Bladnoch 10yo (46.7%, OB, Limited Release, Bourbon Expression, Bourbon Barrels, 2018)

Wow, this is just the second review of Bladnoch on these pages. Bladnoch is one of those distilleries that look charming, but for the knowledgeable consumer, it has (or had) a bit of a wonky reputation for being buttery and somewhat unbalanced. I understand why some people might dislike Bladnoch, having tasted quite a few Bladnochs over the past twenty odd years. In the mean time, the only other Bladnoch I reviewed until now, is this 8yo, and this one was most definitely a learning experience. However it was a Whisky that grew on me, which also prompted an updated review, which I rarely do. Maybe it didn’t score as high as many other Whiskies reviewed here, but I still do remember it fondly.
In 1993 the distillery was bought by Raymond and Colin Armstrong and they sold it again in 2015. Raymond and Colin probably spent most of their money on purchasing the place, because it showed, there wasn’t a lot of money around. Simple bottles, not a lot of different labels, no boxes and no big refurbishments to boot. But the feeling was great. Raymond is an outspoken and accessible figure, who “did” the distillery, opened Bladnoch forum on-line, (again very a rudimentary looking affair), where aficionado’s could talk about many Whisky topics, with Raymond often participating, and last but not least, the famous Bladnoch Forum, independent bottlings of casks from other distilleries. All simple looking, home printed labels, and very nicely priced. This was a great time, and I’m sorry this didn’t last a lifetime, although Raymond’s son Martin continued the concept with Whiskybroker.co.uk.

2013 was the last year, many officially released bottling were released, but in 2014 & 2015 not so much. Finally, in 2015 Bladnoch was bought by Australian David Prior. With new management came an extensive two year refurbishment and a different and way more sophisticated look. The money was now certainly coming to Bladnoch. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. Distilling commenced in 2017. In 2016 with the releases of Talia, Samsara and Adela, the first new bottlings saw the light of day. Yes these are whiskies and not David’s daughters, at least I don’t think so. Just like the new Glenallachies, I tasted the new Bladnochs at the Whisky Show in London, and again the younger more “simple” expressions seemed best, or most promising. Of everything that was available to taste, I liked the 10yo best, it seemed to be the most interesting, and there even was this 25yo Talia to be had, just sayin’. So this 10yo is much less expensive and easily matches the others in quality. So no strange thing than, that the 10yo was the first one I bought, which has recently been replaced by an 11yo, which I recently bought as well. I guess the future of Bladnoch looks rosy again.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Extremely malty, biscuity and slightly dusty. Warm summer air with the smell of oak planks (in the sun). Sweet malts with some distant citrus notes (the flesh, not the skins), mixed with cinnamon, green apple skins and dry banana. Warm slightly toasted bread with molten butter, cereals and dust. Grassy and dry, with some soft hay and cardboard. Perfumy (chic) and highly aromatic. Sugared yellow fruits. Friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. White latex wall paint. This is not only sweet, but also has a rough edge to it. At times, sweaty, dead leaves and organic. There is a lot here, and it’s quite big as well. There is nothing like it, and it seems almost like a style on its own. Who said a lighter style of whisky can’t be big? Remember St. Magdalene? Meaty, cold gravy, but also some milk chocolate and some more cinnamon. Soft ice cream melting in the sun. The combinations may seem strange, and to be honest, Bladnoch can be a strange Whisky at times, different from others, but in this lies also its charm. I can say that, because for me, for a long time, Bladnoch has been some sort of a guilty pleasure. I liked it a lot even when I shouldn’t. I liked it better than my scores showed. (Thinking of intrinsic quality here). Funny how this works. It’s strangeness is quite appealing (to me). I do like extremes. Sherry bombs and Peat monsters as well, and a big buttery Lowlander is an extreme as well, these three are the points of a triangle.

Taste: Sweet and fruity, definitely some sweet apple in here as well. Malty check, cinnamon check, it goes great with the sweet apple aroma. Quite quickly the woody notes, complete with some bitterness, exert themselves. Still lots of butter and vanilla and this creamy texture. Fatty and waxy. And this wax is the carrier for the bitterness of the oak. Less of the cardboard kind, which is more like paper here. Lots of aroma’s in the nose, because these must have been some pretty active casks giving off a (smoky) bitterness. Citrus fruits and some more sweet sugary yellow fruits aroma’s form on top of the body. These notes are sharper and more acidic and go together well with the more fatty base or body of this Whisky. Passion fruit and maracuja maybe, hard to tell right now which fruits make up the fruity bit.

Even though this is clearly a Lowland style Whisky, it differs from all the others Lowlanders that still operate. I remember I needed some time to get used to this, and some of that shows in the review of Bladnoch 8yo (look towards the end). To be honest the 8yo and this 10yo do have a lot in common. Even though I found it an odd one out, I really developed a liking for the strange style of Bladnoch. Here we have this new and initial, fairly standard bottling @ 10 years old, with a price to match and I really do like it. I like it for what it is and also for its style. Distilled by Raymond, and now the new owners are reaping the benefits. It seems to me the new owner is also doing the best he can to put Bladnoch out there again and putting out several expressions at reasonable prices. It is possible this style of Whisky isn’t for everyone, and if you bought it because of me and don’t like it (too extreme), I apologize, but for me this is a very nice gig fatty Lowlander, and I can’t wait to try some more expressions of Bladnoch in the near future.

Points: 86

Longrow Red 10yo “Refill Malbec” (52.5%, OB, 7 years Bourbon Barrels, 3 years Refill Malbec Barriques, 10.000 bottles, 2020, 20/187)

Well time moves fast, and before I even managed to write the reviews of the 2019 Pinot Noir and the 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and get them out, already this 2020 Refill Malbec has been released, the second Red in 2020. Looks like someone’s in a hurry? Is it time to cash in a bit on output from the distillery which isn’t branded Springbank. I really don’t know about the popularity of Longrow and Hazelburn (and Kilkerran) compared to Springbank. But looking at auctions, all are doing quite well, but Springbank itself seems to still perform best. However, it looks to me like the Red series is getting really popular. I’m guessing Springbank Distillery are stocking up on wine casks now and finally have a plan what to do with a lot of the Longrow distillate. But all of this is pure speculation. So what Master Quill initially intended as the two latest Red’s back-to-back, in comes this third one, and hey, after the results of both previous Red’s, I’m not complaining. I got in touch with Nico again and yes here is another bottle share between the two of us. Still not sure about those Red’s, ‘eh Master?

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Initially young, somewhat milky and dusty, and quite oddly, hay and grass we know from Grappa! Young Malt with raisins and old dried out, grated Swiss cheese. Burnt wood and slightly tarry. Dry virgin oak and a pool of fresh rain water. Wait a minute. Just let it breathe for a while. Wow, this is an entirely different Red again. Toasted oak, burning newspapers, pencil shavings and red fruit candy (raspberry), with a tiny acidic note on top. It all comes out in layers. Where the 2019 Pinot Noir shines because of its balance, this…well, this doesn’t, initially. I use the word initially, because experience tells me that these kinds of funky notes often wear off, and this is the start of my half bottle which probably hasn’t seen a lot of air to breathe with. This has red fruits, fresh and artificial. Hints of peat, but the peat is not dominating. This Red, even though it is one of the younger expressions, and as we all know, young peat is the strongest, has soft milk-chocolaty peat. Just compare it to a Longrow 18yo for instance, also soft peat. Some more dull smelling paper, wood and woody spices emerge, otherwise this is (initially) a simple expression or starts out as a very closed one. Bad breath, Winey, candy like, with hints of mint, nice, sweet mint and finally some smoke. Bonfire smoke on a cold night. So bits of peat and soft wood and milk chocolate, that’s the story here. Not very complex and starts out pretty basic. All the slightly less positive remarks made above dissipate after some extensive breathing. The Grappa is gone by now, never to return. The Whisky really gains balance and smells in a way like it wants to show you how it will taste. The 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon still has a much, much better, far more sophisticated and appealing, dare I say, near perfect, nose. I just did, didn’t I? The Pinot Noir works like a good alternative to Oloroso. Let’s not compare the smells of both any further, and by the way, the strength of the 2020 Refill Malbec lies even more in the taste, as we’ll soon find out.

Taste: Initially this comes across as a younger and less balanced expression than the previous two reviewed ones, yet right out of the gate this is still a very tasty bugger! To capture the taste of this Red in one sentence: Liquid smoke mixed with sweet ripe red fruits and red chillies. It certainly has a sting to it and a sweetness that follows. Slightly syrupy and notes of oaky bitterness. Hints of tar and liquorice which matches up well with the red fruit syrup. Salty (and smoky) lips. Definitely more peat here than in the nose, as well as more smoke. Add to that, red fruit jam, rubber and some arome-de-ashtray. In a way this is a bit thin. Not a big rounded out Malt but more of a big flat circle. The sweetness hasn’t enough power to sustain a big body. In many ways it is big (in 2 dimensions), but lacking a bit of depth (the third dimension). So peat smoke and red fruits make up the two dimensions, but in the end it thus lacks some sweetness to counterpart the smoke, peat and wood, to round things out. This sometimes has an element of sulphur. At this point, who cares about the balance and the initial Grappa. This is a fun Red! This is a Big Red (in a way)! Gives off a nice feeling and aftertaste going down. Sweet with peated toffee and the red fruit jam. This one just needs some air to shine even more. Tiny hints of black fruits in the finish. Sweet and again a flinty and slightly burned note. Both are very welcome here. Also remember, Malbec Wines aren’t sweet Wines, so where the sweetness comes from is a mystery to me. Excellent birthday cake. Hints of fireworks and sulphur. Again these are welcome notes, don’t get me wrong. Black tea, a slight bitterness, late pencil shavings and all the time very tasty. Rougher then the previous two reviewed Red’s, but a welcome variant on the theme nevertheless.

Well, this one might be a little rough around the edges, still it surely sort of matches up in quality with the “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” which brought me back into the Red fold in the first place. Sure it starts a tad funky and wonky, but it pulls itself together rather quickly. Interesting. In the end not the same score for both, the taste is almost in the same ballpark quality-wise, but the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon simply has a much, much better nose.

Points: 86

By the way, here is a list of officially released Red’s:

2012 11yo   7 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 4 years Fresh Cabernet Sauvignon Hogsheads (Country unknown)
2013 11yo   6 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 5 Years Fresh Australian Shiraz Hogsheads
2014 11yo 11 years Fresh Port Casks
2015 12yo 11 years Bourbon Casks and 1 year Fresh New Zealand Pinot Noir Casks
2017 13yo 12 years Bourbon Barrels and 15 months Fresh South African Malbec Barriques
2018 11yo   9 years Bourbon Barrels and 2 years Fresh South African Cabernet Franc Barriques
2019 11yo   8 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years Refill New Zealand Pinot Noir Barriques
2020 13yo 10 years Bourbon Barrels and Refill Sherry Hogsheads and 3 years Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels
2020 10yo   7 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years South African Refill Malbec Barriques

Deanston 10yo (46.3%, OB, Bordeaux Red Wine Cask Finish, for Travel Retail, 2019)

Deanston, once the ugly duckling of the Scottish Whisky world, its reputation then just a hair better than that of Fettercairn (no offence), but look at Deanston now. Deanston, may have started the race from the pits, after yet another engine change, but are making their way up the field in an impressing manner. If you look closely it is easy to see they took a hard look at what Springbank is doing (right). Maybe even asked for some advise, and if so, they clearly got the point as well. They left nothing to chance. First of all, the quality has improved a lot. Quality sells by word of mouth, because I don’t see a big marketing ploy behind either Deanston nor Springbank, and Deanston surely has grown a lot more popular.

Besides the quality, Deanston is issuing very good Whiskies in different price brackets, and the amount of single cask, or small batch releases have grown. Next, where Springbank is (again) successful with “Local Barley”, Deanston plays the “Organic” trump card. (Bollocks, Trump, these days this is almost a dirty word). Even the new bottle design of Deanston resembles the Springbank bottle a bit. Just look at the base of the bottle where words show up in the glass itself. So they adapted a successful formula and rightly so. It clearly works. Even the people I know are into Springbank (I’m one of them), are now also very much interested in Deanston, and liking it. Did I already mention, that the keys to the success of Springbank and thus more recently, Deanston, are its people? They are! Kudo’s to you!

Color: Orange gold, no red hue (looks like a Bourbon)

Nose: Wonderful creamy notes with nice red fruity notes, tiniest hint of apple pie and a sharper woody note. Floral as well. Smoky toffee. Very creamy in fact. Nothing Wine-like at all, although, maybe just a bit. Would I still feel the same if I had smelled this without knowing it was a Wine finish? Maybe so, yet the more this breathes, and if you are patient enough to let is sit in your glass for 10 to 15 minutes, the Red Wine nose becomes more pronounced. There is this slightly burned and slightly tarry aroma from the wine cask and this unmistakeable red fruit candy aroma, that always pops up with Red Wine cask finishes. We are still just starting with smelling this Malt and it already smells like something that was finished for just the right amount of time. Also, the base Whisky that was finished like this must have been of pretty high quality as well. Definitely American oak came first, it’s creamy with vanilla underneath. People at Deanston are really knowing what they are doing now, with a smell like this, and this after a Bordeaux Finish. In the early days of finishing, Red Wine casks, weren’t my favourites, not by a long shot. They were often severely overdone. Lets get back to smelling. Next a nice fresh green note. Plants on the window sill on a warm day. Lots of creamy warm milk chocolate. Quite soft after the sharper (oaky) start. The oak is still here, by the way. Within the soft notes some wet cardboard emerges, along with more sweet red fruit water. Forest strawberry lemonade. Well balanced altogether and smells very distinguished and mature. Is this really only a 10yo with a Bordeaux finish? It seems just too good for that. It surely doesn’t come across as such. I really like the smell of this. Amazing accomplishment.

Taste: Soft wood, thin, runny caramel, toffee and Winey red fruits, sweet and sour. Lemon acidity. American toasted oak vanilla with chewy toffee but also spicy wood and spicy spices. Yet the whole is still quite soft. Soft, warm milk chocolate and fresh almonds. Here the Wine finish is on top of the toffee and milk chocolate. Seems slightly less balanced than the nose was. Its a liquid Mars bar, Twix and Ferrero Rocher in one! The Wine finish is done with taste so it must have been used sparsely. Nothing wrong with this Wine finish. This Malt drinks like chocolate milk, dangerously easy going. Wine in the finish, as well as some hazelnuts and toast. Dare I say it also has some soapy notes? It does, is that a problem? This time it isn’t. As long as you don’t start foaming from the mouth (I didn’t). Somewhat simpler in the taste than the nose was but still a good and accomplished Malt. After sipping this, the nose becomes even better. Warming going down, like warm chocolate milk. Medium finish at best and finally a creamy aftertaste. One bottle of this isn’t nearly enough. Costs next to nothing compared to what you are getting for your hard earned cash, (I got it even on sale). Get more, should still be widely available. Finally a word of warning. This actually deteriorates a bit (even more soft, even sweeter and a bit too velvety) with air, so don’t have it in your glass too long. It’s best when freshly poured (spicier).

There is a danger to this Malt. When I opened this, I was really surprised how nice this is. Liked every drop of it, and the first half of the bottle went pretty quick, and all of a sudden I had enough of its big, sweet, tarry and winey profile. I had to push it to the back of the lectern to get away from it for a while, so lesson learned and just don’t overdo it. It is a good Malt, with an in your face profile, which can take you hostage for a while. If this happens to you, don’t worry, just press “Pauze” and after a while you can press “Play” again, and all is back to normal. Good one for a more than decent price. Like it.

Points: 86

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!

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!

Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, L9275CM003, 2019)

When talking to a good buddy of mine, Nico, one day, Talisker 10yo came up as one of those malts that is always consistent in quality, always tasty, highly affordable and really widely available. Earlier I reviewed a bottling from around 2002, which was more than pretty decent. I even tried earlier bottlings, and they could be truly stellar. So with all these memories in mind, and the statement from Nico, I just left him sitting there where he was, and ordered a current 10yo. What I got the next day was this bottle from 2019. When freshly opened, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to be honest. It also reminded me more than a bit of the 57 North I reviewed recently. I gave Nico a sample of the 2019 10yo and he found it again to be pretty decent. He seemed to like it more than I did. I got a Talisker 10yo, bottled in 2015 sample from him in return, so guess what will be the next review…

Color: Gold, but who cares, it’s colored. (Why? they used to color the glass, so get back to that, and leave the Whisky alone).

Nose: Light peat and slightly sharp. Sweet malt with diluted toffee notes. Hints of Calvados, cookie dough and dishwater. When smelled/snorted more vigorously, toasted oak comes forward (as well as a perfumy note). I keep smelling some apple, so Calvados it is then. The nose seems a bit off-balance at first, but this is corrected with some breathing, actually reaching a quite nice level of balance. Let it settle in your glass for a few minutes. More mocha and soft toasted wood add to the balance. With this, the apply notes are shoved right to the back. Sandal wood notes emerge next, this is all going in the right direction now! Brown sugar, toasted malt and the occasional whiff of cigarette smoke. This is rapidly becoming very nice indeed. After some longer breathing, the Calvados is gone, or maybe got overpowered or masked by the rest of the aroma’s. New is a distant whiff of fireworks and even later the perfume returns (we got this already, when sniffed vigorously in the beginning).

Taste: Sweet on entry. Smoky and cask toast. Light and waxy and a little bit of bitter on the side. Slightly milky and young, similar to the recent 57º North. Some paper and some wood, but not much. Less complex than the nose. After sipping, the nose turns slightly sharper. Coffee, ashes and slightly waxy. Sweet licorice. Nutty with quite some woody bitterness. The nose needs some breathing, but don’t let it stand around for too long. That would be a mistake. It gets a bit unbalanced again and also a bit thin. This is achieved by extensive breathing, so don’t overdo it.

Sure, this Talisker 10yo is pretty decent, but miles away from the 10yo from 2002, and there are quite a few more expressions of Talisker 10yo that can be called truly stellar. But times change, barley changes, the distillery changes, demand changes, everything changes. Take all of this into account and compare this to other Whiskies of this age and what you have here is still a pretty decent dram, for a very, very affordable price. Let’s say for the price of a lottery ticket. Do you feel lucky? If not and you need some comfort, get this, chances of winning are pretty slim anyway. Your choice.

Points: 84 (Nico scored it higher)

Caol Ila 10yo 2005/2015 (55.9%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel #301535,for Whisky Warehouse Belgium, 233 bottles, AE/JACE)

Another bottling for Belgium, what’s up, Belgium! Not all that long ago, not a lot of Caol Ila was available, and look at it now. With every turn of your head, if you are in the right place that is, there is a bottle of Caol Ila of some sorts available. Lots of OB’s to choose from, an even more IB’s. So when Caol Ila is this easy to get, with so much variation, and often fairly priced, and with nice quality, I made a deal with myself to always have a Caol Ila open on my lectern. When the “Milano” bottling was finished, I quickly replaced it with this “Belgium” one and opened it immediately. Both examples were bottled by Gordon & Macphail, but where the “Milano” was reduced, to keep the price down I guess, this “Belgium” is not. (Cask Strength hurray!) The last time I checked, Belgium is also a slightly bigger place than Milano…

Color: White wine, a bit pale though, for a first fill after 10 years.

Nose: More fruity than peaty. Lovely and elegant nose. Very fruity (initially more acidic than sweet), and fresh. Excellent. Mixed in with the fruit is a nice woody and light smoky note, but where is the peat? In a way, this is soapy and floral. Nothing bad though, there won’t be any foam to come out of your nose. Ripe yellow fruits and some smoke. Hints of vanilla from the American oak. Also a slightly spicy and this light woody note. Wonderful stuff. The smell carries a promise of a sweetish Malt. I did already mention ripe fruit, didn’t I, but there is also this note of overripe fruit, the kind that attracts insects, just before it turns bad and rots. Again, in this case, this is not a bad thing. More soft powdery vanilla from the oak. It exerts itself some more. Hidden away in the fruit and smoke, there is this floral type of peat. I recognize it now. In comes this meaty note as well. Nice development in the glass. Whiskies like this fly a bit under the radar, but are actually a lot of fun. Just a Bourbon barrel or hoggie, ten years of time, and there is a lot of beauty to behold in the details of such a Malt. It doesn’t always have to be a big Sherried Malt. Good stuff, this Caol Ila.

Taste: Sweet on entry, and here it starts out with peat. Go figure. It’s big, sweet, fruity and peaty. Warming and spicy going down. Spicy wood and dust. Cardboard and dry vanilla powder. Much peatier and smokier than the nose was. The nose and taste might differ, but work together well. Lets call it well balanced. Less balanced though is the rest of the body and the finish. The entry and the first half of the body are great, big bold, very aromatic. Second half is a bit less interesting. The balance starts suffering, and the initially well integrated aromas come undone. Turns a bit ashy, which also highlights the cardboard aroma mentioned earlier. When the finish starts, I feel this is the right time to take another sip. Something a bit off there. The wood starts to show some acidity (and more bitterness), that doesn’t fit the peaty fruit that is so wonderful in the start. It feels like the roof of my mouth contracts. So, first half of the Malt, excellent, second half, the “players” seem to lose their synergy a bit. Bugger.

The label states the distilling date to be 21/02/2005 yet only mentions a bottling month: February 2015. However, the glass bottle itself carries the bottling code AE/JACE, and, how convenient, a date: 23/02/2015, so yes, 10 years old (barely). Way less peaty then the previously reviewed Belgian offering though.

Points: 84

Rhum J.M Cuvée 1845 (42%, Vieux, Hors d’Age, Martinique)

After the XO and the Millésime 2002 this is the third J.M Rhum on these pages. This Cuvée 1845 is a blend of Rhum’s aged for 10 years in refill Bourbon barrels. Released in 2015 for the 170th anniversary of production. 170 years, since 1845! I feel that the time has come with this third J.M review, to dive into a little bit of history. If you’re bored easily, please read on, I’ll keep it brief.

Lets begin our journey in 1663 when Jean-Baptiste Labat was born in Paris, France. At the age of 20 he entered the order of the Dominicans, thus becoming better known as Pere (father) Labat. In 1693 Jean-Baptiste travelled to Martinique (amongst others) to do missionary work. There he became proprietor of the Fonds-Saint-Jacques estate where he started to modernize the sugar industry, quickly followed suit by others. In 1706 he returned to Europe, in 1716 returned to Paris and died there in 1738. The Fonds-Saint-Jacques estate changed hands (and names) several times until we finally arrive in 1845, when Jean-Marie Martin bought the estate. Due to other sources for sugar, especially in Europe, production was reduced, however, since distilled spirits were on the rise. Jean-Marie (J.M) thought it would be a good idea to build a distillery on his estate to produce Rhum, thus creating J.M Rhum (Agricole). The distillery (and the estate) changed hands several times since, but the J.M brand stuck.

Color: Orange golden brown

Nose: Vegetable, spicy and dusty. Much more typical Agricole than the Rum Nation Guadeloupe I reviewed recently. Very aromatic. Again this bad breath note combined with (slightly burnt) cola, dates and figs. Some nice polished (oily) oak with old leather. Dusty, green and earthy. Earthy like a sack of soil you buy for your garden (that has been laying in the sun for a while). Sweetish notes like toffee, caramel and vanilla with red fruits, candied cherries and hints of mango and passion fruit. Soft and elegant. Quite floral as well and slightly sugared. I’m sure its not added to this Rhum, but this does have the smell of white sugar diluted in warm water. Powdered sugar dust. Sugared almonds, some honey coated, some fresh. A very quiet and distinguished expression. One that sits back in the corner of the room, but in the best leather chair. After some breathing more oak emerges and lukewarm black tea (yes, with a little bit of sugar in it). Fresh oak and white latex wall paint, very creamy and clean smell. Almonds, warm apple sauce and fresh air. Sniff hard and give it lots of time and this turns out to be way more complex than it showed upon pouring. The well balanced aroma’s seem to emerge endlessly…

Taste: After the complex nose, the taste sometimes starts out a bit thin (not when freshly poured). Less sweet than expected. Rich toffee and typical Agricole notes. An edge of toasted cask complete with a light bitter edge. Vegetal, clean sugar taste. Green spices (celery) and aromatic. Little sting of pepper(oni) and a nice half sweet licorice and sometimes cinnamon note. Definitely less sweet than expected, yet very well balanced. Mocha and hopjes (Dutch coffee candy), milk chocolate and caramel. Milky Way bar. Sometimes even some citrussy notes emerge. At 42% ABV I do feel I have to work at it quite a bit to get all the riches out, which doesn’t mean it should have been bottled at a higher ABV. For me maybe yes, but I guess the ABV suits this Rhum and the market is was bottled for. Just look at the looks of this bottle, it’s just not looking very cask strengthy now does it? I don’t think Daddy Warbucks would appreciate this being high ABV when he picked this at the bar. Warming going down, and very well made. This is a Rhum for a hot day, this needs a little bit of ambient warmth to present its riches, on a cold day, and at this ABV, it is too light and stays too closed.

Quite light in style, careless sipping of this particular Rhum will most certainly mean you will miss a lot and would probably think it isn’t as great than it really is. This is definitely from the same family as both J.M’s I reviewed before, the XO (simpler) and the 2002 (more raw and bigger), but in a different softer and more elegant or luxury style. I guess it depends on my mood if I would prefer the aforementioned 2002 or this 1845. It could be that this 1845 is better than the 2002. I sure would understand if you say so. Personally, when I grab this bottle carelessly and don’t give it full (almost analytical) attention, its almost like mishandling the Rhum. I’m missing most of it, find it thin and un-complex, and that’s where the 2002 shines. Even when you don’t give it enough attention, it still is able to show its true self. Thus lets say the 2002 is always good, the 1845 has some highs and lows. The low being that it just demands your attention, if not, it will chew on your remote, or piss against the couch…bugger.

Points: 87

Lagavulin 10yo (43%, OB, Travel Exclusive, L9102CM004, 2019)

Lagavulin, does it ever disappoint? well, for me, not yet anyway. Although the 8yo was stretching it a bit if I’m honest. It did manage to get the mean score down a bit. If only it was as good as the recent Talisker 8yo! After the 8yo, we already planned to have the 9yo Game of Thrones edition, but it went back into our stock in favour of this 10yo. Recently a 11yo Offerman Edition was released. Still have to look into this one though. No idea yet, who this Nick Offerman is at the moment. I vaguely knew about the existence of the 10yo, but stumbled upon it on a ferry en route to the Whisky Show in London, so we bought a few on the way back, at a very fair price I might add. however, after the 8yo and a few drams of this 10yo, I’m already wondering what all these bottlings have to add to the greatness (and the price) of the 16yo. Not sure what Diageo is doing here, diverting attention away from the 16yo? Winning new souls? Enlarge the portfolio, like the one of its white labelled neighbour?

Color: Dark Gold, slightly orange.

Nose: Soft peat and earthy. Even softer smoke. Quite closed and restrained, or is it so much reduced that the aroma’s have to fight to make it out of my glass? Maybe this is a Whisky more suitable for my new and highly amplifying 1920’s blenders glass? Not for this review. Still soft, yet sweeter and fruitier notes emerge. Soft and elegant. Lagavulin’ s answer to Laphroaig’s “Lore”? Way in the back, there is a lovely dried fish note, making it more salty and coastal, thus more interesting. Soft and hugely toned down Sherry notes from the 16yo come to the fore. After a while it is still a softly playing tune on the radio, but the balance seems there. Its definitely more mature than the raw, milky and unfinished 8yo. Smells sweet, images of refined sugar pop into my mind. Some sort of Caribbean Lagavulin, with ghosts of many yellow fruits trying to contact me telling me they are here. Still I can’t “see” them.

Taste: Sweet and malty, and way closer to the 8yo than the nose. This, dear reader, is a bad thing. Ashes and toasted oak. Spicier than I expected. Black and white powder and licorice. Sweet licorice, with more smoke than peat. Liquid slow burning small bonfire, with just the tiniest bit of bitterness to give it some backbone it so badly needs. With every sip it’s relative youth comes to the fore, just like the 8yo, but less of it. Weak sweet sherry, milk and buttermilk (without the acidity), maybe I should call it sweetened buttermilk. Again this milky unfinished note I get from the 8yo and young modern Tomatin’s. I don’t like that. To be honest this is a fairly simple Whisky, hardly any development, probably killed by the reduction. Please can someone explain to me why one would get this (or the 8yo) and pass on the wonderful 16yo, which probably costs less to boot? Come on Lagavulin you can do so much better than this!

Soft and sweet with wood spice and smoke (and milky acidity). That’s it in a nutshell. Why is this bottled at 43%? Its doing this Lagavulin harm. Is this another of those bottles aimed at people to bring them into the peaty fold, by reducing the peat so much it hurts? Why not 48% for instance? Even the 8yo was 48%. I’ll tell you why, because the novice doesn’t like that much alcohol. Get a root beer instead, dear God. Why so much effort to do this, to ruin it. We already have the (rather weak) 8yo, the 9yo Game of Thrones (which I haven’t tried yet), and now this (rather weak) 10yo? Enough already. I can only hope the 11yo “Offerman” is better. Lagavulin is going mainstream, like Laphroaig and in the process ruining it for the people with taste. Just like Laphroaig with it’s 10yo cask strength, Lagavulin makes for us the 12yo cask strength and all hail to the 16yo which is still with us! The 8yo and the 10yo I can do without. These two I really don’t need, and I don’t understand the need for it too. It offers nothing more, they add nothing to Lagavulin. I haven’t tried the 9yo GoT bottling yet, nor the 11yo Offerman, but I will already lower my expectations a bit before starting that review. I hope it ends here, this is already quite damaging the wonderful feeling I get from Lagavulin. Sure it is a decent score, if you are into mediocrity, but Lagavulin was never about mediocrity, it always was, secretly, the best of the class, one you could depend on deliver. Has Lagavulin been bought by Beam-Suntory recently?

Points: 82

If I were Greek, I would have thrashed my glass after this (being a big fan of Lagavulin).

Caol Ila 10yo 1996/2006 (57%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Cask #732-735)

Here is an old one from the dungeons of Master Quill’s castle. (Independent) Caol Ila #11, yes another Independently bottled Caol Ila. The eleventh already on these pages, and I have yet to review an official bottling of the stuff. It’s not as if there aren’t any around now, aren’t there. Although it is a sunny day today, the nights are still cold, so no problem whatsoever to pick me another peaty dram. This time we’ll have a look at a Caol Ila bottled by independent bottler Berry Brothers & Rudd. Although it was distilled back in 1996, it is a mere 10 years old. Young Islay Whisky with a healthy ABV. I expect a nice peaty Whisky. I remember a 1996, which was also 10yo, bottled by Cadenhead’s which I liked very much. I have one of those lying around, so if this Caol Ila turns out to be great, maybe I’ll break out that one as well. Or is it time for an OB? Only time will tell.

Color: White Wine, straw.

Nose: Peaty, but in a christmassy way. Dried orange skins with cloves. Spicy. Otherwise clean. Slightly sweet, aromatic, yet light. Soft wood, almost like cardboard. Definitely refill Bourbon, and the color shows for it. Hints of pepper and overall very friendly. I no way does this smell like a Whisky with lots of alcohol or peat. Appetizing. Next the usual suspects when reviewing Whisky aged in refill American oak. Soft wood, butter, creamy and vanilla. Hints of coal and dust. What’s especially nice is the peppery bit. It suits the nose well, pulling it more to the middle, away from too much creaminess or sweetness.

Taste: soft spices, hints of cannabis and crushed beetle. I only got cannabis in some Bunnahabhains up ’till now. Nice balance. Wow, very soft indeed. Creamy and ashy. Here the ashes replaces the pepper from the nose. Nice green notes as well. Even an Islay profile like this, seems to be already gone from modern peated Whiskies. It doesn’t smell like a high ABV. Whisky, but it also doesn’t taste like one. The profile is so soft and warming. The peat is soft as well, so no heavy hitting Islay here. Spicy, green, ashy and now also fruity. There is an acidic note and the fruit closes to the aroma I pick up on is apple. Green apple, but also cooked apple. Apple sauce. However, this Whisky has also a soapy trait, like cold dishwater at the end of the body, well into the finish. This brings the whole down a notch. There is this brief moment I have to “get through” before the finish picks itself up for the very rewarding and warming aftertaste. This Whisky has a summery feel to it. Countryside in the sun, with fruity and floral bits thrown in.

Amazingly soft and totally different from what I expected. No heavy peat, no heavy alcohol, and not big at all, but friendly stuff, with a kind heart. Smells great. This has a lot of nice and almost rare aroma’s to it. It seems like something distilled longer back than 1996. Yes I’ve got it, this is a melancholic Whisky, which is able to move you, when remembering the carefree good ol’ days…

Points: 85