Réunion Cask Strength 7yo (60.5%, Rum Nation, Cask Strength, Rhum Traditionelle, 3.000 bottles, 2018, Réunion)

This is not the first Rum from Rum Nation on these pages and not even the first Rhum from Ile de la Réunion. Earlier I reviewed a Rhum from Rivière du Mât and I thought that one was nothing short of amazing, even though it was a reduced to a measly 42% ABV. Rivière du Mât isn’t even the most popular distillery from the Island, that honorary mention goes to Savanna, and then especially to the Rhum Agricoles Savanna produces. Savanna distillery was founded in 1870 in Saint Paul on the north west corner of the island and supposedly made Rhums based on molasses only. Fast forward many years. Since 1964 the distillery runs a continuous still. In 1992 the distillery moved to Bois-Rouge on the north eastern corner of the island, by today’s standard, some 50 kilometres by car. Today the distillery makes Rhum Agricoles, for which it is now mostly known, as well as Rhum Traditionelle (molasses based), some of the Rhums are of the high ester kind.

The Cask Strength series is a somewhat recent addition to the Rum Nation portfolio. The first Rum released in this series is actually this 7yo rum from Réunion, probably distilled at Savanna, and matured in ex-Cognac casks. Savanna uses a lot of ex-Cognac casks, because may of the official releases have been matured in Cognac casks as well. After this, examples from Jamaica and Guyana were also released.

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Fruity and creamy. Fresh (air) with toffee and caramel. Slightly funky and somewhat sweet smelling. Lightly waxed. Sweet White Wine, mocha, licorice and leather. Some dust on rainwater. Definitely has some traits from Rhum Agricole. The nose reminds me of J.M Agricoles. More J.M than, lets say, Rivière du Mât (Rhum Traditionelle). Initially some sweet citrus bathroom cleaner, soft chlorine and ozone from a pool or jacuzzi. These aroma’s are short lived, and are gone soon, never to return again (unless you pour yourself another one). Black tea with lemon. Hints of cookie dough, moist brown sugar, wood and sweet mint candy. Malty and biscuity, and thus some very soft oak. A whiff of fresh air, yet also spicy, a mix of many dried kitchen spices, yet also some cinnamon and hints of toasted oak (soft). Some unripe banana and also the brown bits of a banana skin and some aroma’s of overripe, almost rotting yellow fruits. Don’t worry, the Rhum still smells quite nice and is nicely balanced as well. Rum Nation also bottles quite a lot of Cask Strength Savanna’s, and I have one here to compare it with. Based on the smell of both, it is safe to assume this 7yo is a Savanna as well, nevertheless, one can be never entirely sure (please read on). By the way, the day after, the empty glass smells just wonderful. Very fruity and with hints of the fireplace at Christmas, or a nice bonfire. Love it!

Taste: Big and still sweet, although the back label mentions this is “for connoisseurs that don’t like excessive sweetness“, it is sweet but not excessively so. This sweetness is balanced out with quite some spicy wood, and toasted wood as well. Distant pine anyone? Quite hot going down. Brown sugar and candied cinnamon mixed with cola notes for freshness or zest. Very tasty. Well balanced stuff of high quality. Now for an interesting remark. Where the smell is all Savanna, there are some notes in the taste that do remind me a bit of Rivière du Mât (also from the Island of Réunion). An industrial, fatty, motor oil aroma. Crushed almonds with some woody bitterness mixed with brown sugar. I’m still convinced this is a Savanna, the smell is there and since Rum Nation has many other Savanna’s in their portfolio it is simply highly likely, but as said above, one can never be sure. Even though this is bottled @ 60.5% ABV, it isn’t hot all the time, like many other high strength R(h)ums. Licorice and Cognac, (really?), in the finish, as well as some wood. The aftertaste shows even some more wood accompanied by its bitterness. The Casks used must have been quite active or caught a lot of sunshine.

I say, high quality, big and very tasty. Lance mentions in his review: “It’s very much like the new wave of Jamaican rums now making such big waves – Hampden and Worthy Park in particular, because this presses many of the same buttons“. This is my sentiment exactly. It presses the same buttons without even being really close to those in smell nor taste. Its big and estery and bottling this @ 60.5% ABV helps the Rhum come across big time. Since this has been bottled in Rum Nation’s Cask Strength series, only mentioning it is a 7yo hailing from Réunion, thus calling it an entry level Rhum, (yeah right), this therefore also damn affordable. Heartily recommended and definitely not for novices to R(h)um. If you are just that, you should by it all the same, but do not open it just yet.

Points: 87

Kilchoman 5yo 2012/2018 (50%, OB, Sauternes Cask Finish, 10.000 bottles)

In the previous review, I wrote that the way to go with Kilchoman, (for me at least), are the red labelled ones. Nice single cask bottlings, with quite some ooomph, like this Belgian and German one. Often still young, but already finished. Not a sign of extreme youth or new make spirit in sight. Bourbon casks work well with the Kilchoman spirit and all the other varieties, are definitely not too bad either. Time maybe for a green labelled one. I just can’t claim the red ones are the best, without even considering Kilchoman’s other colours now can I? A while back Nico and I did a bottle share of this Sauternes cask finish. This, in itself is odd, since both Nico and I do have a fondness for bottlings that came in contact with Sauternes. I guess Nico wasn’t too sure about Kilchoman back then, and I’ll have to ask him how he feels about Kilchoman right now. Sauternes, by the way, is a sweet White Wine from Bordeaux (France). You may have heard of Château d’Yquem?

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft, creamy and dusty. Cookie dough. Sweet smelling, perfumy and fruity (white peach in sweet yoghurt comes to mind). Fruity acidity, yet not only citrus. Apples with a hint of exhaust gasses from a small, yet efficient, petrol car. Dusty with cold motor oil. Spicy as well, dry kitchen herbs, cinnamon and some white pepper. Old cardboard box, bad breath and cold dishwater. Nice soft wood and some mint. The typical Kilchoman bonfire smoke note is here again, but toned down a little. Overall quite elegant, although some of the off-putting notes, I just wrote down, seem to indicate differently. Nevertheless, elegant it is. Let’s say Islay style elegant, with Kilts and muddy wellies. The whole Whisky seems slightly toned down, compared to the Bourbon single cask bottlings (the red ones, remember) I reviewed earlier. Slightly less sparkly. Light vanilla notes combined with mocha flavoured whipped cream, mixed in with pencil shavings and a wee bit of menthol. Dry garden waste lying in the sun in autumn. This nose keeps giving and giving and evolves, it’s just not as powerful as the German Single Cask. This is again a quality Malt from Kilchoman, more complex than a Bourbon cask alone, and this one is also softer. Hint of sweet mint now. It shows a different side of Kilchoman. Very appetizing and very good again. It seems a bit more harmonious than a single cask Bourbon expression, and as said, it gained some complexity with the Sauternes finish. However, in all the aromas presented, it is impossible to find any true Sauternes notes. I no way I can smell a sweet White Wine in this Whisky. All the elements that went into making this Whisky do work perfectly, so it seems. Very good Kilchoman again.

Taste: Paper and ashes. Wax and sugar syrup. Dry tall grass and hay foremost. Borderline Grappa. Creamy and sweet candied yellow fruits. Less strong than the single cask expressions. Clearly reduced. A very appealing sweetness, aromatically close to a sweet apple. Fresh air after some rain. Ashes, black and white powder (licorice), hints of spicy wood and some (sweet) bitterness. Warming going down. Little bit of molten plastic in the finish. I know, this sounds terrible, but rest assured, it isn’t. This is a very drinkable expression, due to the balance and probably the reduction to 50% ABV. The aftertaste does pick up some more on the medium bitterness. The nose was definitely more complex than the taste. This, in all fairness, tastes simpler than expected. All is good and tasty, yet not as complex as the nose promised, (and the buzz in the anorak-y part of the Whisky world). I believe the recently tasted German Single Cask expression may have even tasted more complex. This is more of an instant gratification Malt (and the reduced ABV helps with this).

This offers a (slightly) different take on Kilchoman. It’s good and definitely softer than the Single Cask expressions I reviewed earlier. Sauternes, well, if I tried this blind I might not have picked up upon the White Wine finish, although there are some hints in the depth of the taste, some sort of brooding sweetness, if that makes any sense to you. For some, this offers a more likeable Kilchoman, personally I still like both earlier reviewed red labelled ones better. Can’t wait to open another Kilchoman though, to have some more Kilchoman’s under my belt for comparison and a better view of the Whisky that is Kilchoman. Impressive Whisky, especially considering the age of the reviewed stuff.

Points: 86

Tomatin “Water” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #5, Sherry Butts & Second Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2018)

Alas, we’ve come to the last of the five virtues. The four previous editions were all good, for me personally, especially “Metal” was very nice, but I love well aged seemingly simple ex-Bourbon casked Whiskies. All four are definitely interesting and different from one another. No duds between them. So now the time has come to put the series to bed with “Water”. Water is made with distillate from the winter of 2005, which doesn’t make things any clearer, since the year starts and ends in winter… Half of the Whisky was matured in second fill Bourbon Barrels and the other half in Sherry Butts. Although in some communications, Tomatin does mention Sherry Hogsheads as well (just not on the packaging). If memory serves me correctly, I really liked this one as well in London, and after the very nice Metal I have high hopes for this Water as well.

Color: Copper gold, like a Bourbon, definitely not the colour of water.

Nose: Spicy wood right upfront, with sweet smelling red fruits, hints of tar, an old warehouse with a stone floor, and toasted oak. Notes of wood and fresh air. Nutty, dusty and somewhat sharp and spicy. A take on modern Sherry casks, somewhat similar to the Sherry notes, (not the peat notes), of Benromach Peat Smoke 2010 I reviewed just recently. Old warehouse with old paper and pepper with hints of a more (smelly) organic note. Wet earth and a wee bit of virgin oak. Again a quiet and balanced expression from Tomatin with lavas and gravy and some more indistinct organics. Leafy with hints of old dried out leather and a garden bonfire. Nice (dried) kitchen herbs. The Sherry makes this smell “chewy”. More whiffs of paper are flying by. A Whisky for a sunny day.

Taste: Sweet and syrupy. Fruity. Jam-like. Red fruits. Thick. The Whisky sticks to my glass. This thick, fruity, (half) sweetness, somewhat masks the big note of wood this has as well, including the also masked bitterness. Paper again. Slightly tarry, as if tarry toffee was used for this one. Well balanced as expected. Raisins and ever so slightly soapy and definitely a bit smoky, must be the toasted oak. Vanilla and pudding are here as well, so these second fill barrels still worked their expected magic too, even though the Sherry bit turned out stronger in the mix. I noticed it in Metal, but Water is also a (designed or constructed) Malt which shows what its got, right from the start, lacking a bit in complexity and evolution. This is a minor gripe however, since the balance is there and it is a delicious (red) fruit-driven Whisky with enough back-bone to it. This is not a Sherry monster, but it still is all about the Sherry in this one. Classy stuff.

This is a great companion to Metal. Both are very good and quite different from one-another, but somehow fit together. Both are fruity, but with the Bourbon casks alone that were used for Metal, that shows us an entirely different yet classic Tomatin tropical fruitiness, whereas this Water edition shows us more the Sherry-linked red fruits, in this case, the thick jam-like red fruits. Amazing contrast. At first I thought, well lets review these last two samples I have, so I can open something else, but both are so nice I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t be opening both full bottles at once, after finishing off Earth. With the Metal-edition I was wondering how it would compare to the 15yo American oak. Here with Water I’m wondering how it would compare to the 18yo Oloroso version. Both the 15yo and the 18yo are from the standard range and widely available. “Wood”, “Fire” and “Earth” are all Whiskies which are good, but you have to work them a bit, all three aren’t really for careless sipping, or you’ll miss out on the best bits they have on offer. Metal and Water are good right from the start, more like instant gratification Malts, and in my opinion the best of the bunch.

Points: 88

Benromach Peat Smoke 2010/2018 (59.9%, OB, Sherry Cask Matured, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, 34ppm, 22/11/2018)

Benromach is not new to these pages. This is in fact already the eighth review of Benromach on these pages, and before looking back, I wondered which of the Benromachs I reviewed, or didn’t review, I remembered the most. The one that popped up in my mind first was the old Benromach 18yo. I liked that one a lot right from the start, even though it was only bottled @ 40% ABV. It was time anyway to do a new Benromach review before the bottle I’m about to review was empty and done with. I did already start taking tasting notes for it, before I had a look at one of Ralfy’s reviews of Mortlach. Mortlach is a big name in the circles of Whisky aficionado’s, a sort of hidden secret, due to it’s austerity, meatiness and special distilling regime. Just look at the wonderful 16yo Flora & Fauna bottling.

Back to Ralfy. In this particular review he mentioned the similarities between Mortlach, Longrow and Benromach. Well if these are somewhat similar, I’m now even more than ever, interested in Benromach again. I love Springbank and the Springbank Distillery output is harder and harder to come by these days, which recently put me on the trail of Ledaig as a tasty alternative. Mortlach has always been on the radar and isn’t all that easy to get as well. Now that Ralfy also put Benromach in the grander scheme of things (for me), isn’t it now more than fortunate that I have here this Peated (and Sherried) Benromach? Planets aligned for sure!

Color: Copper brown, Bourbon.

Nose: Young, slightly milky, cold gravy, with lots of Sherry (smells of PX), and only then, very soft peat as well as some sharpish smoke. Dry oak. Very dry and dusty smelling. The alcohol is quite upfront as well. Lots of influence from (fresh) oak. Spicy, lots of vanilla and cinnamon, fruity and Sherried, this one seems to have it all. Creamy vanilla underneath, butter and pudding with some chocolate powder. Smoke from burning newspapers mixed with toffee aroma, like standing next to someone vaping a toffee scented liquid, and burning off old newspapers at the same time. Well why not, cigarette smoke as well, from very spicy tobacco. Hints of sulphur, but in a very warming and non-offensive way, like pre-lit matches. At times more flinty and closer to fireworks than rotting eggs or a liberating fart. Hints of burning plastic. All in good measure though, and the whole is quite appetizing. Modern, yes, maybe, but everything is in its right place. Smells fine, more than fine, to me.

Taste: Big! Prickly and hot. Sherried and dry, creamy (toffee again), sweet and sooty, like solid smoke. Rubber, ashes, tar and black coal. Industrial, yes very, but also lots and lots of red fruits, cocktail cherries, licorice, black and white powder and cinnamon, with steam and more black coal following up. Pencil shavings and a wee bit of motor oil. Dare I say it’s a bit meaty, now that Mortlach was mentioned above? Sure I do. This Benromach is meaty, there you have it. This one is big in many ways, and a good one as well, steam punk! Slightly minty in the aftertaste, which otherwise comprised of more of the above. After Bladnoch another type of extreme. Reminds me of aroma’s from a while back, when Whisky was different. So this one smells more modern, but it tastes less modern. Interesting. All aroma’s are big and upfront. It’s actually not very complex, nor does it show a lot of development. This Whisky wants to show it self and given the opportunity (an open glass), everything leaps out immediately, like an Olympic 100m dash. (By the way, Smoky P. Rubber, running in Lane 8 for Scotland, was the surprising winner).

This particular bottling seems to divide opinions a bit, just like Bladnoch does, and that is probably true for every “extreme” Whisky. Since I’m already an older guy, with some experience in Whisky and still a working memory, for me, this really shows (at times) a quality similar to Whiskies from another time. However, like was the case with Bladnoch 10yo, this might not be for you. If you are a novice and prefer OB’s or more middle of the road Whiskies, you might want to skip this one. If you really know your way around Whiskies you might think my score is too high, since it lacks development and distillery character might be pushed back a wee bit too much. However, I think this is very well balanced, big, and damn tasty. Add to that some aroma’s from a time long gone, so this is definitely for me. Amazing result for a Malt less than 10 years old. For me (again), time to look into Benromach some more (again), but it yet too early to say if it somehow comparable to Mortlach and Longrow. I really need to do a lot more testing/tasting for that!

Points: 89

P.S. The empty (covered up) glass the next day: big medicinal peat, wow!

Bladnoch 10yo (46.7%, OB, Limited Release, Bourbon Expression, Bourbon Barrels, 2018)

Wow, this is just the second review of Bladnoch on these pages. Bladnoch is one of those distilleries that look charming, but for the knowledgeable consumer, it has (or had) a bit of a wonky reputation for being buttery and somewhat unbalanced. I understand why some people might dislike Bladnoch, having tasted quite a few Bladnochs over the past twenty odd years. In the mean time, the only other Bladnoch I reviewed until now, is this 8yo, and this one was most definitely a learning experience. However it was a Whisky that grew on me, which also prompted an updated review, which I rarely do. Maybe it didn’t score as high as many other Whiskies reviewed here, but I still do remember it fondly.
In 1993 the distillery was bought by Raymond and Colin Armstrong and they sold it again in 2015. Raymond and Colin probably spent most of their money on purchasing the place, because it showed, there wasn’t a lot of money around. Simple bottles, not a lot of different labels, no boxes and no big refurbishments to boot. But the feeling was great. Raymond is an outspoken and accessible figure, who “did” the distillery, opened Bladnoch forum on-line, (again very a rudimentary looking affair), where aficionado’s could talk about many Whisky topics, with Raymond often participating, and last but not least, the famous Bladnoch Forum, independent bottlings of casks from other distilleries. All simple looking, home printed labels, and very nicely priced. This was a great time, and I’m sorry this didn’t last a lifetime, although Raymond’s son Martin continued the concept with Whiskybroker.co.uk.

2013 was the last year, many officially released bottling were released, but in 2014 & 2015 not so much. Finally, in 2015 Bladnoch was bought by Australian David Prior. With new management came an extensive two year refurbishment and a different and way more sophisticated look. The money was now certainly coming to Bladnoch. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. Distilling commenced in 2017. In 2016 with the releases of Talia, Samsara and Adela, the first new bottlings saw the light of day. Yes these are whiskies and not David’s daughters, at least I don’t think so. Just like the new Glenallachies, I tasted the new Bladnochs at the Whisky Show in London, and again the younger more “simple” expressions seemed best, or most promising. Of everything that was available to taste, I liked the 10yo best, it seemed to be the most interesting, and there even was this 25yo Talia to be had, just sayin’. So this 10yo is much less expensive and easily matches the others in quality. So no strange thing than, that the 10yo was the first one I bought, which has recently been replaced by an 11yo, which I recently bought as well. I guess the future of Bladnoch looks rosy again.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Extremely malty, biscuity and slightly dusty. Warm summer air with the smell of oak planks (in the sun). Sweet malts with some distant citrus notes (the flesh, not the skins), mixed with cinnamon, green apple skins and dry banana. Warm slightly toasted bread with molten butter, cereals and dust. Grassy and dry, with some soft hay and cardboard. Perfumy (chic) and highly aromatic. Sugared yellow fruits. Friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. White latex wall paint. This is not only sweet, but also has a rough edge to it. At times, sweaty, dead leaves and organic. There is a lot here, and it’s quite big as well. There is nothing like it, and it seems almost like a style on its own. Who said a lighter style of whisky can’t be big? Remember St. Magdalene? Meaty, cold gravy, but also some milk chocolate and some more cinnamon. Soft ice cream melting in the sun. The combinations may seem strange, and to be honest, Bladnoch can be a strange Whisky at times, different from others, but in this lies also its charm. I can say that, because for me, for a long time, Bladnoch has been some sort of a guilty pleasure. I liked it a lot even when I shouldn’t. I liked it better than my scores showed. (Thinking of intrinsic quality here). Funny how this works. It’s strangeness is quite appealing (to me). I do like extremes. Sherry bombs and Peat monsters as well, and a big buttery Lowlander is an extreme as well, these three are the points of a triangle.

Taste: Sweet and fruity, definitely some sweet apple in here as well. Malty check, cinnamon check, it goes great with the sweet apple aroma. Quite quickly the woody notes, complete with some bitterness, exert themselves. Still lots of butter and vanilla and this creamy texture. Fatty and waxy. And this wax is the carrier for the bitterness of the oak. Less of the cardboard kind, which is more like paper here. Lots of aroma’s in the nose, because these must have been some pretty active casks giving off a (smoky) bitterness. Citrus fruits and some more sweet sugary yellow fruits aroma’s form on top of the body. These notes are sharper and more acidic and go together well with the more fatty base or body of this Whisky. Passion fruit and maracuja maybe, hard to tell right now which fruits make up the fruity bit.

Even though this is clearly a Lowland style Whisky, it differs from all the others Lowlanders that still operate. I remember I needed some time to get used to this, and some of that shows in the review of Bladnoch 8yo (look towards the end). To be honest the 8yo and this 10yo do have a lot in common. Even though I found it an odd one out, I really developed a liking for the strange style of Bladnoch. Here we have this new and initial, fairly standard bottling @ 10 years old, with a price to match and I really do like it. I like it for what it is and also for its style. Distilled by Raymond, and now the new owners are reaping the benefits. It seems to me the new owner is also doing the best he can to put Bladnoch out there again and putting out several expressions at reasonable prices. It is possible this style of Whisky isn’t for everyone, and if you bought it because of me and don’t like it (too extreme), I apologize, but for me this is a very nice gig fatty Lowlander, and I can’t wait to try some more expressions of Bladnoch in the near future.

Points: 86

Lagavulin 2002/2018 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv.4/507)

Lagavulin is a great distillery with great people and has a great output of very high quality, although, my firm Lagavulin-faith was rocked a bit with the more recent releases of the 8yo (@ 48% ABV) and the 10yo (@ 43% ABV). I still have to review the 9yo Game of Thrones Edition (@ 46% ABV) and the 11yo Offerman Edition (@ 46 % ABV). Before we get to those, I have this modern classic on my lectern, yes @ 43% ABV, this is a bit of yesteryear’s ABV, but The Distillers Edition has always been good and and already tried by many. I would be surprised if you were reading this and never had tried a Lagavulin Distillers Edition before.

In 2016, I already had an earlier edition of a Lagavulin Distillers Edition on these pages. The 1996/2002 lgv. 4/490. That is most certainly an oldie compared to the one I’m about to review. In fact, this one was distilled when the earlier one was bottled. Just like all the other Lagavulin Distillers Editions, this was finished in Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks. PX is a sweet fortified Wine, so expect some sweetness, although in general, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Also, this Whisky has been coloured with Caramel, why? The 1996 edition was bottled in clear glass, but this 2002 was bottled in smoke coloured glass, so why still alter the Whisky with E150? This is something that was on my mind reviewing the Lagavulin 12yo for the friends of the Classic Malts as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Nice warming peat, with quite a lot of iodine. Bonfire in winter. Fire place at Christmas. Smoked vanilla and toffee. Cold outside, quite hot inside the log cabin. PX is recognizable, giving off a sweet raisiny, meaty and fruity aroma. Wood, burnt wood, scorched wood. Tarry. Licorice. More smoky than peaty, but warm peat is certainly here as well. Wonderful balanced nose. After a while breathing in my glass, the rougher notes of smoke and, to a lesser extent, peat, dissipate a bit, leaving more room for a sweeter more syrupy note. Syrupy is not always a good note, mind you, and here it offers a cloak of sweetness masking some of the wonderful notes from the beginning. Apart from the iodine laden smoke a more perfumy note emerges as well. Big and smoky not light and fruity. This is essentially what one might call a winter dram. Wonderful nose. Amazing at this price point.

Taste: Initially lighter and thinner than the nose promised. Lacking a bit in the oomph department and with it killing a bit of the depth this probably had. Here bitter smoke and quite a lot licorice seems to be upfront, something, if present, that seemed masked in the nose. Sweet sugar-coated anise-like licorice. The sweetness kicks in now. It works wonders with the bitter notes of smoke (fire place!) and peat. Crushed beetle and vanilla. Still a very tasty Islay dram different from the rest, a potential masterpiece. Again more smoky than peaty. By now I really wish I could have had the chance to try this before it gets diluted, that version must be surely stellar. Salty lips, very dark chocolate bitterness. Is it me or does this really have notes of red fruit syrup, not much, but detectable. Way to easily drinkable @ this ABV. I’m actually amazed this bottle is already so far gone, when did that happen? Every time I want to take another sip to expand on these notes, the glass is also empty. This is also a Malt the works better with bigger sips. A Malt to be drunk. The sweetness even makes it into the finish, with chocolaty bitterness in the aftertaste. Again, like the nose, well balanced. Good stuff, more please. I have to refill my glass. Nom, nom, nom.

Really dear readers, If you can get a 16yo, which is utterly wonderful, and/or this Distillers Edition, of which I almost forgot how good it really is, there is absolutely no need to buy the 8yo and/or the 10yo, both are so much less of a Whisky than these two and offer nothing more or new, they seem unfinished and come across as an afterthought. It absolutely pains me to say this about these two offerings from one of my most beloved distilleries, but please do yourself a favour and avoid both the 8yo and the 10yo, and if you know them and feel one of both are very good, are you sure you have tried the 12yo Cask Strength, the 16yo or one of these Distillers Editions? Are you sure? Because for me the difference is amazing. Just like Ardbeg with their Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, Lagavulin also has truly great Whiskies in their core line-up with the 16yo and the Distiller Editions. So really good Islay Whiskies can still be had at a very reasonable price point. All four belong on a bang-for-your-buck list.

Points: 88

Paul John 6yo (56,3%, Cadenhead, Refill Bourbon Barrel, 330 bottles, Summer 2018)

Here is yet another bottle of an Indian Malt I have to hurry to review before it is gone. Tasty stuff, I can already tell you that! What is it with those Indian Malts I like so much? Is it the Barley used? Indian six-row barley? Is it the wonderful exotic aroma achieved, from a simple Bourbon cask, without adding any wonky stuff to the Whisky? Probably all of the above and I guess some more. I already mentioned how good Amrut is, but this newer kid on the block is doing quite well for itself as well. In case you might wonder, there is already an independent offering from SMWS called Ringo George.

I remember my introduction to the Paul John brand (and Shilton, I might add) at The Whisky Show in London vividly. I was immediately amazed. Loved the flavours. When I bought my first bottle, (Brilliance, Batch No. 1), and let others taste it, it wasn’t all that well received every time, to be honest. I like it very much. Maybe some people just need some time to get used to it, I guess, since today a lot more people seem to like it. On the other hand, some people just don’t get used to it, because they don’t like the flavour profile, and maybe it is an acquired taste? Prices keep rising though, for more recent bottlings. OB and IB alike. So there must be more like me, who really like it. The aforementioned Ringo George was a 5yo 2nd refill Bourbon cask bottling and already cost a hefty £150 upon release, and sold out rather quickly. What’s in a name you might ask? Older bottlings on auctions are fetching quite a lot of money as well, these days. So the mantra probably should be: if you like it, and still can find it for a decent price, get it, because if you don’t…

Color: Orange-Brown Gold. Bourbon. Slightly misty. Indian mist.

Nose: Wood and pencil shavings. Sawdust and almonds. Drying, sharpish and wood-spicy. No peat! Slightly waxy and nutty. Trace amounts of vanilla and toffee. Aromatic in a dry style. The wood is speaking here, like a men’s fragrance. Gucci Pour Homme, but less classy, I suspect the difference being that Gucci has some stuff thrown in that is definitely not allowed in Whisky! Cloaked (acidic) fruits, but not the red fruits mentioned on the back-label. If so, the fruits are very un-ripe. You smell them, but do you really smell them? The fruit is hard to point out. Fragrant, yet not floral. There are many aroma’s here that seem to originate from wood. Earwax with a hint of ginger and toffee, and more dust and wood. Not overly complex, but not simple as well. Somewhat single minded. Letting it breathe for a while doesn’t do as much for this Malt as I expected. When I pour myself a new dram, the fruit is shortly obvious, so it seems that the yellow (not red) fruit aroma, dried apricots for about a second or three, dissipates quite quickly, to be replaced by a lot of spicy and woody bits. By the way, no typical Indian spices I can pick up on in many other Amruts and Paul Johns. Quite a restrained expression this one, but clearly a Paul John. A woody Paul John, and a nice smelling one too. Needs a lot of attention to get the most out of it. Not for careless dramming. Also, this needs a lot of time to really open up.

Taste: Starts out quite closed, this is true for the nose as well. When it opens up, more of the same. Earwax, lots of sweetish (as in not too sweet) toffee and wood. Right after pouring, it tastes of sweet toffee, but this is quickly overpowered by the dry woody bits, which is a bit of a shame, since this toffee note did add to the balance. Ashes and dust, with some hidden woody fruitiness. Dried orange and lemon peel with vanilla, yet much less orange peel oil than for instance Amrut Naarangi has, but every Whisky has less orange peel than Naarangi has! I like it better here. (Naarangi’s Orange comes from prepared Oloroso casks, but more about this in the future). This Paul John comes from a refill Bourbon barrel, so the source for this orange note is different. Distant hint of peat. Starts woody, and when that passes, there is some room for a very short sweeter note, without it being really sweet to boot. Also some woody bitterness pops up. Seems a bit thin due to the lack of sweetness. However, the short sweetness is soon again dominated by this dry wood note, that also makes up the finish. Nose and taste are more or less the same. Some (orange) honey in the aftertaste of mostly wood and some of its bitterness. The more this breathes, the sweeter it seems to get (up to a point). In the end, this Paul John is still a pleasure to drink. When you know what you are getting (wood instead of fruit), it’s alright. Again, this may not seem like a top example at first, but it is a pretty decent Dram nevertheless, as long as you are willing to put some effort into it. Definitely sold out by now. I wouldn’t pay top money for this at auction, only if you are something of an anorak and know your way around “difficult” Malts like these, or if you are a Paul John collector obviously. This is a pretty good Whisky, but there are quite a few better single cask expressions of Paul John to be had. This is really a high quality Malt, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t show its merits easily. I do feel this is a classy Whisky, just not Gucci classy.

This Malt, just like the first Christmas edition, is slightly hazy. That one even more than this. When asked, they explained to me that Indian Six row barley is high on proteins causing this Indian mist, but not every Paul John expression is misty. So probably this has to do with the level of filtering?

To conclude this review, I still have to mention, for completists, that this Whisky has aged for 5 years in Goa, India (Hot), and a year in Campbeltown, Scotland (Cold), what this two continent approach did for this Whisky, I couldn’t tell you. Finally, the label mentions this was bottled in summer 2018. Printed on the glass: 02/04/18 18/152, so summer comes early in Campbeltown! I know, I know, it was released for the summer season, quite strange though, since this is not a fruity expression, yet more of a woody winter warmer.

Points: 87

Port Charlotte 8yo 2007/2018 “CC:01” (57.8%, OB, Heavily Peated, Cognac Casks, 18/006, 2018)

Those of you who have checked the title meticulously will have a question. How can this be 8yo (so stated on the bottle), when this is distilled in 2007 (so stated on the bottle) and bottled in 2018 (so stated on the bottle)? Has it been transferred into glass after 8 years or as often happens, the Whisky in the bottle is (and is allowed to be) older than the stated age. We may never know. This expression is abbreviated as CC:01, meaning that this is the first (01) release of Whisky, fully matured in Cognac Casks (CC). I’m sure there will be more of these abbreviations reviewed on these pages in the foreseeable future.

Finally, this is one of those bottles which I almost missed reviewing before it is gone. One of those bottles I reach for easily, despite the high ABV. One of those bottles I believe to have reviewed earlier already, even being surprised I can’t find the review on these pages. So from the last drops in the bottle, here it goes.

Color: Gold

Nose: Bonfire, spicy wood, creamy but not really vanilla like. Big. Paper and smoke. More bonfire. Beautiful, perfumy smoke notes. Wonderful smelling Malt this is. Hints of medium sweet Rhum Agricole. (J.M style). Next leafy, autumn garden. Extremely well balanced and very appetizing. All just fits together so well. Some breaths of fresh air, bonfire smoke next, with a luxury feel to it. And this nice lazy hidden sweeter and fruitier note (lime juice). Lazy, because it lets me know its there, but allows me to enjoy the other notes first. Soft yet spicy wood. In no way harsh. Creamy, leafy with mocha. It keeps developing. Black tea. Dry, old, dusty oak. Hints of raspberry ice-cream, the vanilla notes emerge after all just before the first notes of pencil shavings. Good one, I love it. No it’s not finished yet. Notes of well aged Calvados now. Will it ever end? Let me just say, nothing really Cognac-y or winey or peaty. Capiche?

Taste: Spicy and sweet on entry. Skip that last remark though, maybe there is some Cognac to it after all. Quite hot going down. Some indistinct fruity notes come next, on top of dry oaky notes. Both are on top of each other, so a bit less well integrated, or maybe the cement between the bricks is missing. Sweetish yellow fruits, partly dried, combined with a nice ashy note and maybe some old licorice. Notes of bitter oak towards the finish and a bit of waxiness emerges. See Lagavulin, this is younger than your 10yo and no milky, too young tasting Whisky here. Nice restrained smoke. Earthy or maybe grounded is a better word. Slightly less balanced than the nose, and also less beautiful, but still very good nevertheless. Fairly long finish, but after that it all went down, leaving just a medium amount for the aftertaste.

Well, what can I say, me likey. It didn’t take me all that long to buy me another one of these. Very good Port Charlotte. I Hope Bruichladdich will do more Cognac Casks in the future (and release them, obviously).

Points: 88

Crabbie 8yo (46%, OB, 2018, L7290)

Nope, this is not a new Whisky hitting the markets, well, actually it is, but the brand is old. The John Crabbie mentioned on the label was born way back in 1806. Together with a bloke called William Cree, John started a drinks trading business. When Cree passed away, John renamed the business after himself, and steered the business more towards Scottish Whisky. He created his own blends, rented time at well known distilleries to distil his own spirits and even bought a grain distillery called Haddington. In 1885, John, together with Andrew Usher and William Sanderson (look them up), founded the North British Distilling Company. North British is a grain distillery near Edinburgh and is still in operation today. The distillery is now owned by Diageo and Edrington through a joint venture. Back to John. John, himself, passed away in 1897 and left the business to his two sons and by the 1970’s the Crabbie brand disappeared…until now! Resurrected by the new owners, Halewood. In 2018 this Crabbie 8yo and a Crabbie 12yo were released as well as a 30yo later. More has been released or is on it’s way, like a 25yo and a 40yo as well as a NAS bottling called Yardhead. Halewood is also busy with building their own distillery, Bonnington, near Leith, but since that is not finished yet, they already started Malt and Grain Whisky-production last year in their Chain Pier distillery in Granton (Edinburgh). Making it the first Malt Whisky production in Edinburgh since 1925 (Glen Sciennes, was the last one closed), remember that one?

Color: Gold

Nose: Malty and actually smells a bit like a work in progress to me. Under aged and funky. Unbalanced. Something is not quite right. It smells lactic and acidic. Paper and cardboard are here as well. Soft wood notes. But also, dusty and slightly Sherried. Smallest hint of smoke, and again greenish (after the Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, which also had (entirely different), green notes). Not bad, but not without its flaws. Sure there are some very appealing elements to it, but the milky and sour combination puts me off a bit. Luckily this bad side does tone down considerably when it gets some time to breathe. Meaty notes emerge next. Still, young overall and after a while this Whisky still manages to vent off some more off notes. A sulphury compound being one of them, if I’m not mistaken.

Taste: Very malty, light, fruity and again, this time a more fruity acidity. (rotting) Banana’s. Also an earwax-like bitterness masked quickly by a sweeter note. Light, simple. The unbalance is here on the palate as well. Seems Sherried. Artificial citric fruitiness. Some sweet malt. Some toffee, especially in the finish. Almonds emerge in the aftertaste. Slightly warming. Chalk. Funky and weird. The bitter note dominates the finish with this milky baby vomit note hovering above it. I already used the words “strange” and “funky” now didn’t I. Unbalanced.

Where the Glen Garioch Virgin Oak was a bottle I emptied rather quickly because it was so nice, this Crabbie’s is just the opposite. This is not my type of dram. It’s not because of it’s youth, because I have tried some really young Laddies I like, as well as several young Campbeltown Malts which are really good. The basis of this one is all right, but has some faults on top of it. These off notes to me are a bit off-putting. This Crabbie’s is a strange one. I’m focussing on the good bits, finish it quickly and then forget about this one in a hurry.

By the way, when I bought this bottle in London, it was whispered in my ear that Crabbie’s 8yo is in fact a Macallan, and the 12yo expression a Highland Park, both owned by Edrington, which also owns, as we already know, half of the North British distillery founded by John Crabbie et. al.

Points: 76

Laphroaig ‘Brodir’ (48%, OB, for Travel Retail, L8239, 2018)

We can now conclude our Laphroaig Travel Retail Trilogy with a rather recent batch of the Laphroaig ‘Brodir’. ‘Brodir’ looks more like a Laphroaig we know so well with its pristine white label and black lettering, but this time with a big fat bordeaux colored band on it. ‘Brodir’, not unlike other bottlings, starts its life in ex-Bourbon barrels and is finished in Port pipes made of European oak. Beforehand this seemed to me to be the one of the Travel retail Trilogy to be the safest bet buying a whole bottle of. The ‘Cairdeas’ from 2013 (also a Port finish), as well as previous batches of Brodir, gained a lot of fans.

If I’m not mistaken, the first ‘Brodir’ that saw the light of day was the one bottled for Viking Line in 2012. The next try was the 2013 ‘Cairdeas’ already mentioned, although ‘Brodir’ was not on the label since ‘Cairdeas’ already was. In 2014 ‘Brodir’ Batch 001 surfaced, Batch 002 in 2015 and since 2016, no batchnumbers were given. Odd, since, batchnumbers are pretty popular with the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’ versions, but there probably is a reason for this.

Color: Orange gold with a reddish hue.

Nose: Some peat but way more smoky than it is peaty. Right from the start a bit harsh. Winey and industrial. Very smoky indeed yet also a breath of sharp and fresh sea air. Ever been under water too long? Remember the moment you sniffed up some water right before coming up a bit too late. Well, this smells like that to me. Like breathing in water. Metallic. Hints of licorice. Italian laurel licorice. Warm log fire. Smoked mackerel. A harbour with some motor oil floating on top. The Port seems well integrated and used with taste. After it had some time to breathe, this develops a more perfumy edge to it.

I can’t help but feel that even though the Port did it’s work, this shares some common ground with the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’.

Taste: Starts with smoke and almonds. Ash tray. A bit raw. Meaty maybe. Burnt paper, ashes, bitter licorice. Hints of vanilla way back. Coal and steam. Plastic and rubber. Not bad. Although a NAS bottling, in no way does it come across as too young. It has quite some complexity, and seems to be a nice version of Laphroaig. A sort of Industrial Revolution version of Laphroaig. The licorice turns sweet a bit. The sweetness, which doesn’t reach ‘Lore’ levels, adheres to the smoke and to a lesser intent, the peat. It doesn’t taste like Port sweetness. But then again, this doesn’t feel very “Porty” to me.

Personally ‘Lore’ is an all-right yet a-typical Laphroaig. The ‘1815 Legacy Edition’ turned out to be quite a surprise, after all the on-line negativity. Since I liked ‘An Cuan Mor’, I expected a weakened or ruined version of the ‘An Cuan More’, but au contriare. So very nice it is, and worth the reduced price it is sold for today. The original price, which most markets still have, is a bit too much compared to the competition. Finally here we have this ‘Brodir’. A Laphroaig that feels like having some proper Laphroaig under the bonnet, just differs on the outside. ‘Brodir’ is nothing to scoff about even though the first batches are said to be better. There are many aspects I like, so I’ll remember this one fondly. In the end I guess I may have liked the ‘The 1815 Legacy Edition’ best, but this one is hot on it’s heels, and sometimes I feel it might be even better. If you try these Whiskies in the order published, all goes well, however for me the ‘1815’ is lost when tasted after ‘Brodir’ making the ‘Brodir’ the bigger Whisky. I’m not even trying the ‘Lore’ after ‘Brodir’.

Points: 85