Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram” (46%, OB, First Fill Bourbon & First Fill STR barrique)

Happy 2021! After dry Januari, finally the moment has arrived to forget about the past year, may it never return, in no shape or form whatsoever. However, all is still not well with the world at the beginning of 2021. I hope this review reaches you in good health and sound mind. With this new year, I’ll kick off with a new dram from a new Distillery. Kingsbarns is the new distillery owned by the Wemyss-family, a name we already know as an independent bottler of Single Malts like the Bowmore “Aniseed Pastille” and the Clynelish “Cayenne Cocoa Bean“, Malts I reviewed earlier.

Kingsbarns Distillery lies approximately six miles from St. Andrews, close to the Kingsbarns Golf Links. This is not a coincidence since the distillery was the dream of former Golf Caddie Douglas Clement. Word is that clients of Douglas’ were asking for directions to the nearest distillery, for “refreshments” after a strenuous game of golf, and since there really wasn’t a distillery close by, Douglas came up with the idea of having a distillery much closer to the golf course. Douglas found a suitable site close to the Golf Links. He found the derelict East Newhall Farm that serviced Cambo House and Estate. The buildings originated from around 1800 as part of the East Newhall Farm. Owned by Thomas Erskine, the ninth Earl of Kellie, and were restored for the use as a distillery in the original style. The farm, now distillery, overlooks barley fields, what else do you need? Kingsbarns Distillery opened in November 2014 and began filling casks from March 2015.

Raising money for a distillery was too much for Douglas alone, so he looked for financial backing, eventually finding the Wemyss family. Some reports mention that Wemyss simply joined the project, where others mention Douglas was bought out by Wemyss. As far as I know, Douglas worked together with Wemyss to fulfil his dream. The Wemyss family themselves probably were interested in the project, because they already did have a Whisky business and thus know their way around, but also have a historical link with this site as well. The 7th Earl of Wemyss owned part of the Cambo Estate between 1759 and 1783.

Color: White wine

Nose: Very Malty and grassy, but also pleasant. Young and creamy with hay, cereal and citrus aroma’s. Yes. very Lowland. Somewhere between soft and fresh ‘n zesty. Young, but not really new make spirit young (so nothing like young Tomatin, which is more milky and acidic to boot). Vanilla pudding with a little bit of American oak (vanilla and some wood spice), soft wood. Sweet mint candy. Menthos and vanilla ice-cream. With some air more friendly floral notes emerge. Already quite balanced and accomplished for such a young malt, but young and simple nevertheless. The nose can be compared easily with something like Bruichladdich Organic (the vintage ones @ 50% ABV), which are around twice the age, and still those are considered to be very young. The Bruichladdich tastes much bigger though. Tiny hint of toasted oak and a winey top-note. What was STR-cask again Kato? (Shaved, Toasted en Re-charred). Nice nose, better than expected. After some more breathing a little bit of new make does show up, but not much. However once this note shows up, it never leaves again, so definitely a young expression, but that’s what we expected now, didn’t we? Perfumy and aromatic next, like a Dutch Korenwijn or Jenever. A light Whisky for springtime, an introduction.

Taste: Sweet and citrussy, floral and grassy, but also a bit (sugar) watery (with licorice) and simple. Again, this whiff of toasted cask, lemongrass and young sweet malt. The sweet note makes for an instant gratification Malt, be it a very simple one. Here the youth is even more noticeable. It definitely lacks a lot of complexity and some balls. What you taste is what you get. It doesn’t really evolve much in my glass. It’s very soft and friendly, like a soft spoken person. Humble and kind. Lowland-ish in style. Luckily, some backbone is offered by a peppery note and warm wood. Cold White Wine storage complete with a whiff of new cardboard. The higher ABV of 46%, does help to lift things a bit up, although I do believe this Malt could have done with an even higher ABV. Very short sweet finish, peppery and warming, dessert-like, with hardly any aftertaste.

The nose shows this distillate really has potential. I guess this will be very nice when it gets more years behind its belt. The Lowland quality is there, time and the people of Kingsbarns will do the rest. A Malt to start your evening with. Treat this as an introduction, a young whisky to present itself. We now know what style to expect. It is most definitely not a full blown Whisky yet, and if you buy a bottle expecting a proper aged Whisky, you’ll be disappointed. Nice one for building expectations. We’ll be watching this one to see how this develops further.

Points: 76

Thanks go out to Nico, for this sample of his Whisky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points: 87

Amrut Kadhambam (50%, OB, Batch No. 6, Bourbon matured, Rum, Sherry & Brandy Finish, 2017)

If you read my reviews back about Indian Malts, you know they are quite to my liking. However, the last review I did was way back in 2019, remember those pre-Corona days? How different life was back then? So it is about time to review a few more. Today I’m having a look at another Amrut. This time Kadhambam, which is the Tamil word for mixture. Well, what they have concocted here is a mixture of different finishes. The Amrut standard Single Malt (Bourbon matured) has been further matured in casks that previously held Rum, Sherry and Brandy. Those casks are then married together to form this Single Malt.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Malty, somewhat less Indian spices than expected but there is still a lot here, in part masked by a lot of other aroma’s. Dusty and sweet. Toffee with nice organics. Fruity, jam-like sweetness and almonds. Vanilla and powdered orange candy. The base Bourbon matured Malt is easily discernable, so the finishes didn’t overpower the Malt. It is also definitely noticeable, that a lot of different casks were used. The Brandy bit is recognizable from my earlier experiences with Port Charlotte CC:01 which was Cognac cask matured. When I smell this with a low flow rate, let’s say 5 seconds worth of snorting (which is quite long, just try if for yourself), lots aroma’s pass by. It is soft and spicy at the same time, very fruity and appetizing. Quite late in the mix the woody bits come forward. Licorice, pencil shavings and the familiar toasted oak. Cold sweet black tea, more licorice and a slight hint of tar. This might seem like a Whisky where just a lot was thrown together, yet still it manages to reach such a high level of balance. Amazing. This turned out very nicely.

The aroma’s of this Malt are transported well. 50% ABV is a very good strength for this. 40% ABV is rather weak for a Modern Malt and 60% ABV can be quite overpowering for some. Old Malts were made differently from different barley varieties, maybe different yeast strains and the cask may have been different. Old Malt’s could be easily diluted to 40% ABV. Just look at G&M’s Longmorn from 1971. Not everything was working At 40% ABV, but a lot did, and today that percentage would be lower. I don’t think Douglas Laing bottled their Old Malt Cask Whiskies at 50% ABV by accident, although I do suspect some economics were applied as well. If you reduce Whisky (a bit), you end up with more bottles to sell. But hey, Whisky is also a business, even though for some of us it feels like a charity. So nothing wrong with the business of it all. Luckily for us aficionado’s, Douglas Laing stopped diluting at 50% ABV. A heartfelt thanks for that!

Taste: Starts sweet and fruity, but thinking back to Port Charlotte CC:01, I don’t really remember that cask giving off this kind of sweetness. Toffee, runny warm caramel, fruit syrup and jam. The perfect sweetness takes a while to move over. Indian spices, almonds and licorice, toasted oak, sweet ripe red fruits and green banana. Let it breathe, it may be a bit closed at first (especially when you’re dealing with a freshly opened bottle). Wood in the back, as well as some cold ashes from the fireplace. There is a lot happening in this Malt, so all this stuff needs a while to break free. Very well balanced with a fruity and nutty aftertaste. Tasty! The longer this stands the nuttier the taste becomes. Amazing balance. Another cracker!

The price is gradually rising over the past few years, but at today’s price-point it is still very recommended. I guess the score reflects that.

Points: 88

Cragganmore 1999-2019 (51.2%, Malts of Scotland, Bourbon Hogshead, MoS 19038, 312 bottles)

Finally a chance to review a sample of Whisky, instead of one of my own bottles I have to hurry to review before it is gone. Cragganmore it is then, which has been probably a long time since I had one. Sure, I did already do a few reviews already, but since those works of art, I probably haven’t touched a Cragganmore at all, even outside of reviewing. I do have two or three bottles at home, but never got around to opening one of those. It isn’t also one of the favourite distilleries amongst my friends. I’ll have to check with them. Somehow it also never got rid of the “under the radar” status I mentioned earlier and yet it isn’t one of the worst Whiskies either. So, what is it with Cragganmore, that makes it so invisible? Maybe it should deserve this onder-the-radar-but-very-nice status or is it a hidden gem? Time to have another go.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Biscuity. Clean and fruity. Strong aroma. This leaps out of my glass like a happy puppy when I come home. Tail wagging! Latex paint and very soft wood throughout. Fresh and quiet now (you know the introvert type). Not a puppy any more. Vanilla and caramel, but no signs of toasted oak. Thus no heavy cask influence. The color is also witness of this. The Malt is sweet and accessible. Slight hint of rotting grass, well rotting is maybe a bit of a strong word, let’s say cut grass that has been lying around for a while. Ice cream with more floral and plant-like aroma’s. Dried autumn leaves. Also a fruity note in the back, like dried apricots and fresh hazelnuts. Do I detect a hint of smoke there in the back as well? More vanilla ice-cream, lemon sherbet and smoked and sugared lime peel. Excellent. However, the beauty lies in the details, as is often the case with Malts like this. So if you are a fan of Sherry monsters only, this is not for you. Refill Bourbon hoggie fans will know what to do with this one.

Taste: Very sweet on entry. Yes, vanilla ice-cream and lemon sherbet. Mocha, hard coffee candy (hopjes) and chocolate custard. Dare I say a hint of cannabis, or does that make me Dutch? Very tasty and very friendly. Fruity and not too sweet. Some wood in the background, like a wooden frame around the vanilla and lemon dessert notes. It’s not really bitter, but the bitter notes are quite interesting in this Malt. You have the obvious bitterness you get from oak, but here there is also this bitterness you get from lemon peel, or lets say, the white fluffy bit from the inside of the peel. This doesn’t seem very complex, especially for a 19yo or 20yo Malt. It also doesn’t show a lot of evolution, but what is there is balanced and just tastes very good. This Cragganmore is from the same class as a Signatory Vintage Glen Keith. The finish is similar to the body and than slowly fades away. Medium finish, maybe some vanilla and cannabis in the aftertaste and a woody sensation on the sides of my tongue.

Well a light colored Cragganmore, from a single not so active cask, well if this isn’t aficionado territory then what is? But here we have a perfect example of a quiet Whisky at cask strength from a good distillate with time as an ingredient. Maybe not entirely a surprise how this older refill Bourbon Hoggie performs. If the distillate is good and the cask isn’t worn out or has a bad vibe, what could go wrong? This combination always seems to give us decent Whiskies.

Points: 87

Thanks go out to Rik for the sample!

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

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

Color: Light gold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caol Ila 10yo 2005/2015 (55.9%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel #301535,for Whisky Warehouse Belgium, 233 bottles, AE/JACE)

Another bottling for Belgium, what’s up, Belgium! Not all that long ago, not a lot of Caol Ila was available, and look at it now. With every turn of your head, if you are in the right place that is, there is a bottle of Caol Ila of some sorts available. Lots of OB’s to choose from, an even more IB’s. So when Caol Ila is this easy to get, with so much variation, and often fairly priced, and with nice quality, I made a deal with myself to always have a Caol Ila open on my lectern. When the “Milano” bottling was finished, I quickly replaced it with this “Belgium” one and opened it immediately. Both examples were bottled by Gordon & Macphail, but where the “Milano” was reduced, to keep the price down I guess, this “Belgium” is not. (Cask Strength hurray!) The last time I checked, Belgium is also a slightly bigger place than Milano…

Color: White wine, a bit pale though, for a first fill after 10 years.

Nose: More fruity than peaty. Lovely and elegant nose. Very fruity (initially more acidic than sweet), and fresh. Excellent. Mixed in with the fruit is a nice woody and light smoky note, but where is the peat? In a way, this is soapy and floral. Nothing bad though, there won’t be any foam to come out of your nose. Ripe yellow fruits and some smoke. Hints of vanilla from the American oak. Also a slightly spicy and this light woody note. Wonderful stuff. The smell carries a promise of a sweetish Malt. I did already mention ripe fruit, didn’t I, but there is also this note of overripe fruit, the kind that attracts insects, just before it turns bad and rots. Again, in this case, this is not a bad thing. More soft powdery vanilla from the oak. It exerts itself some more. Hidden away in the fruit and smoke, there is this floral type of peat. I recognize it now. In comes this meaty note as well. Nice development in the glass. Whiskies like this fly a bit under the radar, but are actually a lot of fun. Just a Bourbon barrel or hoggie, ten years of time, and there is a lot of beauty to behold in the details of such a Malt. It doesn’t always have to be a big Sherried Malt. Good stuff, this Caol Ila.

Taste: Sweet on entry, and here it starts out with peat. Go figure. It’s big, sweet, fruity and peaty. Warming and spicy going down. Spicy wood and dust. Cardboard and dry vanilla powder. Much peatier and smokier than the nose was. The nose and taste might differ, but work together well. Lets call it well balanced. Less balanced though is the rest of the body and the finish. The entry and the first half of the body are great, big bold, very aromatic. Second half is a bit less interesting. The balance starts suffering, and the initially well integrated aromas come undone. Turns a bit ashy, which also highlights the cardboard aroma mentioned earlier. When the finish starts, I feel this is the right time to take another sip. Something a bit off there. The wood starts to show some acidity (and more bitterness), that doesn’t fit the peaty fruit that is so wonderful in the start. It feels like the roof of my mouth contracts. So, first half of the Malt, excellent, second half, the “players” seem to lose their synergy a bit. Bugger.

The label states the distilling date to be 21/02/2005 yet only mentions a bottling month: February 2015. However, the glass bottle itself carries the bottling code AE/JACE, and, how convenient, a date: 23/02/2015, so yes, 10 years old (barely). Way less peaty then the previously reviewed Belgian offering though.

Points: 84

Kilchoman 4yo 2007/2012 (60.9%, OB, Bourbon Cask #390/2007, for The Nectar Belgium)

The Kilchoman I’m about to review was just bottled when I wrote the last Kilchoman review on these pages. When I bought the bottle I’m about to review, it was already an oldie in Kilchoman-time. Both this bottling and my two previous Kilchoman reviews came from 2012, the year I reviewed the 2010 Spring and 2010 Summer editions. All this already 8 years ago! Well, a lot has happened at Kilchoman since then, mostly good (f.i. they make terrific Whisky), but unfortunately also some bad (a kiln fire and an exploding boiler to name but a few).

Kilchoman is a farm distillery on the isle of Islay (Scotland). You know, the place where legends are like Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and a few others that are also well known in the world of Whisky. In comes this “new” distillery (Founded in 2005). Today we have a bottle that is a mere 4 years old (and some months), all the other distilleries on Islay have mostly properly aged Whiskies on the market, so can this offering be anything good at so young an age, from a fairly new distillery? I already know the answer to this, but please read on to find out for yourself.

Color: White Wine, with microscopic small cask sediment particles. Macro flavour molecules, probably a good sign!

Nose: Thick fat peat, and lots and lots of smoke. Licorice. Black and white powder. Salmiak and crushed beetles. Smoked (white) flowers and more peat. More smoke, sweet smoke and an underlying citrussy note. Fresh air, combined with a zesty citrussy aroma. Not the oily bits from the skin, but the fruit within. The fresh air then gets accompanied by whiffs of the smell of a fireplace in winter. Don’t you just like to be outside on a cold winter evening, or night, where people are burning logs in their fireplace at home? Don’t you feel the warmth of family now? Next, (fresh) oak and some dried fish, but foremost sweet licorice. This just screams peat and smoke. However, the smoke may have started out sharply, but it is not sharp now, it’s quite soft and very well integrated into the peat notes. Its almost as if the whisky itself is smoked. Very big, yet not brutal. Hints of vanilla from American oak underneath and cold sweet black tea. Very well made Whisky by these ‘novices’. It already smells the part. It may very well be only 4 years of age, but the profile of the smell remind me of Whiskies from another time. Underneath all this, there is also this sweet fruity aroma. A highly aromatic Malt altogether. Wow!

Taste: Thin toffee with lots of fresh oak, green youthful oak and quite sweet on entry. Hints of wax and cardboard. Dare I say a snuff of Talisker pepper, yes? Peat and crushed beetles are present here as well. What amazing balance in this expression. Eventually the sweetness oozes away a bit, leaving room for the body to be taken over by peat, smoke and quite some (slightly bitter) wood for a 4yo. On top, a fruity acidity, which combines just nicely with the wood and the waxy notes this Malt has. The aforementioned beetle has some staying power in to the less big of a finish than expected. The aftertaste is warming and spicy.

Well, this 4yo from the new kid on the block can really blow many offerings from the big guys right out of the water. For me, this is better than f.i. the Laphroaig Lore, which, compared to this seems a bit boring, for me anyway. You might prefer the more elegant side of the Lore, so please don’t send me any hate-mail over this. Just to be sure, the ‘Lore’ isn’t a bad Whisky at all…

Points: 87

Rhum J.M Cuvée 1845 (42%, Vieux, Hors d’Age, Martinique)

After the XO and the Millésime 2002 this is the third J.M Rhum on these pages. This Cuvée 1845 is a blend of Rhum’s aged for 10 years in refill Bourbon barrels. Released in 2015 for the 170th anniversary of production. 170 years, since 1845! I feel that the time has come with this third J.M review, to dive into a little bit of history. If you’re bored easily, please read on, I’ll keep it brief.

Lets begin our journey in 1663 when Jean-Baptiste Labat was born in Paris, France. At the age of 20 he entered the order of the Dominicans, thus becoming better known as Pere (father) Labat. In 1693 Jean-Baptiste travelled to Martinique (amongst others) to do missionary work. There he became proprietor of the Fonds-Saint-Jacques estate where he started to modernize the sugar industry, quickly followed suit by others. In 1706 he returned to Europe, in 1716 returned to Paris and died there in 1738. The Fonds-Saint-Jacques estate changed hands (and names) several times until we finally arrive in 1845, when Jean-Marie Martin bought the estate. Due to other sources for sugar, especially in Europe, production was reduced, however, since distilled spirits were on the rise. Jean-Marie (J.M) thought it would be a good idea to build a distillery on his estate to produce Rhum, thus creating J.M Rhum (Agricole). The distillery (and the estate) changed hands several times since, but the J.M brand stuck.

Color: Orange golden brown

Nose: Vegetable, spicy and dusty. Much more typical Agricole than the Rum Nation Guadeloupe I reviewed recently. Very aromatic. Again this bad breath note combined with (slightly burnt) cola, dates and figs. Some nice polished (oily) oak with old leather. Dusty, green and earthy. Earthy like a sack of soil you buy for your garden (that has been laying in the sun for a while). Sweetish notes like toffee, caramel and vanilla with red fruits, candied cherries and hints of mango and passion fruit. Soft and elegant. Quite floral as well and slightly sugared. I’m sure its not added to this Rhum, but this does have the smell of white sugar diluted in warm water. Powdered sugar dust. Sugared almonds, some honey coated, some fresh. A very quiet and distinguished expression. One that sits back in the corner of the room, but in the best leather chair. After some breathing more oak emerges and lukewarm black tea (yes, with a little bit of sugar in it). Fresh oak and white latex wall paint, very creamy and clean smell. Almonds, warm apple sauce and fresh air. Sniff hard and give it lots of time and this turns out to be way more complex than it showed upon pouring. The well balanced aroma’s seem to emerge endlessly…

Taste: After the complex nose, the taste sometimes starts out a bit thin (not when freshly poured). Less sweet than expected. Rich toffee and typical Agricole notes. An edge of toasted cask complete with a light bitter edge. Vegetal, clean sugar taste. Green spices (celery) and aromatic. Little sting of pepper(oni) and a nice half sweet licorice and sometimes cinnamon note. Definitely less sweet than expected, yet very well balanced. Mocha and hopjes (Dutch coffee candy), milk chocolate and caramel. Milky Way bar. Sometimes even some citrussy notes emerge. At 42% ABV I do feel I have to work at it quite a bit to get all the riches out, which doesn’t mean it should have been bottled at a higher ABV. For me maybe yes, but I guess the ABV suits this Rhum and the market is was bottled for. Just look at the looks of this bottle, it’s just not looking very cask strengthy now does it? I don’t think Daddy Warbucks would appreciate this being high ABV when he picked this at the bar. Warming going down, and very well made. This is a Rhum for a hot day, this needs a little bit of ambient warmth to present its riches, on a cold day, and at this ABV, it is too light and stays too closed.

Quite light in style, careless sipping of this particular Rhum will most certainly mean you will miss a lot and would probably think it isn’t as great than it really is. This is definitely from the same family as both J.M’s I reviewed before, the XO (simpler) and the 2002 (more raw and bigger), but in a different softer and more elegant or luxury style. I guess it depends on my mood if I would prefer the aforementioned 2002 or this 1845. It could be that this 1845 is better than the 2002. I sure would understand if you say so. Personally, when I grab this bottle carelessly and don’t give it full (almost analytical) attention, its almost like mishandling the Rhum. I’m missing most of it, find it thin and un-complex, and that’s where the 2002 shines. Even when you don’t give it enough attention, it still is able to show its true self. Thus lets say the 2002 is always good, the 1845 has some highs and lows. The low being that it just demands your attention, if not, it will chew on your remote, or piss against the couch…bugger.

Points: 87

Clément 5yo 2010/2015 Très Vieux Rhum Agricole (42.2%, Bourbon Cask #20100409, Moka Intense, 412 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

Earlier, I reviewed both the 100% Canne Bleue (the original single cask bottling) and the first variation upon the single cask theme, called Vanille Intense. Where the first version was marketed with the emphasis on the sugar cane variety (Canne Bleue), the second, or so it seemed to me, more marketed towards the wood, since vanilla is an obvious marker of American oak, but sure, it can emerge from the Rhum as well. Here we have the next variant called Moka Intense, boasting mocha and coffee notes. I’m a big fan of coffee, so this variety is most welcome. However in the back of my mind the Vanilla Intense variety wasn’t quite as good as the original 100% Canne Bleue was, so I’m really expecting something along the lines of Vanilla Intense. Still these are single cask bottlings so it isn’t said that all 100% Canne Bleue are better than every Vanille Intense bottling. This Moka Intense is half the age of the other two. Maybe the coffee notes are more obvious in younger Rhum?

Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Soft, vanilla, slightly nutty. Lozenges and soft wood. Nice Agricole notes. Sometimes it’s too soft really. Hint of sugared orange skins and cherry liqueur with some dark chocolate. Black tea, infused for a short while, with lots of sugar in it. Mocha? maybe, not now at least. Coffee, nope, sorry. Very soft and un-complex. Its really simple really. Sugared. Wait a minute, I do get a sweet coffee note somewhere in the back, but actually it is a note that can be found in many other R(h)ums. So not a coffee that stands out. Mocha is softer and definitely present. I have to admit this Rhum does need some breathing. It opens up nicely and starts to show more of the above but now with better balance. Nose-wise this is now better than the Vanille Intense was. It has a very appealing quality to it, but it does need a lot of time to get there. Nice stuff nevertheless.

Taste: Not cloying, but definitely sweet. Warm going down, with bitter notes from the wood, maybe that’s why it was bottled earlier than the other two examples. Canne Bleue underneath but cloaked. Some notes of diluted sugar in warm water, without the taste being overly sweet. Just like some Whiskies go soft and smooth by caramel colouring. Personally I steer clear from distillates that are called soft and smooth. Never a good thing. On the palate this is definitely a wood driven Rhum. Even after extensive breathing that helped the nose forward, it doesn’t bring complexity to the palate. Alas. The body of the Rhum is black tea, typical Agricole notes, somewhat nutty, with a slight acidic edge. Lacking a bit in balance to be honest. Finish is not very long, and even less balanced. Is this the age? Sure it is. Aftertaste, some more typical Agricole notes and some sugar, that’s more or less it.

Since this is younger than the other two expressions I expected something more raw and bold, but au contraire, it turns out to be quite austere. I was afraid this next variant would be somehow less good than the original and it is. Although this still is not a bad Rhum, not at all, but both the Vanilla and especially this Moka Intense, seem to be out of their depths compared to the original single cask 100% Canne Bleue. This is a softer version, but with that, also more boring than the 100% Canne Bleue and even less interesting than the Vanille Intense. Now that I have reviewed all three, I’m now very interested how another batch of 100% Canne Bleue would perform. Anyone? For now, I would recommend you get the 100% Canne Bleue and forget both variants which add nothing more to the world of Clément single casks to warrant you, buying all three.

Points: 83

This one is for Lance who had to wait a long time for me to review a R(h)um again!

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

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

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

Color: Very light gold, White Wine.

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

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

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

Points: 87