Tomatin “Water” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #5, Sherry Butts & Second Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2018)

Alas, we’ve come to the last of the five virtues. The four previous editions were all good, for me personally, especially “Metal” was very nice, but I love well aged seemingly simple ex-Bourbon casked Whiskies. All four are definitely interesting and different from one another. No duds between them. So now the time has come to put the series to bed with “Water”. Water is made with distillate from the winter of 2005, which doesn’t make things any clearer, since the year starts and ends in winter… Half of the Whisky was matured in second fill Bourbon Barrels and the other half in Sherry Butts. Although in some communications, Tomatin does mention Sherry Hogsheads as well (just not on the packaging). If memory serves me correctly, I really liked this one as well in London, and after the very nice Metal I have high hopes for this Water as well.

Color: Copper gold, like a Bourbon, definitely not the colour of water.

Nose: Spicy wood right upfront, with sweet smelling red fruits, hints of tar, an old warehouse with a stone floor, and toasted oak. Notes of wood and fresh air. Nutty, dusty and somewhat sharp and spicy. A take on modern Sherry casks, somewhat similar to the Sherry notes, (not the peat notes), of Benromach Peat Smoke 2010 I reviewed just recently. Old warehouse with old paper and pepper with hints of a more (smelly) organic note. Wet earth and a wee bit of virgin oak. Again a quiet and balanced expression from Tomatin with lavas and gravy and some more indistinct organics. Leafy with hints of old dried out leather and a garden bonfire. Nice (dried) kitchen herbs. The Sherry makes this smell “chewy”. More whiffs of paper are flying by. A Whisky for a sunny day.

Taste: Sweet and syrupy. Fruity. Jam-like. Red fruits. Thick. The Whisky sticks to my glass. This thick, fruity, (half) sweetness, somewhat masks the big note of wood this has as well, including the also masked bitterness. Paper again. Slightly tarry, as if tarry toffee was used for this one. Well balanced as expected. Raisins and ever so slightly soapy and definitely a bit smoky, must be the toasted oak. Vanilla and pudding are here as well, so these second fill barrels still worked their expected magic too, even though the Sherry bit turned out stronger in the mix. I noticed it in Metal, but Water is also a (designed or constructed) Malt which shows what its got, right from the start, lacking a bit in complexity and evolution. This is a minor gripe however, since the balance is there and it is a delicious (red) fruit-driven Whisky with enough back-bone to it. This is not a Sherry monster, but it still is all about the Sherry in this one. Classy stuff.

This is a great companion to Metal. Both are very good and quite different from one-another, but somehow fit together. Both are fruity, but with the Bourbon casks alone that were used for Metal, that shows us an entirely different yet classic Tomatin tropical fruitiness, whereas this Water edition shows us more the Sherry-linked red fruits, in this case, the thick jam-like red fruits. Amazing contrast. At first I thought, well lets review these last two samples I have, so I can open something else, but both are so nice I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t be opening both full bottles at once, after finishing off Earth. With the Metal-edition I was wondering how it would compare to the 15yo American oak. Here with Water I’m wondering how it would compare to the 18yo Oloroso version. Both the 15yo and the 18yo are from the standard range and widely available. “Wood”, “Fire” and “Earth” are all Whiskies which are good, but you have to work them a bit, all three aren’t really for careless sipping, or you’ll miss out on the best bits they have on offer. Metal and Water are good right from the start, more like instant gratification Malts, and in my opinion the best of the bunch.

Points: 88

Tomatin “Metal” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #4, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

The five virtues are coming along quite nicely. Metal is already the fourth out of the five virtues. Earlier I reviewed the first three: Wood (85 points), Fire (85 points) and Earth (86 points), the last one a rare peated Tomatin. On Paper, Metal is a fairly simple Whisky compared to Wood (which was made with three different kinds of wood), Fire (made with de-charred and re-charred wood) and Earth (three different kinds of casks and also made with peated barley to boot). Metal is made solely with first fill Bourbon barrels, filled with distillate from 2003 thus making it also the oldest expression of all the five virtues. It should be 13 or 14 years old. In earlier reviews I mentioned, that my journey with the Tomatin five virtues series actually started with this Metal (and Water) expressions in London 2018. I liked both and this made me backtrack a bit, buying the first three of the series. All three earlier versions didn’t disappoint, so let’s see if the last two are the best of the bunch, as I currently believe from memory. As said before, I did buy the whole set eventually, but the last two reviews will be based on samples I brought back from London.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fruity and very likeable. This brings back memories! Sweet barley and cardboard. Perfumy soft wood (and paper), with mocha notes and dusty. Ever so slightly meaty with a tiny hint of lavas and an indistinct melange of dry herbs. Definitely well aged and this oozes style and class. Its very refined, but lacks a bit in the complexity department, (maybe this is the reduction to 46% ABV). I’m already smelling this for a while now, and not a lot of evolution is happening to be honest. Nevertheless all that is there is very fine and balanced and easily recognizable as a Whisky from ex-Bourbon casks. Vanilla notes and slightly creamy. Faint flinty note as well as a faint menthol note. I have to say that what is here does go together rather well together. Based on the nose alone, easily the best of the five virtues (’till now).

Taste: Sweet and fruity, something that is present in all good Tomatin’s from ex-Bourbon. Just have a look at the 30yo, which offers this in spades, tropical style. Here there are yellow fruits like maracuja and dried pineapple mixed with vanilla pudding or custard. Right next to this, or behind it, if you like, quite a firm backbone of oak, pencil shavings and a little bit of smoke (probably from toasted oak, which matches the flinty note from the nose). There is most definitely quite some influence of wood to be noticed in the back. Strong and spicy and even some bitterness, not too much though, the bitterness is adding to the whole, not taking it over. Sweet mint. The whole is pretty straight forward and comes as no surprise to those who know their Tomatins. Just don’t make the error believing this is simple, because it’s not. Very nice expression this one, and also after tasting it, still the best of the five virtues. I wonder how this compares to a recent, regular 15yo also solely from American oak casks, which is slightly older and slightly cheaper.

When pouring this, I was quite surprised, the colour being only White Wine, or straw as some people call it. This is said to be from first fill Bourbon casks, and especially first fills can impair quite some colour onto the Whisky, especially after some odd 13 years. Also, I wonder why this was called “Metal”. If I would pick a Whisky to show off the Metal from the still, I would have picked (third) refill hogsheads. These casks would certainly not overpower the distillate thus showing off the most distillery character. But then again, these first fill barrels aren’t overpowering anything as well. Considering the colour of this Whisky I still have a hard time believing this came from first fill casks. Based on the nose as well, I would still not believe this is from first fill Bourbon casks. Tasting it, however, there might just be a possibility this has seen some first fill Bourbon casks, since there seems to be quite some influence from wood, yet it is different from the “Wood” expression. Lets just forget about all this and conclude that this “Metal” is a very good Whisky. Tomatin does well in American oak, especially when it gets the time to mature for a prolonged amount of time.

Points: 87

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

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

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

Color: White Wine.

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

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

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

Points: 86

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points: 85

Paul John 2011/2015 (60%, Malts of Scotland, Bourbon Barrel MoS 15066, 210 bottles)

In the previous post I mentioned that I always have two Paul John Malts open, as well as two offerings from Amrut. I’ve grown quite a fondness for Single Malt Whiskies from India. I’m sure that when more room comes available for open bottles, India will be the first to get more room on my lectern. The previous post was about the peated official Paul John single cask #745 I currently have open, and it’s a stunner again, after #777, and now we’ll have a go at another unpeated one. This time I chose one, bottled by German independent outfit Malts of Scotland (and in this case: Malts of India, really, it says so on the label). This is not the first Malts of Scotland’s Paul John on these pages though, in 2018, I reviewed a different cask, MoS 15068, that matured longer and contained peated Whisky, and again yet another stunner. Both Malts of Scotland and Paul John need no further introduction, so lets move on to the tasting.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Malty and biscuity. Cookie dough with fresh citrus notes, occasionally sweet mint, and quickly taken over by more woody and dusty notes. This one smells a bit younger and simpler than #745 and #777, lacking some age maybe and the added bonus of peat. This is a back to basics kind of a smell. Since the peat is not here, there is more room for this Malt, or the Paul John distillate in particular, to show its more floral side (borderline men’s cologne). The wood is, well woody and waxy, and somewhat spicy, but not your typical Indian or exotic spiciness though, but a kind of spiciness that can be had in a Scottish Malt as well. Let’s say spices coming from the wood. So, kind of heavy, but the rest is fresh, floral and friendly. The sun is shining in this one even though the “heavy” bit can dominate at times. This is definitely a less complex Paul John, but a Paul John nevertheless, very recognizable. At first I thought this was maybe a closed Malt and given time it would develop some more, but no this is more or less it. Not bad, but simpler.

Taste: Initially sweet and fruity. Wax and ear wax. The sweetness is quite quickly pushed aside. A little sting from wood, some woody acidity as well. This must have been quite an active cask and maybe it aged right under the roof in hot surroundings. Quite some woody bitterness now. Big and hidden sweetness now, with a lot of wood spices. Barley (sugar) and biscuity. Soapy feel on my tongue. But even for this quite young Paul John, this is still remarkably balanced and very tasty. Again dangerously easy to drink, even though it is wood driven and bottled at 60% ABV. Quite hot going down, this sure is a 60% Malt. The finish is more of the same, wood, wax and to a lesser extent, some fruit in the aftertaste. Quite some bitterness stays behind in the middle of my tongue. I’ve spent some time with this Malt, again thinking it might be somewhat closed, but no, again it is what it is and for me it is quite a simple expression dominated by a few big aroma’s mentioned above.

So there you have it, all in all a simpler take on a Paul John single cask, quite young and dominated by wood. The wood gave off quite some bitterness, that I believe they couldn’t even leave it ageing for longer even if they wanted to, before the bitterness would be taking over, and dominating this Malt. As it is now, the bitterness is still acceptable, but definitely present. Luckily there are some other dominating factors in the Malt as well, not to let the bitterness rule. So still, a good, rather young and simple Malt. I say young, but coming from India this has nothing to do with the aroma’s of new make spirit, so don’t you worry ’bout a thing! This is still a good Malt and I’ve spent many happy moments with it, especially when it’s sunny.

Points: 86

Paul John (58.2%, Single Cask #745, for Germany, Peated, 2016)

On an average day, I have two open Paul John bottlings on my lectern, if possible one peated and one not peated. Recently I reviewed the two bottles I had open at that time. The official peated cask #777 and an unpeated 6yo Cadenhead’s bottling. Both are gone now, and have since been replaced. Today we are going to have a look at the peated replacement bottle. This one is another official single cask release and even better, it looks like a sister cask of #777. Why would you do that? I hear you ask. Isn’t there a risk that it’s more of the same? A similar cask, with the same distillate in it? Well first things first. #777 was so good (it scored 90 Points), that there is definitely no risk in opening another one of those beauties, even if it is exactly the same (which I doubt). Second, as many Whisky producers and bottlers already tried to show for a few times now, (remember Gordon & MacPhail’s “Wood makes the Whisky” campaign?). Wood makes the Whisky, and no two casks are alike, just have a look at my reviews of Gordon & MacPhail’s Ledaig cask #464 and cask #465. Both the same distillate, the only difference being the cask itself (and what it previously held). So I’m confident the differences between #745 and #777 will be easy to spot and maybe even greater that one would expect.

Color: Orange golden brown.

Nose: Initially fresh and friendly. Lots of honey, oranges and a lot of prepared horseradish (Chrzan). May seem strange, but I get this every time and its here right from the start. Nice clean wood and sometimes fresh sawdust, which changes into more wet wood pulled from a prolonged stay in a pond. More prepared horseradish and ear wax. Fresh, fruity and also some candied fruits. More honey, wax and wood. Licorice. Fatty, organic and perfumy. J.M Rhum from Martinique. Extremely aromatic, complex and right from the start balanced and big. There is so much happening, that the wood has been pushed back quite a bit, I can’t image the wood is that soft, hidden under all these aroma’s. More floral than peaty, with some smoke. Fireplace on a cold winter’s evening, Christmas, but also the smell of horseradish incense sticks, as if they would exist), but not much. Deep smell of waxy almonds, toffee and clay. Smells like a rural house this, a house thoroughly in use, with wave after wave of smells passing by. Furniture smells, smells of preparing food, smells from the fields outside (including the clay), whiffs of a perfumed woman passing by, whiffs of cold dish water, whiffs of funky organic bad breath and warm, almost melting plastic (polyester!) and the smell of the dusty insides of a warm old TV. The plastic/polyester, once smelled, will be around and can’t be un-smelled. What an amazing smell this Malt has. Smells released in many layers, amazing complexity. Tiny hint of smoke trickles in from outside, but the even sharper element in this nose is still the prepared horseradish. You know salted caramel? Well, this one is more horseradished caramel. I like that, since I don’t encounter horseradish a lot in Whisky. More honey, toffee and vanilla powder. It certainly has excellent balance, and layer upon layer of complexity. Very good expression again, I like it very much. It is a wonderful Malt to smell, but beware, it can anaesthetize your nose for some time, since the smell is so wonderful and complex you’ll be smelling this for a long time before tasting. After numbing down your nose, further smelling is futile, after which it is better to have a taste…

Taste: Well, more wood here, and most definitely waxy, nutty and sweet. More of the Rhum Agricole notes as well. Sometimes, yet not always, a hint of cola early in the taste. There is this certain (slightly unbalanced) acidity to it. Smoked toffee and caramel are here, spread thinly, but where is the honey? Well? Undistinguishable sugared ripe fruits. Faint orange skin oil, grapefruit meat. Toffee, corn flakes and quite some licorice, and lots and lots of ashes (cigarettes in an ashtray, the day after). Syrupy sweet, runny caramel. Waxy and fruity. Waxy fruit and ear-wax. This is a bit of a strange puppy, because this has plenty of tastes originating from fire, but they really aren’t from peat and smoke this time. Dry, cured, salty and smoky meat. Cigar smoke and smells I have only encountered in a Sauna. This one is quite ashy. Is there something like waxy cigarette ashes? A quite nice sweetness makes the Malt bigger. Is it fruity underneath? Thus, again a big Malt. Now, more smoke than peat in the nose. No horseradish (well, maybe…). Must have some hidden wood now, because it carries some bitterness. There is so much happening, that even this medium size bitterness isn’t half bad. After extensive sipping, the Horseradish is even more obvious on the nose. I encourage the people of Poland to try this Malt with their excellent szynka, and let me know if the chrzan notes match up. Ashes here too, dominating the aftertaste. Liquid smoke, still not peaty though. The finish is waxy and woody. The aftertaste is warming and somewhat stinging. Smoke and wood spices, somewhat less friendly, but bolder, towards the end. Polyester returns in the aftertaste. Very interesting Malt with a finish of medium length.

This is definitely the most complex Malt I have smelled in a long, long time. This has many layers and many different and unique smells. The empty glass smells of Honey and wait for it, an electrical fire and iodine, something I didn’t pick up on, when smelling the Whisky whilst reviewing.

In comparison, the recently reviewed cask #777 is way more friendly. It’s a dessert in itself. If you compare this to the Swayze brothers, #777 is Patrick and #745 is Don. They both share a lot of genes and it is easy to see that both are brothers. Just #777 is more “beautiful” and #745 is more “rough”, less polished. Maybe it’s even deeper. Even though both Whiskies share a lot of the same markers, #777 just outshines #745, although for some #745 has many amazing bits as well. #777 seems better balanced and more “perfect”. Softer and friendlier. #745 has more power, and a lot more complexity and an amazing layering of smells. The peat comes through better in #777 and it’s heavenly, especially in combination with the Malt’s sweetness. #745 has more honey, wood and waxiness coming through, but it also has a lot of unique aroma’s. Some elements are just bigger and more exaggerated in comparison to #777. I can imagine that over half of the time one would prefer #777 over #745, but definitely not every time, sometimes bigger is just better. Yes, with #745 we have another belter, I repeat, another belter from India on our hands. Life is good.

Points: 89

Ardbeg NAS “Perpetuum” (47.4%, OB, Bourbon & Sherry casks, 72.000 bottles, 30/03/2015)

Most of today’s Ardbeg core range has been featured on these pages now. I already liked Ardbeg in the past, but all modern Ardbeg’s seem to be to my liking as well, but they are quite different from the old ones obviously. I have to say that the core range of Ardbeg might be quite unusual to some; a 5yo (Wee Beastie), a 10 yo (Ten), and three NAS bottlings of which one has a lower strength (An Oa) and two are at a rather high ABV (Uigeadail and Corryvreckan). These bottlings show that Ardbeg is still a wonderful Whisky today. This prompted me to look beyond the core range and buy (at auction), some of the special releases Ardbeg has been doing for a while. First one up, is one that has been released for the 200th anniversary of the distillery, and honouring this fact, this must be a stellar release. Looking at auction, this might not be the case, since prices are still reasonable today, even at the time of writing. Sure 72.000 bottles is not really a limited release, but even with the popularity of Ardbeg, these are still widely available (at auction) and affordable, although at least twice the price of any of the core range bottlings.

Color: Light pale gold.

Nose: Right upfront soft peat and warm smoke from the fire place, soft wood and tar. Sea spray, barley sugar (quality Rum sweetness) with a hint of cardboard. Tarry rope. Salty, aromatic and balanced. After a while, more iodine is noticeable as well as some lemon notes. Grandma’s old bar of perfumed soap, found after many years in the back of a closet (behind her rather large knickers). Nice subdued yellow fruit. Green garden plants (not flowers, nothing blooming), just the leafy stuff. Black tea (the dry leaves) and do I detect some chlorine (mixed in with the lemon)? The “hefty” peat notes that jumped out of my glass before, dissipates rather quickly, making the nose rather soft. I’m guessing this is quite a young Malt or has at least quite some young stuff in the blend, without it being anyway near new make. Nothing wrong in that sense, because young Ardbeg can be damn good. When the peat takes a back seat, the iodine I already mentioned, is accompanied by some plastic and pencil shavings and some deeper older peat, so probably some older casks were used as well. Since this is another modern sea faring Malt, lets call it tarry nylon rope, shall we? The warm smoke I mentioned before, has some more staying power. More of the faint citrussy note, as well as some cold butter and maybe even some unripe yellow fruits, but as I said, it’s faint. Late in the mix another faint note of spices emerges. This is again a very nice smelling Ardbeg, still a force from Islay to reckon with. This promises a lot for what is to come next…

Taste: Sweet, soft and friendly. Somewhat fruity already with molten vanilla ice cream and toasted wood. Lots of licorice, black and white powder and chlorine on the palate as well. Salty. Fruit and fruity acidity. Initially lacking a bit of balance, and it seems overall simpler as well. It tastes a bit like a dram to which I’ve added a little bit too much water. (I haven’t added any water at this point). Wee hint of a bitter note in the back and traces of coffee. Quite tasty, but not truly powerful. A fruity Ardbeg. Crushed beetle, prickly smoke and not so soft peat. More fire and fireplace. Sometimes it seems like the fruit and the peat aren’t very happy with each others presence. For instance, the fruit and the peat did like each other much more in the Benriach Latada I reviewed recently. Also, the promise made by the nose, isn’t kept by the taste. A shame really, because the nose is really good. So what went wrong here? Has this suffered from too much reduction? I do think that might be one of it’s problems, as well as the youthy bit and therefore lacking some depth of the whole. Seems to me they tried to get too many bottles out of this batch. Maybe this should have had a higher ABV and maybe some more older casks blended in. I don’t know, I’m not a blender. However, having said that, I do like this expression quite a bit, there is a lot good stuff here, and it sure has some weak points, in the end it has more strong points. I had a lot of fun with this one. The Ardbeg quality is certainly there.

In the big world, this is quite an unloved Ardbeg, This is the quintessential Ardbeg, that in the beginning of gym class never gets picked for the side, even when it’s liked by everyone. It just doesn’t seem to perform or isn’t considered a winner, and we play to win now, aren’t we? There is most definitely nothing wrong with the nose, because this is a very nice nose with lots of nice things to smell. Taste wise, yes, sure, it is a bit weaker, reduced, but given some time to breath this Ardbeg do catches its breath and reaches a higher level. This would make for a nice addition to Ardbeg’s core range as a third high ABV, NAS bottling. But as is, this might be something of an underdog. Lets be clear, the nose is nothing short of wonderful and the taste, although lacking some oomph, is likeable and easily drinkable. An easy Malt to be around with. Soft and friendly, with a good character and tasty as well. If you feel, taking part is more important than winning, than this is still a good Ardbeg if you allow it to be. If you are critical and expect every Ardbeg has to be an absolute winner or stunner, than no, this is not for you. Get a Twenty Something instead, which is relatively recent and easily a 90+ points Whisky to boot.

Points: 86

Because its different from my two favourites out of the core range: Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, then sure, you can get this and it won’t fail you. It didn’t fail me. But in the end, both NAS bottlings are slightly better and both together cost more or less the same as this one Perpetuum by itself, definitely something to consider.

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