Caol Ila 11yo 2004/2016 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for Milano Whisky Festival 2016 & Bar Metro, Refill American Hogshead #306662, 348 bottles)

Once nowhere to be found, now maybe one of the most bottled Islay Malts today. Caol Ila. For me at least, Caol Ila is always a nice Whisky which also ages well. This is a pretty young one, bottled less than four months shy of its 12th birthday. In fact, this Caol Ila has matured for precisely 4.275 days. It was bottled for the Milano Whisky Festival & Bar Metro in 2016, I picked this up at a well-known German auction and didn’t have to pay much, nor did I have a lot of competition for this bottle, so maybe there’s something I should have known? At the same auction I picked up its sister-bottling from Glen Elgin bottled for the same festival in 2016 and didn’t have to pay much for that one either. I bought these two, because I found out I had a lot of cask strength bottlings on my lectern, so I wanted to buy some bottles, to start an evening with. A bit reduced to work up an appetite. Gordon & MacPhail have (or had) lots of casks from the 3066XX-range, bottled in many different series; “Cask Strength”, “Reserve”, “Spirit of Scotland” and more “Exclusive’s” as well, so there is enough around for comparison. For instance, Refill American Hogshead #306664 was bottled for Maison du Whisky @ cask strength in the Exclusive range. By the way, some of the casks from this range are Sherry casks. Let’s find out now if this hoggie is any good.

Color: Straw.

Nose: Quite restrained. No big smoky peaty notes. Fresh, zesty but also a bit tame (at first), as in sweet barley with a wee bit of soft peat only. When the flow rate of air through the nose has been increased, lots more seems to be emerging. A prickly sensation awarded to a smoky note. Burning newspaper, and even more earthy peaty notes, still restrained though. Next more creamy notes of vanilla and pudding. Well balanced although I’m not sure yet about its complexity. Hints of sugared, or sweet, yellow fruits. Warming toffee and more soft barley, marzipan and almonds. Even a little bit of honey. All very restrained without it being closed. Dusty. All aroma’s work together nicely. Good balance. A cold and misty day with hardly any wind. As this Whisky picks up air, the good balance even gets better, definitely the forté of this Whisky, and it gets bigger, bolder and more aromatic as well. Quite a surprise. The longer it stays in my glass and I don’t hurry it, the better it gets. More of the fruity notes emerge and the marzipan, very nice. Some wood and ashes as well. So this needs a bit of air and patience. If you hurry this one, you’ll miss the reward of this Whisky.

Taste: Sweet, fruity and smoky, with a funky red fruit acidity on top (it may could do without). Yes, peat as well. Slightly too watery (at first), but as I wanted a “starting Whisky” this does the job quite well. Very nice fruity sweetness, the sweetness of ripe fruits rather than plain old sugar. Very balanced again. Milk chocolate, chocolate mousse, mocha and a tiny hint of coffee with lots of milk. Mint. Just like the nose, the sweetness moves into the territory of vanilla and pudding retaining the minty note. More toffee, caramel and mocha. Chocolate cake, custard, crème brûlée even, with the added bonus of peat, charcoal and ashes. Finally a green, leafy note. Earthy.

The finish is warming yet falls a bit short and I can’t say the wonderful balance reaches the aftertaste. A slightly acidic note peels of from the rest of the Whisky. Where the finish was somewhat short, the aftertaste recovers winning it a bit back for the team. Nevertheless a very nice Caol Ila again, and this probably its sisters as well, deserve your money. I for one, will try to find a G&M 2004 cask strength version from such a hogshead again.

Points: 86

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Mortlach 11yo 1992/2004 (46%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Autumn/Summer, DMG 627)

Talisker Storm is essentially a young Whisky, one of today’s NAS-expressions. A decade ago, this 11yo Mortlach would be considered a young Whisky and back then we hardly ever heard of NAS-Whiskies to boot. Mortlach is known for its unique distilling regime where the Whisky in the bottle was distilled 2.6 times. Mortlach is also known for dark and dirty Sherry bottlings. Mostly first fill and Oloroso. Just have a look at this Wilson & Morgan Mortlach. So Mortlach fits in the group of Macallan (of old), Aberlour, Glendronach and Longmorn.

However, here we have a rather pale expression of Mortlach bottled by Douglas Laing, from the time Fred and Stewart were still running a business together. Douglas Laing had essentially three series of bottlings. Provenance, Old Malt Cask and Old & Rare (better known as the Platinum-bottlings). There were some more, but lets stick to these three better known ones, shall we? Provenance was mostly reduced to 43% and later 46%, Old Malt Cask to 50% (if possible) and generally older and more special. Finally Old & Rare-expressions were cask strength en even older still (and extra special). Maybe there are some exceptions but in my mind all were single cask bottlings. Here we’ll try a young and very pale Mortlach from the least expensive series of the three. Young-ish and reduced.

mortlach-provenance-11yo-1992-2004Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fresh, soft and fruity. Some barley and definitely some citrus notes. Very fresh and “summery”. Hints of bread, mocha and nuts, but also a chewy, green oaky note. Vegetal. Green leaves and perfumy. Hints of dishwater and latex paint as well, which really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Powdery and dusty, in part like the smell of old books, some leather and cold gravy. Warm butter and vanilla pudding. Quite a lot happening here, and a bit dirty alright. Although all of the aroma’s I’m picking up here, are pretty different, the whole is well-balanced. They mix together well. Mortlach is known for a meaty element (from Sherry casks), but that is lacking here.

Taste: Barley again and a lot of the vegetal, green and oak notes. Chewy again and it has a short sharp edge from the oak. It’s almost like virgin oak this, with a bite. A little bitter woody bite. Don’t think now this is a bitter Whisky, because it isn’t. The bite itself is extremely short, leaving room for a very soft and mellow Whisky. Cannabis and vanilla. Creamy, with cookie dough and chocolate-chip cookies as well. Sweet(ish) and fruity. The taste of this Mortlach is less complex than the nose. Judging by the color, the cask didn’t seem all that active, but it did impair a lot of the woody notes, so it probably was an easy pick when considering bottling a younger Whisky. Hey, but it’s not all (soft) wood notes, there is also some coconut, nutty and creamy aroma’s. (something you can also find in some Glen Keith‘s matured in ex-Bourbon casks). It’s fruity as well. Medium nutty and creamy finish, with hints of cannabis (the first time around). With a medium bitter aftertaste giving the whole experience some backbone.

Mortlach is known as a dirty, meaty Sherried Whisky. However, this probably came from an American oak cask that previously held Bourbon. So does the meaty part come from the Sherry then? Well not entirely. Especially on the nose, the distillate, without the influence of (Oloroso or PX) Sherry casks, still shows a meaty aroma. Cold gravy I called it, and dirty. It doesn’t taste as a dirty meaty Mortlach to me though. Remarkably soft, and pretty decent overall, yet nothing special as well.

Points: 81

Caol Ila 11yo 1994/2005 (58.2%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, First Fill Sherry Butts #12423 & #12424)

I actually picked the 1990 Caol Ila and this 1994 Caol Ila, to compare Bourbon cask matured and Sherry cask matured young Caol Ila’s. However I don’t think the 1990 was aged in a Bourbon cask, but rather in a Fino or similar type of Sherry cask. However, American oak is probably the wood of choice for the 1990, and maybe the comparison with the two types of Sherry is maybe even a more interesting one. I’m a bit on thin ice here, since nowhere it is said in what kind of cask the 1990 has matured, nor is there any mention for both of what type of Sherry previously inhabited the casks.

Caol Ila 11yo 1994/2005 (58.2%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, First Fill Sherry Butts #12423 & #12424)Color: Slightly orangey gold.

Nose: Fatty and funky Sherry. Raisins and wax. Stale rainwater and some muddy peat. Peaty clay, not very fatty or round, as some might say. The raisins do remind me a bit of a Highland Park bottled by Gordon & MacPhail as well. Although that one is much, much darker, it is the same raisiny aroma. Probably the same kind of Sherry. Wood spice and salty smoke. Nice creamy wood, smoky licorice. Perfumy sandalwood and a buttery acidity. Creamy and slightly meaty. Burning candles. Enough happening in this one. Vanilla comes late, it is just overpowered by so many other elements in the nose. A nose from an old house at christmas.

Taste: Initial sweetness with some toffee. Lots of wood, slightly dry, but it is soothing and not harsh nor sour. Some sweet licorice again, with some dusty spice and Cappuccino. After the dusty part comes a woody and slightly acidic wine-note. A fruity acidity that doesn’t fit this Whisky. It makes all the tastes up ’till now, fight each other, instead of becoming a band of brothers. It is obvious that this Sherry didn’t integrate that well. Dries the lips. Finish has only a medium length and quite bit of an unbalanced aftertaste, an apply acidity, which is not entirely tasty if you ask me. The aftertaste ruins it a bit for me. I definitely prefer the previous Caol Ila.

It almost seems as if you can’t go wrong with Caol Ila. Let’s say this is from a Oloroso Sherry or even a PX, both are considered somewhat “normal” Sherries, by wine-people, and considered of a lesser quality then a Sherry that has matured under flor, a “hat” of fungus that grows on the surface of the Sherry. The hat prevents contact with air. The G&M Caol Ila I reviewed the day before yesterday, I believe came form such a Sherry. For me that is the superior one of the two. I do usually prefer Oloroso ageing, especially when it is a Whisky that was aged a while back. Good Oloroso Sherry matured in European oak, instead of the American oak preferred by the Sherry industry these days. Vanilla, people, Sherry drinkers prefer a more creamy Sherry these days. European oak also seems to need longer ageing, to deal with the tannins, and that is time we don’t seem to have…

Points: 80

J.M 11yo 2002/2014 Vieux Rhum Agricole “Millésime 2002” (46.3%, Bourbon Cask Matured, Martinique)

Reviewing the dirt cheap La Mauny “1749” already opened my eyes to Rhum Agricole from Martinique, but especially after reviewing the J.M XO, I started to really like the stuff. Followed quickly by the La Mauny XO. There is a difference in ABV though, the La Mauny is bottled at 40% ABV, and suffers from it, the J.M XO is bottled at 45% ABV, which seems to be a much better strength. Apart from the difference in ABV, I somehow clicked more with the taste of the J.M. Soon after, I went out and bought this 11yo J.M Millésime 2002. (Two of them actually, since I had high hopes for this one, and I got a pretty good deal on them as well). Aged in Jim Beam Bourbon casks, just like the XO, but almost twice the age. Having already tried the 2002, this time it’s not about comparing it to the XO, because both earn a place in any drinking collection. You know, a collection of bottles destined to be drunk, bottles that will be actually opened to be enjoyed. The XO is younger, has less depth but is also a high quality Rhum Agricole. Having said all that, I have to warn some people. A lot of (sweet) Rum drinkers are a bit put off when starting with Rhum Agricole. Its different. Just like heavily peated Whiskies differ from Bourbons and so on. Proceed with caution, acquire the taste, and if you put some effort into it, you’ll be rewarded with some great Rhums (If you choose wisely).

J.M 11yo Vieux Rhum Agricole Millésime 2002 (46.3%, Bourbon Cask Matured, Martinique)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fresh, half sweet and industrial. Wax. Red fruit sweetness and acidity. Cherries, dust and toffee. Soft wood and old leather. With some air more fresh leather combined with a little bit of clear glue. Ground roasted coffee that has been around for a while. Pecan nuts with a hint of cola, brown sugar and cane juice. Hints of menthol which leaves a long minty feel in your nose and throat (already after smelling, I haven’t tasted it yet). Hints of good oak aged Calvados.

Taste: Brown sugar and slightly burnt sugar and maybe even some cask toast. Starts with a small amount of sugary sweetness, but it quickly becomes more dry. Warm apple juice and Calvados (de Querville, the older ones). Leather and more notes of apple. Hints of licorice towards the end. Although this wasn’t reduced, the ABV is natural cask strength, this doesn’t have a very long finish. Medium finish which concentrates around the burnt sugar note combined with some bitter wood. Although the Rhum as a whole is very good, the finish lets it down a bit.

Wonderful Rhum with lots of complexity which releases layer upon layer. It great, but even better if you are patient with it, since it develops a lot in the glass. Great balance too. I have to say that the way I perceive the bitterness of the finish, has also a lot to do with me and the moment when I drink it. It’s more a digestif than an aperitif. The bitterness is less obvious in the evening, than it is in the morning, so don’t let this put you off, since the bitterness is in no way overpowering.

Points: 87

Glenallachie 11yo 1995/2007 (59.4%, The Scottish Liqueur Centre, Beinn a’Cheò, Bourbon Hogshead #33, 273 bottles)

And here is already the third Glenallachie of 2015. Earlier contenders for the Glenallachie award were a 2007 distillate of Dewar Rattray (83 Points), and not so long ago an 1995 offering from Kintra (82 Points), so both scoring low 80’s, which makes them nice, but not great in my book. This time around we’ll have a look at a Glenallachie bottled by The Scottish Liqueur Centre. Yes I know, they are not the most widely known independent bottlers around. The Scottish Liqueur Centre is owned by Morrison & Mackay. Still no bells ringing? What about one of their other brands: Carn Mor, surely you have heard about that! More recent bottlings of Beinn a’Cheo (mountain of mist) no longer have The Scottish Liqueur Centre on their labels, making Beinn a’Cheo a true brand of Morrison & Mackay, just like Carn Mor is.

Glenallachie 11yo 1995/2007 (59.4%, The Scottish Liqueur Centre, Beinn A'Cheò, Cask #33)Color: White wine.

Nose: Spicy and fruity and lots of other traits you know from typical Refill Bourbon casked high strength Whiskies. Remember all those Cadenhead bottlings? Fresh and slightly soapy. Old lavender soap, which only adds to the nose, not disturbing it. Whiffs of rural organics. And nice warm barley. Typical oak. Hints of vanilla from the American oak. When all that is out-of-the-way and the Whisky settles down in my glass, some nice fruits emerge along with a nice fatty creaminess. I won’t say it’s simple, but it is typical, well and it’s not really complex either. Not bad though. The oak really gets out when you warm it up in your hand. Wait a minute, warming it in your hand and giving it some time to breathe it really opens up. Finds balance. Nice fruit agian, but the sweeter fruits are now accompanied by citrus fruits. Sometimes this nose reminds me of Angostura 1919, a Rum.

Taste: Sweet. with almonds and fruit. Quite a surprise after the “typical” nose. This goes to show, that nosing isn’t everything. It’s sweeter than usual, but never crosses the line. However it’s sweet enough never to make it your daily drinker, the ABV is too high for that anyway. The wood is here too. Bit mocha and oak, milk chocolate. The wood forming a spine for the big sweet fruity body of the Whisky. Lovely stuff. I also like the almond that returns for the finish, although the oak plays a bigger part, turning herbal with air. After the heat passes your throat. The finish is nothing more than the fruity sweetness, some paper and overall “shortness”. The finish is definitely the weak part of this Glenallachie. Not a lot remains.

There is a lesson to be learned here. This is no spectacular Whisky when freshly opened. It’s closed and seems very simple. This is maybe thé example to let a Whisky breath to unlock its full potential. If you do, this ugly duckling turns out to be quite special after all.

Points: 86

Braeval 11yo 2001/2012 (46%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Spring/Winter, Sherry Cask, DMG 9312)

You don’t have to polish your glasses. So soon after the other Braeval and Braes of Glenlivet Whiskies I reviewed, yet another Braeval graces these pages. Yes, another independent bottling of Braeval. This should come as no surprise since the owners Pernod Ricard (Chivas Brothers) don’t do a lot with this brand either. More or less the same situation as Strathisla, which is owned by the same company. It seems to me all their energy flows into The Glenlivet and Aberlour and not a lot of faith exists in marketing Single Malts from these lesser known distilleries. Bacardi (John Dewar & Sons) which owns Aberfeldy, Craigellachie, Aultmore, Macduff, and Royal Brackla, have recently decided to market the Whiskies of all their distilleries with an age statement. Lets hope Pernod Ricard will follow suit.

Braeval 11yo 2001/2012 (46%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Sherry Cask, DMG 9312)Color: White wine. Not too pale.

Nose: Sweet, Bourbony and malty. Sweetish and pretty clean. Vanilla and pleasant oak. Spicy and leafy. Whiffs of latex paint and even slightly perfumy. Sometimes even vanilla ice-cream and Cappuccino. Becoming grassy over time, combined with a breath of fresh air. Not very outspoken though. 46% ABV is a decent strength, and since all aroma’s aren’t that outspoken I guess this didn’t benefit from reduction. Still a very agreeable nose.

Taste: Spicy and slightly (new) woody. Sweetish and lots of vanilla. American oak Sherry cask? Good balance. Good strength, but I’m sure this would be better undiluted, maybe that way it was too hot or just to plain strong for some. After some time the new wood and leafy note stays and combines with a little bit of barley with vanilla, mocha and vanilla ice-cream. Fresh forest after a rain shower, including the wet forest floor and mushrooms. Nice, innocent and anonymous.

Unlike both other examples of this distillery I reviewed before, this one has been reduced to 46% ABV. This example is also from this very decade and a bit younger than both others, so what does that do for this distillery? Well hard to tell actually since this isn’t a very complex malt. As all other Braevals, this is pretty good, yet this example is a bit anonymous. Reduction places it into the path of maybe less experienced drinkers, who still are a bit cautious with cask strength Whisky.

Points: 82

Dalmore 11yo 1999/2011 (57.2%, Kintra, Refill Sherry Butt #3079, 120 bottles)

Dalmore then. Not so long ago I reviewed the official Dalmore 12yo and rummaging through the ever-growing stock of samples, I found this almost 12yo Kintra bottling. If it was only given two extra months and two extra days, this too would have been 12 years old!

Dalmore was founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson but the Sunderland’s start distilling there. Soon after the MacKenzie brothers, Charles, Andrew and Alexander start to run the distillery. When Alexander Matheson dies in 1886, his successor sells the distillery to the MacKenzie brothers (1891). In 1917 the Royal Navy takes over and use the facility to make mines! After three years the Navy moves out and in 1922 the distillery is again up and running. In 1960 The MacKenzie brothers merge with White & Mackay and in 1990 White & Mackay were bought by American brands. In 2001 White and Mackay were sold again and called Kyndal spirits but the White & Mackay name returns a year later. In 2007 it is sold yet again to the United Breweries Group, an Indian conglomerate.

Dalmore 11yo 1999/2011 (57.2%, Kintra, Refill Sherry Butt #3079, 120 bottles)

Color: Light ocher gold

Nose: Big. Vanilla ice-cream and light wood, with some light menthol cigarette as well. Powdery and dusty. Cherries and Licorice. Horseradish. The wood is very perfumy. Definitely floral and perfumed soap. Strong aroma from a high strength Whisky. Half sweet, salty toffee with funky Fino or Manzanilla Sherry notes, but not as much as in other Fino matured Whiskies, so this might not be one. Red fruit hard candy drops and it does have a salty edge. Animalesk (cow dung) and soft wood. So enough happening on the nose.

Taste: Nice burn and quite sweet actually. Spicy sugared oak with white pepper, but also a sour oak note which turns into ripe black fruits. Quite a lot of wood. Coconut and maybe some peach. The horseradish returns and here it is less sharp but more sweet. Ahhh how nice it is to have a cask strength Whisky again. A breath of fresh air. Vanilla ice-cream returns for the finish. Otherwise the black fruits stay on so the funky sourness is there to stay too. Nice example to analyze like this. But the a word say it all. It is a Whisky you have to work with. If taken casually you won’t fully appreciate it, and maybe even won’t like. This needs your full attention and time.

Quite a nice development. It starts out pretty sweet, after which the wood shows itself. After that, the body collapses a bit to reform behind the lines to come back with a nice finish. Although not without its faults, the whole is quite nice and absolutely an experience. Nice how easy the development can be followed. The more it breathes the better it gets. Very nice pick Erik!

Points: 85