Ledaig 12yo 2008/2020 (45%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Wood Finished, Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 year finish in Hermitage Casks, 4440 bottles, 20/074)

The previous reviews have shown that the industry is getting the hang of how to successfully incorporate Red Wine Casks into the production of decent Whisky. The three Longrow Red’s reviewed last, were all pretty good. So maybe it’s time to have a look at a different example of this practice. But first this: for one reason or another, the interest in Springbank (and, Hazelburn and Longrow, but to a lesser extent as well), has skyrocketed in the past year of two. Maybe the best example is the latest rendition of the Springbank Local Barley over which people really went ape-shit, and really, there is no other way to put it, ape-shit indeed! Why is that, one might wonder, the colour, more money to spend because of the pandemic? In many markets this latest Local Barley was near impossible to get, and just have a look what people are willing to pay today for one of these at auction. It’s a 10yo! Even when Springbank Society is releasing a bottle these days, you have to enter a ballot! Even though costs have risen considerably across the world, due to Brexit, people are going ape-shit after those as well. Not only aficionado’s and fan’s but many bottle flippers as well, since most of these releases are readily available, in great numbers, I might add, at the next action. A few years back, Springbank Society didn’t even sell everything and you could get a second bottle without any problem. Times are a-changing.

So now that Springbank is often impossible to get (in a normal way), I tried to figure out what would be a nice alternative to Springbank. Well, that is a rather personal question, and the answer might differ from person to person. However I did come to some sort of a conclusion for myself, and figured out it is the peated distillate of Tobermory, we all know better as Ledaig. There are probably more alternatives one can think of, but let’s stick with Ledaig for now. First of all, Ledaig is getting better by the year, (they used to have a rather wonky reputation), it’s readily available, especially through independent bottlers, and it’s damn tasty stuff, even at a young age. I have bought quite a few Ledaig’s in the past year, so I could have, and probably will have it permanently represented on my lectern. So, Ledaig it is for now, and after three Longrow Red’s, here is a Hermitage Wine finished Ledaig. Hermitage is a French Red Wine from the northern Rhône region, made with Syrah grapes. Let’s see if this is really a worthy alternative for the Longrow Red’s. A final remark before digging in, this Gordon & MacPhail offering has been reduced to 45%, where the Longrow Red’s are bottled at cask strength, we’ll see if that matters much.

Color: Vibrant orange brown, like a bourbon. No pink Red Wine hue.

Nose: The bottle I’m reviewing now is less than half full, and this really needed to breathe a lot to get where it is now. When freshly opened, I was really disappointed, asking myself, is this it? Quite unbalanced. Yet today, it is another story altogether. Bonfire smoke and the fur of a wet dog, or maybe an animal with a more coarse fur, lets say wet bear then. Dried out cow dung in the middle of summer. Ledaig always has these “animalesk” notes to it. Fresh air with a whiff of paper and chlorine, this is not a bad thing, because it fits the whole. Smoke, nutty, winey, funky and sweet smelling fatty peat. Also licorice is present in this peat. There is a lot going on in this peat-bit alone. Some wood, nice laid back oak. Hints of fireworks (sulphur). The whole is dark and brooding based around great peat and smoke. Motor oil, coffee flavoured candy, and some vanilla. Creamy. Smallest hint of red fruits only, so the influence of the Red Wine casks is somewhat different to other Red Wine finished Whiskies. Partly floral. Yes after the big aroma’s played their part, a more floral note comes popping up from below. There is definitely a lot happening here. Many entirely different aroma’s come together in harmony. Nevertheless, this seems to me to be dirtier than your average Islay Malt, however I’m not entirely sure right now, if this dirtiness hails from Mull or Southern France, my guess would be the former. Good Ledaig again. Smoke, floral, soap and fresh fruit notes now. I can get used to this. So let people get ape-shit some more on the output of Campbeltown, we’ll join in occasionally, and apart from that, we’ll have Mull as our (dirty) little secret. Amazing how this managed to get from this unbalanced state when freshly opened to this harmonious and balanced Whisky it is now.

Taste: On entry, somewhat sweet (red fruit syrup, in part artificial), toffee, animalesk-peat, crushed beetle, ginger bread, caramel and nutty. With a slightly soapy slippery feel to it and woody bitterness for good measure. Amazingly this also has a little red pepper sting to it. Here, it is all slightly less big and powerful and it tastes somewhat diluted compared to the Red’s. I know there are a lot, and I really mean a lot, of cask strength Ledaig’s out there, but this one would benefit from some more ooomph as well. Still, it is what it is and it is a good Ledaig again. Way less complex here than it was on the nose. Hence less words are needed to describe the taste than the nose. Warming bonfire and cigarette ashtray in the finish and warming meaty aftertaste with coffee candy and surprisingly some mint. Very warming indeed.

First of all, this one definitely needs a long time to breathe and if you allow it to, you’ll be rewarded. Just leave the cork off for a day or two after opening, and repeat this process if necessary. Second, just like the Red’s, here we have another successful Red Wine cask finish. By the way, remember this Deanston? The reputation of Mull is growing and before you know it, (it might take a few years), it just might catch up with Campbeltown altogether. It’s a worthy alternative, and it is not more of the same. Luckily, even though the output of Springbank Distillery is very, very good. But we aficionado’s do like the differences that can be had. One minor gripe. Even though this is yet another good Whisky, the reduction to 45% ABV is very well noticeable. Historically these finishes were bottled by Gordon & MacPhail @ 45% ABV, but with the revamp of the different series they had, towards the “new” Connoisseurs Choice, maybe there should be some Cask Strength Wood Finishes as well?

Points: 86

This one is for Luke Todd-Wood, who recommended it to me, without even knowing. Cheers Luke, I guess you already finished your bottle by now!

Longrow Red 10yo “Refill Malbec” (52.5%, OB, 7 years Bourbon Barrels, 3 years Refill Malbec Barriques, 10.000 bottles, 2020, 20/187)

Well time moves fast, and before I even managed to write the reviews of the 2019 Pinot Noir and the 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and get them out, already this 2020 Refill Malbec has been released, the second Red in 2020. Looks like someone’s in a hurry? Is it time to cash in a bit on output from the distillery which isn’t branded Springbank. I really don’t know about the popularity of Longrow and Hazelburn (and Kilkerran) compared to Springbank. But looking at auctions, all are doing quite well, but Springbank itself seems to still perform best. However, it looks to me like the Red series is getting really popular. I’m guessing Springbank Distillery are stocking up on wine casks now and finally have a plan what to do with a lot of the Longrow distillate. But all of this is pure speculation. So what Master Quill initially intended as the two latest Red’s back-to-back, in comes this third one, and hey, after the results of both previous Red’s, I’m not complaining. I got in touch with Nico again and yes here is another bottle share between the two of us. Still not sure about those Red’s, ‘eh Master?

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Initially young, somewhat milky and dusty, and quite oddly, hay and grass we know from Grappa! Young Malt with raisins and old dried out, grated Swiss cheese. Burnt wood and slightly tarry. Dry virgin oak and a pool of fresh rain water. Wait a minute. Just let it breathe for a while. Wow, this is an entirely different Red again. Toasted oak, burning newspapers, pencil shavings and red fruit candy (raspberry), with a tiny acidic note on top. It all comes out in layers. Where the 2019 Pinot Noir shines because of its balance, this…well, this doesn’t, initially. I use the word initially, because experience tells me that these kinds of funky notes often wear off, and this is the start of my half bottle which probably hasn’t seen a lot of air to breathe with. This has red fruits, fresh and artificial. Hints of peat, but the peat is not dominating. This Red, even though it is one of the younger expressions, and as we all know, young peat is the strongest, has soft milk-chocolaty peat. Just compare it to a Longrow 18yo for instance, also soft peat. Some more dull smelling paper, wood and woody spices emerge, otherwise this is (initially) a simple expression or starts out as a very closed one. Bad breath, Winey, candy like, with hints of mint, nice, sweet mint and finally some smoke. Bonfire smoke on a cold night. So bits of peat and soft wood and milk chocolate, that’s the story here. Not very complex and starts out pretty basic. All the slightly less positive remarks made above dissipate after some extensive breathing. The Grappa is gone by now, never to return. The Whisky really gains balance and smells in a way like it wants to show you how it will taste. The 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon still has a much, much better, far more sophisticated and appealing, dare I say, near perfect, nose. I just did, didn’t I? The Pinot Noir works like a good alternative to Oloroso. Let’s not compare the smells of both any further, and by the way, the strength of the 2020 Refill Malbec lies even more in the taste, as we’ll soon find out.

Taste: Initially this comes across as a younger and less balanced expression than the previous two reviewed ones, yet right out of the gate this is still a very tasty bugger! To capture the taste of this Red in one sentence: Liquid smoke mixed with sweet ripe red fruits and red chillies. It certainly has a sting to it and a sweetness that follows. Slightly syrupy and notes of oaky bitterness. Hints of tar and liquorice which matches up well with the red fruit syrup. Salty (and smoky) lips. Definitely more peat here than in the nose, as well as more smoke. Add to that, red fruit jam, rubber and some arome-de-ashtray. In a way this is a bit thin. Not a big rounded out Malt but more of a big flat circle. The sweetness hasn’t enough power to sustain a big body. In many ways it is big (in 2 dimensions), but lacking a bit of depth (the third dimension). So peat smoke and red fruits make up the two dimensions, but in the end it thus lacks some sweetness to counterpart the smoke, peat and wood, to round things out. This sometimes has an element of sulphur. At this point, who cares about the balance and the initial Grappa. This is a fun Red! This is a Big Red (in a way)! Gives off a nice feeling and aftertaste going down. Sweet with peated toffee and the red fruit jam. This one just needs some air to shine even more. Tiny hints of black fruits in the finish. Sweet and again a flinty and slightly burned note. Both are very welcome here. Also remember, Malbec Wines aren’t sweet Wines, so where the sweetness comes from is a mystery to me. Excellent birthday cake. Hints of fireworks and sulphur. Again these are welcome notes, don’t get me wrong. Black tea, a slight bitterness, late pencil shavings and all the time very tasty. Rougher then the previous two reviewed Red’s, but a welcome variant on the theme nevertheless.

Well, this one might be a little rough around the edges, still it surely sort of matches up in quality with the “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” which brought me back into the Red fold in the first place. Sure it starts a tad funky and wonky, but it pulls itself together rather quickly. Interesting. In the end not the same score for both, the taste is almost in the same ballpark quality-wise, but the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon simply has a much, much better nose.

Points: 86

By the way, here is a list of officially released Red’s:

2012 11yo   7 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 4 years Fresh Cabernet Sauvignon Hogsheads (Country unknown)
2013 11yo   6 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 5 Years Fresh Australian Shiraz Hogsheads
2014 11yo 11 years Fresh Port Casks
2015 12yo 11 years Bourbon Casks and 1 year Fresh New Zealand Pinot Noir Casks
2017 13yo 12 years Bourbon Barrels and 15 months Fresh South African Malbec Barriques
2018 11yo   9 years Bourbon Barrels and 2 years Fresh South African Cabernet Franc Barriques
2019 11yo   8 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years Refill New Zealand Pinot Noir Barriques
2020 13yo 10 years Bourbon Barrels and Refill Sherry Hogsheads and 3 years Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels
2020 10yo   7 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years South African Refill Malbec Barriques

Longrow Red 13yo “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” (51.6%, OB, 10 years Bourbon Barrels & Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 years Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels, 9.000 bottles, 2020, 20/08)

Of all the Longrow Red’s that have been bottled, most follow some sort of recipe: first a long maturation in Bourbon casks, followed by a shorter term finish in casks that previously held a Red Wine. Only two deviate from this recipe: 2014’s Fresh Port, which had a full 11 years maturation in Port casks, the other one this 2020’s Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, where part of the initial maturation was carried out in Sherry casks. By the way, the Wine casks for this edition were sourced from Mont Gras’ Intriga Estate in Alto Maipo, Chile.

As mentioned in the introduction of the previous review for the 2019 Pinot Noir edition of Red, when I tasted this Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 edition, I really liked it, so I got half a bottle. Still not sure ‘eh Quill? Probably not. One simply doesn’t put an open bottle in storage, nope, open bottles belong on the lectern here in Master Quill’s castle, and should be enjoyed right away. When tasting through this half bottle, especially when it was still half full, the smell and taste had some great funky organic peat going on, which I really liked, so I even went further and finally bought myself a full bottle, and put it directly in storage, because there is no room for closed bottles on said lectern. Lectern’s aren’t all that big, you know. Nope, there is no need to have the same whisky open twice one right after the other. This shared bottle is now almost empty, usually the moment the distillate of the Springbank distillery is at its best, so time to write up this review…

Color: Bright orange gold. Radiant with a pink hue.

Nose: Warm and creamy peat and dusty. In a way, hints of Wine, but not so much a Cabernet Sauvignon (a Red Wine), but at times more like a fragrant Alsatian White Wine with a little bit of added bonfire smoke for good measure. Definitely more Winey than the 2019 Pinot Noir edition. On top, hints of citrus combined with some funky organics with hints of bad breath. Not actually sweet, but sweeter than the Pinot Noir. Some recognizable notes of Oloroso Sherry, as can be found in several Hazelburn offerings. Wood, pencil shavings, paper and peat with hints freshly crushed green grapes, acidic, as in not very ripe grapes. Aromatic, farmy and perfumy (vetiver?). Soft and fruity, (little forest strawberries?), peat and some sweet and soft smoke. Bonfire smoke again. It starts with fatty and creamy peat, but before you know it, the smoke quietly displaces the peat. Wee hints of vanilla. This vanilla bit seems to be integrated with the fruity notes, like a custard with fruit syrup poured over it. Creamy. Not hard to smell this is a Wine finish though, and once you smell it, it can’t be un-smelled. Toasted Wine infused oak and some more pencil shavings. Faint smell of unlit Cuban cigar. Soft fresh wood and in part resembling the cigar box itself. Sweet funky organic note emerges next, this overall funkiness works wonders in this Malt. Nutty with raisins and next, the smell of an old bar of soap, this particular smell from an old ladies closet. Winey and perfumy. Hints on incense, cold air at night, maybe with a wee puff of smoke, integrated with the air, from an odd fireplace. Now some fragrant and perfumy fresh oak. Definitely some fresh sawn oak, although it doesn’t remind me of virgin oak Whiskies. Red ripe fruits hovering above all the other aroma’s, and a slight hint of yellow fruits well in the body of this Malt. This fruit takes a while to show itself. At times, it smells a wee bit to sweet, if you ask me, but this is only a minor gripe. Nicely balanced and smells accessible. Quite complex and the wood works wonders in this one. The Pinot Noir is the more likeable nose, but this Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely more complex.

Taste: Diluted red fruit syrup, again somewhat sweeter than the Pinot Noir was. Red Wine right from the start, which is easy to spot, when you’ve had Deanston’s Bordeaux offering earlier. Peat and toasted oak only come next, with a short smoky sting from peat and smoke, all very upfront. Almonds, semolina pudding with red berry sauce. Coarse rural toffee. I don’t even know if it exists, but the sweetness tastes like rough and crumbly toffee, not the smooth and runny kind we all know. More aroma’s of (new) wood. Sweet underneath, but with smoke and to a lesser extent peat on top, this is balanced out a bit. Some tar and smoke and some rubber even. Macaroons, After the sweetness and the prickly and smoky bits a more dryer note comes forward, as well as some virgin oak bitterness, almost sappy, savvy? Clay. Without the peat this would be suitable for almost every Whisky drinker, like the aforementioned Deanston, but luckily this has peat and smoke, making it different and for some, more exciting.

In most cases the distillates of Springbank distillery, only get better over time. Gaining in balance and overall taste and smell. we say it has to breathe and needs some time to reach it’s full potential. Here this is not really the case. This is one of those rare “Springbanks” that lose a bit of balance towards the end. The top probably lies around the half full bottle mark, but after that it goes downhill a bit, it doesn’t get bad, but its “deterioration” is noticeable, it loses a bit. In the end this is still a good Whisky, and sometimes it happens that a Whisky somewhat oxidizes, that in itself is no fault. Personally I need to find out if the (Red) Wine finishing is something for me. Still, this one is good, and the Deanston I reviewed last was good as well. Maybe it’s growing on me?

Points: 87

Tamdhu Dalbeallie Dram No.3 (60.7%, OB, Sherry Oak Casks, 1.000 bottles, 2020)

Well, since I already have one of these lying around, why not make it two official Tamdhu’s in a row. After the (initially) slightly disappointing 15yo, I just expected more of a Sherry monster I guess, I gather this special release should have no trouble eclipsing the 15yo. First of all, it has more oomph (higher ABV), more color (A lot darker) and with a mere 1.000 bottles produced, they probably did something special, don’t you think? So I expect a proper Sherry monster again! I’m only human, and I don’t seem to really learn from my mistakes, or so it seems, nevertheless I still do expect a Sherry monster this time.

The first edition of Dalbeallie was released in 2018 at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, and gets its name from the Dalbeallie station. Tamdhu itself opened in 1897 and the station just two years later in 1899. The railway played a key role in the supply of barley and Sherry casks for Tamdhu. The station closed in 1965, but has since been fully restored. Dalbeallie is an annual release, so editon II was released at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2019 and our number III was released this year (2020) on-line, due to Covid-19. Every edition up ’till now, counts only 1.000 bottles.

Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Thick Sherry, with licorice, lots of wonderful fresh oak, crushed dried autumn leaves, nuts and dust (and sometimes some cardboard). Very aromatic and fresh. Old, worn down leather and also meaty. However, like the 15yo, this has a rather large fresh ‘n’ fruity acidity to it. Citrus acidity, more of the lemon and lime kind than oranges, or is it… Floral perfume and some cloves (and some oranges now?). Sometimes whiffs of ozone (like you get from ozone cleaned pools). Initially a bit closed but this is quickly “resolved” with some breathing. Thick, slightly tarry, hints of petrol and brooding, yet not syrupy. Hints of paint and gravy. Seems odd, but odd combinations work well in Whisky. Cardboard and some candied red fruit sugar gello, (or jam for short), deep down below in the nose. Nice wood notes to balance it out, fresh wood and sawdust. The wood notes emerge more and more, the longer this stands in your glass and breathes. Cigar-box sandal wood is linked to the old style perfume. Extremely balanced and a truly wonderful nose. Yes it really does smell like a Sherry monster, 2.0-style.

Taste: Big Sherry. Hot and woody. Fresh dried wood, again remembering cigar boxes. Red fruits with a shadow of sweetness (as in, you know it’s there but you can’t touch it), and definitely some cigar aromas. Cigar box, cigar a cru (the smell of an unlit cigar) and cigar ashes. Powerful wood (bitter). Full of wonderful aroma’s and tastes, yet also lightly unforgiving. Starts out fresh, (new) wood and hot, but picks up caramel and some velvety softness whilst going down. For a millisecond, this is syrupy and sweet and then the dry wood kicks in, and it kicks in good. The wood sticks to the palate. Nice wood, powerful, yet not the overpowering (mouth drying) wood you get from very old Malts. It disperses eventually, making room for cookie dough and letting through a tiny bit of the sweetness I’m sure more is in here somewhere. Extremely tasty. Wow! Just like the 15yo, this is quite fresh and somewhat acidic on top. The aforementioned wood has some cloves and a sharpish edge to it. Freshly sawn oak. A truly wonderful Malt. This is essentially a Sherry monster, but with these fresh characteristics and these more than appropriate wood notes, works very well together. Big, yes, cloying, no. Hints of menthol also pop up. In a way it is almost Christmassy.

It also reminds me a bit of the high powered 2007 Glenlivet’s from Signatory Vintage. First fill Sherry, with extremely high ABV. These Glenlivets are flooding the market since 2017. I really have to open one of those soon, to see if I remember those well. This Dalbeallie seems a wee bit softer. However, it’s really not a soft Malt, the wood is too present for that. It is still a Sherry monster though, but as I said before, in a more modern 2.0-style. Even more wood in the finish than in the body. Not drying, but somewhat soapy. Through the soapy bit (which isn’t a problem by the way) comes the first sign of some real woody bitterness. This bitterness remains for the aftertaste as well as some, almost hidden before, red fruit hard candy. Nevertheless, this is a magnificent dram.

I love it! Definitely worth the price of admittance. I got half a bottle in a bottle share with Nico. I should have gone for the whole thing. Oh well…

Points: 89.

The wood influence is quite big and this takes away a bit from the underlying red fruits and if these fruits would have had a chance to exert themselves some more, this would have been a Dram scoring in the 90’s. Still a very good Whisky!