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

Ardbeg “An Oa” (46.6%, OB, L69049, 2017)

I bought, reviewed and finished Corryvreckan and Uigeadail quite recently and was amazed by the quality you get for the price. Especially since these two are very, very good yet aren’t overpriced special releases. Ardbeg caters to that as well, but that’s another story entirely. No, these two are readily available core range bottlings. When An Oa came on offer, it was a no-brainer to get that one as well, it’s an Ardbeg after all! When freshly opened, whilst I was killing off both aforementioned Ardbeg’s, I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s hard to come out of the shadows of both stronger ABV, NAS Whiskies. This doesn’t say much about An Oa though, but more about how good Corryvreckan and Uigeadail actually are.

An Oa is the latest, widely available, addition to the core range, together with the 10yo and the two I already mentioned several times already. So how did they blend An Oa together, what is its unique selling point, what makes it stand out? For An Oa, Pedro-Ximénez casks, heavily charred virgin oak casks and first-fill Bourbon barrels were used, married, and here comes the unique selling point, wait for it, married in a French oak vat in The gathering room at the distillery. Yes the gathering room. I’ll run that by you again, The gathering room. By the way, some suggest, other casks might have been used as well, maybe there even will be some batch variation over the years because of using different types of casks in the marrying process?

Color: Light sparkly gold.

Nose: Softly peaty and softly smoky. All very restrained and held back. Green. Hints of dried fish, ground coffee and tar, but also a fresher and fruitier note, almost citrussy. Dusty and soft. Good job again. Salty, cigarette smoke, powdered vanilla. Hmmm some chlorine even after it had some time to breathe. Spicy and cold, sweet vanilla pudding. Lots of typical Islay markers. Virgin oak yes, Vanilla notes from American oak yes, PX, on the nose, barely, not right now, the virgin oak is much stronger. PX? not so much when looking at the color of this Whisky. I really wonder about the PX though. What did or should it do for this Whisky? An Oa, again like the other NAS Ardbegs, doesn’t smell young or unfinished. It’s not very complex though. Nevertheless it does smell good.

Taste: Wood, paper and cardboard, mixed in with sweet licorice, tar and some ashes. Ashy toffee and almonds, does that make any sense? That right there is what this Whisky is all about. (Slightly bitter) wood, (sweet) licorice and (burnt toast) ashes. These three are omnipresent in this Whisky at any time. Again, very accessible, due to its sweeter side. More licorice even, oily, and a nice warm feeling going down. It tastes familiar. Even when this is a new expression is feels a bit like coming home. Warm and cozy. 46.6% ABV is nothing to worry about. It is enough, and works well for this expression. More wood notes emerge. Sappy fresh oak, not old dry planks. Does carry some woody bitterness towards the finish. Quite green and lively. Some raspberry and citrus notes. Some sort of brooding hidden fruitiness on the back of my tongue. This is from the PX. The finish is of medium length and there isn’t all that much happening in the aftertaste apart from some woody bitterness reminding me of…earwax. Here it shows its apparent youth. Its all in your face right from the start but it lacks in depth and experience older guys, I mean, Whiskies have. Very drinkable. I fear, this won’t last long on my ledger too. I sticked it in the back for a while, but that hardly helped…

What can I say, I’m a sucker for green glass bottles and I like the look as if it was made in the thirties. I love Ardbeg, even these modern ones. They are of high quality and very accessible. Just read back and see how good the Uigeadial and the Corryvreckan are. Laphroaig makes one expression especially for Whisky ‘fans’, the 10yo Cask Strength, made in annual batches. Ardbeg even makes two! Both are way less expensive and even more readily available than the Laphroaig is. Yes they don’t carry and age statement.

Alas, both have been finished already, but boy, do I miss them. When I’m on Islay time, I start out with Lagavulin 10yo which, compared to all the Ardbegs mentioned in this review, seems milky, and unfinished, young, new make-y. They must have used some pretty tired casks for that one I guess. The unusually low ABV of 43% (these days) doesn’t help either. Where the Ardbegs are accessible and just ‘right’, crash tested and approved, the newest young Lagavulins just are not. I’m definitely not a fan of the 10yo nor the 8yo, (but I am of the 12yo and the 16yo core range offerings). Oops, the 12yo is a special annual release. I do welcome the age statements on the 8yo and the 10yo (as well as on the Game of Thrones 9yo, and the Nick Offerman 11yo), but in this case I prefer the NAS Ardbegs and the trusty old Lagavulin 16yo and the 12yo Cask Strength over the 8yo and the 10yo. I have yet to try the 9yo and the 11yo.

Word always was that it’s hard to meet up with the demand for the 16yo, so are all these new and younger editions ways to lure some of us away from the 16yo, to keep it more visible? Wait a minute, is there really some sort of shortage of the 16yo? I see it everywhere, it’s never sold out, and I see them often on offer somewhere. Maybe another ploy to scare the consumer. Making him or she believe, it may sell out and not come back? A rumour always surrounding Talisker 10yo because of al the NAS offerings from Talisker released in the past few years.

This An Oa, because that is where this review is actually about, is a nice one. Its fun stuff. As said above, for me both the Uigeadial and Corryvreckan are just better and very hard to top. I just like higher ABV’s, but I also understand many of you don’t. Should it stand aside them? Nope, it shouldn’t. An Oa is made for different people than Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are, but I do feel it does have a place right by the side of the 10yo, to offer another take, with a different composition and being a NAS.

Points: 84

Wild Turkey “Rare Breed – Barrel Proof” (56.4%, OB, 2016, 112816A12029M)

I came across this no-batch Rare Breed in a hypermarket whilst on holiday in Poland. It sat there (two of them to be precise) on a sad little shelf made of metal wire, between some marked down totally anonymous cheap wines lit by cold light. So I just had to take these two golden orphans with me. These were also marked down considerably, so essentially a no brainer. I reviewed a Rare Breed before, one with batch number WT-03RB, and that was certainly not bad, since it scored 82 points, and I may have been a bit on the conservative side. I ended that review with the remark that Wild Turkey is axing the batch numbering and making it younger an lighter in the process. I read somewhere that Rare Breed was a blend of 12yo, 10yo and 8yo Whiskies, but more recent batches are said to be 12yo, 8yo and 6yo Whiskies, by word of WT themselves. Well, and finally here it is, one of those no-batch younger and lighter Rare Breeds.

WT-03RB was pretty good, and was almost there, (but not quite), so I’m hoping the next step will be forward in stead of backward. I might be getting ahead of myself assuming it probably got worse is also not very professional, now isn’t it? So I opened this bottle a while back, in a time when I actually was very much busy with Whisky from Scotland, so Bourbons were shifted towards the back burner, big time. After finishing a recent review, I parked myself on the couch, opened the doors of my stash, and my eye fell towards the bottom shelf, bar one, where the Bourbons are. Its just one of the bottom shelves, not “the bottom shelf” quality wise. I started with Evan Williams, decent, easy and reduced too much, so the next step was obviously to go ahead and move up with this no-batch, younger and lighter Rare Breed. Well this certainly hits the spot. I pressed repeat two times more before finishing off with Booker’s. And guess what, sometimes I like this Rare Breed better than Booker’s and almost all of the time I prefer it to the Evan Williams, which is most definitely not a dud in it’s own right. Where the previous Rare Breed had some soap, this one has none. This batch of Booker’s also has this very floral, soapy, floral perfume notes to it. It seems to me this “batchless” might be better than the WT-03RB. Lets find out for sure if its lighter and d-lighter or not.

Color: Light orange gold. (Much lighter than the WT-03RB batch)

Nose: Big on aroma, creamy and chewy. Cookie dough. Fresh spicy wood and gravy. Yes, this has a meaty note. Vanilla and sappy oak. It’s like you can discern several different ingredients in this. Toasted oak, grains and cereals and even the yeast. Next comes a more fruity note. Little forest strawberries and hints of red lemonade. This passes quickly and moves towards a more drying note. Warm desert wind, with lots of wood and showing the youngest Whiskey blended in. The more you smell it, the sharper and drier the wood note gets. Finally it smells like a wood shop altogether. Sawdust and all, turning into paper and cardboard over time. Also the yeasty bit stays around as well. The big creamy aroma, from the start, subsides quite a bit. Give it even more time, and after some sips, (the aroma I smell is also released from my mouth), the wood note itself starts to evolve into a more fragrant, perfumy note. A hint of honey even. Nice.

Taste: Hot, quite dry and woody. Not so creamy as expected, but the odd toffee and liquid caramel notes are there. Yes some vanilla and sweet corn notes as well. (Wild Turkey use 75% Corn in their mashbill, the rest is 13% rye and 12% malted barley). Sometimes a bit thin and definitely wood driven, sometimes I even pick up a licorice note in the woody bit. Still a good dose of corn and a little bit of rye. Only slightly bitter. Dry leaves. Wood seasoned by high temperatures. Nice thin layer of sweetness laughed away by the wood, but extra points to the sweetness for trying. If I remember correctly, somewhat simpler than the WT-03RB batch I tried earlier, much earlier. Hey almost 4 years ago, so give me a break! The sweetness keeps battling with the wood, and this makes it fun to drink. It just doesn’t know how to give up. Nope, even with 12yo Whiskey blended in, this still lacks a bit of complexity it should have had, but still, this is much better than many other Bourbon’s around. This is why this bottle is almost empty already. The finish is medium at best, hot and fun, but the aroma’s don’t have a lot of staying power.

This is a whisky made with a high corn mashbill, however it is also a wood driven Whiskey. It has quite a stiff backbone and enough alcohol to carry it well. Sometimes a bit simple, but nevertheless quite enjoyable.

Points: 84

P.S. rummaging around my stash I found a sample of the WT-03RB batch I reviewed 4 years ago! This older batch is definitely much darker in color, much softer in taste, but quite similar in complexity. The 2016 no-batch, easily overpowers it. Sharper and bolder, much more fresh sappy oak and more of the yeast notes as well. Seems much higher in alcohol too. WT-03RB even seems a bit less balanced with quite a lot of toasted and burned notes to it. Even though WT-03RB is older and darker, it isn’t better. I really thought I might be upping the original score of 82, but alas, after careful tasting, H2H, 82 is still the right score for that batch. Go figure.

Evan Williams 9yo 2000/2010 (43.3%, OB, Single Barrel #379)

Sometimes Master Quill tends to repeat himself, well, not really this time. Yes, In the fall of 2015, The Master did do a review of an Evan Williams Single Barrel bottling, and now here is yet another, but not a repetition, because luckily this “new” one is from a different vintage. The former review was this spicy 2003 vintage and this time we’ll have a go at a 2000 vintage. Is older better? I understand that the mash-bill for Evan Williams Single Barrel looks something like this: 78% corn, 12% barley and 10% rye. Lots of corn and not a lot of rye in this mash-bill. The “vintage” range already saw the light of day in 1986, so with this 2000 expression, Heaven Hill already had some 15 years of experience bottling this. So without further ado: take it away Evan, ehhh Master, ehhh Quill. Nevermind. Go, just take it away…

Color: Light orange brown.

Nose: Wood, lots of fresh cut oak. Perfumy. Sweetish and even more floral. Wood driven, but with lots going for it. Balanced and likeable. Greener notes come next, some hay and grass, oak and latex wall paint. More cuttings from the garden and after a while some more fruity notes appear. Slightly acidic and fresh, only adding to the balance. Hints of toffee and caramel. Excellent nose if you ask me. One moment fresh and lively and the next, deeper and more brooding. Definitely some Rye in here, but less so than expected, even though I didn’t expect a lot. After some more breathing, honey notes come forward. Smelling this after some sipping only enhance the honey notes that were almost absent from the start. Interesting.

Taste: On first entry, a bit thin to be honest. I prefer Bourbons at high strength, because especially Bourbons release their intricate aroma’s better at a higher proof. That said, this Single barrel smells very good and is definitely interesting (there is that word again), even when you like your Scotch Whiskies. Another sip. Well, this does the trick, beyond the low proof, some nice aroma’s emerge. Wood, latex paint again. Honey, hints of toasted oak and a tiny hint of leather. Definitely not as sweet as I would imagine, even though this Bourbon saw lots of corn. A slightly bitter note comes next, oak, tree sap, wax. The finish has less length than the nose and is also less complex. medium at best (and it has paper notes). Today the bitterness has some staying power which was less so on other days, so it depends on the taster (as always), time of day and the moment trying it. Aftertaste somewhat indistinct, so it definitely suffers from reduction to 43.3% ABV. Nope, in the taste department, this turns out to be much simpler than the nose promised.

For a nice evening with some Bourbons this is the starter. Well priced, and interesting, but I prefer other, (higher strength) Bourbons more. Compared to the earlier review, this 2000 example is softer (weaker is maybe a better word this time around) and less spicy, and also is lacking the licorice and cherry notes of the 2003. The 2003 is definitely a step up from the 2000. So yes, the date makes a difference. So choose your single cask vintage Evan Williams wisely!

Points: 81