Kingsbarns “Balcomie” (46%, OB, 100% ex-Oloroso American Oak Sherry Butts, 2020)

Since this isn’t the first Kingsbarns on these pages, the distillery doesn’t need any further introduction. If you want to know more about Kingsbarns, please have a look at my earlier review about the Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram”. “Dream to Dram” was a very young expression that showed some potential. “Dream to Dram” was also the first bottling of Kingsbarns meant for the general public (released in 2018). It’s reduced to 46% ABV and it’s a bigger batch. The rest being mostly Single Cask offerings. The second general release is this “Balcomie” from 2020 and this year (2021), the third one just saw the light of day called “Bell Rock” which is made with ex-Oloroso Sherry Butts & ex-Bourbon Barrels. Let’s focus on the Balcomie now shall we?

Color: Medium gold.

Nose: Extremely malty and biscuity. Initially this Whisky is about the hints of milky new make, which come to think of it, is a very similar experience to that of Tomatin. Grassy and floral. Cereals, oatmeal and biscuits. Hints of smoke, like standing on a field in summer, where someone in the distance is burning off garden waste. After this green and young start, some of the Sherry provenance of this Whisky kicks in (somewhat), giving the nose something more body to it. Diluted red fruit lemonade and dish water. Light notes of citrus and toffee, without bringing the toffee sweetness actually. Quite some fresh air and some crushed wet mint leaves that already were used one time before for infusion. Citrus fruit with paper and cardboard. Spicy wood sometimes whiffs by. After a while the nose turns more towards the direction of sweet fruit. If you let this sit in your glass for a while, and it doesn’t need a lot of time, the Whisky reaches a more balanced state, without really losing these young components mentioned earlier. I still get this distant smoky note and now it has a more flinty edge to it as well. Not bad, the potential I saw in the previous offer of Kingsbarns is here as well, even though it most definitely smells like a work in progress. Some sort of soapiness comes to the front after you sip it, as well as some honey.

Taste: Thin. Paper-like maltiness, with late sweetness and some smoke (toasted oak probably). Rain water, slightly bitter wood and cardboard. The wood made the Whisky, or so it seems. Tastes like it’s not ready yet, but closer to a Whisky than it is to new make, although notes of new make are here. Some wood, some spicy wood, some paper and some indistinct sweetness. Bees wax and ear wax. Something just had to be bottled I guess. Very young with some oaky notes. Almost like it is almost a different distillate than Whisky. To be Frank, I expected more after the “Dream to Dram” expression. It’s all very young but also a bit boring and predictable, like nobody dared to be more bold, for instance by giving it a more meaningful finish. Maybe there is some conservative thinking behind the Malt? The Oloroso casks themselves hardly impaired a lot of Sherriedness. Tired casks maybe, or not enough time? Maybe some fear creapt in all this could have overpowered the light Lowland style of the distillate. This taste bit of the review might seem a bit short, but there isn’t a lot happening actually, so there isn’t much more to pick up on. Even the American oak impaired some of its bitterness, but non of the vanillin I expected.

To be honest, after the other Kingsbarns, I saw some potential, but this one isn’t better at all, alas. The nose seems to show the potential, but taste-wise this is lacking a fair bit after the other release. You might think, give it some slack, they are new, just started up and so forth. However, I’m writing this review having just been at the London Whisky Show, and actually this year (2021), a lot of new distilleries were present, and I can report to you that I tasted a lot of fairly new distilleries that have come a long way further with their young Whiskies than Kingsbarns have at this moment. So it can be done. Ardnamurchan and Copenhagen Distillery to name but a few, both from a colder climate, but also Milk and Honey (M&H) from Israel, but they have the advantage of climate which ages the Whisky faster. Still, these are all young distilleries making great Whisky. A lot of work to do for Kingsbarns, just keep at it!

Points: 74

Thanks go out to Nico again, for this second Kingsbarns sample.

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Tomatin “Water” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #5, Sherry Butts & Second Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2018)

Alas, we’ve come to the last of the five virtues. The four previous editions were all good, for me personally, especially “Metal” was very nice, but I love well aged seemingly simple ex-Bourbon casked Whiskies. All four are definitely interesting and different from one another. No duds between them. So now the time has come to put the series to bed with “Water”. Water is made with distillate from the winter of 2005, which doesn’t make things any clearer, since the year starts and ends in winter… Half of the Whisky was matured in second fill Bourbon Barrels and the other half in Sherry Butts. Although in some communications, Tomatin does mention Sherry Hogsheads as well (just not on the packaging). If memory serves me correctly, I really liked this one as well in London, and after the very nice Metal I have high hopes for this Water as well.

Color: Copper gold, like a Bourbon, definitely not the colour of water.

Nose: Spicy wood right upfront, with sweet smelling red fruits, hints of tar, an old warehouse with a stone floor, and toasted oak. Notes of wood and fresh air. Nutty, dusty and somewhat sharp and spicy. A take on modern Sherry casks, somewhat similar to the Sherry notes, (not the peat notes), of Benromach Peat Smoke 2010 I reviewed just recently. Old warehouse with old paper and pepper with hints of a more (smelly) organic note. Wet earth and a wee bit of virgin oak. Again a quiet and balanced expression from Tomatin with lavas and gravy and some more indistinct organics. Leafy with hints of old dried out leather and a garden bonfire. Nice (dried) kitchen herbs. The Sherry makes this smell “chewy”. More whiffs of paper are flying by. A Whisky for a sunny day.

Taste: Sweet and syrupy. Fruity. Jam-like. Red fruits. Thick. The Whisky sticks to my glass. This thick, fruity, (half) sweetness, somewhat masks the big note of wood this has as well, including the also masked bitterness. Paper again. Slightly tarry, as if tarry toffee was used for this one. Well balanced as expected. Raisins and ever so slightly soapy and definitely a bit smoky, must be the toasted oak. Vanilla and pudding are here as well, so these second fill barrels still worked their expected magic too, even though the Sherry bit turned out stronger in the mix. I noticed it in Metal, but Water is also a (designed or constructed) Malt which shows what its got, right from the start, lacking a bit in complexity and evolution. This is a minor gripe however, since the balance is there and it is a delicious (red) fruit-driven Whisky with enough back-bone to it. This is not a Sherry monster, but it still is all about the Sherry in this one. Classy stuff.

This is a great companion to Metal. Both are very good and quite different from one-another, but somehow fit together. Both are fruity, but with the Bourbon casks alone that were used for Metal, that shows us an entirely different yet classic Tomatin tropical fruitiness, whereas this Water edition shows us more the Sherry-linked red fruits, in this case, the thick jam-like red fruits. Amazing contrast. At first I thought, well lets review these last two samples I have, so I can open something else, but both are so nice I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t be opening both full bottles at once, after finishing off Earth. With the Metal-edition I was wondering how it would compare to the 15yo American oak. Here with Water I’m wondering how it would compare to the 18yo Oloroso version. Both the 15yo and the 18yo are from the standard range and widely available. “Wood”, “Fire” and “Earth” are all Whiskies which are good, but you have to work them a bit, all three aren’t really for careless sipping, or you’ll miss out on the best bits they have on offer. Metal and Water are good right from the start, more like instant gratification Malts, and in my opinion the best of the bunch.

Points: 88