Ardbeg 5yo “Wee Beastie” (47.4%, OB, 05/05/2020)

Looking at Ardbeg’s core range (at the time of writing), one release was missing on these pages. After An Oa, this 5yo Wee Beastie is the latest member of the Ardbeg core clan. Since demand has risen considerably for Single Malt Whisky, one of many reactions of the industry was to expand the NAS portfolio, to be able to sell younger Whiskies and lay down larger ageing stock for the future. The public however, as often the case with changes, wasn’t very keen on NAS bottlings, feeling the consumer would be paying a higher price for younger Whiskies, which is largely true anyway. To give an example, Talisker “Skye” or “Storm” or “Port Ruighe” actually were new NAS bottling sold for more than the original 10yo. In the end, the consumer kept asking for an age statement, and in the process was already warming up to Whiskies with a low age statement. When Benromach released their 5yo a while back, the move towards a low age statement, compared to other NAS bottlings with a funny (Gaelic) name was welcomed beyond belief. Industry baffled. So low age statements are now rather accepted, and with Islay Whiskies, younger expressions are also interesting because the peat should be more pronounced,fresher and heavier than in well aged releases (peat gets softer over time). Ardbeg, always being different in their ways, saw the time fit for a new addition to their core range, and thus one with a low age statement (5yo) ánd a name (Wee Beastie), thus promising hefty peat!

Color: Light Gold.

Nose: Appetizing peat yet not really beastie, more of a gangnam poodle style. Tiny hint of smoke from the fireplace. It doesn’t hit you in the face like Iron Mike would. No, quite the opposite actually. It’s rather friendly, warm, dusty and citrussy. Like Iron Mike hugging you in the ring, you feel the soft gloves in your back. Mike is whispering peaceful words in your ear, in stead of biting it off. Surprising, so not really beastie to me. Iodine, perfumy smoke and cold ashes from the fireplace. Remember Christmas when it’s cold outside with lots of snow? Salty and soapy. Sometimes some battery acid, acidic fruits, black and white powder and licorice. Sometimes milky (this is the youth showing, we know this from young Lagavulin’s and other mostly NAS peated whiskies, (there will be some more reviews of this “effect” in the near future, I can tell you that). The citrus bit is borderline milky, new make spirit and it is a big part of the freshly opened bottle. Luckily, this acidic fruity milky bit wears off a bit when this gets enough time to breathe. Doing the dishes with pink or yellow rubber/latex gloves. If fire would have a smell, this might be it. Ardbeg Fire, which is still a masculine name. After a while more, the fruit shows itself, with crushed beetle. Quite a soft and friendly nose with lots of aroma’s. Appealing, definitely young, but given time it gets balanced. I like it very much, smells tasty! So not really a wolf in the nose but more a domesticated poodle wearing a Christmas jumper. Adorable.

Taste: Sweet, young (but not milky), malty and biscuity. A lot of sweet black and white powder from the nose, sweet smoke, licorice, warming. Plastic, stormy seaside, sea spray laden with salty air. Soap powder. Burning garden surplus off. Slightly less balanced than the nose. Still this soapy, slippery feel on my palate and tongue. The soapy taste is kept in check though. Licorice with crushed beetle. Black tea, fruity. Quite nice and somewhat different than expected. Beast? A very friendly beast! Young but not too young. Very appetizing. The taste may be a wee bit too young though, with a little bit of new make spirit to it, slightly underdeveloped. Just like the nose, this wears off after a while in my glass. Through the fruity bit some slightly bitter and slightly prickly wood emerges and this soapy edge stays behind in your mouth (a.k.a. the aftertaste).

Maybe they should add an 8yo expression which would make an interesting comparison with this 5yo, or maybe a cask strength version of this Beastie as well while they’re at it? Yes, in the end this is yet another very good core range bottling. If you have this Wee Beastie, Corryvreckan and an Oogie, what else do you need from Ardbeg, apart from their beautiful older bottlings? A big compliment is due for Ardbeg, for keeping a very high standard in their core range. Amazing, so not only Kilchoman does well @ 5 years. Although Kilchoman at this age shows no milky new make bits at all. You just gotta love Ardbeg, for the first time ever, a distillery puts out a core range that might be better than most of their NAS special releases. In this day and age, that is truly amazing. In my opinion both Ardbeg and Kilchoman do a lot better at this young age than f.i. Lagavulin. In a way, far fetched as it might be, this Beastie reminds me in a certain way of Perpetuum, has it something to do with that? Is it some sort of younger version of it?

After a few hours, the empty glass smells of soft iodine, smoke and burnt plastic.

Points: 85

Thanks again to Nico for the sample!

Talisker 15yo (57.3%, OB, Special Release, Freshly Charred American Oak Hogsheads, 2019)

We have already seen quite a few special releases from Talisker, probably the most popular distillery in the Diageo portfolio. For instance, there have been two releases of 20 yo’s in 2002 and 2003, an annual release of a 25yo. Between 2004 and 2009 the 25yo was bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 it was reduced to the “Talisker strength” of 45.8% ABV. There have been several 30yo, again, between 2006 and 2010 bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 reduced to “Talisker strength” as well. There have been some other special releases as well. Since 2018 Talisker showed up in the annual special releases with a 8yo, in 2019 with this 15yo and in 2020 another 8yo was released, this time finished in Caribbean Rum casks. I expect Talisker to be a main stay in the forthcoming years of annual releases. Let’s have a look at one of those three new annual releases. The one I have open in my glass right now is this 15yo from 2019, an expression matured in freshly charred American oak hogsheads. Usually these are refill casks that have been used multiple times, and have grown a little bit tired. A long time ago these casks would have been scrapped, but these days theses cask are rejuvenated, their lease of life extended by re-charring them and opening up another layer of wood, giving an aroma closer to virgin oak than a refill cask would. So lets have a look at this tired old oak release, to see if it’s any good…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Very aromatic. Hints of Rhum Agricole and sweet funky organics. Dry, big and fatty. A promise of sweetness, but it’s not only this, it also has a sharper and very fresh side as well, like a windy seaside view complete with sea spray. Nutty, sweet and creamy with some ground coffee, not freshly grounded mind you, a bit faded, maybe old ground coffee. Paper and a bit of cardboard, but also very old, soft spicy wood. Kitchen spices. Lovely and fruity sweet organics. Peppery attack with a big alcoholic, well, attack as well. Hints of peat combined with different funky organics. The initial, almost ozonic, layer makes up the first series of aroma’s, but when these pass, more fruity notes emerge. Some of the fruity notes are quite acidic and it seems there are several acidic notes, not all of which seems to be well integrated initially. A razor sharp Malt. When this gets more time to breathe, and especially when the bottle becomes emptier and emptier, it shows a more woody note mixed in with something very nice. Still fresh and very oxygenated, and also more balanced. I get lots of notes I don’t encounter all that much. A special release indeed. Fresh pineapple, sweet apple meat, mixed with a wee bit of cream. Tiniest hint of smoke and tar, but different from Islay smoke and tar, here it is more refined and combines with creamy wood and American oak vanilla. Sometimes, I swear, I even get a note of rotting wood and cold water left over after washing the dishes the evening before. All of this is partly masked by the fruity bits on the nose. Salty meat is next. Polish dried sausage. Complex it is!

Taste: Big, very big, with a short sweet and vanilla sensation and an equally short slightly bitter attack. Clay, sharp smoke, burnt wood, warm peat and lots of nuts. Industrial and it differs quite a bit from the nose. Salty and dried fish. The sweetness evolves after the initial attack. Salty and dried meat come next, with later on, after the first sip, a nice nutty and wonderfully creamy body with the classic Talisker pepper attack. The smell of clean steamy bodies in a sauna, how is that for funky organics? It has been a long time since I had a Malt this salty. The feeling of salt on my lips. When this opens up a bit, some nice yellow fruit notes emerge. Nice fruity acidity better integrated than it was in the nose. More peat and smoke (and clay again). A really good Talisker yet not perfectly balanced though. There is this difference between the nose and the taste, but also not everything I can taste seems to be in it’s right place. Don’t worry, this is only a minor grievance. Quite hot going down. But this is also why we like Talisker. Fruity and also some winey notes. Lips still salty. Long finish (with less balance than the body has) with a very warm aftertaste in which the wood, the dried yellow fruit and the toasted oak resonate. Personally, I find this to be another very good OB like the 8yo from 2018. Both welcoming releases after all those lesser and less inspired NAS bottlings. I hope Diageo will continue to release good and interesting Talisker’s in the annual special releases.

Let it breathe for a while, this needs quite a lot of time and air to find more balance.

Points: 88

Last year I reviewed the Talisker 57° North and since that has an almost identical ABV, let’s do a H2H between North and this new 15yo. First of all, the North is ever so slightly darker, most likely from caramel colouring. On the nose North is much softer and definitely a lot younger. Much closer to new make spirit. That’s exactly the difference between a NAS and a 15yo. The 15 has more wood, and is more mature. North has more cream, like creamy sweet yoghurt. On the palate the North is way simpler, sweeter, rounder and again much younger as well. The North by itself is a nice high ABV Talisker. However, if you compare it to a Talisker with some proper ageing, the differences couldn’t have been greater. Different puppies altogether.

This is review #800.

Highland Park 10yo “Viking Scars” (40%, OB, Circa 2019)

Highland Park, never has there been a distillery whose output can really inspire me the one time and make me pretty sad and disappointed the next. Especially the official bottlings. Looking back at my reviews of official releases, I have to go back to 2015 to find a very good 18yo (bottled in 2012). Still the 18yo is wonky at best, since the 18yo (bottled in 2014) didn’t even come close to the 2012 expression. And this is the second time this happened to me with two earlier editions of the 18yo some ten years before. One batch, very good, the next not so much. I’m all for batch variation like Springbank does, but Springbanks seem to be always good yet can differ quite a bit. Every batch is made with different results in mind. With Highland Park you can see they were aiming for more or less the same profile, just the quality suffered a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I really have a soft spot for Highland Park. Heck, this is already the 17th Highland Park on these pages! It was the first Malt I encountered that really connected with me, wow, how I looked up to it. For instance, have you ever tried the 18yo wide-neck version? Just sayin’. Maybe with a change of owners, a change of management, a change in views, came some sort of downfall of the core range for me. To be honest, I haven’t been looking at Highland Park for a while now, but luckily this bottle-share with Nico came up. Maybe I’ve set myself up for another disappointment, since this is a 10yo bottled at 40% ABV. I hope Highland Park is able to put out a decent entry level Malt.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: If I would say, heather and honey, would I still be believable? But yes, for me its that and this is thus most certainly a Highland Park. Smells good, floral (sometimes even borderline soapy) and has definitely some Sherry-notes as well as some warm barley aroma’s. Warm oak and do I detect a whiff of smoke right there in the back? Vanilla with some cask toast and milk chocolate. Cloves, birch sap and smells from the fire place at Christmas. Candied yellow fruits. Besides the perfumy and quite floral notes also some minty ones appear. American oak vanilla and a nice refreshing citrus note as well. Also some sweetish ripe green apple skins. If you sniff this well, it has a nice dirty note there in the back as well. Quite a lot going on for a modern Malt at 10 years of age, one that also has been reduced so much. The smokey, fire place note is very interesting in this one. The whole works well and the well-balanced nose surely doesn’t disappoint. Very nice!

Taste: Thin, somewhat watery, waxy and paper-like. Initially sweet and heather smoky and than an ever so slightly bitter note from wood. More birch than oak though. Sappy. I have to hurry to put another sip in before everything disappears. Oooh it does smell really nice though. So this is thin with a short sweet run and some wood. Heather yes, honey, nope, the sweetness is more of the refined sugar kind to me. Quality sugar water with alcohol. Warming. Sweet with thin runny caramel and sticky toffee and some nutty notes as well. Whilst dramming, keep smelling this, because it lifts the taste. After sipping, the smoky notes in the nose get bigger and more wonderful, the smoke creeps into the taste as well. However, I fear the overall taste suffers more than a bit from the reduction I guess. The nose is very good and there are more than a few hints in the taste of this Whisky that it should be quite good at a (much) higher ABV. Since it seems a bit syrupy sweet, it sometimes drinks like it is 30% ABV. Just when going down, you know there has to be some (but not even a lot) more alcohol here than you might think. Some woody bitterness, plantlike and again a bit cardboardy. The finish is obviously short. The aftertaste is comprised of a syrupy film, toffee, wax and heathery and this light bitter woody note. Hint of milk chocolate with a floral edge. Five seconds later all is gone and Viking Scars turn out to be only superficial cuts and probably will leave no lasting marks. Not bad though, I expected worse to be honest.

As I said in the intro, I had some kind of reason to lose interest in Highland Park and somehow built up some kind of prejudice. Well this bottling sure feeds this prejudice in a way, yet there are also some leads in the smell and taste offering hope. In its defence, this is not expensive, and good smelling, but must have been targeted at a more careless consumer, who might want to use it in a Whisky and Coke. Well, I obviously don’t fit that bill (I prefer a good Rum in my ginger beer by the way, thank you very much). This bottling is most definitely not targeted at the members of HPAS (Highland Park Appreciation Society), these members turn their attention to the many single cask bottlings bottled at cask strength. I’m sure though members of HPAS have tasted this bottling and have some at home as well. Not sure if they are drinking it on a regular basis though. I have to get me a sample or a bottle of one of those single cask expressions. I’m curious about those. If you are really into Single Malt Whisky, well, you might want to skip this one or at least don’t have too high expectations for it and the nose will certainly surprise you…

Points: 82

Yet another sample from Nico, who quite liked this and I do understand why. Thanks again mate!

Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram” (46%, OB, First Fill Bourbon & First Fill STR barrique)

Happy 2021! After dry Januari, finally the moment has arrived to forget about the past year, may it never return, in no shape or form whatsoever. However, all is still not well with the world at the beginning of 2021. I hope this review reaches you in good health and sound mind. With this new year, I’ll kick off with a new dram from a new Distillery. Kingsbarns is the new distillery owned by the Wemyss-family, a name we already know as an independent bottler of Single Malts like the Bowmore “Aniseed Pastille” and the Clynelish “Cayenne Cocoa Bean“, Malts I reviewed earlier.

Kingsbarns Distillery lies approximately six miles from St. Andrews, close to the Kingsbarns Golf Links. This is not a coincidence since the distillery was the dream of former Golf Caddie Douglas Clement. Word is that clients of Douglas’ were asking for directions to the nearest distillery, for “refreshments” after a strenuous game of golf, and since there really wasn’t a distillery close by, Douglas came up with the idea of having a distillery much closer to the golf course. Douglas found a suitable site close to the Golf Links. He found the derelict East Newhall Farm that serviced Cambo House and Estate. The buildings originated from around 1800 as part of the East Newhall Farm. Owned by Thomas Erskine, the ninth Earl of Kellie, and were restored for the use as a distillery in the original style. The farm, now distillery, overlooks barley fields, what else do you need? Kingsbarns Distillery opened in November 2014 and began filling casks from March 2015.

Raising money for a distillery was too much for Douglas alone, so he looked for financial backing, eventually finding the Wemyss family. Some reports mention that Wemyss simply joined the project, where others mention Douglas was bought out by Wemyss. As far as I know, Douglas worked together with Wemyss to fulfil his dream. The Wemyss family themselves probably were interested in the project, because they already did have a Whisky business and thus know their way around, but also have a historical link with this site as well. The 7th Earl of Wemyss owned part of the Cambo Estate between 1759 and 1783.

Color: White wine

Nose: Very Malty and grassy, but also pleasant. Young and creamy with hay, cereal and citrus aroma’s. Yes. very Lowland. Somewhere between soft and fresh ‘n zesty. Young, but not really new make spirit young (so nothing like young Tomatin, which is more milky and acidic to boot). Vanilla pudding with a little bit of American oak (vanilla and some wood spice), soft wood. Sweet mint candy. Menthos and vanilla ice-cream. With some air more friendly floral notes emerge. Already quite balanced and accomplished for such a young malt, but young and simple nevertheless. The nose can be compared easily with something like Bruichladdich Organic (the vintage ones @ 50% ABV), which are around twice the age, and still those are considered to be very young. The Bruichladdich tastes much bigger though. Tiny hint of toasted oak and a winey top-note. What was STR-cask again Kato? (Shaved, Toasted en Re-charred). Nice nose, better than expected. After some more breathing a little bit of new make does show up, but not much. However once this note shows up, it never leaves again, so definitely a young expression, but that’s what we expected now, didn’t we? Perfumy and aromatic next, like a Dutch Korenwijn or Jenever. A light Whisky for springtime, an introduction.

Taste: Sweet and citrussy, floral and grassy, but also a bit (sugar) watery (with licorice) and simple. Again, this whiff of toasted cask, lemongrass and young sweet malt. The sweet note makes for an instant gratification Malt, be it a very simple one. Here the youth is even more noticeable. It definitely lacks a lot of complexity and some balls. What you taste is what you get. It doesn’t really evolve much in my glass. It’s very soft and friendly, like a soft spoken person. Humble and kind. Lowland-ish in style. Luckily, some backbone is offered by a peppery note and warm wood. Cold White Wine storage complete with a whiff of new cardboard. The higher ABV of 46%, does help to lift things a bit up, although I do believe this Malt could have done with an even higher ABV. Very short sweet finish, peppery and warming, dessert-like, with hardly any aftertaste.

The nose shows this distillate really has potential. I guess this will be very nice when it gets more years behind its belt. The Lowland quality is there, time and the people of Kingsbarns will do the rest. A Malt to start your evening with. Treat this as an introduction, a young whisky to present itself. We now know what style to expect. It is most definitely not a full blown Whisky yet, and if you buy a bottle expecting a proper aged Whisky, you’ll be disappointed. Nice one for building expectations. We’ll be watching this one to see how this develops further.

Points: 76

Thanks go out to Nico, for this sample of his Whisky.

Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, L5055CM000, 2015)

I don’t think this review will need a long introduction, since this Whisky will be compared to the 10yo bottled in 2019. It’s more than likely, but not necessarily true, that this review will have a longer than normal conclusion. So the previous review was about the Talisker 10yo bottled in 2019 and right now we’ll have a go at the same expression bottled in 2015. Rack ’em up and see how they compare!

Color: Gold, slightly darker than the 2019 version, and yes caramel colored.

Nose: Quite perfumy with only a hint of peat, softer than the 2019. Paper and cardboard notes. Quite fruity and friendly. Distant peach yoghurt, dried apricots and sinaspril. The balance in this one is reached sooner. Again, seems softer than the 2019, but both seem quite similar at first glance. Diageo will be pleased (for now). Companies hate batch variation in an offering like this, which relies on consistency. Definitely softer and carries a promise that is more sweet (cocktail cherries and vanilla) and with less toasty oak notes. Vanilla powder, pencil shavings and cardboard. It looks like the woody bits from the 2019 are here too, but they are more masked by the fruity bits. Just like “the other” version, this picks up more balance when left in your glass for a while. 5 minutes will do, as will do the warmth, the love, from your hand. Keep it moving, waltzing, swirling in your glass. Fruit emerge and even some farmy notes. The 2019 expression being less soft, seems to have more of a backbone (wood), but this 2015 seems more complete overall, it just offers a bit more.

Taste: Even sweeter on entry. Much fruitier, sweeter and again friendlier. Short sting of Talisker pepper. Less wood, less toast, less woody bitterness even. It is quite waxy though. Chewy peat and some chocolate chip cookies. This can stay in the glass longer than the 2019, which grows thin and a bit out of balance. I would say that in the details, the 2015 is a summer version and the 2019 is an autumn version of Talisker 10. This 2015 is definitely the tastier version of the two, it’s tastier and downright better, and the difference is quite easy to detect as well. Aiiii. Diageo won’t like that, Talisker 10yo should always taste the same. Bugger they say and I say bollocks. Nothing wrong with a wee bit of batch variation if you ask me. Just look at the output of Springbank, although they seem to serve a completely different group of clients. Who are you, when you want your Whisky to always taste the same?

Both offerings are quite soft, and although some might say they both smell pretty similar, the difference is right in front of your nose and easily spotted, which, I have to admit, is much easier when you have the opportunity to try both at the same time (just not in one glass). The 2015 is fruitier, the 2019 has more peat and wood. (Toasted) oak, sandal wood and pencil shavings. The fruit doesn’t play a big role in the 2019, it’s not about that at all. Maybe it is simply lacking in the 2019. Which nose I prefer best depends on the mood I’m in. Neither nose is better than the other. (When tasted in the morning, I preferred the 2015, in the evening I preferred the nose of the 2019. Taste-wise the difference, like the smell, is the same, woody as opposed to fruity, and yet it is here (in the taste) that the 2015 easily eclipses the 2019. 2015 shines (like a sun) and the 2019 is a true autumn Malt, with more wood, but also more gloomy, cloudy and grey (dull). Even the empty glasses, after a whole day, show the difference easily. The final test was Mrs. Quill, she hated the nose of the 2019 (you can imagine a particular facial expression now) and said the 2015 smelled a lot better, why? It smelled sweeter and fruitier. Only afterwards I explained both are Talisker 10yo, just bottled in different years, but she didn’t hear me, already lost interest… Was it so hard to even fake an “OK” or a “Wow”? Jeeez!

Points: 86

Thanks go out to Nico for the sample!

Cragganmore 12yo (58.4%, OB, Special Release 2019, Refill American Oak, 18.000 bottles)

Why not? Yeah, why not make it a pair again and write about another Cragganmore and yes, this one is from another sample bottle. This time we’ll go for last years official special release 12yo. As mentioned in the previous review. Cragganmore can be the under the radar malt, but somehow people caught on up pretty quick with this one. Maybe not a lot was made, wait a minute! 18.000! That’s not very limited, and still it sold as hot cakes, holy mackerel, this must have been good then!

So maybe Cragganmore isn’t all that very well known, yet Diageo has released already quite a few expressions as a special release: It started in 2003 with a 29yo from 1973 (scored that one 87 back in the day). Probably one of the Cragganmore’s in my collection. They weren’t extremely expensive back then, and didn’t sell very well. These early special releases were quite often very affordable when on sale, and that happened a lot in the early days of these series. I remember I got both 36yo Glenury Royals and Quite a few Talisker 25yo’s for a very nice price. The special releases replaced the Rare Malts, remember those? 2004 saw the release of a 10yo from 1993 (scored that one 86). In 2006 a 17yo from 1988 was released. In 2010 a 21yo from 1989 was released. In 2014 a 25yo from 1988 (again) was released. In 2016 a quite expensive NAS was released. In 2019 this 12yo (year not stated) and finally (for now) this year, a year that everybody will remember (2020) a 20yo from 1999 was released. I guess we’ll see some more Cragganmore’s down the Special Release line. But first, lets have a go with last years model…

Color: Pale White Wine.

Nose: Big, sharp and alcoholic, initially not that great. Funky organic start, bad breath and somewhat unbalanced. Malty and biscuity with some metal and menthol. Unlit cigar and sandalwood. Dough and a bit bread-like. Clean (but not too much) and fresh. The wonky start clears up. Fresh ice-cold milk with a snuff of chilli powder. Quite some upfront citrus notes. Sea spray and ozonic, keeps prickling my nose. Hint of smoke? Oak, partly toasted. Fresh and likeable. Something old skool underneath, hard to put my finger on right now. Hints of sweet licorice and soft wood. Next, it is dusty and the citrus returns. The fresh ozonic/menthol smell doesn’t ware off completely, it stays behind. Weakens a bit, but is holding the fort. Complex. The longer this breathes, the better and more balanced it gets. Showing more and more complexity. Tea and farmy. Somewhat nutty. Latex paint and some rainwater. This needs a while to really open up. Amazing how this keeps developing over time. By now I’m really enthusiastic about this one. Is it too late to still get a full bottle? Truly wonderful nose.

Taste: Very big on fruit and candy, but also a bit hot. Wonderful prickly spices. Fruity, with the right amount of sweetness and after going down, it turns a bit creamy. Nice wood for balance. This is a hot malt, the high ABV exerts itself. Much sweeter and very nutty as well. Dare I say there is some heather in here (like there is in Highland Park?). Stays hot for a while. Medium finish and also the aftertaste leaves the building in a hurry. Definitely some woody bitterness and still this uncatchable note. Old skool in the taste as well. Intriguing. Lemon fresh, but also toffee thick. It has a decent sweetness and a hint of dark chocolate with a balsamic twist. Cherry liqueur and a drying, almost smoky, note. Not that sharp, prickly, smoke, but a bit more, yes, peaty, yes really, and a fatter sort of smoke with burned plastic thrown in for good measure. Wonderful spiciness and dry black tea. Toasted almonds with a woody and peaty bitterness. Quite unexpected… The plastic bit carries well into the finish, as does this bitter note. Let it breathe, it needs air!

Well what can I say, very well done Cragganmore. Nice pick Diageo. Smoky and slightly peaty, and combined with the fruity character of Cragganmore, makes for a very interesting Malt, and a very good one as well!

Points: 89

Thanks go out to Nico again, source for many samples! Cheers mate!

Cragganmore 1999-2019 (51.2%, Malts of Scotland, Bourbon Hogshead, MoS 19038, 312 bottles)

Finally a chance to review a sample of Whisky, instead of one of my own bottles I have to hurry to review before it is gone. Cragganmore it is then, which has been probably a long time since I had one. Sure, I did already do a few reviews already, but since those works of art, I probably haven’t touched a Cragganmore at all, even outside of reviewing. I do have two or three bottles at home, but never got around to opening one of those. It isn’t also one of the favourite distilleries amongst my friends. I’ll have to check with them. Somehow it also never got rid of the “under the radar” status I mentioned earlier and yet it isn’t one of the worst Whiskies either. So, what is it with Cragganmore, that makes it so invisible? Maybe it should deserve this onder-the-radar-but-very-nice status or is it a hidden gem? Time to have another go.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Biscuity. Clean and fruity. Strong aroma. This leaps out of my glass like a happy puppy when I come home. Tail wagging! Latex paint and very soft wood throughout. Fresh and quiet now (you know the introvert type). Not a puppy any more. Vanilla and caramel, but no signs of toasted oak. Thus no heavy cask influence. The color is also witness of this. The Malt is sweet and accessible. Slight hint of rotting grass, well rotting is maybe a bit of a strong word, let’s say cut grass that has been lying around for a while. Ice cream with more floral and plant-like aroma’s. Dried autumn leaves. Also a fruity note in the back, like dried apricots and fresh hazelnuts. Do I detect a hint of smoke there in the back as well? More vanilla ice-cream, lemon sherbet and smoked and sugared lime peel. Excellent. However, the beauty lies in the details, as is often the case with Malts like this. So if you are a fan of Sherry monsters only, this is not for you. Refill Bourbon hoggie fans will know what to do with this one.

Taste: Very sweet on entry. Yes, vanilla ice-cream and lemon sherbet. Mocha, hard coffee candy (hopjes) and chocolate custard. Dare I say a hint of cannabis, or does that make me Dutch? Very tasty and very friendly. Fruity and not too sweet. Some wood in the background, like a wooden frame around the vanilla and lemon dessert notes. It’s not really bitter, but the bitter notes are quite interesting in this Malt. You have the obvious bitterness you get from oak, but here there is also this bitterness you get from lemon peel, or lets say, the white fluffy bit from the inside of the peel. This doesn’t seem very complex, especially for a 19yo or 20yo Malt. It also doesn’t show a lot of evolution, but what is there is balanced and just tastes very good. This Cragganmore is from the same class as a Signatory Vintage Glen Keith. The finish is similar to the body and than slowly fades away. Medium finish, maybe some vanilla and cannabis in the aftertaste and a woody sensation on the sides of my tongue.

Well a light colored Cragganmore, from a single not so active cask, well if this isn’t aficionado territory then what is? But here we have a perfect example of a quiet Whisky at cask strength from a good distillate with time as an ingredient. Maybe not entirely a surprise how this older refill Bourbon Hoggie performs. If the distillate is good and the cask isn’t worn out or has a bad vibe, what could go wrong? This combination always seems to give us decent Whiskies.

Points: 87

Thanks go out to Rik for the sample!

Talisker Select Reserve – Game of Thrones – House Greyjoy (45.8%, OB, 2019)

Sooner or later, one of these Game of Thrones bottlings was bound to show up on theses pages now, wouldn’t it? Hard to miss them, especially since Diageo is throwing some serious money towards marketing them. But don’t you feel they missed the boat, since the series already came to a close some time ago? The question remained, which one of those bottlings would make it first. For a long time it looked like Lagavulin would be the first, but before I could open that one, I got my hands on the 10yo Lagavulin for travel retail and opened that in stead. Since the 8yo and in hindsight this 10yo weren’t very impressive, I really wasn’t in a hurry to open the 9yo Game of Thrones bottling fearing more of the same, so this is how Talisker beat Lagavulin to pole position.

Color: Orange gold, so pretty sure this was caramel colored.

Nose: Dry, dusty and malty but with a very nice funky note to it. Dirty toffee, in part, reminiscent of the smell of caramel colouring, cloying, fatty and creamy. Yes caramel colouring does have a smell, and it does have an effect on Whisky. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Nevertheless, this Whisky is still very likeable. You have to work at it a bit to focus on the aroma’s underneath. Nutty with hints of second hand cigarette smoke and hints of toasted cask and virgin oak. Old cabinet and very aromatic. It has an “older” smell to it, as well as a heavily engineered and doctored feel to it. Spicy, almost Indian Whisky spicy. Lots of cinnamon and cookie dough. Some smoke and some fresh oak. Also it seems some virgin oak found its way into this. On top of that, a lemony fresh acidity which really helps the whole forward. Yet also this feel of uncomplexity, helped along by this cloak of added caramel. An instant gratification Malt. Toffee notes, but in this somewhat suspicious way. However, I really like the Indian spices and lemon combination. Much friendlier than the milky unfinished notes of those new Lagavulins I mentioned above. I really like this nose (to a degree). If you are into Amrut and Paul John, you may like the smell of this (or not).

Taste: Nice entry. Somewhat sweet. Big, sweet, spicy and nutty attack, but also in a way thin. The fatty and creamy start is washed away by the alcohol, leaving room for more peaty and slightly smoky notes, but also some spicy wood and yes, a tiny pepper attack. Hints of ripe red fruits on top of the toffee and cinnamon. Sometimes it is almost like a Christmas pudding. Next, some virgin American oak. A vanilla note intertwined with cinnamon. A little bit of “older” wood as well as a slightly burnt note, maybe some smoke even. Cookie dough, even more than the nose had. Don’t we all like cookie dough? Sure, this has plenty of added caramel roundness to it, which kills some bits of it. It’s beating down the complexity this must have had. Slightly hot going down, with pepper in the finish and especially in the aftertaste. Highly drinkable though. A bottle of this won’t last you long. Easy and without any off-notes. Easy and even more drinkable than “Neist Point”, and that already was a highly drinkable Malt that didn’t last me long.

Wait a minute. Greyjoy? Wasn’t that from the Iron Isles. Sure, Talisker is also known as the Lava of the Cuillins, but this expression of Talisker has nothing to do with lava, and it tastes more like it was made on the shores of Goa. So hardly rugged Cuillins. Do you remember the weather and atmosphere on the Iron Isles? Boy, this house really doesn’t match the Whisky. Maybe Diageo should have paired this with 50 Shades of Grey in stead of Game of Thrones, or maybe House Tyrell, the house of sweet Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). That would have been a far more convincing match imho.

I sure can understand when people don’t like this. Because it may lack a bit in the complexity department, and has definitely been tampered with added caramel big time. Still, I had plenty of fun with this one. Sure, no high flying Malt, but since this is often sold for “not a lot”, it sure surpasses many other entry-level Malts. A bit of a guilty pleasure maybe?

Points: 84

Thanks to Auke for the sample!

Cardhu Special Cask Reserve (40%, OB, Batch Cs/cR.10.09, 2010)

Wow, here we have a Diageo NAS bottling “selected from very old casks”. Really? So instead of just putting the number up, lets say 30yo or maybe 40yo, and ask a hefty sum, they let you have this for a song, just by replacing the very old age statement by “Special Cask Reserve”. Lets not tell anybody, and let this be our little secret! Sush. What a wonderful idea! Who said Diageo isn’t thinking of their consumers! Well if this is a very old Cardhu. I’m expecting quite a lot now! A few years back I reviewed a Diageo Cardhu 22yo, that did have an age statement, and at only 22yo, this was truly very, very good! And as this must be older… But hey, wait a minute, reading that post I mention that I didn’t like the Special Cask Reserve. Did I already try this particular Cs/cR.10.09 earlier (which was already out at the time) or was it from another batch? Thud! That was the sound made by my expectations lowering…

Color: Light gold, with a slight pink hue

Nose: Fresh and fruity. Lively. Malty with hints of toffee. Summery with an unexpected meaty note, maybe even some sushi. Some funky notes, I have a hard time putting a finger on. It is a meaty, slightly salty smell, somewhere in between bacon and cold gravy, combined with lavas maybe? lavas I’m getting for sure. On top a slightly fruity note and on top of that a slightly meatier floral note. (This bit I like). I have to breathe as if my life depends on it, because the whole is pretty weak. It already smells pretty reduced. I’m guessing I know, by experience, what was there, but somehow got washed away by reduction. Still, no off notes, so nothing obtrusive to report here. I really feel I have to hurry smelling this before all the smell is gone, and I have to poor it again, to smell something. This really suffered a lot from reduction, because the nose, when you work on it hard, does show some interesting sides of itself. I wonder how this would be at cask strength.

Taste: Some sweetness, like a very weak Rhum Agricole, with quite some added sugar, paper and cardboard. Hints of cigarette, and some toasted wood notes, with added bitter notes shortly thereafter. Sweaty notes next, like the isolated sweaty notes of Sauvignon Blanc with added sweetness to the sweat. It’s not me, I have just showered. Hints of sweet fruits, but so diluted, that I can’t even tell witch fruit that can be, apart from the color, yellow. Papaya and peach, some banana in sweet yoghurt? Definitely some fresh butter in here as well. Super-short finish and a non existent aftertaste. Still slightly warming going down and even when this has no aftertaste, the meaty lavas bit of the smell (rancio?) does have some staying power.

Well…well, what can I say about this? I have to admit, it has been a long time I have tasted something as weak as this. It is so weak I would have difficulty, when tasted blind, telling if this is a Whisky to boot. I have never had a Whisky before which after you swallow it is immediately gone. Amazing, this isn’t worth your money, nor is it worth your time. Since this was brought to you by Diageo, and they do things on purpose, they must have an market in mind. I’m so curious how they would describe the consumer wanting stuff like this. Maybe its meant for mixing? having said all that, and I am rightfully so, pretty negative about this malt, I have to say the nose does bring a smile on my face. From an anoraks point of view, this is even an interesting Malt. Who would have thought…

Points: 76

Inchgower 1998/2013 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Refill Sherry Butt, AC/JIID)

Inchgower is not often encountered and therefore this whisky is often one of the great unknowns. Very understandable, when you consider the fact, this Malt is made for three well known blends: White Horse, Bell’s, and last but not least, Johnny Walker. Considering the cases sold of these, it’s almost a miracle they bottle Inchgower officially or even sell casks to independent bottlers.

Up ’till now, only two Inchgowers have graced these pages before, a Bladnoch Forum bottling and a Dewar Rattray bottling. Luckily for us, both have scored well above average. When reviewing the bottling at hand, there is only something like 30% left in the bottle, so it had some air to work with. At 46% ABV this is usually one of the first Whiskies I grab when taking a dram, and it is quickly surpassed by almost all of the follow-up drams. After all these drams from this Inchgower, I still don’t have a mental picture in my head how this particular Malt actually is, almost as if it just doesn’t leave an impression, unremarkable, forgettable. No, I don’t have a drinking problem, because I can fondly remember many, many different drams I had over the past 20 years or so. But let’s get back to this Malt we’re reviewing here, whatever it is…

Feeling an independent bottler as big as G&M probably don’t have just the one cask, I went out surfing to find another G&M Inchgower from 1998, and yes, there is. G&M have bottled another Single Cask, #11275 to be precise. It was distilled on 15.12.1998 and bottled in October 2011. That was a refill Sherry Hogshead @50% ABV. If our Connoisseurs Choice bottling is from the same distillate, our Malt is a 14yo.

Color: Dark Gold, hint of copper

Nose: Light, Sherried, very fruity and also a bit musty. Musty yes, farmy even. Still, there is this breath of fresh air to it as well. Fanta Orange and sinaspril, bordering on sulphur. Fresh and bubbly, appealing and likeable. Toasted almonds, but foremost, lots of citrus fruits. Zesty, apples. Warm apple compote. Very friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. Maybe slightly meaty, although it does retain its fruity freshness. Slight hint of oak and paper, but not a lot. Slightly smoky, whiff of cigarette? Licorice, and toasted oak. Also some black coal, mixed in with ahorn syrup on a bit of cardboard. Warm cooked vegetables. The breath of fresh air from the start returns a bit like menthol. Although there seems to be enough happening here, because it is an impressive list of smells, the whole does seem a bit simple, and light, too light. Strange, because it is really a wonderful nose, thin, simple and sharp. Lacks a bit of sweetness, roundness. Could have been more supple. All three words hated by connoisseurs, because, what do they mean? Still, a good nose though.

Taste: Half sweet tea, but not enough sweetness for this Sherried, fruity profile. Fruity acidity. Unripe pineapple. Caramel, toffee and toasted oak, yet not big nor sweet. Lacking depth. lacking development. Thin. It just shows you right from the start what it is, goes down well, and just waits, sits there like a puppy, waiting for you to take another sip (throw the bone). Its nice, but too narrow and too simple and it really, really lacks development. Very drinkable yet also quite simple and thin. It is a narrow path ahead, not a wide motorway of aroma’s. Pancakes with ahorn syrup. After tasting, the nose opens up a bit more, and there is nothing wrong really. Lets say this has a short finish, it isn’t even a medium fish. Slightly hot, but it might be me, this evening. Forget about the aftertaste, it was all washed down, nothing left for the aftertaste. This is why it is, and stays, anonymous and this is why next week, I will have forgotten, yet again, how this tastes. Nothing wrong, no off notes, no too young Whisky, just narrow, short and simple. Forgettable. Some moments later, this review still open on my laptop… dare I say that after all that, when casually sipping on, watching a re-run of Frasier, some sweetness does finally emerge and the finish becomes a wee bit longer? A tiiiiiny bit of oaken bitterness moves into the…..aftertaste? yes, an aftertaste, finally! So, maybe all is not lost after all.

Maybe the anonymity of this bottle was also brought upon by the Crabbie I reviewed earlier. I always started with that one, and since that one was essentially not OK, it may have ruined this one in the process, since I always grabbed this Inchgower next. The Crabbie is gone now, so maybe the bit that is left in this bottle gets the respect it deserves. Even though the nose it quite rich, it also predicts some sort of narrow Malt. Tasting it proves it. It is a narrow malt. It has the sharper notes, from toasted oak to Sherry oak and acidity, but it really lacks something bigger, no sweets no vanilla notes we know from American oak. Essentially, this Whisky lacks some more wood influence, so despite the color, the cask didn’t bring what it was supposed to. Not bad, but nothing you really need in your life as well. This one let me down a bit, but didn’t damage my faith in Inchgower. Bring on the next one please!

Points: 82