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

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

Color: Light gold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color: Very light gold, White Wine.

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

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

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

Points: 87

Tomatin “Fire” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #2, Heavily Charred Oak, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

Where “Wood” is #1 in the Five Virtues series, here is #2, which is called “Fire”. It is called “Fire” because of the char and toast of the wood, and char and toast come about through the ways of fire. Tomatin “Fire” comes solely from a batch of stripped and (heavily) recharred oak casks. It is said that the distillate is from 2005, one year only this time, making this a Single Malt which is 11yo or 12yo, which these days is quite old for a NAS. “Wood” was blended from distillates between 1999 and 2006, and since 2006 is more recent than 2005, “Fire” is officially an older Malt than “Wood”  even though much older Malts were used for it.

What this bottling also might want to prove is: should you buy a new (or used) American oak cask, when you can also scrape out the insides, hopefully without losing the soul, of your old, dead tired and worn out cask and set it on fire to rejuvenate it? Boys do like to set things on fire don’t they? After this, one might have a reusable cask again. Recycled and good for the environment, maybe apart from the burning that is. Maybe very responsible and certainly sustainable. One less tree to cut down. This should be certified green!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Again, a woody Whisky, but this time a more vanilla driven Malt. American oak alright. Sweet, fragrant, slightly floral and right from the start this slightly acidic and creamy strawberry aroma. Sometimes a bit dusty even. Not as much char as I expected from something called “Fire” or “heavily charred”. Hardly any char really. Quite fresh, fruity and milky. The milky notes scared me for a while, but dissipate after a while in my glass and these milky notes disappear completely when the bottle cbecomes emptier. Paper and woody notes and initially not all that different from “Wood”, but after enough time to breathe the difference is bigger than I imagined possible. The “Fire” I do get from this Malt is the aroma of a burning wood fire in winter, minus the sharp smoke. Just like “Wood” this essentially is again about (recharred) Wood, and the woods in “Wood” are charred as well. To me it is more like a sequel to “Wood” so they might have called it “Wood II” just the same, but this probably would not have worked inside the Five Virtues framework.

Where “Wood” was about the blend of different kinds of wood, this is a little bit closer to a virgin oak type of bottling, just a bit more refined, especially after some breathing. This really needs to open up, because it really was disappointing when freshly opened. Where “Wood” was creamy, this is even more creamy. Again no new make aromas, but it is slightly closer to new make than “Wood”. Lots of fresh oak notes, creamy and yes, lets call it green. Fresh plants and garden notes. Breaths of fresh air and some burned toast notes, but not a lot. Initially quite simple, it seems much simpler than the “Wood”. Reminds me sometimes of Bruichladdich Islay Barley. That sort of simple, yet lovely, stuff. Only, Bruichladdich reaches that already after 5 to 6 years, Tomatin takes twice the time. Maybe simple, but especially after a while in the glass, it becomes quite nice. In the end a nice example of an honest Malt matured in American oak. Good smelling stuff, just not right from the very start, be warned.

Taste: Again, it starts fairly simple. Tea with a dash of sugar. Latex wall paint, sweet custard and definitely sweet malt. Mid-palate a cloying burnt note. Sometimes a slight hint of cigarettes being smoked in the distance, an aroma blown over by cold wind. I also pick up on some minty notes and some tasty ripe red fruits. Quite a short finish at first and a fairly non-existent and unexciting aftertaste. But buyer beware, don’t get fooled, this Malt also has a trick upon it sleeve. Yes it is more than a bit unbalanced when poured from a freshly opened bottle, but responds extremely well to some air, gaining lots of depth and some very nice black fruits suddenly emerge from nowhere. Wow, first we had the ripe red fruits and now these black ones. The return of fruity Tomatin, something absent from “Wood”. See how some Malts need to breathe? Quite some evolution. However, even after some breathing, the finish is still quite short and malty again and dare I say it, it remains a bit unbalanced.

It started out a bit really disappointing (not more than 82 points), but by now it is definitely on par with “Wood”, but I have to admit, you have to work at it a bit, and maybe have some experience (and patience) as a Whisky drinker, to see the beauty in this one. So “Fire”, in the end, turns out to have a nice, fragrant start and beautiful body, better than “Wood”, but it keeps struggling towards the end, the finish stays short, with hints of Beer, strange enough, and a thin, slightly woody and bitter aftertaste, and some creamy notes as well, which by now aren’t creamy. fatty or big enough to make the finish better. The second half of the experience therefore is definitely won by “Wood”. This is surely a flawed Malt on the outside, but with hidden beauty inside. Personally I find it very tasty right from the start with an additional fruity and appetizing body, just be very careful with it when freshly opened. I kept the cork off for at least a day after the initial disappointment. Did it lots of good. Interesting stuff and certainly an education.

Points: 85

Tomatin “Wood” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #1, French, American & Hungarian Oak Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

I like my Tomatin’s. Good Whisky. Good people work there and represent it, with wit, honesty, intelligence and humor, no funny business. Lots of releases too. From 2017 onwards, they started with this five part series, showing what the five virtues of Whisky are. Wood (2017), Fire (2017), Earth (2017), Metal (2017) and last but not least, Water (2018). Although all five are NAS Whiskies, I was told, that no young Whiskies were used throughout the range, and all would have some proper numbers comprising of two digits if they would have been bottled with age statements. Thank God, because I feel Tomatin spirit really does need it’s time in oak. Young Tomatin’s can be milky, somewhat sour and heavy on new make characteristics.

When I visited the Tomatin stand at a show in 2018, I tried the “Metal” and “Water” expressions, which I liked very much. I bought both of them, and looking at the two bottles, yes, I’m human too, I just couldn’t resist to find the previous three releases of this series. I have this series complete, and will open them one after the other, in stead of opening them all at once, due to a lack of room for too many open bottles. Well, actually there is never really a lack of room, but I do have to restrict myself a bit, Whisky madness and all. “Wood” here, is the first of the Five Virtues, and this one was matured in a combination of different oak casks, French oak (70%) and American oak (20%) we know, but this time also some Hungarian oak (10%) found its way into the mix. Am I already expecting Tokay now? The spirit used for “Wood” was distilled between 1999 and 2006.

Color: Light Orange Gold

Nose: Barley sugar and lots of cereal notes with late woody notes. Sweet, soft and fresh. Deep and accessible. Appealing. there is a lot happening in a furthermore very balanced nose. Quiet and distinguished. A sort of Steely Dan Whisky. American oak vanilla. Creamy, with vanilla pudding, custard, that kind of thing. Sweet fruity (peach) yoghurt. Some nice slightly acidic White Wine notes, again well balanced. It all works well on the nose. I don’t care for young Tomatin’s and luckily there is non of that here, so even when this is a NAS, it also tastes like there is quite some age to this. Quiet creamy and slightly funky. Nutty as well. In the distance a nice edge of toasted, and again, creamy and sweetish oak. The toasted oak also brings a slightly smoky note, which works very well for this fragrant expression.

Taste: Less creamy, (but still enough), than the nose promised and definitely some more of the acidic White Wine notes mentioned above. Fresher and lighter. Still not overly woody, but enough wood notes to warrant the name and thank god, not young tasting as well. Warming. A little bit of creamy wood and quite unexpectedly, some cocktail cherries. Sweetened fruit yoghurt. Sweet and acidic at the same time. After a while the more sweet notes from the nose come to the front. The body of this Malt is not as big and thick as one might think by now. It has more toasted oak (and wee licorice) than the nose had. Overall somewhat simpler than the nose was and even that wasn’t nuclear science to be honest. Still a very nice, somewhat sweet easy drinker. Both the nose and the taste show a lot of balance, yet the balance suffers a bit towards the finish. The fruity acidity seems to unhinge from the main, creamy, body, to hover above it and some woody bitterness emerges (finally). Still, in this case, the fruity acidity still has a positive effect on the whole. For an expression which was called “Wood”, it may have been blended from the various mentioned woods. French, American and Hungarian Oak that is, but it is not really a wood driven Malt. Although on some occasions, when trying this, I do pick up on some woody bitterness. Today a lot of over-oaked, new or virgin oak, bottlings emerge, but this isn’t one of them, even when carrying the “Wood” name. This has a nice nutty and warming aftertaste. Tasty too, but not as big as the nose promised. Final thought: this maybe more of a wood-Malt than I initially thought, because, this Tomatin lacks the typical tropical Tomatin fruitiness, so maybe this really is a wood-expression after all…

For a lot of people Tomatin is not the most well known Malt, which is a shame really, because over time, I’ve come across many well made and well blended Tomatin Single Malts. When I tried “Wood” for the first time, I was more than pleasantly surprised by this expression. I’m a bit afraid I may have not given this malt the attention it deserves. This is an easy drinking Malt and I carelessly reached for it many times. Now when it’s almost gone, and I’m analysing it more carefully when writing this review, before its all gone, I do come across very nice balance and some nice aroma’s. Yes I do regret not giving this Malt enough attention, since, this really is one that deserves it. Its a great example of a malt that is nice to analyse and contemplate a bit about the woods used for this Malt. Very nice indeed.

Points: 85

Thank you Alistair, Stan, Krish and Scott. This one’s for you!

Laphroaig ‘The 1815 Legacy Edition’ (48%, OB, for Travel Retail, L7345VB1, 2017)

Here is number two in Laphroaig’s travel retail trilogy. We started the trilogy with the smooth and soft ‘Lore’ made for manbuns and suits, where the classical feel of Laphroaig is of weather worn fishermen, storms and salt. Today we are going to have a look at a different, but similar looking travel retail bottling, ‘The 1815 Legacy Edition’. Both bottles have dark green labels on green glass, and in my opinion look very smart and sets them apart from the white labels we know. Just like the ‘Lore’, the copywriting on the packaging is something to forget rather quickly, and luckily Whisky can help you do that.

This ‘1815’ (for short), is made up with first-fill bourbon barrels and new European oak hogsheads which sounds similar to the make-up of the ‘An Cuan Mor’ and Ardbeg’s ‘Corryvreckan’. The ‘An Cuan Mor’ has spent around 8 years in first-fill Maker’s Mark barrels, after which they were finished for a further two years in virgin European oak casks. Laphroaig have more bottlings using virgin oak, like the ‘Select’ and ‘QA Cask’ (Quercus Alba), but both bottlings use American Virgin oak, giving off more vanillin than European oak, which is more about tannins. I’m guessing they changed the name of the ‘An Cuan Mor’, as well as the packaging, because (some of the) timings for the ‘1815’ are different. Nevertheless, knowing I rather liked the ‘An Cuan Mor’, I guess this should be a very nice Laphroaig as well, contrary to popular belief.

Color: Dark Orange Gold

Nose: Soft, fruity and ashy. Definitely starts with the same Christmas spices as the Lore. After a while these spices just disappear, or are overpowered by other aroma’s. Soot. Creosote. Quite a big nose this Laphroaig. Dirty. Love it. Along for the ride comes this fruity fresh citrus note and it retains a bit of its sweetness. All in good balance. This one shows some earthier notes as well. Maybe more restrained, but also somewhat more promising. A hint of peat I know from the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’ bottlings. After some breathing more of the restrained beauty emerges. I’m liking where this is going. Only just now more woody notes come along. Yes fresh, virgin oak, but different from the omnipresent virgin American oak. After a while a metallic breath of fresh air whiffs by. After drinking this, the nose takes it up a notch. Getting better and better over time. Fresh oak and a lot of depth. In this sooty, tarry nose lies a nice and white floral heart (and some yellow fruits as well). You have to inhale as if your life depends on it, but it is there ready for you to behold.

Taste: Sweet yellow fruits in sweet yoghurt and Greek style yoghurt. Even more liquorice than ‘Lore’ had, and the whole starts out much harsher, but also more honest and more powerful, although that term should be used lightly here. Dirty is a better word, ashtray. On entry this reminds me a bit of some Rhum Agricoles. Ginger notes combined with some nice sooty notes. Sharp, dry fresh oak. Yes lots of wood influence, especially the acidic oak could be a wee bit less. Definitely some virgin oak, but less vanilla and butter-like so the more tannic European oak influence makes sense. Compared to this, ‘Lore’ was sweeter, easier, more polished and seemingly more refined. Definitely a lot of wood now and the ashes and soot remain. Spicy and bitter. Warming going down. It still doesn’t resemble a proper Laphroaig like the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’ version, but closer to it than the ‘Lore’. Nope, the difference is much greater than the difference in ABV alone. Way longer finish than the ‘Lore’, with wood, and a slight bitterness. Tannins and even a soapy element. Tarry and bitter. Warm asphalt. Dirty for sure. Maybe a bit less balanced than usual, but no problem in this. Still don’t discard this Laphroaig’s sweetness, it might be big and dirty but it also has plenty of sweetness underneath. Winey a bit… no they didn’t, didn’t they? PX, in this? (They did with Ardbeg ‘An Oa’).

As said above, this one doesn’t get a lot of love from other people, but considering this is a NAS and the virgin oak doesn’t overpower the whole, I’m actually pretty amazed with what was achieved here. I found it a Laphroaig and even a tasty one. I’m not against the usage of virgin oak, as long as it is done sparsely and done with taste. It works for me in this and it works for me in Ardbeg’s ‘Corryvreckan’. Even though this is more raw and unrefined, less balanced even, I still would prefer this over the Lore. However, if you prefer Lore over this, I can definitely understand that as well. Having said all that I actually prefer ‘Corryvreckan’ over the ‘1815’. Its just better and has a higher ABV (which I like) to boot and costs less. Easy.

Points: 86

‘The 1815’ H2H ‘An Cuan Mòr’ The ‘1815’ is slightly darker in color. Nosing them, I would say that they seem very similar, with some slight differences. The ‘An Cuan Mòr’ seems more mature and slightly better balanced, with a nice, warming bonfire note. ‘1815’ seems somewhat simpler, yet also more rough (in a good way as described above). ‘1815’ is waxier and has these wonderful whiffs of Christmas spice. Given more time they both come closer to each other. The differences in taste are a bit similar to the differences in the nose, where the ‘1815’ seems a bit rougher and more oaky, shorter in barrels, longer in the European oak? Both are essentially the same Whisky and the differences described may be accountable to batch variation, and not because they are blended differently. Both are good, and almost like twins, but the beauty lies in the details. And trying them both together, there is one that starts to shine a bit more, let it breathe a bit and the ‘An Cuan Mòr’ is the (slightly) better one, especially when tasting it, it is better balanced, more complex, just better. Still, I prefer both over the Lore, which for a Laphroaig is too easy, too soft, maybe even a bit weak. But that’s just my opinion. For me it also lacks complexity considering older cask(s) were used. It just doesn’t impress, but bad it is not.

Review #750.

Amrut Peated Cask Strength (62.8%, OB, Batch 38, 2017)

Earlier this year, I reviewed the Amrut Unpeated Cask Strength, which turned out to be quite an excellent Whisky. I wasn’t really surprised, since I’ve come across many nice Amruts. many, but not all of them, because the one I reviewed last was nice, but also a bit unbalanced. A single cask for Europe, matured in virgin oak and finished in a PX-Sherry butt. Nevertheless, it still managed to get 84 points so it wasn’t all bad now was it? The Unpeated Cask Strength batch #87 was definitely better. It might have been a (big) batch, but it still blew the, far more costly, Single Cask out of the loch…ehhh, water. I love my peats as well, so the time has come to review The Unpeated Cask Strength’s supposedly darker brother. Again, I have high expectations for this Peated Cask Strength…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Just opened the bottle and the soft peat welcomes you already. The first aromas already enter your nostrils even before you pour your first dram. From the glass now: youthful, lively and playful. Nice fresh and fatty peat with hints of clay (Das Pronto) and a greenish edge to it. Fresh and fruity. Wine gums and hints of sweet cherries. Sunny and summery, so definitely not a darker brother, ab-so-lutely-not. Nope, peat is not always about winter storms, twilight or salty sea spray. By the way, this Amrut has another trick up its sleeve. With this one it is possible to momentarily “forget” about the peat and smell what it would be like without the peat, as if you can turn it off. Underneath it is a very fruity, light and bright Whisky. Flip the switch and the peat comes on like a light. Next, more freshness and some smoke, way more balanced than the virgin/PX Amrut. Somewhat late hints of fragrant cedarwood and more meaty components emerge as well. Some floral notes and some Christmassy perfume. Well what a surprise it is, giving this dram some time to breathe. Dusty notes emerge next, as well as some sweeter notes. This one is more complex than its unpeated brother but also less bold, who would have thought comparing a peated version with an unpeated one.

Taste: Spicy, peaty, hot and slightly bitter at first. Slightly sweet, but not much. A lot of wood, with matching medium bitterness. Hmmm, some virgin oak again guys? Caramel with almonds and dead cigarettes in an ashtray. Much simpler than the nose, quite some bitterness as well. I get the feeling this isn’t finished yet, bottled too young, bottled too soon, but on the other hand, ageing this longer on these active casks would have extracted even more wood and bitterness, so no, not bottled too soon after all… The finish is bitter. The aftertaste is, luckily, less bitter and warming. In fact the aftertaste is better than the finish. I suspect virgin oak, too much of it. The taste is a bit of a disappointment after the nice and complex nose, and especially disappointing after the great unpeated cask strength version. It is also a bitt dissapointing aftre the virgin/PX. Its just too woody and bitter.

First of all, the color of this batch was lighter than that of its brother, so please don’t take my remark to literal. After nosing, the peated one is definitely not the darker brother, the contrary actually. Yes these two Whiskies are brothers, but the unpeated version seems to me to be more mature, maybe it’s the older brother? In this one the wood and bitterness are too much, but the peat is lovely, and much more complex than you might think, and makes this Amrut remind me a bit of a peated Paul John, something that has never happened to me before. Yes, Amrut and Paul John are both Indian, but like the place they come from, they are entirely different. Mind you, India is a big place!

Points: 82

I spoke too soon with the virgin/PX version, because now this peated cask strength version is the worst Amrut I ever had, yet still 82 points. If only the taste would match up with the wonderful nose.

Amrut Cask Strength (61.8%, OB, Batch 87, 2017)

Well, it almost seems a bit unfair reviewing a Paul John Whisky and not look at Amrut too, so here it goes… ehhh, ok, ok, ok, it has nothing to do with being fair. I seem to like Indian Whiskies, so I will come up with almost any excuse to review another one. I had to hurry writing this review, (spoiler alert), because this one is going fast! At Amrut they also make entry-level cask strength versions of their Whiskies. We already know NAS is not a terrible problem with Indian Whisky, since maturation in India moves at a pace like trains move in Japan. Apart from this Amrut Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky there is also a Amrut Peated Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, which will find a place on my lectern right before I finish this unpeated one, and I’m guessing that won’t take long…

Color: Vibrant orange gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and oak, with a hint of orange (the fruit, this time). Vanilla powder and fairly simple initially. Hints of oak, exotic spices on oak and sometimes pencil shavings, fresh air or ozone. Sweetish and full on aroma. Warm, warming and fuzzy, sunny. This has a very positive vibe. Milk chocolate, maybe even some mocha. Creamy with a slightly acidic top note, yet not fruity, so no unripe berries here, although I do get some candied yellow fruits. Dried apricots but well in the back although on some occasions it is more upfront. That’s it really. That’s all there is. Now for something funny, in a Whisky like this, it is also all you might need. It is well-balanced and very tasty, so I have no beef with the relative simplicity here. It’s instantly rewarding, not far behind the single cask reviewed earlier.

Taste: Creamy pencil shavings on steroids. Lots of exotic spices with soft oaky bitterness. Very nice wood notes, and again fruity. A bit hot, like the climate in Bangalore, but definitely all about Indian 6-row barley malt, and American oak. Candied yellow fruits again. Apricots in sweet yoghurt. Very high quality and very, very balanced. No off notes and everything is in the right place. Spicy, with very good wood notes. Tasty stuff. Amazing value! Not for nothing, this is already batch 87, and this was back in 2017! Wonderful aftertaste, maybe even better than the body itself since it seems to reach an even higher level of balance. Good, slightly short, aftertaste with hints of lightly roasted coffee, arriving late.

First of all, this looks the part, simple bar style bottle with a nice label, and packaged in a proper shiny heavy-duty tin.

If Master Quill would be an institute of some sorts, issuing awards, this Malt would most definitely win a category, something like best (Indian, or World, or any) cask strength bang-for-your-buck Whisky. Excellent quality for an excellent price. I’m baffled you’re still reading this. Stop it now, go out and buy one. Wonderful stuff, a definite must-have.

Last but not least, I have to make the same remarks as I did the previous review (Paul John). For me, this might be a no brainer, but I have been informed, and I occasionally witness, that Indian Whisky may not be for everyone. personally, I love this style and I can’t believe someone wouldn’t like it, but the same goes for every style of Whisky. Some don’t like peat, some don’t like heavy sherry, some don’t like grassy Lowlanders and some like Loch Dhu… So be warned. Keep an open mind though, you don’t know what you’re missing otherwise…

Points: 87

Girvan 10yo 2006/2017 (50%, Creative Whisky Company, Single Cask Exclusives, GV005)

Five years ago I wrote about a North British Single Grain Whisky. There, I briefly explained what a Single Grain is. Most of you will know their Blended Whisky (Blends as we anoraks call them) and Single Malts. But lesser known are probably the Blended Malt Whiskies (Vatted Malts to us), and Grain Whiskies. The latter is used as the basis for Blended Whisky with some Single Malt added.

The North British, I reviewed earlier, was a decent example of a well aged Grain Whisky from yesteryear, since It was distilled way back in 1964. Now we have the chance to look at a very modern Grain Whisky distilled at Girvan. Girvan is a grain Whisky you will find, for example, in Grant’s Blended Whisky. Yes Girvan has the same owners as Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie (closed) and Ailsa Bay (new). Another fun fact is that Hendrick’s Gin is also made at Girvan, although I doubt I will find any cucumber in this 10yo Girvan.

Color: Straw

Nose: Sweet and bread-like, cookie dough. Very friendly and lively. Floral, perfumy, soft, laid-back and restrained. Toffee, caramel and slightly grassy. Some whiffs don’t even smell like Whisky to me, but closer to an aged Wodka, Gin, Calvados or even better: Jenever or Korenwijn. No evolution in the glass whatsoever, it stays the same through several minutes of breathing. Smells nice though, appetizing and sweet, but a Single Malt it is most definitely not. We have landed on a different planet altogether, folks.

Taste: Sweet on entry, with nice soft wood notes. Lots of caramel and toffee, and again, aged Gin notes. Slightly burnt edge from toasted oak. The texture isn’t cloying nor syrupy and isn’t sugary sweet as well, so if I would like something sweet(er), yet not really sweet, this would do the trick. If I would like something really sweet I still wouldn’t reach for a Liqueur but rather go for a PX-Sherry, but that’s me. Apart from that, I really don’t have a sweet tooth to boot.

So, this is sweet and creamy on entry, helped by the slightly higher than normal ABV. For me the 50% works very well. in fact, this isn’t for Liqueur or PX-drinkers at all, it shows too much spicy, and fresh, wood for that. It’s a Whisky after all. After the full-on entry, the body itself is already less big, creamy or sweet, yet somewhat hotter and drier. Reminds me a bit of a Brazilian Rum, something like Epris maybe. Hints of fruit emerge, candied ones obviously. Amazingly, since the entry is rather big and creamy, the body still holds its own. The finish itself is a bit hot and quite “small”. All seems gone for a moment, but it comes back in the aftertaste of which still has medium length.

Quite a surprise if you are expecting a Whisky. It’s still a Whisky made by the wood it was aged in. This was, again like the North British, a learning experience as well. Better, but also different, than expected and not very expensive, so try it if you dare, it won’t break the bank.

Points: 82

Talisker “Port Ruighe” (45.8%, OB, 2017)

This is another recent “NAS” Talisker, released in 2013, right after “Storm“. The bottle reviewed here is a newer batch from 2017 (L7317CM015). Back in 2013 when all these NAS Taliskers arrived on the market, a lot of people feared for the classic 10yo to be discontinued or moved to a market different from ours (This happened to the JW Green label), but it didn’t happen. In 2015 the same exercise happened again with the release of “Sky”. We’re in 2018 now and there is still no sign of the 10yo being discontinued or even an “update” of the price. The 10yo is still going strong and usually is still well priced below all these NAS bottlings. And I believe it is also still better than all these new NAS-sers.

Port Ruighe was matured in refill casks (of both American and European oak). It was then transferred to deeply charred casks and yet again transferred to receive a finish from Port Wine (infused) casks. That seems like a lot of ado, to give this, probably young Talisker, its own aroma. Is it an experiment of sorts? Let’s see…

Color: Copper gold, but not the pinkish hue you tend to see with Port finishes.

Nose: Starts with peat. Nice fatty peat. Toned down obviously, since this is not a heavily peated Malt. I mention peat a lot right now, because since this is a NAS bottling, this could also have smelled “young” and it doesn’t. “Storm” had that, but this doesn’t. Thus, nice peat, a little bit of smoke and butter, so a bit of youth is there nevertheless. Since it is a Port finish, it could have smelled winey and sweet, but it doesn’t at first. It starts simply with peat. No storm, just a calm sea. Easy and quiet. The protection of a harbour, or port maybe? Could it be thát designed? Next some soft notes, reminiscent of a claret matured Jenever I have, (the acidity). Nope, still bobbing in the harbour with our soft peat. No dark storm, no storm even, just me and this peaty breeze. Hints of vanilla and honey emerge and some sort of sweet cloaking perfume, yup, we have our Port here. Turns sharper and a bit more warming as well. Hints of Malt and vanilla powder. This is spicy as well. Nice soft wood and the slightly burned cask. It may be NAS, but it shows complexity and I feel everything works well in the nose-department of this Malt. Still no really true Port notes, and maybe that is a good thing, since Ruby Port casks can easily overpower a Whisky. Wonderful nose, I kid you not.

Taste: Already sweet, creamy and quite fruity when it touches my lips. Peated Whisky with some smoke and a big fruity follow-up. Sweet, buttery, yet also young, and strange enough, right beside the sweetness, also a brief watery edge. Where the youth was absent from the nose, it is definitely here, but to a lesser extent than in “Storm”. It is also less complex than the nose. Bolder and more simple with a slight burnt-spicy edge to it. Increasing with air are the winey notes, but still well in check, although there is an overall sweetness and waxiness to it, that gets in the way of drinking more than one dram of this at a time. At the same time the complexity, that already wasn’t great to begin with, decreases. This is a shame because the Whisky takes a turn where you don’t want this to go. The road of NAS, simplicity, lack of complexity and the mismatch with the promising nose. The finish is medium at best, and to be honest, falls flat on its face. It disintegrates when hitting the ground. Aiii. Some peat, but very sweet and winey. Too much. It has been overpowered by the Port, which probably says a little about the quality of the Port, or the wood used, but maybe more about the age of the Whisky itself, because one might expect Talisker to be able to handle a little bit of Port now, don’t we?

It is nice to have had the opportunity of yet another take on Talisker, but this is one I’m not keen on repeating (buying another bottle, that is). “Neist Point” although more expensive in many markets, and too expensive in some, it is definitely a better experiment than this one imho. Neist Points was released right on the heels of “Storm” it is nevertheless different from Storm. This is way more mature. Is it older Whisky (guess not) or did the Port finish hide the “young-Malt experience”? Although criticized by many, I have no real beef with this pair of 2013 NAS-releases from Talisker, but I do understand a lot of the comments made.

So this is young Whisky, in the end overpowered by the Port, however, based on the nose alone, there was a lot of potential, maybe if the Whisky was aged longer and the Port and/or the casks it aged in was slightly better, this might have been a great Whisky, and we may see one like this in the future.

Points: 83

Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky “Inaugural Release” 2014/2017 (46%, OB, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, 4000 bottles)

Every year our team attends the Whisky Show in London, and every year we come across something that surprises us. Usually it is a particular distiller. One time it was the range of Tomatin, and more recently we really liked the stuff of Indian Distiller Paul John. For example, last year, the only bottle I bought was a single cask Paul John. This year we found that the crux of the festival seemed not to be a particular distiller or brand, rather than the high quality of young Whiskies and/or new distilleries. Sure, there was a plethora of amazing old Whiskies on the Gordon & MacPhail stand and there is always nice super-premium stuff at the Diageo stand, but for us this year was about very nice young Whiskies. And guess what, they all came with age statements! Yes, it can be done! Funny enough, also young Whiskies coming from distilleries, people, (including me), tend to ignore. So, this year, I returned home with an 8 year old Tamnavulin, an 8 year old Glen Moray, a 10 year old Glenlivet and finally a 12 year old Tormore. All young, age stated, single casks and all from independent bottlers. Highly affordable as well. Before I forget, equally amazing was the Ailsa Bay and the man behind it. Today we are going to look at another young Whisky. The first release of an English Single Malt Whisky from the Cotswolds.

In my mind when a new distillery opens, it’s the brain child of two blokes who think they can do things better and try to conquer the world. Yes, I’m a romantic. Not true here, the two blokes thing, that is. This Whisky isn’t made in a shed in the Cotswolds. No, the Cotswolds distillery is the brain-child of Daniel Szor. A New York banker from Polish descent. Unfortunately his parents never learned him the language. Believe me, I tried, nope, Cotswolds is definitely not a shed. It’s a full fled distillery with tours and everything and a lot of staff, a lot, so I guess mr. Szor has some big plans, and is here to stay!

Color: Gold.

Nose: Floral, zesty, young and very perfumy. Big aroma. Cinnamon, cinnamon (again), more cinnamon and bread, cereal, sawdust and lots of notes from first fill Bourbon casks. Vanilla pods and Sinaspril pills. So yes, a nice acidic note as well. Insence sticks. No off-notes whatsoever and hardly any trace of new-made spirit. Nice wood, beautiful wood actually. Dry leaves and toasted toffee. Hints of candied yellow fruits in the distance. Spicy like an Indian Malt. Not sure this comes from the wood or are they using indian six-row barley at Cotswolds? The florality reminds me of Indian Whisky as well. Very appetizing. Well balanced and again a very big nose. Wonderful aroma’s coming together nicely. Still young and it already shows a lot of potential, which doesn’t mean this inaugural release isn’t worth it, because it is! Well done team!

Taste: On entry a wee bit thinner than expected and after that, an elegant and mouth coating young Malt emerges. Slightly sweet, slightly bitter, with toffee and caramel notes, and a lot of aromas coming from the first fill Bourbon casks. Making the body “bigger” than the entry was. Not as sweet as the nose promised. Already some nice yellow fruits though, as well as a hint of latex paint and machine oil? Wow. A desert in itself. Sweetish. Vanilla with a spicy note added to it. Just like the nose, quite Indian in style. Very appetizing stuff. The wood is almost virgin now, with a sharp spicy edge to it. Oats and crackers. Cigarette ash and toasted oak mixed with light fruity acidity. Again, lots of balance for such a young malt from a new distillery. Nice aftertaste.

Amazing inaugural release of Cotswolds. I’m told this is three years old plus one day, (some mentioned four days, but who is counting days in Whisky?). Amazing Indian style nose reminding me of some Paul John releases but foremost of this Amrut.

As mentioned in the introduction. Distilleries these days, are able to put out some very nice young Whiskies, even the ugly ducklings of yesteryear, you know, those anonimous distilleries distilling for blends only, like the aforementioned Tamnavulin. Amazing stuff, but on the other hand, we the consumer, we also had some time, by way of NAS-Whiskies, to get used to the taste of younger Whiskies. Maybe we just needed some time to adjust, and accept the times they are a-changing? Really old Whiskies these days cost the same amount of money as a new car, and something a bit younger still costs about the same as a nice vacation. So yes, we did get used to the taste of younger Whiskies, but nevertheless, there is much good stuff going around, just different from the stuff we bought 10 or 20 years ago…

Points: 84