Royal Brackla 14yo 2006/2020 (59.5%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength Connoisseurs Choice, Refill Hogshead #310821, Batch 20/110, 281 bottles)

Wow, on it for a long time, and still I manage to review a Scottish Single Malt Whisky that has never been featured on these pages before. How nice, and it’s not a new distillery either. This distillery was founded back in 1812 and called itself Royal since 1835, a title awarded by King William IV. Today Royal Brackla is part of the Dewar’s portfolio, owned by Bacardi-Martini since 1998. Other Scottish Single Malts in this portfolio are Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie and Macduff (marketed as Glen Deveron). Apart from Macduff that was owned by William Lawson Distillers as well as the William Lawson’s Brand, the other four distilleries, as well as the Dewar’s Brand, were bought from the newly formed Diageo to avoid a monopoly position. Of the five Single Malt Whiskies, Royal Brackla was the only one absent from these pages until now. As said, the company also owns two blends: Dewar’s and William Lawson’s, both big sellers, and since both are big sellers, Bacardi didn’t do a lot to market the five Single Malts at first. Only since 2014/2015 a big relaunch of the Single Malt portfolio was carried out. They called them The Last Great Malts, a bit of an ominous or sad name to be frank.

Color: Pale White Wine

Nose: Very appetizing, barley, barley sugar and yellow fruits. Very nice perfumed wood, hay, American oak, very elegant. I already love the nose. It reminds me of Whiskies like this that were bottled twenty years ago. Floral and fruity and both go together well. Soft, yet this still manages to leap out of my glass. Mocha and barley. Since the fruit is the dominant aroma, this also smells a bit fruity/sweet. Red fruit (raspberry) candy (again a sweet smell) mixed with some wet wood. The wet wood is a softer (greenish) wood aroma, setting it apart from more spicy dry oak. This is an extremely balanced smelling Whisky for a sunny day and a happy mood. This is not a melancholic drop, but in a way it also is, when it reminds me of Whisky from a while back. For a simple ex-Bourbon cask matured Whisky, this is really likeable and nice. Well made, aged in a good cask. Well done USA! Nice aroma’s and quite some complexity to it as well. There is a lot happening between the sprit and the active cask. Lots of organic and green notes. I would love to have this, when lying on a blanket in some quiet field on a hot, yet slightly windy, summers day. Far from everybody and everything. Yup, melancholic mood Whisky it is. After a while, slightly more oak, with a hoppy note, still green and wet though. Hints of vanilla and some indistinct dry kitchen spices. Hot butter and wax. Good stuff. The more air this gets, and time obviously, the fruitier it becomes. Definitely melancholic, or is it just me?

Taste: Sweet on entry. Very fruity, right from the start. A nice slight white pepper attack, with waxy and quite some wonderful woody and nutty aroma’s following suit. After the first sip, the nose even gets better than it already was. The Whisky evaporating inside your oral cavity, helps the smell further along. The fatty sweetness does dissipate quite quickly for a short acidic burst, leaving room for another yet shorter peppery attack and a somewhat thinner feel. The wood, still green and vegetal, now also shows an austere bitter note. Sappy, as in tree sap. After this happens, the balance can’t really match up with the wonderful balance of the nose. When the bitter note appears in the taste, aroma’s come to the fore, that aren’t really in harmony with each other. The nose itself remains wonderful though, maybe even better than before. Still a kind of bitterness in the finish that doesn’t match the whole, and even for an almost 60% Whisky, a light and shortish aftertaste. Whiskies like this need to be sipped in a high frequency.

So it comes apart a bit in the finish, but the nose is very good en even grows over time, so give it time. I will have fond memories of this one, even though it has this slight “defect” towards the end. Its a defect that can be sorted by upping your sipping speed. So at first you have to be slow, to let it breathe and after that the “race” begins. Like a stage in the Tour de France that ends in a sprint.

Points: 87

Cardhu 11 (56%, OB, Special Release, 2020, L0120CM004)

When I think of Cardhu, or Cardow as it was used to be called, I always remember the fond memories first. The official 22yo, a special release from 2005 was really good. So Cardhu is indeed able to make a Whisky worth noting. Sure, a lot of Cardhu is sold around the world, which doesn’t automatically mean it is very good. It can be, but often it is not. In the core range we have a 12yo, a 15yo and a 18yo, as well as “Amber Rock” and “Gold Reserve”. The Game of Thrones is a variant of the Gold reserve, and let’s not forget the Special Cask reserves which ran somewhere between 2007 and 2012. Most of these I have tried and none of them scored 80 points or higher. (I have yet to try the 18yo and the GoT edition, and surely the 18yo should be able to score in the 80 point range, don’t you think?). For Master Quill, I tried the 2010 Special Cask Reserve and that was a rather disappointing experience. I have tried some Cardhu from the 70’s, and even at 8yo and 43% ABV Cardhu could really rock. So even with this wonky reputation, I was really pleased to see a cask strength 14yo pop up as a special reserve in 2019 (and again in 2021), as well as this 11yo in 2020. This 11yo, was offered at a special price for a short while, and not having bought a Cardhu in a long long time, (and really digging the label), I went for it…

Color: White Wine

Nose: Malty, bread-like (toast), a bit waxy and with some yeast. Clean and fresh otherwise. Citrussy. Quite fruity actually, slightly sweet, with more of the (sugary) barley notes. Slightly milky, which to me is a note of underdevelopment. Luckily this note seems to dissipate after a while. Yellow fruit jam. Very friendly. Soft hints of wet wood, toasted oak and wet earth, combined with some mocha. Leafy and green. This is a lively and friendly Whisky. Floral perfume and slightly soapy. You’d imagine your grandmother liking this (if she drinks anything else beyond tea). Slightly dusty, with a tiny hint of heavily diluted apricot and peach syrup,as well as some (new) cardboard. Sometimes faint notes of a sweet White Wine crop up. As said above, this Malt has a (milky) youth to its nose, which is somewhat masked when you have it by itself (it is noticeable right before the fruity bit kicks in, and definitely more noticeable when the bottle was freshly opened). If you pour yourself another dram before or after this, this milky youth becomes apparent still. So, in the end, this Malt is fruity and floral and the two go together quite well in this Cardhu. This promises to be a highly drinkable Malt, lets see if that is the case here.

Taste: Sweet and peppery. Waxy, very, very fruity, fatty and nutty. Appetizing. Sometimes, this reminds me a bit of Bladnoch, but the fruit sets it apart. The nose does have this greenish note to it, lacking though on the palate. Dry compressed fruit powder candy, as well as canned syrupy yellow fruits. Peaches in sweet yoghurt. Again in the vicinity of the fruity aroma, this Malt also shows its youth here. Showing some slightly underdeveloped notes. The wet wood from the nose is here as well, complete with a slight bitter edge. This is not a problem at all, since the syrupy sweetness quickly takes care of any bitterness, although the feeling of a woody backbone remains. The wood morphs a bit into cold dishwater. Sounds worse than it actually is. Interesting combination of yellow fruits, (stingy) white pepper and the tiniest hint of sweet licorice. Chalk and fruit. Supple juicy fruit aroma’s with quite some alcohol, yet with a dry and chalky feel to it. Fruity sweetness and licorice in the finish and a tasty and warming aftertaste with quite some length.

This is a morning Malt to be had by itself. It is at its best by itself, because it is quite a good Malt, when it’s not compared to anything that might follow. Nevertheless be warned that this doesn’t have a morning ABV to match the feel of this Malt. Apart from that, this is quite a nice Cardhu to boot, with quite some balance to it as well. However, for me personally, it also shows a sort of underdeveloped side of itself, keeping me from scoring it even higher than I did. It is very good and very nice, just has some minor flaws to it. Still, one of the best official Cardhu’s I have tasted. A good buy and it went pretty fast, always a good sign.

Points: 87

Mortlach 12yo 2008/2020 (56.8%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #800110, #800126 & #800127, 710 bottles)

After the wonderful and very interesting Loch Lomond, let’s try another Whisky fully matured in ex-Bourbon casks. This time one that was distilled at Mortlach. Mortlach has quite the reputation with Whisky Aficionado’s and rightly so. For instance, Mortlach 16yo was arguably the best offering in Diageo’s once extensive Flora and Fauna Range. Having this niche popularity, Diageo decided to do something more with the brand that is Mortlach and discontinued the 16yo around 2012 in favour of a Rare Old (NAS, not rare nor old, 80 points), an 18yo and a 25yo (84 points). All in 500 ml bottles! These three were released in 2014 and replaced in 2018 by more common age statement versions: 12yo, 16yo (a magic age statement for Mortlach) and 20yo. All three now in 700 ml/750 ml bottles. Mortlach is known for its Whiskies matured in Sherry casks. The 16yo Flora and Fauna is an example of this, and I thought an offering by Wilson & Morgan was even better than that. No surprise then, this has matured in a Sherry cask as well. I also reviewed a Provenance Mortlach earlier, I suppose was matured in Ex-Bourbon wood, which was not so interesting, so let’s see if this Signatory Mortlach is any good, or we should stick to Sherried versions of Mortlach altogether.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Winey, clear glue, creamy and slightly acidic. Not your usual creamy vanillin kind of smell though. A moment later some more fruits emerge, as well as the creamy vanilla powder notes. Dusty and slightly smoky (probably from toasted oak, not peat). Hints of gravy and cold dishwater, and some soft sugared fruit notes. This is a big Malt, which already shows amazing complexity. Not a cloying smell, since a nice fruity acidity keeps playing its part. This is a Mortlach and Mortlach is a special distillate, and boy, does this smell special. For some this may be a simple kind of Whisky, just pour new make into Bourbon Barrels, mind you, they didn’t even turn those into hogsheads, lazy buggers, and job done, easy, simple, no hassle. Yet Mortlach in a Bourbon Barrel, comes out slightly different from Whiskies from other distilleries matured like this, there is always something different about Mortlach, richer, beefier, meatier, just bigger, special. It’s almost like the fatty acid chains are just longer with Mortlach (without becoming soapy). Hints of raspberry hard candy, next to the half-ripe yellow fruits. Just not as exotic as it can be in well matured Tomatin’s. However, keep in mind that this is only 12yo, and not 30yo like the Tomatin’s I just mentioned. I don’t even know why I brought that up, since Mortlach and Tomatin are very different from each other. So fruity it is, just not all that tropical.

Taste: Sweet and very, very nutty and fruity at the same time, much more fruity than expected actually. Some wood, more akin to pencil shavings than oak, to be honest. Including a slight harmless bitter note. Again, not cloying since the big body also has enough fruity acidity to help it along. Nice. What a wonderful start. Signatory have recently issued some Mortlach Sherry Monsters from the 2010 vintage, which are more or less the same age, but I can’t imagine those ones beating something like this. Licorice powder, some paper and some spices as well as a peppery backbone. Sometimes a sweet minty note pops up. Mocha, milk chocolate. Tastes like a dessert Malt now. Hints of hay, more paper and overall still quite complex. Nice finish and a long warm aftertaste, including the glue again, which you pick up on initially when smelling a freshly poured dram of this.

This is an excellent Mortlach that was not matured in a Sherry cask. Very big and tasty, with complexity and length. The quality is unmistakeable and this will please a lot of Whisky aficionado’s. Its a good example of the spirit of Mortlach and a good example of what “simple” American oak can do. The quality is right upfront, and easy to see for everyone. I scored the Loch Lomond from the previous review slightly higher than this Mortlach, but I also believe, that one might not be for everyone, and you can only find the true beauty of the Loch Lomond when you work it a bit. The Mortlach is more suitable for casual drinking, its always good. the Loch Lomond needs your full attention, otherwise it can be a grumpy old git and will Will-slap you across the face.

Points: 88

Talisker 8yo (57.9%, OB, Special Release, Carribean Rum Cask Finish, 2020)

Talisker is no stranger on these pages, and this 8yo is already the fifteenth Talisker reviewed, and why not, I ask you. Talisker has a lot going for it. It is an excellent distillate, has some peat, although not as much as some others on the market, and has a distinct and maybe unique feature, it is often considered to be peppery. A lot of wonderful aroma’s can converge in a Talisker. Works well in both Bourbon and Sherry, and the core range 10yo is already a very good Whisky. One other distillery manages to tick all these boxes save one. The distillery’s name is Springbank and the box not ticked is the box for pepper, I did say it was an unique feature, didn’t I?

In 2018 the first 8yo was released in Diageo’s annual special releases series. That “first” 8yo, was a very good one, and I remember back then, (and this is not that long ago), the talk of the town were the plethora of NAS releases (in general). At the time, there were many Talisker NAS bottles released as well. This 8yo was so good, a lower number like 8 suddenly became acceptable again, and the public always seem to prefer an age statement, so better a low number than none at all. I guess this took Diageo a bit by surprise, who knows, because there wasn’t an 8yo released in 2019. In 2020 this Caribbean Rum version saw the light of day (rushed maybe?) and earlier this year, another 8yo was released, from the smokiest stock they could find. Looks like the 8yo is here to stay. We’ll see what next year brings.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Initially milky and young. Tasted blind, I would have guessed this was a Lagavulin, since it has some similarities with the 8yo and the 10yo, similarities, which, I didn’t like by the way. I really, really like Lagavulin, never came ‘cross one that was sub par. So when coming across the 8yo and the 10yo, it felt a bit like a sell-out by Diageo, and I was overly disappointed, damn, I didn’t think they would stoop so low as to mess with the ‘vulin. But I digress, back to the Talisker at hand. Sweet tea leaves (wet), rain water and dead dry leaves on the street in autumn. It shows more (quite nice) wood spices when the initial milky component wears off a bit. Spicy, with mild sulfury organics, sweet mint and orange powder. Smells of a distant wood fire whilst walking on a snowy street at night (by yourself). This bit is great. When drinking this Whisky casually, I have a hard time to find any notes of Rum, both in the nose and in the taste. I do now, but for me they are more similar to a Rhum Agricole than the Caribbean Rum that is stated on the label, and by the way, Caribbean Rum, that isn’t really narrowing it down now doesn’t it? So Rum yes, but there isn’t a lot of it though. I feel all the alien notes this Talisker shows us, maybe aren’t even coming from the Rum casks at all, but they probably are. Diluted smoky toffee notes and hints of Brazilian Rum (Epris 15yo). At times sharp. The wood turns towards, toffee, coffee, mocha and pencil shavings. This will improve a lot with air, so give it time, but if you pour yourself another dram, the whole experience starts anew, including the wait for the nose to improve. Recognizable as a Talisker though. Apart from the wonky start the nose is all-right.

Taste: Starts with coarse alcohol, like Wodka, right from the start, not balanced. Paper and cardboard and some residual (barley) sweetness. Not much later the wood and all the lovely aroma’s from American oak kick in, as well as a peppery attack, yes, there it is. The aroma’s are there but the balance still struggles, like its missing a component. The wood also impaired a healthy amount of bitterness onto this Whisky, but since this Whisky also has a bit of sweetness, the bitterness is kept in check. The bitter notes take residence right on the very back of your tongue. Smoky and thus a peppery attack as well, so it’s still a Talisker after all. Fresh almonds, wood and latex paint. Come to think of it, this one isn’t really all that complex. The body of the work is good, the ending a bit less, so the finish shows the unbalance again, and the aftertaste does so as well, and shows us again the bitter notes this has.

First piece of advice. Pour this dram and put it away, let the air do its job first, because the first aroma’s that escape from your glass are too close to new make spirit. And after a long wait the whole experience is much better. The nose improves a lot and therefore the taste is helped along. In the end it is an interesting Talisker, no regrets opening it and it wasn’t a nasty chore to finish it as well (not empty just yet, but it will be soon). I won’t be opening a second bottle anytime soon though. Buy the 2018 version in stead, and well see about the 2021 edition in the (near) future.

Points: 85

Glenfarclas 15yo (52.1%, OB, Limited Edition for The Netherlands, 50% Refill & 50% First Fill Oloroso Casks, 1.800 bottles, 2020)

In 2015, I wrote a review about the core range 15yo (from 2006), and even with 83 points being a half-decent score, it also means it didn’t really blew me away back then. But, as is often the case with core range bottlings, there is a possibility of batch variation. Most distilleries try to replicate a certain profile and they usually succeed. Understandable because the bulk of those bottles are sold to people who like consistency, because they buy the same expression over and over again because that’s the one they like. Lets mention Talisker 10yo as an example of this consistency, although this 10yo exists for quite a while now and a shift in profile as times passes is inevitable, however, the quality seems consistent. Some distilleries are less proficient. Highland Park 18yo comes to mind showing a lot of variation in batches close to one another, just punch the reviews for these 18yo’s up from this site, like these 2012 and 2014 bottlings. Some distilleries embrace the possibility that batch variation gives them, Springbank is a master at this. With Glenfarclas I’m not sure, but I do know that this Dutch 15yo differs quite a bit from the 2006 15yo mentioned earlier.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Fresh, tight and fruity, maybe a little bit sweaty even, as well as some deep and brooding dusty notes, dust and chocolate powder. Sometimes farty organics. Beautiful fresh wood and wax. Fruit cake. Mushy red fruits, mushy after speedy or forced defrosting in a microwave. Wet or soaked oak, slightly sour, yet also some sharp fresh air. Very lively, with red fruit acidity combined with American oak vanillins, milk chocolate and the tiniest hint of toasted cask and cigarette smoke from a sixties living room. Fresh mushrooms. An autumn Whisky for sure. Rainwater flowing down the road. Dusty and quiet with a full on aroma. The woody bits transform into more paper like and old cardboard aroma’s, which sounds horrible, but isn’t. Red fruit still present throughout. Perfumy, leafy and all sorts of kitchen spice notes (a note of some dull, weathered, cinnamon comes to mind, mixed with the toasted oak and the chocolate powder), give this one some time to release all the aroma’s. It’s almost like it is in part steeped in the past and in part modern. Very well balanced. Very nice.

Taste: Starts sweet and fruity, like diluted jam, forest strawberry jam, raspberry jam, red fruit jam altogether. Warming going down, well balanced and tasty. Nice wood aroma’s, just the right amount. Fresh oak and toasted oak are all here. Nutty. Tiny hint of tar and toast mixed in the distance with some menthos (I don’t get that all the time though), which is a nice addition to the fruity and syrupy notes. After swallowing, a slightly more dry and spicier wood note comes forth, as well as more tar. Again warming and drying my lips. So definitely some astringent wood with actually not a lot of bitterness. At times slightly soapy, but not every time I taste this. The woody bit of the body, let’s say the middle bit, seems to have some definite tarry notes to it. Tasty stuff, really good, especially after not expecting this one to be this good.

When analysing this one in my controlled environment, it is a very good expression, when tasting this one randomly, let’s say within a flight of some other Whiskies, this one performs differently, so beware. It doesn’t overpower others so it depends a bit, what came before. It can be easily overpowered by other Whiskies, and I don’t even mean your heavy hitting Islay Whisky or a bona-fide confirmed Sherry monster, no, even a normal refill bourbon casked single cask Whisky like the Tamnavulin 8yo I just reviewed can overwhelm this Glenfarclas. Something one wouldn’t say from tasting this Glenfarclas alone.

Top tip, give this one the attention it deserves, take your time with it and you’ll be rewarded. Still, this is very tasty stuff and it is better than I initially expected. As said above, it is well balanced. This is a bottle that will be gone soon, since when I see this standing on my lectern, the only words that come to mind are “yes, please” and off comes the cork. A fun and foremost a very good Whisky. An instant gratification Malt. Maybe not all that complex, but what you get is very balanced and tasty. As I said, this will be finished soon. Is this really merely the undiluted version of the core range 15yo? If so, it is a worthy special release by any means and decently priced to boot for those el cheapo Dutch. Lucky bastards!

Points: 89

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!