Benrinnes 15yo “Flora & Fauna” (43%, OB, L8044CS000, Circa 2008)

Rummaging around the bottles Erik left behind, I found this Flora & Fauna Benrinnes 15. Wait a second, didn’t I already review this Whisky? Yes I did. Almost two years ago I reviewed The Flora & Fauna Benrinnes 15yo. Only that one was an earlier bottling from 2001 and this one was bottled some seven years later. But why not? I remember I liked the 2001 bottling, and we know Diageo doesn’t like batch variation, so now we have a chance to find out. All in good “relativeness” since I have to compare it with the “other” review, since I don’t have any of the 2001 stuff around any more. I’ll write this review first before re-reading the other review.

Color: Orange brown with a copper hue.

Nose: Sherried, with big notes of (fresh) oak. Dark and brooding, somewhat meaty and tarry with strong notes of (sweet) licorice. Dusty paper. Green notes, vegetal, with crushed beetle. So definitely both flora and fauna are in this Whisky. Hints of coal dust, and also something sharper. Smoke? Prickly. I can’t find typical PX-markers, so I do believe this is Oloroso Sherry only. Quite a nice Sherried nose. Seems to me pretty good casks were used for this bottling. Is it fruity? Yes fruits can be found, but not those I expected, what I find is marginally sharper, more acidic. Something like warm apples. Compote. Hints of raisins and honey. Nice stuff. Not a lot of development though. Every time I smell it it is more or less the same. So nice and big, very influenced by Sherry, but not overly complex. Hey, the paper note re-emerges.

Taste: Well who would have thought that the first note I taste is of warm apples again? Very nice as a whole, tasty stuff. Not as big as expected, but highly drinkable. Warming at first and quickly turning into a a pretty short finish with not a lot happening, apart from some sweetness from a coffee bonbon, in the aftertaste as well. Some woody bitterness, but the wood itself, pretty invisible actually. Hints of paper and cardboard, but nothing off putting. After every promising sip it is amazing how short the finish really is. Relatively big nose, big start, but weak finish. No off notes, but it is short. yes, Sherried, hints of some kind of petrol based solvent and woody bitterness. Not so dark and brooding, but sweetish and easy going. Hints of coals dust. Not as complex as it might have been, but its strength is its accessibility and overall taste. Pretty simple for a Sherried bottling with 15 years of age behind its belt.

It is a good Whisky, but lacks a bit of oomph, a bit of complexity and a bit of length. Other than that pretty alright for the price. I don’t have to read back my earlier review of an earlier bottle, to tell you the 2001 is better than this 2008 bottling. Having read the previous review, I believe, both are quite similar. Only the 2001 seems much bigger and longer than this 2008 offering, hence the score. I hope I get a chance to review an even more recent bottling of this, so see what happened next.

Points: 84

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Talisker 20yo 1980/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, “Tactical”, Finished in Sherry Wood, 504 bottles)

Earlier this year I had a leak in my house form a burst cold water pipe. Some demolition was done fixing the problem, so as of this past week and for three weeks in total, I live temporarily elsewhere, whilst several professionals fix up and better my place. My mate Erik offered me his house and I gladly accepted. Erik already sold his house but moved in with his girlfriend earlier than both expected, hopefully that will go well. If you think this is amazing, then let me tell you he also left me some open bottles as well, so I can review them here. And not your average run-of-the-mill, bang-for-your-buck Whiskies as well! 6.5 years ago I already did some kind of short job on another Tactical from the Old Malt Cask range and now, finally, I have a chance to review another one. Thanks mate!

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Slightly peated and sweet. Grassy and vegetal. Organic and slightly fruity acidity with every first sniff from my glass. Old scool. Slightly nutty, fresh and pungent. Hints of warm motor oil and definitely nothing like a modern Whisky or officially released Talisker I know of. If you move it around your glass for a bit, the sweetness emerges first, quickly to be taken over by a lot of the other aromas. Cooked red beets, and more of the sweetness, and some smoke again. Aromas released as by an indicator light. Sweetness on, sweetness off, sweetness on, sweetness off…More fireplace notes, with even whiffs of almost overheated plastic, and back to the green grassy notes again. Indicator light all right. Coffee, mocha, cardboard and hints of well aged Calvados. Dark chocolate bonfire. Sugar water, warm water from doing the dishes, peach and apple, for fruits. Yes, there is a lot happening here. Unique smell, very much the smell of Whisky from yesteryear. A smell to die for. Ticks boxes, awakens emotions. Great Scot(t) (and Bruce) almighty!

Taste: Starts a bit bitter, with charred wood, and again green and vegetal. Warming going down. Strong coffee notes with almonds. Smelling it after the first sip makes the smell even better. Second sip starts with the slightly bitter coffee notes with now some added fresh fruity acidity. A narrow band of green apple skins. The whole is not as big and complex as the nose promised. Next some more of the peaty notes. No heavy peat, but yes, the classic Talisker pepper attack is here people! Hello there! After the silky bitter notes finally some sweetness appears, to balance it out. Still this killer smell, wow! Sure, big on wood, peat, yes, but not as earthy nor as fatty as we’ve grown accustomed to from the usual suspects. Slight hint of warm plastic on the palate as well. Still a lot of coffee notes and dark chocolate stay on for the warming finish. The finish itself is pretty long, built around peat and wood. No big aftertaste though. 

The smell is stellar, old scool and well balanced. Amazing length, and the longer you let it breathe the better it gets, almost as if there are no limits to the development. The taste less so. Lacks a bit of complexity and evolution in my glass. Not overly bitter, but definitely bitter and wood driven. Could have been “bigger”, more complex. If only the fruity bits and some acidity could have made their way through, I believe it would do much better. Nevertheless, this is still a sort of classic Malt. From days long gone. I love it, its good and definitely an experience. 

Points: 87

Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, 18/375)

Ahhh, Springbank 15yo. Not the first one on these pages. A few years back I wrote a review of an older batch from around 2003. After 15 years (since this example is from 2018), the glass bottle is still the same, but the label has changed quite a bit along the way. I’ve tasted quite a few of these latest batches, but not every batch. All are good enough to buy blind and many are excellent to boot. This bottle isn’t open all that long, and still I have to write this review a bit in a hurry, before it’s too late and all is gone…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Nutty and Sherried, and for a Springbank 15yo of recent years, pretty restraint. Waxy and dirty, but not as much as other batches. Hardly any smoke, but there is some nice layer of mild peat and spicy wood and even a tiny hint of sulphur, way in the back. Yes a bit dirty. When it gets some time to breathe, it opens up nicely. Typical Springbank, we love. Next a fresh, slightly acidic fruity note. Some wood, almost like fresh oak and tree sap. This however, also sets it apart from the much fattier, deeper and more brooding batches of the 15yo. Now some meat, gravy and paper (no typo, paper, not pepper), and some more oak. It’s great but “narrower” in comparison. Hints of licorice and cherry liqueur. Mon Cherie. Fresh and sharp oak abundant with some hidden chlorine. After a while the acidic fruit turns to orange juice, with a slightly more burnt and perfumy note simultaneously. This has no problem opening up, but still it’s a bit restrained compared to other batches of the 15yo with the green label. More restraint, but definitely a wonderful smelling Malt, keep it moving in your glass for a while, it needs a lot of air still, and will reward you for it. Amazing how Springbanks can smell.

Taste: Waxy, slightly peaty and fruity. Sherried. Licorice and upfront wood. Initial sweetness and no bitter oak. Even though it’s quite fatty, it also is remarkably fruity underneath. Yes, some black fruits from 60’s Bowmore or Redbreast 15yo (the L5). Wonderful. The body is big right from the start, but right around the mark it releases the black fruits, it also get a bit thinner and slightly unbalanced afterwards. There is also a wee cheesy note. Fresh cottage cheese. “Thin” is it’s only flaw compared to other batches. Where other batches stay big and Sherried, this chickens out a bit. A flaw only covered by a quick next sip. This next sip shows some Sherry, but also wood and smoke, coal dust and sweetness, but already covers the black fruit. The nuts appear here as well. So not so big body and a medium finish at best. Truth be told, the finish is rather short for a Springbank, all very typical for rotation 18/375. If you want to get the besy out of this dram, you must give it enough time to breathe. Keep it moving in your glass, and it will get better (and strange enough: sweeter).

This may not be the best batch of the latest fifteens, not by a long shot even. However, don’t make the mistake thinking this is a mediocre Whisky, because it still makes everybody else jealous! As with many Springbanks, this needs a lots of air. Another one I would recommend to leave the cork off for a while in the beginning. This might need even a day or two without a cork to get better. Try it, be brave. Capiche?

Almost hard to believe this one is 15 years old and the Longrow from 1992, only 10 years, since that one has even more depth, and is in my opinion definitely the better of the two.

Points: 86

Ledaig 15yo 1997/2013 (59.3%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, for Van Wees, Refill Sherry Hogshead #464, 262 bottles, AC/JICD)

Well, this should be interesting! Fall 2015 saw me doing a review of a sistercask (#465) of this Whisky. The cask next door, so to speak. It was filled the same day with exactly the same distillate, in just another refill Sherry hogshead, but with, probably, a different result, since no two casks are really alike. Both were distilled on 23/10/1997, #464 was bottled 01/08/2013, and #465 was bottled on 30/10/2013. Bottled only three months later but making one a 15yo old and the other a 16yo. #465 is also the darker of the two, but the difference looks bigger than the aforementioned 3 months. Maybe the two casks contained different Sherries. Maybe one cask was more active, or had a deeper char. All can be true.

#465 was bottled for The Whisky Exchange (of London), and #464 was bottled for Van Wees (of Amersfoort). Both casks were refill Sherry hogsheads. I’m opening this #464 now, since #465 is almost empty and it’s time to “kill” it. Don’t believe for a second, since it lasted me this long, it wasn’t any good. It is actually so good, I didn’t want it to be empty soon, second it isn’t really a daily drinker type Whisky to boot. It’s a big, big Whisky. So today I still have a chance to compare the two. Just bear in kind, one has had plenty of time to breathe and the other is almost freshly opened.

Color: Full gold, with some orange.

Nose: Funky, dusty and meaty. Big and sweet-smelling. Fatty, dirty, meaty peat. Almost like an animal was turned into peat along with the plants. Nothing bad here, just very animalesk. Crushed beetle and gasses bubbling up from a pond. Expect no clean earthy peat, or just bursts of sharp smoke. Yes, smoke is here, as well as peat. Smoke from wet wood. Marshland wood. Earthy. Wet and dirty peat. Earthy sweet peat. The smoke is soft. Spicy, vegetal and highly aromatic. Hints of liquorice and dust, mixed in with toasted oak. Vanilla, mocha and more drier wood and sharper smoke. Hints of Rhum Agricole if you ask me. Hints of peppermint immersed in mud. Very organic mud. Do I detect some sulphurous compounds in the back? Wonderful balance though.

Taste: Starts sharp and quickly turns to sweet, with a peppery attack, quickly followed by peat and sharp smoke. Its like the initial sweetness coats the mouth and when that recedes, the sharper element comes to the front of the stage. Maybe fruity even, I’m sure of it actually, but that part is overwhelmed by the rest of the big aroma’s this Whisky has. Licorice power, sweet licorice wood. Ashes, even cigarette ashes. Extremely warming, I can feel it going all the way down. Never get that a lot, not even from cask #465. Sweet, lots and lots of almonds and even hints of anise, barely noticeable: acetone based nail polish remover, and the crushed beetle is here too. This may seem strange and quite off, but let me assure you, this is all positive for the whole of this Whisky. Give it some time and more fruity notes start to develop. Red and yellow fruits. Sweetish, but also slightly acidic. Nutty and waxy. Hints of burnt plastic. Lots of smoke in the taste, along with some cow dung in the finish. Very rural and farmy. Salty lips. What a wonderful Whisky again, utterly complex. There is so much happening. It’s only slightly less balanced than the nose, and cask #465 for that matter. This imperfection is best noticeable in the aftertaste.

In a direct comparison, it is obvious to me that #465 is the more civilized of the two. The same notes appear, but turned down quite a bit. It’s not as “loud” as #464. It’s fruitier, with apple notes and some more red fruits emerge as well. More elegant and less broad, less sweet. Slightly sharper and more acidic. Better balance in the taste and definitely more elegant and less dirty. So not identical twins. #464 is bigger, bolder and has a longer finish. The sulphurous bits of #464 are easier to detect in a direct comparison, since #465 seems to have much less of it, or lacks it altogether.

I love both these Ledaigs, and if you have a preference, it’s because one of the two better suits your profile )of the moment). More elegant or more rough, cases can be made for both. Personally today, I might prefer #465 (it shows coal and black fruit, which I love), however tomorrow I might prefer #464 (big and bold). It just depends. #465 will score higher because it does show a bit more quality and balance, with more of the aroma’s I like, but, who knows, maybe some more breathing will bring out even more in #464. I’m in for a treat the next months/years…

Points: 89

Macallan 9yo 1999/2008 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Speymalt, for Van Wees, First Fill Sherry Hogshead #12378)

Wow, look at his colour! I’ll explain shortly what I mean. Also, unusually dark for a Speymalt from this vintage. For those of you who don’t know, here we have an independently bottled Macallan. Maybe this is the way to go for the non-millionaires amongst us, since the owners of Macallan seem to have gone completely over-the-top bonkers with the “brand”, super premiumizing it, crystallizing the bottles, teletubbying the distillery and… well you know what I mean. Let’s shy away from the marketing and focus on quality then. The quality of Macallan’s distillate, the quality of what we’re getting, putting this quality distillate in a quality Sherry cask the good people of Gordon & MacPhail provided for this distillate and reviewing this drinkers’ Macallan…

Color: Vibrant mahogany! No it’s not just orange-brown, it’s mahogany, and it’s only mahogany when it has this redness to it, a red flame if you wish.

Nose: Restrained for a short while. Wonderful Sherry and woody notes. Ever so slightly waxy and also fresh and airy. Milk chocolate, with a tiny hint of smoke, which most likely came into the mix from the burnt insides of the cask. Next, some pencil shavings. Smells fantastic. Quality Sherry cask. Classic Macallan. Not a lot of vanilla, so, I’m hardly guessing, this was matured in european oak, although I do pick up on a slightly creamy note as well. Hard to explain why, but this smells luxurious, elegant and perfumy. Reminiscent of the great Macallans from earlier decades. Remember the times before Fine Oak, and all the stuff that came after that. Remember the days of, “…which science can’t wholly explain…”? Elegant and fruity and in no way, harsh nor overpowered by the first fill Sherry. Not cloying nor heavy. Excellent cask.

Taste: Smoky and slightly tarry. Black coal. Thin honey, yet not a lot of vanilla sweetness. Initially very, very nice. Reminds me of the Macallans, Strathisla’s and Longmorn’s, when Gordon & MacPhail bottles still had screw caps and were bottled @ 40% ABV. (…and still had enough power)! The body is about Sherry and wood, beautiful spicy, and perfumy, wood, and shows a little bit of nice woody bitterness as well. Soft and silky bitterness, which adds to the overall flavour of the Whisky. Quite fruity and almost drinks like red fruit lemonade. Nice notes of mocha and coffee with milk. Rather short finish though. This is where the relative youth comes in, but I don’t think this should have stayed in cask longer. First fill Sherry can be a brutal thing! Short bursts of warming and red fruity notes. And the aftertaste lingers longer than the finish was. Again classic style.

On the other hand, maybe, this could have stayed in cask longer, since in no way it is overoaked. The flavours could have been more powerful, and the cask itself seems very elegant and good. Or maybe it should have been bottled at cask strength, who knows. This might have had some more to it in the end. For me the best bit of this Whisky is the start, when you take a sip and keep it in your mouth for a while before swallowing. Nice woody and licorice notes start emerging that way. Tar and coal. Wonderful stuff. Tiny hint of the typical acidity from rather new oak, which is a different note from fruity acidity, mind you.

The ABV, is slightly higher than the regular expression of the Speymalt from 1999/2008 which was bottled @43% ABV. Darker as well. Still it manages to come across a bit thin. Would it be too harsh at cask strength or is it an economical move by Van Wees? As in, if you dilute it with water you get more bottles from the hoggie? Probably not since it’s a Speymalt. All things considered, this is a classic Macallan. Wonderful stuff. Sure, maybe more could have come from this, maybe not, but I’d still get it as it is. Most definitely I would. Much better than many, and I mean, many modern Macallans, bottled by the (owners of the) distillery themselves. Highly drinkable, so a bottle of this wouldn’t last long…

Points: 89

Amrut Cask Strength (61.8%, OB, Batch 87, 2017)

Well, it almost seems a bit unfair reviewing a Paul John Whisky and not look at Amrut too, so here it goes… ehhh, ok, ok, ok, it has nothing to do with being fair. I seem to like Indian Whiskies, so I will come up with almost any excuse to review another one. I had to hurry writing this review, (spoiler alert), because this one is going fast! At Amrut they also make entry-level cask strength versions of their Whiskies. We already know NAS is not a terrible problem with Indian Whisky, since maturation in India moves at a pace like trains move in Japan. Apart from this Amrut Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky there is also a Amrut Peated Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, which will find a place on my lectern right before I finish this unpeated one, and I’m guessing that won’t take long…

Color: Vibrant orange gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and oak, with a hint of orange (the fruit, this time). Vanilla powder and fairly simple initially. Hints of oak, exotic spices on oak and sometimes pencil shavings, fresh air or ozone. Sweetish and full on aroma. Warm, warming and fuzzy, sunny. This has a very positive vibe. Milk chocolate, maybe even some mocha. Creamy with a slightly acidic top note, yet not fruity, so no unripe berries here, although I do get some candied yellow fruits. Dried apricots but well in the back although on some occasions it is more upfront. That’s it really. That’s all there is. Now for something funny, in a Whisky like this, it is also all you might need. It is well-balanced and very tasty, so I have no beef with the relative simplicity here. It’s instantly rewarding, not far behind the single cask reviewed earlier.

Taste: Creamy pencil shavings on steroids. Lots of exotic spices with soft oaky bitterness. Very nice wood notes, and again fruity. A bit hot, like the climate in Bangalore, but definitely all about Indian 6-row barley malt, and American oak. Candied yellow fruits again. Apricots in sweet yoghurt. Very high quality and very, very balanced. No off notes and everything is in the right place. Spicy, with very good wood notes. Tasty stuff. Amazing value! Not for nothing, this is already batch 87, and this was back in 2017! Wonderful aftertaste, maybe even better than the body itself since it seems to reach an even higher level of balance. Good, slightly short, aftertaste with hints of lightly roasted coffee, arriving late.

First of all, this looks the part, simple bar style bottle with a nice label, and packaged in a proper shiny heavy-duty tin.

If Master Quill would be an institute of some sorts, issuing awards, this Malt would most definitely win a category, something like best (Indian, or World, or any) cask strength bang-for-your-buck Whisky. Excellent quality for an excellent price. I’m baffled you’re still reading this. Stop it now, go out and buy one. Wonderful stuff, a definite must-have.

Last but not least, I have to make the same remarks as I did the previous review (Paul John). For me, this might be a no brainer, but I have been informed, and I occasionally witness, that Indian Whisky may not be for everyone. personally, I love this style and I can’t believe someone wouldn’t like it, but the same goes for every style of Whisky. Some don’t like peat, some don’t like heavy sherry, some don’t like grassy Lowlanders and some like Loch Dhu… So be warned. Keep an open mind though, you don’t know what you’re missing otherwise…

Points: 87

Paul John “Christmas Edition 2018” (46%, OB, Batch 1, 3.000 bottles, 2018)

No, you’re dead wrong! I wasn’t hibernating. I know it’s march already, but in my defence, I opened this on december 25th, as it should be. By now, I had plenty of time to try it several times and write something sensible about this stuff. Even when spring is almost upon us, this is still available. How is that even possible with a limited edition of 3.000 bottles worldwide? Don’t say because it’s Indian, because it’s more like; even when it’s Indian. Indian Malts have managed to find their own place upon the world market and expanding on it by the day.

The people of Paul John are busy spreading the gospel about their Whisky, the people in the background are busy working on ideas for new expressions. Where, in the not to distant past, we only had a few standard expressions and some single casks, It wasn’t long before we had the green “Select Casks”, the 7yo Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish, a Kanya and a Mars orbiter. Still in the pipeline are a PX Sherry Cask Finish and the “Nirvana”. A strange move into the world of 40% ABV Whisky. An entry-entry level Malt, placed even before the Brilliance, upping the status of that one in the process. The point I was trying to make is that Paul John is expanding its range, and one of their expansions is this Christmas Edition 2018. My guess would be that it is highly possible, there will be a Christmas Edition 2019. Hopefully, for the fun of it, making it different in composition from the 2018 edition.

Color: Copper gold, cloudy.

Nose: Fruity and waxy, Paul John style. Extremely fruity. Red fruits and sugared yellow fruits. Tiniest hint of peat, no smoke and most definitely no pine cones. Vanilla, but everything comes through this barrier of fruit. Wood comes next, fresh, almost virgin oak, pepper and pencil shavings. Vanilla. Waxy. Sugared mango, sugared pineapple and sugared papaya. However I also pick up on something more like apple, Calvados comes to mind a bit. Sweet mocha and toffee finally pop out as well, after some breathing and swirling. Almonds and Amaretto. Oloroso finish? It seems to be done sparsely and tastefully. It seems to be only there, on the sides of my tongue, right upon entry and in the finish. For me? This one is about wood, wax and almonds, these are the key markers, and balance. Good stuff again from the tropical shores of Goa.

Taste: Sweet. Toffee and caramel. Wood. Fruity with a light bite of peat. And a separate fruity and slightly acidic layer of unripe red fruits. Again no smoke. Lots of the waxy almondy and Amaretto notes I got from the nose. Both fit together nicely. Nutty with definitely almonds in the finish, and a lovely development towards the aftertaste. Both the nose and the taste were not as complex as I might have thought, since this is peated ánd unpeated Paul John distillate married and finished in Oloroso casks. Still no complaints here. I like it.

For me this is the fourth member of Paul Johns entry-level output. This particular expression seems to be a mixture of casks intended for “Brilliance” and “Edited” as well as (unpeated) Whisky that was finished in Oloroso casks for a short period of time. Like “Brilliance”, “Edited” and “Bold”, this “Christmas Edition 2018” lays down a very high standard for a Whisky at very fair price-tag. It’s really amazing stuff. Sure, Indian Whisky is different from Scottish Whisky (for instance), and if you’re hooked on that, and somewhat conservative, I can imagine Indian Whisky is not for you (yet), but otherwise it is great stuff. For me Paul John, as well as Amrut (more about that later), were true eye openers, which changed and expanded my Whisky world. Rampur is a third, worth a mention, which seems to have potential.

Points: 85