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

Mortlach 12yo 2008/2020 (56.8%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #800110, #800126 & #800127, 710 bottles)

After the wonderful and very interesting Loch Lomond, let’s try another Whisky fully matured in ex-Bourbon casks. This time one that was distilled at Mortlach. Mortlach has quite the reputation with Whisky Aficionado’s and rightly so. For instance, Mortlach 16yo was arguably the best offering in Diageo’s once extensive Flora and Fauna Range. Having this niche popularity, Diageo decided to do something more with the brand that is Mortlach and discontinued the 16yo around 2012 in favour of a Rare Old (NAS, not rare nor old, 80 points), an 18yo and a 25yo (84 points). All in 500 ml bottles! These three were released in 2014 and replaced in 2018 by more common age statement versions: 12yo, 16yo (a magic age statement for Mortlach) and 20yo. All three now in 700 ml/750 ml bottles. Mortlach is known for its Whiskies matured in Sherry casks. The 16yo Flora and Fauna is an example of this, and I thought an offering by Wilson & Morgan was even better than that. No surprise then, this has matured in a Sherry cask as well. I also reviewed a Provenance Mortlach earlier, I suppose was matured in Ex-Bourbon wood, which was not so interesting, so let’s see if this Signatory Mortlach is any good, or we should stick to Sherried versions of Mortlach altogether.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Winey, clear glue, creamy and slightly acidic. Not your usual creamy vanillin kind of smell though. A moment later some more fruits emerge, as well as the creamy vanilla powder notes. Dusty and slightly smoky (probably from toasted oak, not peat). Hints of gravy and cold dishwater, and some soft sugared fruit notes. This is a big Malt, which already shows amazing complexity. Not a cloying smell, since a nice fruity acidity keeps playing its part. This is a Mortlach and Mortlach is a special distillate, and boy, does this smell special. For some this may be a simple kind of Whisky, just pour new make into Bourbon Barrels, mind you, they didn’t even turn those into hogsheads, lazy buggers, and job done, easy, simple, no hassle. Yet Mortlach in a Bourbon Barrel, comes out slightly different from Whiskies from other distilleries matured like this, there is always something different about Mortlach, richer, beefier, meatier, just bigger, special. It’s almost like the fatty acid chains are just longer with Mortlach (without becoming soapy). Hints of raspberry hard candy, next to the half-ripe yellow fruits. Just not as exotic as it can be in well matured Tomatin’s. However, keep in mind that this is only 12yo, and not 30yo like the Tomatin’s I just mentioned. I don’t even know why I brought that up, since Mortlach and Tomatin are very different from each other. So fruity it is, just not all that tropical.

Taste: Sweet and very, very nutty and fruity at the same time, much more fruity than expected actually. Some wood, more akin to pencil shavings than oak, to be honest. Including a slight harmless bitter note. Again, not cloying since the big body also has enough fruity acidity to help it along. Nice. What a wonderful start. Signatory have recently issued some Mortlach Sherry Monsters from the 2010 vintage, which are more or less the same age, but I can’t imagine those ones beating something like this. Licorice powder, some paper and some spices as well as a peppery backbone. Sometimes a sweet minty note pops up. Mocha, milk chocolate. Tastes like a dessert Malt now. Hints of hay, more paper and overall still quite complex. Nice finish and a long warm aftertaste, including the glue again, which you pick up on initially when smelling a freshly poured dram of this.

This is an excellent Mortlach that was not matured in a Sherry cask. Very big and tasty, with complexity and length. The quality is unmistakeable and this will please a lot of Whisky aficionado’s. Its a good example of the spirit of Mortlach and a good example of what “simple” American oak can do. The quality is right upfront, and easy to see for everyone. I scored the Loch Lomond from the previous review slightly higher than this Mortlach, but I also believe, that one might not be for everyone, and you can only find the true beauty of the Loch Lomond when you work it a bit. The Mortlach is more suitable for casual drinking, its always good. the Loch Lomond needs your full attention, otherwise it can be a grumpy old git and will Will-slap you across the face.

Points: 88

Loch Lomond 17yo Organic (54.9%, OB, First Fill Bourbon Casks, L2 120 18, 30.04.2018)

After all those unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly products we have been putting into our bodies, finally some Organic Single Malt Whiskies start to emerge onto the market sporadically. The first Organic Malt I reviewed on these pages was an Organic Bruichladdich, This Loch Lomond is just the second. I have checked my stash, but I could only find a 12yo Organic Loch Lomond and a 14yo and a 15yo Organic Deanston, and that’s about it, no more. I should investigate if there are some more to get. I know there were a few Springbanks and some (young) Benromachs, but beyond that, who knows? Apart from the Deanston’s, this is the only well aged one out there. I did some quick and dirty research, so don’t expect something very deep now, but Nc’Nean also has Organic Whisky in its portfolio, but after that, its mostly American made Whisk(e)y that is also organic. Quite surprising from the land of fast food and a huge overweight problem. Wall-e was no joke. And before you start sending me hate-mail, or even worse, Will Smith, I’m quick to add that I am overweight as well. The Organic Bruichladdich was young and simple, easy, yet tasty. Scored rather high, since it was a high quality Malt, but could have done with some more ageing. Well, if you are after a better aged Organic Malt, than a 17yo Loch Lomond is quite a step up! Yes Loch Lomond, ahhh no, please no, you’re not going to talk about a certain Captain now, don’t you? Well, OK, let’s not. I’ll finish off this introduction with the fun fact that this was distilled in a combination of a swan neck and a straight neck pot stills.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Barley, dusty and woody. Classic Bourbon casked Single Malt Whisky nose. Sure, we’ll throw in Organic as well, although I have no clue whatsoever how “Organic” is supposed to taste. Smells very clean and honest. Artisanal. A bit sweetish as well, resembling, bot only in a small part, a Grain Whisky. A nice combination of dust, wax and light citrus skin notes. Fruity and lively. In a way delicate and also a bit old skool. Soft wood, mocha and slightly spicy. Light smell of an old aired out, weathered, stock cube. All nice and well integrated. Better now than when freshly opened. Sometimes a short soapy whiff passes by. After a while in my glass even more balance is reached between a waxy note that got company from some peanuts and more fruits. By far, the best smelling Loch Lomond I ever had. You probably think it’s the only Loch Lomond I ever had, but this is not the case. Not at all. Especially nice when you are of an older generation, like me, and remember the old stuff filled from an Ex-Bourbon cask. A classic. The spicy notes in this nose are just excellent, especially when this is sniffed outside. Fresh air helps this one along quite a bit. Great stuff for sure.

Taste: Sweet on entry, The spicy notes from the nose are right up front here as well. Grassy and wonderful. Here it is a bit accompanied by some licorice. Creamy yet also a bit hot. A slight metallic note, reminding me of Tormore. In fact, if I would have tasted this one blind, I would have probably thought this was a Tormore. Tormore distillates in casks like these perform rather well IMHO. Similar spices too. Both this and such Tormore’s bring a smile to my face. These suit me very well, but that is a personal thing, and might not be true for you. Again, what an amazing balance this Whisky has. Nothing short of a must-have for me. Perfect for some quiet me time (and a book). After the first sip, the nose develops even more in the cavity of your mouth. Good quality stuff this one. Amazing, remember the times when Loch Lomond had this awful reputation, well they certainly managed to turn that around with this one. Well done! Medium body with all these wonderful woody, spicy and woody aroma’s. The ABV of almost 55% carries this Whisky beautifully. Really good stuff. Must find me another one.

This Whisky is very good. When consumed carelessly, often within a flight of other Whiskies, I didn’t pick up on the all the wonderful bits this Whisky has on offer. When reviewing it, it is usually reviewed on its own (on occasion H2H with another somewhat similar example for comparison). For obvious reasons, one tends to give the subject a lot of attention when reviewing. So, when this is given your full attention, this Whisky reveals a lot more than meets the eye at first. It deserves to have your full attention and you might also give it some time to breathe and you’ll be able to pick up on some delicate and wonderful old skool classy aroma’s. Recommended.

Points: 89

Paul John (58%, Single Cask #1051, for The Nectar Belgium, 2015)

Last year I wrote a review of the Malts of Scotland Paul John #15066, another unpeated example of a Paul John single cask Whisky. When I emptied that bottle, it got replaced by this official bottling from single cask #1051 picked by Mario G., and bottled for The Nectar in Belgium. I normally write my reviews of a half full/half empty bottle. You know the drill about optimists and pessimists. Most of the time, Whiskies need some time or air to reach their best, so it is actually a big no-no to review a freshly opened bottle. However, this time around, I’m writing this review from a nearly empty bottle, but I have been following the development of this bottle very sharply, and I do remember all the stages this Whisky went through over time. All this, because in this particular case, this actually was at its best right after the bottle was freshly opened. I was really happy with it, let’s say the first half of the bottle, and when I brought it with me for a tasting of my whisky club, the comments were not all that positive. Yes, it may have suffered a bit by the preceding Whiskies in the line-up, but when tasting it back a few days later, I also thought it wasn’t as good as it was earlier. I left a few drams in the bottle and let it sit for a while before reviewing it now. I will make an honest review, based on all its stages and not only about the last bit I have left at this point. I haven’t tasted it yet, this last bit, so let’s see what time did to it this time.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Buttery, woody and waxy. Quite nutty as well. The wood is fresh and lively at first with a nice spicy feel to it. Sweet smelling, fruity, with big notes of pencil shavings. Pencil shavings is what this Whisky always had over time, big time. Barley notes with cold dish water and dry grass. Do I detect the tiniest hint of clear glue? It still is quite simple in its approach, but what you get, smells good, yet also for some, maybe a bit dull. Dusty, now turning a bit meaty (gravy actually) and glue like, before the pencil shavings come back. Still overall a good nose, with the fruity bit taking a back seat. It’s still there but not really overpowering. Simple yet appetizing. It’s simpleness is also evident in the lack of development, over the course of time in my glass there isn’t really anything changing. This is one for first impressions and not one that must grow on you. Even though these are the last drops of the bottle, it smells nice and seems to have kept its quality. It’s good, but not a stellar smelling expression, with the main focus on cold dishwater (and barley) and especially the pencil shavings.

Taste: Sweet and very nutty on entry, with a nice (red pepper?) sting to it. After the first sweet wave comes a more fresh and acidic wave. Here is the cold dishwater again. All this is quickly surpassed by medium bitter and spicy oak and pencil shavings. Slightly minty as well, since it has a slight cooling effect on the middle of my tongue. I don’t remember from earlier tastings, the amount of bitterness it is showing now. The bitterness is somewhere in-between oak and the oils from the skin of oranges, without really being all that orange-y. You know what I mean. Luckily the bitterness is smack in the middle of the body and less pronounced in the finish. Warming going down with a more toffee-like and friendly finish, yet still a lot of wood of the pencil shavings kind. Finish and aftertaste have less staying power than expected, although quite warming. It just fades away.

When freshly opened this really was a very promising unpeated Paul John. Time and air however, didn’t do this Malt a lot of good. The freshly opened bottle showed a pleasant nose and rounded out taste, balanced and tasty. Over time the Malt got ripped apart a bit, thus showing less balance. This never has been a very complex Malt to boot. Based on the freshly opened bottle, I understand and support Mario for selecting it. I just learned over time, this wasn’t Paul John’s best offering. I understand the comments it got from the guys from the club, because in a way this is a delicate expression, even though it has a big body. This won’t do well in a flight, sandwiched between other Malts, also because it is different from most others. It doesn’t know too well how to mingle. When having only this one and focussing on it and analysing it, it is clear to me, that this is more than a decent Malt, even though I feel it was better when the bottle was freshly opened. It did suffer in the balance department over time and with air.

Points: 84