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 (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

The Benriach 18yo “Latada” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Madeira Finish. 4001 bottles, 2015)

The Benriach Limited Production 18yo’s. It took me a few years but now we can finally put this trio to rest. In the year 2015 three 18yo’s were released, but not on the same moment. Albariza (PX finish) was the first one, reviewed in 2018, Dunder (Rum finish) the second, reviewed in 2015 and finally this review of Latada (Madeira finish) in 2021. Quite a lot has happened in the world in this space of time. In 2017 also two second edition’s were released, both 22yo, so the original casks for these two, were filled earlier than those for the 18 yo’s. However, this tells us nothing about length of the finish. Albariza and Dunder were thus repeated, but there is no 22yo Latada. Were the Madeira casks used for finishing unavailable or did they forget to produce it? Were the results unsatisfactory and the decision was made to hold it back, or maybe the original 18yo Latada didn’t sell all that well or was somehow unpopular and they just didn’t bother to repeat it. Who knows? So, let’s find out for ourselves, shall we?

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fruity and very pleasant light peat. Latex paint, vanilla powder and warm apple sauce. Very pleasant nose. I’ll let you in on a little secret with this Malt. You can force this Malt to smell like a 1976 Benriach or Tomatin. Fruit, fruit, fruit, tropical fruit, well you catch my fruity drift now, yes? Excellent old-skool Benriach fatty, sweet and succulent yellow fruit. If you pour this Malt in your favourite glass and cover it up right away, allowing for the aroma’s to concentrate under the lid. Leave it there for a few minutes (or even better, hold it in your hands to speed up the process). When you feel confident, take the lid off and smell it… Remember, you heard about this here first! This Benriach has this amazing trick upon its sleeve. Thick sunny fruit with a nice black peaty edge. Good balance. Warm smoked apple sauce and moisturising hand cream (Nivea). Crushed beetle and smouldering leaves. Fresh oak with nice medium wood spices and some bonfire notes. Amongst all these Benriach’s that were released under Billy Walkers reign, with labels in colours you didn’t even know existed, these three finishes (Albariza, Dunder and Latada) really stand out for me, as if these received some kind of extra care. Benriach is already a great distillate and Malt, and these three are certainly no slouches. Otherwise this Latada seems to be somewhat simpler and less peaty than both Albariza or Dunder.

Taste: Sweet and sour fruity acidity. Apple sauce, sugared yellow fruits, slightly nutty (like a mix of freshly burnt and unsalted nuts you buy at the market on Saturday) and cigarette ashes. Thick (sweetness + peat) and thin (acidity) at the same time. Some nice wood, more than the nose had, but not very much, not a lot of bitterness as well, which is great. This leaves more room for the fruit and the peat. I expected even some more peat here though, and maybe even some prickly smoke, but foremost this Malt shows me ashes first, apart from the fruit that is. Soft and (light) peat do come next. Only next, comes some sweet licorice and again some wood. All in all a very tasty Whisky (hints of diluted Fanta), but less complex than expected. Excellent finish though. Nice warming and peaty aftertaste. Sure, of the three, Latada makes you work the hardest to show you what it’s got, but it is still a very nice one. The body of this Malt is narrower than both the Albariza and Dunder and as said also somewhat less complex.

Keep a lid on this one! Focus them aroma’s!

Points: 87

I understand that the scoring of Albariza (89 Points), Dunder (88 Points) and Latada (87 Points) seem a bit “coincidental”, but for me these scores reflect perfectly the quality of all three Malts and the differences between them. All three are very good, and some finishes just work a little bit better than the next. Keep in mind that this is my personal opinion, and it is highly likely, your preferences will differ. The perception one has, concerning the PX, Rum and Madeira finishes is also a matter of taste and can differ from one person tot the next. So for me the PX finish works best, but the other two are very nice as well. All three finishes work very well with the peat, and I can recommend all three. Considering these 18yo’s, I could be tempted to buy the Albariza and the Dunder back, but luckily these two have 22yo’s versions, so I’m getting those in stead. If a 22yo Latada would have existed I would have bought that one as well, because the 18yo version is still a good Whisky, receiving a well deserved 87 points. It would be interesting though to see how the 22yo would have been. However, I’m not sure if I would be getting the 18yo Latada again. For me it is still the least one of the three if you compare them to each other, and it is also the one that needed the most work to get everything out of it. Albariza and Dunder are easier in that respect. Get them all, they are good and differ quite a lot from each other. I would only recommend opening them in reverse order, so Latada first, than Dunder and finally Albariza. That will work best.

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 4yo 2009/2013 (59%, OB, Single Cask, for Europe, Charred American Virgin Oak & Port Pipe #2712, Peated Barley, 357 bottles)

What again? Yes here is another tandem Malt. After last weeks Amrut here is another one. This time not a direct comparison, there was no reason for that, but I did compare both behind the scenes, to assess which one is better and for the height of the scores. I do love Amrut. Most Amruts I have tasted are at least good, and some are better than that. Lovely stuff and definitely a different and exotic take on Single Malt Whisky. Maybe the people at Amrut don’t even know how to produce a bad Whisky, or maybe they are out there, but I haven’t encountered them yet? Who knows. Amrut is most welcome to the world of Single Malt Whisky, since they do bring something new into the fold.

In 2013 a few single cask bottlings emerged, especially bottled for Europe, but there should be versions for other markets as well, even bottled in a different year. Earlier, I already reviewed a virgin oak and first fill Bourbon barrel version and a charred American virgin oak and PX Sherry butt version. All good things come in threes, so the third version they released that year is this Charred American Virgin Oak and Port Pipe. This time the barley was peated. Amruts standard is so high, that even the “simple” and affordable peated and especially the unpeated cask strength versions turned out to be very tasty, and in hindsight the charred American virgin oak and PX Sherry butt version may have been somewhat less than perfect, still it was slightly better than the peated cask strength version. The peated cask strength version is my lowest scoring Amrut on these pages, and it still was a Whisky I liked. I will probably buy it again sometimes, just to see how it fares.

Color: Orange-brown gold. Bourbon.

Nose: Initially fruity and milky. I often have this Malt right after the Kadhambam, and it definitely has this milky quality to it. Even some expressions of Paul John tasted right before or right after this one makes that evident. Don’t worry though, in the nose the milky bit mostly wears off. I’m guessing this is from the Virgin oak. Fruity and very PX-like. Nosed blind I would have guessed PX instead of Port. Dusty, deep, dark and brooding. Some underlying heavy sweetness, like warm syrup and tarred wood. Treacle. No Indian spiciness, so for me the cask overpowered the original Malt. Mind you, this wasn’t initially matured in Bourbon casks, but rather in virgin oak casks. Red fruit lemonade. Strawberry and raspberry syrup, with still this tarry and treacle note underneath. Fire place smoke, yet hardly peaty. Not peaty at all actually. Pencil shavings and crushed dry leaves from trees. A more fresher citrussy note emerges next, as well as some faint mackerel in oil aroma. Since this was matured in a hot climate, the virgin oak works differently, compared to its Scottish counterparts. No harsh, creamy or sappy wood, we can pick up from Scottish Single Malts matured (in part) in virgin oak. Maybe here the milky bit is the way the virgin oak exerts itself? Also a floral bit now. Soft and delicate rose notes combined with sharper whiffs of smoke from the fire place. This is a winter Malt, bordering on Christmas. Certainly brings you in the mood. It’s a big Malt this. The aroma’s are big and bold and never stop giving…

Taste: Tarry wood. Spicy autumn leaves. Quite sweet and prickly (smoke). Treacle and cookies. Black coal. Carbon powder, gun powder. Big, very big. Almost a bit like Rhum Agricole mixed with a heavy Demerara Rum. Steampunk locomotive. Yes Port, but again, it is also not that far away from a heavy PX cask. Well balanced. Chocolate and Brownies. Candied cherries. Licorice and smoke, but also a green note. Oak, but not like the virgin oak we know. No vanilla notes to be honest. Red fruit syrup towards the finish, warming log fires as well. Some residual bitterness, from burnt down logs of wood. Since I got this heavy Rum note, its hard to picture it without it. This has a very long finish, very warming and a perfect aftertaste of everything mentioned before. All is here and all stays with you for a long time. Very good stuff.

Here a lot of the aroma’s are quite big and overpowering, so it is near impossible to make out the Spicy Indian Spirit. So for me maybe less typical than other expressions, but nevertheless a very tasty piece of work again. The beauty lies in the details, but here the details are masked. Luckily the result is still quite nice. There were more casks bottled like this. I bought cask #2714 as well. I’m especially curious now if that one will have this milky note as well as this one. Something we’ll find out in the future…or not…

Points: 89

Port Charlotte 8yo 2007/2018 “CC:01” (57.8%, OB, Heavily Peated, Cognac Casks, 18/006, 2018)

Those of you who have checked the title meticulously will have a question. How can this be 8yo (so stated on the bottle), when this is distilled in 2007 (so stated on the bottle) and bottled in 2018 (so stated on the bottle)? Has it been transferred into glass after 8 years or as often happens, the Whisky in the bottle is (and is allowed to be) older than the stated age. We may never know. This expression is abbreviated as CC:01, meaning that this is the first (01) release of Whisky, fully matured in Cognac Casks (CC). I’m sure there will be more of these abbreviations reviewed on these pages in the foreseeable future.

Finally, this is one of those bottles which I almost missed reviewing before it is gone. One of those bottles I reach for easily, despite the high ABV. One of those bottles I believe to have reviewed earlier already, even being surprised I can’t find the review on these pages. So from the last drops in the bottle, here it goes.

Color: Gold

Nose: Bonfire, spicy wood, creamy but not really vanilla like. Big. Paper and smoke. More bonfire. Beautiful, perfumy smoke notes. Wonderful smelling Malt this is. Hints of medium sweet Rhum Agricole. (J.M style). Next leafy, autumn garden. Extremely well balanced and very appetizing. All just fits together so well. Some breaths of fresh air, bonfire smoke next, with a luxury feel to it. And this nice lazy hidden sweeter and fruitier note (lime juice). Lazy, because it lets me know its there, but allows me to enjoy the other notes first. Soft yet spicy wood. In no way harsh. Creamy, leafy with mocha. It keeps developing. Black tea. Dry, old, dusty oak. Hints of raspberry ice-cream, the vanilla notes emerge after all just before the first notes of pencil shavings. Good one, I love it. No it’s not finished yet. Notes of well aged Calvados now. Will it ever end? Let me just say, nothing really Cognac-y or winey or peaty. Capiche?

Taste: Spicy and sweet on entry. Skip that last remark though, maybe there is some Cognac to it after all. Quite hot going down. Some indistinct fruity notes come next, on top of dry oaky notes. Both are on top of each other, so a bit less well integrated, or maybe the cement between the bricks is missing. Sweetish yellow fruits, partly dried, combined with a nice ashy note and maybe some old licorice. Notes of bitter oak towards the finish and a bit of waxiness emerges. See Lagavulin, this is younger than your 10yo and no milky, too young tasting Whisky here. Nice restrained smoke. Earthy or maybe grounded is a better word. Slightly less balanced than the nose, and also less beautiful, but still very good nevertheless. Fairly long finish, but after that it all went down, leaving just a medium amount for the aftertaste.

Well, what can I say, me likey. It didn’t take me all that long to buy me another one of these. Very good Port Charlotte. I Hope Bruichladdich will do more Cognac Casks in the future (and release them, obviously).

Points: 88

Amrut Peated Cask Strength (62.8%, OB, Batch 38, 2017)

Earlier this year, I reviewed the Amrut Unpeated Cask Strength, which turned out to be quite an excellent Whisky. I wasn’t really surprised, since I’ve come across many nice Amruts. many, but not all of them, because the one I reviewed last was nice, but also a bit unbalanced. A single cask for Europe, matured in virgin oak and finished in a PX-Sherry butt. Nevertheless, it still managed to get 84 points so it wasn’t all bad now was it? The Unpeated Cask Strength batch #87 was definitely better. It might have been a (big) batch, but it still blew the, far more costly, Single Cask out of the loch…ehhh, water. I love my peats as well, so the time has come to review The Unpeated Cask Strength’s supposedly darker brother. Again, I have high expectations for this Peated Cask Strength…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Just opened the bottle and the soft peat welcomes you already. The first aromas already enter your nostrils even before you pour your first dram. From the glass now: youthful, lively and playful. Nice fresh and fatty peat with hints of clay (Das Pronto) and a greenish edge to it. Fresh and fruity. Wine gums and hints of sweet cherries. Sunny and summery, so definitely not a darker brother, ab-so-lutely-not. Nope, peat is not always about winter storms, twilight or salty sea spray. By the way, this Amrut has another trick up its sleeve. With this one it is possible to momentarily “forget” about the peat and smell what it would be like without the peat, as if you can turn it off. Underneath it is a very fruity, light and bright Whisky. Flip the switch and the peat comes on like a light. Next, more freshness and some smoke, way more balanced than the virgin/PX Amrut. Somewhat late hints of fragrant cedarwood and more meaty components emerge as well. Some floral notes and some Christmassy perfume. Well what a surprise it is, giving this dram some time to breathe. Dusty notes emerge next, as well as some sweeter notes. This one is more complex than its unpeated brother but also less bold, who would have thought comparing a peated version with an unpeated one.

Taste: Spicy, peaty, hot and slightly bitter at first. Slightly sweet, but not much. A lot of wood, with matching medium bitterness. Hmmm, some virgin oak again guys? Caramel with almonds and dead cigarettes in an ashtray. Much simpler than the nose, quite some bitterness as well. I get the feeling this isn’t finished yet, bottled too young, bottled too soon, but on the other hand, ageing this longer on these active casks would have extracted even more wood and bitterness, so no, not bottled too soon after all… The finish is bitter. The aftertaste is, luckily, less bitter and warming. In fact the aftertaste is better than the finish. I suspect virgin oak, too much of it. The taste is a bit of a disappointment after the nice and complex nose, and especially disappointing after the great unpeated cask strength version. It is also a bitt dissapointing aftre the virgin/PX. Its just too woody and bitter.

First of all, the color of this batch was lighter than that of its brother, so please don’t take my remark to literal. After nosing, the peated one is definitely not the darker brother, the contrary actually. Yes these two Whiskies are brothers, but the unpeated version seems to me to be more mature, maybe it’s the older brother? In this one the wood and bitterness are too much, but the peat is lovely, and much more complex than you might think, and makes this Amrut remind me a bit of a peated Paul John, something that has never happened to me before. Yes, Amrut and Paul John are both Indian, but like the place they come from, they are entirely different. Mind you, India is a big place!

Points: 82

I spoke too soon with the virgin/PX version, because now this peated cask strength version is the worst Amrut I ever had, yet still 82 points. If only the taste would match up with the wonderful nose.

The Benriach 18yo “Albariza” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Pedro Ximénez Finish. 3886 bottles, 2015)

2015 saw the release of the first of a trio of a brand new limited production series, “Albariza”, which was finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. I missed out on that one at first, so I started with the second one called “Dunder“, a Dark Rum Finish, which I got upon its release. After buying the final release of the trio, “Latada”, finished in Madeira casks, Master Quill got busy and bought himself Albariza at a well-known German Whisky-auction, to complete the trio. So after the second one, it is now time to get back to the beginning and try this Albariza before finishing off this series with the Latada in the near future. I still have the Dunder around for comparison, but sadly there is not much left. What to do when the time comes to review Latada?

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Nice clean peat. Different from fatty Islay peated Whiskies, but very nice aromatics nevertheless. Breaths of fresh air and warm glue, with peat, peat and peat. Where is the PX? Just like Dunder this seems to be a bottling that has heaps of peat. It’s more about the peat than the particular finish. Maybe this has to breathe a bit more in my glass. Easy does it, be patient. After cleaning MQ’s lectern, and reorganizing the bottles a bit, I came back after some breathing. Well, it changed. Christmas spices, red fruits and black coal fire. More deep and brooding. Hints of sweetness and syrup have been added. So, fruit seems to wiggle its way in, how cute. Very strong aromatics, with sharp (peat) smoke right up my nose, opening it up for easier breathing. Nice fatty, big and dirty. Nice complexity, with a borderline classic peat-smell. Nice syrupy sweetness en fruitiness, but like Dunder this is primarily a Peated Whisky, yet, finished with taste. More than excellent nose if you ask me. Let it breathe.

Taste: I can feel the (sweet) PX when I sip this, the (thin) syrupy texture is there, but before you can taste it, the tarry peat slams it down with a vengeance. Well, almost. Maybe the words are a bit strong. This is definitely a Peated Whisky for sure! Second sip, again PX tries, but more like an engine that won’t start. For these three Whiskies I feel the focus of the naming and the labels, and the text written on it, is wrongly on the cask the Whisky was finished in, but should have been on the peat. Never mind that. Sure its peaty, but the finishes do add something to the whole, and good for us, they merely add, not overpower it. As I said before, finishing done with taste. If you let it breathe for a while, the Whisky gains more balance and the finish shows itself a bit more. Less peat, more smoke that way. More coal, licorice and a taste that brings images to my mind of crushed beetle. This is finishing done right. Excellent stuff and an example that it doesn’t have to be Oloroso alone, considering dark Sherries. PX has something to bring to the tabel as well. Just don’t over do it! Finish is great and of medium length. Aftertaste is short, and a bit too sweet, seems dissonant from the whole experience. If this sweetness would have been replaced by black fruits, this could have been one of the best bottlings from this decade.

Albariza is a very chalky soil, so how to taste this terroir, when the peat overpowers it all? Even in the taste it’s hard to find the PX directly. Again some more breathing is necessary. Dark chocolate and after a while a more sweeter note comes around, together with some ashes. Flint and a slightly burnt Sherry cask note with a hint of christmas again. liquorice in the finish and the sweetness manages to stay around for longer. Here the PX finally emerges.

When entering a shop, I never had a lot of interest in “newer” Benriachs. Some of the standard bottlings were ok, but not more than that and the rest were almost all finishes of some kind with labels in strange colours, looking like a bunch of skittles. However peated Benriach tastefully finished seemed something different, so this series sold very well, and sold out quickly as well. This year (2018) saw the release of the 22yo versions of “Albariza”, “Dunder” and “Latada” at what looks at first quite a hefty price, but then again, not a terrible lot more than these three 18yo’s fetch at auction today. I was already quite impressed with “Dunder” and this “Albariza” is in the same league as well, so I’m sure the 22yo’s will be pretty good as well. If only they would be higher in ABV and less expensive…

Points: 89

“Albariza” is darker and warmer and definitely different from “Dunder”, which is nutty, sweetish and funky. Where the peat subdued, making it more elegant, and the smoke is now more prevailing. I’m assuming since all three Benriachs matured in Bourbon casks first that they were pretty similar before entering the casks they were finished in. What’s similar as well is the peat part. The peat smells the same in both, so that corroborates my assumption. “Albariza” is bigger as well  “Dunder” is lighter and easily recognizable as a Rum cask finish. Rum casks gives off very specific aroma’s, both in the nose and on the palate. “Dunder” is now finished, so it tells you the bottle had plenty of time to breathe. Oxygen did bring out the aroma’s over time, so I’m guessing “Albariza” will change over time as well.

If you’re interested, here is some background on what Albariza actually is by Whisky’s (and Sherry’s) own, Ruben.

Paul John 2009/2015 (58.4%, Malts of Scotland, Peated, Bourbon Barrel, MoS 15068, 156 bottles)

Paul John already had some Whiskies reviewed on these pages, but up ’till now they all have been the official deal, and making up the standard range. Brilliance, Edited and Bold, are the trinity of entry-level Malts from Paul John, where the peat level rises gradually from left to right.

Sometimes a malt is so good, I finish it before I even get the chance to review it, or sometimes I think I reviewed it, remembering the words, and it turns out that I haven’t. This is a bottle I got because the owner wasn’t all that fond of it, even though it was half empty (or half full, depends how you look at it), and thought the stuff he got in return was better. Right now I can’t remember with what I traded it. This bottle is soon to be empty, meaning it’s good! I give you that already. Before moving on to more of the official stuff, here is the first independently bottled Paul John on these pages. This is one of four casks bottled by Malts of Scotland. Three casks from 2009 (#15065, #15067, peated and #15068, also peated) and one from 2011 (#15066).

The officially released Single Cask bottlings of Paul John, were all very nicely priced, and people picked up on them, as well as the more available bottlings. When the independent bottlers started to release Single Cask bottlings of Paul John, they upped the game asking a (much) higher price than Paul John did themselves. Luckily the casks that went to the independents all turned out to be very good casks as well, so they are worth your money. Having said that, all the official Single Casks released were pretty good as well.

When independents started asking higher prices, Paul John followed suit and new releases are more expensive than they were before. I understand Paul John asks a bit more from independents as well, so if my information is right, Malts of Scotland won’t be releasing more Single Cask bottlings of Paul John for a while. Never say never again ‘eh.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Soft peat and meaty. A little bit of barley and a tiny hint of dry orange skin and varnished wood. We’re talking luxury department here. Already this smells like near perfection. This is bottle is empty so soon, because I have fallen in love with how this smells. Luckily I was able to replace it another bottle from the same cask. Deep fruits and spicy warm air. A slightly sweet edge. Big nose altogether. Hints of black fruits from old Islay bottlings, salty. Fresh mint and unlit tobacco. Licorice and warm butter. The wood adds notes of pencil shavings and smoke now, adding to the spiciness of the Whisky. Stunning nose. Not a lot of development though, so maybe even in India (almost) six years is (almost) six years. Reluctantly I have to move on, but to be Frank (Not John) I can’t stop smelling this, and have a hard time moving on to taste it. (If I would score noses by itself this would get 95 Points, maybe more, utterly wonderful stuff).

Taste: Sweetish, syrupy and woody. Slightly waxy even. Not even the peat comes first, but rather the big and bold body. Wood, pencil shavings but not exclusively, and various yellow fruit marmalades, bitter orange marmalade first, followed by dried apricots. Several different bitters coming from wood and smoke. That’s about it first time around. The end of the body well into the finish seems a bit thin, but the aftertaste gets the big body back and has a lot of length, keeping you warm and giving you subliminal images of warmer places. Give it time and air to breathe folks. It doesn’t taste like 58.4% ABV. Again, this might not be the most complex stuff around, but what’s there is very good, albeit not as good as the nose though. But when you’ve swallowed this, and enjoying the long lingering aftertaste and thén smell the glass, Ahhhhh, bliss. This hits the right spots with me.

This was the deal breaker, after this one, I had to make more room for Indian Malts on my lectern. What an experience! A word of caution. I have ready and spoken to enough people to know that this might not be for everybody. Indian Malts are not Scottish, Six-row barley gives a lot of exotic spiciness compared to the barley’s used in Scotland, as well as the conditions of maturation on this continent. As I said before, the previous owner of this bottles wasn’t such a big fan of this as I am, so proceed with caution, but keep an open mind.

Points: 91

This one is finished now, and took a while to write, since I couldn’t stop smelling this. I replaced this stunning MoS bottling with another independent bottling of Paul John, a 6yo Cadenheads bottling released this year. Can’t wait to open that one.