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.

Paul John (59.2%, Single Cask #777, Peated)

Yes, again in this case, I could find another Malt to accompany the previous Paul John Whisky. After last weeks Paul John, we are finishing off this rather terrible year with this Paul John. I’m sure this Whisky will be better than this horrible year was, although there were some silver linings to this year as well. Here we have an officially released single cask: Cask #777, although to truly honour this past year, this should have rather been cask #666. Which, hasn’t been released, yet, and if it exists, I’m not sure I have the nerve to buy one with the number of the beast on it! I hope 2021 will be a lot better! Not a lot is known about this Malt, no age statement, no distillation or bottling year, no cask type. It’s all a mystery.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Medium peat, clay and nuts. Sharpish and spicy. Almonds with a whiff of bad breath which turns quickly into something wonderful, (toothpaste) mint. Warming, sweet, like smoked runny caramel and vanilla. Fresh air, toffee, perfumed wood, warm sawdust. The wood note is so soft, so good. This is already truly wonderful and very appetizing. Amazing balance. Hint of fresh citrussy zest. Warm smoke from a fire place down the street. There is a lot happening and everything is in the right place. The perfumy bit turns a bit soapy, and where this is often a problem, not here. Here there are so many aroma’s that work together with it, that it just works. In the back a plethora of fruits. Ripe red fruits, ripe yellow fruits, even some baked banana. Some funky organics emerge next, next to the clean woody profile, mixed with a perfumy bit (including some orange zest) and the smoke/peat. I have been very fond of many Amruts, I had open and reviewed earlier, as well as the Cadenheads Paul John from last week, but this one “bidens” (trumps) them all. This one clicks with me even more. Paul John is different from Amrut, but both are really good. Go India! I have to say that I prefer these Indian Malts at cask strength, for me they just work best like that. Sure the 46% ABV and 50% ABV versions are very good as well, but for me, the single cask versions of Amrut and Paul John are the best of the bunch.

Taste: Hot and woody, but not too woody, just enough I would say. A medium sugary sweetness works in tandem with the wood. Toffee and smoke. Prickly fire place smoke and toasted, salty and smoky almonds. I can feel it going down. Ripe fruit sweetness, and some more smoke (and tar). Asphalt melting on a hot street in Marseille. Warm asphalt, complete with droplets of motor oil. Warm industrial wind from a beach near an industrial estate. Light bitterness, which in part originates from smoke and from wood as well. Again, just enough bitterness. Cold ashes and some organic (farty) toffee. By now not a lot of vanilla actually, but the fruity sweetness remains, as well as some runny caramel. The taste matches the nose perfectly. It is what you would expect from the nose. Where the nose is a very complex organ that is able to pick up upon many details and nuances, the mouth is a more crude organ. Yes, the taste of this Whisky might be simpler, or less complex, than the nose is, yet sipping this whisky enhances the nose even more. At times some of the soapiness returns, this time taking away a bit from the finish. The bitter notes seem to be fond of the inner side of your cheeks, so it can be found over there. So, we have some bitterness and some soapiness but the rest is very nice. Good stuff.

I hope to welcome another single cask @ cask strength here soon. Maybe an unpeated one from Paul John’s own releases? Who knows. The peat is an added bonus on top of the quality the Cadenheads bottling already showed. Add to that the “better” sweetness of #777, since this has some more on offer. It may very well be present in the Cadenhead bottling, but maybe in a more masked way. It was more short lived in that expression to begin with, taken over by dry spicy wood. #777 has sweetness in the right amount giving it incredible balance. This is a very tasty expression. The planets aligned for this one.

A final peculiar remark. The nose needs quite some time to show all its beauty, but the liquid itself doesn’t need as much time as the nose does, simply because in this time frame it gets too much air and deteriorates a little bit. The remedy is, pour it, keep it there, warm it up in your hand, and when you are done smelling, pour some more before you start sipping. May sound strange, but for me this worked best. All in all, this is a very good Paul John, amazing stuff this #777!

Points: 90

Amrut Kadhambam (50%, OB, Batch No. 6, Bourbon matured, Rum, Sherry & Brandy Finish, 2017)

If you read my reviews back about Indian Malts, you know they are quite to my liking. However, the last review I did was way back in 2019, remember those pre-Corona days? How different life was back then? So it is about time to review a few more. Today I’m having a look at another Amrut. This time Kadhambam, which is the Tamil word for mixture. Well, what they have concocted here is a mixture of different finishes. The Amrut standard Single Malt (Bourbon matured) has been further matured in casks that previously held Rum, Sherry and Brandy. Those casks are then married together to form this Single Malt.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Malty, somewhat less Indian spices than expected but there is still a lot here, in part masked by a lot of other aroma’s. Dusty and sweet. Toffee with nice organics. Fruity, jam-like sweetness and almonds. Vanilla and powdered orange candy. The base Bourbon matured Malt is easily discernable, so the finishes didn’t overpower the Malt. It is also definitely noticeable, that a lot of different casks were used. The Brandy bit is recognizable from my earlier experiences with Port Charlotte CC:01 which was Cognac cask matured. When I smell this with a low flow rate, let’s say 5 seconds worth of snorting (which is quite long, just try if for yourself), lots aroma’s pass by. It is soft and spicy at the same time, very fruity and appetizing. Quite late in the mix the woody bits come forward. Licorice, pencil shavings and the familiar toasted oak. Cold sweet black tea, more licorice and a slight hint of tar. This might seem like a Whisky where just a lot was thrown together, yet still it manages to reach such a high level of balance. Amazing. This turned out very nicely.

The aroma’s of this Malt are transported well. 50% ABV is a very good strength for this. 40% ABV is rather weak for a Modern Malt and 60% ABV can be quite overpowering for some. Old Malts were made differently from different barley varieties, maybe different yeast strains and the cask may have been different. Old Malt’s could be easily diluted to 40% ABV. Just look at G&M’s Longmorn from 1971. Not everything was working At 40% ABV, but a lot did, and today that percentage would be lower. I don’t think Douglas Laing bottled their Old Malt Cask Whiskies at 50% ABV by accident, although I do suspect some economics were applied as well. If you reduce Whisky (a bit), you end up with more bottles to sell. But hey, Whisky is also a business, even though for some of us it feels like a charity. So nothing wrong with the business of it all. Luckily for us aficionado’s, Douglas Laing stopped diluting at 50% ABV. A heartfelt thanks for that!

Taste: Starts sweet and fruity, but thinking back to Port Charlotte CC:01, I don’t really remember that cask giving off this kind of sweetness. Toffee, runny warm caramel, fruit syrup and jam. The perfect sweetness takes a while to move over. Indian spices, almonds and licorice, toasted oak, sweet ripe red fruits and green banana. Let it breathe, it may be a bit closed at first (especially when you’re dealing with a freshly opened bottle). Wood in the back, as well as some cold ashes from the fireplace. There is a lot happening in this Malt, so all this stuff needs a while to break free. Very well balanced with a fruity and nutty aftertaste. Tasty! The longer this stands the nuttier the taste becomes. Amazing balance. Another cracker!

The price is gradually rising over the past few years, but at today’s price-point it is still very recommended. I guess the score reflects that.

Points: 88

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!

Talisker 57º North (57%, OB, L5054CM000, 2015)

I opened Talisker 57º North, not as a direct replacement of Amrut Cask Strength, because that was already done by Amrut Peated Cask Strength, but it does have the same “function”, in my collection of open bottles, similar to Amrut Cask Strength. All three fit the bill of NAS and high ABV Whiskies. All three are sold at a decent price point, and all three offer pretty high quality as well. Talisker, in general, is a wonderful Whisky, there are many wonderful bottlings to be had, and I’m sure that in my stock, Talisker might just be the distillery most represented. Official bottlings and independent bottlings. Old stuff and new stuff. However, the sign of the times is that many brands are hastily pushed forward by their owners, suddenly offer you many NAS bottlings, counting on you to want them all, or tailored for different markets, but there are many reasons.

Talisker may very well be Diageo’s most popular distillery, so with Talisker, we have “Skye”, “Storm”, “Dark Storm”, “Port Ruighe”, “Neist Point” and now even a “Game of Thrones” edition and today’s victim: “57º North”. This one is already around for quite a while, longer than the others I mentioned. This is the only one of those, sold at higher ABV. 57º North was first released in 2008, and the version I’m about to review was bottled in 2015. Like many offerings that are made regularly, there is some batch variation, and the sentiment you get with that is people believe the first, or earlier bottlings to be better than later or more recent bottlings. I’m not saying these people are wrong, because I know many first versions that are most definitely better than recent bottlings. Ardbeg Uigeadail and Hazelburn 12yo come to mind. However even recent bottlings of Uigeadial are very good, but different. I tried one of those earlier bottlings of “57º North” and it was stellar. Older readers can tell you how extremely good the Talisker 10yo was when it was released before it became part of the classic malts. So lets have a go with this litre bottle of 2015 “57º North”…

Color: Light orange gold

Nose: Dusty, soft oak, a little vanilla and unexpectedly quite vegetal as well. Initially sharp fresh air, but turning soft and staying soft, quite quickly. As a bonus some whiffs of milky new make. I don’t care for that. Hints of clay and at times, slightly meaty. Wood and some hidden sweetness. Fresh vanilla ice cream and coffee (with milk and a wee bit of smoke and caraway). Amazing how soft this is. At this ABV, I expected something closer to Thor’s hammer, but it’s more like Mario’s wrench. Next some white chocolate with enough wood influence to counter it. Warm vegetable oil. Sweet oil. Appetizing. Distant hint of peat and sometimes whiffs of cardboard and an old bar of soap. Musky, perfumy, more coffee and soft oak. More floral than spicy. Sometimes a breath of fresh air. No sign of this being 57% ABV though, so soft. When freshly opened, this was quite closed, but by now, with 80% of the bottle gone, it opened up nicely.

Taste: Powerful, sweet right from the start and slightly acidic. Immediate pepper attack. Well, lets call it a moderate attack. Next, definitely some oak influence. Sometimes fresh oak, and sometimes sweetish oak. When this starts to wash down, space opens up for a much more sweeter and definitely a nuttier note and quite some candied and dried yellow fruits as well. Toffee with a nice acidic note (again) and lots of nuttiness (again) in this one. Creamy and soft. Towards the end of the body a more bitter attack, toasted oak. Fruity and fresh. Next sip, mouth seems more coated. After the astringent bits, sweeter and more toffee and vanilla notes (re)appear. Luckily no sign of the new make the nose had. Both the nose and the taste show a lot of balance. Not a very long finish though, and I’m not sure about the balance as well at this point. I guess this is where it may show its youth. Vegetal aftertaste with hints of cardboard. Essentially turning “green”.

This definitely came around with lots of air. Word is, this might be axed, but word was also the 10yo was going to be axed after the emergence of all those NAS-bottlings like “Sky” and “Storm”, but the 10yo still around. I enjoyed this 57º North. No problem this being a litre bottle. Personally, I would have liked the youngest part of this blend to be matured a bit longer, and pay more for it. When this loses it’s new make whiff it sometimes has, it could be much better. Just sayin’.

Points: 85

Talisker Select Reserve – Game of Thrones – House Greyjoy (45.8%, OB, 2019)

Sooner or later, one of these Game of Thrones bottlings was bound to show up on theses pages now, wouldn’t it? Hard to miss them, especially since Diageo is throwing some serious money towards marketing them. But don’t you feel they missed the boat, since the series already came to a close some time ago? The question remained, which one of those bottlings would make it first. For a long time it looked like Lagavulin would be the first, but before I could open that one, I got my hands on the 10yo Lagavulin for travel retail and opened that in stead. Since the 8yo and in hindsight this 10yo weren’t very impressive, I really wasn’t in a hurry to open the 9yo Game of Thrones bottling fearing more of the same, so this is how Talisker beat Lagavulin to pole position.

Color: Orange gold, so pretty sure this was caramel colored.

Nose: Dry, dusty and malty but with a very nice funky note to it. Dirty toffee, in part, reminiscent of the smell of caramel colouring, cloying, fatty and creamy. Yes caramel colouring does have a smell, and it does have an effect on Whisky. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Nevertheless, this Whisky is still very likeable. You have to work at it a bit to focus on the aroma’s underneath. Nutty with hints of second hand cigarette smoke and hints of toasted cask and virgin oak. Old cabinet and very aromatic. It has an “older” smell to it, as well as a heavily engineered and doctored feel to it. Spicy, almost Indian Whisky spicy. Lots of cinnamon and cookie dough. Some smoke and some fresh oak. Also it seems some virgin oak found its way into this. On top of that, a lemony fresh acidity which really helps the whole forward. Yet also this feel of uncomplexity, helped along by this cloak of added caramel. An instant gratification Malt. Toffee notes, but in this somewhat suspicious way. However, I really like the Indian spices and lemon combination. Much friendlier than the milky unfinished notes of those new Lagavulins I mentioned above. I really like this nose (to a degree). If you are into Amrut and Paul John, you may like the smell of this (or not).

Taste: Nice entry. Somewhat sweet. Big, sweet, spicy and nutty attack, but also in a way thin. The fatty and creamy start is washed away by the alcohol, leaving room for more peaty and slightly smoky notes, but also some spicy wood and yes, a tiny pepper attack. Hints of ripe red fruits on top of the toffee and cinnamon. Sometimes it is almost like a Christmas pudding. Next, some virgin American oak. A vanilla note intertwined with cinnamon. A little bit of “older” wood as well as a slightly burnt note, maybe some smoke even. Cookie dough, even more than the nose had. Don’t we all like cookie dough? Sure, this has plenty of added caramel roundness to it, which kills some bits of it. It’s beating down the complexity this must have had. Slightly hot going down, with pepper in the finish and especially in the aftertaste. Highly drinkable though. A bottle of this won’t last you long. Easy and without any off-notes. Easy and even more drinkable than “Neist Point”, and that already was a highly drinkable Malt that didn’t last me long.

Wait a minute. Greyjoy? Wasn’t that from the Iron Isles. Sure, Talisker is also known as the Lava of the Cuillins, but this expression of Talisker has nothing to do with lava, and it tastes more like it was made on the shores of Goa. So hardly rugged Cuillins. Do you remember the weather and atmosphere on the Iron Isles? Boy, this house really doesn’t match the Whisky. Maybe Diageo should have paired this with 50 Shades of Grey in stead of Game of Thrones, or maybe House Tyrell, the house of sweet Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). That would have been a far more convincing match imho.

I sure can understand when people don’t like this. Because it may lack a bit in the complexity department, and has definitely been tampered with added caramel big time. Still, I had plenty of fun with this one. Sure, no high flying Malt, but since this is often sold for “not a lot”, it sure surpasses many other entry-level Malts. A bit of a guilty pleasure maybe?

Points: 84

Thanks to Auke for the sample!

Cardhu Special Cask Reserve (40%, OB, Batch Cs/cR.10.09, 2010)

Wow, here we have a Diageo NAS bottling “selected from very old casks”. Really? So instead of just putting the number up, lets say 30yo or maybe 40yo, and ask a hefty sum, they let you have this for a song, just by replacing the very old age statement by “Special Cask Reserve”. Lets not tell anybody, and let this be our little secret! Sush. What a wonderful idea! Who said Diageo isn’t thinking of their consumers! Well if this is a very old Cardhu. I’m expecting quite a lot now! A few years back I reviewed a Diageo Cardhu 22yo, that did have an age statement, and at only 22yo, this was truly very, very good! And as this must be older… But hey, wait a minute, reading that post I mention that I didn’t like the Special Cask Reserve. Did I already try this particular Cs/cR.10.09 earlier (which was already out at the time) or was it from another batch? Thud! That was the sound made by my expectations lowering…

Color: Light gold, with a slight pink hue

Nose: Fresh and fruity. Lively. Malty with hints of toffee. Summery with an unexpected meaty note, maybe even some sushi. Some funky notes, I have a hard time putting a finger on. It is a meaty, slightly salty smell, somewhere in between bacon and cold gravy, combined with lavas maybe? lavas I’m getting for sure. On top a slightly fruity note and on top of that a slightly meatier floral note. (This bit I like). I have to breathe as if my life depends on it, because the whole is pretty weak. It already smells pretty reduced. I’m guessing I know, by experience, what was there, but somehow got washed away by reduction. Still, no off notes, so nothing obtrusive to report here. I really feel I have to hurry smelling this before all the smell is gone, and I have to poor it again, to smell something. This really suffered a lot from reduction, because the nose, when you work on it hard, does show some interesting sides of itself. I wonder how this would be at cask strength.

Taste: Some sweetness, like a very weak Rhum Agricole, with quite some added sugar, paper and cardboard. Hints of cigarette, and some toasted wood notes, with added bitter notes shortly thereafter. Sweaty notes next, like the isolated sweaty notes of Sauvignon Blanc with added sweetness to the sweat. It’s not me, I have just showered. Hints of sweet fruits, but so diluted, that I can’t even tell witch fruit that can be, apart from the color, yellow. Papaya and peach, some banana in sweet yoghurt? Definitely some fresh butter in here as well. Super-short finish and a non existent aftertaste. Still slightly warming going down and even when this has no aftertaste, the meaty lavas bit of the smell (rancio?) does have some staying power.

Well…well, what can I say about this? I have to admit, it has been a long time I have tasted something as weak as this. It is so weak I would have difficulty, when tasted blind, telling if this is a Whisky to boot. I have never had a Whisky before which after you swallow it is immediately gone. Amazing, this isn’t worth your money, nor is it worth your time. Since this was brought to you by Diageo, and they do things on purpose, they must have an market in mind. I’m so curious how they would describe the consumer wanting stuff like this. Maybe its meant for mixing? having said all that, and I am rightfully so, pretty negative about this malt, I have to say the nose does bring a smile on my face. From an anoraks point of view, this is even an interesting Malt. Who would have thought…

Points: 76

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!

Ardbeg “An Oa” (46.6%, OB, L69049, 2017)

I bought, reviewed and finished Corryvreckan and Uigeadail quite recently and was amazed by the quality you get for the price. Especially since these two are very, very good yet aren’t overpriced special releases. Ardbeg caters to that as well, but that’s another story entirely. No, these two are readily available core range bottlings. When An Oa came on offer, it was a no-brainer to get that one as well, it’s an Ardbeg after all! When freshly opened, whilst I was killing off both aforementioned Ardbeg’s, I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s hard to come out of the shadows of both stronger ABV, NAS Whiskies. This doesn’t say much about An Oa though, but more about how good Corryvreckan and Uigeadail actually are.

An Oa is the latest, widely available, addition to the core range, together with the 10yo and the two I already mentioned several times already. So how did they blend An Oa together, what is its unique selling point, what makes it stand out? For An Oa, Pedro-Ximénez casks, heavily charred virgin oak casks and first-fill Bourbon barrels were used, married, and here comes the unique selling point, wait for it, married in a French oak vat in The gathering room at the distillery. Yes the gathering room. I’ll run that by you again, The gathering room. By the way, some suggest, other casks might have been used as well, maybe there even will be some batch variation over the years because of using different types of casks in the marrying process?

Color: Light sparkly gold.

Nose: Softly peaty and softly smoky. All very restrained and held back. Green. Hints of dried fish, ground coffee and tar, but also a fresher and fruitier note, almost citrussy. Dusty and soft. Good job again. Salty, cigarette smoke, powdered vanilla. Hmmm some chlorine even after it had some time to breathe. Spicy and cold, sweet vanilla pudding. Lots of typical Islay markers. Virgin oak yes, Vanilla notes from American oak yes, PX, on the nose, barely, not right now, the virgin oak is much stronger. PX? not so much when looking at the color of this Whisky. I really wonder about the PX though. What did or should it do for this Whisky? An Oa, again like the other NAS Ardbegs, doesn’t smell young or unfinished. It’s not very complex though. Nevertheless it does smell good.

Taste: Wood, paper and cardboard, mixed in with sweet licorice, tar and some ashes. Ashy toffee and almonds, does that make any sense? That right there is what this Whisky is all about. (Slightly bitter) wood, (sweet) licorice and (burnt toast) ashes. These three are omnipresent in this Whisky at any time. Again, very accessible, due to its sweeter side. More licorice even, oily, and a nice warm feeling going down. It tastes familiar. Even when this is a new expression is feels a bit like coming home. Warm and cozy. 46.6% ABV is nothing to worry about. It is enough, and works well for this expression. More wood notes emerge. Sappy fresh oak, not old dry planks. Does carry some woody bitterness towards the finish. Quite green and lively. Some raspberry and citrus notes. Some sort of brooding hidden fruitiness on the back of my tongue. This is from the PX. The finish is of medium length and there isn’t all that much happening in the aftertaste apart from some woody bitterness reminding me of…earwax. Here it shows its apparent youth. Its all in your face right from the start but it lacks in depth and experience older guys, I mean, Whiskies have. Very drinkable. I fear, this won’t last long on my ledger too. I sticked it in the back for a while, but that hardly helped…

What can I say, I’m a sucker for green glass bottles and I like the look as if it was made in the thirties. I love Ardbeg, even these modern ones. They are of high quality and very accessible. Just read back and see how good the Uigeadial and the Corryvreckan are. Laphroaig makes one expression especially for Whisky ‘fans’, the 10yo Cask Strength, made in annual batches. Ardbeg even makes two! Both are way less expensive and even more readily available than the Laphroaig is. Yes they don’t carry and age statement.

Alas, both have been finished already, but boy, do I miss them. When I’m on Islay time, I start out with Lagavulin 10yo which, compared to all the Ardbegs mentioned in this review, seems milky, and unfinished, young, new make-y. They must have used some pretty tired casks for that one I guess. The unusually low ABV of 43% (these days) doesn’t help either. Where the Ardbegs are accessible and just ‘right’, crash tested and approved, the newest young Lagavulins just are not. I’m definitely not a fan of the 10yo nor the 8yo, (but I am of the 12yo and the 16yo core range offerings). Oops, the 12yo is a special annual release. I do welcome the age statements on the 8yo and the 10yo (as well as on the Game of Thrones 9yo, and the Nick Offerman 11yo), but in this case I prefer the NAS Ardbegs and the trusty old Lagavulin 16yo and the 12yo Cask Strength over the 8yo and the 10yo. I have yet to try the 9yo and the 11yo.

Word always was that it’s hard to meet up with the demand for the 16yo, so are all these new and younger editions ways to lure some of us away from the 16yo, to keep it more visible? Wait a minute, is there really some sort of shortage of the 16yo? I see it everywhere, it’s never sold out, and I see them often on offer somewhere. Maybe another ploy to scare the consumer. Making him or she believe, it may sell out and not come back? A rumour always surrounding Talisker 10yo because of al the NAS offerings from Talisker released in the past few years.

This An Oa, because that is where this review is actually about, is a nice one. Its fun stuff. As said above, for me both the Uigeadial and Corryvreckan are just better and very hard to top. I just like higher ABV’s, but I also understand many of you don’t. Should it stand aside them? Nope, it shouldn’t. An Oa is made for different people than Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are, but I do feel it does have a place right by the side of the 10yo, to offer another take, with a different composition and being a NAS.

Points: 84