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

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

Color: Pale White Wine

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

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

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

Points: 87

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

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

Color: Light gold.

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

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

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

Points: 88

Réunion Cask Strength 7yo (60.5%, Rum Nation, Cask Strength, Rhum Traditionelle, 3.000 bottles, 2018, Réunion)

This is not the first Rum from Rum Nation on these pages and not even the first Rhum from Ile de la Réunion. Earlier I reviewed a Rhum from Rivière du Mât and I thought that one was nothing short of amazing, even though it was a reduced to a measly 42% ABV. Rivière du Mât isn’t even the most popular distillery from the Island, that honorary mention goes to Savanna, and then especially to the Rhum Agricoles Savanna produces. Savanna distillery was founded in 1870 in Saint Paul on the north west corner of the island and supposedly made Rhums based on molasses only. Fast forward many years. Since 1964 the distillery runs a continuous still. In 1992 the distillery moved to Bois-Rouge on the north eastern corner of the island, by today’s standard, some 50 kilometres by car. Today the distillery makes Rhum Agricoles, for which it is now mostly known, as well as Rhum Traditionelle (molasses based), some of the Rhums are of the high ester kind.

The Cask Strength series is a somewhat recent addition to the Rum Nation portfolio. The first Rum released in this series is actually this 7yo rum from Réunion, probably distilled at Savanna, and matured in ex-Cognac casks. Savanna uses a lot of ex-Cognac casks, because may of the official releases have been matured in Cognac casks as well. After this, examples from Jamaica and Guyana were also released.

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Fruity and creamy. Fresh (air) with toffee and caramel. Slightly funky and somewhat sweet smelling. Lightly waxed. Sweet White Wine, mocha, licorice and leather. Some dust on rainwater. Definitely has some traits from Rhum Agricole. The nose reminds me of J.M Agricoles. More J.M than, lets say, Rivière du Mât (Rhum Traditionelle). Initially some sweet citrus bathroom cleaner, soft chlorine and ozone from a pool or jacuzzi. These aroma’s are short lived, and are gone soon, never to return again (unless you pour yourself another one). Black tea with lemon. Hints of cookie dough, moist brown sugar, wood and sweet mint candy. Malty and biscuity, and thus some very soft oak. A whiff of fresh air, yet also spicy, a mix of many dried kitchen spices, yet also some cinnamon and hints of toasted oak (soft). Some unripe banana and also the brown bits of a banana skin and some aroma’s of overripe, almost rotting yellow fruits. Don’t worry, the Rhum still smells quite nice and is nicely balanced as well. Rum Nation also bottles quite a lot of Cask Strength Savanna’s, and I have one here to compare it with. Based on the smell of both, it is safe to assume this 7yo is a Savanna as well, nevertheless, one can be never entirely sure (please read on). By the way, the day after, the empty glass smells just wonderful. Very fruity and with hints of the fireplace at Christmas, or a nice bonfire. Love it!

Taste: Big and still sweet, although the back label mentions this is “for connoisseurs that don’t like excessive sweetness“, it is sweet but not excessively so. This sweetness is balanced out with quite some spicy wood, and toasted wood as well. Distant pine anyone? Quite hot going down. Brown sugar and candied cinnamon mixed with cola notes for freshness or zest. Very tasty. Well balanced stuff of high quality. Now for an interesting remark. Where the smell is all Savanna, there are some notes in the taste that do remind me a bit of Rivière du Mât (also from the Island of Réunion). An industrial, fatty, motor oil aroma. Crushed almonds with some woody bitterness mixed with brown sugar. I’m still convinced this is a Savanna, the smell is there and since Rum Nation has many other Savanna’s in their portfolio it is simply highly likely, but as said above, one can never be sure. Even though this is bottled @ 60.5% ABV, it isn’t hot all the time, like many other high strength R(h)ums. Licorice and Cognac, (really?), in the finish, as well as some wood. The aftertaste shows even some more wood accompanied by its bitterness. The Casks used must have been quite active or caught a lot of sunshine.

I say, high quality, big and very tasty. Lance mentions in his review: “It’s very much like the new wave of Jamaican rums now making such big waves – Hampden and Worthy Park in particular, because this presses many of the same buttons“. This is my sentiment exactly. It presses the same buttons without even being really close to those in smell nor taste. Its big and estery and bottling this @ 60.5% ABV helps the Rhum come across big time. Since this has been bottled in Rum Nation’s Cask Strength series, only mentioning it is a 7yo hailing from Réunion, thus calling it an entry level Rhum, (yeah right), this therefore also damn affordable. Heartily recommended and definitely not for novices to R(h)um. If you are just that, you should by it all the same, but do not open it just yet.

Points: 87

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

Amrut Peated Cask Strength (62.8%, OB, Batch 38, 2017)

Earlier this year, I reviewed the Amrut Unpeated Cask Strength, which turned out to be quite an excellent Whisky. I wasn’t really surprised, since I’ve come across many nice Amruts. many, but not all of them, because the one I reviewed last was nice, but also a bit unbalanced. A single cask for Europe, matured in virgin oak and finished in a PX-Sherry butt. Nevertheless, it still managed to get 84 points so it wasn’t all bad now was it? The Unpeated Cask Strength batch #87 was definitely better. It might have been a (big) batch, but it still blew the, far more costly, Single Cask out of the loch…ehhh, water. I love my peats as well, so the time has come to review The Unpeated Cask Strength’s supposedly darker brother. Again, I have high expectations for this Peated Cask Strength…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Just opened the bottle and the soft peat welcomes you already. The first aromas already enter your nostrils even before you pour your first dram. From the glass now: youthful, lively and playful. Nice fresh and fatty peat with hints of clay (Das Pronto) and a greenish edge to it. Fresh and fruity. Wine gums and hints of sweet cherries. Sunny and summery, so definitely not a darker brother, ab-so-lutely-not. Nope, peat is not always about winter storms, twilight or salty sea spray. By the way, this Amrut has another trick up its sleeve. With this one it is possible to momentarily “forget” about the peat and smell what it would be like without the peat, as if you can turn it off. Underneath it is a very fruity, light and bright Whisky. Flip the switch and the peat comes on like a light. Next, more freshness and some smoke, way more balanced than the virgin/PX Amrut. Somewhat late hints of fragrant cedarwood and more meaty components emerge as well. Some floral notes and some Christmassy perfume. Well what a surprise it is, giving this dram some time to breathe. Dusty notes emerge next, as well as some sweeter notes. This one is more complex than its unpeated brother but also less bold, who would have thought comparing a peated version with an unpeated one.

Taste: Spicy, peaty, hot and slightly bitter at first. Slightly sweet, but not much. A lot of wood, with matching medium bitterness. Hmmm, some virgin oak again guys? Caramel with almonds and dead cigarettes in an ashtray. Much simpler than the nose, quite some bitterness as well. I get the feeling this isn’t finished yet, bottled too young, bottled too soon, but on the other hand, ageing this longer on these active casks would have extracted even more wood and bitterness, so no, not bottled too soon after all… The finish is bitter. The aftertaste is, luckily, less bitter and warming. In fact the aftertaste is better than the finish. I suspect virgin oak, too much of it. The taste is a bit of a disappointment after the nice and complex nose, and especially disappointing after the great unpeated cask strength version. It is also a bitt dissapointing aftre the virgin/PX. Its just too woody and bitter.

First of all, the color of this batch was lighter than that of its brother, so please don’t take my remark to literal. After nosing, the peated one is definitely not the darker brother, the contrary actually. Yes these two Whiskies are brothers, but the unpeated version seems to me to be more mature, maybe it’s the older brother? In this one the wood and bitterness are too much, but the peat is lovely, and much more complex than you might think, and makes this Amrut remind me a bit of a peated Paul John, something that has never happened to me before. Yes, Amrut and Paul John are both Indian, but like the place they come from, they are entirely different. Mind you, India is a big place!

Points: 82

I spoke too soon with the virgin/PX version, because now this peated cask strength version is the worst Amrut I ever had, yet still 82 points. If only the taste would match up with the wonderful nose.

Amrut Cask Strength (61.8%, OB, Batch 87, 2017)

Well, it almost seems a bit unfair reviewing a Paul John Whisky and not look at Amrut too, so here it goes… ehhh, ok, ok, ok, it has nothing to do with being fair. I seem to like Indian Whiskies, so I will come up with almost any excuse to review another one. I had to hurry writing this review, (spoiler alert), because this one is going fast! At Amrut they also make entry-level cask strength versions of their Whiskies. We already know NAS is not a terrible problem with Indian Whisky, since maturation in India moves at a pace like trains move in Japan. Apart from this Amrut Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky there is also a Amrut Peated Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, which will find a place on my lectern right before I finish this unpeated one, and I’m guessing that won’t take long…

Color: Vibrant orange gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and oak, with a hint of orange (the fruit, this time). Vanilla powder and fairly simple initially. Hints of oak, exotic spices on oak and sometimes pencil shavings, fresh air or ozone. Sweetish and full on aroma. Warm, warming and fuzzy, sunny. This has a very positive vibe. Milk chocolate, maybe even some mocha. Creamy with a slightly acidic top note, yet not fruity, so no unripe berries here, although I do get some candied yellow fruits. Dried apricots but well in the back although on some occasions it is more upfront. That’s it really. That’s all there is. Now for something funny, in a Whisky like this, it is also all you might need. It is well-balanced and very tasty, so I have no beef with the relative simplicity here. It’s instantly rewarding, not far behind the single cask reviewed earlier.

Taste: Creamy pencil shavings on steroids. Lots of exotic spices with soft oaky bitterness. Very nice wood notes, and again fruity. A bit hot, like the climate in Bangalore, but definitely all about Indian 6-row barley malt, and American oak. Candied yellow fruits again. Apricots in sweet yoghurt. Very high quality and very, very balanced. No off notes and everything is in the right place. Spicy, with very good wood notes. Tasty stuff. Amazing value! Not for nothing, this is already batch 87, and this was back in 2017! Wonderful aftertaste, maybe even better than the body itself since it seems to reach an even higher level of balance. Good, slightly short, aftertaste with hints of lightly roasted coffee, arriving late.

First of all, this looks the part, simple bar style bottle with a nice label, and packaged in a proper shiny heavy-duty tin.

If Master Quill would be an institute of some sorts, issuing awards, this Malt would most definitely win a category, something like best (Indian, or World, or any) cask strength bang-for-your-buck Whisky. Excellent quality for an excellent price. I’m baffled you’re still reading this. Stop it now, go out and buy one. Wonderful stuff, a definite must-have.

Last but not least, I have to make the same remarks as I did the previous review (Paul John). For me, this might be a no brainer, but I have been informed, and I occasionally witness, that Indian Whisky may not be for everyone. personally, I love this style and I can’t believe someone wouldn’t like it, but the same goes for every style of Whisky. Some don’t like peat, some don’t like heavy sherry, some don’t like grassy Lowlanders and some like Loch Dhu… So be warned. Keep an open mind though, you don’t know what you’re missing otherwise…

Points: 87

Glen Elgin 19yo 1991/2010 (53.9%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Refill Sherry Butt #2324, 412 bottles)

After the amazement of the Glendronach I recently reviewed, here is another shock (at least for me it is). I’m actually baffled I didn’t throw in Glen Elgin earlier on these pages, since it is one of my secret loves. Every Single Malt aficionado knows which Malts are just the best, but one always has a secondary, more personal, list of Single Malts. Everybody just loves Brora, or at least knows its one of the best around. However, not a lot of people would pick f.i. Teaninch as such, which is one of my other favorites. Usually it is a Malt with a less “easy” profile that somehow manages to tickle one’s fancy. It’s personal.

Glen Elgin. I love it. Many times it just floats my boat, and this one is no different. I brought it with me as a favorite to my Whiskyclubs gathering in Hamburg, where it failed to get the applause, I thought, it deserves. Yes, again, my opinion. The same club presented me a while back with a sister cask of this one, bottled something around the 61% ABV mark, and since then, I was looking out for a bottle of my own. This cask #2324, in Hamburg, was deemed too extreme and hot by many, but after a 1990 Family Cask of Glenfarclas, the Elgin was retried and deemed more accessible and creamy. So, remember, when tasting a lot of Malts in short succession, it is important where it is placed in the line-up, what you had to eat, how tired you are, and understand how your palate works. It all depends…

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Sherry, nutty, creamy with lots of soft vanilla notes. Soft wood fiber, but right from the start, not the usual oak aromas. I get hints of Rhum Agricole. Storm by the waterfront. Waterfront organics. Reed. Old air-dried oak (the outside of the cask). Vanilla, cream and wood, but not very fruity yet. Spicy and slightly grassy (wet). Sometimes hints of licorice (wood). Otherwise thick and syrupy with the sugar smell you get from a freshly opened sugar packet. The Rhum Agricole notes stay around, rendering the smell more dry. Add to this another layer of an acidic red berry smell (and some gravy) for complexity. Greek yoghurt? Only hints of sugared and dried yellow fruits now, but I couldn’t tell you which ones (dried papaya and pineapple come to mind).

Taste: Short attack. Big. Starts with some vanilla sweetness mixed with paper or cardboard. Wood, nuts and fruit. Fresh almonds (chewed). Creamy and dusty. Nutty and a medium wax aroma. Altogether a medium and very pleasurable body. The big start soon gets smaller. Fruity acidity on top, from red fruits. Berries. The acidity is quite unexpected and doesn’t fit the nose all that well, or the Whisky as a whole for that matter. Hints of Beer. Finishes (long) on the fruity acidity adding some light bitterness for the first time. The bitterness makes up the aftertaste as well.

I have to be honest. I don’t like it as much now as I did in the beginning. It is definitely one you have to work with, but you also need to forgive some minor flaws (like the acidic top note). I also fear this suffers a bit from oxidation. This is a bottle I often grab when I want a few cask strength Sherry expressions, so it is already 2/3 down, lots of air to play with.

Points: 85

Tomatin “Cask Strength” (57.5%, OB, Bourbon & Sherry Casks, 2016)

Today there are a few NAS Cask Strength Whiskies on the market that haven’t received a funny marketing driven name. Sure among many others, f.i. Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Uigeadail are very good, but considering the owners of Ardbeg, marketing is a given. There are also a few quiet boys in the back of the class, whispering about quality and quality only, not caring too much about marketing and don’t spend their money even on getting a funky name. A few of those come to mind as well. The last review I did is even one of those expressions. Glengoyne “Cask Strength”. Others are Tamdhu, Glendronach and Tomatin to name but a few. I never got around to review the original Tomatin Cask Strength, but now I have a chance at the first batch from last year’s newly designed release. As mentioned on the box, this Whisky comes from Bourbon and Sherry casks and will be an interesting comparison to Glengoynes expression with the same name.

tomatin-cask-strength-2016Color: Light gold.

Nose: Lots of barley and funky Sherry. Lots of cereal notes as well, but also a hint of smoke and cask toast (the former probably coming from the latter only). I can’t say this smells very appetizing and nice from the start, but the Glengoyne got better with extended breathing, so we’ll give this one some time as well, but I can already tell you that this Tomatin won’t take as long as the Glengoyne. There are also buttery and creamy elements and some hidden fruits. Sugar water and hints of licorice, clear glue and some sweet fruits. Pencil shavings, paper, cardboard and a slightly odd (or off) acidic note. Not much, but it’s there. Just not of the tropical kind Tomatin is known for…or is it, considering the evolution with air. Just like the Glengoyne version, It shows its youth and both show a somewhat similar young and strong style, based on both Bourbon and Sherry casks.

Taste: Yeah, strong at first but next, heaps of wonderful tropical fruitiness with nice nuts! It’s definitely a Tomatin all right. Sweet on entry. Toffee, caramel. Butter. immediately followed by some nice oaky notes. Not as strong as the number suggests, and also not hot. Pretty easy to drink, if you have some cask strength experience, that is. Cookie dough and cream, with just enough sweetness to present the finish which is definitely a bit drier. Just like the Glengoyne the taste is better than the nose is. Lacks a bit of complexity though, but in the taste it doesn’t remind me of a young Whisky. Whiffs of old style Whisky pass by as well.

The youthful cereal notes? I don’t like them. It’s that part of Whisky that transforms into something way better with some proper ageing in proper casks. When freshly opened these notes are pretty upfront, in your face. A bit off-putting in my opinion, but the same happened with the Glengoyne Cask Strength as well. Sure it wears off, but do you really want to wait some time after pouring it, before you can thoroughly enjoy it? Because you can, if you work at it a bit. After extensive breathing both become nice cask strength drams worth your money. The quality is there and therefore the score is up there well into the eighties. But for me, this is also proof why Whisky should be aged properly and why I’m also a bit hesitant when it comes to NAS-expressions, which most definitely are not all bad, just look at the WIP Kilkerrans to name but one. Luckily this one tastes so good, I have no problems forgiving it for the funky nose. Again one you have to let breathe for a while.

Points: 85 (almost 86).

Thanks Alistair!

Glengoyne “Cask Strength” (58.8%, OB, Batch #4, 2015)

In 2012 Glengoyne launched their NAS offering simply called “Cask Strength”, because that is what it is. A cask strength Whisky without an age statement. Before that, the Cask Strength offering did already exist, but it was also 12yo. In this case, rumours have it, that the Whisky isn’t all that young. So I don’t expect a 3yo Whisky with a few older casks thrown in to give it some depth. Sure there is “Burnfoot” and there are 5 batches of “Teapot Dram”, but that’s about it. No more NAS from Glengoyne. Nope, the regular range of Glengoyne is made up of good old-fashioned numbers like 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 25. Above that a recent 35yo comes into play, but expect to pay a lot of hard-earned cash for that one. Back to the one without a number, this time bottled at a hefty 58.8% ABV. I sometimes tend to whine a bit about Whiskies being reduced too much, well I don’t think that will be the case this time. Lets find out if it’s any good, shall we?

glengoyne-cask-strength-batch-4Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Nice funky Sherry, cask toast, mocha and vanilla. Funky as in not sparkling or fruity, nope, its deeper and more brooding than that. Less welcoming and dark. Medieval. Bread and barley, lots of it. Warm (toasted) bread, so definitely a cereal note. No trace of new make spirit though, so it’s not a 3yo NAS. However, there is some youth to it. Nevertheless, sometimes, it really does remind me a bit of Whisky made some time ago as well, so definitely a Whisky with multiple facets. Next whiff is of a slightly floral and herbal perfume. This could be interesting. When given some time to breathe, hints of new make do emerge, and the funky, sulky notes from the start, ease up a bit, to become more friendly and floral. Glengoyne are adamant about not using peat, but this does have a smoky note probably provided by toasted (Sherry) oak. It gives it more backbone and a bigger aroma. Meaty. Dusty vanilla powder. This is an autumn Whisky. If it’s October, bad weather, this is your dram. I like it. If I had to sum it up in a few words: Cereal, (American) oak and Sherry. Well balanced yet not all that complex though, also lacking some development and balance. This could do with some more ageing, which would obviously affect the price.

Taste: Barley, bread and quite sweet. Lots of Sherry and creamy notes. Fruity with a nice oaky bite. Old warehouse. Right from the start already better than the nose. More balance and tastier than it smells. Sure its a bit hot, because it has a lot of alcohol and the wood is also quite active. Lots of wood notes. Pencil shavings and oak from the start. Vanilla but also toasted oak and virgin oak. More pencil shavings. The woody bit is quite nice and kept in check by the sweetness of the Malt. A winning combination. The entry is great and the body nice big and sweet. The sweetness isn’t lasting though making way for a more woody, dry and (fruity) acidic side of the Whisky. It’s a two-stage Whisky. Again, not the most complex in the world, but very tasty and very good value to boot. Definitely one for drinking and less for smelling if you ask me, unless you are patient and let it breathe for quite some time. It gains a lot in the balance department that way.

You’ve got to love Glengoyne, for advertising not using peat for drying their malt. Especially when the world is peat-mad. Hey even Glendronach and several other Speyside distilleries offer peated expressions. When will we see a peated expression of Glengoyne? Remember Macallan advertising that their dram is so special because of the hand-picked Oloroso casks? Well look what happened there… No fuss at Glengoyne, just like Springbank. Making Whisky their way and doing it well. No funny names, no marketing tricks, mostly age statements, although Teapot Dram almost is a funny name.

Points: 84 (same score as Batch #1, but not as high as the previous 12yo cask strength expressions that I scored between 86 to 88 points)

Thanks go out to Alan for the sample, thanks mate!

Springbank 12yo “Cask Strength” (52.3%, OB, Batch 8, 14/12)

I got this, put it on my lectern, opened it and drank it. That is more or less what happened to it. Sometimes when I believe a Whisky I have open will be needed for future comparison, (to other batches in this case), I take a sample from it and put it in my archive. I had a few drops left in the bottle so I already opened its replacement the 17yo Sherry Wood. When writing the review of this 17yo, I wanted to compare that one to this Cask Strength Batch 8, so I tried to pull up the review of that one, just to find out it didn’t exist. I liked this one so much, I drank it all before ik could write the review! So, out comes this sample I just drew for future reference, not knowing “the future” would descend upon us so soon!

Springbank 12yo Batch 8Color: Light orange gold.

Nose: Meaty and somewhat closed. Waxy and slightly rough. Lots of American oak vanilla. Tar and coal dust. Bourbon vanilla and custard. It also has the fruitiness Springbank gets from using Sherry casks. So its easy to detect it is a blend of both kinds of casks. No secret in this, because probably all expressions of the 12yo Cask Strength are blends of both types of cask. Meaty Sherry notes with a tiny hint of sulphur (matches), but also a breath of something fresher, to all those heavy aromas whiffs by. Nice Springbank peat is also present. Quite sweet and fruity and some paper. Bigger on its aromas, but slightly less complex than older siblings.

Taste: Initially big sweet and waxy. Nice (bitter) wood and again the paper-like quality and a tiny hint of smoke. Sugared almonds and a little sting of peat, aided by the higher ABV, than the 46% of most other Springbanks. The smoke is gone and for the rest of the journey we are accompanied by peat. Not too much though, just enough. When the first sip travels down, more vegetal notes appear. As well as a slight burnt note. The taste seems more about Sherry casks, than it is about Bourbon casks. This doesn’t have to mean that more Sherry casks were used for Batch 8, but the Sherry aromas are dominating. It has a sort of anonymous fruity profile. Red fruits, yes maybe, sugared yellow fruits, yep, probably present as well. Which fruits? Hard to tell actually. Towards the end of the body, before the finish, a slight unbalance happens. Where older Springbanks hold it together, here it shows its relative youth. Still this is a wonderful malt. This finish has all of the body and underlines the wood a bit. It comes as no surprise the finish has pretty good length, wood first, peat next, and in no way as creamy as in the start.

This comes from a now finished bottle, and I have to say, it got better over time. This is one that really needed some time to breathe. I remember being a bit disappointed when I first opened this one. I had just finished the eighteen year old also bottled in 2014, and definitely liked that one better. I really love and adore this one now, but can’t help but feel, that Springbanks need to age a while longer. Comparing this to the 17yo Sherry Wood and the 2014 18yo, you can see the older ones have more matured aromas to them adding to their complexity. With a 12yo Springbank you get a fantastic Whisky which for the quality you get is quite affordable. Sure, you pay a bit more for the 17yo and the 18yo, but you also get more imho. More aroma and definitely more complexity. Having said that, the 12yo Cask Strength series is a wonderful series especially at the prices Springbank are selling it for.

Top tip: Let this breathe, let it breathe in the bottle, (try storing it for a week or so without the cork on it), and let it breathe in your glass. Don’t be hasty with it and if you do you will certainly be rewarded.

Points: 88