Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram” (46%, OB, First Fill Bourbon & First Fill STR barrique)

Happy 2021! After dry Januari, finally the moment has arrived to forget about the past year, may it never return, in no shape or form whatsoever. However, all is still not well with the world at the beginning of 2021. I hope this review reaches you in good health and sound mind. With this new year, I’ll kick off with a new dram from a new Distillery. Kingsbarns is the new distillery owned by the Wemyss-family, a name we already know as an independent bottler of Single Malts like the Bowmore “Aniseed Pastille” and the Clynelish “Cayenne Cocoa Bean“, Malts I reviewed earlier.

Kingsbarns Distillery lies approximately six miles from St. Andrews, close to the Kingsbarns Golf Links. This is not a coincidence since the distillery was the dream of former Golf Caddie Douglas Clement. Word is that clients of Douglas’ were asking for directions to the nearest distillery, for “refreshments” after a strenuous game of golf, and since there really wasn’t a distillery close by, Douglas came up with the idea of having a distillery much closer to the golf course. Douglas found a suitable site close to the Golf Links. He found the derelict East Newhall Farm that serviced Cambo House and Estate. The buildings originated from around 1800 as part of the East Newhall Farm. Owned by Thomas Erskine, the ninth Earl of Kellie, and were restored for the use as a distillery in the original style. The farm, now distillery, overlooks barley fields, what else do you need? Kingsbarns Distillery opened in November 2014 and began filling casks from March 2015.

Raising money for a distillery was too much for Douglas alone, so he looked for financial backing, eventually finding the Wemyss family. Some reports mention that Wemyss simply joined the project, where others mention Douglas was bought out by Wemyss. As far as I know, Douglas worked together with Wemyss to fulfil his dream. The Wemyss family themselves probably were interested in the project, because they already did have a Whisky business and thus know their way around, but also have a historical link with this site as well. The 7th Earl of Wemyss owned part of the Cambo Estate between 1759 and 1783.

Color: White wine

Nose: Very Malty and grassy, but also pleasant. Young and creamy with hay, cereal and citrus aroma’s. Yes. very Lowland. Somewhere between soft and fresh ‘n zesty. Young, but not really new make spirit young (so nothing like young Tomatin, which is more milky and acidic to boot). Vanilla pudding with a little bit of American oak (vanilla and some wood spice), soft wood. Sweet mint candy. Menthos and vanilla ice-cream. With some air more friendly floral notes emerge. Already quite balanced and accomplished for such a young malt, but young and simple nevertheless. The nose can be compared easily with something like Bruichladdich Organic (the vintage ones @ 50% ABV), which are around twice the age, and still those are considered to be very young. The Bruichladdich tastes much bigger though. Tiny hint of toasted oak and a winey top-note. What was STR-cask again Kato? (Shaved, Toasted en Re-charred). Nice nose, better than expected. After some more breathing a little bit of new make does show up, but not much. However once this note shows up, it never leaves again, so definitely a young expression, but that’s what we expected now, didn’t we? Perfumy and aromatic next, like a Dutch Korenwijn or Jenever. A light Whisky for springtime, an introduction.

Taste: Sweet and citrussy, floral and grassy, but also a bit (sugar) watery (with licorice) and simple. Again, this whiff of toasted cask, lemongrass and young sweet malt. The sweet note makes for an instant gratification Malt, be it a very simple one. Here the youth is even more noticeable. It definitely lacks a lot of complexity and some balls. What you taste is what you get. It doesn’t really evolve much in my glass. It’s very soft and friendly, like a soft spoken person. Humble and kind. Lowland-ish in style. Luckily, some backbone is offered by a peppery note and warm wood. Cold White Wine storage complete with a whiff of new cardboard. The higher ABV of 46%, does help to lift things a bit up, although I do believe this Malt could have done with an even higher ABV. Very short sweet finish, peppery and warming, dessert-like, with hardly any aftertaste.

The nose shows this distillate really has potential. I guess this will be very nice when it gets more years behind its belt. The Lowland quality is there, time and the people of Kingsbarns will do the rest. A Malt to start your evening with. Treat this as an introduction, a young whisky to present itself. We now know what style to expect. It is most definitely not a full blown Whisky yet, and if you buy a bottle expecting a proper aged Whisky, you’ll be disappointed. Nice one for building expectations. We’ll be watching this one to see how this develops further.

Points: 76

Thanks go out to Nico, for this sample of his Whisky.

Linlithgow 18yo 1982/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Vintage Collection, Cask #3002, 472 bottles)

Here we have a rather “young” Linlithgow, a.k.a. St. Magdalene. I really, really loved the extremely layered St. Magdalene 19yo, that was released three years prior to this one, so when this came out in 2001, I snapped up a few, expecting a similar experience to the one year older and cask strength expression mentioned above. Hey it was reduced a bit, and only one year older, so it could happen, and it was half the price of the 19yo! At the time, Whiskies from the Vintage Collection were never expensive, as was the case with this one. They sold this at the price of what a Springbank 10yo sells for today. Remember, even in 2001 this was already a closed distillery, so go figure. It was a different Whisky world back then. If I look around the net today retail price for this one is £699,-, and if you read this in 2025 it will probably be even higher, or have we all moved on to something else? If that is the case, why are you even reading about an old Whisky nobody cares for anymore?

Color: Pale gold, straw.

Nose: Extremely malty. hints of sugar-water and ear wax. Fruity and grassy. A Lowlander alright. A breath of fresh air. Toned down, almost shy, but don’t think this is light, because it’s not. It shows quite some aroma. The quiet (big) guy in your class, but you already know there is more to it than meets the nose. Yellow fruits and whiffs of American oak, It is definitely something from the past. Somehow Whiskies today aren’t like this anymore. Its like sitting alone in a field, middle of summer, nothing more than crickets and almost inaudible distant sounds of the rest of the world. Life is beautiful. Hints of cold butter and hay. Warm wood and a bit of old vanilla. Definitely not as multi-layered as the Rare Malts bottling mentioned above, and it hasn’t its evolution either. This is more straightforward and shy (again). Perfectly balanced nose. It got plenty of time to breathe and it can handle the air. No worries then of oxidation. By the nose alone another great example of the variety of St. Magdalene. Closing this distillery is a real loss, and this one is not coming back, so what you are holding in your glass is a piece of history, hence the hefty price-tag.

Taste: Sweet on entry. Malty, barley sugar. Slightly warming. Paper and cardboard. Creamy, with toffee on entry but it gets thinner towards the finish. Lots of fruits emerging at different moment when you keep it in your mouth, making for a sweetish, fruity, friendly Whisky. Only a slight bitterness reminiscent of toasted wood emerges. Less “big” than the nose suggested. In comparison to other Whiskies from this distillery, this might be a rather simple expression, (is it?), but still it oozes something special. Memories of black coal, and motor oil. If so, this can only have trace amounts noticeable, because in essence it is a sweet fruity Whisky. Simple, maybe, but it rewards you with aroma’s from the past, coming from a distillery like no other. Near the end of the body a somewhat burnt note emerges, burnt wood, hot machine (oil). Very nice industrial edge after the friendly fruitiness.

I spent a lot of time with this Whisky over the years, and I remember, when freshly opened, it showed a lot more of the waxy notes and even quite some bitterness. So don’t be afraid of oxidation, even when this is a reduced Whisky, because it will only get better. In the end it turns out much better than I have always thought it was…

Points: 86

St. Magdalene 1981/1999 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, II/BJ)

If you thought both Cragganmores were bottled a long time ago, then you must have a look at this St. Magdalene. This one was bottled one century ago. The 20th century to be precise. Nope its not antique yet since this was only bottled in 1999. Remember Prince? St. Magdalene itself is alas no more. Closed in 1983, it’s buildings now housing people ins stead of casks. An eternal shame led by economics of the eighties. In those days we had a Whisky loch (lots of unsold Whisky), and today almost a shortage. Big disappointment here, since St. Magdalene is my favorite Lowland distillery. Just have a look at my review of the legendary 1979 Rare Malt edition. By the way, bottles of this 1981 Gordon & MacPhail that were sold in Germany had stickers on the back that informed the public about caramel coloring…

St. Magdalene 1981/1999 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, II/BJ)Color: Gold.

Nose: Nice, grassy and citrussy. Quite nice and elegant after all those heavy hitters I reviewed before. Waxy and fruity, again in sugared and dried apricots. Quite grainy too, it’s almost like an old blend from the sixties. Vegetal, less grassy actually but more like fern and almost flowery. Sweetish and waxy apple skins. Marmalade. With some air mare grassy and vegetal. Dry grass and hints of hay, making this an easily recognizable Lowlander. Distant white pepper and some slightly rotting wet wood or bad breath. (not bad here). Not un-complex, and very pleasant to smell. A shame this style is almost disappearing. Do cherish your old Magdalenes and Rosebanks people!

Taste: Sweet (paper) and fruity. Pleasant stuff. Yes, quite light and fragile, but that is helped along by the sweetness. After the sweetness comes wax, paper and cardboard, still quickly overthrown by a delicious fruitiness. Warm apple juice with apricots, Short peak of prickly black pepper. Hidden behind the fruity (not sugary) sweetness a hint of black coal. Highly drinkable. Decent finish with a nice fruity aftertaste.

I thought this would be killed by reduction and caramel coloring, but no. It still has a lot of life in it, just like the ancient Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla 30yo I have on my lectern. That’s also elegant, brittle and light, but still giving a lot. I feel old malts could “take” a lot more than today’s modern Malts.

Points: 87

Rosebank 10yo 1992/2002 (46%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon Cask, MM1413)

Long time no Rosebank. It has been a long time since I reviewed a 1990 Rosebank, bottled by indie giants Gordon & MacPhail. That one was pretty good, it scored a healthy 88 points. Time for another go at Rosebank. This time a 1992 from Murray McDavid, remember them? By the way Murray McDavid bottled two different Rosebanks, both registered as MM1413. (The other one is a 1989, called Mission V). This 1992 is something of a farewell dram since Diageo decided, in it infinite wisdom, to mothball the distillery in 1993, never to work again…

Rosebank was founded in 1798, although some sources mention other years like 1840 and 1773. In the end, Rosebank was sadly mothballed in 1993 by Diageo which preferred Glenkinchie for its Classic Malts portfolio. And why not, nothing wrong with Glenkinchie I say. I’ve tried some very good Glenkinchies, and even reviewed a very good one, a 1987 bottled by Signatory. But why did Rosebank have to go? From an anoraks point of view, bad move since Rosebank distilled some pretty good spirit that turned into some pretty good Whisky if you ask me. Eternal shame.

Rosebank 10yo 1992/2002 (46%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon Cask, MM1413)Color: White wine.

Nose: Softly buttery and citrussy. Full aroma and nicely fresh. Nice acidity and sure some barley. Quite clean. If this isn’t your typical Lowland style, than nothing will be. Highly aromatic with soft wood and a nice grassy feel to it. Good spirit and even though the cask seems not that active (due to the lack of color), the spirit is decent and gentile, and the cask did enough to preserve that, and adding some vanilla and cold creamy butter to it. Lurking in the distance is actually some hints of new make spirit. Nice elegant (cedar) wood with milk chocolate and coffee with creamy notes (or coffee pudding).  Nice vegetal notes as well. Easily recognizable as a triple distilled lowlander. The big aroma is Rosebank from a good cask. Just compare this to the 1979 Rare Malts version (which I know is much higher in strength, but that would be missing the point).

Taste: Slightly toasted wood and creamy again. This starts with a bitterish and sappy oak attack (with some cardboard and malted barley), but that dissipates quite quickly to show it’s even more malty and grassy side. Also coffee and milk chocolate return here. A tad drier than expected and the body is more about new make spirit than the nose. Still not much though. And yes on the palate we can find the vegetal side. The bitterness of the wood stays on throughout. The whole is very nice, and don’t forget about the refreshing citrussy note!

Classic lowland and even though a fairly young Rosebank from a Bourbon Cask, this is clean and such a typical example of Lowland and Rosebank especially. Even this simple Rosebank shows what a mistake it must have been (looking at quality) to close this distillery down. Thank you very much. This particular expression reminds me of some Bladnochs, so I hope that distillery will be saved before it’s too late and someone turns it into their summer home of some sorts.

Points: 86

Littlemill 21yo 1992/2014 (52.9%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask)

Littlemill then. These days everybody seems to be raving about this sadly closed distillery. The official bottling seemed not to be very popular in its day and initially not a lot of tears were shed when this distillery closed in 1997 and subsequently was destroyed in a fire in 2004. Lots of Whiskies from the early nineties are bottled recently and surprise, surprise, a lot of them seem to be pretty good if not spectacular! Here we’ll have a look at a Littlemill that was aged in a Bourbon cask. This particular example was selected by Jürgen Vromans a.k.a. The Whisky Mercenary, who to this day has Always picked some great Whiskies. Just have a look at these reviews: Glenlossie, Tormore, Clynelish, Dailuaine and Cooley.

Littlemill 21yo 1992/2014 (52.9%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask)Color: Light gold

Nose: Fruity, waxy and spicy. Vanilla bean and vanilla Ice-cream. A breath of fresh air, but also some sea wind. Spicy oak with mocha. Extremely pleasant. Thin layer of honey and beeswax. Sugared yellow fruits, but also tiny, tiny hints of mustard. Hints of freshly cut oak but also an old cigar box. Cold tea (plain black tea, without milk or lemon). In the best sense of the word, a wood driven nose. Complex and very appetizing. Sometimes dry and dusty, the next very aromatic. Nice stuff!

Taste: Sweet and highly aromatic. A bit wet behind the ears, youthful oak. Yes this Whisky has been in an excellent cask. Lots of wax, beeswax, earwax, but also natural furniture polish, that doesn’t smell like an oil refinery. The wax and wood have an underlying sweetness and are aided by a nice hint of black fruits, and some oaky bitterness. Very well-balanced, and just right. It was bottled at the right moment. Maybe when it was younger it would have been more fruity, but would it have been such a distinguished gentledram?

Not every Bourbon cask is just a Bourbon cask, and not every freshly distilled Spirit that is meant to be a Single Malt Whisky is alike. Still when you take a (freshly used or refilled) Bourbon Barrel or remade Hogshead and put new-made Spirit in it, you more or less know what you’re going to get. Sometimes some especially great wood finds its way into the cask, or the barley was great, or fresh, or from a great variety. Sometimes something magical happens. Single cask Whiskies like these are all about the details so it takes an anorak like Jürgen to pick them out. Well done.

Points: 88

Inverleven (Dumbarton) 18yo 1987/2006 (57.9%, Cadenhead, Closed Distilleries, Bourbon Hogshead, 276 bottles)

And here is another Cadenhead’s, from the same kind of cask, from the same year 1987, with three years more ageing. Cadenheads call this Distilled at Dumbarton, made with Inverleven stills. Everybody else calls this whisky just Inverleven. To clear things up. The Single malt whisky that was made this way, was called Inverleven. Inverleven was made untill 1991. This was made with the ‘normal’ type stills. In the same building was also a Lomond type still that was installed in 1959 at the Dumbarton distillery and ran untill 1985 (With the malt being called “Lomond”, not Loch Lomond). Loch Lomond lies close by to the north. Only a few kilometres away, still Loch Lomond is a Highland Whisky, and Inverleven a Lowlander.  To wrap things up. The Dumbarton Distillery was the spiritual home of the Ballantine’s Blend.

Color: Light gold. (Darker than the 15yo Cadenhead).

Nose: Grassy and clean. Balanced, fresh and citrussy. Not sharp fresh lemons, but more deepness to the citrus. It not quite grapefruit. Old very ripe lemons maybe? Toffee and syrup. Candied old lemons, that’s it! In the back some nice elegant wood. This nose is definitely nicer than the 15yo, it’s more mature and balanced. Still the nose of the G&M was even more elegant, and woody. If you look for it carefully, in the depths of this Whisky you can smell a little bit of ether and acetone.

Taste: Sweet and spicy. Ok, the wood plays a role, but in no way like that of the G&M. The sweetness is also a bit more laid back compared to the 15yo Cadenhead. Great balance, fantastic balance actually. There is this perfect balance between the sweetness, the caramel, (more caramel than toffee) and the spiciness of the wood. Also some austere waxiness. Having said this, it still seems to lack a bit of complexity. The G&M seems to have more of that, yet every time I return to this Whisky is get better and better. Allow this to breathe and you’ll be rewarded. It could have remain a bit thicker in the finish, but still this is a stunner.

This version is definitely better than the 15yo, so maybe the extra ageing did some wonders, but you’ll have to allow for cask variation. It’s also better than the Gordon & MacPhail version. But both definitively have earned their place on anybody’s shelf. All of these Inverleven’s are Whiskies like no other. Quite a unique nice Lowlander. Highly recommended.

Points: 88

Inverleven (Dumbarton) 15yo 1987/2003 (58.1%, Cadenhead, Bourbon Hogshead, 294 bottles)

I ended the last post about Gordon & MacPhail’s Inverleven with the hope that they wouldn’t reduce the next issue (so much). Frolicking around in my stash of samples I unearthed this unreduced Inverleven bottled by Cadenhead’s. It’s from another year, so this may have a different profile, but still worth checking out. Dumbarton was foremost a Grain Distillery. The distillery was built in 1938. In 2002 the distillery was closed and demolition commenced in 2005. I’ve added a picture here, because I have always liked the big red brick industrial complex on the river. By the way, after stopping the production of the Inverleven malt, the Stills went on to Islay to produce Port Charlotte at Bruichladdich.

Color: White wine.

Nose: Grassy and murky, like sitting next to a ditch in summer, not bad, but certainly not lovely as well. A lot of citrus fruits. Lemon, lime, tangerines, but over this a lot of dried grass and hot butter. A slightly meaty or gravy like component emerges from all this. Quite fresh and slightly estery. Hints of mint when nosed vigorously.

Taste: Sweet and fresh. Lively, leafy, slightly woody and again lemons. Some underlying caramel and this type of whisky at this strength makes this hot, but that’s not a bad thing. Caramels, vanilla and toffee, are the main markers here. Not very complex. After some breathing, the bite of the wood enters, but luckily not a lot of bitterness.

Compared to the 1991/2012 G&M, this has even less than half of the wood the G&M. So this is more grassy, lemony and much sweeter to boot. This one lacks complexity, and even though the G&M was on the brink of becoming a log of wood, that one was more complex and therefore more interesting. This Cadenheads is easier to drink (as long as you like cask strength whiskies), sweeter and fresher. Still I like this type of Lowlander profile. Sadly gone.

Points: 84

Inverleven 1991/2012 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, AB/JDAD)

This is the latest Inverleven bottling of the now defunct Inverleven Distillery by Gordon & MacPhail. Gordon & MacPhail still have casks of Inverleven lying around, but have told me since Inverleven is a closed distillery, and the whisky more and more rare, this is the last time Inverleven was bottled in this series. Next time it will be issued in a ‘higher’ series (and hopefully at a higher strength). Inverleven is a whisky made in two Copper Pot Stills on the premises of the Dumbarton Grain Distillery. Whisky was made in these stills between 1938 and 1991, when the Stills were removed. Grain Whisky is still made here in a Column Still. For a while even a Coffee Still was in operation making the very rare “Lomond” Whisky (from 1959 to 1991). By the way, this is not Loch Lomond Whisky, that actually is only a few kilometres away, far enough to be a Highland Whisky. Dumbarton is the home of Ballantine’s blended Whisky.

Inverleven 1991/2012 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, AB/JDAD)Color: Gold.

Nose: Very fresh, citrussy and creamy. Dry leaves in the autumn. So, lots of lemon and vanilla ice-cream. Very nice, slightly sour and spicy wood. Wood in wet earth. Never overpowering. Elegantly spiced, but all the spice is from the wood. Fresh air. This seems to me, based on the nose alone to be a great summer or autumn Whisky. For a Lowlander ánd a Whisky at this strength, this has a very rich nose and very good balance. I can only hope the whisky tastes as great as this nose does.

Taste: Well the first sip I took was quickly gone. So quick that the only taste that came to mind was sweet pineapple and after that I already tasted the spicy bite of the wood, which again is not overpowering, but firmly present. From the second sip I have some vanilla, caramel and even later on a dried grass element. It’s not quite hay.  The initial sweetness, dries out quickly. Malty.

Quite a lot of wood in this one. And the first time around I found the finish to be short. Second time around, when the Whisky had some time to breathe the finish became a wee bit longer. Still, the nose is very nice and the wood shows itself in the nicest of ways. After breathing the woody part got bigger as well, but the finish got a little bit unbalanced. Maybe this got reduced too much? Let’s hope that the next 1991 Inverleven get’s a better chance at 46% (and maybe more…).

Points: 85

Thanks to Stan and Alistair for the sample.

Auchentoshan 18yo 1991/2009 (46%, The Cooper’s Choice, Hogshead #491, 360 bottles)

Well living in the low-countries and doing a Auchentoshan review without pointing at the site of the A toshan man is impossible. So here is a link to Mark Dermul’s site about Auchentoshan. It’s about whisky obviously, but have a look at all those Auchentoshan Trucks! Lovely.

For now I will do a short intro to Auchentoshan. officially the first word of Auchentoshan is in 1823 when a guy named Thorne got a licence. But there is reason to believe that Auchentoshan started in 1800 named Duntocher. In the past the Germans didn’t like Auchentoshan too much and bombed the place already in 1941. Smart as the Scottish are they waited for the end of the war, rebuilding Auchentoshan. Just to be sure, they started rebuilding in 1948. In 1984 Stanley P. Morrison buys the place and sells his own company to Suntory ten years later. In 2008 Morrison Bowmore starts with the new packaging we know today. But first this expression by indie bottlers The Cooper’s Choice (actually The Vintage Malt Whisky Co. Ltd.) The people behind Finlaggan.

Color: White wine.

Nose: Grassy. Mocha and lemon. It’s sour in an ugly way. It’s whisky with an added layer of strange minty sourness, that wouldn’t gel at all. Very unbalanced. Air freshener.

Taste: Malty with menthol. Although the taste isn’t bad, something definitely went wrong with this cask. Hot and woody. Caramel. Leafy and some plywood. Toffee, with paper in the short finish.

Sorry Mark, but this wasn’t very good. Something went wrong and it showed in the nose. Unbalance. Funny though, that the taste wasn’t all that bad. So it can be drunk, but why should you want to, when it smells like this.

Points: 78

Glenkinchie 12yo (43%, OB, American Oak, Circa 2010)

Glenkinchie can be good, but despite the efforts of the proud people working there, Glenkinchie will always be known as the distillery that Diageo saved by adding it in the Classic Malts range and thereby closing Rosebank.

Earlier I reviewed a Single Cask Glenkinchie bottled by Signatory Vintage and that was pretty good! This time around let’s see how the entry-level 12yo bottled by the owners will do. This 12yo replaces the 10yo that was available earlier.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Malty and quite big. Should that be surprising for a Lowlander? Guess not, since the Glenkinchie mentioned above was quite big too. Cardboard and vanilla ice-cream. It may be simple, but it smells quite nice. Sour spices. A strange kind of sawdust vanilla. Also some thick sugary yellow fruit sensation. Passion fruit. Weak peppermint candy and a slight hint of plastic.

Taste: Sweet wood and a hint of urine. Beer and wood. A drop of liquorice water on cardboard. The beer is there in the finish too. Not a very strong finish. A bit anonymous actually and very simple and subdued. Luckily the initial taste is good.

Hmmm I wouldn’t choose this as my daily drinker, but it does show you what Glenkinchie can be. It does have potential, but it barely shows itself in this one. It’s decent and dirt cheap, but it’s a silent partner, it doesn’t say much (to me). There was also a Cask Strength version made for the Friends of the Classic Malts and that one was very good. One problem only. That version is four times the price of this Glenkinchie, and that’s a bit of a shame really.

Points: 83