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

Tomatin “Water” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #5, Sherry Butts & Second Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2018)

Alas, we’ve come to the last of the five virtues. The four previous editions were all good, for me personally, especially “Metal” was very nice, but I love well aged seemingly simple ex-Bourbon casked Whiskies. All four are definitely interesting and different from one another. No duds between them. So now the time has come to put the series to bed with “Water”. Water is made with distillate from the winter of 2005, which doesn’t make things any clearer, since the year starts and ends in winter… Half of the Whisky was matured in second fill Bourbon Barrels and the other half in Sherry Butts. Although in some communications, Tomatin does mention Sherry Hogsheads as well (just not on the packaging). If memory serves me correctly, I really liked this one as well in London, and after the very nice Metal I have high hopes for this Water as well.

Color: Copper gold, like a Bourbon, definitely not the colour of water.

Nose: Spicy wood right upfront, with sweet smelling red fruits, hints of tar, an old warehouse with a stone floor, and toasted oak. Notes of wood and fresh air. Nutty, dusty and somewhat sharp and spicy. A take on modern Sherry casks, somewhat similar to the Sherry notes, (not the peat notes), of Benromach Peat Smoke 2010 I reviewed just recently. Old warehouse with old paper and pepper with hints of a more (smelly) organic note. Wet earth and a wee bit of virgin oak. Again a quiet and balanced expression from Tomatin with lavas and gravy and some more indistinct organics. Leafy with hints of old dried out leather and a garden bonfire. Nice (dried) kitchen herbs. The Sherry makes this smell “chewy”. More whiffs of paper are flying by. A Whisky for a sunny day.

Taste: Sweet and syrupy. Fruity. Jam-like. Red fruits. Thick. The Whisky sticks to my glass. This thick, fruity, (half) sweetness, somewhat masks the big note of wood this has as well, including the also masked bitterness. Paper again. Slightly tarry, as if tarry toffee was used for this one. Well balanced as expected. Raisins and ever so slightly soapy and definitely a bit smoky, must be the toasted oak. Vanilla and pudding are here as well, so these second fill barrels still worked their expected magic too, even though the Sherry bit turned out stronger in the mix. I noticed it in Metal, but Water is also a (designed or constructed) Malt which shows what its got, right from the start, lacking a bit in complexity and evolution. This is a minor gripe however, since the balance is there and it is a delicious (red) fruit-driven Whisky with enough back-bone to it. This is not a Sherry monster, but it still is all about the Sherry in this one. Classy stuff.

This is a great companion to Metal. Both are very good and quite different from one-another, but somehow fit together. Both are fruity, but with the Bourbon casks alone that were used for Metal, that shows us an entirely different yet classic Tomatin tropical fruitiness, whereas this Water edition shows us more the Sherry-linked red fruits, in this case, the thick jam-like red fruits. Amazing contrast. At first I thought, well lets review these last two samples I have, so I can open something else, but both are so nice I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t be opening both full bottles at once, after finishing off Earth. With the Metal-edition I was wondering how it would compare to the 15yo American oak. Here with Water I’m wondering how it would compare to the 18yo Oloroso version. Both the 15yo and the 18yo are from the standard range and widely available. “Wood”, “Fire” and “Earth” are all Whiskies which are good, but you have to work them a bit, all three aren’t really for careless sipping, or you’ll miss out on the best bits they have on offer. Metal and Water are good right from the start, more like instant gratification Malts, and in my opinion the best of the bunch.

Points: 88

Tomatin “Metal” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #4, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

The five virtues are coming along quite nicely. Metal is already the fourth out of the five virtues. Earlier I reviewed the first three: Wood (85 points), Fire (85 points) and Earth (86 points), the last one a rare peated Tomatin. On Paper, Metal is a fairly simple Whisky compared to Wood (which was made with three different kinds of wood), Fire (made with de-charred and re-charred wood) and Earth (three different kinds of casks and also made with peated barley to boot). Metal is made solely with first fill Bourbon barrels, filled with distillate from 2003 thus making it also the oldest expression of all the five virtues. It should be 13 or 14 years old. In earlier reviews I mentioned, that my journey with the Tomatin five virtues series actually started with this Metal (and Water) expressions in London 2018. I liked both and this made me backtrack a bit, buying the first three of the series. All three earlier versions didn’t disappoint, so let’s see if the last two are the best of the bunch, as I currently believe from memory. As said before, I did buy the whole set eventually, but the last two reviews will be based on samples I brought back from London.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fruity and very likeable. This brings back memories! Sweet barley and cardboard. Perfumy soft wood (and paper), with mocha notes and dusty. Ever so slightly meaty with a tiny hint of lavas and an indistinct melange of dry herbs. Definitely well aged and this oozes style and class. Its very refined, but lacks a bit in the complexity department, (maybe this is the reduction to 46% ABV). I’m already smelling this for a while now, and not a lot of evolution is happening to be honest. Nevertheless all that is there is very fine and balanced and easily recognizable as a Whisky from ex-Bourbon casks. Vanilla notes and slightly creamy. Faint flinty note as well as a faint menthol note. I have to say that what is here does go together rather well together. Based on the nose alone, easily the best of the five virtues (’till now).

Taste: Sweet and fruity, something that is present in all good Tomatin’s from ex-Bourbon. Just have a look at the 30yo, which offers this in spades, tropical style. Here there are yellow fruits like maracuja and dried pineapple mixed with vanilla pudding or custard. Right next to this, or behind it, if you like, quite a firm backbone of oak, pencil shavings and a little bit of smoke (probably from toasted oak, which matches the flinty note from the nose). There is most definitely quite some influence of wood to be noticed in the back. Strong and spicy and even some bitterness, not too much though, the bitterness is adding to the whole, not taking it over. Sweet mint. The whole is pretty straight forward and comes as no surprise to those who know their Tomatins. Just don’t make the error believing this is simple, because it’s not. Very nice expression this one, and also after tasting it, still the best of the five virtues. I wonder how this compares to a recent, regular 15yo also solely from American oak casks, which is slightly older and slightly cheaper.

When pouring this, I was quite surprised, the colour being only White Wine, or straw as some people call it. This is said to be from first fill Bourbon casks, and especially first fills can impair quite some colour onto the Whisky, especially after some odd 13 years. Also, I wonder why this was called “Metal”. If I would pick a Whisky to show off the Metal from the still, I would have picked (third) refill hogsheads. These casks would certainly not overpower the distillate thus showing off the most distillery character. But then again, these first fill barrels aren’t overpowering anything as well. Considering the colour of this Whisky I still have a hard time believing this came from first fill casks. Based on the nose as well, I would still not believe this is from first fill Bourbon casks. Tasting it, however, there might just be a possibility this has seen some first fill Bourbon casks, since there seems to be quite some influence from wood, yet it is different from the “Wood” expression. Lets just forget about all this and conclude that this “Metal” is a very good Whisky. Tomatin does well in American oak, especially when it gets the time to mature for a prolonged amount of time.

Points: 87

Longrow Red 11yo “Pinot Noir” (53.1%, OB, 8 years Bourbon & 3 years Refill Pinot Noir Casks, 9.000 bottles, 2019, 19/003)

I have to admit that the first few releases of Longrow Red weren’t my favourite Longrows on the market. I’ve tasted quite a few by now and from the first few releases, starting in 2012, I believe I liked the 2014 Port version best. However, even that one didn’t really impress me that much back then, since I didn’t go out of my way to buy it. Even today I still proceed with caution when a Whisky, in general, has had a Wine treatment, especially when the cask previously contained Red Wine. Fast forward several years later. On one occasion someone, probably Nico, shoved the 2020 edition of Red under my nose (The Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon), and that one did impress me a bit, so I got half a bottle in a bottle share, but more about that next time (spoiler alert). In the mean time, I visited Nico one day and saw an open bottle of his 2019 Pinot Noir edition, and with half a bottle of the 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon edition already sitting at home, and thinking of Master Quill and a comparison between both, I asked for a sample of his 2019 edition and the rest, as they say, is history…

Color: Copper gold. No pink or red hue.

Nose: Soft peat. Initially hints of classic red fruit from good Oloroso Cask matured Whiskies from yesteryear. Aroma’s working well together with the soft peat. Please bear in mind, no Sherry casks were used for this edition, so this can only come from the Pinot Noir casks. Appetizing stuff. A very hidden, tucked away, organic and deep sweaty and Winey note. Mild wine gums, soft wood bordering on cardboard and water based paint. Peated mocha with some smoke. Give it some more air, and the fruity and the (sometimes acidic) winey notes exert themselves some more, retaining throughout, the soft peat and the little bit of smoke. Salty toffee. Fresh, fruity, with an almost summery feel. Citrus notes (lemon) and floral hints, but also some milk chocolate and caramel. It smells sweet, acidic and salty, all at the same time. The peat gets softer and softer, as if it is a much older distillate. Receding peat leaves some more room for the smoke and a new flinty note emerges, as well as, some pencil shavings. Bad breath and soft moist wood. The Winey note gains some plastic along the way. Nevertheless, having smelled other Longrow Reds, the aroma profile comes as no surprise, although this is a particularly good one. This is what you get from peated Malts combined with different Red Wine casks. For instance, Gordon & MacPhail’s Ledaig Hermitage moves in the same direction. More about one of those later (another spoiler alert). For now, this Pinot Noir edition smells quite sophisticated and well balanced. Much better than earlier Red’s including the first outing of Pinot Noir in 2015.

Taste: A sweet and fruity entry. Sugary sweet mixed with the fresh notes of lemon juice. Soft and chewable peat. Slightly bitter wood. Almonds, full on toffee, caramel and only slightly fruity. On the sweet and fatty body, the winey acidity is there, but slides off quite quickly, noticeable yet not overpowering. Nice soft lingering peat and some prickly smoke. Amazing balance right from the start and again amazingly likeable. Next, some more fresh wood, which at times is quite spicy. The red fruity bit comes to the fore. Hints of fresh almonds. Very appetizing. I’m sure the Red series was a learning experience for the people at Springbank, but they are really getting the hang of it. The Red’s seem to get better and better as time progresses.

Wow, this is much better than the Red’s I know to date, especially the nose, which is this Malts strong point. I was wrong, because I’m human and not a bot, to have lost focus on this series after the first few expressions. Should have sticked with it. I’m reviewing this one from a sample, Nico kindly provided. He says this expression was at its best right from the start, so this does suffer a little bit from oxidation. So don’t take too long finishing this bottle. I haven’t tasted them all yet, but this might very well be the best of the Red’s.

Points: 89

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!