Paul John (58.2%, Single Cask #745, for Germany, Peated, 2016)

On an average day, I have two open Paul John bottlings on my lectern, if possible one peated and one not peated. Recently I reviewed the two bottles I had open at that time. The official peated cask #777 and an unpeated 6yo Cadenhead’s bottling. Both are gone now, and have since been replaced. Today we are going to have a look at the peated replacement bottle. This one is another official single cask release and even better, it looks like a sister cask of #777. Why would you do that? I hear you ask. Isn’t there a risk that it’s more of the same? A similar cask, with the same distillate in it? Well first things first. #777 was so good (it scored 90 Points), that there is definitely no risk in opening another one of those beauties, even if it is exactly the same (which I doubt). Second, as many Whisky producers and bottlers already tried to show for a few times now, (remember Gordon & MacPhail’s “Wood makes the Whisky” campaign?). Wood makes the Whisky, and no two casks are alike, just have a look at my reviews of Gordon & MacPhail’s Ledaig cask #464 and cask #465. Both the same distillate, the only difference being the cask itself (and what it previously held). So I’m confident the differences between #745 and #777 will be easy to spot and maybe even greater that one would expect.

Color: Orange golden brown.

Nose: Initially fresh and friendly. Lots of honey, oranges and a lot of prepared horseradish (Chrzan). May seem strange, but I get this every time and its here right from the start. Nice clean wood and sometimes fresh sawdust, which changes into more wet wood pulled from a prolonged stay in a pond. More prepared horseradish and ear wax. Fresh, fruity and also some candied fruits. More honey, wax and wood. Licorice. Fatty, organic and perfumy. J.M Rhum from Martinique. Extremely aromatic, complex and right from the start balanced and big. There is so much happening, that the wood has been pushed back quite a bit, I can’t image the wood is that soft, hidden under all these aroma’s. More floral than peaty, with some smoke. Fireplace on a cold winter’s evening, Christmas, but also the smell of horseradish incense sticks, as if they would exist), but not much. Deep smell of waxy almonds, toffee and clay. Smells like a rural house this, a house thoroughly in use, with wave after wave of smells passing by. Furniture smells, smells of preparing food, smells from the fields outside (including the clay), whiffs of a perfumed woman passing by, whiffs of cold dish water, whiffs of funky organic bad breath and warm, almost melting plastic (polyester!) and the smell of the dusty insides of a warm old TV. The plastic/polyester, once smelled, will be around and can’t be un-smelled. What an amazing smell this Malt has. Smells released in many layers, amazing complexity. Tiny hint of smoke trickles in from outside, but the even sharper element in this nose is still the prepared horseradish. You know salted caramel? Well, this one is more horseradished caramel. I like that, since I don’t encounter horseradish a lot in Whisky. More honey, toffee and vanilla powder. It certainly has excellent balance, and layer upon layer of complexity. Very good expression again, I like it very much. It is a wonderful Malt to smell, but beware, it can anaesthetize your nose for some time, since the smell is so wonderful and complex you’ll be smelling this for a long time before tasting. After numbing down your nose, further smelling is futile, after which it is better to have a taste…

Taste: Well, more wood here, and most definitely waxy, nutty and sweet. More of the Rhum Agricole notes as well. Sometimes, yet not always, a hint of cola early in the taste. There is this certain (slightly unbalanced) acidity to it. Smoked toffee and caramel are here, spread thinly, but where is the honey? Well? Undistinguishable sugared ripe fruits. Faint orange skin oil, grapefruit meat. Toffee, corn flakes and quite some licorice, and lots and lots of ashes (cigarettes in an ashtray, the day after). Syrupy sweet, runny caramel. Waxy and fruity. Waxy fruit and ear-wax. This is a bit of a strange puppy, because this has plenty of tastes originating from fire, but they really aren’t from peat and smoke this time. Dry, cured, salty and smoky meat. Cigar smoke and smells I have only encountered in a Sauna. This one is quite ashy. Is there something like waxy cigarette ashes? A quite nice sweetness makes the Malt bigger. Is it fruity underneath? Thus, again a big Malt. Now, more smoke than peat in the nose. No horseradish (well, maybe…). Must have some hidden wood now, because it carries some bitterness. There is so much happening, that even this medium size bitterness isn’t half bad. After extensive sipping, the Horseradish is even more obvious on the nose. I encourage the people of Poland to try this Malt with their excellent szynka, and let me know if the chrzan notes match up. Ashes here too, dominating the aftertaste. Liquid smoke, still not peaty though. The finish is waxy and woody. The aftertaste is warming and somewhat stinging. Smoke and wood spices, somewhat less friendly, but bolder, towards the end. Polyester returns in the aftertaste. Very interesting Malt with a finish of medium length.

This is definitely the most complex Malt I have smelled in a long, long time. This has many layers and many different and unique smells. The empty glass smells of Honey and wait for it, an electrical fire and iodine, something I didn’t pick up on, when smelling the Whisky whilst reviewing.

In comparison, the recently reviewed cask #777 is way more friendly. It’s a dessert in itself. If you compare this to the Swayze brothers, #777 is Patrick and #745 is Don. They both share a lot of genes and it is easy to see that both are brothers. Just #777 is more “beautiful” and #745 is more “rough”, less polished. Maybe it’s even deeper. Even though both Whiskies share a lot of the same markers, #777 just outshines #745, although for some #745 has many amazing bits as well. #777 seems better balanced and more “perfect”. Softer and friendlier. #745 has more power, and a lot more complexity and an amazing layering of smells. The peat comes through better in #777 and it’s heavenly, especially in combination with the Malt’s sweetness. #745 has more honey, wood and waxiness coming through, but it also has a lot of unique aroma’s. Some elements are just bigger and more exaggerated in comparison to #777. I can imagine that over half of the time one would prefer #777 over #745, but definitely not every time, sometimes bigger is just better. Yes, with #745 we have another belter, I repeat, another belter from India on our hands. Life is good.

Points: 89

Ledaig 18yo (46.3%, OB, Spanish Sherry Wood Finish, Limited Release Batch No. 03, 2016)

Ledaig, a very, very, interesting Malt. Ledaig is the peated version and the self-titled Tobermory is the unpeated Malt from the Tobermory Distillery. Both Malts can do really well in Sherry Casks, often mere finishes already do the trick. Remember the 1972’s? But also check out both sister casks bottled by G&M, #464 and #465, we reviewed earlier. Two malts I really love! But beware, Tobermory, the distillery, had a reputation for being really good, but at times also really bad, or mediocre like the two Independently bottled expressions I reviewed earlier: this young Kintra bottling and this even younger Murray McDavid bottling. So Tobermory/Ledaig used to be a you’d-better-just-try-it-first Malt. Lets be honest, it once had a bad rep altogether. I learned way back, that this was actually one to avoid. Especially the unpeated Tobermory could be really Wonkymory. When buying blind, just buy something 12 years or younger, since quality has really gone up in more recent times. I haven’t tried a lot of official releases of this distillery yet, some are quite expensive, but hurray, when this 18yo (third batch) went on sale, the price drop was amazing for this Malt, I went for it. They even threw in a good lookin’ coffin for ya hamster! So time to try this 18yo Oloroso finished Ledaig. This Malt is released in batches, so an investigation in batch variation could be nice and I will do that when given the chance. This time however we’ll only have a look at the latest batch, which at the time of writing, is No. 3.

When my friend Nico tried the freshly opened bottle, the only words that came out before going into toxic shock was “rubber”, oh dear! Thankfully he recovered and dared to try it again, on another occasion, after some breathing. It seems the Ledaig needed some breathing, and probably Nico did too. Nico thought it improved with breathing. Now, lets try for ourselves, and yes we did let it breathe for quite some time (it was a shared bottle and I got the second half), so essentially I got a pre-breathed bottle!

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Extremely funky, but not Jamaican Rum funky, that’s something different altogether. Wonderful fatty peat and fresh sea spray. Fireplace at Christmas. Warming and animalesk. Crushed insects. Very ashy and dusty. Wonderful perfumy wood. Yes, several different kinds of rubber as well; tires, and orange rubber hose come to mind. Warm motor oil. Quite steam punkish and extremely aromatic. More sweet peat and soft smoke. Fatty and broad. Already a very, very pleasant fruity Sherry note comes through. Good Oloroso, good boy! Whilst falling in love with the fine red fruity notes of black berries, and red forest fruit, I get hit over the head with ashy and fatty peat. What a nice interaction, what a nice effect. Never a dull moment with Ledaig. Cigarette smoke and some toffee, showing a slightly more sweeter side. Cookie dough. Steam, salty almonds and seaside tar. Dried or smoked fish. Licorice, salty and smoky now. The peat came first, now the smoke. Fish soup. This is a good smelling Malt for “men”. Bearded, rugged fisherman type of men. With an anchor tattooed on an oversized biceps. Not bearded metro-men, always dressed in a white tee, shopping online for moisturisers and contemplating a meaningless tattoo which will be out of fashion in a years’ time. This Whisky is rugged and boasts big aroma’s. Nakatomi tower style, be warned. Excellent. As often, this does need to break in. It really needs a lot of air to show all it’s got (and to lose the wee smells of sulphur and rubber), and when it does show all it’s got, boy, what wonderful balance! The emptier the bottle the better this is. The nose alone is already worth a 90+ score. Amazing how this brings back the wonderful Whiskies from the days before cars had seat belts and in a way, this also smells like an old car that originally never had seat belts.

Taste: Licorice comes first. Sweet licorice, nutty licorice, fruity licorice. The peat separates from the roof of my mouth into my nose. Nice! Definitely a sweet fruity note right from the start. Short burst of almond liqueur, without the lingering sweet finish. Less bitter than I thought it would be, but it does carry enough wood notes. Hints of steam locomotive and cola. Tastes very first half 20th century. Industrial and old. Stings a bit on my tongue, but not much. Less big as well and the liquid is not syrupy. It starts out promising, and shows a beer-like medium finish, which again some wood (and hops). I guess the reduction to 46.3% did it some harm. Slightly woody bitterness with mocha and milk chocolate. Not a huge aftertaste, nope, note even big, but again licorice (from Bassett’s Allsorts, the anise from this is present as well). Yup, special slightly bitter Belgian Beer. Westmalle Triple. Hops. Haagsche Hopjes as well, a coffee flavoured hard candy from the Netherlands. Where is this going I ask myself, nice complexity. The palate is slightly less magnificent than the nose was. From an almost empty bottle, the nose is stellar. The palate is slightly thin and also less balanced. I guess due to reduction. Medium finish at best (again, the reduction). The aftertaste is soft and lingering.

Do yourself an huge favour. When you buy this, open it a few days earlier and dare to put it away without a cork. If the ABV. would have been (much) higher, I would say, put it away for a few weeks without a cork. This Whisky needs a humongous amount of air to shine. The difference is really big. The harsh rubber notes, Nico was telling me about, are gone now, since my half of the bottle got a lot of air over time. When writing this review the bottle is 80% empty. Even when you do pour it, leave it in your glass for a while. Let it roll around. Keep it moving, warm it up in the palm of your hand. Be nice and gentle to this rugged Malt, and like a good boy it will jump up to you and lick your face.

Points: 90

Guadeloupe Vieux (40%, Rum Nation, Guadeloupe, 2016)

This is a bottle I found in my collection and I really can’t remember why I bought it. I do remember tasting some Guadeloupe Rums that were truly wonderful, but these were all bottled at cask strength, like this Gardel and this Bellevue. So why did this 40% ABV version came floating to the surface of my stash? OK, no problem for sure, since, as I said, I still have to stumble upon a bad or even a mediocre Rhum from Guadeloupe. No complaints with Rum Nation so far. I like these “new” dumpy Rum Nation bottles, sometimes called entry-level when in fact it is a little bit more than that. Even the label looks excellent, with its beautiful color combinations of black, medium brown, ivory and gold. I raise these questions of doubt, because of the back-label. This label has statements like: “designed with a lighter aroma in mind” and “an introduction to the world of French-style Rhums”. 40% ABV. Well, excuse me prrrrincess, but by now I don’t need an introduction, not even a refresher course, and I’m not your guy for very light Rums (sometimes boring, yet sometimes the beauty lies in the details). Nevertheless, it is here, and this nice looking bottle will be “plopped” just the same.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fresh, fresh air, floral and slightly alcoholic. Quite perfumy. Warm light wax and Sinaspril (artificial orange flavoured headache pill for children). Dusty with soft wood and cinnamon. Hints of crushed beetle (acidic). Soft overall. Sweetish toffee and runny caramel. Its almost closer to a Single Malt Whisky than your typical Rhum Agricole. This might be interesting in a blind tasting, depending on the taste. Cookie dough and cinnamon again. Appetizing and light. Tiniest hint of gravy and more (virgin-like) oak. Good balance. Hints of sweet apricot and sweet super-ripe oranges in sweet yoghurt. Very light though and in this case it means you have to work at it a bit. Keep it moving around in your glass to get aroma’s out. Snorting it as if your life depends upon it. The more this stands the more fresh and floral it gets. More vanilla as well and a little bit of toasted oak. Given a lot of time this is a wonderful smelling Rhum. Just an hour more and I would be talking to you about several flowers. Jasmin for instance, but there are more. Just where is the Agricole? Quite nice and out of the ordinary (for an Agricole). A breakfast Rhum.

Taste: Sugar water. Red fruit lemonade, Cola without the sparkle and without the heaps of sugar. Nothing floral in the taste. Extremely simple and definitely lacking in the (Rhum) Agricole-department. Dusty and soft wood. Some wax again (the more it breathes the more waxy it gets) and sometimes a bitter woody note, mostly masked. Hardly a finish let alone an aftertaste, a little waxy again. Still warming. Some wood and something resembling licorice, but it might be me imagining this. And that more or less is it.

As a quick-fix quite underwhelming. This needs too much time to show itself. When given time, the nose gets very, very nice and balanced, Taste-wise this will never get there, it’s just too simple. Has it been drowned in water? As mentioned above, we were already warned by the label on the back of the bottle. This was designed (taking away from the art of making Rhum, or maybe this is actually the art of being able to design it) as a light Rhum. The label also claims that due to its lightness this is an introduction to French style Rhums. Since for me this is lacking most of the typical Agricole style, this is in no way an introduction to French style Rhums. yes, this may be an introduction to light style R(h)ums, but aren’t all light style R(h)ums an introduction to light style R(h)ums to begin with? For me this resembles Abuelo Añejo, so that might also work very well as an introduction to French style R(h)ums. Only, isn’t Abuelo a Spanish style Ron? Yes it is! Nope, this Guadeloupe Vieux is definitely not an introduction to French style Rhums just like the Abuelo isn’t. Nope. Not at all. Get it only when you’re a novice of mixologist, or get the Abuelo Añejo, which should be cheaper.

Points: 78

P.S. The only clue given by Rum Nation about the distillery responsible for this is that the distillery is that its 100 years old, and that the Blanc they bottled in 2015, comes from the same distillery. This still leaves us with several options like Poisson (of Père Labat fame) and Reimonenq (less known). Bellevue is almost 100, so for now I’ll leave it alone and won’t hazard a guess as to which one it is. (Sure I do, I assume (the mother of all fuckups) that its Poisson). If you have more info, please drop me a line…

Wild Turkey “Rare Breed – Barrel Proof” (56.4%, OB, 2016, 112816A12029M)

I came across this no-batch Rare Breed in a hypermarket whilst on holiday in Poland. It sat there (two of them to be precise) on a sad little shelf made of metal wire, between some marked down totally anonymous cheap wines lit by cold light. So I just had to take these two golden orphans with me. These were also marked down considerably, so essentially a no brainer. I reviewed a Rare Breed before, one with batch number WT-03RB, and that was certainly not bad, since it scored 82 points, and I may have been a bit on the conservative side. I ended that review with the remark that Wild Turkey is axing the batch numbering and making it younger an lighter in the process. I read somewhere that Rare Breed was a blend of 12yo, 10yo and 8yo Whiskies, but more recent batches are said to be 12yo, 8yo and 6yo Whiskies, by word of WT themselves. Well, and finally here it is, one of those no-batch younger and lighter Rare Breeds.

WT-03RB was pretty good, and was almost there, (but not quite), so I’m hoping the next step will be forward in stead of backward. I might be getting ahead of myself assuming it probably got worse is also not very professional, now isn’t it? So I opened this bottle a while back, in a time when I actually was very much busy with Whisky from Scotland, so Bourbons were shifted towards the back burner, big time. After finishing a recent review, I parked myself on the couch, opened the doors of my stash, and my eye fell towards the bottom shelf, bar one, where the Bourbons are. Its just one of the bottom shelves, not “the bottom shelf” quality wise. I started with Evan Williams, decent, easy and reduced too much, so the next step was obviously to go ahead and move up with this no-batch, younger and lighter Rare Breed. Well this certainly hits the spot. I pressed repeat two times more before finishing off with Booker’s. And guess what, sometimes I like this Rare Breed better than Booker’s and almost all of the time I prefer it to the Evan Williams, which is most definitely not a dud in it’s own right. Where the previous Rare Breed had some soap, this one has none. This batch of Booker’s also has this very floral, soapy, floral perfume notes to it. It seems to me this “batchless” might be better than the WT-03RB. Lets find out for sure if its lighter and d-lighter or not.

Color: Light orange gold. (Much lighter than the WT-03RB batch)

Nose: Big on aroma, creamy and chewy. Cookie dough. Fresh spicy wood and gravy. Yes, this has a meaty note. Vanilla and sappy oak. It’s like you can discern several different ingredients in this. Toasted oak, grains and cereals and even the yeast. Next comes a more fruity note. Little forest strawberries and hints of red lemonade. This passes quickly and moves towards a more drying note. Warm desert wind, with lots of wood and showing the youngest Whiskey blended in. The more you smell it, the sharper and drier the wood note gets. Finally it smells like a wood shop altogether. Sawdust and all, turning into paper and cardboard over time. Also the yeasty bit stays around as well. The big creamy aroma, from the start, subsides quite a bit. Give it even more time, and after some sips, (the aroma I smell is also released from my mouth), the wood note itself starts to evolve into a more fragrant, perfumy note. A hint of honey even. Nice.

Taste: Hot, quite dry and woody. Not so creamy as expected, but the odd toffee and liquid caramel notes are there. Yes some vanilla and sweet corn notes as well. (Wild Turkey use 75% Corn in their mashbill, the rest is 13% rye and 12% malted barley). Sometimes a bit thin and definitely wood driven, sometimes I even pick up a licorice note in the woody bit. Still a good dose of corn and a little bit of rye. Only slightly bitter. Dry leaves. Wood seasoned by high temperatures. Nice thin layer of sweetness laughed away by the wood, but extra points to the sweetness for trying. If I remember correctly, somewhat simpler than the WT-03RB batch I tried earlier, much earlier. Hey almost 4 years ago, so give me a break! The sweetness keeps battling with the wood, and this makes it fun to drink. It just doesn’t know how to give up. Nope, even with 12yo Whiskey blended in, this still lacks a bit of complexity it should have had, but still, this is much better than many other Bourbon’s around. This is why this bottle is almost empty already. The finish is medium at best, hot and fun, but the aroma’s don’t have a lot of staying power.

This is a whisky made with a high corn mashbill, however it is also a wood driven Whiskey. It has quite a stiff backbone and enough alcohol to carry it well. Sometimes a bit simple, but nevertheless quite enjoyable.

Points: 84

P.S. rummaging around my stash I found a sample of the WT-03RB batch I reviewed 4 years ago! This older batch is definitely much darker in color, much softer in taste, but quite similar in complexity. The 2016 no-batch, easily overpowers it. Sharper and bolder, much more fresh sappy oak and more of the yeast notes as well. Seems much higher in alcohol too. WT-03RB even seems a bit less balanced with quite a lot of toasted and burned notes to it. Even though WT-03RB is older and darker, it isn’t better. I really thought I might be upping the original score of 82, but alas, after careful tasting, H2H, 82 is still the right score for that batch. Go figure.

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

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

Color: Straw.

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

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

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

Points: 86

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

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

Color: Straw pale gold.

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

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

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

Points: 86

Glendronach 13yo 2003/2016 (55.2%, OB, for TasTToe & Drankenshop Broekmans, Oloroso Sherry Butt #5489, 705 bottles)

To my amazement, after all those years of writing Single Malt reviews, this is the first Glendronach on these pages. How did that happen? I’ll have to conduct a formal inquiry into this matter. Heads will roll. Lets hope this young Glendronach is a worthy expression of the distillery. Glendronach was founded in 1826, and has changed hands some nine times if I count correctly. In recent history the distillery was mothballed in 1996. Production resumed for a short while in 2002. In 2005 the distillery abandoned coal firing in favour of indirect firing with steam. After the change the distillery reopened in the portfolio of yet another owner, when Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) acquires Allied Domecq. Almost there. In 2008 Pernod Ricard sells the distillery to a small consortium lead by Billy Walker, the owners of the Benriach distillery. Billy revamped the core range and started releasing Single Cask bottlings with the now common brown labels, as the one I’m about to taste. After Glendronach, Billy and his mates bought Glenglassaugh in 2013, but sold all three to Brown Forman in 2016 for a heft sum of money…

By the way, the picture below is wrong. I couldn’t find a proper picture of the bottle I tasted, and the picture I took of the label with my phone, well lets say it wouldn’t look professional. The picture below is for another Glendronach 13yo from 2003. In fact it is of a bottle filled from the cask filled in 2003 right after the one I tasted. Same distillate, same sort of cask, but still another single cask. The picture I used is for cask #5490 whereas I tasted cask #5489. Both were bottled for different customers from the same country: Belgium, so close enough, wouldn’t you say? Enough of the dry stuff, let’s get wet now!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Oloroso Sherry alright. Thick but right from the start some nice dusty woody notes and do I detect a hint of the S-element? Sweet raisins, fresh and pretty modern.  (which need some time to breathe to show themselves). Black and white licorice powder. Remember the 9yo Highland Park I recently reviewed? Well that is old style Sherry maturation, where the wood is softer, whereas this is more modern. Clean and sharp. Woodshop with oriental spices. Hints of fresh new oak and a wonderful floral and woody perfume, fragrant soap even, very nice. Very faintly meaty, like cold gravy. Great balance but not very complex. More wood notes in the form of pencil shavings. So, excellent wood, with less Sherry than expected. Wonderful nose.

Taste: Yep big wood alright, but again not in a bad way. Oriental Spicy wood with thin cherry liqueur. Reminds me a bit of Amrut. I really love the wood in this. Remember, someone is saying that the wood makes the Whisky, so wood should be a contributing factor. Again the wood has more to say than the Sherry. Starts half-sweet at best, where wood and Sherry share the attention, but quickly the wood demands center-stage for itself and dominates, without overpowering it though. Both contribute the right amount of aroma’s to make for a wonderful Malt. Hints of Italian laurel licorice and hard coffee candy. The body is even less sweet and for a moment turns in to an oaky acidity. Again, not bad. Medium finish and more of the same into the aftertaste, which after a while is gone completely.

This is well-balanced, not very complex, but very nice to drink. I feel no need to add water. It seems to be good to go as it is. Nice and likeable. A bottle you’ll like and finish quite quickly since it will be the one you’ll want to start the evening with. Unless you insist on starting with something at 40 or 43% ABV.

Points: 87

 

Thanx Nico!

Arran 19yo 1996/2016 “The Chosen One” (54.7%, OB, Limited Edition, for Whiskysite.nl, Sherry Hogshead #1390, 312 bottles)

One of the finer places to buy Whisky in the Netherlands is Whiskysite based in the town of Leiden. Excellent, wonderful looking store, good people, fair prices and a very handy Website which services the whole world. For me one of the go-to places. The same guys also host a Whisky festival called Whisky in Leiden. This years edition is next saturday on april 1st. No joke. If you are interested, I’m sure they will have room for you next year since this years edition is long sold out. Just like any real good festival, or retailer, the guys have special bottlings done for them. One of last years bottlings was a very old Arran. I can still remember Arran starting up, and here we have already a 19yo example of the Malt. I’m getting old.

Color: Gold.

Nose: First sniff and I’m guessing Fino Sherry casks. Nice Sherry note combined with nuts and wood. Mocha and a sweeter component in the background. Chewy toffee. As I said before, I never was a big fan of Fino cask Whiskies but just like Rhum Agricoles it is an acquired taste, and today, wow, I get it. They are very special. Vanilla and dried lemon powder, in part like in artificial sweets. Hints of high winds at sea, combined with cold dish water. Strange èh? But in reality not strange at all. Hints of wood come next, as well as some pencil shavings with floral notes and wood from cigar boxes. This smells very distinguished and luxury. Next a layer of cold fruitiness. Green and red apple skins, dried apricots and some dried basil as well. Sweet yoghurt. A promise of some fruity sweetness. Crushed beetle and rotting flower bulb, both a childhood memory. I’m sorry for the animal, I only did it once, by accident. Well balanced and none of the aromas presented here are overpowering. A quiet Arran. Toned down. Whispering. A sort of connoisseurs Whisky maybe. You need some experience to discover it all, as well as appreciate it fully. I hope I don’t sound arrogant now. If you are a novice, please buy it if you come across it, but wait a few years before opening it.

Taste: Half sweet and spicy. Nice wood-notes and soft nevertheless. Sweet fruit yoghurt. The stuff with peaches in it. White peach with a spicy bite. Warming. Mocha and hard coffee candy. Butterscotch and some aspartame sweetness. Pencil shavings. Again, well-balanced stuff and very tasty. If this would have been 5% lower in ABV, this would be dangerously drinkable and you’d finish the bottle way too quickly. Now it is slightly hot, which makes you appreciate it better and follow it up with a different Whisky. It’s almost as if the sweetness and the dryness of the wood are competing. one sip, and one manages to get all the attention, and in the next sip the other. Hints of Belgian Beer towards the finish. The finish itself is quite long.

Good cask strength Whisky from a nice (Fino) cask. No typical distillery character if you ask me, but also no particular aroma that manages to take the lead. Well balanced but with nothing really sticking out, making for a bit anonymous yet well-balanced Whisky.

Points: 86

Tomatin “Cask Strength” (57.5%, OB, Bourbon & Sherry Casks, 2016)

Today there are a few NAS Cask Strength Whiskies on the market that haven’t received a funny marketing driven name. Sure among many others, f.i. Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Uigeadail are very good, but considering the owners of Ardbeg, marketing is a given. There are also a few quiet boys in the back of the class, whispering about quality and quality only, not caring too much about marketing and don’t spend their money even on getting a funky name. A few of those come to mind as well. The last review I did is even one of those expressions. Glengoyne “Cask Strength”. Others are Tamdhu, Glendronach and Tomatin to name but a few. I never got around to review the original Tomatin Cask Strength, but now I have a chance at the first batch from last year’s newly designed release. As mentioned on the box, this Whisky comes from Bourbon and Sherry casks and will be an interesting comparison to Glengoynes expression with the same name.

tomatin-cask-strength-2016Color: Light gold.

Nose: Lots of barley and funky Sherry. Lots of cereal notes as well, but also a hint of smoke and cask toast (the former probably coming from the latter only). I can’t say this smells very appetizing and nice from the start, but the Glengoyne got better with extended breathing, so we’ll give this one some time as well, but I can already tell you that this Tomatin won’t take as long as the Glengoyne. There are also buttery and creamy elements and some hidden fruits. Sugar water and hints of licorice, clear glue and some sweet fruits. Pencil shavings, paper, cardboard and a slightly odd (or off) acidic note. Not much, but it’s there. Just not of the tropical kind Tomatin is known for…or is it, considering the evolution with air. Just like the Glengoyne version, It shows its youth and both show a somewhat similar young and strong style, based on both Bourbon and Sherry casks.

Taste: Yeah, strong at first but next, heaps of wonderful tropical fruitiness with nice nuts! It’s definitely a Tomatin all right. Sweet on entry. Toffee, caramel. Butter. immediately followed by some nice oaky notes. Not as strong as the number suggests, and also not hot. Pretty easy to drink, if you have some cask strength experience, that is. Cookie dough and cream, with just enough sweetness to present the finish which is definitely a bit drier. Just like the Glengoyne the taste is better than the nose is. Lacks a bit of complexity though, but in the taste it doesn’t remind me of a young Whisky. Whiffs of old style Whisky pass by as well.

The youthful cereal notes? I don’t like them. It’s that part of Whisky that transforms into something way better with some proper ageing in proper casks. When freshly opened these notes are pretty upfront, in your face. A bit off-putting in my opinion, but the same happened with the Glengoyne Cask Strength as well. Sure it wears off, but do you really want to wait some time after pouring it, before you can thoroughly enjoy it? Because you can, if you work at it a bit. After extensive breathing both become nice cask strength drams worth your money. The quality is there and therefore the score is up there well into the eighties. But for me, this is also proof why Whisky should be aged properly and why I’m also a bit hesitant when it comes to NAS-expressions, which most definitely are not all bad, just look at the WIP Kilkerrans to name but one. Luckily this one tastes so good, I have no problems forgiving it for the funky nose. Again one you have to let breathe for a while.

Points: 85 (almost 86).

Thanks Alistair!

Tomatin 14yo “Port Casks” (46%, OB, Tawny Port Pipes Finish, 2016)

I come from a time when Distilleries started experimenting with other casks than the usual Bourbon and Sherry casks. When Whiskies finished in Wine casks, Port casks and Rum casks popped up in the market, I actually preferred the Rum cask versions the most. I didn’t particularly like the Wine and Port finishes. It’s not because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of change, because today there are lots of these finishes around that are pretty good, but when I taste back the first examples they still are not-so-good. Port was an easy choice for distillers and blenders I guess, since it is related to Sherry and both are fortified Wines. However Sherry casks and Port casks yield very different Whiskies.

I guess the early versions were finished in casks that previously held Ruby Port. Young and bold stuff, which made for a very raw and harsh Whisky, especially when finished for too long. The U.K. loves Vintage Port which are excellent Ruby Ports, 2 years old, so the obvious starting point for experimentation with finishing. Today we see more and more Port finishes done in Port Pipes that previously held Tawny Port. Tawny Ports are older Ports, that turn (reddish) brown from oxidation. For this 14yo expression Tomatin first matured the Whisky in Bourbon barrels and for the finish they used Port Pipes that previously held Tawny port for 50 years! The 14yo Tomatin was first introduced in 2014, a replacement for the 15yo, which came from Bourbon casks only. Tomatin also discontinued the 25yo which also was from Bourbon casks only. In 2016 we saw a complete revamp of the design, so this review is for the “new”14yo, number four in the core range preceded by the “Legacy”, the 12yo and a Cask Strength version without an age statement (We’ll get to that one later).

Tomatin 14yo Port Casks 2016Color: Gold with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Musty and definitely recognizable as a Port finish. It is quite obvious to say the least. Also the color gave it away. You don’t get this pinkish hue, from caramel coloring, and wine finishes smell differently, however it also reminds me a bit of a Jenever fully matured in a Bordeaux cask. Apart from the typical fruity Portiness there is an unusual hay-like aroma, like Grappa has, it is different from your usual Whisky. In the back there is also a more creamy, vanilla note, softening the whole up. Nice soft wood as well. Although the finish is quite strong, it isn’t overpowering, and the Whisky remains balanced. Nevertheless, the finish ís strong enough not to let Tomatin’s signature tropical fruitiness through.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. Chewy. Here the finish isn’t as strong at first like in the nose. Here it starts with sweet and creamy Bourbon cask notes, but the Port quickly exerts itself. I don’t know yet if the burnt note I get, comes from toasted oak, or from the Port pipes (or both). A fruity acidity lies on top, so less balance here than on the nose. Hints of paper (not cardboard, which is heavier and less likeable). The whole is quite creamy and friendly. Well made and quite bold to let the Port finish speak its mind. Creamy, fruity, slightly burnt and some nice wood. That sums it up. Medium finish.

This is daily drinker material. Something I would reach for quite often. Sure you can analyze it to death, but why should you. I already did that for you. Not very expensive and fun to drink and definitely different from most other expressions in the shops today.

Points: 84 (same score as the previous version)