Ledaig 12yo 2008/2020 (45%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Wood Finished, Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 year finish in Hermitage Casks, 4440 bottles, 20/074)

The previous reviews have shown that the industry is getting the hang of how to successfully incorporate Red Wine Casks into the production of decent Whisky. The three Longrow Red’s reviewed last, were all pretty good. So maybe it’s time to have a look at a different example of this practice. But first this: for one reason or another, the interest in Springbank (and, Hazelburn and Longrow, but to a lesser extent as well), has skyrocketed in the past year of two. Maybe the best example is the latest rendition of the Springbank Local Barley over which people really went ape-shit, and really, there is no other way to put it, ape-shit indeed! Why is that, one might wonder, the colour, more money to spend because of the pandemic? In many markets this latest Local Barley was near impossible to get, and just have a look what people are willing to pay today for one of these at auction. It’s a 10yo! Even when Springbank Society is releasing a bottle these days, you have to enter a ballot! Even though costs have risen considerably across the world, due to Brexit, people are going ape-shit after those as well. Not only aficionado’s and fan’s but many bottle flippers as well, since most of these releases are readily available, in great numbers, I might add, at the next action. A few years back, Springbank Society didn’t even sell everything and you could get a second bottle without any problem. Times are a-changing.

So now that Springbank is often impossible to get (in a normal way), I tried to figure out what would be a nice alternative to Springbank. Well, that is a rather personal question, and the answer might differ from person to person. However I did come to some sort of a conclusion for myself, and figured out it is the peated distillate of Tobermory, we all know better as Ledaig. There are probably more alternatives one can think of, but let’s stick with Ledaig for now. First of all, Ledaig is getting better by the year, (they used to have a rather wonky reputation), it’s readily available, especially through independent bottlers, and it’s damn tasty stuff, even at a young age. I have bought quite a few Ledaig’s in the past year, so I could have, and probably will have it permanently represented on my lectern. So, Ledaig it is for now, and after three Longrow Red’s, here is a Hermitage Wine finished Ledaig. Hermitage is a French Red Wine from the northern Rhône region, made with Syrah grapes. Let’s see if this is really a worthy alternative for the Longrow Red’s. A final remark before digging in, this Gordon & MacPhail offering has been reduced to 45%, where the Longrow Red’s are bottled at cask strength, we’ll see if that matters much.

Color: Vibrant orange brown, like a bourbon. No pink Red Wine hue.

Nose: The bottle I’m reviewing now is less than half full, and this really needed to breathe a lot to get where it is now. When freshly opened, I was really disappointed, asking myself, is this it? Quite unbalanced. Yet today, it is another story altogether. Bonfire smoke and the fur of a wet dog, or maybe an animal with a more coarse fur, lets say wet bear then. Dried out cow dung in the middle of summer. Ledaig always has these “animalesk” notes to it. Fresh air with a whiff of paper and chlorine, this is not a bad thing, because it fits the whole. Smoke, nutty, winey, funky and sweet smelling fatty peat. Also licorice is present in this peat. There is a lot going on in this peat-bit alone. Some wood, nice laid back oak. Hints of fireworks (sulphur). The whole is dark and brooding based around great peat and smoke. Motor oil, coffee flavoured candy, and some vanilla. Creamy. Smallest hint of red fruits only, so the influence of the Red Wine casks is somewhat different to other Red Wine finished Whiskies. Partly floral. Yes after the big aroma’s played their part, a more floral note comes popping up from below. There is definitely a lot happening here. Many entirely different aroma’s come together in harmony. Nevertheless, this seems to me to be dirtier than your average Islay Malt, however I’m not entirely sure right now, if this dirtiness hails from Mull or Southern France, my guess would be the former. Good Ledaig again. Smoke, floral, soap and fresh fruit notes now. I can get used to this. So let people get ape-shit some more on the output of Campbeltown, we’ll join in occasionally, and apart from that, we’ll have Mull as our (dirty) little secret. Amazing how this managed to get from this unbalanced state when freshly opened to this harmonious and balanced Whisky it is now.

Taste: On entry, somewhat sweet (red fruit syrup, in part artificial), toffee, animalesk-peat, crushed beetle, ginger bread, caramel and nutty. With a slightly soapy slippery feel to it and woody bitterness for good measure. Amazingly this also has a little red pepper sting to it. Here, it is all slightly less big and powerful and it tastes somewhat diluted compared to the Red’s. I know there are a lot, and I really mean a lot, of cask strength Ledaig’s out there, but this one would benefit from some more ooomph as well. Still, it is what it is and it is a good Ledaig again. Way less complex here than it was on the nose. Hence less words are needed to describe the taste than the nose. Warming bonfire and cigarette ashtray in the finish and warming meaty aftertaste with coffee candy and surprisingly some mint. Very warming indeed.

First of all, this one definitely needs a long time to breathe and if you allow it to, you’ll be rewarded. Just leave the cork off for a day or two after opening, and repeat this process if necessary. Second, just like the Red’s, here we have another successful Red Wine cask finish. By the way, remember this Deanston? The reputation of Mull is growing and before you know it, (it might take a few years), it just might catch up with Campbeltown altogether. It’s a worthy alternative, and it is not more of the same. Luckily, even though the output of Springbank Distillery is very, very good. But we aficionado’s do like the differences that can be had. One minor gripe. Even though this is yet another good Whisky, the reduction to 45% ABV is very well noticeable. Historically these finishes were bottled by Gordon & MacPhail @ 45% ABV, but with the revamp of the different series they had, towards the “new” Connoisseurs Choice, maybe there should be some Cask Strength Wood Finishes as well?

Points: 86

This one is for Luke Todd-Wood, who recommended it to me, without even knowing. Cheers Luke, I guess you already finished your bottle by now!

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

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

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

Color: Pale White Wine.

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

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

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

Points: 89

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

Caol Ila 10yo 2005/2017 (54.0%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel #301553, for Vinotek Massen Luxembourg, 210 bottles, 170927)

Funny how things can go. When I posted the review of Caol Ila #301535 a month ago, I didn’t even have this #301553. I have posted two Tamdhu’s, and I already was well underway with the next tandem of Malts, why not write some reviews in pairs, adding the possibility of comparison one to the other? Nope no spoiler alert needed, you’ll just have to wait and see what comes next. I can only reveal that the next tandem will make for a very interesting comparison. Next, the sound of the doorbell ringing…twice…because the postman always rings twice*, and she brings me my latest auction winnings. One of which is the sister cask of #301535: #301553. So with some further ado, I present you the Caol Ila that went to Luxembourg. Thus, here’s the final ado: Just like the other one, we know the exact distillation date: 21-02-2005 (back label), which is the same day as this one, so the distillate is exactly the same, but, (spoiler alert), the outcome isn’t ! We also know the exact bottling date: 07-08-2017 (printed on the glass), so this Malt is almost 12.5 years old, and aged for almost 25% longer than the previous one. Onwards with the review now Quill, stop your ado-ing!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft peat. Very perfumy, distant hint of coffee and plastics (only when freshly poured, the plastics will be gone soon). Big. Wood, mocha and milk chocolate. Warm. Underneath quite fruity and on top a breath of fresh cold air (after the rain). Moderate fatty peat, crushed beetles and some really nice smoky characteristics, almost not Caol Ila-like and to me this smells like an exceptional cask. Everything is in its right place, and it hits all the right spots. It is really wonderful already, complex and already shows some nice development in my glass. Initially quite sharp. Wood, but not your usual oak, but more like wood lying in a forest. Mild yellow fruits with a promise of fruity sweetness. Apples, mint and meat. In this version of Caol Ila there is this soft layer of smoke that always hangs over it, like smoke or clouds in the sky. Well balanced Malt. Smells more adult than the aforementioned sister cask, and that one already had a stunning nose. Since this is exactly the same distillate, did the 2.5 years more make such a difference or is there more to it? As Gordon & MacPhail already tried to tell us earlier, does the wood make the Whisky? I’m smelling this for a while now, without tasting it, and this really develops in my glass big time! If this is as good to taste as the nose is right now, than we’re in for a real treat. I’m giving this one much time, since this is a freshly opened bottle. What a wonderful, well aged nose this is. One might expected this to be from a similar barrel as its sister cask, but it doesn’t have to be. If so, these must have been some well selected staves then. A cooper with a keen eye, knowing what to pick? This one really smells a lot better, it really is remarkable. More details, better defined and better development. Where #301535 dulled down when smelling for a while, and remember, it was a good one to boot, this #301553 just never stops performing. Amazing!

Taste: Wow, initially very soft on entry (the other one was softer and definitely soapier, here most, not all, of the soapy bit is replaced by a sweet fruity bit). Peppery and spicy smoke and strong going down, and then turning soft again, and again sweet. Sweet cardboard and paper notes. White pepper and yellow fruits. Sweetish and cold ashes from the fireplace come first. Nutty and fruity, but as I said, lots of ashes. I have to give it some more time, but it seems to me to be different from its sister cask, it is also a bit different than I expected considering the nose. Surely this must be from another line of Barrels? The middle part is fruity and accessible, but towards the finish more ashes, paper and a wood-bitter note. Although the finish is of medium length. It is warming, somewhat soapy (at times) and leaves for a nice, nutty and woody aftertaste. Much better balanced than its sister cask if you ask me. Benefits from the warmth of your hand when breathing, but never really lives up to the amazing level of the nose, but it is still better than its aforementioned sister cask. Especially if you warm this one up in your hands.

When this was sold in Luxembourg it was quite cheap especially considering the quality this Malt possesses. I paid a bit more than the initial price at auction, but still feel I got a good deal. Later I found out that the quality of this particular example is well known in circles of anoraks and aficionado’s and bids can be even (much) higher than my final bid. First of all, this Luxembourg edition surpasses the already good nose of the Belgium edition. It is quite amazing in fact, look how the nose changes and even unlocks another dimension after a few sips. In the taste Luxembourg seems a bit sharper and more complex, less soapy with even more ripe fruits. After #301535, I was not sure about getting a similar bottling, 84 points is good, but not that good. I read somewhere, this one was better and in the end I couldn’t help myself. If given the chance, I bid on two, and that way often securing just one or none even, because one or more of you often overbids me in the last minute, but this time no one did and I got both. In hindsight: Yey!

Amazing how medicinal the empty glass smells the next day. Extreme. The empty glass of the other one smells different. Both seem to have some pine resin, which wasn’t there before. The empty Luxembourg one smells more like a sauna now. How’s that for complexity.

Points: 88 (the nose, if scored by itself, would score well into the 90’s)

* Final ado: I was lying earlier, from where I’m sitting, I can’t even hear the doorbell, the sound is too soft.

Monymusk 12yo 2003/2015 (46%, Kill Devil, 309 bottles, L15 008 PB, Jamaica)

After the Moka Intense, why not try another Rum while we’re at it. Lance was nudging me in the ribs for quite some time and I started to feel a bit sore and guilty actually for letting him down for so long! Yesureebob! This time I’m going to have a look at a bottle of Rum I bought when visiting the U.K. a few years back. When visiting one of my favorite retailers, I found three different Kill Devil Jamaican Rums. Kill Devil is the Rum brand of Hunter Laing, best known as an Independent Whisky bottler. Maybe Old Malt Cask rings a bell? For reasons I really can’t remember now, I chose this one to be the first of the three to open.

Monymusk, for Whisky-people at least, maybe known as a Scottish village. It isn’t even a Jamaican distillery. Monymusk in fact, is the sugar factory next to the big and modern Clarendon Distillery and name giver to this “brand” of Rum. So Monymusk is made at the Clarendon distillery, which is owned by NRJ (National Rums of Jamaica) and Diageo (for Captain Morgan). NRJ itself, is owned by the National Sugar Company (Jamaican Government), Maison Ferrand (of Plantation Rum fame) and Demerara Distillers Limited (we know for El Dorado Rums). What a partnership! Imagine being invited to a party thrown by these people! I imagine a very sweaty Caribbean night indeed. By the way, NRJ also owns the Long Pond distillery and the now defunct Innswood distillery, which is now used for aging casks. After WWII (in 1949 to be exact), Clarendon was built with Pot Stills and much later (somewhere around 2009) the modern addition was made, housing Column Stills. Since our Monymusk was distilled in 2003, we know which stills “did it”…

Color: Straw.

Nose: Ahhh, Jamaican Funk, with dust and vanilla powder, yet also extremely fresh. Big and grassy. Mocha and milk chocolate. Old leather. Almonds and a lemon and lime peel note in the back, maybe even some orange peel, but to a lesser extent. Whiffs of gun-powder occasionally fly past, as well as a different burnt note, more like well roasted meat, roasted (not burnt) to a crisp. More almonds and ear wax. What I quite like is the citrus combined with the thick Jamaican funk, well maybe not that thick, not very thick at all actually. This is more like funk light. Jamaican funkette. Its there but balanced out by a fresh beach/sea note and obviously the citrussy aromas which combine very nicely. Some nice soft wood washes ashore (along with some paper). A light Monymusk, but quite balanced and appealing. Easy going and all is well integrated. Don’t confuse lightness with reduction to 46% ABV. Even cask strength Rums can be light, and this Monymusk surely was probably light in its cask strength form as well.

Taste: Waxy and funky. Short sweetish and nutty burst that washes down quickly. Paper and cardboard followed by a sweet honeyed note and some licorice, finishing the first sip off with a medium pepper attack. Warming. Second time around, more wood is showing and the paper/cardboard note returns as well. More bitter this time, bitterness from wood and again this ear wax aroma. Green and spicy and also a bit minty. Laurel licorice, that’s it! Given more time, some sweeter notes do appear. Sweetish cold black tea with more almonds and dried out yellow fruits. Dry pineapple comes to mind. Since there isn’t actually that much wood (apart from the bitter notes), I’m guessing this wasn’t a very active cask otherwise. Light color and the weak finish also tell some tales. After a while some medium bitter, waxy and sometimes even industrial notes appear, which takes away from the balance a bit. After some breathing, it’s also dryer than expected. The Jamaican funkette seems to have taken a back seat, or maybe found it’s way all back into the boot/trunk (or the trailer for that matter). Not a long finish actually, similar in lightness, to the Cadenhead Epris I reviewed earlier (only in lightness mind you, the similarity ends there). Light aftertaste, but not much at all. Although the laurel licorice seems to have some staying power.

Although not the world’s most powerful Monymusk, it has good drinkability. Definitely a better nose than taste. The body falls down a bit, and it is also a bit weak in the finish and aftertaste. The nose was better balanced as well, but hey, no real off-notes. It is a decent Jamaican Rum, but also nothing more than that. There are many better offerings of Monymusk to be found, and if you already bought this, you’ll have no problem finishing it. I haven’t. Yes, quite light in style, which is OK and reduced in ABV as well, which maybe somewhat less OK to be honest. I wonder how this was at cask strength although you really can’t make up for quality that way, but I’m sure in this case it would surely have helped a bit.

Clarendon can make a lot of different marks, from light to very, very, very heavy (lots and lots of esters), so from such an uninformative label as Kill Devil has, you never know what you’re gonna get. You don’t say, Forest! Its Jamaican and its Monymusk, but that’s about it. Excellent introduction to the Jamaican Rum-style if you’re a novice, although I do wonder if a novice would go for a Kill Devil bottle to boot or any other independent bottler? I don’t know. Entry-level it is not, but definitely second tier. Maybe Hunter Laing (and the others) should not reduce Rums at all, we well experienced (Rum) drinkers and anoraks are willing to pay more for a cask strength Rum. Yes we do, don’t we Lance?

Points: 82

Tormore 12yo 2004/2017 (59.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, First Fill Bourbon Barrels #901 & 902)

Sometimes less obvious Whiskies just hit the right spot with the drinker. No big names, no big marketing ploy. Usually these are workhorse Whiskies originally meant for blends. Just like Inchgower (I just reviewed this 1998 bottled by Gordon & MacPhail as well) is mainly used in three well known blends. White Horse, Bell’s and Johnny Walker. Teaninich is another right-spot Whisky for me, but there are more. Tormore is one of those right-spot Whiskies as well (and used in several blends too). Tormore has a profile I rarely encounter elsewhere. Sometimes funky or even sulphury, sometimes industrial and frequently metallic. It doesn’t seem right, but it is most definitely not wrong either.

So what is it about Tormore? Maybe it is safest just to call it an acquired taste? Sure, I’m the first to admit that the markers I mentioned above don’t sound all that appetizing, but for me the strange profile works wonders. It broadens the horizon a bit, if you will. Entertaining and interesting. Unique and a bit strange. I first had this click with an metallic and industrial Tormore from the hot 13yo Cadenhead’s bottling I reviewed quite a while back. Tormore may not be entirely for novices, I’m sure it isn’t, but I found that people who are “doing” Whisky for a longer time, secretly have a soft spot for this Malt! I’m so curious now, I can hardly wait to take a sip…

Color: Very light gold, White Wine.

Nose: Cereal, barley, wood and strange enough, since this is coming from Bourbon barrels, some sulphur, but a nice light sulphur it is. Warming, funky, almost like a nice smelling fart. Don’t be offended, you’ve been there, admit it. There is another association I have with this smell. When growing up near a rural area I used to poke a stick into the bottom of a pond or stream, and the sulphury bits of this Tormore remind me of the bubbles coming up. Just like previous Tormore’s, it’s also metallic and nicely spicy. Funny when Tormore just seems dead wrong, it still is right (for me). It’s a bit off (or is it just different), but I just like it. Old dusty vanilla and fresh citrus notes. Ginger. Dry vanilla powder. One moment perfumy and chic. Fireworks and striking matches the next. (including the gas-passing, mentioned above). So, when did you have that last in a Whisky? The “off” notes, wear off a bit, showing more of the fruits and ginger underneath. Zesty, fresh and citrussy and still this huge breath of fresh air. When smelled vigorously, a meaty note comes to the fore. After a longer while, old furniture pops up. Dusty old furniture. My minds eye sees this old furniture, lit by a ray of sunlight falling into the attic through a small round window. My god what a nice farty, complex and interesting philosophical Whisky this is!

Taste: Quite sweet on entry. Fatty and creamy. Toffee and vanilla ice cream. All these creamy notes are masking the high ABV, because in no way does this taste like a near 60% ABV Whisky to me. Big and bold. Spicy, stingy, but then this soft, cloaking, toffee layer takes away the pain. Milk chocolate, mocha flavoured cream. You can sense that there is wood and there is most definitely quite some bitterness present, but the big, bold and creamy aroma’s just don’t let it all through, well sometimes it does. Alas, not as complex as the nose, but tasty nevertheless. Sugared mint towards the finish. I’ll even throw in the chocolate again, to make it an after eight type of experience. Hints of ashes, mere hints only. Cow manure (this is the sulphur talking again, showing one of its guises), mint, toffee and caramel, without being overly sweet. What a nice Whisky. The longer you keep this in your glass the more the mint excels. The bitterness turns out to have some longevity to it though. Luckily it is not too much.

In ways even science can’t wholly explain, I manage to have a soft spot for Tormore, and this example is no exception. But buyer beware, this is me and you are you, you might dislike it as much as I like it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I think it is wonderful in its uniqueness and for me, one to relax, recline a bit and watch a good looking and good sounding version of the Matrix. This Tormore somehow has the same feel as this movie…

Points: 87

Kilkerran 12yo (46%, OB, 70% Bourbon Casks, 30% Sherry Casks, 16/468)

After many WIP’s, Works in Progress, 2016 finally saw the release of the official 12yo. As far as I know there were four, 700 ml batches released in 2016 (16/316, 16/326, 16/363 and 16/468), and one 750 ml batch. The one I’ll be reviewing here should be the fourth, and last, 700 ml batch released in 2016. Earlier I reviewed two WIP’s. First the grey WIP #2 from 2010 (6yo) and the green WIP #3 from 2011 (7yo). Thus fast forward to this 12yo. Both WIP’s were amazing and just like the Bruichladdich 2007 Islay Barley, I reviewed last, perfect examples that good Whisky doesn’t need to have to have heaps of age. Amazing young stuff is coming out these days. The future still looks bright if you can accept the change…

Color: Straw pale gold.

Nose: Definitely some autumn-like-peat happening here. Fatty, floral, green and lots of summery and fresh yellow fruits. Sweet and acidic. Nice waxy, slightly smoky, edge accompanied with nice wet and dry oaky aroma’s. All well-integrated (now). Kilkerran, just like most other Whiskies from the people of  Springbank, needs to breathe a lot. Freshly opened, I was quite disappointed with this one, lacking depth concentrating on all the wrong flavours and overall not very nice to drink, and that’s saying something, since I love the output from Campbeltown. At the time of writing my bottle is half-full (or half empty if you are a pessimist), and the change is remarkable. Coal and some tarry bits, unbelievable it got this well-balanced and downright delicious, after the more than poor start. Peaches and smoked pepper. Excellent stuff.

Taste: Sweet entry with yellow fruits in sweet yoghurt. White Peaches and old dried apricots. Smoke in the back of my mouth and again after extensive breathing so remarkably tight, big and balanced. All fits together quite well. A bit less complex than the nose was, but it makes up for this “simplicity” with big and luscious aroma’s. Green, and nutty (from the 30% matured in Sherry casks). Again a typical example of a bottle that won’t be around for long on my lectern. It’s not without its flaws, mind you. It hasn’t got the strongest finish. The finish is a bit thin, or seems thin after the big body, and falls apart a bit. Aftertaste reprises the big body with a creamy, vanilla feel to it.

So give it lots of time to breathe. Big from the start, big body, complex nose, a somewhat simpler taste with a medium to weak finish. Still nice and recommendable. I will most definitely pick up another 12yo after a few years to see what they’ve done with it, as well as other Kilkerran releases.

Points: 86

The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2016)

Remember Master Quill’s Highland Park Week? Remember day two? I went completely bonkers by reviewing a different batch of a recent Highland Park 18yo. Why would one do that when they are supposed to be quite similar? First I reviewed a 2012 batch and a bit later I reviewed a 2014 batch. We all know the industry is always insuring consistency between different batches. Consistency is the magic word, and at least in color, and color only (or so they say), consistency is achieved by adding caramel coloring. If you read both Highland Park 18yo reviews you’ll see there is quite a difference between both batches. The difference being five points! My last two Balvenie reviews were also of two different batches of the 12yo Doublewood. First I reviewed a 2014 batch and a bit later I reviewed a 2004 batch. I found that even though the batches were ten years apart, at least quality-wise, the difference was not that great, although the 2014 showed that some Sherry-influence was traded in by sweetness. The difference being only one point.

This triggered a response of Nico, one of my readers claiming there is a larger negative shift in the quality of his 2016 batch Balvenie 12 Doublewood. He invited me over try find out for myself. Well, Master Quill is an adventurous guy, so an appointment was made, and I drove over, but not without a bottle of a very early Balvenie 21yo Portwood in my bag and this 17yo. After a very nice dinner with white gold (asparagus) and a wonderful piece of salmon, the Balvenie tasting begun…

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Sweet Sherry on a bed of sugared yellow fruits. Caramel and toffee sweetness, but this time with lots of fruits and even a floral bouquet. Extremely friendly and accessible, but strange enough it also reminds me a bit of a sugared Rum. Vanilla from American oak. Cereal and oat cookies. All seems to blend well together, it’s almost one big aroma. No off notes, but you have to work on it to detect some separation between the different constituents of the aroma. I’m missing some wood actually. The chewy sweetness seems to hide it. Hints of warm (not burnt) plastic and some toasted wood and cardboard. Smells you get when ironing clothes. Hey, there is the wood-word! Hint of cherries. But yes, there is a blanket of dumbing “sweetness”, dulling the whole. Initially its friendly and likable, but there is also something not quite right. Maybe dull is a word I should use again?

Taste: After Nico’s notes, I expected it to be sweeter, but that’s how expectations work. Still, it has the taste of sugar-water. Worse, the same is noticeable as in the nose. It seems to be some sort of mono-aroma. When I was a member of the Malt Maniacs we encountered this “effect” when adding caramel coloring (E150-a) to four otherwise unadulterated Whiskies (link below). It shaves off highs and lows from the original Single Malt Whisky, making it taste more like a Blended Whisky. When the Whisky is entering my mouth, al seems to be ok, but the body already starts to disintegrate right after that, focussing on an oaky and acidic note. Later the cereal and sweaty cookie notes make a short appearance. Again no separation between the aroma’s. Short finish and no aftertaste worth mentioning. Well cookies, smelly socks maybe and something burnt. Toasted White Wine cask. This is not good. Unbalanced. Whisky like this is no fun. Avoid. (I washed the taste down with the wrong batch of Highland Park 18 (82 points), and that was (now) amazing, at least it smelled amazing…

I could deal with the sweetness. I guess I don’t think it is as sweet as Nico mentions, but I was surprised with the mono-aroma, the complete lack of complexity and development and the quick break-down. I believe this has definitely suffered from too much added caramel. It has all the life squeezed out of it. The nose sort of shows what kind of Whisky this used to be/could have been. Claiming adding caramel does nothing but changeling the color is pretty ignorant. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to conduct your own caramel experiment and see (taste) for yourself.

Points: 72 (eleven whopping points below the 2014 batch and ten whopping points lower than the wrong batch of Highland park 18yo)

Thanks go out to Nico for obvious reasons, and Michel again for the excellent E-pistle.

Don José 12yo 2003/2015 (53.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 012, 252 bottles, Panama)

Don José you might ask? “I know only of Panamanian Rums called Abuelo”. Well, Don José is the distillery owned by Varela Hermanos. Abuelo is a Panamanian Rum brand owned by…Varela Hermanos. You do the math. Earlier I reviewed a very nice Rhum from Guadeloupe bottled by Isla del Ron, The Rum outlet of Thomas Euers, Whisky people know better from his independently bottled Whiskies under his Malts of Scotland label. Both the Rums from Abuelo, and the Isla del Ron label, need no further introduction, so why waste any more words on this introduction when both need no introduction? In case you’re wondering, the introduction is now over.

Don José 12yo 2003/2015 (53.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 012, 252 bottles, Panama)Color: Gold.

Nose: Thick and cloying. Extremely creamy. Cream, vanilla pudding. Vanilla ic-cream and butterscotch. Yes this is an Abuelo all right, but it’s also different. Next come some hints of old, dried out leather and even Whisky. Dust and a pronounced woody backbone, add some balance to the overly creamy nose. I also get an edge of paper, right next to the wood. Oak, paper and powdered aspirin. Had I nosed this blind, and after some breathing, I might not have guessed this was an Abuelo though, because it reminds me now even more of Foursquare. Doorly’s 12yo for example. (…so I pulled up the Doorly’s 12yo and had a sniff. Yep quite similar at first, although the Doorly’s has an additional winey note, and is less creamy. The similarities are becoming less obvious, when the Doorly’s gets some time to breathe and develops in the glass. It develops even more of the acidity mentioned earlier than the “Abuelo”, go figure).

Taste: Yeah now we’re talking. Always wanted to know how an Abuelo would taste at a higher strength, well, here is your chance. Definitely less creamy than the official outings. And guess what, and you might want to read my other reviews of Abuelo, this one doesn’t have the discrepant fruity acidity on top. Again notes of paper, cardboard and quite some wood and burned wood. Those notes add some bitterness to the whole. Almonds. By the way, it is slightly soapy as well, and has a slightly (bitter) Beer-like finish. Now you don’t get that in a regular Abuelo now, don’t you. The bitterness does however dominate the aftertaste. Surprising.

Again, like with many Abuelo’s, something seems to be not quite right, and I mean it suffers a bit in the “balance” department. Usually it is the fruity acidity that doesn’t reach the synergy needed, but this time it is a less fruity and a more waxy note that seems to be a bit off and unwilling to cooperate. Nevertheless this is a minor fault compared to the acidity-problem in other Abuelo’s. This particular expression is all about the wood. You can say it its wood driven and has this quite unusual bitterness. Is that bad? Well, it’s not overpowering, so it doesn’t ruin the Rum, it is quite upfront, so if you like your woods, you are going prefer this one over the regular Abuelo’s, that’s for sure. It has a higher ABV, and you do notice that, but not as much as expected. I don’t find it hot or too high in alcohol. Nope, it’s still quite easily drinkable.

Points: 83

De nuevo muchas gracias señor Rik!

The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2004)

It has been 15 months since I last reviewed a Balvenie on these pages, and how convenient now, that is was also a 12yo Doublewood. However, the previous review was about a Doublewood bottled in 2014 and here we have an example of the same Whisky, the only difference being, that was bottled a decade earlier, 2004. You never know, but I think I know which one will be better…

the-balvenie-12yo-doublewood-2004Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Spicy Sherry notes, bursting with aroma. Deep honeyed layers somewhat reminiscent of Bourbon. Nice oaky feel, combined with some hints of vanilla, warm butter, hot gravy, cardboard and paper. Vegetal and slightly dusty. Definitely some sweet barley notes underneath, accompanied by soe sweet/acid red fruit notes. Candied cherries, waxy red apple skins and meaty Sherry. Very much Sherry driven but the underlying Bourbon notes are a good match as well. Excellent big nose, with all aroma’s well integrated. wow. This brings back memories from when I first started to drink Single Malt Whisky. One thing is certain, the entry-level Whiskies form a decade ago were different from (the same) entry-level Whiskies of today.

Taste: The start is creamy and buttery. Pudding and custard. Next come the drier woody bits. Sawdust and oak. Slightly warming but also a bit too thin.The wood gives it a bitter edge. The Sherry aroma’s must be rather heavy since they come a bit late to the party. And here they are. Somewhat dark and brooding and slightly syrupy. But no doom and gloom, because on top there is a fresher and more acidic fruity note as well. Hints of warm apple sauce, which is very much different from the apple skins I got in the nose. Waxy with hints of Calvados. Towards the finish it starts to break down a bit. The waxy sweetness stays behind the longest, as, for a while, does the bitter edge (pencil shavings), but the distinct aroma’s merge first and then fade away…

Wonderful stuff brought down a bit by the 40% ABV. Should have been higher. Nevertheless, you don’t hear me complaining because it is big enough to overcome the 40% ABV. Very nice stuff especially the start. It tastes best right upon entry. It’s still going strong when it develops in your mouth, but loses grip a bit when finishing. At least a medium finish, but the overall aroma stays behind for quite a while with a nice and warming quality to it.

Points: 84

Springbank 12yo “Cask Strength” (52.3%, OB, Batch 8, 14/12)

I got this, put it on my lectern, opened it and drank it. That is more or less what happened to it. Sometimes when I believe a Whisky I have open will be needed for future comparison, (to other batches in this case), I take a sample from it and put it in my archive. I had a few drops left in the bottle so I already opened its replacement the 17yo Sherry Wood. When writing the review of this 17yo, I wanted to compare that one to this Cask Strength Batch 8, so I tried to pull up the review of that one, just to find out it didn’t exist. I liked this one so much, I drank it all before ik could write the review! So, out comes this sample I just drew for future reference, not knowing “the future” would descend upon us so soon!

Springbank 12yo Batch 8Color: Light orange gold.

Nose: Meaty and somewhat closed. Waxy and slightly rough. Lots of American oak vanilla. Tar and coal dust. Bourbon vanilla and custard. It also has the fruitiness Springbank gets from using Sherry casks. So its easy to detect it is a blend of both kinds of casks. No secret in this, because probably all expressions of the 12yo Cask Strength are blends of both types of cask. Meaty Sherry notes with a tiny hint of sulphur (matches), but also a breath of something fresher, to all those heavy aromas whiffs by. Nice Springbank peat is also present. Quite sweet and fruity and some paper. Bigger on its aromas, but slightly less complex than older siblings.

Taste: Initially big sweet and waxy. Nice (bitter) wood and again the paper-like quality and a tiny hint of smoke. Sugared almonds and a little sting of peat, aided by the higher ABV, than the 46% of most other Springbanks. The smoke is gone and for the rest of the journey we are accompanied by peat. Not too much though, just enough. When the first sip travels down, more vegetal notes appear. As well as a slight burnt note. The taste seems more about Sherry casks, than it is about Bourbon casks. This doesn’t have to mean that more Sherry casks were used for Batch 8, but the Sherry aromas are dominating. It has a sort of anonymous fruity profile. Red fruits, yes maybe, sugared yellow fruits, yep, probably present as well. Which fruits? Hard to tell actually. Towards the end of the body, before the finish, a slight unbalance happens. Where older Springbanks hold it together, here it shows its relative youth. Still this is a wonderful malt. This finish has all of the body and underlines the wood a bit. It comes as no surprise the finish has pretty good length, wood first, peat next, and in no way as creamy as in the start.

This comes from a now finished bottle, and I have to say, it got better over time. This is one that really needed some time to breathe. I remember being a bit disappointed when I first opened this one. I had just finished the eighteen year old also bottled in 2014, and definitely liked that one better. I really love and adore this one now, but can’t help but feel, that Springbanks need to age a while longer. Comparing this to the 17yo Sherry Wood and the 2014 18yo, you can see the older ones have more matured aromas to them adding to their complexity. With a 12yo Springbank you get a fantastic Whisky which for the quality you get is quite affordable. Sure, you pay a bit more for the 17yo and the 18yo, but you also get more imho. More aroma and definitely more complexity. Having said that, the 12yo Cask Strength series is a wonderful series especially at the prices Springbank are selling it for.

Top tip: Let this breathe, let it breathe in the bottle, (try storing it for a week or so without the cork on it), and let it breathe in your glass. Don’t be hasty with it and if you do you will certainly be rewarded.

Points: 88