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

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

Color: Straw.

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

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

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

Points: 86

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Lagavulin 8yo (48%, OB, Refill American Oak, Limited Edition, 20.000 bottles, 2016)

Here at Master Quill, we love Lagavulin. In fact if you like your peated Whiskies, then it is really hard to find a bad Lagavulin. It has always been a Single Malt of very high quality and rather rare to encounter as an independent bottling, although there are quite a few out there. Another amazing fact is that the “regular” 16yo is still very, very good, and very, very, affordable. Well done Diageo. For now, because when they start tinkering with Lagavulin 16yo, or delete the Talisker 10yo, well, that wouldn’t be so good now would it.

We all know, the Whisky marked changed quite a bit the last few years, it the demand! It’s therefore harder to put out well aged Malts for a price, older Whisky drinkers are used to. In come the NAS (No Age Statement) bottlings with funny names. Like for instance Talisker Skye (the island it hails from), Talisker (Dark) Storm (it is windy on the Isle of Skye), Talisker Port Ruighe (Pronounced as Port Ree, as in Portree, the largest town on Skye), Talisker 57 North (the location on the map) and Talisker Neist Point (a local lighthouse).

With Lagavulin, Diageo didn’t really venture into NAS territory, instead they released this 8yo. Sure still young like many other NAS bottlings, but this time we, the consumer, get to know its age. For one we now know there isn’t any three year old Whisky in this expression, because all the others must have it. No, this time we are not being conned and we are now more than happy to pay for a relatively young Whisky and feel quite good with it. Yup, put on an age statement, even if its 5yo (Benromach) or this 8yo, and everybody’s happy. I’m sure this Lagavulin got a break from the drinking public, whereas the Taliskers mentioned above were criticized to the bone. I for one like age statements, but do not necesseraly dislike NAS bottlings. However, not knowing whats in it, makes me more hesitant in buying them without tasting it first. With an 8yo, you somehow know what to expect…

Lagavulin 8yoColor: Pale straw. Very light.

Nose: Sweetish laid-back peat. Nice spicy feel to it, in part made up of burnt wood, or even better, burning wood. Usually young peated Whiskies tend to be quite heavy on the phenols, but this one smells quite nice and almost elegant. Ashes and candy. Slow development. Hints of rubber, crushed apples turning brown and some distant cigarette smoke. It also has a slightly acidic fruity note. Unripe pineapple and green apple skins. Fresh wood and fern, with mocha tones. Milk chocolate and . It wants to be warming but hardly is. It is a Lagavulin alright, in many ways a lighter version of the 12yo cask strength expression. Sure some might say it’s lighter in style, maybe slightly under-developed, or less complex, but when you spend some time with it, smelling it, it actually is wonderful stuff. Well balanced. Love it.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. To sweet and fruity? Bubblegum, well didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect it to taste like this after thát nose. Very nutty. Almonds and hazelnuts ground to a pulp. Where is the peat? Ahh there it is. Well definitely not a heavy hitting high phenol young peated Whisky. Nope. We can call this very fruity by Lagavulin standards. With some air I get hints of new make spirit. Not the spirity part, but the barley part of it. This one really doesn’t improve giving it a lot of time to aireate in the glass. It shows more imperfections that way, showing, it isn’t really finished yet or even some exposing flaws in the “design”. The finish is medium at best, but shorter than it should have been. How did it get so light, friendly and simple? High drinkability, but in this case even at 48% ABV isn’t enough. It is a very nice one to drink, but the weakness lets it down a bit, or is it too simple, and maybe that lets it down a bit. Maybe both, the truth often lies in the middle, or were my expectations a bit to high.

Beforehand I wanted to compare this one with the 1995 European oak version, but I think it’s better compared to the Wilson and Morgan Caol Ila, also a young peated Whisky.  Smelling the Caol Ila right after the Lagavulin, it seems to have some exhaust fume notes and clay. Garage, new car. Notes I didn’t pick up on when reviewing it. An unusual and very interesting note, just like the petrol taste in good Rieslings. I now love this Caol Ila even more. Smelling the Lagavulin after the Caol Ila, the Lagavulin shows more barley, bread and cocoa, and definitely more youth. I guess lots of the casks weren’t very active anymore. The Lagavulin is even lighter in colour than the Caol Ila. Although the Lagavulin is slightly higher in ABV the difference is noticeable. The Caol Ila is slightly nuttier with nice fruity notes. It tastes well matured and a bit beyond the 9yo it has under its belt. In this direct comparison, I like the Caol Ila better.

I have bought a few of these Lagavulin 8yo’s on good faith and even though I’m a bit surprised how it turned out, I’m not altogether unhappy with it. It still is pretty decent, but it’s not what I expected it to be, and it may still have to find its place in the bigger scheme of things, but let me say this, the 1995 I mentioned above is way better!

Points: 84

Heartfelt thanks go out to Nico for letting me have a sample.

Dutch Courage Aged Gin 88 (44%, Zuidam, Batch 001, 2013, The Netherlands)

Over here, summer has now seriously started. For the time being anyway, so it would be no use, and somewhat odd to try to review a nice heavy hitting, iodine clad, peated Whisky, now would it. Sure, I could go for a nice Rum, since that is a distillate that loves these kinds of temperatures. However, yesterday, after spending most of the day outside, I suddenly had a craving for a nice Gin & Tonic. Looking back I only reviewed only one Gin on these pages, since I guess, Gin more or less belongs in a good Tonic, and not a lot of people drink Gin neat. By the way, I can’t stress that enough: Tonic must be good if you want a nice experience, without downplaying the role of Gin of course. That would be almost blasphemous now wouldn’t it. The first Gin I reviewed here was the organic Gin of Hven, which is excellent, and worthy of my reviewing method of tasting it neat. If it’s good neat, it must be good with Tonic right? Not the case, but a good start. It all depends how the combination will work. Today we’ll have a look at a Dutch Gin, made by mad professor Patrick van Zuidam. No ordinary Gin, but an aged one. This one has aged in new American oak barrels. Let’s try this one neat as well, so I can familiarize myself with it, and work out which Tonic to pair it up with.

Dutch Courage Aged Gin 88Color: Citrus gold.

Nose: A very appetizing smell. Lot’s of citrus. Sweet orange skins and other citrus fruit skins, with hints of fresh (not sweet) orange juice. Nice soft Juniper comes next. Not overpowering at all, it is used with taste. Spicy, sweet cinnamon and (toasted) oak. It actually smells like spices used for baking cookies. The slightly sweet profile (It’s not an old Tom, mind you), is enhanced by the vanilla-like notes coming from the American oak. Although it is aged, it hasn’t been ageing for a long time I guess, it doesn’t smell like a very old distillate to me. It has kept it youthfulness, but the ageing did give it an extra layer, making it softer and “rounder”.

Taste: Slightly bitter and definitively sweeter than I expected. Still not an Old Tom though. Heaps of nice (sweetish) citrussy notes. Nice Orange notes, but also some more fresher citrus components. As with the nose, the juniper is present, without overpowering, allowing for great balance. Spicy, the cookie spices are here too, but this time with a shift towards licorice. In the background a vanilla pudding note, which adds to the perception of sweetness (or “roundness”). All that is present in the finish which seems to be built around sugared anise seeds. Nice. Again, Gin, for me, is often not meant for sipping, but just like Hven, it is unbelievably drinkable. Maybe it is a sort of hybrid between Gin and Genever (the granddaddy of Gin, which most of the time is consumed neat).

One day I made two G&T’s, for me and my wife to try. I paired up this Dutch Courage 88 with Indi Tonic and for comparison the well-known Hendrick’s with the also well-known Fever Tree. Although the latter makes for a very good G&T, one easy to enjoy, however, the combination of Indi with Dutch Courage was something else. Softer, excellent bitters, with a lot of aroma’s presented in excellent balance. Definitely a must-have Gin. I’ll have a go at this Gin soon, paired up with some more Tonic’s. Recommended!

For the completists, I also did a head to head with Hven Gin. The Zuidam is more accessible, sweeter and benefitted of oak ageing. The Hven is obviously unaged, but also even softer on the nose, more restrained. The taste initially also shows some sweetness, and for a moment nothing happens, but it doesn’t take long for taste-evolution to take place. These two are actually very nice to try one after the other, like they were meant to be together. Both are excellent sippers. Luckily I don’t have to choose between them, because both are worthy in any liquor cabinet. My advise, buy the biggest bottle available, both of them.

Points: 81 (and believe me, that is quite a lot of points for a Gin by itself).

UPDATE (29-6-2016): I did a H2H2H with Hven, Hendrick’s and this Zuidam. First of all the Hendrick’s is the one best behaved. It’s nice and friendly and definitely the subtlest. You can’t go wrong with it and it a worthy sipper. The Hven is sweeter and a bit bolder. Bigger if you want, but also somewhat simpler. Another good sipper. This Zuidam however is something exceptional. It is big and dirty. Tasting the three side-by-side, this one seems to have some goût de pétrole you get in good Rieslings. Less typical Gin I guess, but very special nevertheless. For me a must-have.

Bruichladdich 32yo 1970/2002 (44.2%, OB, First Fill American Oak Casks, 4200 bottles)

Let’s step things up a bit with this legendary Bruichladdich. Bruichladdich was founded in 1881, and the distillery was built by Barnett Harvey with money the family got from an inheritance from his brother. It is not the Barnett family’s first distillery though. In 1881 they also own the well-known distilleries: Yoker and Dundashill. Between 1929 and 1936 the distillery is closed. Much later in 1983 the distillery was closed as many others were, but fortunately it was saved (in the same year) and didn’t get demolished. Next the distillery was again closed between 1995 and 2000. In 2000 the distillery was bought for £6.5 million, by a group of investors. Quite a good investment since this group sold the distillery again for £58 million in 2012. The new owner being Rémy Cointreau.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Old bottle. Waxy and very full and heaps of character. Vanilla with some nice acidity. There is also a fantastic woody note. Smells a lot like a 1972 Caperdonich (from a Bourbon cask), but fresher, less heavy, but don’t make the mistake thinking this is a light nose. Very drying nose, dusty and powdery and full of fresh air. All written here isn’t released by the Whisky in one go, it is released in layers. This nose alone would score sky-high. Absolutely stunning.

Taste: Fruity vanilla which is transported by a fabulous bed of wood. Sugared yellow fruits, again apricots (I get that a lot lately), but also a nutty part, almonds, but nothing bitter. A hint of toasted cask (sweet wood). Perfect big bold body with a mouthfeel to match. Good finish, it leaves a taste in your mouth that should have gone on forever.

This is a Whisky that fetches a pretty penny at auctions today. I should have bought this when it got out. In today’s market, Whiskies like this would be put in some sort of crystal decanter or another polished over the top packaging and would go for 1000 or 2000  Euro’s easily. Having said that, it’s probably worth the 500 Euro’s it costs today. Go and get it, I’ll vouch for it. I had this at 91 up untill now, but that was a grave error on my part. The new score is…

Points: 92

Glengoyne Week – Day 2: Glengoyne 15yo 1991/2006 ‘Jim’s Choice’ (57%, OB, American Oak Sherry Butt #1083, 693 bottles)

We lifted off safely, and now we are on our way with Glengoyne. In 2005 Glengoyne started a series of ‘Choices’. In 2005 the Lucky choices were made by stillmen Ronnie, Ewan and Duncan. In 2006 the mashmen Peter, Jim and Charlie had a go, and finally in 2007 Billie, Deek and Robbie chose their casks to be bottled. Good choice, bad choiceRobbie is the distillery manager and Deek and Billie are warehousemen.

Today’s Butt was chosen by mashman James ‘Jim’ Leslie. This sort of this is always interesting to me. A Sherry Butt made of American oak, instead of Spanish or French oak.

Jim’s said the following about his choice; “I love Glengoyne at this age – the cask and the whisky are perfectly balanced. There is plenty of sweet fruit and rich oak.”

Color: Gold.

Nose: Wow, nice and spicy, apples, waxy with cold toasted wood. Rotting leaves. Not woody at all. Very lively and fresh. Fresh cut grass. Given some time the wood does start to play its part. Wood related vanilla (dry, as opposed to ‘sweet’ ice cream). Barley, mocha and clean, slightly sour oak. Also some varnish.

Taste: Spicy and elegant wood. Fino Sherry. Tobacco and cigar box. Slightly soapy, which also makes it a little bit unbalanced. The initial sweetness is gone quite quickly. Barley and dried grass. Pickle water (sweet/sour). Where the soap affects the balance of this Whisky, the finish does that too. It breaks down rather quick, and the whole palate is too much dominated by wood. No need to tell you that the finish is dry.

Well, for a Glengoyne this is a bit disappointing, and that’s saying a lot! Nosing it, I can imagine Jim to choose this, but on the palate there are so much more beautiful Glengoynes around. Especially the balance of the palate could have been better. Not bad.

Points: 86

Glenkinchie 12yo (43%, OB, American Oak, Circa 2010)

Glenkinchie can be good, but despite the efforts of the proud people working there, Glenkinchie will always be known as the distillery that Diageo saved by adding it in the Classic Malts range and thereby closing Rosebank.

Earlier I reviewed a Single Cask Glenkinchie bottled by Signatory Vintage and that was pretty good! This time around let’s see how the entry-level 12yo bottled by the owners will do. This 12yo replaces the 10yo that was available earlier.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Malty and quite big. Should that be surprising for a Lowlander? Guess not, since the Glenkinchie mentioned above was quite big too. Cardboard and vanilla ice-cream. It may be simple, but it smells quite nice. Sour spices. A strange kind of sawdust vanilla. Also some thick sugary yellow fruit sensation. Passion fruit. Weak peppermint candy and a slight hint of plastic.

Taste: Sweet wood and a hint of urine. Beer and wood. A drop of liquorice water on cardboard. The beer is there in the finish too. Not a very strong finish. A bit anonymous actually and very simple and subdued. Luckily the initial taste is good.

Hmmm I wouldn’t choose this as my daily drinker, but it does show you what Glenkinchie can be. It does have potential, but it barely shows itself in this one. It’s decent and dirt cheap, but it’s a silent partner, it doesn’t say much (to me). There was also a Cask Strength version made for the Friends of the Classic Malts and that one was very good. One problem only. That version is four times the price of this Glenkinchie, and that’s a bit of a shame really.

Points: 83

Glengoyne 12yo ‘100 Proof’ (57.2%, OB, American Oak, Circa 2007)

There’s also ‘Cask Strength’ on the label, but wouldn’t that be really convenient that it’s precisely 100 Proof. What luck! And American Oak, what is it, a barrel, a hogshead, an American white oak butt or puncheon even? Just a little bit too much nonsense on the label.

Glengoyne then. Glengoyne got my interest because they were one of the first to specifically state, ‘unpeated malt’ on their labels. Also, I like the looks of the bottle ánd for still using Golden Promise amongst other barley’s of course. Golden Promise is somewhat of the holy grail of grains, because it is supposed to be very flavoursome. But the yield is not so good, compared to the favorites of today (which make all whiskies taste the same, to come out bluntly). So lets see if this one, and remember this is a fairly priced bottle, makes a golden promise.

Color: Very full gold, almost orange.

Nose: Malty and chocolaty, absolutely high-proof. Also quite a musty smell, heavy on yeast. Meaty even. The American Oak statement leads me to believe this is from Bourbon Casks, but the musty smell is very resemblant of Sherry and or First Fill Bourbon. Raisins. Very un-clean for a Glengoyne (which almost sounds like a complement doesn’t it?). Spicy and quite a good balance. This could well be a bang-for-your-buck type of malt.

Taste: Toasted wood, but still a lot of yeast. Can’t shake the Sherry here. High proof, so it makes an impression. Although this has bold flavours, the quality of the spirit shines through. Very Ahorn syrupy sweet, and corn sweetness, that’s totally different from the Ahorn. It almost tastes like a wheater! This could be a Weller, with some sherry musty and creamy yeastyness. It’s a picture with thick broad strokes. It is thick.

I know that Glengoyne is the perfect spirit to mature in refill casks. This is the way they make their casks “refill” for the next batch. But isn’t this first fill Glengoyne great? Simple, and with a style of its own. Very un-typical for Glengoyne, but still very nice. Maybe a bit too sweet? This I would drink playing cards. Lovely.

Points: 86