Tomatin “Earth” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #3, Peated, Refill Hogsheads, Sherry Hogsheads and First Fill Bourbon Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017

After “Wood” and “Fire” here is #3 in the Five Virtues series. Wood was named wood because of three different kinds of oak used for that Whisky: American, French and Hungarian oak. Fire was named fire because of the de-char and re-char treatment of the casks, so these casks were set on fire twice. Earth is named earth because it’s made with peated malt, and peat, as we all know, comes from the earth. So until now, “the logic makes sense”. If I’m not mistaken, this may very well be the first and only peated Whisky bottled under Tomatin’s own brand name. (The peated Cù Bòcan, although made by Tomatin, is a different brand). Earth was distilled in 2006 and made from 50% refill hogsheads, 25% Sherry hogsheads, most likely from American oak, and 25% first fill Bourbon casks, so it must be 10 or 11 years old.

In a way “Earth” has quite some similarities to An Cnoc’s “Rascan”. Both are peated Whiskies from distilleries that aren’t known for their peated Whiskies. Both Whiskies are NAS and quite light in colour. Both claim they’re highland Whiskies even though many Whisky writers place Knockdhu in Speyside. Knockdhu is the distillery, An Cnoc the brand name, by the way. So it came natural to me to start a flight of Whiskies with said “Rascan” and to follow it up with this “Earth” or vice versa. Well, these two are both decent Whiskies, but they absolutely don’t work with one after the other. Both are able to bring out the worst of each other. No matter which one was tasted first. How odd, I wonder why. Rest assured, for this earthy review there was no Rascan in sight.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Sweet, soft and dusty peat with citrus notes on top. Hint of glue (only when the Whisky is freshly poured). Smells more mature than “Rascan”, lacking the milky new make note Rascan initially has. Very nice spicy wood notes, American oak vanilla notes with sweet citrus on top. Warming peat and only slightly smoky. Rain water, Gin-like. Very aromatic. Smells quite tasty. Hints of sweet coffee with milk, and some added runny toffee. Dust and paper. Old damp wood in a cellar. There isn’t a lot of peat to begin with, but it also dissipates a bit, or is it my nose that gets used to it? Fruity, typical tropical yellow fruits, typical for the best Tomatin’s. Sweet yoghurt with white peach? Slightly peaty and well balanced. After you set you garden waste on fire, it smells like the glowing remnants of the biggest branches in the pile, just before it dies out. I’m sure some of you will share such an experience with me. Coffee candy comes back, together with a whiff of perfume, old almonds and some pencil shavings. When smelled in the morning, the fruits have more to say than it does in the evening. So for me this is more of a day-time dram than it is an after-dinner dram. It maybe is too delicate for after dinner or to pair it up with a cigar. It’s soft peat and sweetish fruit, but it isn’t smoky. It’s not a bonfire dram. This is a lovely peated Whisky, that’s more fruity than it is peaty (or smoky). Fruit comes from the earth as well, so the name is still valid.

Taste: On entry, the sweet and the fruit come first, as well as the almonds from the nose. After this, some prickly smoke and another sweet touch. Only after sipping the smoke comes forth in the nose with some pencil shavings. Creamy and fruity with a tiny hint of bitterness for good measure. Fruit, biscuits and cookie dough. The sweetness is just right, the peat is hardly detectable, yet present. This is a bowl of ripe fruits in a kitchen where preparations are made for baking a apple pie (just no apples in this nose, or are they…), no it’s about the dough. Even though this is peated (can’t be much), this is still easily recognizable as a Tomatin (when you know your Tomatin’s of course). Not super complex, but actually this is a very nice and interesting Tomatin. Sure we have Cù Bòcan, but I’m really interested how another peated Tomatin would turn out, hopefully bottled at cask strength this time, if they care to repeat the experience.

I have to say, that after the first three Five Virtues, this series is quite likeable. All three turned out to be decent Whiskies with interesting differences, and I believe the best is yet to come.

Points: 86

One point above Wood and Fire. All three are good and different, but this one is even more tasty and slightly more special.

An Cnoc “Rascan” (46%, OB, Bourbon Barrels, Peated (11.1 ppm), 18.000 bottles, L15/188, 2015)

The distillery is Knockdhu (est. 1894) and a while back the Whisky itself bore that name as well. Not to further confuse the public, the name of the Whisky was changed to An Cnoc, since there already is a distillery, a village, a house and a Whisky, called Knockando (est. 1898). Knockando today is owned by Diageo (humongous conglomerate with even a headquarters in the L.A. of Blade Runner 2048), and Knockdhu by Inver House Distillers (small conglomerette), so guess who changed the name of their Whisky. Inver House owns five Scottish Whisky Distilleries in total: Balblair, Knockdhu, Pulteney, Speyburn and Balmenach distillery. All, apart from Balmenach, are also marketed as a Single Malt Whisky. I don’t know why, but An Cnoc is highly underrated, almost never heard of so not a lot of people visit them at Whisky shows. This makes me wanting to root for this underdog, wishing all of their output being nothing short of great, showing all those people who haven’t been taking an interest, what they are missing. So when a few of these peated versions popped up in a local store, I picked out two different ones, to see what it’s like. Rascan (yes, a NAS Whisky) is the first one of those two to grace my lectern, and the first An Cnoc on these pages. Under the radar? Check!

Color: Very light, lightly coloured water, not even White Wine.

Nose: More perfumy and creamy than peaty, but there is certainly some peat in this. This starts out with a whiff of mustiness, but this also dissipates rather quickly, maybe still a shadow of the huge off-note from the freshly opened bottle? When this was freshly opened, I was really disappointed. Young, milky, new make-like and definitely not done yet, highly unfinished and unbalanced. Lagavulin 10yo all over again. Still, that shouldn’t put us off, because we are experienced, so we know that 90% to 95% of all Whiskies get better over time. When the level of liquid becomes lower, more air gets in the bottle and reacts with the Whisky, allowing the spirit to open up and reach a better balance. When writing this review, already over half of the Whisky is gone, and it is a totally different Whisky now than it was earlier. If there was ever an example to show you that a Whisky needs to breathe, this is it. Now it is friendly, lightly peaty and citrus fresh, with a wee spicy and gingery note to it. Appetizing and quite appealing. Creamy biscuits, cookies, and fresh air. Lemon skins in fine pastry, complete with powdered sugar. The milky new make has gone to the place behind the rainbow, the eternal hunting fields, which is a big, big bonus for us. Medium strength dried kitchen spices. Light bonfire resembling that of the Lagavulin Distillers Edition I reviewed last, just more perfumy. A snuff of black pepper, unlit tobacco and some mint, adding to the light spiciness, whilst still remaining friendly and citrussy. As it has become, I quite like it, no, actually, I like it a lot. It’s a solid performer now. I don’t regret getting this for a minute now. Sure, it maybe light and maybe even a bit simple and easy going, but it still has a lot to offer and seems to have some power as well, because it can change te perception of the Whisky tasted following this one. I like it very much, and I’m glad I do.

Taste: Here it starts rather young and biscuity, with and excellent amount of sweetness (toffee). A light creamy sweetness with prickly smoke and a hint of sweet licorice and some other soft spices. Some bitterness from oak, (but it’s not woody, nor has it much American oak vanilla), and again, nice, crisp lemon sherbet freshness. Lemon curd. Next, a peaty aroma somewhere in between plastic, tar, wax and licorice. You can feel it going down. Yeah. Mucho salty lips. It’s a NAS bottling and definitely young, and sure, not very complex, but still this is a well made, balanced and really nice Whisky. I hoped for it and I’m happy it delivers in the end, after maybe a wonky start, that is. A heed of warning for some of you. Yes, this may very well be a peaty Whisky, but please don’t expect a heavy hitting Islay style Whisky. It isn’t, it contains peat alright, 11.1 ppm, but it’s only lightly peaty, with some sweetness and some more nice citrussy elements. This is almost a nice summery peaty Whisky so to speak, with high drinkability. It seems to me the longer this gets to breathe, the better it gets, as often the case. I even left a dram overnight (with a lid without a 100% seal), and the next day it was even better still. How is that for a hidden strength. Quality stuff for sure.

By now, every bottle I open, I leave the cork off for at least a day, as said before, almost every Whisky benefits from it, and especially full bottles. The nose showed some unfinished (off)notes when freshly opened, but this Malt reacts excellently to air. It gets better and better after breathing. By now, it shows no off notes whatsoever, and what became an enjoyable dram, now even shows the high quality it possesses. If you work on it a bit, this what might seem to be anonymous Whisky at first, might surprise you whit what it has on offer. An Cnoc is now definitely on my radar. I’m going to look for a cask strength expression from a refill hogshead which will tell me more about the distillate.

Points: 85

Ben Nevis 19yo 1996/2015 (54.2%, Lombard, Jewels of Scotland, for Distillerie Kammer-Kirsch, Cask #1818, 295 bottles)

Ben Nevis is an interesting distillery. It once had a sort of wonky reputation. In the past, I was warned on several occasions, to try before you buy. However, today it seems like a pretty popular distillery, with official bottlings fetching some very high prices, and definitely better quality. The distillery itself, is still a bit struggling today, so they do deserve to get enough recognition and money to keep on going. I’ve tried some very good expressions along the way. This is the fourth Ben Nevis on these pages and two of those reviews ended with 88 points. I’m happy to report that the official 10yo was one of them. This Lombard expression, I’m about to review, was “won” at an auction. Didn’t “win” it, because still had to offer more for it than the rest of the interested parties, well you now how an auction works. Let’s see if this is worth your, and in this case, my hard-earned cash.

Color: White Wine

Nose: Barley, bread and cookies, Bread dough, cookie dough and sweet bread. Hints of ginger. Quiet yet powerful and very nice smelling, especially when the more fruity note kicks in. Less funky than I’ve come to expect from Ben Nevis, yet also a bit more flinty. Reminds me of several old Cadenhead bottles. Sweet and fruity. Candied yellow and even some candied red fruits. Hints of dust, cardboard, dishwater and bad breath, bordering on soft wood. Reminds me of a grey day after heavy rain, Blade Runner style, with the sun finally getting some room to come out again. Even though the colour is quite light, this doesn’t mean the cask was inactive, because there is a lot here. Even an ever so slight sulphury note, emerging quite late. A very welcoming Malt after stints of dark coloured Whisky from Sherry casks or Wine finished Whiskies. So, back to basics, (refill hogshead), and let the details in the Malt do the talking. More dough and cookies with a slight burnt quality to it. Hints of black pepper and nice interaction with the oaky elements. Nothing is overpowering, so I’m happy to report this Ben Nevis has great balance. Love it. It is slow to evolve, but if you are willing to keep it in your glass for a while, more and more will emanate from your glass.

Taste: Malty and biscuity and quite sweet, but in a very good way. Lots of candied yellow fruit sweetness with white pepper and some hints of cannabis. Based on this and if tasted blind, I would have guessed this was a Bunnahabhain (Signatory). Creamy as well. Nice development in the mouth, especially the fruit gets enough room to shine, even though there are quite a few, woody, peppery and spicy notes present. Some dough and some more candied fruits. Wonderful organics somewhere in between licorice, milk chocolate, mocha and coffee, all somewhat dry, but now try to imagine these notes with this wonderful creamy sweetness added. Spicy and nice soft wood-spice as well. I’m actually amazed how much the sweetness does for this Malt, and don’t get me wrong, this is not a very sweet or overly sweet Whisky to boot, no, this just has the right amount to it. With Whiskies like this, you need to have some experience. It is most definitely not an instant gratification Malt, and you have to work it a bit. Only with experience comes the knowledge to look into the details of the Malt some more, because, obviously, if you don’t, you might miss these details that, for me, define this Malt.

As often this turned out to be a Malt that needed a lot of air to open up. Freshly opened, this is a bit closed and holding back on almost all aroma’s present. I mentioned details in the notes above, and do pay attention to them, this is a Malt that because of these details, does need your full attention, because when sipped carelessly, you might miss out on those wonderful details. Definitely recommended for experienced Malt-heads, and after the bottle is finished, I wouldn’t mind tasting this again somewhere in the future. Don’t think that Sherried Ben Nevis is the only way to go with this distillery…

Points: 89

Deanston 10yo (46.3%, OB, Bordeaux Red Wine Cask Finish, for Travel Retail, 2019)

Deanston, once the ugly duckling of the Scottish Whisky world, its reputation then just a hair better than that of Fettercairn (no offence), but look at Deanston now. Deanston, may have started the race from the pits, after yet another engine change, but are making their way up the field in an impressing manner. If you look closely it is easy to see they took a hard look at what Springbank is doing (right). Maybe even asked for some advise, and if so, they clearly got the point as well. They left nothing to chance. First of all, the quality has improved a lot. Quality sells by word of mouth, because I don’t see a big marketing ploy behind either Deanston nor Springbank, and Deanston surely has grown a lot more popular.

Besides the quality, Deanston is issuing very good Whiskies in different price brackets, and the amount of single cask, or small batch releases have grown. Next, where Springbank is (again) successful with “Local Barley”, Deanston plays the “Organic” trump card. (Bollocks, Trump, these days this is almost a dirty word). Even the new bottle design of Deanston resembles the Springbank bottle a bit. Just look at the base of the bottle where words show up in the glass itself. So they adapted a successful formula and rightly so. It clearly works. Even the people I know are into Springbank (I’m one of them), are now also very much interested in Deanston, and liking it. Did I already mention, that the keys to the success of Springbank and thus more recently, Deanston, are its people? They are! Kudo’s to you!

Color: Orange gold, no red hue (looks like a Bourbon)

Nose: Wonderful creamy notes with nice red fruity notes, tiniest hint of apple pie and a sharper woody note. Floral as well. Smoky toffee. Very creamy in fact. Nothing Wine-like at all, although, maybe just a bit. Would I still feel the same if I had smelled this without knowing it was a Wine finish? Maybe so, yet the more this breathes, and if you are patient enough to let is sit in your glass for 10 to 15 minutes, the Red Wine nose becomes more pronounced. There is this slightly burned and slightly tarry aroma from the wine cask and this unmistakeable red fruit candy aroma, that always pops up with Red Wine cask finishes. We are still just starting with smelling this Malt and it already smells like something that was finished for just the right amount of time. Also, the base Whisky that was finished like this must have been of pretty high quality as well. Definitely American oak came first, it’s creamy with vanilla underneath. People at Deanston are really knowing what they are doing now, with a smell like this, and this after a Bordeaux Finish. In the early days of finishing, Red Wine casks, weren’t my favourites, not by a long shot. They were often severely overdone. Lets get back to smelling. Next a nice fresh green note. Plants on the window sill on a warm day. Lots of creamy warm milk chocolate. Quite soft after the sharper (oaky) start. The oak is still here, by the way. Within the soft notes some wet cardboard emerges, along with more sweet red fruit water. Forest strawberry lemonade. Well balanced altogether and smells very distinguished and mature. Is this really only a 10yo with a Bordeaux finish? It seems just too good for that. It surely doesn’t come across as such. I really like the smell of this. Amazing accomplishment.

Taste: Soft wood, thin, runny caramel, toffee and Winey red fruits, sweet and sour. Lemon acidity. American toasted oak vanilla with chewy toffee but also spicy wood and spicy spices. Yet the whole is still quite soft. Soft, warm milk chocolate and fresh almonds. Here the Wine finish is on top of the toffee and milk chocolate. Seems slightly less balanced than the nose was. Its a liquid Mars bar, Twix and Ferrero Rocher in one! The Wine finish is done with taste so it must have been used sparsely. Nothing wrong with this Wine finish. This Malt drinks like chocolate milk, dangerously easy going. Wine in the finish, as well as some hazelnuts and toast. Dare I say it also has some soapy notes? It does, is that a problem? This time it isn’t. As long as you don’t start foaming from the mouth (I didn’t). Somewhat simpler in the taste than the nose was but still a good and accomplished Malt. After sipping this, the nose becomes even better. Warming going down, like warm chocolate milk. Medium finish at best and finally a creamy aftertaste. One bottle of this isn’t nearly enough. Costs next to nothing compared to what you are getting for your hard earned cash, (I got it even on sale). Get more, should still be widely available. Finally a word of warning. This actually deteriorates a bit (even more soft, even sweeter and a bit too velvety) with air, so don’t have it in your glass too long. It’s best when freshly poured (spicier).

There is a danger to this Malt. When I opened this, I was really surprised how nice this is. Liked every drop of it, and the first half of the bottle went pretty quick, and all of a sudden I had enough of its big, sweet, tarry and winey profile. I had to push it to the back of the lectern to get away from it for a while, so lesson learned and just don’t overdo it. It is a good Malt, with an in your face profile, which can take you hostage for a while. If this happens to you, don’t worry, just press “Pauze” and after a while you can press “Play” again, and all is back to normal. Good one for a more than decent price. Like it.

Points: 86

Tomatin “Fire” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #2, Heavily Charred Oak, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

Where “Wood” is #1 in the Five Virtues series, here is #2, which is called “Fire”. It is called “Fire” because of the char and toast of the wood, and char and toast come about through the ways of fire. Tomatin “Fire” comes solely from a batch of stripped and (heavily) recharred oak casks. It is said that the distillate is from 2005, one year only this time, making this a Single Malt which is 11yo or 12yo, which these days is quite old for a NAS. “Wood” was blended from distillates between 1999 and 2006, and since 2006 is more recent than 2005, “Fire” is officially an older Malt than “Wood”  even though much older Malts were used for it.

What this bottling also might want to prove is: should you buy a new (or used) American oak cask, when you can also scrape out the insides, hopefully without losing the soul, of your old, dead tired and worn out cask and set it on fire to rejuvenate it? Boys do like to set things on fire don’t they? After this, one might have a reusable cask again. Recycled and good for the environment, maybe apart from the burning that is. Maybe very responsible and certainly sustainable. One less tree to cut down. This should be certified green!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Again, a woody Whisky, but this time a more vanilla driven Malt. American oak alright. Sweet, fragrant, slightly floral and right from the start this slightly acidic and creamy strawberry aroma. Sometimes a bit dusty even. Not as much char as I expected from something called “Fire” or “heavily charred”. Hardly any char really. Quite fresh, fruity and milky. The milky notes scared me for a while, but dissipate after a while in my glass and these milky notes disappear completely when the bottle cbecomes emptier. Paper and woody notes and initially not all that different from “Wood”, but after enough time to breathe the difference is bigger than I imagined possible. The “Fire” I do get from this Malt is the aroma of a burning wood fire in winter, minus the sharp smoke. Just like “Wood” this essentially is again about (recharred) Wood, and the woods in “Wood” are charred as well. To me it is more like a sequel to “Wood” so they might have called it “Wood II” just the same, but this probably would not have worked inside the Five Virtues framework.

Where “Wood” was about the blend of different kinds of wood, this is a little bit closer to a virgin oak type of bottling, just a bit more refined, especially after some breathing. This really needs to open up, because it really was disappointing when freshly opened. Where “Wood” was creamy, this is even more creamy. Again no new make aromas, but it is slightly closer to new make than “Wood”. Lots of fresh oak notes, creamy and yes, lets call it green. Fresh plants and garden notes. Breaths of fresh air and some burned toast notes, but not a lot. Initially quite simple, it seems much simpler than the “Wood”. Reminds me sometimes of Bruichladdich Islay Barley. That sort of simple, yet lovely, stuff. Only, Bruichladdich reaches that already after 5 to 6 years, Tomatin takes twice the time. Maybe simple, but especially after a while in the glass, it becomes quite nice. In the end a nice example of an honest Malt matured in American oak. Good smelling stuff, just not right from the very start, be warned.

Taste: Again, it starts fairly simple. Tea with a dash of sugar. Latex wall paint, sweet custard and definitely sweet malt. Mid-palate a cloying burnt note. Sometimes a slight hint of cigarettes being smoked in the distance, an aroma blown over by cold wind. I also pick up on some minty notes and some tasty ripe red fruits. Quite a short finish at first and a fairly non-existent and unexciting aftertaste. But buyer beware, don’t get fooled, this Malt also has a trick upon it sleeve. Yes it is more than a bit unbalanced when poured from a freshly opened bottle, but responds extremely well to some air, gaining lots of depth and some very nice black fruits suddenly emerge from nowhere. Wow, first we had the ripe red fruits and now these black ones. The return of fruity Tomatin, something absent from “Wood”. See how some Malts need to breathe? Quite some evolution. However, even after some breathing, the finish is still quite short and malty again and dare I say it, it remains a bit unbalanced.

It started out a bit really disappointing (not more than 82 points), but by now it is definitely on par with “Wood”, but I have to admit, you have to work at it a bit, and maybe have some experience (and patience) as a Whisky drinker, to see the beauty in this one. So “Fire”, in the end, turns out to have a nice, fragrant start and beautiful body, better than “Wood”, but it keeps struggling towards the end, the finish stays short, with hints of Beer, strange enough, and a thin, slightly woody and bitter aftertaste, and some creamy notes as well, which by now aren’t creamy. fatty or big enough to make the finish better. The second half of the experience therefore is definitely won by “Wood”. This is surely a flawed Malt on the outside, but with hidden beauty inside. Personally I find it very tasty right from the start with an additional fruity and appetizing body, just be very careful with it when freshly opened. I kept the cork off for at least a day after the initial disappointment. Did it lots of good. Interesting stuff and certainly an education.

Points: 85

Tomatin “Wood” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #1, French, American & Hungarian Oak Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

I like my Tomatin’s. Good Whisky. Good people work there and represent it, with wit, honesty, intelligence and humor, no funny business. Lots of releases too. From 2017 onwards, they started with this five part series, showing what the five virtues of Whisky are. Wood (2017), Fire (2017), Earth (2017), Metal (2017) and last but not least, Water (2018). Although all five are NAS Whiskies, I was told, that no young Whiskies were used throughout the range, and all would have some proper numbers comprising of two digits if they would have been bottled with age statements. Thank God, because I feel Tomatin spirit really does need it’s time in oak. Young Tomatin’s can be milky, somewhat sour and heavy on new make characteristics.

When I visited the Tomatin stand at a show in 2018, I tried the “Metal” and “Water” expressions, which I liked very much. I bought both of them, and looking at the two bottles, yes, I’m human too, I just couldn’t resist to find the previous three releases of this series. I have this series complete, and will open them one after the other, in stead of opening them all at once, due to a lack of room for too many open bottles. Well, actually there is never really a lack of room, but I do have to restrict myself a bit, Whisky madness and all. “Wood” here, is the first of the Five Virtues, and this one was matured in a combination of different oak casks, French oak (70%) and American oak (20%) we know, but this time also some Hungarian oak (10%) found its way into the mix. Am I already expecting Tokay now? The spirit used for “Wood” was distilled between 1999 and 2006.

Color: Light Orange Gold

Nose: Barley sugar and lots of cereal notes with late woody notes. Sweet, soft and fresh. Deep and accessible. Appealing. there is a lot happening in a furthermore very balanced nose. Quiet and distinguished. A sort of Steely Dan Whisky. American oak vanilla. Creamy, with vanilla pudding, custard, that kind of thing. Sweet fruity (peach) yoghurt. Some nice slightly acidic White Wine notes, again well balanced. It all works well on the nose. I don’t care for young Tomatin’s and luckily there is non of that here, so even when this is a NAS, it also tastes like there is quite some age to this. Quiet creamy and slightly funky. Nutty as well. In the distance a nice edge of toasted, and again, creamy and sweetish oak. The toasted oak also brings a slightly smoky note, which works very well for this fragrant expression.

Taste: Less creamy, (but still enough), than the nose promised and definitely some more of the acidic White Wine notes mentioned above. Fresher and lighter. Still not overly woody, but enough wood notes to warrant the name and thank god, not young tasting as well. Warming. A little bit of creamy wood and quite unexpectedly, some cocktail cherries. Sweetened fruit yoghurt. Sweet and acidic at the same time. After a while the more sweet notes from the nose come to the front. The body of this Malt is not as big and thick as one might think by now. It has more toasted oak (and wee licorice) than the nose had. Overall somewhat simpler than the nose was and even that wasn’t nuclear science to be honest. Still a very nice, somewhat sweet easy drinker. Both the nose and the taste show a lot of balance, yet the balance suffers a bit towards the finish. The fruity acidity seems to unhinge from the main, creamy, body, to hover above it and some woody bitterness emerges (finally). Still, in this case, the fruity acidity still has a positive effect on the whole. For an expression which was called “Wood”, it may have been blended from the various mentioned woods. French, American and Hungarian Oak that is, but it is not really a wood driven Malt. Although on some occasions, when trying this, I do pick up on some woody bitterness. Today a lot of over-oaked, new or virgin oak, bottlings emerge, but this isn’t one of them, even when carrying the “Wood” name. This has a nice nutty and warming aftertaste. Tasty too, but not as big as the nose promised. Final thought: this maybe more of a wood-Malt than I initially thought, because, this Tomatin lacks the typical tropical Tomatin fruitiness, so maybe this really is a wood-expression after all…

For a lot of people Tomatin is not the most well known Malt, which is a shame really, because over time, I’ve come across many well made and well blended Tomatin Single Malts. When I tried “Wood” for the first time, I was more than pleasantly surprised by this expression. I’m a bit afraid I may have not given this malt the attention it deserves. This is an easy drinking Malt and I carelessly reached for it many times. Now when it’s almost gone, and I’m analysing it more carefully when writing this review, before its all gone, I do come across very nice balance and some nice aroma’s. Yes I do regret not giving this Malt enough attention, since, this really is one that deserves it. Its a great example of a malt that is nice to analyse and contemplate a bit about the woods used for this Malt. Very nice indeed.

Points: 85

Thank you Alistair, Stan, Krish and Scott. This one’s for you!

Glen Garioch ‘Virgin Oak’ (48%, OB, 2013, L132293)

Whisky is already around for quite a long while. Just pick up any general Whisky book, have a look at chapter one and the first year mentioned is definitely a long long time ago. In all that time, Single Malt Whisky was always about ageing in previously used casks. Oloroso Sherry casks turn out to give nice results, but also the abundance of Bourbon casks showed us, that wonderful Whisky could be made with those as well. So, Single Malt Whisky is to used casks what Bourbon is to new casks. For centuries and centuries this situation stayed like that. It was traditional and just the way it worked, why change it? Many variants were tried before and these two were the ones that worked best. However, the world is ever changing, and the demand for Sherry casks has risen considerably, since Whisky isn’t the only distilled spirits industry interested in these kinds of casks. Also, I guess, the consumption of Sherry is lower than it used to be in the 60’s and 70’s. In comes the adventurous modern Whisky drinker and the modern Whisky industry, both with modern ideas (and facing shortages and steep prices for Sherry casks). Modern marketing is all about product diversification, catering to the adventurous or novice Whisky drinker. In time there just had to be someone, sooner or later, who would come up with the novel and outlandish idea of putting Scottish new make into a virgin oak cask. How bold!

The use of virgin oak is one of the steps taken by the industry alongside f.i. the explosion of NAS bottlings. Some virgin oak casks were blended in to the final Single Malt Whisky expression to add an element to the Whisky, or used merely as a finish. Laphroaig ‘1815’ and Ardbeg ‘Corryvreckan’, to name but two (again), are known for using, in part, virgin oak. Sometimes with European and sometimes with American Oak. Maturing full-term though, was initially unheard of! Nevertheless today there are several full-term matured virgin oak bottlings, and this Glen Garioch from 2013 is one of them, fully matured in North-American white oak. Deanston has another. Glen Garioch calls this an artisanal small batch release. The public calls this a “Bourbon”…

Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Grassy and sappy oak. Green. Sweet and fresh. No signs of new make or under-matured Whisky, but there is some resemblance to the honeyed nose of a Bourbon. Lots of fresh woody notes. Sawdust, caramel. Sweet ginger and some more wood spices. Milk chocolate and oak sap. Green leaves. After these expected suspects, come in the more fruity notes, well one actually. Dried orange skins, quickly to be overtaken by more wood and paper notes. So yes, lots of woody notes, but nothing too spicy or too overpowering. Its fresh, green, sweet and fairly simple.

Taste: Sweet, creamy and slightly bitter, (fresh tree sap). Spicy right from the start. Sweet at first and wood-spice next. Warming going down, giving dried ginger, sugared nutmeg, spicy cinnamon and half-dark chocolate notes in return. The nose wasn’t all that complex and the taste is even less so. It shows you all its got right from the start. No development over time. Quite green and vegetal tasting as well. Like eating the cuttings from your early summer garden. Have you ever cut off a small branch from a shrub or small fruit tree? Remember the smell of the fresh wood, the sappy bit? Well, this tastes a bit like that smells. Towards the finish, still warming and with even more length to it than I expected. Quite spicy, again on cinnamon and the medium bitterness has a lot of staying-power as well. A shame really that the sweetness in the finish is gone. Also it seems to lose a bit of balance towards the end. The finish is not the best part of this Whisky.

So there you have it. A fully virgin oak matured Whisky. Now you know which element this brings to other Whiskies that only use partial maturation in virgin oak. Interesting, yes, there is this dreaded I-word. Full maturation virgin oak is an education. It is something you should fathom, when you want to know stuff about Whisky. To be short, it gives us a rather un-complex Whisky. Wood, spices, and some nice sweetness to balance it out, just lacking in the finish. Slightly fruity but not much.

I always liked Glen Garioch. It is one of those Malts that suit me. Glen Garioch is somehow a powerful Malt, with many possibilities. So if any distillate could handle Virgin Oak, Glen Garioch should be one of those. This is a nice experiment of which recently a second attempt was released.

Points: 81

Even though this score might be somewhat low, I have to admit that I’m amazed this bottle is already empty. No, it isn’t one of those malts you are drinking to get out of the way and replace by something new (and better). I do have fond memories, already, of this one. As I said before, an interesting Malt and and most definitely an education. Goodbye sweet Geery. See ya around.

Glen Garioch 15yo (53.7%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Cask Matured, 2016)

Back in 2013 I reviewed Glen Garioch’s entry-level Founder’s Reserve bottling. Maybe a simple Whisky at first, but showing potential with its development in my glass. In the end it scored (maybe only) 83 points, and I concluded that my interest in Glen Garioch was rekindled. Fast Forward to 2019 and here finally is my rekindled interest with this Glen Garioch bottling. Took me long enough! I picked this one from my lectern because it goes fast, very fast, and the bottle is only 1/4 full, (or 3/4 empty if you are a pessimist). Considering I opened it not too long ago, you can already conclude I like it very much, although I could have had other uses for tasty Whisky as well.

This particular bottling saw the light of day in 2016 in travel retail outlets, like airports, on ferry’s and such. However by 2018, and maybe sooner, this bottling seems to be more widely available. Maybe Glen Garioch is our little secret and not widely known to the general public. Well if you ask me, this bottling should stay our little secret and I also feel this isn’t very suitable for the general public to boot, but more about that later. As far as I know, there are two batches made of this: L162341 and L162342. The bottle I have carries the lower of both numbers.

Color: Copper orange brown.

Nose: Creamy, spicy and fresh. Very exotic. Almost Indian, tasted blind I might have said Amrut. Lots of creamy woody notes quickly follow suit. Sawdust and pencil shavings, not old wood. Lots of backbone to this. Typical Oloroso notes we also know from Aberlour A’Bunadh, yet here it is somewhat less harsh, less alcohol as well, but also older and the spiciness is definitely more exotic. Which Oloroso Sherry was in these casks, I wonder? Hints of vanilla and some tar. Tiniest hint of sulphur adding to the backbone. Honey and overall quite dusty. Dark, deep and brooding Sherry notes, but not too much. It also has a lively vibrant side to it (as opposed to the Bunnahabhain I just reviewed). Lots of character to this. Appetizing. I need a Pizza after this review! (I did!).

Taste: Big and very creamy. Sweet as well. Toffee, caramel, the lot. The (fruity) sweetness is less pronounced in the evening. Starts with quite a big wonderful spicy woody note and some tree sap. Slightly dry and soapy, with tar and Sherry, but it’s a beautiful woody note. It fits the nose perfectly. Hints of black fruits start to emerge. Well balanced but not as much evolution as one might think after 15 years, not as complex as well. However, what you do get instantly is a very well composed, and utterly delicious Sherried Whisky. Sometimes I pick up some bitterness in the finish, but that is no problem whatsoever. Wonderful expression. Probably best after dinner and a cigar can’t hurt it either.

Trying this one right after the Bunnahabhain, I just reviewed, I have to wonder how stuff like this would be after 30 years of ageing. Nevermind this. Tasting this after the Bunnahabhain is bliss. They differ so much, but go together very well. The Bunnahabhain today is quite pricy at auctions, and If you’re quick, this Glen Garioch seems to be on sale quite a lot, but it will sell out eventually, and then its gone.

Finally, I often give the advice that you should give a Whisky some air and time to breathe. Just pick any Springbank review and it’s there. Surprisingly, that is not the case this time, This Glen Garioch is best right after pouring it, just sayin’.

Points: 88

Ben Nevis 10yo (46%, OB, 2018, L18/8069)

I’m a big, big fan of Springbank and all of its output. I love the taste, the independence, the batch variation, the society. Buy a bottle and you never get the same Whisky twice. Above all however, I love the taste in combination with the sheer quality. Springbank 10yo was always the )only) Whisky I mention to people when they ask me for a bang-for-your-buck Whisky. Nevertheless, I’m always open to other Whiskies as well, I’m not bound to a few distilleries, or to one type of Whisky. I love a lot of different Whiskies with different styles. Dear readers, Springbank 10yo is about to be dethroned from that first place. I will still mention it, but with the same breath I will also mention this Ben Nevis 10yo. It’s fabulous. It’s complex, its unexpected, it’s simply wonderful. It has aromas I only encounter in Whiskies from yesteryear and not in modern stuff like this, distilled in the 21st century. I’m not sure if only this particular batch is so good, or that all Ben Nevis’ 10yo are this good, but we will find out someday, won’t we? Although I’m sure the latter is true!

Color: Light Gold.

Nose: Fresh, flowery, malty and fatty. Lightly sweet and very, very seducing. Smoky and fresh. Sweaty (Sauvignon Blanc), yet also lots of aroma’s from Alsatian White Wines and Rieslings from across the border (that would be Germany). Nice notes of subdued oak and even honey. Warming and big. Toffee, without the sugar. Creamy and nutty. Sweet yellow, tropical fruit yoghurt. Very special. Tiny, tiny, tiny hint of peat (and smoke) and also some Sherry. Tiny hint of pencil shavings and some sawdust as well. Extremely well-balanced.

Taste: Sweet, sweaty and big. Toasted oak. Benefits from air, so let it sit in your glass for a moment. The sweaty notes from the nose are here for you to taste as well. Tropical fruits, yes. Dried pineapple and papaya come to mind backed by a bitter oak note. This has definitely older Whisky in the mix. (18yo is rumoured). Where others probably sell a lot of Whisky and are aching for NAS-expressions. The owners of Ben Nevis (The Japanese) are taking it zen, and have older Whiskies to spare to make this special 10yo even more special. In fact the profile lies somewhere between Springbank 10yo (fatty, oily, warm motor oil, hints of peat and big) and Caperdonichs from 1972 (the fruit man, the fruit). Great body, medium finish (turning a wee bit sour for a moment), with a nice long warming aftertaste (not sour anymore). When its gone, its gone (and you need another sip). Complex, but not too much.

Ben Nevis 10yo looks like this, since 2016 and is released once a year, and it seems to me it sort of sells out before the next release has been bottled. For instance the 2019 versions hasn’t been released yet, but this 2018 I’m reviewing now, has all but vanished from many shops I know. It is the only standard bottling, with the rest of the output being specials and single cask bottlings. All sold at special prices indeed, making this the only standard bottling of Ben Nevis and also the only affordable one. I wish they would expand a bit with their standard range, like a 15yo for instance, and some others after that? Yes please!

Points: 88

Teaninich 10yo “Flora & Fauna” (43%, OB, Circa 2004)

In 1991, the predecessors of Diageo, the owners of Teaninich, introduced us to Teaninich and many other lesser known distilleries they own, through this series we now call Flora & Fauna. The labels depict local wildlife and sometimes plants. We have Michael Jackson to thank for the name, nevertheless, Diageo never adopted the name. In 2001 four new ones were added (Glen Elgin, Auchroisk, Glen Spey and Strathmill). For a short while nine cask strength versions were also available. Many of the original 22 entries have since vanished. Sometimes Diageo closed the distillery (Rosebank & Pittyvaich) or sold it off (Bladnoch, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Aultmore, Aberfeldy, Balmenach and Speyburn), and in several cases Diageo put the distillery forward and graced them with their own series (Clynelish, Caol Ila, Mortlach, Dufftown, Glendullan and Glen Elgin). The latter just added to the series in 2001. Today all that’s left of the Flora and Fauna series is (Teaninich, Benrinnes, Inchgower, Blair Athol, Linkwood, Mannochmore, Strathmill, Auchroisk, Glenlossie, Glen Spey and Dailuaine), although it seems Dailuaine is disappearing as well…

In this series I usually tend towards the more sherried expressions, since especially bottles bottled more than a decade ago show a lot of quality. The Whisky-boom wasn’t really there so lots of excellent Sherry casks found their way into this series. We already had a look at Mortlach and Benrinnes, but also Dailuaine and Blair Athol come to mind. Someone once gave me the Blair Athol to taste next to one bottled ten years prior, and the difference was amazing. A whopping 10 points. So yes, the best casks don’t seem to find their way anymore into the F&F series. However, for some distilleries the second best Sherry casks are still pretty decent, especially considering the bottles from this Flora and Fauna series are quite affordable to boot.

In comes this Teaninich, most definitely an expression that has never seen Sherry casks, and at 10yo, a very young one indeed. Still it’s a Teaninich and you know I love Teaninich, so even though no Sherry was used (probably), I still have some sort of high hopes for this one, since there is nothing to scoff at when Whisky has matured in Bourbon-wood. Barrel or hogshead alike.

Color: Dark straw yellow.

Nose: Buttery and woody. Yes, American oak for sure. Buttery and creamy. Custard pudding, coffee creamer (powder) with added sweet, ripe yellow fruits and a lot of influence from the wood. I said wood influence, not woody. Leafy. Dry plants and dried ice cream left over in the bowl. This seems like a typical (young) Whisky that has matured in American oak. If you are familiar with it, the profile can’t come as a surprise to you. As is the case with Whiskies like this, the beauty has to be found in the details. Occasional whiffs of fresh acidity (oak).

Taste: Short lived sweetness from the start, quickly to be overtaken by hints of fireworks, flint, sulphur (huh?) and liquorice. Didn’t expect that. Never simple, Teaninich. The sweetness doesn’t have any staying power though. It isn’t really present in the body nor in the finish. Maybe I’m interpreting the creamy notes with sweetness? Spicy notes emerge next. However it isn’t an easy Malt. This won’t do if you think you need a simple, American oak driven Whisky you want to drink playing cards with the boys. Because, if you give this enough attention, not all aroma’s are easy on the palate. Darn Teaninich, again more than you’d bargain for. Tea, with citrus aroma. sweet yellow fruits like dried apricots. This is a Whisky drinkers Malt, which is a very anoraky thing to say, Quill!

As I said above, if you drink this not giving it the attention it needs, it will let you down. For a careless drinker this isn’t really suitable. This means, not everything works as well as it should, because you, the sipper in this story, have to make it all fall into place, so without flaws this is not, and I have to score this accordingly.

Another word of caution. Flora & Fauna bottlings can be (very) different from batch to batch, decade to decade. This is a bottle bottled some fifteen years ago, so hard to tell what you get if you buy the latest release.

Points: 82