The Benriach 18yo “Albariza” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Pedro Ximénez Finish. 3886 bottles, 2015)

2015 saw the release of the first of a trio of a brand new limited production series, “Albariza”, which was finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. I missed out on that one at first, so I started with the second one called “Dunder“, a Dark Rum Finish, which I got upon its release. After buying the final release of the trio, “Latada”, finished in Madeira casks, Master Quill got busy and bought himself Albariza at a well-known German Whisky-auction, to complete the trio. So after the second one, it is now time to get back to the beginning and try this Albariza before finishing off this series with the Latada in the near future. I still have the Dunder around for comparison, but sadly there is not much left. What to do when the time comes to review Latada?

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Nice clean peat. Different from fatty Islay peated Whiskies, but very nice aromatics nevertheless. Breaths of fresh air and warm glue, with peat, peat and peat. Where is the PX? Just like Dunder this seems to be a bottling that has heaps of peat. It’s more about the peat than the particular finish. Maybe this has to breathe a bit more in my glass. Easy does it, be patient. After cleaning MQ’s lectern, and reorganizing the bottles a bit, I came back after some breathing. Well, it changed. Christmas spices, red fruits and black coal fire. More deep and brooding. Hints of sweetness and syrup have been added. So, fruit seems to wiggle its way in, how cute. Very strong aromatics, with sharp (peat) smoke right up my nose, opening it up for easier breathing. Nice fatty, big and dirty. Nice complexity, with a borderline classic peat-smell. Nice syrupy sweetness en fruitiness, but like Dunder this is primarily a Peated Whisky, yet, finished with taste. More than excellent nose if you ask me. Let it breathe.

Taste: I can feel the (sweet) PX when I sip this, the (thin) syrupy texture is there, but before you can taste it, the tarry peat slams it down with a vengeance. Well, almost. Maybe the words are a bit strong. This is definitely a Peated Whisky for sure! Second sip, again PX tries, but more like an engine that won’t start. For these three Whiskies I feel the focus of the naming and the labels, and the text written on it, is wrongly on the cask the Whisky was finished in, but should have been on the peat. Never mind that. Sure its peaty, but the finishes do add something to the whole, and good for us, they merely add, not overpower it. As I said before, finishing done with taste. If you let it breathe for a while, the Whisky gains more balance and the finish shows itself a bit more. Less peat, more smoke that way. More coal, licorice and a taste that brings images to my mind of crushed beetle. This is finishing done right. Excellent stuff and an example that it doesn’t have to be Oloroso alone, considering dark Sherries. PX has something to bring to the tabel as well. Just don’t over do it! Finish is great and of medium length. Aftertaste is short, and a bit too sweet, seems dissonant from the whole experience. If this sweetness would have been replaced by black fruits, this could have been one of the best bottlings from this decade.

Albariza is a very chalky soil, so how to taste this terroir, when the peat overpowers it all? Even in the taste it’s hard to find the PX directly. Again some more breathing is necessary. Dark chocolate and after a while a more sweeter note comes around, together with some ashes. Flint and a slightly burnt Sherry cask note with a hint of christmas again. liquorice in the finish and the sweetness manages to stay around for longer. Here the PX finally emerges.

When entering a shop, I never had a lot of interest in “newer” Benriachs. Some of the standard bottlings were ok, but not more than that and the rest were almost all finishes of some kind with labels in strange colours, looking like a bunch of skittles. However peated Benriach tastefully finished seemed something different, so this series sold very well, and sold out quickly as well. This year (2018) saw the release of the 22yo versions of “Albariza”, “Dunder” and “Latada” at what looks at first quite a hefty price, but then again, not a terrible lot more than these three 18yo’s fetch at auction today. I was already quite impressed with “Dunder” and this “Albariza” is in the same league as well, so I’m sure the 22yo’s will be pretty good as well. If only they would be higher in ABV and less expensive…

Points: 89

“Albariza” is darker and warmer and definitely different from “Dunder”, which is nutty, sweetish and funky. Where the peat subdued, making it more elegant, and the smoke is now more prevailing. I’m assuming since all three Benriachs matured in Bourbon casks first that they were pretty similar before entering the casks they were finished in. What’s similar as well is the peat part. The peat smells the same in both, so that corroborates my assumption. “Albariza” is bigger as well  “Dunder” is lighter and easily recognizable as a Rum cask finish. Rum casks gives off very specific aroma’s, both in the nose and on the palate. “Dunder” is now finished, so it tells you the bottle had plenty of time to breathe. Oxygen did bring out the aroma’s over time, so I’m guessing “Albariza” will change over time as well.

If you’re interested, here is some background on what Albariza actually is by Whisky’s (and Sherry’s) own, Ruben.

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Linlithgow 18yo 1982/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Vintage Collection, Cask #3002, 472 bottles)

Here we have a rather “young” Linlithgow, a.k.a. St. Magdalene. I really, really loved the extremely layered St. Magdalene 19yo, that was released three years prior to this one, so when this came out in 2001, I snapped up a few, expecting a similar experience to the one year older and cask strength expression mentioned above. Hey it was reduced a bit, and only one year older, so it could happen, and it was half the price of the 19yo! At the time, Whiskies from the Vintage Collection were never expensive, as was the case with this one. They sold this at the price of what a Springbank 10yo sells for today. Remember, even in 2001 this was already a closed distillery, so go figure. It was a different Whisky world back then. If I look around the net today retail price for this one is £699,-, and if you read this in 2025 it will probably be even higher, or have we all moved on to something else? If that is the case, why are you even reading about an old Whisky nobody cares for anymore?

Color: Pale gold, straw.

Nose: Extremely malty. hints of sugar-water and ear wax. Fruity and grassy. A Lowlander alright. A breath of fresh air. Toned down, almost shy, but don’t think this is light, because it’s not. It shows quite some aroma. The quiet (big) guy in your class, but you already know there is more to it than meets the nose. Yellow fruits and whiffs of American oak, It is definitely something from the past. Somehow Whiskies today aren’t like this anymore. Its like sitting alone in a field, middle of summer, nothing more than crickets and almost inaudible distant sounds of the rest of the world. Life is beautiful. Hints of cold butter and hay. Warm wood and a bit of old vanilla. Definitely not as multi-layered as the Rare Malts bottling mentioned above, and it hasn’t its evolution either. This is more straightforward and shy (again). Perfectly balanced nose. It got plenty of time to breathe and it can handle the air. No worries then of oxidation. By the nose alone another great example of the variety of St. Magdalene. Closing this distillery is a real loss, and this one is not coming back, so what you are holding in your glass is a piece of history, hence the hefty price-tag.

Taste: Sweet on entry. Malty, barley sugar. Slightly warming. Paper and cardboard. Creamy, with toffee on entry but it gets thinner towards the finish. Lots of fruits emerging at different moment when you keep it in your mouth, making for a sweetish, fruity, friendly Whisky. Only a slight bitterness reminiscent of toasted wood emerges. Less “big” than the nose suggested. In comparison to other Whiskies from this distillery, this might be a rather simple expression, (is it?), but still it oozes something special. Memories of black coal, and motor oil. If so, this can only have trace amounts noticeable, because in essence it is a sweet fruity Whisky. Simple, maybe, but it rewards you with aroma’s from the past, coming from a distillery like no other. Near the end of the body a somewhat burnt note emerges, burnt wood, hot machine (oil). Very nice industrial edge after the friendly fruitiness.

I spent a lot of time with this Whisky over the years, and I remember, when freshly opened, it showed a lot more of the waxy notes and even quite some bitterness. So don’t be afraid of oxidation, even when this is a reduced Whisky, because it will only get better. In the end it turns out much better than I have always thought it was…

Points: 86

Bowmore 18yo “Deep & Complex” (43%, OB, for Travel Retail, Oloroso & Pedro Ximénez Sherry Casks, 2017)

Lets start this review with a confession. I’m a faulty human, and I admit to having prejudices. I don’t know where they come from, I didn’t invite them into my mind, but still they are there and I am battling them. The prejudice I have is that I have a more than healthy suspicion towards travel retail bottlings. Compared to this, my feelings towards NAS-bottlings are pretty mild, since there are enough good NAS bottlings around. Bowmore travel retail bottlings are an excellent example why I have this prejudice. A few years back I wrote a review about the Bowmore “Black Rock“, and it is travel retail at its finest. First it comes in a big litre bottle and second, it was almost reduced to death by bottling it at 40% ABV. So to celebrate your trip you bring back a souvenir of a weak Whisky and a lot of it. When tasting bottles like this, I just knew I had to stay away from such bottles, and I still will steer clear of litre bottles bottled at 40% ABV.

In comes Nico. Nico is one of the founding fathers of the Whisky club I am a member of, and he invited me over to bathe in the excellence of one of the latest batches of The Balvenie “Doublewood“. Taking about ruining a perfectly good Whisky! Since we both are very keen on Whisky, obviously the evening didn’t end with several Balvenies. We had plenty more adventures in Whisky. Funny enough, the surprise of the evening (for me) was a Bowmore travel retail bottling! Nope not this 18yo Deep & Complex but the 17yo “White Sands” of the previous travel retail series.

In 2014, Bowmore released a trio called “Black Rock” (litre, 40% ABV), “Gold Reef” (litre, 40% ABV) and “White Sands” (70 cl, 43% ABV) and I should have known better. “White Sands” wasn’t a litre bottle, was the only one of the three with an age statement (17yo), and the ABV was slightly higher as well. Tell-tale signs that there was a possibility it would be a good one. Good? I loved it! I have met (the wonderful) Eddie MacAffer (voted Whisky distillery manager of the year at Whisky Magazine’s 2013 Icons of Whisky Awards) and “White Sands” is a favorite of his, so I definitely should have known better!

So why isn’t this review about “White Sands” then? Relax, I’ll get to that shortly. Probably in the next post. When I found out how good “White Sands” was, I ordered a few of those. At the same time, I got a pretty good deal on this “Deep & Complex” (What’s in a name), and knowing now that the top offering in Bowmore’s travel retail series might be quite good, I ordered it as well. So, let’s do this new one first and we’ll get to the old one later…

Color: Copper.

Nose: Sherry all right. I would say the PX is upfront. It smells sweet and dessert-like. Caramel. Cherries on syrup. Candied orange skins. Sweet alright. Raisins and dates (freshly dried). Fresh macadamia nuts. A nice typical smokiness (birch) I get from “White Sands”as well, although that is an entirely different bottling. Garden bonfire. Wood smoke. Lovely smoke aroma’s all over. Charred wood. Nice ripe black and red fruits and definitely more smoke than peat. Excellent balance. Vanilla and dust. Islay in the summer. Tar with hints of peppermint and menthol.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. Round, they call it. Half-sweet Cherries and only some wood and peat. It has an even deeper lying smoky bit, but again a nice smoky bit. A bit thinner (and fruitier) than expected. Burning newspaper. Nice warming quality though. Warm wet earth and the fresh macadamia’s are here as well. Not too bitter dark chocolate, wood and toffee. Tar and coal. Licorice. Surprisingly short to medium finish and not a lengthy aftertaste as well. What happened over those 18 years? I’m trying this before breakfast so I have a fresh and eager palate, but still the Whisky is too weak. It’s lovely, but too weak, so don’t drink this in small sips, it won’t work as well that way.

It is somehow suggested and assumed this was matured solely in Oloroso and PX-casks, but I do have my doubts. In a way it’s almost like a “White Sands” with a Oloroso and PX-finish. Wonderful stuff, but like the 40% ABV travel retail versions. It’s a bit too thin. Even at 43% ABV, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It has the potential of being a wonderful Malt (scoring in the lower 90’s). It is actually a wonderful malt as is, but it could do so much better if it had some more oomph, something more to carry it. Now its like (white) sand running through my fingers…

Points: 87

P.S. In a head to head (H2H) with the 1995 Lagavulin its easy to see what I mean. The Lagavulin has only 5% ABV more, but it does so much more for the Malt. It gives it power and length. It even brings out the aroma’s more. I’m not afraid to say that this Bowmore, if it was 46 or 48% ABV like the Lagavulin, would even be better than it. Now, the Lagavulin beats it (just). Nevertheless both are damn good drams and easily worth your money. I’m enjoying them both.

Highland Park Week – Day 2: Highland Park 18yo (43%, OB, 2014)

What are you doing Master Quill? Not too long ago you already reviewed one of those “newer” Highland Park 18yo‘s, did you forget? Are you drinking too much, making your memory slide? Nope not really, but with this one I want to tell you a short story…

A long time ago, the wide necks were replaced by the more feminine bottles, which in turn, in 2007, got replaced by this more manly look they have got today, well… Back in that day I felt Highland Park were a bit suffering from batch variation, something the industry is afraid of because it may put-off loyal drinkers of a particular expression. It must look, smell and taste the same every time around. It is a sort of mantra throughout the industry. Unless you are called Springbank and make exactly thát your strength. By “thát” I mean: batch variation. Just look at the success of the 12yo “Cask Strength” expressions. You see a lot of comparisons between batches on the internet. In the end everything at Springbank is released in batches that vary from one to the other. “Hello, I’d like a Springbank 18yo, released in 2016, no not the 2015, the 2016 please…”

I loved the old, wide neck, 18yo Highland Park to death and when that got replaced by the feminine looking 18yo I bought me a few of those, expecting more of the same. Well, the new one was pretty disappointing in comparison. I was sad the whole time drinking the bottle, and when I finished it, I sold the rest of the bottles, I bought, not buying the 18yo for a long, long time. Recently I got hold of a sample of the “new” 18yo (bottled in 2012) and was nicely surprised. Not as good as the wide neck, but certainly worth your time, effort and money. I liked the 2012 so I bought a few bottles of the “new” 18yo when it was on offer, and ended up with a batch that was bottled in 2014. (L0405S L4 16:09 14:53) (S=2014).

This is a story about batch variation, and something about a donkey hitting its head on a stone, so lets compare this 2014 with the 2012 I reviewed earlier.

Highland Park 18yoColor: Full gold (slightly lighter than the 2012).

Nose: Barley and pleasantly fruity. Definitely more fruity than the 2012 batch. Waxy, warming, heather, vanilla and honey, so it’s a Highland Park alright. Dusty and when smelled more intensely, some smoke emerges. Peat, not so much. Influences of dull smelling Sherry (as in not fruity), and even hints of a compound containing the element of S (Sulphur). Cookie dough and charred pencil shavings. However right from the start it also smells a bit thin. Watery. It’s also lacking some depth and I would almost say that it smells younger than the 2012 batch. Next, some paper-like and vegetal notes. More smoke and a fresher note of Belgian style Beer. Slightly less balanced as well, but also somewhat more complex. If I dare say so, this one has even some exotic notes reminding me of Amrut (matured in Bourbon casks).

Taste: Hmmm, the first thing I notice is definitely a discrepancy in the balance of this 18yo and an obvious weakness. Tiny notes of paper and cardboard. Warming. Hints of the Belgian Beer-notes are right there from the start. Cream and a hint of cold fresh butter. Sherry and hints of vanilla and cardboard. Not as complex as the nose. Watered down wax and heather and an unpleasant edge of bitterness, which has some staying power. After letting it breathe for a while, quite unexpectedly, some hints of red fruits pass by. Short to medium finish, with again a Beer-like quality to it. I was taken aback a bit by this when it was just opened, now the bottle is half full, got some time to breathe and it still isn’t getting any better. Change, yes, better, no. So this one really got several chances to redeem itself, but alas. It isn’t to be.

Where the nose was still good and complex, this definitely is a lesser batch of the “new” 18yo. The 2012 batch is way better than this 2014, and its an obvious difference as well. (I have them both before me). So it happened to me again. Donkey. I taste a 18yo Highland Park, like it, go out and buy several bottles at once, and I end up with a different batch, most definitely less good than the one I tasted before. Disappointing and annoying. Luckily I keep samples and can do proper H2H’s, proving to myself, I’m not going slightly mad. I still have some unopened bottles of this batch, bugger. Now I have to sell 18yo Highland Park bottles again.

Just to be sure I brought this bottle with me on an evening with my Whisky club, a seasoned bunch of experienced older fellows (I hope they don’t read this). I said nothing, just observed people drinking it and listen to their reactions and comments. Well people, it turns out it wasn’t only me…

This hurts. I have been a big, big fan of Highland Park since my beginnings in Single Malt Whisky, and that will never die, because I know it is a good distillate. However, the amount of mediocre bottlings put out by Highland Park today are scaring me (as does the emphasis on marketing). Bugger.

Points: 82

The New Zealand Whisky Collection 18yo 1993/2012 (51.9%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, Cask #21)

After one blend and three reduced bottlings from their standard range, here is finally the first example of an “untouched” New Zealand Whisky. A 1993 expression bottled at cask strength and from single cask #21. That’s more like it. This way we can finally find out what the distiller intended. How did the spirit interact with the wood from the cask. No information about the cask itself has been given so we aren’t handicapped with information this time, and can just dig in…

The New Zealand Whisky Collection 18yo 19932012 (51.9%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, Cask #21)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fruity and dusty, carried with an undertone of fresh wood. I would say this came from a Bourbon cask. Not hard to tell since the wood impaired quite a lot of vanilla-flavours. One with green fingers too, since it has more traits from the kingdom of plants, than the wood alone. It’s easy to admit, this one is driven by wood. Even the spices are wood related, and what about the whiff of pencil-shavings and the aroma of freshly broken off twig? Does this mean this one is dominated by wood? Not at all. The wood gave of various elements of itself, without overpowering it. All in good measure. It has a promise of sweetness (toffee) and the big wood-vanilla synergy makes this a fruity and creamy nose with some backbone and character given by the wood. Slightly oriental (Indian) and floral. Restrained, elegant and wonderful.

Taste: Nice spicy, prickly and woody entry. It starts out with fresh oak and a quite big, nice vegetal sweetness. Tiny hint of bitterness. Right from the start it is obvious this one is carried by the cask strength. Good this wasn’t reduced. It doesn’t seem to have as many woody traits as the nose. Definitely simpler in design than the nose. The fruity bit I taste is a bit peculiar. To me it seems, the mixture of yellow and red fruits don’t combine perfectly here. More cereals and bread tones towards the end. The finish is shorter than expected and it’s the grainy, bread-like and slightly bitter bit that has the biggest influence on the finish.

The strength of this malt is the wonderful nose, as well as well on entry in the mouth. From there it goes a bit downhill. The body sort of disintegrated in my mouth and although the cask strength is noticeable, it doesn’t carry the aroma’s into the finish in a big way. This is a Malt that needs to be tasted, taking big sips. Good stuff nevertheless, easy drinking Whisky, but probably not the best single cask bottled by the NZWC. We’ll see because I have two more hidden away somewhere.

Points: 85

Glenfiddich 18yo “Ancient Reserve” (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

Glenfiddich. Often scoffed at, but never really disappoints. I’ve tried quite a few and all are decent daily drinkers. Older expressions (expensive!) can be really stellar. Sure, Glenfiddich is often reduced to the max, 40% ABV, but sometimes, some more alcohol is possible too, like the Distillery Edition that was bottled at 51% ABV. The higher alcohol, transports the flavours well, so I’m a firm believer in upping te ABV with Glenfiddich to show people with a prejudice against Glenfiddich, that it actually is not that bad. Sure, often not a super-duper malt as well, but surely nothing to scoff at. Today we’ll be looking at an 18yo that is no longer with us, but should still be available if you look closely enough. The 18yo “Ancient Reserve” is blended from Whiskies from Sherry and Bourbon casks, but in this case also from virgin oak casks. The tree are married in a large Solera Vat, using the Solera system.

Glenfiddich 18yo Ancient ReserveColor: Full Gold.

Nose: Waxy and extremely creamy, with definitely quite some Oloroso Sherry influence. Smells quite good. Traits of all casks are clearly noticeable. Vanilla and creamy Bourbon wood and some thick Sherry. Candied apples. I can’t say if the Sherry is from European oak or not. Not a lot of tannins happening on the nose. Sweet peach yoghurt. All aromas are nice and creamy and integrate very well. Waxy fruit. Candied fruit mixed with a hint of yoghurt like acidity and some fresh air. A mere hint of toasted cask in the background and even a tiny hint of waxy apple skins. With air it becomes more dusty and dry. Creamy vanilla holding it’s ground. Not the most complex of noses, but very pleasing nevertheless.

Taste: Very smooth and waxy again, but that dissipates quickly. Well even before I can write down what else I taste, it’s already gone, as is the finish as is the aftertaste. Wow, quickest Malt I have ever tasted, and no it’s not a bad sample. Will this be another story about reduction? Well let’s take another sip, and another, better keep focussed now before it’s all gone. Waxy, nutty and woody. The wood is slightly acidic. Sherry influence, and … Wait a minute, it’s gone again, will have to take another sip. Bare with me. Creamy Sherry and an instant of sugar. Sweetish, Sherried and fruity. The wax carries a woody bitterness towards the end. Smells better than it tastes, although the taste isn’t bad, mind you. Vanilla powder, candied fruit, dried apricots. Nice development. But very weak going into its finish. Funny enough, in the aftertaste some bitterness appears. New wood?

40% ABV is to low for this profile. For the US market this was bottled at 43% ABV. Still quite nice, and better than the current 18yo. Alas this Ancient Reserve was discontinued in 2008. If I could find it for a decent price, I would get it, but I fear it would also be quickly gone. A real shame this got discontinued, especially since the current 18yo is no match for this one.

Points: 85

Linkwood 18yo 1991/2010 (52.9%, Bladnoch Forum, Hogshead #10346, 252 bottles)

Another Linkwood then. Linkwood is quite a difficult distillery for me. Somehow I don’t seem to like Linkwood that much, and I don’t buy any of Linkwood without tasting it first. This one I did buy blind. First of all I like Raymond Armstrong (the former owner of Bladnoch Distillery) and just like Dutch independent bottlers The Ultimate were/are able to bottle some great Whisky at very fair prices. Luckily a lot of my tasting is done blind, so it’s not the name that makes for a lower score. Don’t get me wrong, I did come across some good Linkwoods as well. So with an open mind let’s have a got at this 18yo Linkwood.

Linkwood 18yo 19912010 (52.9%, Bladnoch Forum, Hogshead #10346, 252 bottles)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Acetone, unmistakable. Nail polish remover. Lots of sappy leaves too. Quite nutty as well. Well not dull isn’t it. This spirit jumps right out of my glass. The acetone seems to “remove” itself, but it’s just me not smelling it anymore since it tries to anesthetize me. Put it away for a minute and smell it again, and you’ll be hit in the head again. Even though some might like it, it most definitely is flawed. Nice wood underneath it all. Coffee, cloves and some mocha-cream. Hazelnut pastry. Vanilla, hints of lemon and even a bit perfumy after a while. If you factor out the solvent, this is quite a bold body from a highly active and spicy cask. Quite nice but with a rather unusual defect. No I don’t hate it. Maybe this needs to oxidize a bit?

Taste: For a brief moment there is a solvent. It is quite hot, but the solvent (not ethanol) is quickly replaced by a more woody and leafy aroma. Woody and nutty. Sweet, with a lot of vanilla. Even though the solvent part seems to dissipate for a while, the whole stays quite hot and overpowering, just as it did with the nose. Freshly painted wood and freshly sawn, not entirely dry, oak. The feeling something other than Whisky is going down my throat. Medium finish.

In a way this was difficult to score (but not really). First of all I liked it maybe a bit more than I scored it, but I don’t think this isn’t one to finish quickly. Quality wise this couldn’t score very high since it has some obvious flaws, not exactly from the middle cut maybe? (although hard to imagine).

Points: 79