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

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

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

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

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

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

Points: 84

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

Clément 5yo 2010/2015 Très Vieux Rhum Agricole (42.2%, Bourbon Cask #20100409, Moka Intense, 412 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

Earlier, I reviewed both the 100% Canne Bleue (the original single cask bottling) and the first variation upon the single cask theme, called Vanille Intense. Where the first version was marketed with the emphasis on the sugar cane variety (Canne Bleue), the second, or so it seemed to me, more marketed towards the wood, since vanilla is an obvious marker of American oak, but sure, it can emerge from the Rhum as well. Here we have the next variant called Moka Intense, boasting mocha and coffee notes. I’m a big fan of coffee, so this variety is most welcome. However in the back of my mind the Vanilla Intense variety wasn’t quite as good as the original 100% Canne Bleue was, so I’m really expecting something along the lines of Vanilla Intense. Still these are single cask bottlings so it isn’t said that all 100% Canne Bleue are better than every Vanille Intense bottling. This Moka Intense is half the age of the other two. Maybe the coffee notes are more obvious in younger Rhum?

Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Soft, vanilla, slightly nutty. Lozenges and soft wood. Nice Agricole notes. Sometimes it’s too soft really. Hint of sugared orange skins and cherry liqueur with some dark chocolate. Black tea, infused for a short while, with lots of sugar in it. Mocha? maybe, not now at least. Coffee, nope, sorry. Very soft and un-complex. Its really simple really. Sugared. Wait a minute, I do get a sweet coffee note somewhere in the back, but actually it is a note that can be found in many other R(h)ums. So not a coffee that stands out. Mocha is softer and definitely present. I have to admit this Rhum does need some breathing. It opens up nicely and starts to show more of the above but now with better balance. Nose-wise this is now better than the Vanille Intense was. It has a very appealing quality to it, but it does need a lot of time to get there. Nice stuff nevertheless.

Taste: Not cloying, but definitely sweet. Warm going down, with bitter notes from the wood, maybe that’s why it was bottled earlier than the other two examples. Canne Bleue underneath but cloaked. Some notes of diluted sugar in warm water, without the taste being overly sweet. Just like some Whiskies go soft and smooth by caramel colouring. Personally I steer clear from distillates that are called soft and smooth. Never a good thing. On the palate this is definitely a wood driven Rhum. Even after extensive breathing that helped the nose forward, it doesn’t bring complexity to the palate. Alas. The body of the Rhum is black tea, typical Agricole notes, somewhat nutty, with a slight acidic edge. Lacking a bit in balance to be honest. Finish is not very long, and even less balanced. Is this the age? Sure it is. Aftertaste, some more typical Agricole notes and some sugar, that’s more or less it.

Since this is younger than the other two expressions I expected something more raw and bold, but au contraire, it turns out to be quite austere. I was afraid this next variant would be somehow less good than the original and it is. Although this still is not a bad Rhum, not at all, but both the Vanilla and especially this Moka Intense, seem to be out of their depths compared to the original single cask 100% Canne Bleue. This is a softer version, but with that, also more boring than the 100% Canne Bleue and even less interesting than the Vanille Intense. Now that I have reviewed all three, I’m now very interested how another batch of 100% Canne Bleue would perform. Anyone? For now, I would recommend you get the 100% Canne Bleue and forget both variants which add nothing more to the world of Clément single casks to warrant you, buying all three.

Points: 83

This one is for Lance who had to wait a long time for me to review a R(h)um again!

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.

Paul John 2009/2015 (58.4%, Malts of Scotland, Peated, Bourbon Barrel, MoS 15068, 156 bottles)

Paul John already had some Whiskies reviewed on these pages, but up ’till now they all have been the official deal, and making up the standard range. Brilliance, Edited and Bold, are the trinity of entry-level Malts from Paul John, where the peat level rises gradually from left to right.

Sometimes a malt is so good, I finish it before I even get the chance to review it, or sometimes I think I reviewed it, remembering the words, and it turns out that I haven’t. This is a bottle I got because the owner wasn’t all that fond of it, even though it was half empty (or half full, depends how you look at it), and thought the stuff he got in return was better. Right now I can’t remember with what I traded it. This bottle is soon to be empty, meaning it’s good! I give you that already. Before moving on to more of the official stuff, here is the first independently bottled Paul John on these pages. This is one of four casks bottled by Malts of Scotland. Three casks from 2009 (#15065, #15067, peated and #15068, also peated) and one from 2011 (#15066).

The officially released Single Cask bottlings of Paul John, were all very nicely priced, and people picked up on them, as well as the more available bottlings. When the independent bottlers started to release Single Cask bottlings of Paul John, they upped the game asking a (much) higher price than Paul John did themselves. Luckily the casks that went to the independents all turned out to be very good casks as well, so they are worth your money. Having said that, all the official Single Casks released were pretty good as well.

When independents started asking higher prices, Paul John followed suit and new releases are more expensive than they were before. I understand Paul John asks a bit more from independents as well, so if my information is right, Malts of Scotland won’t be releasing more Single Cask bottlings of Paul John for a while. Never say never again ‘eh.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Soft peat and meaty. A little bit of barley and a tiny hint of dry orange skin and varnished wood. We’re talking luxury department here. Already this smells like near perfection. This is bottle is empty so soon, because I have fallen in love with how this smells. Luckily I was able to replace it another bottle from the same cask. Deep fruits and spicy warm air. A slightly sweet edge. Big nose altogether. Hints of black fruits from old Islay bottlings, salty. Fresh mint and unlit tobacco. Licorice and warm butter. The wood adds notes of pencil shavings and smoke now, adding to the spiciness of the Whisky. Stunning nose. Not a lot of development though, so maybe even in India (almost) six years is (almost) six years. Reluctantly I have to move on, but to be Frank (Not John) I can’t stop smelling this, and have a hard time moving on to taste it. (If I would score noses by itself this would get 95 Points, maybe more, utterly wonderful stuff).

Taste: Sweetish, syrupy and woody. Slightly waxy even. Not even the peat comes first, but rather the big and bold body. Wood, pencil shavings but not exclusively, and various yellow fruit marmalades, bitter orange marmalade first, followed by dried apricots. Several different bitters coming from wood and smoke. That’s about it first time around. The end of the body well into the finish seems a bit thin, but the aftertaste gets the big body back and has a lot of length, keeping you warm and giving you subliminal images of warmer places. Give it time and air to breathe folks. It doesn’t taste like 58.4% ABV. Again, this might not be the most complex stuff around, but what’s there is very good, albeit not as good as the nose though. But when you’ve swallowed this, and enjoying the long lingering aftertaste and thén smell the glass, Ahhhhh, bliss. This hits the right spots with me.

This was the deal breaker, after this one, I had to make more room for Indian Malts on my lectern. What an experience! A word of caution. I have ready and spoken to enough people to know that this might not be for everybody. Indian Malts are not Scottish, Six-row barley gives a lot of exotic spiciness compared to the barley’s used in Scotland, as well as the conditions of maturation on this continent. As I said before, the previous owner of this bottles wasn’t such a big fan of this as I am, so proceed with caution, but keep an open mind.

Points: 91

This one is finished now, and took a while to write, since I couldn’t stop smelling this. I replaced this stunning MoS bottling with another independent bottling of Paul John, a 6yo Cadenheads bottling released this year. Can’t wait to open that one.

Worthy Park 8yo 2006/2015 (50%, Rum Nation, Pot Still, Oloroso Sherry Finish, Release 2015, L-15-020, Jamaica)

I just finished both bottles from Foursquare, Doorly’s 12yo and Foursquare 9yo Port Finish. Both close connected and although the latter is an exceptional cask selection, I did not really prefer it over the 12yo. Both were (too) easy drinkers @ 40% ABV. After trying whole bottles of both, I have to admit, I also got a bit bored with them, lacking in strength and development in the glass. For me it was clear, both suffered from too much reduction, since the potential was there. Sure, hot, cask strength Rums aren’t for everyone, but for a (sipping) Rum to carry its aroma’s well and excite, I would say 46% (to 50%) ABV is better, if you want to reduce it. Forget about 43%, just skip it and go straight for 46%. Both were enjoyable nevertheless because the Foursquare spirit is a good one, with lots of potential, so I will definitely seek out other expressions of Foursquare in the near future. Preferably cask strength ones, like the official 2004 vintage or one from an independent bottler, because Foursquare is hot these days.

Well, empty bottles calls for replacements, so one of the new ones I picked from my stash is this Rum Nation Jamaica Pot Still Rum 8yo, which, in the shops, has already been replaced by a 5yo expression, again with a Oloroso Sherry finish. Look, here we have a reduced Rum bottled at 50% ABV. I expect a better aroma transport system (ATS). since this seems to me to be the ideal drinking strength for a sipping Rum. With Jamaican Rum being a favourite (style) of mine and this one is seemingly not reduced to death, I expect quite a lot actually. Not sure about the Oloroso finish just yet. It works for Whisky, but we’ll see if that works for this Rum as well.

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Big Jamaican funk shooting out of my glass, bold and eager. Nice dry woody notes and overall it doesn’t come across as very sweet and creamy. Dark chocolate and sandal wood. Images of sand and pan flute music. That’s a good start. Medium cream then and also a bit dusty and yes, a bit alcoholic as well, but that’s what we wanted, right? Hints of a well-integrated acidic wine-note on top. Nutty. It seems to me the Oloroso was matured in European oak. Licorice, toasted cask, black coal and hot asphalt. Wow, I love that! Lots of toffee combined with hidden vegetal notes. Dry leaves and even some burning leaves. Indian spices. Love how this smells. There is and indescribable and extremely appetizing note I recognize from a Cadenheads bottling of Enmore I have. This strikes a chord with me, because that was the first real Rum I bought based on its nose alone. Amazing nose on this Jamaican, where many different aroma’s just switch on and off, all the time.

Taste: Initially quite hot and funky, but that is only a short burst. Vegetal right from the start. Nice beginning with vanilla, toffee, honey and caramel, with the leafy bit in here as well. Cigarette ashes and cinnamon. Not as funky and big as the nose promised though, which is a bit of a shame really, especially after a few seconds. Turns quite dry with a paper-like quality. Less balanced as well. Medium sweet, or even less than that, since the dryness (wood) starts to dominate. Definitely less boring than both Foursquare bottlings mentioned above. Hints of wood sap, soap and blue ink with an additional bitter edge. The body dries out, and the finish is quite short, with hardly anything staying behind in the aftertaste, amazingly. If anything, I would say a small sour note from the Sherry. Character building stuff though. 50% ABV really helps this Rum forward. A shame though, the Jamaican funk got lost in the body and finish of this Rum. Take small sips in short succession to deal with this “problem”.

I understand this got replaced with a similar 5yo. Worthy Park again, as well as the Oloroso finish. It is said that the younger Rum is even more funky, which should be able to deal with the Oloroso finish better. It should also be more typically Jamaican on the palate. I guess this will help the taste reach a better balance, but we’ll have to see how the nose worked out. For me the Oloroso finish on this 8yo worked wonders on the nose, but was maybe a step too far on the taste. Probably the reason to repeat the experiment with a younger, bolder, Rum from the same distillery. Maybe they also tweaked the amount of time of finishing.

Points: 85

Highland Park Week – Day 3: Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)

Day three of Master Quills Highland Park Week and after two OB’s, its time to see what the IB’s are up to with Highland Park. Here we have a special one since it is one independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail, bottling a Highland Park for another independent bottler, The Whisky Mercenary. This may very well be the best of three worlds, first Highland Park make a great distillate. Second I love how G&M work, where they try to have as much in their own hands as possible, The wood, the maturation, the selection and the bottling to mention but a few. Third, Mercenary Jurgen has a good nose, and is able to pick some nice stuff, and believe me it’s hard to get what you really want as an independent bottler. So here we have a 20yo Highland Park from a refill hogshead. When looking at the colour it seems to be at least a third refill remade hogshead from staves taken out of Bourbon barrels. Now forget what I said, because looks can often be deceiving and it is actually very dangerous to do so. My bad, and I hope you won’t make the same mistake like me.

Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)Color: Light gold, almost White wine.

Nose: Right from the start, not even smelling from the glass, but whilst pouring, a nice creamy vanilla smell passes by. On top some Calvados. Quite some aromas that have to do with apples. Fatty red apple skin, but mostly warm apple sauce. In the background it has some more scarce notes of other distillates, other than Whisky. Can’t put my finger on it yet. Nutty chocolate paste with a trace of red fruit acidity. Warm soft wood with hints of semi-sweet yellow fruit and some dust. Underneath this has some smoke combined with soft woody spices and cold butter. American oak alright, and definitely not first fill or the next fill. So I guess my dangerous assumption plays out all right this time. So overall quite nice, good balance, but not very complex though. Adding to my feeling the cask may have been a bit tired already. I don’t think it was filled yet again.

Taste: The first note is that of wood. Soft wood. Next some sweetness. Honey, smoky toffee and caramel at first but the wood takes over again adding some dryness. Vegetal. Same as the nose. Good balance but not very complex. Tired cask again, even though the biggest influence seems to be that of wood. Medium finish and hardly any aftertaste. When its gone, its gone. No honey or wood stays behind. After some breathing and taking sips again, the Calvados notes emerge on the taste as well. The diluted toffee notes seem to grow not bigger, but wider, like butter candy with hints of lemon skin shavings or lemon curd, since that is sweeter. Also distinct notes of almonds. The smoky notes present themselves here as well now. So with extensive breathing there seems to be more (complexity) to this Whisky than I initially thought. See, how you have to be patient? Don’t fill up your glass too much, give it room for air, and be patient if you want to enjoy its full potential.

Connoisseurs, there is that dreadful word again, dislike tumblers or any other “wrong” glass. They are adamant about it. They don’t allow for flavour development, of which this Highland Park is an excellent example. This Highland Park needs a good glass. Personally I equally dislike it when one buys the “right” glass but then fill it up too much (and then post  a half full Glencairn glass on social media). This again doesn’t allow the Whisky to develop in the glass. You need a lot of room for air. Try it. Be patient, be smart!

The hint of smoke is actually very nice and makes it resemble Talisker and, to a lesser extent, Springbank a bit. So if I had to taste this blind I would have gone for Talisker, without the pepper though. Good distillate, reasonable cask and a nice profile. Needs some time, so don’t be hasty. Good Highland Park and just like the Leif Eriksson, again one without Sherry, and another thing becomes clear, 50% ABV > 40% ABV.

Points: 86

Tamdhu “Batch Strength” (58.8%, OB, Batch 001, Sherry Casks, 2015)

In our series of NAS Cask Strength Whiskies, here is number three. After the nice Glengoyne and the surprisingly good Tomatin, here is Tamdhu. Tamdhu is since 2011, the new jewel in the crown of Ian MacLeod, who have managed to save yet another distillery from the hands of the Edrington Group. The group chose to focus on the highly marketable Macallan and Highland Park brands, so no use for this low profile, but high quality distillery Tamdhu is. Over the years all previous owners haven’t done a lot with the Tamdhu brand, so there aren’t a lot of Tamdhu expressions around. Ian MacLeod, being the new owners, came up with a nice retro design and up ’till now have released four expressions. A 10yo that is widely available, blended from first and second fill Sherry casks. A limited edition 10yo, blended from first fill Sherry casks only, which has sold out rather quickly. And last but not least, two batches of the Batch Strength expression. Today we’ll have a look at the first batch, although last year the second batch saw the light of day.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Funky bread-like notes. Cereal and smelly, brooding Sherry. Quite spirity and paper-like at first. Cold dish-water. After a short while of breathing a more likeable fruity note emerges, but not much. Hints of gravy, Beer and menthol. Butterscotch and a rather strange burnt note, with an acidic top note (that’s why its strange). I’m not alarmed though, because the previous two NAS cask strength expressions started out funky as well, but turned out to be really tasty in the end. Next a more vegetable and woody note. Spicy but not in a big way. Still some paper, (slightly scented toilet paper comes to mind), as well as some jasmine tea. Pencil shavings start to emerge. Soft with a hint of sweetness. Creamy and nutty. The more it breathes the more toffee it shows. The strangeness mentioned above never really disappears.

Taste: Big on toffee and pencil shavings. Wow. Nice. Sweet. Hot. Big. Brash. I like it! Here too a funky note. Even some orange skin. Different from the other two, but one that screams yes! Its good. Where the nose had some off-putting aroma’s, the taste is very inviting. If you like cask strength, this is immediately likeable. Sure a bit raw and at times a wee bit under-matured, but not much. It won’t be twenty years old, but it won’t be three years either. Well made, you can taste a lot of care went into this. Lots of nutty Sherry notes, so I’m guessing some Sherries that matured under flor were used as well. Wonderful woody elements adding to the whole. Medium finish at best. The big aroma’s turn dry and then disappear altogether, which invites you to take another sip.

First of all, this is all Sherry casks, as the plan is for all Tamdhu releases, but way different from the all Sherry cask Aberlour A’Bunadh, blended solely from Oloroso Sherry casks. Compared to the other two I reviewed recently, or even to the A’Bunadh, this is maybe priced a tad to high, but I suspect this liquid was also quite pricy to produce.

However, if I had to choose on smell alone I would pick the Tomatin, which is also less expensive than this Tamdhu, but since Ian MacLeod made the bold move to buy this distillery, which isn’t known to the big public, I understand the pricing and the Whisky is definitely worth its price. In a direct comparison with the Tomatin Cask Strength, it is obvious both are equally good, and both show something about the distilleries they’re from. The difference in taste is a matter of opinion, as well as your mood. You can’t go wrong with either of them, including the Glengoyne which did score one point less.

Points: 85

Thanks Alan!

Glengoyne “Cask Strength” (58.8%, OB, Batch #4, 2015)

In 2012 Glengoyne launched their NAS offering simply called “Cask Strength”, because that is what it is. A cask strength Whisky without an age statement. Before that, the Cask Strength offering did already exist, but it was also 12yo. In this case, rumours have it, that the Whisky isn’t all that young. So I don’t expect a 3yo Whisky with a few older casks thrown in to give it some depth. Sure there is “Burnfoot” and there are 5 batches of “Teapot Dram”, but that’s about it. No more NAS from Glengoyne. Nope, the regular range of Glengoyne is made up of good old-fashioned numbers like 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 25. Above that a recent 35yo comes into play, but expect to pay a lot of hard-earned cash for that one. Back to the one without a number, this time bottled at a hefty 58.8% ABV. I sometimes tend to whine a bit about Whiskies being reduced too much, well I don’t think that will be the case this time. Lets find out if it’s any good, shall we?

glengoyne-cask-strength-batch-4Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Nice funky Sherry, cask toast, mocha and vanilla. Funky as in not sparkling or fruity, nope, its deeper and more brooding than that. Less welcoming and dark. Medieval. Bread and barley, lots of it. Warm (toasted) bread, so definitely a cereal note. No trace of new make spirit though, so it’s not a 3yo NAS. However, there is some youth to it. Nevertheless, sometimes, it really does remind me a bit of Whisky made some time ago as well, so definitely a Whisky with multiple facets. Next whiff is of a slightly floral and herbal perfume. This could be interesting. When given some time to breathe, hints of new make do emerge, and the funky, sulky notes from the start, ease up a bit, to become more friendly and floral. Glengoyne are adamant about not using peat, but this does have a smoky note probably provided by toasted (Sherry) oak. It gives it more backbone and a bigger aroma. Meaty. Dusty vanilla powder. This is an autumn Whisky. If it’s October, bad weather, this is your dram. I like it. If I had to sum it up in a few words: Cereal, (American) oak and Sherry. Well balanced yet not all that complex though, also lacking some development and balance. This could do with some more ageing, which would obviously affect the price.

Taste: Barley, bread and quite sweet. Lots of Sherry and creamy notes. Fruity with a nice oaky bite. Old warehouse. Right from the start already better than the nose. More balance and tastier than it smells. Sure its a bit hot, because it has a lot of alcohol and the wood is also quite active. Lots of wood notes. Pencil shavings and oak from the start. Vanilla but also toasted oak and virgin oak. More pencil shavings. The woody bit is quite nice and kept in check by the sweetness of the Malt. A winning combination. The entry is great and the body nice big and sweet. The sweetness isn’t lasting though making way for a more woody, dry and (fruity) acidic side of the Whisky. It’s a two-stage Whisky. Again, not the most complex in the world, but very tasty and very good value to boot. Definitely one for drinking and less for smelling if you ask me, unless you are patient and let it breathe for quite some time. It gains a lot in the balance department that way.

You’ve got to love Glengoyne, for advertising not using peat for drying their malt. Especially when the world is peat-mad. Hey even Glendronach and several other Speyside distilleries offer peated expressions. When will we see a peated expression of Glengoyne? Remember Macallan advertising that their dram is so special because of the hand-picked Oloroso casks? Well look what happened there… No fuss at Glengoyne, just like Springbank. Making Whisky their way and doing it well. No funny names, no marketing tricks, mostly age statements, although Teapot Dram almost is a funny name.

Points: 84 (same score as Batch #1, but not as high as the previous 12yo cask strength expressions that I scored between 86 to 88 points)

Thanks go out to Alan for the sample, thanks mate!

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!