleased to see a cask strength 14yo pop up as a special reserve in 2019 (and again in 2021), as well as this 11yo in 2020. This 11yo, was offered at a special price for a short while, and not having bought a Cardhu in a long long time, (and really digging the label), I went for it…

Color: White Wine

Nose: Malty, bread-like (toast), a bit waxy and with some yeast. Clean and fresh otherwise. Citrussy. Quite fruity actually, slightly sweet, with more of the (sugary) barley notes. Slightly milky, which to me is a note of underdevelopment. Luckily this note seems to dissipate after a while. Yellow fruit jam. Very friendly. Soft hints of wet wood, toasted oak and wet earth, combined with some mocha. Leafy and green. This is a lively and friendly Whisky. Floral perfume and slightly soapy. You’d imagine your grandmother liking this (if she drinks anything else beyond tea). Slightly dusty, with a tiny hint of heavily diluted apricot and peach syrup,as well as some (new) cardboard. Sometimes faint notes of a sweet White Wine crop up. As said above, this Malt has a (milky) youth to its nose, which is somewhat masked when you have it by itself (it is noticeable right before the fruity bit kicks in, and definitely more noticeable when the bottle was freshly opened). If you pour yourself another dram before or after this, this milky youth becomes apparent still. So, in the end, this Malt is fruity and floral and the two go together quite well in this Cardhu. This promises to be a highly drinkable Malt, lets see if that is the case here.

Taste: Sweet and peppery. Waxy, very, very fruity, fatty and nutty. Appetizing. Sometimes, this reminds me a bit of Bladnoch, but the fruit sets it apart. The nose does have this greenish note to it, lacking though on the palate. Dry compressed fruit powder candy, as well as canned syrupy yellow fruits. Peaches in sweet yoghurt. Again in the vicinity of the fruity aroma, this Malt also shows its youth here. Showing some slightly underdeveloped notes. The wet wood from the nose is here as well, complete with a slight bitter edge. This is not a problem at all, since the syrupy sweetness quickly takes care of any bitterness, although the feeling of a woody backbone remains. The wood morphs a bit into cold dishwater. Sounds worse than it actually is. Interesting combination of yellow fruits, (stingy) white pepper and the tiniest hint of sweet licorice. Chalk and fruit. Supple juicy fruit aroma’s with quite some alcohol, yet with a dry and chalky feel to it. Fruity sweetness and licorice in the finish and a tasty and warming aftertaste with quite some length.

This is a morning Malt to be had by itself. It is at its best by itself, because it is quite a good Malt, when it’s not compared to anything that might follow. Nevertheless be warned that this doesn’t have a morning ABV to match the feel of this Malt. Apart from that, this is quite a nice Cardhu to boot, with quite some balance to it as well. However, for me personally, it also shows a sort of underdeveloped side of itself, keeping me from scoring it even higher than I did. It is very good and very nice, just has some minor flaws to it. Still, one of the best official Cardhu’s I have tasted. A good buy and it went pretty fast, always a good sign.

Points: 87

Ardmore 20yo 1996 (49.3%, OB, 1st Fill Bourbon and Ex-Islay casks, L817757B)

Sometimes Ardmore can be quite stellar. Once, I even wrote that it has the potential to be the new Brora. Back then, there weren’t any plans to reopen Brora, so today probably Brora itself has more potential to be the new Brora than Ardmore. However, the owners of Ardmore don’t do a lot with this Malt and most independent bottlers, bottle Ardmore at quite a young age. Why is that? In comes this official 20yo. I immediately bought two of those, guided by my own statement and hoping for, (expecting), the best. As I said, Ardmore can be great, and this one has some pretty decent age to it and a nice ABV to boot.

When I opened this bottle, it was very much closed and stayed like that for a long, long, and even longer, time. I even left the cork off for several days, and still it wouldn’t budge, bumming me out. Disappointing and annoying, and along the way it never really became a favourite of mine. I usually wait until the bottle is half full/half empty to write a review so that the Whisky had a chance to grow with air and over time. This bottle is now 1/3rd full, and still I’m not sure how it really is. I usually can remember Whiskies I tasted a decade ago, but every time I return to this Ardmore, I haven’t got a clue how it actually is. This is really a difficult one. So for some reason or another, I once tasted it in the morning et voilà, there is more to this in the morning, than in the evening with a tired palate. This is a delicate morning Whisky, with the emphasis on delicate, so I had to write some things down in a wee morning session! How unusual (and how nice actually).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Quite fruity, with already a little hint of smoke and slightly rubbery peat. Very nice combination of old style, yellow half-dried fruits and wax. Whiffs of old style Malt yet sometimes also a whiff with a lack of balance, a strange or less well integrated fruity bit. Luckily this phenomenon doesn’t happen on every occasion. Quite light as well. Fruity sugared pineapple, shiny apple skins. Mocha with walnuts, hazelnuts in whipped cream. More of the nice waxy note comes forth and still it knows how to improve over time with more airing in the glass. This Malt really is dependent on air, it needs truckloads of it. This is therefore not an easy Malt. You really have to work at it a lot to get everything out, and don’t be fooled, this really has quite a lot more than meets the eye (?) initially. The waxy bit interacts quite well with a nice and soft woody note (American oak style), especially when the little bit of smoke somewhat stings the insides of your nose. The waxy bit finds a companion in some clay. After a while, good balance is reached as well at the end of the development. It just suddenly stops giving off new layers. Hardly any alcoholic notes in the nose, seems lower than the 49.3% ABV. With a lot of time and air, this nose does deliver. Quite wonderful.

Taste: Soft and creamy. Somewhat sweet vanilla and diluted whipped cream. Do I detect some faint notes of strawberry ice-cream? The sensation of cream with a little bit of water. Fruity yes and even the peat from part of the casks is noticeable. Prickly smoke on the sides of my tongue. Waxy and peaty. Almonds? After a while the oak starts to show more and more of itself, along with its bitterness, yet it never really overpowers. For twenty years, this has been in contact with wood alright. All of this, not in the greatest of balances to be honest. Also somewhat simpler than I would have expected from Whisky of this age. Lacking the complexity of a 20 year old malt, as well as the development. The finish is medium at best, actually quite short, whit a decent and warming aftertaste though. Very delicate stuff. Brittle, apart from the wax and the wood.

Technically, this must have been one of the most delicate Whiskies I have ever tried (when also analysing it). This one has managed to learn me something. You can sip your way through a bottle over a prolonged period of time in the evening and essentially having no clue what the Whisky really had to offer. Just this freak accident to have a sip in the morning, showed me that there is a lot more to this Ardmore. Treat this as a morning Whisky. Still, perfect it is not, not by a long shot. But hey, most of us usually sip our drams not-in-the-morning, so please take this into account. This is definitely not a casual sipper. Not bad at all, but should have been better than it actually is.

Points: 85