Bladnoch 10yo (46.7%, OB, Limited Release, Bourbon Expression, Bourbon Barrels, 2018)

Wow, this is just the second review of Bladnoch on these pages. Bladnoch is one of those distilleries that look charming, but for the knowledgeable consumer, it has (or had) a bit of a wonky reputation for being buttery and somewhat unbalanced. I understand why some people might dislike Bladnoch, having tasted quite a few Bladnochs over the past twenty odd years. In the mean time, the only other Bladnoch I reviewed until now, is this 8yo, and this one was most definitely a learning experience. However it was a Whisky that grew on me, which also prompted an updated review, which I rarely do. Maybe it didn’t score as high as many other Whiskies reviewed here, but I still do remember it fondly.
In 1993 the distillery was bought by Raymond and Colin Armstrong and they sold it again in 2015. Raymond and Colin probably spent most of their money on purchasing the place, because it showed, there wasn’t a lot of money around. Simple bottles, not a lot of different labels, no boxes and no big refurbishments to boot. But the feeling was great. Raymond is an outspoken and accessible figure, who “did” the distillery, opened Bladnoch forum on-line, (again very a rudimentary looking affair), where aficionado’s could talk about many Whisky topics, with Raymond often participating, and last but not least, the famous Bladnoch Forum, independent bottlings of casks from other distilleries. All simple looking, home printed labels, and very nicely priced. This was a great time, and I’m sorry this didn’t last a lifetime, although Raymond’s son Martin continued the concept with Whiskybroker.co.uk.

2013 was the last year, many officially released bottling were released, but in 2014 & 2015 not so much. Finally, in 2015 Bladnoch was bought by Australian David Prior. With new management came an extensive two year refurbishment and a different and way more sophisticated look. The money was now certainly coming to Bladnoch. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. Distilling commenced in 2017. In 2016 with the releases of Talia, Samsara and Adela, the first new bottlings saw the light of day. Yes these are whiskies and not David’s daughters, at least I don’t think so. Just like the new Glenallachies, I tasted the new Bladnochs at the Whisky Show in London, and again the younger more “simple” expressions seemed best, or most promising. Of everything that was available to taste, I liked the 10yo best, it seemed to be the most interesting, and there even was this 25yo Talia to be had, just sayin’. So this 10yo is much less expensive and easily matches the others in quality. So no strange thing than, that the 10yo was the first one I bought, which has recently been replaced by an 11yo, which I recently bought as well. I guess the future of Bladnoch looks rosy again.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Extremely malty, biscuity and slightly dusty. Warm summer air with the smell of oak planks (in the sun). Sweet malts with some distant citrus notes (the flesh, not the skins), mixed with cinnamon, green apple skins and dry banana. Warm slightly toasted bread with molten butter, cereals and dust. Grassy and dry, with some soft hay and cardboard. Perfumy (chic) and highly aromatic. Sugared yellow fruits. Friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. White latex wall paint. This is not only sweet, but also has a rough edge to it. At times, sweaty, dead leaves and organic. There is a lot here, and it’s quite big as well. There is nothing like it, and it seems almost like a style on its own. Who said a lighter style of whisky can’t be big? Remember St. Magdalene? Meaty, cold gravy, but also some milk chocolate and some more cinnamon. Soft ice cream melting in the sun. The combinations may seem strange, and to be honest, Bladnoch can be a strange Whisky at times, different from others, but in this lies also its charm. I can say that, because for me, for a long time, Bladnoch has been some sort of a guilty pleasure. I liked it a lot even when I shouldn’t. I liked it better than my scores showed. (Thinking of intrinsic quality here). Funny how this works. It’s strangeness is quite appealing (to me). I do like extremes. Sherry bombs and Peat monsters as well, and a big buttery Lowlander is an extreme as well, these three are the points of a triangle.

Taste: Sweet and fruity, definitely some sweet apple in here as well. Malty check, cinnamon check, it goes great with the sweet apple aroma. Quite quickly the woody notes, complete with some bitterness, exert themselves. Still lots of butter and vanilla and this creamy texture. Fatty and waxy. And this wax is the carrier for the bitterness of the oak. Less of the cardboard kind, which is more like paper here. Lots of aroma’s in the nose, because these must have been some pretty active casks giving off a (smoky) bitterness. Citrus fruits and some more sweet sugary yellow fruits aroma’s form on top of the body. These notes are sharper and more acidic and go together well with the more fatty base or body of this Whisky. Passion fruit and maracuja maybe, hard to tell right now which fruits make up the fruity bit.

Even though this is clearly a Lowland style Whisky, it differs from all the others Lowlanders that still operate. I remember I needed some time to get used to this, and some of that shows in the review of Bladnoch 8yo (look towards the end). To be honest the 8yo and this 10yo do have a lot in common. Even though I found it an odd one out, I really developed a liking for the strange style of Bladnoch. Here we have this new and initial, fairly standard bottling @ 10 years old, with a price to match and I really do like it. I like it for what it is and also for its style. Distilled by Raymond, and now the new owners are reaping the benefits. It seems to me the new owner is also doing the best he can to put Bladnoch out there again and putting out several expressions at reasonable prices. It is possible this style of Whisky isn’t for everyone, and if you bought it because of me and don’t like it (too extreme), I apologize, but for me this is a very nice gig fatty Lowlander, and I can’t wait to try some more expressions of Bladnoch in the near future.

Points: 86

Tamdhu Dalbeallie Dram No.3 (60.7%, OB, Sherry Oak Casks, 1.000 bottles, 2020)

Well, since I already have one of these lying around, why not make it two official Tamdhu’s in a row. After the (initially) slightly disappointing 15yo, I just expected more of a Sherry monster I guess, I gather this special release should have no trouble eclipsing the 15yo. First of all, it has more oomph (higher ABV), more color (A lot darker) and with a mere 1.000 bottles produced, they probably did something special, don’t you think? So I expect a proper Sherry monster again! I’m only human, and I don’t seem to really learn from my mistakes, or so it seems, nevertheless I still do expect a Sherry monster this time.

The first edition of Dalbeallie was released in 2018 at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, and gets its name from the Dalbeallie station. Tamdhu itself opened in 1897 and the station just two years later in 1899. The railway played a key role in the supply of barley and Sherry casks for Tamdhu. The station closed in 1965, but has since been fully restored. Dalbeallie is an annual release, so editon II was released at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2019 and our number III was released this year (2020) on-line, due to Covid-19. Every edition up ’till now, counts only 1.000 bottles.

Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Thick Sherry, with licorice, lots of wonderful fresh oak, crushed dried autumn leaves, nuts and dust (and sometimes some cardboard). Very aromatic and fresh. Old, worn down leather and also meaty. However, like the 15yo, this has a rather large fresh ‘n’ fruity acidity to it. Citrus acidity, more of the lemon and lime kind than oranges, or is it… Floral perfume and some cloves (and some oranges now?). Sometimes whiffs of ozone (like you get from ozone cleaned pools). Initially a bit closed but this is quickly “resolved” with some breathing. Thick, slightly tarry, hints of petrol and brooding, yet not syrupy. Hints of paint and gravy. Seems odd, but odd combinations work well in Whisky. Cardboard and some candied red fruit sugar gello, (or jam for short), deep down below in the nose. Nice wood notes to balance it out, fresh wood and sawdust. The wood notes emerge more and more, the longer this stands in your glass and breathes. Cigar-box sandal wood is linked to the old style perfume. Extremely balanced and a truly wonderful nose. Yes it really does smell like a Sherry monster, 2.0-style.

Taste: Big Sherry. Hot and woody. Fresh dried wood, again remembering cigar boxes. Red fruits with a shadow of sweetness (as in, you know it’s there but you can’t touch it), and definitely some cigar aromas. Cigar box, cigar a cru (the smell of an unlit cigar) and cigar ashes. Powerful wood (bitter). Full of wonderful aroma’s and tastes, yet also lightly unforgiving. Starts out fresh, (new) wood and hot, but picks up caramel and some velvety softness whilst going down. For a millisecond, this is syrupy and sweet and then the dry wood kicks in, and it kicks in good. The wood sticks to the palate. Nice wood, powerful, yet not the overpowering (mouth drying) wood you get from very old Malts. It disperses eventually, making room for cookie dough and letting through a tiny bit of the sweetness I’m sure more is in here somewhere. Extremely tasty. Wow! Just like the 15yo, this is quite fresh and somewhat acidic on top. The aforementioned wood has some cloves and a sharpish edge to it. Freshly sawn oak. A truly wonderful Malt. This is essentially a Sherry monster, but with these fresh characteristics and these more than appropriate wood notes, works very well together. Big, yes, cloying, no. Hints of menthol also pop up. In a way it is almost Christmassy.

It also reminds me a bit of the high powered 2007 Glenlivet’s from Signatory Vintage. First fill Sherry, with extremely high ABV. These Glenlivets are flooding the market since 2017. I really have to open one of those soon, to see if I remember those well. This Dalbeallie seems a wee bit softer. However, it’s really not a soft Malt, the wood is too present for that. It is still a Sherry monster though, but as I said before, in a more modern 2.0-style. Even more wood in the finish than in the body. Not drying, but somewhat soapy. Through the soapy bit (which isn’t a problem by the way) comes the first sign of some real woody bitterness. This bitterness remains for the aftertaste as well as some, almost hidden before, red fruit hard candy. Nevertheless, this is a magnificent dram.

I love it! Definitely worth the price of admittance. I got half a bottle in a bottle share with Nico. I should have gone for the whole thing. Oh well…

Points: 89.

The wood influence is quite big and this takes away a bit from the underlying red fruits and if these fruits would have had a chance to exert themselves some more, this would have been a Dram scoring in the 90’s. Still a very good Whisky!

Ledaig 18yo (46.3%, OB, Spanish Sherry Wood Finish, Limited Release Batch No. 03, 2016)

Ledaig, a very, very, interesting Malt. Ledaig is the peated version and the self-titled Tobermory is the unpeated Malt from the Tobermory Distillery. Both Malts can do really well in Sherry Casks, often mere finishes already do the trick. Remember the 1972’s? But also check out both sister casks bottled by G&M, #464 and #465, we reviewed earlier. Two malts I really love! But beware, Tobermory, the distillery, had a reputation for being really good, but at times also really bad, or mediocre like the two Independently bottled expressions I reviewed earlier: this young Kintra bottling and this even younger Murray McDavid bottling. So Tobermory/Ledaig used to be a you’d-better-just-try-it-first Malt. Lets be honest, it once had a bad rep altogether. I learned way back, that this was actually one to avoid. Especially the unpeated Tobermory could be really Wonkymory. When buying blind, just buy something 12 years or younger, since quality has really gone up in more recent times. I haven’t tried a lot of official releases of this distillery yet, some are quite expensive, but hurray, when this 18yo (third batch) went on sale, the price drop was amazing for this Malt, I went for it. They even threw in a good lookin’ coffin for ya hamster! So time to try this 18yo Oloroso finished Ledaig. This Malt is released in batches, so an investigation in batch variation could be nice and I will do that when given the chance. This time however we’ll only have a look at the latest batch, which at the time of writing, is No. 3.

When my friend Nico tried the freshly opened bottle, the only words that came out before going into toxic shock was “rubber”, oh dear! Thankfully he recovered and dared to try it again, on another occasion, after some breathing. It seems the Ledaig needed some breathing, and probably Nico did too. Nico thought it improved with breathing. Now, lets try for ourselves, and yes we did let it breathe for quite some time (it was a shared bottle and I got the second half), so essentially I got a pre-breathed bottle!

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Extremely funky, but not Jamaican Rum funky, that’s something different altogether. Wonderful fatty peat and fresh sea spray. Fireplace at Christmas. Warming and animalesk. Crushed insects. Very ashy and dusty. Wonderful perfumy wood. Yes, several different kinds of rubber as well; tires, and orange rubber hose come to mind. Warm motor oil. Quite steam punkish and extremely aromatic. More sweet peat and soft smoke. Fatty and broad. Already a very, very pleasant fruity Sherry note comes through. Good Oloroso, good boy! Whilst falling in love with the fine red fruity notes of black berries, and red forest fruit, I get hit over the head with ashy and fatty peat. What a nice interaction, what a nice effect. Never a dull moment with Ledaig. Cigarette smoke and some toffee, showing a slightly more sweeter side. Cookie dough. Steam, salty almonds and seaside tar. Dried or smoked fish. Licorice, salty and smoky now. The peat came first, now the smoke. Fish soup. This is a good smelling Malt for “men”. Bearded, rugged fisherman type of men. With an anchor tattooed on an oversized biceps. Not bearded metro-men, always dressed in a white tee, shopping online for moisturisers and contemplating a meaningless tattoo which will be out of fashion in a years’ time. This Whisky is rugged and boasts big aroma’s. Nakatomi tower style, be warned. Excellent. As often, this does need to break in. It really needs a lot of air to show all it’s got (and to lose the wee smells of sulphur and rubber), and when it does show all it’s got, boy, what wonderful balance! The emptier the bottle the better this is. The nose alone is already worth a 90+ score. Amazing how this brings back the wonderful Whiskies from the days before cars had seat belts and in a way, this also smells like an old car that originally never had seat belts.

Taste: Licorice comes first. Sweet licorice, nutty licorice, fruity licorice. The peat separates from the roof of my mouth into my nose. Nice! Definitely a sweet fruity note right from the start. Short burst of almond liqueur, without the lingering sweet finish. Less bitter than I thought it would be, but it does carry enough wood notes. Hints of steam locomotive and cola. Tastes very first half 20th century. Industrial and old. Stings a bit on my tongue, but not much. Less big as well and the liquid is not syrupy. It starts out promising, and shows a beer-like medium finish, which again some wood (and hops). I guess the reduction to 46.3% did it some harm. Slightly woody bitterness with mocha and milk chocolate. Not a huge aftertaste, nope, note even big, but again licorice (from Bassett’s Allsorts, the anise from this is present as well). Yup, special slightly bitter Belgian Beer. Westmalle Triple. Hops. Haagsche Hopjes as well, a coffee flavoured hard candy from the Netherlands. Where is this going I ask myself, nice complexity. The palate is slightly less magnificent than the nose was. From an almost empty bottle, the nose is stellar. The palate is slightly thin and also less balanced. I guess due to reduction. Medium finish at best (again, the reduction). The aftertaste is soft and lingering.

Do yourself an huge favour. When you buy this, open it a few days earlier and dare to put it away without a cork. If the ABV. would have been (much) higher, I would say, put it away for a few weeks without a cork. This Whisky needs a humongous amount of air to shine. The difference is really big. The harsh rubber notes, Nico was telling me about, are gone now, since my half of the bottle got a lot of air over time. When writing this review the bottle is 80% empty. Even when you do pour it, leave it in your glass for a while. Let it roll around. Keep it moving, warm it up in the palm of your hand. Be nice and gentle to this rugged Malt, and like a good boy it will jump up to you and lick your face.

Points: 90