Compass Box “Oak Cross” (43%, OB, Circa 2006)

From the same period as “Asyla” (a blended Whisky), I reviewed back in 2015, comes this Blended Malt called “Oak Cross”. Blended Malt is the new expression for what we once called Vatted Malts. Two or more Single Malts, from different distilleries, blended together (so, without any Grain Whisky). Oak Cross is made from three Highland Single Malt Whiskies, yes, blended together to make this Blended Malt. I’ll let Compass Box themselves explain how they did it, since there is no way I could have put it better myself:

All [three] are aged [10 to 12 years] in [first fill] American oak casks before we place a portion [said to be 40%] into innovative hybrid casks [for up to 2 years] featuring heavily toasted new French oak heads [hence the name Oak Cross]. These give the whisky an added richness and spice-like complexity. By carefully blending back the French oak-aged whisky with its American oak-aged forebear, we are able to create a refined, rich, but well-mannered Malt Whisky, with fruity aspects that will remind you of baked apple or pears, complemented by a rich, toasty oak character.

By the way, the three Malts used for this “Blend” are 60% Clynelish (fruity), 20% Teaninich (for the smell of it) and 20% Dailuaine (the “meat” of it all).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Young and rather perfumy (Teaninich). Friendly and light. Appetizing. Something works very well here. Fruity (Clynelish). Yellow fruits that is, more of the apples and pears kind of fruit. Very European so to speak as opposed to the exotic Indian spices we get from, well…Indian Whiskies. Cardboard, and paper, dusty notes from oak, almost like an old house. Warm apple compote. More sweet than acidic to be frank. This has a warming quality to it. Notes of vanilla pudding. and soft oak, almost boiled soft oak. Tiniest hint of burned wood (and hay), warm motor oil (Dailuaine) and finally some grassy green hints. Although I am quite familiar with Whiskies from American oak, this does have another twist to it, is it the French oak maybe, or is it the soft fruitiness this shows. Nice, whatever it is.

Taste: Quite sweet on entry and again very friendly but also a bit thin, apart from the sugary feel that is. Nice and very approachable. No off-notes (hint of plastic, and ever so slightly soapy, but these don’t hurt the end-result a bit), and the sweetness never gets to that, annoying, cloying-level. Fruity yes, but harder to analyze than it was from the nose. Not so apply and peary as the nose. Maybe the sweetness is masking it? Fruity appetizing body, with a nice warming finish and enough staying power.

The sweetness makes this approachable and likeable, and is probably marketed towards people who are new to (Single Malt) Whisky. This may have it all, it seems young, but acceptable, therefore also quite inexpensive, well made, soft and friendly.

Points: 80

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Laphroaig ‘Quarter Cask’ (48%, OB, Circa 2006)

Well, it has been a while since The 2015 Laphroaig Week here on Master Quill, that a Laphroaig graced our pages. This is one of the earlier and better known examples of a NAS bottling that can still be had today. Laphroaig Quarter cask was introduced in 2004, so it almost celebrates its 15th birthday, how about that. Quarter Casks are casks of approximately 80 litres. The idea behind this bottling is that smaller casks make the Whisky age more quickly, since smaller casks have a higher surface to liquid ratio, than larger casks. And the higher the ratio the quicker the Whisky matures. However, this Laphroaig wasn’t entirely aged in Quarter casks, but is supposed to have a normal maturation in American oak bourbon barrels for 5 years (up to 11 years) and only then receive a 7 month finish in quarter casks, so essentially this Whisky is still only 5 years old, hence the price. It is very friendly priced and since it is almost 15 years available to us, this must be a recipe to success, and another way in showing the critical and discerning public that young whiskies can be very good. As I already showed in several of my previous recent reviews. Remember Bruichladdich, Cotswolds and the Kilkerran Work in Progress #2 and #3 bottlings? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet, lets first find out if this Laphroaig Quarter Cask is any good. However, this won’t be a review of a more recent Quarter Cask, but an earlier example. As can be seen on the picture below, the design of the label has somewhat changed since the earlier bottlings…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice peat, clean, fruity and fresh, ozonic. Meaty, with hints of sweetness. Rural. Soft and hard at the same time. If you try hard, some spicy oak is detectable. Vanilla and gravy notes emerge at the same time. Ashes, paper and citrus. Wonderful combinations. Amazing how appetizing the peat is (mixed in with Vanilla notes from the American oak). The whole is utterly balanced and every bit of aroma, every note seems to belong to the next one. There is also a very sweet, fresh “other” note present, like a fruity-floral hybrid, an added layer to the darker peaty side. Like light in the darkness. Let it stand in your glass for a while and development starts. Based on the nose alone I definitely understand its broad appeal. Young, inexpensive but with very high quality. A present for Laphroaig aficionado mourning the loss of their beloved 10yo, which simply isn’t what it was. The 10yo suffers from Alzheimer’s, but this Quarter cask, yeah, úp, steps the new generation to take over the reigns. Oh, wait a minute, I have yet to taste it!

Taste: Sweet on entry (tea with lots of sugar), with citrus notes and wonderful peat. Simple and short, very short burst of pepper and quite some ashes. Add to that lemonade-like sweetness and fruitiness, and you have a young but wonderful Whisky on your hands. Add to that some “wrong” notes of (lemon) dishwater and fruity acidity (lemon) and you still have a wonderful Malt with added complexity. Lemon can be a very nice aroma to have. It is so good it can deal with these odd notes very well. Clay and more ashes. Pencil shavings. Paper is here too. Bugger, ’till now, I mentioned peat only once when tasting it. It is simply not upfront here, which is quite odd for a young Malt. (Peat breaks down a bit with age). Anyway, also not the longest of finishes around. Aftertaste, hardly there, tiny hint of peat maybe, and here it shows its youth I guess. Still, nice stuff this is.

Since the old 10yo is no more, I guess this is its true replacement. Its higher ABV. of 48%, its peaty profile and the fact it’s not chillfiltered make this the replacement of the 10yo for Whisky geeks like me (for writing stuff like this, and you (for even bothering reading this). Mind you the old 10yo was even much better than this, but compare this to the new 10yo and you know why this is so good. If you’re not a Whisky geek and are easily scared by the medicinal and peaty notes, and yet still like to start with the big Laphroaig, try the Select or the new 10yo. They are more suited for starters. Sweet, toned down peat etc. etc. This Quarter Cask is a wonderful early bottling. I have to buy me a more recent one, to see if they managed to keep the high standard. If so this is one of the best priced peated Whiskies around.

Points: 86

Paul John “Bold” (46%, OB, Batch 1, 2016)

To finish off the trilogy of entry-level Paul John’s, here is Bold. Bold was the last addition to the standard range, bottled at 46% ABV. Earlier I already reviewed the other two, “Brilliance” is the base-model so to speak. Just well made Indian Whisky, no peat used. “Edited” is like the base model, only this time tweaked with a little peat, achieved by blending in up to 30% casks of peated Whisky. Today we’ll have a look at “Bold”, introduced in 2015 and made from peated Whisky alone (35 ppm). For this edition, all peat was sourced from Islay.

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Lots of butter and vanilla, youth, and I’m guessing quite some first fill casks. Nice clean peat upfront, smoke second. Enticing stuff. The peat might be recognizable, and it definitely comes across as a young smelling Whisky, but add to that an uncommon floral bit, which sets it apart from Scottish or even Islay peated Whiskies. Slightly waxy. Lacking a bit in the balance department. Sometimes there are whiffs that are too close to new make, but the next breath can be excellent. After a while, still creamy, the peat dumbed down a bit, and the smoke has almost gone. Some green notes, mainly (almost new) oak. If you smell this very calmly, it’s all about the butter, the vanilla, the cream, the toffee, but when you “smell hard”, yeah, that’s where it all comes together. More spicy, dusty and better balanced. Nice peat, latex paint, mocha and nutty as well. The nose lures you in. It’s seductive.

Taste: Sweeter than expected and initially not very peaty, let alone smoky. Lots of warming notes going down though, with nice development in my mouth. All nice aroma’s, but initially not very bold. A wee bit too young again, moving into the direction of new make. Not a lot, but enough to notice. Hints of orange skins and bread, that must be the influence of indian six-row barley. Terroir is happening! Hey, now apart from the floral bit, I also get a slightly soapy note. Fruity and friendly notes appear next. Very easily drinkable. Please do not expect a heavy hitter, it’s not a heavily peated malt in appearance. Its fruity and floral. Sunny with a slight peaty bite.

I would package it in pink and yellow with some black mixed in for the peat used, but it is more a happy Whisky than a brooding one. It’s not gloomy, misty and Scottish, it’s bright, colorful and Indian. So for me not so bold, and the anthracite packaging is way to dark. It’s like your dog, its your best friend and its happy when you get home, wagging its tail trying to lick your face. It’s not a bad-tempered pit bull with a spiky collar, that growls at you when you get home, disturbing its sleep, passing gas, chewing on your beloved furniture.

I preferred the second batch of “Brilliance” over the first, and I’m sure the second batch of “Bold” will be better than the first as well. It’s coming along nicely and I guess all the initial casks at Paul John were rather new. So, a great effort for a first batch, it’s pretty good, but I’m eagerly awaiting the second batch. With more experience and more time, I’m guessing that one will be at least as good as the second batch of “Brilliance”. Paul John is definitely on the way up!

Points: 85

Paul John “Brilliance” (46%, OB, Batch 2, 2016)

Today the Paul John range of Whiskies has three entry-level Malts. The unpeated “Brilliance” of which I’m about to review batch #2 (released in 2016). The very lightly peated (8-10 ppm) “Edited” of which I already reviewed batch #1 way back in 2013. The lightly peated style is achieved by blending peated and unpeated Whisky. For Edited, Aberdeen & Islay peat was used. Both Brilliance and Edited were introduced in 2013. In 2015 the third expression was released, called “Bold”, where all Whisky used in the blend is peated. The names speak for themselves. Edited is a slightly tweaked version of Brilliance, tweaked with a little peat (8-10 ppm in the final product), and Bold is bolder in the use of peat (25-30 ppm in the final product). Where Edited contained Aberdeen & Islay peat, Bold is made with Islay peat only). When I wrote the last review, there was not a lot more Paul John around besides “Brilliance” and “Edited”. Back then only three single casks were issued (The P1’s).

Today the core range has more members than the original two. Apart from the addition of “Bold”, in come two more additions; The Classic Select Cask and the Peated Select Cask, both are cask strength Whiskies (released in 2013), so not really entry-level any more. All other bottlings, and there are quite a few by now, are single cask bottlings, some of which were released for particular countries alone.

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Fruity and fresh. Nice barley aroma. Fruit cake. Sugared yellow fruits with a hint of smoke. Very, very appetizing. Extremely fruity and floral as well. Fruity first, floral second. Vanilla third. Dry powdered vanilla. Dusty and silent. I imagine a hot day. Next some glue and paint which only broadens the aromatic palate. Warm soft wet wood. Definitely summer in the air. What a wonderful nose. This works perfectly for me. Sure this may be a young Indian Whisky, but it already shows a lot of evolution. Ghanging and growing in my glass.

Taste: Barley and some sweetness, again with a bit of smoke. Incence, smoke from burning herbs. More exotic than the nose. Nice soft wood again and a bit of cardboard. Vanilla, so definitely American oak. Oak bitterness (and herbs) come next, giving the Whisky character and backbone. Both aroma’s are coated with vanilla ice-cream. How’s that for balance?

So this is entry-level Whisky. Wow! I’m not sure about you, but this is right up my alley. It differs from other Whiskies. Its exotic and it is definitely high quality stuff. Amrut already has a fan-club (Amrutfever), but I believe its time someone should start a fan club for Paul John as well.

By the way, reading back my review of the first batch of Paul John “Edited”, also shows me how much the Whisky world has changed in the three and a half years that have passed since then. In 2013, it seems, Whisky was just starting to get global, and today it seems every country in the world already has at least ten distilleries producing Whisky.

Points: 85

Many thanks go out to Shilton (Paul John brand ambassador), for your patience answering all my questions, and for the quickest response-time in the industry!

Ardbeg “Corryvreckan” (57.1%, OB, 2014, L59815)

Well, here is an Ardbeg of which nothing is known, apart that it was first released in 2009, following up on Airigh Nam Beist, which ran from 2006 -2008. I won’t bore you with my take on the marketing jazz about Corryvreckan being a whirlpool. You can read about that on the box and on many sites across the interweb. Here the golden nugget from Ardbeg’s own site: “Corryvreckan takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture. Swirling aromas and torrents of deep, peaty, peppery taste lurk beneath the surface of this beautifully balanced dram”. Well, what can I add to that!

What I’d like to know is, how this Whisky came to be, and that is definitely more difficult to find out. Every bottling of Ardbeg has some sort of unique twist. Casks that were burnt to a crisp before using, or casks that were forgotten in a swamp, or casks that were kept in space for a while. The unique twist this time seems to that part of the Whisky was matured in French oak casks, (as opposed to the sole use of the immensely popular American oak). The rest of the Whisky was, of course, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. American oak became so popular since it gives off a friendlier aroma of vanilla, making any liquor softer, creamier and more accessible. European oak, or French oak in this case, is less of the vanilla kind, but more about tannins. All the great Sherried Whiskies from yesteryear were matured in European oak Sherry butts and puncheons. Today the Sherry industry prefers American oak as well for reasons mentioned above. French oak is used a lot in the French Wine industry, so rumour has it, used Burgundy Wine casks were used for this Ardbeg as well. However we don’t know if they were virgin oak, first fill or not and what kind of Wine they contained (if any). A Chardonnay cask will result in a different Whisky, than a Pinot Noir cask…

Color: Full gold (no red or pink nuance though).

Nose: Very ashy and smoky right out of the gate. Licorice wood and sweet smoke. Garden bonfire. Sweet and soft peat. Citrussy, herbal and meaty. Crushed beetle and old tarry rope lying around in the sun. Fresh oak combined with some lemon (not the oil from the skin). Distant vanilla, but it is here. Ripe and sweet strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. More hints of red fruits and more promises of sweetness. Nice soft oak. Dusty. Very well made Ardbeg if it tastes as good as this smells, this will be a keeper!

Taste: Ashy again. Sweet, crushed beetle again, how odd. Big aroma, big body. Lots happening. Initially sweet but it is a good sweetness balanced out with sweet peat and dryness of the smoke. Definitely a type of fruitiness you don’t get from (Bourbon) oak alone, which would support the Wine cask claim. Fat peat and slightly tarry. Empty, off-season, fishing boat in the sun. Visions of an abandoned port. Not hot, only for a moment is shows some higher ABV, but I would have never guessed it is as much as 57.1% ABV. Well balanced, with only a medium, but decent, length. This is where it’s average age is noticeable.

Excellent standard bottling, and a damn good NAS as well, if I may say so. It can be done after all! I’m wondering which of the special releases, which are all more expensive, can beat this one? The 10yo is the entry-level Ardbeg and for me it has lost the most compared to the earlier tens since it has become way too sweet. I guess, that one has to appeal to a larger public, than this Corryvreckan and Uigeadail. I guess the latter are more for connoisseurs and anoraks like me and you. Now I will have to get me a new Uigeadail to compare it to this Corryvreckan. I have high hopes now…

Points: 89

Highland Park Week – Day 1: Highland Park “Leif Eriksson” (40%, OB, Travel Retail Exclusive, 2011)

Time for another of Master Quill’s weeks. This time around we’ll focus on Highland Park. When rummaging through my stash of samples or bottles I sometimes come across a few which have some sort of common link, usually being made at the same distillery, but there can be many others. In no way should it be a true cross-section of the standard range or should it be all official or recent bottlings. Nope, the aim is to have fun with seven Whiskies, more or less picked at random. In this case Highland Park gets the honor. I have picked seven Highland Park Whiskies to have fun with and put them in some sort of logical order. We’ll start off with Leif Eriksson, one of many travel retail offerings. Usually reduced to 40% and usually bottled in a convenient litre bottle. This time however it is the standard 700ml bottle that can be easily picked up outside of an airport…

I may have mentioned this before, but Highland Park is owned by the Edrington Group. A company that also owns The Macallan. With both these distilleries, or brands, Edrington do a lot of marketing. There is an obvious core range made up of Whiskies with age statements, and some of them have already featured on these pages as well. Besides that Highland Park, as many others, loves travel retail outlets and are keen on issuing special series (aiming at collectors).

I am a big fan of the Highland Park distillate and when we look at Highland Park, pré marketing, you would have a hard time finding even a mediocre bottling. Just have a go at an older wide neck bottling and you’ll know what I mean, or even ask Olivier Humbrecht about Highland Park and you are set for the day.

The beginning of the special series craze, I mentioned above, started with the release of Earl Magnus in 2009 (5.976 bottles). It is part of a trilogy called the Inga Saga. Earl Magnus is a 15yo Highland Park of impeccable quality, and back then was released at a more than reasonable price. It was followed up in 2010 with a 12yo called Saint Magnus (11.994 bottles), which was a bit less interesting and the series was concluded in 2011 with an 18yo called Earl Haakon (3.000 bottles). It was a hybrid of the standard ages of 12yo, 15yo and 18yo, but also bore names of mythical figures from the history of Orkney. Today its hard to imagine a company releasing only one special bottling a year! By the way, this 18yo was top-notch again. Many series like this were created since.

However Leif Eriksson is not part of any series I know of. It’s a bottling commemorating the Viking Eriksson who was the first European to set foot in North America. So it shall be no surprise this Highland Park was matured wholly in American Oak casks (probably all ex-Bourbon).

highland-park-leif-erikssonColor: Gold.

Nose: Starts with a hint of smoke and heather, and a nice funkiness I know from older Highland Parks. Initially also quite sweet. Nice sweet barley notes, honey and also quite fruity. Cold butter. A very appealing, and slightly dirty, nose. Lots of vanilla and creamy latex paint, as could be expected. Less expected was the coal dust and Aspirin powder I got next. Highland Park is a distillate that does well in any cask. Excellent nose.

Taste: Oh no. Aiii, sweet honey and sugar-water. What a shame. This one is definitely ruined by reduction. Maybe they felt it was too hot at cask strength and since it had to be bottled for travel retail they automatically reduced it to the lowest strength possible, 40% ABV. Sweet, creamy vanilla again. Hints of almonds. Lots of creamy notes as well as lots of vanilla. That’s the main marker of the taste. Not a lot of wood though, although there is a nice toasted cask edge to it. The palate matches the nose very well. This should have been a litre bottle, since to get the max out of this you need to drink this in big gulps and roll it around a lot in your mouth (needs a lot of air as well). Funny enough a slightly bitter oak note emerges in the aftertaste…

You can still taste the potential of this. It is almost as if has to be suitable for pilots who still have to fly. I hope not. The nose is wonderful and the taste does show the potential. It is not a bad Whisky. It could have been a very good Bourbon expression of Highland Park, but it was ruined by one bad decision. The amount of reduction. Still, it sometimes can hit a soft spot, and is still an example how Highland Park can be without the (big) Sherry.

Points: 81

Talisker “Storm” (45.8%, OB, 2013)

Time for another Talisker, and quite a controversial one. Talisker have a very competitive 10yo on offer. One that did change over time. Just compare recent ones to those of ten years ago or twenty, or thirty… Nevertheless, it’s always good and always affordable. Then the time arrived for the NAS expressions, and for Talisker, this Storm was one of the first, and certainly the first that got some big marketing behind it. I remember you could go to your local Port where you could get a dram of “Storm” for free and whilst you were trying it, they aimed their wind-machine at you and threw buckets of water in your face. Talisker is probably the biggest Single Malt brand Diageo own, so a lot seems to be riding on this.

When in 2013 “Storm” arrived, as did “Dark Storm” in travel retail and The Port finished “Port Ruighe”, fans of Talisker were fearing for their beloved 10yo. Surely it would be discontinued? But the faithful 10yo soldiered on. In 2015 Talisker “Skye” arrived, yet another NAS offering, again priced slightly above the 10yo. Are they now going to kill off the 10yo? Nope, it’s still around, although I do still fear for it a bit, and occasionally buy the odd 10yo that is even  on sale quite often. Quite strange, considering discontinuing it would be caused by scarcity. Nevermind.

Earlier I reviewed ‘Neist Point”, a travel retail expression that wasn’t very cheap in some markets. Out came a rant against NAS, but I finished the bottle rather quickly and I have to say I liked it a lot, although a bit overpriced.  “Storm” got a lot of heat from Whisky-drinkers for being more expensive than the 10yo and definitely worse overall. Some even called it the worst whisky they have tasted in a particular year. Today I’m going to have a look at the first batch of “Storm” bought just when it was released. Often first batches tend to be the best…

talisker-stormColor: Light gold.

Nose: Barley, whiffs of new make spirit. Only whiffs, so no cause for alarm. Not bad, but there is some youthfulness noticeable. Nice smoke mixed with some sweetness. Quite lovely. Soft, wet, green and vegetal peat. Not coastal or iodine driven peat. Not Islay. Nutty, a bit of cardboard and fresh. Sweetened black tea, with peach and fern, growing on the forest floor. Quite fruity underneath. Nope, not very complex at first, but it is appetizing and does evolve a lot with some breathing. It is less powerful than the 10yo, although that one also lost some oomph through the years. Nevertheless a quite appealing storm. I like it. It may be younger than the 10yo, but it is well made and balanced. However after giving this Talisker its bold name, the brutal images of heavy waves pounding on jagged rocks and a lion with a fish-tail made of lightning, I expected something of a heavy hitter with lots of heavy young peat, but actually it could be a Talisker, you buy a dram off, at the local ballet school bar. Still beautiful and nice, but Storm? No, a warm breeze at best. Which is excellent, only different. When you smell it proper, it does tick all the boxes. Smoke, peat, fruit, sweetness, well-balanced. Nice development with air, very nice. Excellent nose.

Taste: Barley and cardboard. Sweet and mouth coating. Very nutty, fruity, nutty again and slightly peaty, band from the start, already some balance, but not as much as the nose has. Behind this, quite a lot of sweet, ripe yellow fruits and some minor cardboard again. Not heavy, but the aroma’s are quite big and warming. Just like the nose, it definitely tastes like a Whisky with a good portion of young Whisky blended in. It has an edge tasting like new make. Where the nose reached complexity after breathing and was well-balanced, towards the end of the body the balance is getting a bit, ehhh, unbalanced. Luckily the sweet and fruity aroma’s are big enough to carry it, those are the ones with staying power and make for a nice finish, but the finish itself is not very long. Yes, there is a baby-pepper attack in the finish, typical for Talisker. Especially near the end of the body, and in the finish, the NAS-element shows it’s (ugly) head. I guess it’s this some people scoff at, but calling it their worst? Please dilate your mind!

The 10yo is on offer lots of times, making it even less expensive than all other NAS offerings put on the market by Diageo. So, should you even consider buying one of these NASses? I read a lot of posts on social media of people scoffing at the “Storm”. Well for me this isn’t about winter storms it more of a Whisky for the first colder nights on the end of summer. Sure different from the 10yo, but I’m not sure if it is worse. I actually believe this is a well made Whisky. Compare this to a youthful Springbank and it is maybe just as good. However Springbank as a family owned operation, do get a lot of love from the public. I love Springbank because of its history but also because them make one of the best Whiskies in this modern age. Talisker are owned by Diageo, which is a big, very big, huge money-making drinks giant, and because of that, they don’t get a lot of love. Just look at my reviews of “Neist Point” and this “Storm”, there is a lot of sepsis. When Talisker is viewed by itself, seen apart from the marketing, just looking at the history and the place it comes from, it also is a very good distillery making good Whisky and easily another of my favorites. Both distilleries mentioned use some peat and the profile fits me just right. So I’m not going to criticize this Talisker because there is no need to. It maybe NAS (and easily recognizable as a NAS, especially if you try it after a few other and older Whiskies). It maybe Diageo and it maybe heavily marketed, but the Whisky itself is definitely worth it, especially when you drink it by itself or if it is the one to start you off, but if I had to choose, and considering the price I would prefer…the other one.

Points: 83