Paul John (59.5%, Single Cask #1906, 210 bottles, 2015)

In the previous review we delved into Paul John single cask #1051, although that particular one turned out to be a tad wonky. So I just had to compare it to another Paul John unpeated single cask. I still have some samples lying around from the golden Shilton Almeida era, probably the most passionate brand ambassador out there, and amongst others, certainly one of the best. Still baffled Paul John let him go, and since Shilton left the company, I don’t see a lot happening on-line yet at Paul John headquarters. Shilton moved on from the Goan sun to the sun that bakes Tel Aviv. One of Shilton’s samples is of cask #1906, like #1051, hailing from the same glorious year that was 2015. For most people certainly a better year than the virus infested, war ridden years we are living through these days.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Super fruity at first, and different from cask #1051. This just leaps out of my glass, with a nice sweet, fruity and surprisingly, flinty toasted cask notes, reminding me a bit of Pouilly Fumé. This cask also has more complexity to it, with a nice floral note as well as some lemon detergent, giving it more cleanliness, dûh, and freshness, even though it might sound horrible to some. Waxy and paper-like, meaty even, dry meat, beef jerky. No, this one is definitely more appetizing than #1051. More complex as well. The pencil shavings are here too, but much more toned down. The pencil shavings are overshadowed by the fruitiness, which is nice. Very nice spicy wood, just the right amount. Fresh butter. Well balanced stuff. This is from a 75% full sample, so this had a lot of time to interact with some air. To be honest, the cold dishwater is also recognizable, just less heavy handed and it has less of it than cask #1051 had. After some more air in my glass, the pencil shavings component does become more apparent, but it never gets to the same level as it does in #1051. The woody bit is more spicy, and evolves a little. More herbal and green. With this one, all seems to fall right in its place, much more balanced. Nice fruity nose, something that is lacking from #1051. A pleasant experience, as well as a pleasant surprise (after #1051). The Pouilly Fumé bit in the nose, makes this one extra special, since that flinty note works so well for this Malt.

Taste: sweet and waxy, (including a distinct paper or cardboard note), with an even bigger (red pepper?) sting to it. Distant mocha and milk chocolate. Quite some ripe yellow fruits. Wow, excellent. #1051 seems gloomy compared to this. #1051 is more like a winter Whisky, and shows nothing of the tropical shores of Goa. Quite some wax in this one again, as well as some soapy detergent. More wax than I expected and the woody bitterness is helped along by the wax. Less bitter than #1051. Appetizing stuff this one, with again quite a lot of influence from the wood. Next some more fruit, fresh, not over-ripe yellow fruit and some fresh citrus for zestiness and likeability. Also the acidity of red berries. Giving it an extra layer over #1051. In the finish some soft notes of anise and sweet licorice. Again not a big aftertaste, more like a lingering warmth, with a wee soft bitterness.

Well, in this review I compared this #1906 all the time to #1051 which I reviewed right before this one, so there isn’t a lot more to comment about here really. To sum things up: #1906 is a way more friendly example, more fruity, and the gloomy bits that overpower #1051 are here as well, just less of it. #1906 is also better balanced, and just better overall. Having tasted quite some Paul John single cask offerings, I would recommend you to pass on #1051, because there are a lot of better examples around, #1906 is just one of them, and #1906 isn’t even one of the very best, close, but not quite. Final observation: personally, I like the peated single cask offerings of Paul John even more than the unpeated ones. The peating levels are not very high, but highly effective and very tasty.

Points: 87

Paul John (58%, Single Cask #1051, for The Nectar Belgium, 2015)

Last year I wrote a review of the Malts of Scotland Paul John #15066, another unpeated example of a Paul John single cask Whisky. When I emptied that bottle, it got replaced by this official bottling from single cask #1051 picked by Mario G., and bottled for The Nectar in Belgium. I normally write my reviews of a half full/half empty bottle. You know the drill about optimists and pessimists. Most of the time, Whiskies need some time or air to reach their best, so it is actually a big no-no to review a freshly opened bottle. However, this time around, I’m writing this review from a nearly empty bottle, but I have been following the development of this bottle very sharply, and I do remember all the stages this Whisky went through over time. All this, because in this particular case, this actually was at its best right after the bottle was freshly opened. I was really happy with it, let’s say the first half of the bottle, and when I brought it with me for a tasting of my whisky club, the comments were not all that positive. Yes, it may have suffered a bit by the preceding Whiskies in the line-up, but when tasting it back a few days later, I also thought it wasn’t as good as it was earlier. I left a few drams in the bottle and let it sit for a while before reviewing it now. I will make an honest review, based on all its stages and not only about the last bit I have left at this point. I haven’t tasted it yet, this last bit, so let’s see what time did to it this time.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Buttery, woody and waxy. Quite nutty as well. The wood is fresh and lively at first with a nice spicy feel to it. Sweet smelling, fruity, with big notes of pencil shavings. Pencil shavings is what this Whisky always had over time, big time. Barley notes with cold dish water and dry grass. Do I detect the tiniest hint of clear glue? It still is quite simple in its approach, but what you get, smells good, yet also for some, maybe a bit dull. Dusty, now turning a bit meaty (gravy actually) and glue like, before the pencil shavings come back. Still overall a good nose, with the fruity bit taking a back seat. It’s still there but not really overpowering. Simple yet appetizing. It’s simpleness is also evident in the lack of development, over the course of time in my glass there isn’t really anything changing. This is one for first impressions and not one that must grow on you. Even though these are the last drops of the bottle, it smells nice and seems to have kept its quality. It’s good, but not a stellar smelling expression, with the main focus on cold dishwater (and barley) and especially the pencil shavings.

Taste: Sweet and very nutty on entry, with a nice (red pepper?) sting to it. After the first sweet wave comes a more fresh and acidic wave. Here is the cold dishwater again. All this is quickly surpassed by medium bitter and spicy oak and pencil shavings. Slightly minty as well, since it has a slight cooling effect on the middle of my tongue. I don’t remember from earlier tastings, the amount of bitterness it is showing now. The bitterness is somewhere in-between oak and the oils from the skin of oranges, without really being all that orange-y. You know what I mean. Luckily the bitterness is smack in the middle of the body and less pronounced in the finish. Warming going down with a more toffee-like and friendly finish, yet still a lot of wood of the pencil shavings kind. Finish and aftertaste have less staying power than expected, although quite warming. It just fades away.

When freshly opened this really was a very promising unpeated Paul John. Time and air however, didn’t do this Malt a lot of good. The freshly opened bottle showed a pleasant nose and rounded out taste, balanced and tasty. Over time the Malt got ripped apart a bit, thus showing less balance. This never has been a very complex Malt to boot. Based on the freshly opened bottle, I understand and support Mario for selecting it. I just learned over time, this wasn’t Paul John’s best offering. I understand the comments it got from the guys from the club, because in a way this is a delicate expression, even though it has a big body. This won’t do well in a flight, sandwiched between other Malts, also because it is different from most others. It doesn’t know too well how to mingle. When having only this one and focussing on it and analysing it, it is clear to me, that this is more than a decent Malt, even though I feel it was better when the bottle was freshly opened. It did suffer in the balance department over time and with air.

Points: 84

Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask (58.6%, OB, B111209041A, 2017.07.11, 184 bottles)

After the minion-Solist I reviewed last week, here is the first true Solist on these pages. I guess that any journey into the world of a particular Single Malt should actually start with the result from maturation in a cask that previously held Bourbon, because casks like these, especially refill casks, show the distillery character best, not overpowering the true nature of the spirit. So here we have a Solist, an ex-Bourbon single cask bottling bottled at cask strength. Beforehand I was quite excited to find out if this Malt would be closer to an Indian Malt or more like an aged Scottish Malt. As said in the previous review, Kavalan is mostly made with Scottish imported barley, but matured in the hot Taiwanese climate, whereas Indian Malts are predominantly made with Indian Six-row Barley, but also matured in a similarly hot climate. By the way, another fun fact, the Indian distilleries do import something else from Scotland though: Peat, and maybe Kavalan does so as well. I’ll look into this when reviewing a peated Kavalan. But first back to basics…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Spicy, sweetish, fresh and modern. Buttery and creamy. Microwave popcorn (the buttery/salty one, definitely not the sweet one) and latex paint for walls. (Not talking about solvents here, although maybe the tiniest hint of some acetone is noticeable, like you get from fermenting over-ripe yellow fruits). Pretty fruity from multiple yellow fruits, as well as a nice Asian florality. After a while the fruit turns slightly syrupy or jam-like. Medium spicy wood. Fresh and herbal. White pepper and pencil shavings. Slightly dry and dusty as well. Mocha and light milk chocolate with distant ice-cream. Some vanilla and wood spices, suggesting of course, American oak. After some breathing the more dusty and cardboard-like notes emerge, adding to the complexity. This is a very good example for a well aged Bourbon cask Whisky, only well aged in Taiwan has thus a different meaning than it does in Scotland. It takes much less time there than a similar example of Whisky aged in Scotland. This particular Kavalan reminds me a bit of Bourbon cask matured Glen Keiths from Signatory, but it could be similar to many other well aged ex-Bourbon cask matured Scottish Single Malt Whiskies as well. The point being, that the aforementioned Glen Keith’s are some 20 years old and I don’t think this Kavalan is a lot more than 5 or 6 years of age. So quite the result for a young Whisky. All in all, a clean smelling Kavalan, this is. Thank you, Mr. Yoda for that.

Taste: Very nutty and prickly, right from the start, fresh almonds. Nice sweetness but also a wonderful fruity acidity complements the sweetness very well, making it fresher and “lighter” than a similar Scottish counterpart. Didn’t pick up on a lot of this nuttiness on the nose though. Cocoa powder, wax and clay and with just the right amount of sweetness counter-parted by spiciness. Fresh and citrussy as well. Very fruity, very tasty. On the body, since a lot is already happening, not a lot of wood is discernible, but in the finish a bitter edge is there. Warming going down. Sure it has quite a high ABV, but it really doesn’t come across as one. Well balanced stuff this, just slightly less complex than the nose was.

This, (ex-Bourbon), is one of the more nicely priced Solists available, and if the price stays as it is, it most definitely is a good alternative for an older Bourbon cask matured Single Malt. It is also closer to a Scottish Single Malt than an Indian Whisky is, and with this, Kavalan seems to be not really carving out its own niche…but rather fishes in exactly the same pond as the Scots do. In that light some of the Solists have some pretty hefty prices. Nevertheless, this “basic one” is very well made, and it takes a lot less ageing time to match the quality of a Scottish Single Malt. Recommended.

Points: 87

Entirely by chance, I found out this malt works extremely well outside on a sunny day in spring (so when it’s still a bit chilly outside), combines very well with (cold) fresh air.

Kavalan Sherry Oak Matured (46%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, 2017.08.07)

Kavalan has been founded in 2005, built in 8 months and thus in 2006 the first spirit already started to run off the still. Fun fact, most of the Barley that goes into the Whisky is imported from…Scotland. Kavalan is a big distillery (very big actually, and they keep expanding it), and lies an hours’ drive away from Taipei (the capital of Taiwan). Kavalan makes and bottles a lot of Whisky in lots of expressions. In 2009 the first Solist saw the light of day. Solists are single cask expressions, although officially released in batches, so maybe not every batch is from a single cask? Solists are bottled at cask strength, and not only coming from ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, there are a lot of other variants as well, some of which are quite expensive, for a NAS-Whisky. Me, already being a fan of Indian single cask Whiskies, the Solists are the ones I was most keen on trying, buying and reviewing.

Indian Malts, made from Indian six-row Barley (which makes a difference), as well as the Whisky made in Taiwan “suffer” from a lot of evaporation (a similarity). In these countries with their hot climates, numbers between 10% and 15% evaporation from the cask, per annum, are quite normal. So, Kavalan is made with Scottish barley and put in casks that also could have wound up in Scotland, the water is obviously different, but the biggest difference is thus the climate ensuring a more speedy maturation. Before I get to reviewing a true Solist, here is first a sort of lighter version of a Solist bottling called, Kavalan Sherry oak, bottled at 46% ABV. Presentation looks quite similar to a Solist, surely these must have been made in (small) batches rather than a reduced single cask.

Color: Deep dark brown, slightly orange/red.

Nose: Cherries, Oloroso Sherry and maybe a wee hint of PX for good measure. Figs, light black coal, herbal licorice and spicy wood. Very aromatic. Fresh oak and toasted oak, and no tarry notes to be smelled. Sometimes very clean and modern (at first), yet at other times almost old skool in style, but also just damn nice smelling, very appetizing. No tar, but it does have this classic fatty black coal note. Quite some American oak vanilla. Slightly nutty and cardboardy with vanilla pods. Hints of dust, more licorice, horseradish, lavas, clay and meat. Fresh air and an even fresher minty bit. Thick syrupy fruit, red fruit jam. Dust from a bookshelf and stinging sawdust. Milk chocolate. Even though this is quite dark, this isn’t a big, heavy, black coal and tarry, old style Sherry monster, no, it does have lots of those aroma’s, but they are fresh and fruity, and considering this has been reduced, the total package is more of a Sherry Whisky suitable for a lukewarm sunny day, whereas the monsters are more for an cold yet calm, and not entirely unpleasant evening in autumn. Having said all that, after some more breathing, the Whisky gets deeper. Honey, even more licorice, raisins and more syrupy. Maybe I spoke to soon. The nose moves more towards a dark, sweet Sherry, more towards the profile of a PX, even though this has been solely made with Ex-Oloroso casks. The vanilla note stays throughout, so most casks used, if not all, were probably made with American oak. The darker tone evaporates again like it was blown out with a whiff of fresh air. More of the milk chocolate now combined with a toffee note and a hint of creamy latex paint, and a more dry and warm summer wind. It also retains its modern feel as well as the older style notes. Well balanced, and yet another example of a Malt that really gets better with some extensive breathing, at least the nose did.

Taste: Well, dare I say it, It’s tarry now, diluted red fruit lemonade, with an light to medium oaky bitterness. Less sweet than expected, yet more acidic. This feels like it’s sweet, but it got somewhat masked by the wood. Very drinkable and sometimes a bit thin on entry. It’s big on aroma, if you give it some time. The sweetness is a bit odd though, it has this cloying taste, even though the texture remains thin. It tastes a bit like overly sugared food does, or even better, come to think of it, Rum with too much added sugar. Like A.H. Riise or Plantation. Now I can even smell the Plantation Grenada Rum. Wood, dosed Rum and licorice, also hindering the balance. Now that it somehow tastes like a Rum, the point of no return (to Whisky) has been reached. These must have been very active, first fill Oloroso casks, overpowering the distillate an turning it into an Oloroso finished Rum. Tastes good though, it really does, but it’s not what I’m looking for when I’m buying a Sherried Single Malt Whisky. So, wonderful nose, Rum-like on the palate. Big bodied aroma, with some thin moments, but a rather short finish and hardly any aftertaste to speak of.

Up ’till this point I haven’t had the opportunity to taste a lot of Kavalan’s. But with this Sherry Oak edition and some others that I did taste, I have to say that the distillate is quite good, although in this one, exactly that has been completely masked. I will try to get my hands on some more expressions, most likely some Solists, since I just love cask strength. In the introduction of this review I mentioned Indian Malts, but I feel now, for the time being, that Kavalan, as a whole, has more similarities with Scottish Malts, than Indian Malts, so the six-row Barley (and maybe some other regional factors present in India) does its job, creating a little bit of uniqueness…

Points: 86

Empty glass (the next day) smells of wood, red fruit jam and surprisingly, horseradish.

Kingsbarns “Balcomie” (46%, OB, 100% ex-Oloroso American Oak Sherry Butts, 2020)

Since this isn’t the first Kingsbarns on these pages, the distillery doesn’t need any further introduction. If you want to know more about Kingsbarns, please have a look at my earlier review about the Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram”. “Dream to Dram” was a very young expression that showed some potential. “Dream to Dram” was also the first bottling of Kingsbarns meant for the general public (released in 2018). It’s reduced to 46% ABV and it’s a bigger batch. The rest being mostly Single Cask offerings. The second general release is this “Balcomie” from 2020 and this year (2021), the third one just saw the light of day called “Bell Rock” which is made with ex-Oloroso Sherry Butts & ex-Bourbon Barrels. Let’s focus on the Balcomie now shall we?

Color: Medium gold.

Nose: Extremely malty and biscuity. Initially this Whisky is about the hints of milky new make, which come to think of it, is a very similar experience to that of Tomatin. Grassy and floral. Cereals, oatmeal and biscuits. Hints of smoke, like standing on a field in summer, where someone in the distance is burning off garden waste. After this green and young start, some of the Sherry provenance of this Whisky kicks in (somewhat), giving the nose something more body to it. Diluted red fruit lemonade and dish water. Light notes of citrus and toffee, without bringing the toffee sweetness actually. Quite some fresh air and some crushed wet mint leaves that already were used one time before for infusion. Citrus fruit with paper and cardboard. Spicy wood sometimes whiffs by. After a while the nose turns more towards the direction of sweet fruit. If you let this sit in your glass for a while, and it doesn’t need a lot of time, the Whisky reaches a more balanced state, without really losing these young components mentioned earlier. I still get this distant smoky note and now it has a more flinty edge to it as well. Not bad, the potential I saw in the previous offer of Kingsbarns is here as well, even though it most definitely smells like a work in progress. Some sort of soapiness comes to the front after you sip it, as well as some honey.

Taste: Thin. Paper-like maltiness, with late sweetness and some smoke (toasted oak probably). Rain water, slightly bitter wood and cardboard. The wood made the Whisky, or so it seems. Tastes like it’s not ready yet, but closer to a Whisky than it is to new make, although notes of new make are here. Some wood, some spicy wood, some paper and some indistinct sweetness. Bees wax and ear wax. Something just had to be bottled I guess. Very young with some oaky notes. Almost like it is almost a different distillate than Whisky. To be Frank, I expected more after the “Dream to Dram” expression. It’s all very young but also a bit boring and predictable, like nobody dared to be more bold, for instance by giving it a more meaningful finish. Maybe there is some conservative thinking behind the Malt? The Oloroso casks themselves hardly impaired a lot of Sherriedness. Tired casks maybe, or not enough time? Maybe some fear creapt in all this could have overpowered the light Lowland style of the distillate. This taste bit of the review might seem a bit short, but there isn’t a lot happening actually, so there isn’t much more to pick up on. Even the American oak impaired some of its bitterness, but non of the vanillin I expected.

To be honest, after the other Kingsbarns, I saw some potential, but this one isn’t better at all, alas. The nose seems to show the potential, but taste-wise this is lacking a fair bit after the other release. You might think, give it some slack, they are new, just started up and so forth. However, I’m writing this review having just been at the London Whisky Show, and actually this year (2021), a lot of new distilleries were present, and I can report to you that I tasted a lot of fairly new distilleries that have come a long way further with their young Whiskies than Kingsbarns have at this moment. So it can be done. Ardnamurchan and Copenhagen Distillery to name but a few, both from a colder climate, but also Milk and Honey (M&H) from Israel, but they have the advantage of climate which ages the Whisky faster. Still, these are all young distilleries making great Whisky. A lot of work to do for Kingsbarns, just keep at it!

Points: 74

Thanks go out to Nico again, for this second Kingsbarns sample.

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