Bowmore 17yo “White Sands” (43%, OB, for Travel Retail, Bourbon Casks, 2014)

As announced in the previous post about the Bowmore “Deep & Complex”, here is the review for the Bowmore “White Sands”, the top offering from the previous travel retail trio. Where “Deep & Complex” has something to do with Sherry casks, this one is said to have been matured only in Bourbon casks. This 2014 travel retail release is somewhat odd though. Of the three, it is the only one not in a litre bottle, the only one bottled at the higher strength of 43% ABV, and the only one with an age statement. 17yo is also an unusual age, although there used to be a oficial 17yo that was replaced by the 18yo.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Sweet, syrupy and some very nice, medium strength, smoke. Slightly vegetal, but mostly fruity with sweet orange oil mixed in with sweet, soft peat. Papaya and mango are noticeable too. Hints of cardboard and earwax. Cold black tea. Very accessible. Creamy vanilla and hints of soft oak. It’s almost like sugar-coated oak. I fear caramel coloring is at work here. I’m already getting slightly annoyed, and I haven’t even tasted it yet. I have tasted this bottling before, and on that occasion I found the smoke to be more up-front. That’s important for this bottling since the smoke-bit is really delicious and defining this Whisky (for me). That bottle was half full, by the way, so I’m hoping this only needs some more breathing. (I just opened this bottle). It may very well be from a different batch as well. Letting it breathe right now, already brings out some more wonderful notes from the smoke-department, so I’m confident that if you work this a bit, all will be fine in the end. This will turn out to be a hidden gem, I’m sure. Just let it breathe. Leave the stopper off for a while.

Taste: On entry; sweet (Rum) and waxy. Oak and fruit. Definitely a tad simpler than the nose and most definitely lacking some oomph. This needs at least 46% ABV. Please Bowmore, please. Cereals, soft wood and caramel. Almonds and mango chutney. Milk-chocolate powder. Nesquick. Hints of smoke and some sweet peat. A tiny hint of bitterness from the peat and oak, but not much, not much of that at all. Vanilla, vanilla ice-cream. Soft and creamy. Custard and pudding. You get the picture don’t you? It isn’t hard to taste, this suffers a bit from caramel coloring. Its aromas are glued together, a property of caramel coloring. I wonder what the chill filtration did to this expression? Is the complexity of the nose over the taste a sign of this?

Dangerously drinkable. Talisker Neist Point (a NAS bottling), is another of those peated, dangerously drinkable, travel retail Whiskies. I would love to hate both, since they are obviously flawed, but somehow they turn out better than expected. Never stellar, but good and likeable.

Although this is a good one, it still is one, I feel, has been tampered with. Chill filtered and colored, and as with the other Bowmore, reduced too much. Again a potentially stellar Whisky ruined, (at least in part it is), for the sake of how it looks on the shelves, and how money can be made, at airports. What kind of heartless, soulless people make these kinds of decisions? Do marketeers have so much to say, or are people, like us, who truly like their Whiskies, actually the odd ones out, complaining when we shouldn’t?

I can confidently recommend this Bowmore, I will give you another recommendation as well. Seek out an independent bottling of Bowmore, to find out how Bowmore actually tastes like without the tampering I mentioned.

Points: 86

Balblair 1990/2014 (46%, OB, 2nd Release)

Unbelievable! Here we have another Distillery that has never featured on these pages before. Balblair. Just like Glenrothes, Balblair is a distillery that has gone down the road, laid out by Wine. The long and winding road of releasing their products as vintages (in a reduced state, ABV-wise, that is). On the back of the bottle, in rather small print one can find the statement: “2nd release”. It implies that there has been an earlier 1st release, yes? Well, yes, but…

Since 2008 there has been an 1990 release which was a lot lighter in colour and which was only released in litre bottles for travel retail. That one was matured solely in ex-Bourbon barrels. It was released annually untill 2011. So there was a 1990/2008, a 1990/2009 etc. Since 2013 the first 2nd release, was released. the second in 2014, the third in 2015 etc. So what we have here are multiple, annual, batches from different bottling years of the 1st release, as well as of the 2nd release. So not only Glenrothes style vintages, but also Springbank style batches. Again the industry seems to consider batch variation to be a dirty word(s), yet I hope there is some adventure in these different batches. This will be a review of the 2014 batch (the 2nd batch of the 2nd vintage 1990, can you still follow? However, if a different batch falls into my hands, I’ll compare it to this one. By the way the 2nd release comes from the same casks and the same vintage as the 1st release, the only difference being this second release has spent about two years in ex-Oloroso Sherry butts. Oh, and with each new batch, it gets older as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Quite creamy, with sweet vanilla, ice-cream, fresh cold butter and Sherry. Hints of oak, fresh and toasted. Dry (scorched) leaves and herbal. Hints of coal even. Hints of paper, cardboard, toffee and honey. Cough syrup. This smells so sweet and syrupy that it is easy to conclude it lacks a bit of the woody backbone to keep it standing. This Whisky smells like a dessert by itself. The wood that is here, smells like pencil shavings.

Taste: Quite big, matching the nose. Sweet (Sherry) and syrupy. A bit too sweet imho. Maybe these casks didn’t contain the highest quality Sherry in the first place. Sweet milk chocolate, vanilla and vanilla ice-cream. (Now the honey in the nose becomes more pronounced as well.) Butter and more chocolate. Almonds with fruity acidity on top, as often this fruity acidity doesn’t blend in all that well. There seems to be a little problem with balance as well.  This acidity also has quite some staying power well into the finish only to dissipate in the aftertaste.

One sunny afternoon I tasted this 1990 2nd release and I loved it. Now, when giving it almost too much attention and analyzing it, there are some flaws that distort the balance a bit. It’s a bit too sweet and I don’t think the Sherry finish worked quite as it should. It’s completely fine when you have a casual dram and that is precisely where it’s for. I really liked it on that sunny afternoon, outside, with nice food and friends. When sitting at home, analyzing it, in a controlled environment, these flaws become more obvious, but I still like the Whisky very much. I wish I had the first release for comparison.

Ok, now I ask you to look past the flaws I described above, because as a whole this is definitely a good Whisky, so I stand by my score, which might be higher than you might expect from the text alone, and yes, at a good price, I would even buy it again. How is that for a recommendation. Just pick your moments to drink this, wisely…

Points: 87

Ardbeg “Corryvreckan” (57.1%, OB, 2014, L59815)

Well, here is an Ardbeg of which nothing is known, apart that it was first released in 2009, following up on Airigh Nam Beist, which ran from 2006 -2008. I won’t bore you with my take on the marketing jazz about Corryvreckan being a whirlpool. You can read about that on the box and on many sites across the interweb. Here the golden nugget from Ardbeg’s own site: “Corryvreckan takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture. Swirling aromas and torrents of deep, peaty, peppery taste lurk beneath the surface of this beautifully balanced dram”. Well, what can I add to that!

What I’d like to know is, how this Whisky came to be, and that is definitely more difficult to find out. Every bottling of Ardbeg has some sort of unique twist. Casks that were burnt to a crisp before using, or casks that were forgotten in a swamp, or casks that were kept in space for a while. The unique twist this time seems to that part of the Whisky was matured in French oak casks, (as opposed to the sole use of the immensely popular American oak). The rest of the Whisky was, of course, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. American oak became so popular since it gives off a friendlier aroma of vanilla, making any liquor softer, creamier and more accessible. European oak, or French oak in this case, is less of the vanilla kind, but more about tannins. All the great Sherried Whiskies from yesteryear were matured in European oak Sherry butts and puncheons. Today the Sherry industry prefers American oak as well for reasons mentioned above. French oak is used a lot in the French Wine industry, so rumour has it, used Burgundy Wine casks were used for this Ardbeg as well. However we don’t know if they were virgin oak, first fill or not and what kind of Wine they contained (if any). A Chardonnay cask will result in a different Whisky, than a Pinot Noir cask…

Color: Full gold (no red or pink nuance though).

Nose: Very ashy and smoky right out of the gate. Licorice wood and sweet smoke. Garden bonfire. Sweet and soft peat. Citrussy, herbal and meaty. Crushed beetle and old tarry rope lying around in the sun. Fresh oak combined with some lemon (not the oil from the skin). Distant vanilla, but it is here. Ripe and sweet strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. More hints of red fruits and more promises of sweetness. Nice soft oak. Dusty. Very well made Ardbeg if it tastes as good as this smells, this will be a keeper!

Taste: Ashy again. Sweet, crushed beetle again, how odd. Big aroma, big body. Lots happening. Initially sweet but it is a good sweetness balanced out with sweet peat and dryness of the smoke. Definitely a type of fruitiness you don’t get from (Bourbon) oak alone, which would support the Wine cask claim. Fat peat and slightly tarry. Empty, off-season, fishing boat in the sun. Visions of an abandoned port. Not hot, only for a moment is shows some higher ABV, but I would have never guessed it is as much as 57.1% ABV. Well balanced, with only a medium, but decent, length. This is where it’s average age is noticeable.

Excellent standard bottling, and a damn good NAS as well, if I may say so. It can be done after all! I’m wondering which of the special releases, which are all more expensive, can beat this one? The 10yo is the entry-level Ardbeg and for me it has lost the most compared to the earlier tens since it has become way too sweet. I guess, that one has to appeal to a larger public, than this Corryvreckan and Uigeadail. I guess the latter are more for connoisseurs and anoraks like me and you. Now I will have to get me a new Uigeadail to compare it to this Corryvreckan. I have high hopes now…

Points: 89

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

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

Teaninich 2006/2014 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, AD/JFBG)

More than four years ago I wrote a review about another Teaninich from the Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range. That one was distilled in 1983 and bottled in 2003, so that one was bottled before this one was even distilled! Reading back I see the mindset I was in at the time. The first decade I was interested in Single Malt Whisky, I hardly ever bought something that was reduced with water to “drinking strength”. If I bought anything from an independent bottler, it was most certainly bottled at cask strength. Today I still very much like my whiskies at cask strength, but I don’t have a problem anymore buying something reduced, as long as they didn’t reduce it too much. Old malts, distilled in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s seem to have some power left in them, when bottled at 40% ABV, but more modern malts need a higher a ABV. 43% seemed a bit of a compromise, but the 46% we see today, is doing the trick for me. So, two weeks ago I caught myself red-handed with a bag of no less than four of Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice bottlings! Go figure. As I’m a fan of Teaninich, I hardly could wait opening this one, so finally I didn’t even manage to wait for 24 hours…

Teaninich 2006/2014 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, ADJFBG)Color: Reddish gold.

Nose: Waxy, fruity and with a nice toasted oak aroma as well. Biscuity and a warm smell of lovely barley and cereal. Right now I already want to stop smelling this, and have a sip, but I’ll wait. The toasted aroma becomes more complex since it turns a wee bit into coal and even boasts a slightly tarry note. A breath of fresh air comes next, laced with alcohol. Reminding me of high quality and ultra soft rye Vodka. Hey, give it a break, it’s a very young Whisky. Bread and toasted bread obviously. Grassy and still waxy. Waxy, red blushed, apple skins? Slightly floral notes mixed in with coffee-creamer. Somewhat sweet and a nice note of vanilla. Since these are Sherry hoggies, I’m guessing the hoggies were made from American Oak. This is only a 7 or 8 years old Whisky, so it shouldn’t be too complex, but you don’t hear me complaining. I understand what it is, and I think it is pretty impressive already, at this age. Well balanced and I guess the casks were pretty good as well. They will do just nicely as second fill casks.

Taste: Definitely starts with a Sherry note. First fill casks all right. I guess they bottled this rather quickly, since the Sherry already starts to dominate the Whisky. My guess would be a Sherry matured under flor. Initially sweet (but not for long, because some white pepper comes to the fore). Waxy again and notes of paper and not of wood, although the paper note seems to make way for a more bitter woody note eventually. A tad funky and slightly less balanced than the nose promised. More Sherry (& flor) wood, with even some slight soapy notes. Don’t worry. Even though this is bottled at 46% ABV., it doesn’t even seem that strong. Sure its fruity, but in a more sugared kind of way. Perfumed lemon curd. Hidden behind the waxy and soapy wood. Surprisingly, the finish isn’t very long, giving away its relative youth.

Let me warn you about the new Gordon & MacPhail packaging. I had an open-topped Whisky bag and the experienced salesman, shoved the metal lids into the cartons instead of leaving them on the cartons. I would have lost them otherwise. I tried this at home and he was absolutely right. Just grabbing the carton and the lid already pops off, weakening the structure, with a possibility of dropping the lot on the floor. This is the 21st century isn’t it? Sort it out people. And it’s not only Gordon & MacPhail. Signatory have tins of which the lid comes popping off as well. The folded cardboard stuff some Diageo bottlings come in, can spontaneously unfold under your arm when carrying slightly too much Whisky at a time. That way I saw a bottle of Talisker slowly disappear from under the firm grip of my armpit onto the welcoming tiled floor.

Points: 84

16-3-2017: I just finished this bottle and I have to add that it got gradually better over time. This really needs to breathe to show all of its huge potential, even though its just a reduced young Whisky. A have a soft spot for Teaninich and this one really didn’t dissapoint me again. I Love it. I’ll give it a point more, and maybe I should have given two…

Points: 85

Glen Keith 21yo 1992/2014 (57.5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #120566 & #120569, 271 bottles)

Whereas most of the reviews written come from samples accumulated over many years, it doesn’t mean I don’t open any bottles, because I do. Just click on “Whisky from Master Quills Lectern” down below, and in an instant you can see which reviews were written about bottles I have, or had, in my collection. Bottles I believed were worthy of buying, very often without even tasting them. Glen Keith is no stranger on these pages, which is no surprise actually. I rather like my Glen Keiths, and Strathisla, it’s sister distillery. Both reside on the same premises. Pernod Ricard, the owners, aren’t doing very much with Glen Keith (yet), so it is a bit of a hidden treasure, only known to aficionados and connoisseurs (I hate those words). Strathisla’s sister-distillery has been featured already three times before on these pages. One stellar one from the sixties, just as good as the legendary Strathisla’s from that era. Two more were reviewed, both from the nineties: 1990 and even one from 1992, just like this one.

Glen Keith 21yo 1992/2014 (57.5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #120566 & #120569, 271 bottles)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Wonderfully creamy and appealing. Only one sniff suffices to let us know we’ll be enjoy this thoroughly. I can’t imagine anything smelling so nice being not enjoyable to taste. Bourbon barrels so yes, nice vanilla and creamy notes, as well as some tension from woody spices partly young wood. Milk chocolate. Next some nice florality emerges as opposed to fruity notes often found in ex-Bourbon barrels. Fresh, not roasted, nuts. Dusty and vibrant at the same time. Not only floral, but also some acidic fruitiness comes to the fore, just don’t smell it too vigorously, the cream overpowers it then and makes it smell sweet. Enough happening in this one, although it may not be the most complex stuff around.

Taste: Fruity and nutty. Almonds. Waxy and chewy. Delayed pepper. Again with nice chocolate sprinkled wood and just like the nose, it tastes sometimes sappy and young. As if new wood staves were added to a rebuilt barrel. This would be highly unlikely though. Sawdust as well. Plywood? People who read everything on Master Quill, know that I dislike not-so-well integrated acidity that lies on top. Abuelo 12yo comes to mind. This Whisky also has an acidic note that lies on top, only this time it works a bit. Amazing. Just like the nose, the Whisky doesn’t seem to be extremely complex. However, the body of the Whisky is so big, that it manages to deal with the acidic high note.

Sure, reduced Whisky is extremely drinkable, but Cask Strength delivers a punch, but also presents flavours to you on a silver platter. The finish has great length and lingers on, seemingly forever, in the aftertaste. Smells nice, tastes even better. Water enhances the nutty creaminess of the nose and at the same time downplaying the woody aromas, making it even bigger and creamier, but also less sophisticated. In the taste, the acidity is given a lager role to play, which in the end alters the balance of the Whisky, making it less balanced in fact. It also adds some complexity with chili pepper and some mint. The finish is more about milk chocolate than it was before adding water. So it might be fun to experiment a bit with water.

For me, something like this is a no brainer. Its more than 20 years old, came from nice active barrels, and gives you heaps of flavour, and a lot of alcohol to boot, so you can play around with it, adding some water with a pipette. If you can’t find this particular bottling, don’t hesitate buying one by another bottler, or one of it sister casks bottled by Signatory Vintage instead, I understand they are all good, and some even better! Some are still available, so what are you waiting for?

Points: 87