Speyburn 1991/2015 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Refill American Hogsheads)

Speyburn is a distillery that is owned by Inver House which also owns Balblair, Knockdhu, Pulteney and Balmenach. This is the first time a Speyburn features on these pages, and the last one of these five that lacked a penned down review from me. Speyburn distillery was founded by John Hopkins in 1897. John was a Whisky Merchant keen to have his own distillery to make Whisky. So this distillery is 125 years old now and managed to fly under my radar for a very long time. Personally I had so little to do with the output of this distillery, in all honesty, I thought this must be a rather new distillery. So in the world of Whisky aficionado’s, this Whisky never popped up. I’m a member of a Whisky club, that exists for 21 years now, and I believe Speyburn popped up only once. Why is that? Sometimes distilleries just have a bad reputation or no reputation at all (which may be even worse). Just look at Tobermory, which for a while had a bad reputation, and look at them now! Deanston (had a bad reputation for a while, not any more! Glen Moray and Fettercairn are still not very popular, but definitely on the way up. Some distilleries somehow just stay under the radar, without a reputation, in all anonymity, like Speyburn. Glen Spey is another one of which I’m not even sure if it had/has a bad reputation or it is just anonymous, since I never tried a lot of it. Never mind. Let’s introduce to us: Speyburn!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Malty, half sweet and pretty nice. Fruity and dusty. The dusty bit has to do with soft (wet) wood, paper and cardboard (and some distant dried apricots manage to trickle down as well). Creamy and somewhat unpleasantly organic at first (which is short lived), somewhere in between dishwater and someone’s bad breath, or evenmy own. Otherwise a typical (fruity) hogshead nose, hogsheads made from American oak (ex-Bourbon) that is. The whole nose seems initially quite restraint, yet manages to open up quite nicely eventually. This one isn’t leaping out of my glass (maybe the reduction to 46% ABV was at fault). When given some time the balance will be better and the slight off note mostly disappears. The bad breath note has now more to do with the wood. It integrates with it. After a while the yellow, sugared fruit pop up some more, they were hidden behind a paper-like note. Dried papaya, dried peach and apricots, retaining thus the sweetness of it. But still there is this funky breath/wood bit behind it all, mixing in with a faint liquid licorice note. The wood is slightly losing its innocence as well, becoming more spicy and assertive. Good for you wood! Actually not a lot more is happening nose-wise, even after I give it some time to breathe. Fruity rainwater. The more this breathes the weaker it gets.

Taste: Well, nice entry, with a short-lived acidic note right from the start. Yes fruity and lively. Nicely so. Appetizing and friendly. Highly drinkable, especially at this ABV. In our modern times, 46% seems to be an ideal drinking strength (and also the bare minimum, since 43% isn’t really accepted any more), whereas 30 years ago, 40% did suffice. Just try some Connoisseurs Choices from that era. Wood and nuts. Creamy, sweet (artificial sugar like aspartame) and fruity. And the paper bit from the nose is here as well. Not a lot of bitterness from the wood, yet it manages to grow a bit over time. It is very “nice”, yet it also lacks a bit of complexity and evolution, although it does gain a bit on the palate if you let this stand for a while, becoming bigger and better. It is what it is, and it won’t change much. Paper and fruit in the finish.

Yes likeable and no, it doesn’t make up for the lack of complexity and evolution. Although nice at first, I guess I would get bored a bit, if I had to drink the whole bottle over a period of time. Good stuff for a bottle-share or a sample though, but the whole bottle I would pass on. It just isn’t exciting enough to warrant a buy. On the other hand, if you are new to Whisky, this might be an instant pleaser for you, so it has earned a spot for itself under the sun, and rightly so. Having said all that, I still did like it.

Points: 84

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Macallan “The Harmony Collection – Rich Cacao” (44%, OB, Sherry Seasoned European and American Oak, 2021)

When visiting the Whisky show last year (2022), my biggest disappointment came at the huge and wonderful looking Macallan stand. The Edrington group really knows how to market their stuff. I tried two different 12yo’s and the 2022 rare cask. All quite underwhelming for me. I might be spoiled, since I have tasted a lot of Macallans from the glorious days of “Science can’t wholly explain…” I can’t even remember when I bought my last Macallan, I only remember is was probably a Sherried Wilson and Morgan bottling (not the fantastic the 12yo though), yet still an independent bottling of “The Mac”. Good and affordable (for a Macallan). Now this modern “Rich Cacao” found its way onto my lectern… a free sample with a bottle of Cognac. I don’t expect much to be honest, after the aforementioned London experience, but I do hope this will be a good one. Probably sold out already, no surprise there, and I see it already costs a pretty penny in the secondary market, yet not as much as the Macallan from the glorious days, even the pretty standard ones.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Clean, fresh, woody Sherry, mocha with hints of latex paint, toast and some over-ripe almost rotting fruit (a good thing here). Better than expected actually, way better. I’m not smelling it blind, but I would say that it is recognizable as a (modern) Macallan Spirit. Nice dry and soft oak nose. Elegant, yet also somewhat robust even since this has been reduced to 44% ABV. Sweet caramel and toffee. Give it some time (but not much) to breathe and the aroma coming out of my glass is big. Dry cocoa powder, cookies and clean, dry, Oloroso Sherry. Dry vanilla powder and cold custard come next. Dark chocolate mousse, slightly sugared. Perfumy and complex. After all those weak Macallans I have tried recently, finally an interesting expression again. At least in the smell. Let’s try it now for real.

Taste: Sweet, waxy and Sherried, likeable and fun. Soft sweet (not acidic) red fruit compote (warm). Yes, a bit thin, tastes like a 40% ABV bottling. Tasty, but this has nothing to do with the Macallans from the glorious Sherry bomb days. Not the same quality and definitely not the same ooomphhh. This is soft, refined, elegant and designed and still manages to pack a small punch of the white pepper kind and some spicy dry oak. Cute. Some sweet licorice and Sherry notes come next. Dark yet sweet chocolate. Otherwise fruity and likeable, with a dry finish.

Well this was a nice surprise, a decent Macallan. Tasty and fun, yet also not all that special. Nice and highly drinkable, but not good enough to warrant the amount of hard-earned cash you have to shell out for this particular bottling (if you plan to drink it). If you are collector, then please do. Nevertheless, with a name so big as The Macallan, I expected a bit more. Good yet not a must try Malt for me. I’ll will continue to keep oogling the Macallan from a distance for the time being.

Points: 85

Torabhaig Allt Gleann (46%, OB, The Legacy Series, First Fill Bourbon & Refill Bourbon Barrels, Batch 001, 2021)

Not too long ago when thinking about Whisky, Skye was Talisker, and Talisker was Skye. Not any more, since a second Distillery came about on the island. Production at Torabhaig started in January 2017 and this particular bottling contains Whisky from the opening year as well as from 2018. The back label is a treasure trove for info: Barleys used for this bottling are Concerto and Laureate. Yeasts used are Pinnacle MG+ and Safspirit M-1. For me a first. I have never seen the yeast being mentioned, nor do I possess any knowledge about yeast strains that are used today. So useful info I’m sure, just not right now. The in-grain phenol content was 77 ppm, off the still, it was around 60 ppm, with a residual peating level of around 17 ppm, so this is then a heavily peated Malt. The Whisky underwent no chill filtration, nor was it coloured. Before the Allt Gleann came the 2017 vintage in the Legacy series, which was also bottled @ 46% ABV. The difference between the two probably the usage of 2018 spirit in the Allt Gleann, and by now there is also a second release of Allt Gleann called Batch 002.

Color: Pale White Wine

Nose: Modern, soft with slightly sweet peat. Very clean, including a breath of fresh air, maybe even slightly Menthos-like minty. Salty smoke (this makes my lips go dry, only by smelling it), tobacco, dust and soft wood (not virgin, yet slightly creamy and vanilla-like). Quite mature actually for such a young Whisky. Nice spicy and green notes. Slightly perfumy. Nicely peated, yet not over the top. Black tea with a slight leather note as well. Distant fruitiness and the smell of baking cookies, an ashtray and cold roasted pork. This is much better smelling than I thought it would be, well made stuff. The smell gets somewhat softer and more malty (and sweeter) after extensive breathing. If this tastes anything like it smells, we have a winner on our hands. Even the Lagavulin 12yo, I recently reviewed, showed more hints towards new make than this. Quite amazing. I only hope the reduction to 46% ABV didn’t harm it in any way.

Taste: Aiii, right from the beginning rather thin. Tastes oily and fatty, but doesn’t have the matching texture. Nice soft peat, wood and some liquid smoke and yes, quite sweet and fruity. Yellow fruits with lots of unforeseen licorice notes. Thin it is yet balanced and tasty. Quite strange and unexpected since the nose is quite big and aromatic. Elements of crushed beetle and maybe some lemonade or cola mixed in with the smoke and the peat. Less salty than the nose predicted. No new make in the taste as well. Not entirely Islay in its approach, but not far from it either. Good stuff, I hope for a bright future for Torabhaig.

I think this is already amazing stuff for a Whisky of three to four years old and definitely better than I though it would be. The quality is there, even at this reduced ABV. I’d like to try a similar product of Torabhaig at cask strength, that should be nice!.

Points: 86

Thanks go out to Auke for his sample.

Lagavulin 12yo (56.5%, OB, Special Release, Refill Casks, 2021)

All of a sudden summer is over (on my side of the planet anyway) and now we are in this, still sunny, yet colder autumn season. After the 13yo Aberlour, I was planning to do another Aberlour review, yet a human can be very predictable. A change of season and the body started to crave some…peat! All of a sudden I found myself reaching for peated Malts. So no Aberlour, let’s do a Lagavulin in stead. Don’t worry, the Aberlour will surface eventually. Back to the Lagavulin at hand. More than ten years ago… wait a minute, I have to let that sink in for a while… ten years. Wow! Well in 2012 I did the last review of a Lagavulin 12yo Special Release, in that case the 2007 edition. These special releases continue to be very good, so I have no reason whatsoever to believe this might be any different. Well, Master Quill is still around and the 12yo Lagavulin is still around as well. So without further ado, let’s dip into this Lagavulin straight away.

Color: Pale White Wine.

Nose: Sweet and soft peat and delicate smoke. This is somewhere between rough and elegant. Fruity with citrus, apple (Calvados), very soft vanilla, some iodine and a somewhat milky acidity I got from the 8yo and the 10yo as well as, to a lesser extent, in the 9yo GoT and the 11yo Offerman editions (all three of them actually). Initially this resembles new make a bit and gives this Malt a youthful edge. However, luckily I might add, in here this milky note is much less pronounced than in the other two/four/six Lagavulin’s I mentioned. Yes this one is again slightly older, but also bottled at cask strength, and this probably makes a difference as well. I don’t like this milky characteristic in Lagavulin. For me Lagavulin is dropping the ball with these newer expressions, and unfortunately this element is now becoming apparent in this 12yo Special Release as well. I hear some rumours of Lagavulin overcooking for a higher yield if that makes any sense? Maybe 2008/2009 is some sort of pivotal point for Lagavulin, trying too hard to meet demand? After some breathing this milky note, dissipates or maybe my nose gets used to it and doesn’t smell it any more. (I tried it again later and the milky bit is gone. Pouring me a new one brings it back, so nothing wrong with my nose after all). A short while later, the nose (of the Whisky, not my nose) becomes more balanced. Still fruity and sweet (and youthful), with added dishwater and warm plastic (both fitting the whole). Quite prickly clean smoke and tarry licorice. A slightly spicy smoke maybe, crushed beetle and the tiniest hint of oak, late saltiness and iodine again. It smells refined and this is definitely not your hard hitting peated Whisky. I will have to compare this one to a Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength in the future, as well as to the previous version of the 12yo Special Release.

Taste: Again sweet and fruity on entry, but also quite creamy and right out of the gate again quite youthful. A very friendly rendition this time. Not a hard in your face Malt, lacking even any bitterness from the wood. Some well integrated smoke, licorice and ashes. Tarry rope, sweet mint (Menthos) and salty. After all that fruit I didn’t expect all these Islay notes any more, but it’s still here. Lacks a bit of development and complexity, although un-complex it is not. The whole is more a banks of the Thames kind of Whisky than shores of Islay, and that probably isn’t a coincidence, but probably by design. Ashes, some iodine and wet marshland wood. Nope, not a lot of wood in this one. Part of these casks must have been at least second refills or otherwise somewhat inactive. The colour seems to suggest that as well, because it is quite pale for a Diageo bottling, a company know for their love for chill filtering and caramel colouring. Still very balanced and equally tasty though. The quality is on a slippery slope, but I still do like it, yet in a different way than I used to with these 12yo’s. It’s tasty and highly drinkable. Every aroma is neatly stacked upon another, like blocks of Lego. And every block is clear of a different colour and easily discernable. This Lagavulin is definitely more minty and modern. Still a nice expression though, just different. No need for water, but feel free to do so. The finish is of medium length and balanced throughout. No bad markers at all, apart from the milky youth bit mentioned above. The finish is sweet and smoky, the aftertaste is medium at best, warming, fruity and ever so slightly smoky. A good way to remember it, because the finish as well as the aftertaste don’t contain the questionable bits.

This is a friendly and tasty Malt, yet not exactly the high quality we are used to for the 12yo Special Release. It doesn’t even feel like a 12yo (it feels younger). Maybe lacks some strength, but in part it makes up for this with its accessibility and likeability throughout. Still good stuff but comparing it, from memory, to the 2007, it definitely is a different puppy altogether, which can be good, since it gives us another choice, and a way to match the Lagavulin 12yo Special Release to your mood. A good reason to have several editions open at the same time, if you needed one. However it unfortunately is also a bad thing, since I feel the quality is also a bit less. I worry about the future (in general as well as for the 12yo Special Release). Nevertheless, this one will split opinions. People who know the Lagavulin 12yo’s from the past will not be impressed by this one whereas others might like the new friendlier direction, and will have no clue why I’m on about sliding quality. For me, even though I do recognize its faults, I also do quite like it (to a certain extent). I’m curious about how the next few editions will be.

Points: 87

Lagavulin 2006/2021 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv.4/510)

Precisely one year ago (with one day to spare), I reviewed the Lagavulin Distillers edition that was bottled in 2018. Just recently this 2021 version came into my hands as part of a bottle share I did with friends. This particular bottle was a three way split, and yes it does keep the costs down, but also 1/3 rd of a bottle is really not all that much, so bottles like these have to be quickly reviewed before it is gone. Earlier reviews of Lagavulin Distillers Editions should show you this is sort of a fan favourite and at 43% a very drinkable affair as well. The quality of these being usually quite high and thus often eclipses the newer releases like the 8yo, the 9yo (Game of Thrones), the 10yo and the 11yo (Offerman Edition). Prices are steadily rising as well, and in some markets the Distillers Editions are quite expensive already, but what luxury good isn’t these days…

Color: Copper orange gold (caramel coloured).

Nose: The soft peat comes out first, along with a fresh citrussy and medicinal note, as well as some dish-water and almonds, a funky combination. Fatty, waxy and quite creamy, fruity as well. Soft overall. Chewy and toffee-like, thus sweet with some smoke, fruity in general and hints of toasted bread (with Nutella) and stale bread crumbs. Minty chocolate. This edition seems softer and more friendly than some other editions, like the 2018 edition. The 2018 edition had quite some iodine right up front, which seems to be lacking here, or is much more subdued, in this 2021 edition. This 2021 has many traits of PX (the second maturation), so I guess the PX plays a bigger role in this particular edition. more hints of cold dishwater and now paper (old fragrant cardboard). Overall quite sweet smelling, making it a more toned down version, softer, “rounder” and less Islay. After a while, a more prickly bit of smoke comes to the front. Licorice and Bassett’s Allsorts are noticeable all way through the entire nose. Nice balance (in the nose). However what I will remember most from this 2021 edition is how it smells of the promise of sweetness. Sugared cherries, toffee and PX. Maybe in this particular edition they used somewhat more caramel colouring? Most aroma’s seem to be glued together, which is something caramel colouring can do to a Whisky. I have to keep this in mind when tasting…

Taste: Quite sweet on entry, watery (thin), yet warming going down. Ashy with again quite some licorice and vanilla and some more ashes. Crushed beetle (got that in the nose as well). The PX sweetness is quite cloying and makes up this 2021 Distillers Edition. Toffee and wine gums. A bit too sweet I guess (for a Lagavulin DE). Chewy smoke, yet all slightly unbalanced (on the palate). As in the nose, the taste is homogenized by the addition of caramel colouring. I’m not sure, but I’ve never had as much of this in a Lagavulin DE, as in this one, just keep in mind I haven’t got around (yet) to taste all of them. After a while, oak, toasted cask and the licorice and smoke break right through the cover of sweetness. A bit of an unexpected fruity aftertaste and a minty feel stays behind in the centre of my tongue.

This one is definitely bigger and sweeter than the Offermann Edition. The Offermann seems more refined and is overpowered by the sweetness of this Distillers Edition, so I wouldn’t recommend trying both head to head. What is noticeable though is that 46% is a much better ABV than 43%, I hope, but I don’t think it will ever happen, to have the Distillers Edition @ 46% ABV as well (and again some more Lagavulin and some less PX). The balance got a bit tipped this time around. Definitely not my favourite expression of all Lagavulin Distillers Editions, although it still is a tasty bugger. In the end, the 2021 Distillers Edition scores exactly the same as the Game of Thrones Edition, and to be fair, I’ve had quite some (unexpected) fun with that one as well. So in this case, I would suggest to pick up the Game of Thrones Edition instead of the 2021 Distillers Edition, since the former costs quite a bit less. A lot of other editions of the Distillers Editions are definitely better than the aforementioned Games of Thrones Edition though, just have a look at the 2018 Edition or especially the 2002 Edition. Not all Distillers Editions are created equal. Amen to that.

Points: 86

Paul John (59.5%, Single Cask #1906, 210 bottles, 2015)

In the previous review we delved into Paul John single cask #1051, although that particular one turned out to be a tad wonky. So I just had to compare it to another Paul John unpeated single cask. I still have some samples lying around from the golden Shilton Almeida era, probably the most passionate brand ambassador out there, and amongst others, certainly one of the best. Still baffled Paul John let him go, and since Shilton left the company, I don’t see a lot happening on-line yet at Paul John headquarters. Shilton moved on from the Goan sun to the sun that bakes Tel Aviv. One of Shilton’s samples is of cask #1906, like #1051, hailing from the same glorious year that was 2015. For most people certainly a better year than the virus infested, war ridden years we are living through these days.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Super fruity at first, and different from cask #1051. This just leaps out of my glass, with a nice sweet, fruity and surprisingly, flinty toasted cask notes, reminding me a bit of Pouilly Fumé. This cask also has more complexity to it, with a nice floral note as well as some lemon detergent, giving it more cleanliness, dûh, and freshness, even though it might sound horrible to some. Waxy and paper-like, meaty even, dry meat, beef jerky. No, this one is definitely more appetizing than #1051. More complex as well. The pencil shavings are here too, but much more toned down. The pencil shavings are overshadowed by the fruitiness, which is nice. Very nice spicy wood, just the right amount. Fresh butter. Well balanced stuff. This is from a 75% full sample, so this had a lot of time to interact with some air. To be honest, the cold dishwater is also recognizable, just less heavy handed and it has less of it than cask #1051 had. After some more air in my glass, the pencil shavings component does become more apparent, but it never gets to the same level as it does in #1051. The woody bit is more spicy, and evolves a little. More herbal and green. With this one, all seems to fall right in its place, much more balanced. Nice fruity nose, something that is lacking from #1051. A pleasant experience, as well as a pleasant surprise (after #1051). The Pouilly Fumé bit in the nose, makes this one extra special, since that flinty note works so well for this Malt.

Taste: sweet and waxy, (including a distinct paper or cardboard note), with an even bigger (red pepper?) sting to it. Distant mocha and milk chocolate. Quite some ripe yellow fruits. Wow, excellent. #1051 seems gloomy compared to this. #1051 is more like a winter Whisky, and shows nothing of the tropical shores of Goa. Quite some wax in this one again, as well as some soapy detergent. More wax than I expected and the woody bitterness is helped along by the wax. Less bitter than #1051. Appetizing stuff this one, with again quite a lot of influence from the wood. Next some more fruit, fresh, not over-ripe yellow fruit and some fresh citrus for zestiness and likeability. Also the acidity of red berries. Giving it an extra layer over #1051. In the finish some soft notes of anise and sweet licorice. Again not a big aftertaste, more like a lingering warmth, with a wee soft bitterness.

Well, in this review I compared this #1906 all the time to #1051 which I reviewed right before this one, so there isn’t a lot more to comment about here really. To sum things up: #1906 is a way more friendly example, more fruity, and the gloomy bits that overpower #1051 are here as well, just less of it. #1906 is also better balanced, and just better overall. Having tasted quite some Paul John single cask offerings, I would recommend you to pass on #1051, because there are a lot of better examples around, #1906 is just one of them, and #1906 isn’t even one of the very best, close, but not quite. Final observation: personally, I like the peated single cask offerings of Paul John even more than the unpeated ones. The peating levels are not very high, but highly effective and very tasty.

Points: 87

Kavalan Sherry Oak Matured (46%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, 2017.08.07)

Kavalan has been founded in 2005, built in 8 months and thus in 2006 the first spirit already started to run off the still. Fun fact, most of the Barley that goes into the Whisky is imported from…Scotland. Kavalan is a big distillery (very big actually, and they keep expanding it), and lies an hours’ drive away from Taipei (the capital of Taiwan). Kavalan makes and bottles a lot of Whisky in lots of expressions. In 2009 the first Solist saw the light of day. Solists are single cask expressions, although officially released in batches, so maybe not every batch is from a single cask? Solists are bottled at cask strength, and not only coming from ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, there are a lot of other variants as well, some of which are quite expensive, for a NAS-Whisky. Me, already being a fan of Indian single cask Whiskies, the Solists are the ones I was most keen on trying, buying and reviewing.

Indian Malts, made from Indian six-row Barley (which makes a difference), as well as the Whisky made in Taiwan “suffer” from a lot of evaporation (a similarity). In these countries with their hot climates, numbers between 10% and 15% evaporation from the cask, per annum, are quite normal. So, Kavalan is made with Scottish barley and put in casks that also could have wound up in Scotland, the water is obviously different, but the biggest difference is thus the climate ensuring a more speedy maturation. Before I get to reviewing a true Solist, here is first a sort of lighter version of a Solist bottling called, Kavalan Sherry oak, bottled at 46% ABV. Presentation looks quite similar to a Solist, surely these must have been made in (small) batches rather than a reduced single cask.

Color: Deep dark brown, slightly orange/red.

Nose: Cherries, Oloroso Sherry and maybe a wee hint of PX for good measure. Figs, light black coal, herbal licorice and spicy wood. Very aromatic. Fresh oak and toasted oak, and no tarry notes to be smelled. Sometimes very clean and modern (at first), yet at other times almost old skool in style, but also just damn nice smelling, very appetizing. No tar, but it does have this classic fatty black coal note. Quite some American oak vanilla. Slightly nutty and cardboardy with vanilla pods. Hints of dust, more licorice, horseradish, lavas, clay and meat. Fresh air and an even fresher minty bit. Thick syrupy fruit, red fruit jam. Dust from a bookshelf and stinging sawdust. Milk chocolate. Even though this is quite dark, this isn’t a big, heavy, black coal and tarry, old style Sherry monster, no, it does have lots of those aroma’s, but they are fresh and fruity, and considering this has been reduced, the total package is more of a Sherry Whisky suitable for a lukewarm sunny day, whereas the monsters are more for an cold yet calm, and not entirely unpleasant evening in autumn. Having said all that, after some more breathing, the Whisky gets deeper. Honey, even more licorice, raisins and more syrupy. Maybe I spoke to soon. The nose moves more towards a dark, sweet Sherry, more towards the profile of a PX, even though this has been solely made with Ex-Oloroso casks. The vanilla note stays throughout, so most casks used, if not all, were probably made with American oak. The darker tone evaporates again like it was blown out with a whiff of fresh air. More of the milk chocolate now combined with a toffee note and a hint of creamy latex paint, and a more dry and warm summer wind. It also retains its modern feel as well as the older style notes. Well balanced, and yet another example of a Malt that really gets better with some extensive breathing, at least the nose did.

Taste: Well, dare I say it, It’s tarry now, diluted red fruit lemonade, with an light to medium oaky bitterness. Less sweet than expected, yet more acidic. This feels like it’s sweet, but it got somewhat masked by the wood. Very drinkable and sometimes a bit thin on entry. It’s big on aroma, if you give it some time. The sweetness is a bit odd though, it has this cloying taste, even though the texture remains thin. It tastes a bit like overly sugared food does, or even better, come to think of it, Rum with too much added sugar. Like A.H. Riise or Plantation. Now I can even smell the Plantation Grenada Rum. Wood, dosed Rum and licorice, also hindering the balance. Now that it somehow tastes like a Rum, the point of no return (to Whisky) has been reached. These must have been very active, first fill Oloroso casks, overpowering the distillate an turning it into an Oloroso finished Rum. Tastes good though, it really does, but it’s not what I’m looking for when I’m buying a Sherried Single Malt Whisky. So, wonderful nose, Rum-like on the palate. Big bodied aroma, with some thin moments, but a rather short finish and hardly any aftertaste to speak of.

Up ’till this point I haven’t had the opportunity to taste a lot of Kavalan’s. But with this Sherry Oak edition and some others that I did taste, I have to say that the distillate is quite good, although in this one, exactly that has been completely masked. I will try to get my hands on some more expressions, most likely some Solists, since I just love cask strength. In the introduction of this review I mentioned Indian Malts, but I feel now, for the time being, that Kavalan, as a whole, has more similarities with Scottish Malts, than Indian Malts, so the six-row Barley (and maybe some other regional factors present in India) does its job, creating a little bit of uniqueness…

Points: 86

Empty glass (the next day) smells of wood, red fruit jam and surprisingly, horseradish.

Lagavulin 11yo “Offerman Edition” (46%, OB, 750 ml, 2019)

If I would have written this review a bit earlier, than this particular review would have concluded the Lagavulin-prequel-quartet of the 8yo, 9yo, 10yo and this 11yo. However, just recently, yet another Offerman Edition has been released, this one finished in Guinness casks. Damn, now I have to find me that one as well, and just like the original Offerman Edition, this one isn’t destined for our European market. This Offerman is mostly US-only. They kept the new one at 11yo as well, because I suspect they wouldn’t dare on touching on (another) 12yo, as to not confuse the public too much with the annual cask strength version. This Offerman Edition is made with hand-picked Bourbon and rejuvenated Bourbon casks, in part by Offerman himself. Especially when you’re in Europe, you might wonder who this (Nick) Offerman is? Nick Offerman is an American Actor playing the role of Ron Swanson in the TV-series called “Parks & Recreation”, and Ron just loved Lagavulin (because Nick loves Lagavulin).

Color: Gold, lighter than the 9yo GoT version.

Nose: Wow, this has a mild, farmy, clay like start. Hay from healthy, fatty, full grown grass, making it somewhat different from the 8yo, 9yo and 10yo. Loving this. Otherwise, it does resemble the 9yo a bit. Just like I expected before reviewing the GoT Edition, this time again, I expected something more along the lines of the 8yo and 10yo, but with the 9yo already being quite the surprise, this one does even smell better. It smells a little bit like a…Brora! Man, if this tastes like it smells, please take my money now Diageo and thanks to you, Nick Offerman, for picking these casks! But wait a minute, let’s not get ahead of ourselves now. Iodine (and a tiny hint of chlorine as well) comes knocking on the door, especially when this gets some time to breathe in your glass. I suspect Nick especially sought out this Iodine. Old, wet wood spice. Slightly perfumy even. Tiny bonfire and a wee bit of prickly peat. This Malt has it all, including the underlying (candied) fruit. Wet iodine laden peat with salty seaside notes. The Broraness wears off and Lagavulin emerges some more, Lagavulin we know from the 16yo (which has Sherry) and especially the GoT edition. But the farmy bit that remains is still very nice, turning a bit meaty even. Not a lot of smoke any more. Dull vanilla powder, with still this zesty citrus note as well. Is there something like dry almond powder? Overall quite a soft edition, but one that works quite well. The GoT has slightly more of the creamy and buttery vanilla notes than the Offerman, but the bonfire notes are the same.

Taste: Starts as thin like the GoT, but this time with some crushed beetle and some fresh, slightly crushed almonds, and a very nice sweetish fruity bit. This one has even more of a licorice-peat note than the GoT. Fruity and appetizing, like cola on a hot day. It does have cola notes, hence the association. Almonds again and a wee bit of hot plastic. Warming and soft, so not this burning sensation when going down. This one has some sweetness as well, but definitely less so than the GoT. Slightly less complex than the nose, with seemingly less development. I like the lingering bonfire notes. It gives me a happy association, because who doesn’t like sipping a good Whisky when sitting and staring at a bonfire in the woods, or some pieces of wood in the fireplace.

This one turned out to be like a better variant of the GoT, but a variant of it nevertheless. Offerman offers us more than the GoT did, especially on the nose. Nice profile. Dear Nick, since you are a Lagavulin aficionado, why not pick some more casks like this, and bottle them at cask strength? Since this is Bourbon casks only, a fitting choice by an American if I may say so, it is more of a prequel to the 12yo, yet it is different in its profile. The empty glass (after a while), is iodine laden, where the empty glass of the GoT (the next morning) smells of peat and warm plastic. Looks like this (Iodine) is what Lagavulin and Nick went for.

Points: 87 (so the odd’s clearly beat the evens)

After the Offerman, I tried the GoT again, I find that there are a lot of similarities, but it is also lacking an entire (farmy) level. The Offerman is just a better and expanded version of the GoT. Tried it again and yes, the GoT is just simpler, still good, yet simpler. I haven’t seen Parks & Recreation yet, but I wonder if it’s also a better TV-series than GoT. Apart from some states in the US, this edition seems to be hardly available any more, thus prices are rising at auctions and the secondary market. Prices as I see today are such that even though this is a good Lagavulin, I can’t recommend it to you, because when taking the price into account, I believe you are better off with the 16yo and the Distillers Edition as well as the Game of Thrones version which turns out to be a very nice Lagavulin as well, is less expensive and more readily available. If you can spare the cash, please do buy it, because it’s another good Lagavulin differing from the others.

Kingsbarns “Balcomie” (46%, OB, 100% ex-Oloroso American Oak Sherry Butts, 2020)

Since this isn’t the first Kingsbarns on these pages, the distillery doesn’t need any further introduction. If you want to know more about Kingsbarns, please have a look at my earlier review about the Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram”. “Dream to Dram” was a very young expression that showed some potential. “Dream to Dram” was also the first bottling of Kingsbarns meant for the general public (released in 2018). It’s reduced to 46% ABV and it’s a bigger batch. The rest being mostly Single Cask offerings. The second general release is this “Balcomie” from 2020 and this year (2021), the third one just saw the light of day called “Bell Rock” which is made with ex-Oloroso Sherry Butts & ex-Bourbon Barrels. Let’s focus on the Balcomie now shall we?

Color: Medium gold.

Nose: Extremely malty and biscuity. Initially this Whisky is about the hints of milky new make, which come to think of it, is a very similar experience to that of Tomatin. Grassy and floral. Cereals, oatmeal and biscuits. Hints of smoke, like standing on a field in summer, where someone in the distance is burning off garden waste. After this green and young start, some of the Sherry provenance of this Whisky kicks in (somewhat), giving the nose something more body to it. Diluted red fruit lemonade and dish water. Light notes of citrus and toffee, without bringing the toffee sweetness actually. Quite some fresh air and some crushed wet mint leaves that already were used one time before for infusion. Citrus fruit with paper and cardboard. Spicy wood sometimes whiffs by. After a while the nose turns more towards the direction of sweet fruit. If you let this sit in your glass for a while, and it doesn’t need a lot of time, the Whisky reaches a more balanced state, without really losing these young components mentioned earlier. I still get this distant smoky note and now it has a more flinty edge to it as well. Not bad, the potential I saw in the previous offer of Kingsbarns is here as well, even though it most definitely smells like a work in progress. Some sort of soapiness comes to the front after you sip it, as well as some honey.

Taste: Thin. Paper-like maltiness, with late sweetness and some smoke (toasted oak probably). Rain water, slightly bitter wood and cardboard. The wood made the Whisky, or so it seems. Tastes like it’s not ready yet, but closer to a Whisky than it is to new make, although notes of new make are here. Some wood, some spicy wood, some paper and some indistinct sweetness. Bees wax and ear wax. Something just had to be bottled I guess. Very young with some oaky notes. Almost like it is almost a different distillate than Whisky. To be Frank, I expected more after the “Dream to Dram” expression. It’s all very young but also a bit boring and predictable, like nobody dared to be more bold, for instance by giving it a more meaningful finish. Maybe there is some conservative thinking behind the Malt? The Oloroso casks themselves hardly impaired a lot of Sherriedness. Tired casks maybe, or not enough time? Maybe some fear creapt in all this could have overpowered the light Lowland style of the distillate. This taste bit of the review might seem a bit short, but there isn’t a lot happening actually, so there isn’t much more to pick up on. Even the American oak impaired some of its bitterness, but non of the vanillin I expected.

To be honest, after the other Kingsbarns, I saw some potential, but this one isn’t better at all, alas. The nose seems to show the potential, but taste-wise this is lacking a fair bit after the other release. You might think, give it some slack, they are new, just started up and so forth. However, I’m writing this review having just been at the London Whisky Show, and actually this year (2021), a lot of new distilleries were present, and I can report to you that I tasted a lot of fairly new distilleries that have come a long way further with their young Whiskies than Kingsbarns have at this moment. So it can be done. Ardnamurchan and Copenhagen Distillery to name but a few, both from a colder climate, but also Milk and Honey (M&H) from Israel, but they have the advantage of climate which ages the Whisky faster. Still, these are all young distilleries making great Whisky. A lot of work to do for Kingsbarns, just keep at it!

Points: 74

Thanks go out to Nico again, for this second Kingsbarns sample.

Dalmore 2001/2015 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Refill American Hogsheads, AE/JBAC, 05/03/2015)

So here’s Dalmore. Dalmore isn’t a Whisky I have many bottles of, if any. It was also a long time ago Dalmore’s were featured on these pages. This is now the third review, after the two reviews I did back in 2014. Obviously one from the distillery itself, the 12yo from around 2004 (so also a while back) and one 11yo independent offering from Kintra Whisky from The Netherlands. Both a bit under my radar to be honest, not spurring a lot of interest in buying more Dalmore’s, (which I didn’t). Dalmore also seems known for some affordable middle-of-the-road bottles, as well as quite some super rare, super premium, super old bottlings, giving Macallan a run for its money. How odd. After all those years, yet another Dalmore managed to emerged on top of the heap of samples. After many of my own bottles, here is sample for a change. As often happens with distilleries and their owners, they tend to change hands more often than they used to back in the day. In the year of both other Dalmore reviews, namely 2014, the company that holds Dalmore, Whyte and Mackay, was bought by Philippines’ largest liquor company called Emperador. Just to refresh your memory, Whyte and Mackay doesn’t only operate Dalmore distillery, but also in their portfolio are: Fettercairn, Tamnavulin, Jura and Invergordon (grain).

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fruity and Malty, with a tiny hint of smoke in the back. When freshly poured this is big on fruit, candied fruit, but a lot of this is just blown away rather quickly. Smells of toffee, caramel and apple, caramelized apple to be precise, but also fresh apple flesh and hints of apple skin. Warm cookie dough. Apple pie, but most definitely without the cinnamon, no cinnamon in this apple pie whatsoever. Fresh air and an even sharper breath of air, probably because of the smoky note this Whisky has. Maybe this comes from the toasted oak. Not sure right now. The Malty notes are getting more of a say and seem to introduce some more waxy notes, like the wax from the skin a red apple. With this waxy note comes the promise of some bitterness in the taste, we’ll see if that is the case here. By now, more wood as well. Sawdust from plywood. Dusty altogether. Hints of lemon peel and some remarkable horseradish notes, I didn’t expect here. Smells like a modern Whisky, although tasted blind, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this was coming from some sort of refill Sherry cask (as well). For me this doesn’t have (only) the classic refill Bourbon notes we all know so well by now. No, this one has something else as well, something I also picked up on in the Dalmore 12yo, being different from others.

Taste: Soft, spicy, slightly woody and creamy. Sugar water. Wood, paper and a nice sweet chewiness. Waxy and indeed slightly bitter. Having this in your mouth makes the nose expand a bit. Not really fruity though, but it is vegetal. Highly drinkable, but not easily drinkable, it seems to have a taste profile more cut out for aficionado’s or connoisseurs. It has too much fresh oak notes and it might be a bit too bitter for the general public I guess. It’s also rather simple and thin, although it does have good balance. However, after tasting this, the nose expands, more and more is showed there. I’m wondering if this effect of the nose evolving and the taste being rather simple, comes from too much reduction of this particular example. Medium finish at best, disintegrating a bit, but the aftertaste is nice and warming, shows some of the sweetness and paper-like bitterness this Whisky possesses.

Definitely different from both other reviewed Dalmore’s, and it is not as bad as it seems. It has to be worked a bit and personally, I wouldn’t like to try this as a novice. I like the vegetal notes it shows, but it needed a very long time in my glass to show this. More than 30 minutes for sure…

Points: 85