Dalmore 2001/2015 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Refill American Hogsheads, AE/JBAC, 05/03/2015)

So here’s Dalmore. Dalmore isn’t a Whisky I have many bottles of, if any. It was also a long time ago Dalmore’s were featured on these pages. This is now the third review, after the two reviews I did back in 2014. Obviously one from the distillery itself, the 12yo from around 2004 (so also a while back) and one 11yo independent offering from Kintra Whisky from The Netherlands. Both a bit under my radar to be honest, not spurring a lot of interest in buying more Dalmore’s, (which I didn’t). Dalmore also seems known for some affordable middle-of-the-road bottles, as well as quite some super rare, super premium, super old bottlings, giving Macallan a run for its money. How odd. After all those years, yet another Dalmore managed to emerged on top of the heap of samples. After many of my own bottles, here is sample for a change. As often happens with distilleries and their owners, they tend to change hands more often than they used to back in the day. In the year of both other Dalmore reviews, namely 2014, the company that holds Dalmore, Whyte and Mackay, was bought by Philippines’ largest liquor company called Emperador. Just to refresh your memory, Whyte and Mackay doesn’t only operate Dalmore distillery, but also in their portfolio are: Fettercairn, Tamnavulin, Jura and Invergordon (grain).

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fruity and Malty, with a tiny hint of smoke in the back. When freshly poured this is big on fruit, candied fruit, but a lot of this is just blown away rather quickly. Smells of toffee, caramel and apple, caramelized apple to be precise, but also fresh apple flesh and hints of apple skin. Warm cookie dough. Apple pie, but most definitely without the cinnamon, no cinnamon in this apple pie whatsoever. Fresh air and an even sharper breath of air, probably because of the smoky note this Whisky has. Maybe this comes from the toasted oak. Not sure right now. The Malty notes are getting more of a say and seem to introduce some more waxy notes, like the wax from the skin a red apple. With this waxy note comes the promise of some bitterness in the taste, we’ll see if that is the case here. By now, more wood as well. Sawdust from plywood. Dusty altogether. Hints of lemon peel and some remarkable horseradish notes, I didn’t expect here. Smells like a modern Whisky, although tasted blind, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this was coming from some sort of refill Sherry cask (as well). For me this doesn’t have (only) the classic refill Bourbon notes we all know so well by now. No, this one has something else as well, something I also picked up on in the Dalmore 12yo, being different from others.

Taste: Soft, spicy, slightly woody and creamy. Sugar water. Wood, paper and a nice sweet chewiness. Waxy and indeed slightly bitter. Having this in your mouth makes the nose expand a bit. Not really fruity though, but it is vegetal. Highly drinkable, but not easily drinkable, it seems to have a taste profile more cut out for aficionado’s or connoisseurs. It has too much fresh oak notes and it might be a bit too bitter for the general public I guess. It’s also rather simple and thin, although it does have good balance. However, after tasting this, the nose expands, more and more is showed there. I’m wondering if this effect of the nose evolving and the taste being rather simple, comes from too much reduction of this particular example. Medium finish at best, disintegrating a bit, but the aftertaste is nice and warming, shows some of the sweetness and paper-like bitterness this Whisky possesses.

Definitely different from both other reviewed Dalmore’s, and it is not as bad as it seems. It has to be worked a bit and personally, I wouldn’t like to try this as a novice. I like the vegetal notes it shows, but it needed a very long time in my glass to show this. More than 30 minutes for sure…

Points: 85

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.

Ledaig 12yo 2008/2020 (45%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Wood Finished, Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 year finish in Hermitage Casks, 4440 bottles, 20/074)

The previous reviews have shown that the industry is getting the hang of how to successfully incorporate Red Wine Casks into the production of decent Whisky. The three Longrow Red’s reviewed last, were all pretty good. So maybe it’s time to have a look at a different example of this practice. But first this: for one reason or another, the interest in Springbank (and, Hazelburn and Longrow, but to a lesser extent as well), has skyrocketed in the past year of two. Maybe the best example is the latest rendition of the Springbank Local Barley over which people really went ape-shit, and really, there is no other way to put it, ape-shit indeed! Why is that, one might wonder, the colour, more money to spend because of the pandemic? In many markets this latest Local Barley was near impossible to get, and just have a look what people are willing to pay today for one of these at auction. It’s a 10yo! Even when Springbank Society is releasing a bottle these days, you have to enter a ballot! Even though costs have risen considerably across the world, due to Brexit, people are going ape-shit after those as well. Not only aficionado’s and fan’s but many bottle flippers as well, since most of these releases are readily available, in great numbers, I might add, at the next action. A few years back, Springbank Society didn’t even sell everything and you could get a second bottle without any problem. Times are a-changing.

So now that Springbank is often impossible to get (in a normal way), I tried to figure out what would be a nice alternative to Springbank. Well, that is a rather personal question, and the answer might differ from person to person. However I did come to some sort of a conclusion for myself, and figured out it is the peated distillate of Tobermory, we all know better as Ledaig. There are probably more alternatives one can think of, but let’s stick with Ledaig for now. First of all, Ledaig is getting better by the year, (they used to have a rather wonky reputation), it’s readily available, especially through independent bottlers, and it’s damn tasty stuff, even at a young age. I have bought quite a few Ledaig’s in the past year, so I could have, and probably will have it permanently represented on my lectern. So, Ledaig it is for now, and after three Longrow Red’s, here is a Hermitage Wine finished Ledaig. Hermitage is a French Red Wine from the northern Rhône region, made with Syrah grapes. Let’s see if this is really a worthy alternative for the Longrow Red’s. A final remark before digging in, this Gordon & MacPhail offering has been reduced to 45%, where the Longrow Red’s are bottled at cask strength, we’ll see if that matters much.

Color: Vibrant orange brown, like a bourbon. No pink Red Wine hue.

Nose: The bottle I’m reviewing now is less than half full, and this really needed to breathe a lot to get where it is now. When freshly opened, I was really disappointed, asking myself, is this it? Quite unbalanced. Yet today, it is another story altogether. Bonfire smoke and the fur of a wet dog, or maybe an animal with a more coarse fur, lets say wet bear then. Dried out cow dung in the middle of summer. Ledaig always has these “animalesk” notes to it. Fresh air with a whiff of paper and chlorine, this is not a bad thing, because it fits the whole. Smoke, nutty, winey, funky and sweet smelling fatty peat. Also licorice is present in this peat. There is a lot going on in this peat-bit alone. Some wood, nice laid back oak. Hints of fireworks (sulphur). The whole is dark and brooding based around great peat and smoke. Motor oil, coffee flavoured candy, and some vanilla. Creamy. Smallest hint of red fruits only, so the influence of the Red Wine casks is somewhat different to other Red Wine finished Whiskies. Partly floral. Yes after the big aroma’s played their part, a more floral note comes popping up from below. There is definitely a lot happening here. Many entirely different aroma’s come together in harmony. Nevertheless, this seems to me to be dirtier than your average Islay Malt, however I’m not entirely sure right now, if this dirtiness hails from Mull or Southern France, my guess would be the former. Good Ledaig again. Smoke, floral, soap and fresh fruit notes now. I can get used to this. So let people get ape-shit some more on the output of Campbeltown, we’ll join in occasionally, and apart from that, we’ll have Mull as our (dirty) little secret. Amazing how this managed to get from this unbalanced state when freshly opened to this harmonious and balanced Whisky it is now.

Taste: On entry, somewhat sweet (red fruit syrup, in part artificial), toffee, animalesk-peat, crushed beetle, ginger bread, caramel and nutty. With a slightly soapy slippery feel to it and woody bitterness for good measure. Amazingly this also has a little red pepper sting to it. Here, it is all slightly less big and powerful and it tastes somewhat diluted compared to the Red’s. I know there are a lot, and I really mean a lot, of cask strength Ledaig’s out there, but this one would benefit from some more ooomph as well. Still, it is what it is and it is a good Ledaig again. Way less complex here than it was on the nose. Hence less words are needed to describe the taste than the nose. Warming bonfire and cigarette ashtray in the finish and warming meaty aftertaste with coffee candy and surprisingly some mint. Very warming indeed.

First of all, this one definitely needs a long time to breathe and if you allow it to, you’ll be rewarded. Just leave the cork off for a day or two after opening, and repeat this process if necessary. Second, just like the Red’s, here we have another successful Red Wine cask finish. By the way, remember this Deanston? The reputation of Mull is growing and before you know it, (it might take a few years), it just might catch up with Campbeltown altogether. It’s a worthy alternative, and it is not more of the same. Luckily, even though the output of Springbank Distillery is very, very good. But we aficionado’s do like the differences that can be had. One minor gripe. Even though this is yet another good Whisky, the reduction to 45% ABV is very well noticeable. Historically these finishes were bottled by Gordon & MacPhail @ 45% ABV, but with the revamp of the different series they had, towards the “new” Connoisseurs Choice, maybe there should be some Cask Strength Wood Finishes as well?

Points: 86

This one is for Luke Todd-Wood, who recommended it to me, without even knowing. Cheers Luke, I guess you already finished your bottle by now!

Longrow Red 10yo “Refill Malbec” (52.5%, OB, 7 years Bourbon Barrels, 3 years Refill Malbec Barriques, 10.000 bottles, 2020, 20/187)

Well time moves fast, and before I even managed to write the reviews of the 2019 Pinot Noir and the 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and get them out, already this 2020 Refill Malbec has been released, the second Red in 2020. Looks like someone’s in a hurry? Is it time to cash in a bit on output from the distillery which isn’t branded Springbank. I really don’t know about the popularity of Longrow and Hazelburn (and Kilkerran) compared to Springbank. But looking at auctions, all are doing quite well, but Springbank itself seems to still perform best. However, it looks to me like the Red series is getting really popular. I’m guessing Springbank Distillery are stocking up on wine casks now and finally have a plan what to do with a lot of the Longrow distillate. But all of this is pure speculation. So what Master Quill initially intended as the two latest Red’s back-to-back, in comes this third one, and hey, after the results of both previous Red’s, I’m not complaining. I got in touch with Nico again and yes here is another bottle share between the two of us. Still not sure about those Red’s, ‘eh Master?

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Initially young, somewhat milky and dusty, and quite oddly, hay and grass we know from Grappa! Young Malt with raisins and old dried out, grated Swiss cheese. Burnt wood and slightly tarry. Dry virgin oak and a pool of fresh rain water. Wait a minute. Just let it breathe for a while. Wow, this is an entirely different Red again. Toasted oak, burning newspapers, pencil shavings and red fruit candy (raspberry), with a tiny acidic note on top. It all comes out in layers. Where the 2019 Pinot Noir shines because of its balance, this…well, this doesn’t, initially. I use the word initially, because experience tells me that these kinds of funky notes often wear off, and this is the start of my half bottle which probably hasn’t seen a lot of air to breathe with. This has red fruits, fresh and artificial. Hints of peat, but the peat is not dominating. This Red, even though it is one of the younger expressions, and as we all know, young peat is the strongest, has soft milk-chocolaty peat. Just compare it to a Longrow 18yo for instance, also soft peat. Some more dull smelling paper, wood and woody spices emerge, otherwise this is (initially) a simple expression or starts out as a very closed one. Bad breath, Winey, candy like, with hints of mint, nice, sweet mint and finally some smoke. Bonfire smoke on a cold night. So bits of peat and soft wood and milk chocolate, that’s the story here. Not very complex and starts out pretty basic. All the slightly less positive remarks made above dissipate after some extensive breathing. The Grappa is gone by now, never to return. The Whisky really gains balance and smells in a way like it wants to show you how it will taste. The 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon still has a much, much better, far more sophisticated and appealing, dare I say, near perfect, nose. I just did, didn’t I? The Pinot Noir works like a good alternative to Oloroso. Let’s not compare the smells of both any further, and by the way, the strength of the 2020 Refill Malbec lies even more in the taste, as we’ll soon find out.

Taste: Initially this comes across as a younger and less balanced expression than the previous two reviewed ones, yet right out of the gate this is still a very tasty bugger! To capture the taste of this Red in one sentence: Liquid smoke mixed with sweet ripe red fruits and red chillies. It certainly has a sting to it and a sweetness that follows. Slightly syrupy and notes of oaky bitterness. Hints of tar and liquorice which matches up well with the red fruit syrup. Salty (and smoky) lips. Definitely more peat here than in the nose, as well as more smoke. Add to that, red fruit jam, rubber and some arome-de-ashtray. In a way this is a bit thin. Not a big rounded out Malt but more of a big flat circle. The sweetness hasn’t enough power to sustain a big body. In many ways it is big (in 2 dimensions), but lacking a bit of depth (the third dimension). So peat smoke and red fruits make up the two dimensions, but in the end it thus lacks some sweetness to counterpart the smoke, peat and wood, to round things out. This sometimes has an element of sulphur. At this point, who cares about the balance and the initial Grappa. This is a fun Red! This is a Big Red (in a way)! Gives off a nice feeling and aftertaste going down. Sweet with peated toffee and the red fruit jam. This one just needs some air to shine even more. Tiny hints of black fruits in the finish. Sweet and again a flinty and slightly burned note. Both are very welcome here. Also remember, Malbec Wines aren’t sweet Wines, so where the sweetness comes from is a mystery to me. Excellent birthday cake. Hints of fireworks and sulphur. Again these are welcome notes, don’t get me wrong. Black tea, a slight bitterness, late pencil shavings and all the time very tasty. Rougher then the previous two reviewed Red’s, but a welcome variant on the theme nevertheless.

Well, this one might be a little rough around the edges, still it surely sort of matches up in quality with the “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” which brought me back into the Red fold in the first place. Sure it starts a tad funky and wonky, but it pulls itself together rather quickly. Interesting. In the end not the same score for both, the taste is almost in the same ballpark quality-wise, but the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon simply has a much, much better nose.

Points: 86

By the way, here is a list of officially released Red’s:

2012 11yo   7 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 4 years Fresh Cabernet Sauvignon Hogsheads (Country unknown)
2013 11yo   6 years Refill Bourbon Hogsheads and 5 Years Fresh Australian Shiraz Hogsheads
2014 11yo 11 years Fresh Port Casks
2015 12yo 11 years Bourbon Casks and 1 year Fresh New Zealand Pinot Noir Casks
2017 13yo 12 years Bourbon Barrels and 15 months Fresh South African Malbec Barriques
2018 11yo   9 years Bourbon Barrels and 2 years Fresh South African Cabernet Franc Barriques
2019 11yo   8 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years Refill New Zealand Pinot Noir Barriques
2020 13yo 10 years Bourbon Barrels and Refill Sherry Hogsheads and 3 years Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels
2020 10yo   7 years Bourbon Barrels and 3 years South African Refill Malbec Barriques

Longrow Red 11yo “Pinot Noir” (53.1%, OB, 8 years Bourbon & 3 years Refill Pinot Noir Casks, 9.000 bottles, 2019, 19/003)

I have to admit that the first few releases of Longrow Red weren’t my favourite Longrows on the market. I’ve tasted quite a few by now and from the first few releases, starting in 2012, I believe I liked the 2014 Port version best. However, even that one didn’t really impress me that much back then, since I didn’t go out of my way to buy it. Even today I still proceed with caution when a Whisky, in general, has had a Wine treatment, especially when the cask previously contained Red Wine. Fast forward several years later. On one occasion someone, probably Nico, shoved the 2020 edition of Red under my nose (The Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon), and that one did impress me a bit, so I got half a bottle in a bottle share, but more about that next time (spoiler alert). In the mean time, I visited Nico one day and saw an open bottle of his 2019 Pinot Noir edition, and with half a bottle of the 2020 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon edition already sitting at home, and thinking of Master Quill and a comparison between both, I asked for a sample of his 2019 edition and the rest, as they say, is history…

Color: Copper gold. No pink or red hue.

Nose: Soft peat. Initially hints of classic red fruit from good Oloroso Cask matured Whiskies from yesteryear. Aroma’s working well together with the soft peat. Please bear in mind, no Sherry casks were used for this edition, so this can only come from the Pinot Noir casks. Appetizing stuff. A very hidden, tucked away, organic and deep sweaty and Winey note. Mild wine gums, soft wood bordering on cardboard and water based paint. Peated mocha with some smoke. Give it some more air, and the fruity and the (sometimes acidic) winey notes exert themselves some more, retaining throughout, the soft peat and the little bit of smoke. Salty toffee. Fresh, fruity, with an almost summery feel. Citrus notes (lemon) and floral hints, but also some milk chocolate and caramel. It smells sweet, acidic and salty, all at the same time. The peat gets softer and softer, as if it is a much older distillate. Receding peat leaves some more room for the smoke and a new flinty note emerges, as well as, some pencil shavings. Bad breath and soft moist wood. The Winey note gains some plastic along the way. Nevertheless, having smelled other Longrow Reds, the aroma profile comes as no surprise, although this is a particularly good one. This is what you get from peated Malts combined with different Red Wine casks. For instance, Gordon & MacPhail’s Ledaig Hermitage moves in the same direction. More about one of those later (another spoiler alert). For now, this Pinot Noir edition smells quite sophisticated and well balanced. Much better than earlier Red’s including the first outing of Pinot Noir in 2015.

Taste: A sweet and fruity entry. Sugary sweet mixed with the fresh notes of lemon juice. Soft and chewable peat. Slightly bitter wood. Almonds, full on toffee, caramel and only slightly fruity. On the sweet and fatty body, the winey acidity is there, but slides off quite quickly, noticeable yet not overpowering. Nice soft lingering peat and some prickly smoke. Amazing balance right from the start and again amazingly likeable. Next, some more fresh wood, which at times is quite spicy. The red fruity bit comes to the fore. Hints of fresh almonds. Very appetizing. I’m sure the Red series was a learning experience for the people at Springbank, but they are really getting the hang of it. The Red’s seem to get better and better as time progresses.

Wow, this is much better than the Red’s I know to date, especially the nose, which is this Malts strong point. I was wrong, because I’m human and not a bot, to have lost focus on this series after the first few expressions. Should have sticked with it. I’m reviewing this one from a sample, Nico kindly provided. He says this expression was at its best right from the start, so this does suffer a little bit from oxidation. So don’t take too long finishing this bottle. I haven’t tasted them all yet, but this might very well be the best of the Red’s.

Points: 89

Paul John 6yo (56,3%, Cadenhead, Refill Bourbon Barrel, 330 bottles, Summer 2018)

Here is yet another bottle of an Indian Malt I have to hurry to review before it is gone. Tasty stuff, I can already tell you that! What is it with those Indian Malts I like so much? Is it the Barley used? Indian six-row barley? Is it the wonderful exotic aroma achieved, from a simple Bourbon cask, without adding any wonky stuff to the Whisky? Probably all of the above and I guess some more. I already mentioned how good Amrut is, but this newer kid on the block is doing quite well for itself as well. In case you might wonder, there is already an independent offering from SMWS called Ringo George.

I remember my introduction to the Paul John brand (and Shilton, I might add) at The Whisky Show in London vividly. I was immediately amazed. Loved the flavours. When I bought my first bottle, (Brilliance, Batch No. 1), and let others taste it, it wasn’t all that well received every time, to be honest. I like it very much. Maybe some people just need some time to get used to it, I guess, since today a lot more people seem to like it. On the other hand, some people just don’t get used to it, because they don’t like the flavour profile, and maybe it is an acquired taste? Prices keep rising though, for more recent bottlings. OB and IB alike. So there must be more like me, who really like it. The aforementioned Ringo George was a 5yo 2nd refill Bourbon cask bottling and already cost a hefty £150 upon release, and sold out rather quickly. What’s in a name you might ask? Older bottlings on auctions are fetching quite a lot of money as well, these days. So the mantra probably should be: if you like it, and still can find it for a decent price, get it, because if you don’t…

Color: Orange-Brown Gold. Bourbon. Slightly misty. Indian mist.

Nose: Wood and pencil shavings. Sawdust and almonds. Drying, sharpish and wood-spicy. No peat! Slightly waxy and nutty. Trace amounts of vanilla and toffee. Aromatic in a dry style. The wood is speaking here, like a men’s fragrance. Gucci Pour Homme, but less classy, I suspect the difference being that Gucci has some stuff thrown in that is definitely not allowed in Whisky! Cloaked (acidic) fruits, but not the red fruits mentioned on the back-label. If so, the fruits are very un-ripe. You smell them, but do you really smell them? The fruit is hard to point out. Fragrant, yet not floral. There are many aroma’s here that seem to originate from wood. Earwax with a hint of ginger and toffee, and more dust and wood. Not overly complex, but not simple as well. Somewhat single minded. Letting it breathe for a while doesn’t do as much for this Malt as I expected. When I pour myself a new dram, the fruit is shortly obvious, so it seems that the yellow (not red) fruit aroma, dried apricots for about a second or three, dissipates quite quickly, to be replaced by a lot of spicy and woody bits. By the way, no typical Indian spices I can pick up on in many other Amruts and Paul Johns. Quite a restrained expression this one, but clearly a Paul John. A woody Paul John, and a nice smelling one too. Needs a lot of attention to get the most out of it. Not for careless dramming. Also, this needs a lot of time to really open up.

Taste: Starts out quite closed, this is true for the nose as well. When it opens up, more of the same. Earwax, lots of sweetish (as in not too sweet) toffee and wood. Right after pouring, it tastes of sweet toffee, but this is quickly overpowered by the dry woody bits, which is a bit of a shame, since this toffee note did add to the balance. Ashes and dust, with some hidden woody fruitiness. Dried orange and lemon peel with vanilla, yet much less orange peel oil than for instance Amrut Naarangi has, but every Whisky has less orange peel than Naarangi has! I like it better here. (Naarangi’s Orange comes from prepared Oloroso casks, but more about this in the future). This Paul John comes from a refill Bourbon barrel, so the source for this orange note is different. Distant hint of peat. Starts woody, and when that passes, there is some room for a very short sweeter note, without it being really sweet to boot. Also some woody bitterness pops up. Seems a bit thin due to the lack of sweetness. However, the short sweetness is soon again dominated by this dry wood note, that also makes up the finish. Nose and taste are more or less the same. Some (orange) honey in the aftertaste of mostly wood and some of its bitterness. The more this breathes, the sweeter it seems to get (up to a point). In the end, this Paul John is still a pleasure to drink. When you know what you are getting (wood instead of fruit), it’s alright. Again, this may not seem like a top example at first, but it is a pretty decent Dram nevertheless, as long as you are willing to put some effort into it. Definitely sold out by now. I wouldn’t pay top money for this at auction, only if you are something of an anorak and know your way around “difficult” Malts like these, or if you are a Paul John collector obviously. This is a pretty good Whisky, but there are quite a few better single cask expressions of Paul John to be had. This is really a high quality Malt, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t show its merits easily. I do feel this is a classy Whisky, just not Gucci classy.

This Malt, just like the first Christmas edition, is slightly hazy. That one even more than this. When asked, they explained to me that Indian Six row barley is high on proteins causing this Indian mist, but not every Paul John expression is misty. So probably this has to do with the level of filtering?

To conclude this review, I still have to mention, for completists, that this Whisky has aged for 5 years in Goa, India (Hot), and a year in Campbeltown, Scotland (Cold), what this two continent approach did for this Whisky, I couldn’t tell you. Finally, the label mentions this was bottled in summer 2018. Printed on the glass: 02/04/18 18/152, so summer comes early in Campbeltown! I know, I know, it was released for the summer season, quite strange though, since this is not a fruity expression, yet more of a woody winter warmer.

Points: 87

Cragganmore 12yo (58.4%, OB, Special Release 2019, Refill American Oak, 18.000 bottles)

Why not? Yeah, why not make it a pair again and write about another Cragganmore and yes, this one is from another sample bottle. This time we’ll go for last years official special release 12yo. As mentioned in the previous review. Cragganmore can be the under the radar malt, but somehow people caught on up pretty quick with this one. Maybe not a lot was made, wait a minute! 18.000! That’s not very limited, and still it sold as hot cakes, holy mackerel, this must have been good then!

So maybe Cragganmore isn’t all that very well known, yet Diageo has released already quite a few expressions as a special release: It started in 2003 with a 29yo from 1973 (scored that one 87 back in the day). Probably one of the Cragganmore’s in my collection. They weren’t extremely expensive back then, and didn’t sell very well. These early special releases were quite often very affordable when on sale, and that happened a lot in the early days of these series. I remember I got both 36yo Glenury Royals and Quite a few Talisker 25yo’s for a very nice price. The special releases replaced the Rare Malts, remember those? 2004 saw the release of a 10yo from 1993 (scored that one 86). In 2006 a 17yo from 1988 was released. In 2010 a 21yo from 1989 was released. In 2014 a 25yo from 1988 (again) was released. In 2016 a quite expensive NAS was released. In 2019 this 12yo (year not stated) and finally (for now) this year, a year that everybody will remember (2020) a 20yo from 1999 was released. I guess we’ll see some more Cragganmore’s down the Special Release line. But first, lets have a go with last years model…

Color: Pale White Wine.

Nose: Big, sharp and alcoholic, initially not that great. Funky organic start, bad breath and somewhat unbalanced. Malty and biscuity with some metal and menthol. Unlit cigar and sandalwood. Dough and a bit bread-like. Clean (but not too much) and fresh. The wonky start clears up. Fresh ice-cold milk with a snuff of chilli powder. Quite some upfront citrus notes. Sea spray and ozonic, keeps prickling my nose. Hint of smoke? Oak, partly toasted. Fresh and likeable. Something old skool underneath, hard to put my finger on right now. Hints of sweet licorice and soft wood. Next, it is dusty and the citrus returns. The fresh ozonic/menthol smell doesn’t ware off completely, it stays behind. Weakens a bit, but is holding the fort. Complex. The longer this breathes, the better and more balanced it gets. Showing more and more complexity. Tea and farmy. Somewhat nutty. Latex paint and some rainwater. This needs a while to really open up. Amazing how this keeps developing over time. By now I’m really enthusiastic about this one. Is it too late to still get a full bottle? Truly wonderful nose.

Taste: Very big on fruit and candy, but also a bit hot. Wonderful prickly spices. Fruity, with the right amount of sweetness and after going down, it turns a bit creamy. Nice wood for balance. This is a hot malt, the high ABV exerts itself. Much sweeter and very nutty as well. Dare I say there is some heather in here (like there is in Highland Park?). Stays hot for a while. Medium finish and also the aftertaste leaves the building in a hurry. Definitely some woody bitterness and still this uncatchable note. Old skool in the taste as well. Intriguing. Lemon fresh, but also toffee thick. It has a decent sweetness and a hint of dark chocolate with a balsamic twist. Cherry liqueur and a drying, almost smoky, note. Not that sharp, prickly, smoke, but a bit more, yes, peaty, yes really, and a fatter sort of smoke with burned plastic thrown in for good measure. Wonderful spiciness and dry black tea. Toasted almonds with a woody and peaty bitterness. Quite unexpected… The plastic bit carries well into the finish, as does this bitter note. Let it breathe, it needs air!

Well what can I say, very well done Cragganmore. Nice pick Diageo. Smoky and slightly peaty, and combined with the fruity character of Cragganmore, makes for a very interesting Malt, and a very good one as well!

Points: 89

Thanks go out to Nico again, source for many samples! Cheers mate!

Inchgower 1998/2013 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Refill Sherry Butt, AC/JIID)

Inchgower is not often encountered and therefore this whisky is often one of the great unknowns. Very understandable, when you consider the fact, this Malt is made for three well known blends: White Horse, Bell’s, and last but not least, Johnny Walker. Considering the cases sold of these, it’s almost a miracle they bottle Inchgower officially or even sell casks to independent bottlers.

Up ’till now, only two Inchgowers have graced these pages before, a Bladnoch Forum bottling and a Dewar Rattray bottling. Luckily for us, both have scored well above average. When reviewing the bottling at hand, there is only something like 30% left in the bottle, so it had some air to work with. At 46% ABV this is usually one of the first Whiskies I grab when taking a dram, and it is quickly surpassed by almost all of the follow-up drams. After all these drams from this Inchgower, I still don’t have a mental picture in my head how this particular Malt actually is, almost as if it just doesn’t leave an impression, unremarkable, forgettable. No, I don’t have a drinking problem, because I can fondly remember many, many different drams I had over the past 20 years or so. But let’s get back to this Malt we’re reviewing here, whatever it is…

Feeling an independent bottler as big as G&M probably don’t have just the one cask, I went out surfing to find another G&M Inchgower from 1998, and yes, there is. G&M have bottled another Single Cask, #11275 to be precise. It was distilled on 15.12.1998 and bottled in October 2011. That was a refill Sherry Hogshead @50% ABV. If our Connoisseurs Choice bottling is from the same distillate, our Malt is a 14yo.

Color: Dark Gold, hint of copper

Nose: Light, Sherried, very fruity and also a bit musty. Musty yes, farmy even. Still, there is this breath of fresh air to it as well. Fanta Orange and sinaspril, bordering on sulphur. Fresh and bubbly, appealing and likeable. Toasted almonds, but foremost, lots of citrus fruits. Zesty, apples. Warm apple compote. Very friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. Maybe slightly meaty, although it does retain its fruity freshness. Slight hint of oak and paper, but not a lot. Slightly smoky, whiff of cigarette? Licorice, and toasted oak. Also some black coal, mixed in with ahorn syrup on a bit of cardboard. Warm cooked vegetables. The breath of fresh air from the start returns a bit like menthol. Although there seems to be enough happening here, because it is an impressive list of smells, the whole does seem a bit simple, and light, too light. Strange, because it is really a wonderful nose, thin, simple and sharp. Lacks a bit of sweetness, roundness. Could have been more supple. All three words hated by connoisseurs, because, what do they mean? Still, a good nose though.

Taste: Half sweet tea, but not enough sweetness for this Sherried, fruity profile. Fruity acidity. Unripe pineapple. Caramel, toffee and toasted oak, yet not big nor sweet. Lacking depth. lacking development. Thin. It just shows you right from the start what it is, goes down well, and just waits, sits there like a puppy, waiting for you to take another sip (throw the bone). Its nice, but too narrow and too simple and it really, really lacks development. Very drinkable yet also quite simple and thin. It is a narrow path ahead, not a wide motorway of aroma’s. Pancakes with ahorn syrup. After tasting, the nose opens up a bit more, and there is nothing wrong really. Lets say this has a short finish, it isn’t even a medium fish. Slightly hot, but it might be me, this evening. Forget about the aftertaste, it was all washed down, nothing left for the aftertaste. This is why it is, and stays, anonymous and this is why next week, I will have forgotten, yet again, how this tastes. Nothing wrong, no off notes, no too young Whisky, just narrow, short and simple. Forgettable. Some moments later, this review still open on my laptop… dare I say that after all that, when casually sipping on, watching a re-run of Frasier, some sweetness does finally emerge and the finish becomes a wee bit longer? A tiiiiiny bit of oaken bitterness moves into the…..aftertaste? yes, an aftertaste, finally! So, maybe all is not lost after all.

Maybe the anonymity of this bottle was also brought upon by the Crabbie I reviewed earlier. I always started with that one, and since that one was essentially not OK, it may have ruined this one in the process, since I always grabbed this Inchgower next. The Crabbie is gone now, so maybe the bit that is left in this bottle gets the respect it deserves. Even though the nose it quite rich, it also predicts some sort of narrow Malt. Tasting it proves it. It is a narrow malt. It has the sharper notes, from toasted oak to Sherry oak and acidity, but it really lacks something bigger, no sweets no vanilla notes we know from American oak. Essentially, this Whisky lacks some more wood influence, so despite the color, the cask didn’t bring what it was supposed to. Not bad, but nothing you really need in your life as well. This one let me down a bit, but didn’t damage my faith in Inchgower. Bring on the next one please!

Points: 82

Ledaig 15yo 1997/2013 (59.3%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, for Van Wees, Refill Sherry Hogshead #464, 262 bottles, AC/JICD)

Well, this should be interesting! Fall 2015 saw me doing a review of a sistercask (#465) of this Whisky. The cask next door, so to speak. It was filled the same day with exactly the same distillate, in just another refill Sherry hogshead, but with, probably, a different result, since no two casks are really alike. Both were distilled on 23/10/1997, #464 was bottled 01/08/2013, and #465 was bottled on 30/10/2013. Bottled only three months later but making one a 15yo old and the other a 16yo. #465 is also the darker of the two, but the difference looks bigger than the aforementioned 3 months. Maybe the two casks contained different Sherries. Maybe one cask was more active, or had a deeper char. All can be true.

#465 was bottled for The Whisky Exchange (of London), and #464 was bottled for Van Wees (of Amersfoort). Both casks were refill Sherry hogsheads. I’m opening this #464 now, since #465 is almost empty and it’s time to “kill” it. Don’t believe for a second, since it lasted me this long, it wasn’t any good. It is actually so good, I didn’t want it to be empty soon, second it isn’t really a daily drinker type Whisky to boot. It’s a big, big Whisky. So today I still have a chance to compare the two. Just bear in kind, one has had plenty of time to breathe and the other is almost freshly opened.

Color: Full gold, with some orange.

Nose: Funky, dusty and meaty. Big and sweet-smelling. Fatty, dirty, meaty peat. Almost like an animal was turned into peat along with the plants. Nothing bad here, just very animalesk. Crushed beetle and gasses bubbling up from a pond. Expect no clean earthy peat, or just bursts of sharp smoke. Yes, smoke is here, as well as peat. Smoke from wet wood. Marshland wood. Earthy. Wet and dirty peat. Earthy sweet peat. The smoke is soft. Spicy, vegetal and highly aromatic. Hints of liquorice and dust, mixed in with toasted oak. Vanilla, mocha and more drier wood and sharper smoke. Hints of Rhum Agricole if you ask me. Hints of peppermint immersed in mud. Very organic mud. Do I detect some sulphurous compounds in the back? Wonderful balance though.

Taste: Starts sharp and quickly turns to sweet, with a peppery attack, quickly followed by peat and sharp smoke. Its like the initial sweetness coats the mouth and when that recedes, the sharper element comes to the front of the stage. Maybe fruity even, I’m sure of it actually, but that part is overwhelmed by the rest of the big aroma’s this Whisky has. Licorice power, sweet licorice wood. Ashes, even cigarette ashes. Extremely warming, I can feel it going all the way down. Never get that a lot, not even from cask #465. Sweet, lots and lots of almonds and even hints of anise, barely noticeable: acetone based nail polish remover, and the crushed beetle is here too. This may seem strange and quite off, but let me assure you, this is all positive for the whole of this Whisky. Give it some time and more fruity notes start to develop. Red and yellow fruits. Sweetish, but also slightly acidic. Nutty and waxy. Hints of burnt plastic. Lots of smoke in the taste, along with some cow dung in the finish. Very rural and farmy. Salty lips. What a wonderful Whisky again, utterly complex. There is so much happening. It’s only slightly less balanced than the nose, and cask #465 for that matter. This imperfection is best noticeable in the aftertaste.

In a direct comparison, it is obvious to me that #465 is the more civilized of the two. The same notes appear, but turned down quite a bit. It’s not as “loud” as #464. It’s fruitier, with apple notes and some more red fruits emerge as well. More elegant and less broad, less sweet. Slightly sharper and more acidic. Better balance in the taste and definitely more elegant and less dirty. So not identical twins. #464 is bigger, bolder and has a longer finish. The sulphurous bits of #464 are easier to detect in a direct comparison, since #465 seems to have much less of it, or lacks it altogether.

I love both these Ledaigs, and if you have a preference, it’s because one of the two better suits your profile )of the moment). More elegant or more rough, cases can be made for both. Personally today, I might prefer #465 (it shows coal and black fruit, which I love), however tomorrow I might prefer #464 (big and bold). It just depends. #465 will score higher because it does show a bit more quality and balance, with more of the aroma’s I like, but, who knows, maybe some more breathing will bring out even more in #464. I’m in for a treat the next months/years…

Points: 89

Longrow 14yo 2003/2018 (57.8%, OB, Limited Edition, Refill Oloroso Sherry, 9.000 bottles)

At the moment I have two Longrows open on my lectern. One is the 1992 Vintage, which, I have to admit, is damn fine, really very good, so it is a favourite and I don’t think it’ll be around for long. The second one is this, limited to 9.000 bottles only, edition of Longrow. This particular Longrow was fully matured in refill Oloroso Sherry casks. I really like the output of the Springbank Distillery, so I expect a lot for each and every Whisky of theirs I can afford to buy and review. This time a bottling that has fully matured in Oloroso cask, so not a finish and not a blend with Bourbon casks, like many standard expressions are. The 12yo cask strength version for instance is usually blended from 70% Sherry casks and 30% Bourbon casks. The link, by the way, will lead you to my review of batch 8 from 2014. Now let’s have a look at this 14yo Longrow. Yes please!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Spicy, with slightly rotting banana’s, some muddy sulphur and fruity Sherry. Fatty peat (not a lot) and some soft wood. Freshly ground coffee and lots of fresh coastal air. Some licorice and somewhat more sulphur. Toasted wood. Big bonfire and more aroma’s from being in the woods at night (with a bonfire burning close by). Night air, with a smelly pond (yes, sulphur again) and a sweeter bit close to creamy raisins. As I’m smelling this a lot, this raisiny bit has the staying power and not the sulphury bits mentioned earlier, but since its part of the DNA of this Whisky, I wouldn’t be surprised if it returns. More creamy bits emerge. Vanilla, Sherry casks made of American oak? Probably. Sweetness from the Sherry and the oak as well, so yes, American oak, if you ask me. Raspberry hard candy adds a tad of more fruit to it. Dries out a bit over time with more burnt notes coming forward. By now I’m again struggling to find peat on the nose of an aged Longrow. Did I already mention raisins? I did? Alright then!

Taste: Wood first, then sweet fruits, sulphur, ashes, and even some more wood. they present themselves in this order. Ashtray, and candied red fruits come next. After this first sip the nose gets bigger instantaneously. Still, not a lot of peat, but more on the smoky (sharper than peat) and ashtray side, and don’t forget about the slightly bitter wood. Maybe it’s not the wood that’s bitter, but the sulphur. Hint of burn plastic. Warming honey. Second sip reveals more of good old Oloroso, we know from the past. Red fruits and coal. Burnt rubber, and aroma’s, I tasted last in Rhum Agricole. The aromas of cold ashtray never leaves the palate. It is an integral part of this Whisky and pretty dominant. Sure, some sulphur is here as well, but it seems to be mixed in with the ashtray notes. Cigarette ashes in the aftertaste accompanied by some woody bitterness, which is not a problem in a profile like this.

Definitely not an easy Whisky, and probably not for everyone. I can imagine a lot of drinkers of Whisky and even fans of Springbank and Longrow, consider this to be somewhat flawed. Sulphur (the devil) has been detected. Sure it is here, and maybe even plenty of it. But for me it’s not the harsh and sharp kind you sometimes get, I can forgive its flaws to a degree, but one has to decide for oneself if one can. As I said, maybe not for everyone, although I believe most Longrow’s do end up on connoisseurs shelves anyway. It’s probably a wee bit to expensive as well for a casual pick at your dealer of choice. Nope, most of the people of this particular Longrow are already members of the Springbank Society. A show of hands please?

I mentioned the Vintage 1992? Well, in that one, one could easily taste what a Longrow is. It shines with distillery character. This Oloroso expression is as opposite to the 1992 Vintage, as the flat earth society is to the dead poets society. Oh, my, I hope I haven’t offended anyone. A show of hands please? Here the Sherry overpowered the Longrow, and pushed it out of sight altogether. Considering this and the overall profile of this Whisky I can’t score it as high as I did the ‘1992″. Still good though, but definitely not as good as the “1992” or the Springbank 17yo Sherry Wood, which also matured fully on Sherry casks, for even longer than this Longrow has.

Points: 86