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

Glenfarclas 16yo 1990/2007 (58.9%, OB, The Family Casks, Sherry Butt #9246, 617 bottles)

And we’ve already reached the end of our short journey of Whiskies left behind by Erik. Professional work has almost ended at our house (the ceiling has yet to be done) and the time has come for me to finish up in true amateur style. The final chapter of this brief tour will be this vintage Glenfarclas. This is the 1990 vintage from the original release of the Family Casks back in 2007. In that year The Grant Family released 43 cask strength single cask bottlings, with vintages between 1952 up to 1994. Many different casks were used, like ex-Bourbon casks, first to even fourth-fill Sherry casks, but also Port pipes can be found in this series, or the many series that followed later. This first 1990 vintage is from a pretty hefty Sherry Butt, I can tell you that!

Color: Warm orange brown. Definitely mahogany.

Nose: Big and spirity. If caught off guard, it almost seems as if whiffs of acetone pass by. Fresh oak, Earthy next. Spicy and meaty, with lots of gravy notes. Honey (The Bee stuff). Perfect thick and cloying Sherry nose. Fresh and woody. Lots happening, with already signs of excellent balance. Soft warm wood, nothing like the sharper style I found in the 25yo Cadenhead Highland Park. No, this is entirely different and also a bit younger. Sometimes it smells like a Bourbon from a very heavily charred cask. George T. Stagg style. Fruity, nutty, yet this still carries those nail polish remover notes. Weaved into the fabric of the aroma’s I mentioned above is a wonderful, and sometimes odd smell of happy red fruits. I tried to describe it differently, but it just smells fruity, sunny and happy to me. The Highland Park, mentioned earlier, could be thick, dark and brooding, more like a gray rainy day. This Glenfarclas, on the other hand, also is a big Sherried Whisky, but happier, livelier, with a more acidic fruity bit. Sometimes this smells like food, chewy, substantial. Hey after the first sip I smell some Jasmine in here too. So a hidden floral bit rears its pretty little head. Nice.

Taste: Yeah big again, very big, definitely loads of wood, with rich tannins and also some bitterness. Oak and ashes. Fruits overpowered and pushed back. Warming. Quite hot with rough edges. You even could call it harsh. Yes this takes no prisoners, and is definitely not for everyone. Very hot going down, this is beyond warming actually. Cola notes, and also some burnt notes. Underneath fruity and because of its age, an oaky bitterness kept well in check. Its only so…hot. Coal, licorice, oaky, its big and harsh but also shows quite some beauty. Something you know is bad for you, but still you can’t help yourself and keep being drawn to it. Very interesting. Its in many ways over the top, woody, drying tannins, yet not all that bitter. Already towards the end of the body, this gets very simple and good. Not a lot of development though. The Highland Park had a lot more going for it, especially after some (extensive) breathing. The finish of this Glenfarclas is about wood, oak, fresh oak, virgin oak, Fresh sanded oak planks, but definitely less bitter then the Highland Park. So chocolate yes, dark chocolate, no, not exactly. Milk chocolate then? Nope, lacks the sweetness of that. No, it’s more like cocoa powder. Yes that’s it. Wood, leather, gentleman’s club. Rich, but in the taste not fruity. For fruity Sherry I turn to old Longmorns and Strathislas.

If I’m not mistaken, Erik brought this bottle with him when our Whisky club went abroad and did a tasting in Hamburg, Germany some years back. When freshly opened this was considered almost to harsh to drink and we all tried to find out why it was actually being released in this new and prestigious The Family Casks series. It’s more do-able now, but still not a Whisky to tackle without gloves. A full bottle of this would last me for many, many years to come.

Points: 85

Highland Park 25yo 1988/2013 (55.7%, Cadenhead, Small Batch, 2 Sherry Butts, 1086 bottles, 13/242)

This is part three (of four) in Erik’s not-so-run-of-the-mill left behind bottles series. This time a super dark heavily Sherried offering from Cadenhead and Highland Park. Highland Park always went well with ex-Sherry casks. I used to be a big fan of Highland Park, one of the first I considered to be of the highest class available from Scotland. It is such a great tasting Whisky, honest, honeyed and humble. At least it used to be. It didn’t shout off the rooftops how great it is, and still managed to have a pretty solid fan-base around the world. Today however, Highland Park (and The Macallan) are part of a humongous marketing machine, which I tend to distrust. Sure the Whisky is still good, and there are still many, many, amazing bottles to be had (for a price), but the feeling is different, the feeling’s gone, sorry Highland Park. Just compare it to the way Springbank and Bruichladdich are marketed. The feeling is entirely different with these. Yet here we have an independent offering of Highland Park.

Cadenhead, by the way, thanks to Mr. Watt, seem to have reinvented themselves for many years to come. This bottling, it doesn’t say so on the label, seems to be the result of marrying two Sherry Butts together.

Color: Very dark orange brown, just shy of a mahogany hue.

Nose: Deep and dark, lots of oak, making it fresh. Toasted oak, and some warm plastic, which fades and disappears luckily. Fruity heavy Sherry. Meaty oak, and licorice. The wood also has quite a big floral component. Perfumy even. Next I got some Rhum Agricole “sweetness” mixed with dark chocolate. This one is neither red/black fruity, as old Longmorns nor thick and cloying. In the end it has more of the latter than the former. Elegant wood, yet definitely not old skool. Good Sherry, but modern. More and more whiffs of Rhum Agricole and cold gravy. Also drier spicy notes when you let it stand for a while.

Taste: Starts sweet and very nutty. With emerging bitterness when swallowed. A Doppler effect of bitterness. The bitterness is kept in check, so no problem here. Good tannins, not drying the mouth. Silky texture. Hints of vanillin and milk-chocolate pudding. Fruity and again this bitter end of the body. And a big body it is. Well it has been in rather active Sherry casks for 25 years, so no surprise here. Paper and clear glue. Honey, the stuff of bees, not your darling, I hear you ask? Nope, no not really, although it does remind me of licorice candy made with honey. Hardly a Highland Park. Its about the Sherry cask this one. Black tea bitterness, but with a nice edge of coal. Steam punk, but not old skool. The more this breathes in my glass the “older” it gets. More coal, and more steam (and motor oil). It may lack a tiny bit in complexity, but it makes up for it with development (in my glass). The finish is simple and again bitter (medium), but the body is very good (it finally does get into the realm of Longmorn after extensive breathing). Long aftertaste of oak, licorice and black fruits and yes, the bitter bit has the longest breath of all the notes. So it has its good and less good points. Maybe this should have been bottled a few years earlier?

Letting it breathe is a must for this Whisky, it makes all the difference.

Points: 87

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

Glen Garioch 15yo (53.7%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Cask Matured, 2016)

Back in 2013 I reviewed Glen Garioch’s entry-level Founder’s Reserve bottling. Maybe a simple Whisky at first, but showing potential with its development in my glass. In the end it scored (maybe only) 83 points, and I concluded that my interest in Glen Garioch was rekindled. Fast Forward to 2019 and here finally is my rekindled interest with this Glen Garioch bottling. Took me long enough! I picked this one from my lectern because it goes fast, very fast, and the bottle is only 1/4 full, (or 3/4 empty if you are a pessimist). Considering I opened it not too long ago, you can already conclude I like it very much, although I could have had other uses for tasty Whisky as well.

This particular bottling saw the light of day in 2016 in travel retail outlets, like airports, on ferry’s and such. However by 2018, and maybe sooner, this bottling seems to be more widely available. Maybe Glen Garioch is our little secret and not widely known to the general public. Well if you ask me, this bottling should stay our little secret and I also feel this isn’t very suitable for the general public to boot, but more about that later. As far as I know, there are two batches made of this: L162341 and L162342. The bottle I have carries the lower of both numbers.

Color: Copper orange brown.

Nose: Creamy, spicy and fresh. Very exotic. Almost Indian, tasted blind I might have said Amrut. Lots of creamy woody notes quickly follow suit. Sawdust and pencil shavings, not old wood. Lots of backbone to this. Typical Oloroso notes we also know from Aberlour A’Bunadh, yet here it is somewhat less harsh, less alcohol as well, but also older and the spiciness is definitely more exotic. Which Oloroso Sherry was in these casks, I wonder? Hints of vanilla and some tar. Tiniest hint of sulphur adding to the backbone. Honey and overall quite dusty. Dark, deep and brooding Sherry notes, but not too much. It also has a lively vibrant side to it (as opposed to the Bunnahabhain I just reviewed). Lots of character to this. Appetizing. I need a Pizza after this review! (I did!).

Taste: Big and very creamy. Sweet as well. Toffee, caramel, the lot. The (fruity) sweetness is less pronounced in the evening. Starts with quite a big wonderful spicy woody note and some tree sap. Slightly dry and soapy, with tar and Sherry, but it’s a beautiful woody note. It fits the nose perfectly. Hints of black fruits start to emerge. Well balanced but not as much evolution as one might think after 15 years, not as complex as well. However, what you do get instantly is a very well composed, and utterly delicious Sherried Whisky. Sometimes I pick up some bitterness in the finish, but that is no problem whatsoever. Wonderful expression. Probably best after dinner and a cigar can’t hurt it either.

Trying this one right after the Bunnahabhain, I just reviewed, I have to wonder how stuff like this would be after 30 years of ageing. Nevermind this. Tasting this after the Bunnahabhain is bliss. They differ so much, but go together very well. The Bunnahabhain today is quite pricy at auctions, and If you’re quick, this Glen Garioch seems to be on sale quite a lot, but it will sell out eventually, and then its gone.

Finally, I often give the advice that you should give a Whisky some air and time to breathe. Just pick any Springbank review and it’s there. Surprisingly, that is not the case this time, This Glen Garioch is best right after pouring it, just sayin’.

Points: 88

Bunnahabhain 30yo 1979/2009 (45.5%, Ian MacLeod, Chieftain’s, European Oak Sherry Butt #9622, 612 bottles)

Back to some wonderfully Sherried Bunnahabhain. Most of the last few bottles of Bunnahabhain I reviewed were younger and much paler (and peatier) than the bottle I’m about to review. Here we have an independently bottled Bunnahabhain from a highly active European oak Sherry butt. Even though this has aged for a respectable 30yo, and was bottled 10 years ago, I still feel 1979 is not that long ago. If you try this particular expression, it seems to come from another century, or another dimension altogether. I’ll keep it short here, because I feel a lot of words will be needed th describe the complexity of this Malt.

Color: Dark Brown.

Nose: Fresh sea air. We didn’t see that one coming now didn’t we? Remarkably fresh, mint, yup mint. The mint you get from those hard mint sweets, not freshly cut mint, you make tea of. I did think it would be a cloying heavily Sherried Malt, but it’s not. Hints of toasted oak, charcoal and tar. Creamy vanilla powder, milk-chocolate, or better, plums in chocolate and a little bit of honey as well. Old distinguished wood. Wood polish without the petroleum smell, although very far back this does seem to have some petrol fumes going on. Caramel, tar, and some bits from an ashtray. Lots of Sherried notes obviously. Soft burnt sugar and a whiff of french cheese. Sherry and tobacco. It smells like it’s from another century altogether. Doesn’t really smell like a Whisky anymore. This must have been a very active cask. Still, nicely balanced and very chic. Fruity and coal, reminding me of early seventies Longmorn mixed with well aged calvados, since it has this apply feel to it as well. Just this bit though, not the whole experience, reminds me of Longmorn. Lots and lots of aroma’s and quite complex. Log fire and hints of fatty soft smoke. You can smell this one for hours before even thinking of taking a sip. You need to be alone for this one, and certainly not rushing it. If you smell it vigorously, it becomes meaty (gravy) for a brief moment, and some unexpected citrussy notes emerge as well. Beautiful wood notes re-emerge. Hints of old warehouse with old cardboard boxes in it. Dusty, quickly masked by the toffeed fruit. Although it doesn’t seem like it at first, this is a very high quality nose, which is immensely complex and has a lot to give. Wonderful.

Taste: Quite dry and woody, but also very tasty. Slightly soapy on entry. With lots of spices and borderline bitterness. Again you’re in for a treat. I have smelled this for quite a bit now, and doing so, I warmed the glass up in my hand. Fruity, but not much. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of fruit it would be. This has been a long time in cask. Tar and tobacco and maybe some leather. Not very heavy due to the relatively low ABV. Dusty and deep. So definitely a Malt that shows the Whisky can be about the wood it matured in. The creamy vanilla from the nose is lacking here, but definitely here, is the dry tannic wood and slight bitterness. Definitely not a chewy Whisky. Old and distinguished. Like an old mens club. Phileas Fogg style. The body falls back a bit. Finishes great, which makes up for the dry start, with a nice warming aftertaste. I like it. It’s a choice. Sure this could have been bottled (much) earlier. I don’t know if it was chance or choice, this has been allowed to age further, drying out considerably, yet picking up in “style”. It will be remembered for its great finish and the fabulous nose.

If you just pick this up and drink it, and don’t give it the attention it needs, you won’t pick up half of what its got to offer. If you do give it attention and time, wow! The more air it gets though, makes this Whisky less fruity and more about the wood, so know what you’re in for when allowing it to breathe for a while. Still, this is a wonderful malt either way, that develops enormously in the glass, so I can forgive its dryness with ease.

Points: 91

Inchgower 25yo (1980/2006 (53.2%, Dewar Rattray, Sherry Cask #14161, 486 bottles)

After the “old” Teaninich, let’s have a look at something else from the attic that was also bottled a long time ago. Just like Teaninich, Inchgower is another lesser known Distillery owned by Diageo. And for me one of the better ones as well. I’ve come across quite a few really good Inchgowers. Long time no Inchgower though on these pages. It’s almost six years since I reviewed another Inchgower. One from 1982 bottled by Raymond Armstrong, remember Bladnoch? The 1982 was quite hefty and although very good, it was another Whisky, like the Teaninich F&F I reviewed just now, that needs a lot of attention, wearing you out if it didn’t get the attention it wanted. If carelessly sipped, it will kill you, so even though it is a very good Whisky with a quite a high score, I was glad when the bottle was finally finished. Strange ‘eh? Here we have another Inchgower from the beginning of the eighties, so I’m already bracing myself, especially since this is a Sherried one as well…

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Boiled eggs (not rotten). Very buttery and milky. Luckily, these off notes dissipate quite quickly. I have to say right off the bat that this Whisky got a lot of time to breathe. When it was freshly opened this had a lot of Sulphur. When the milky, baby vomit notes dissipate, it shows more woody notes. A minute amount of sulphur and some bitter black tea. Underneath (sniff hard), brown sugar and even some honey. Sulphur still detectable and now it rears its head (is it ugly?) like swamp-gas. Although a lot seems wrong with this, I seem not to dislike it. I never belonged to the I’m-allergic-to-sulphur-police, so I’m able to deal with it. In the depth, where the brown sugar is, are also the more soft woody notes. Some whiffs smell like Rum actually. Sulphur seems to be dying down, but when you move the Whisky around in your glass vigorously, you’ll be able to get some more. Spicy, yet not woody. Vanilla powder and altogether funky. Give it time to breathe. In the end the Sulphur is kept in check and all the remaining wonderful aroma’s get their room to shine. What a wonderful nose this is. The sulphur didn’t bother me that much, but the milky part did, this must breathe before sipping.

Taste: Big, woody and slightly soapy. After swallowing, the first sip, the soap, again, this time around, no too bad, is followed by a wave of liquid bitterness (and fruity acidity). I know, a strange sentence indeed. Fruity underneath and mouthcoating. Sweeter than expected, very, red, fruity. Cold black tea. And the bitterness seems ok. Very funky floral notes which mix well with the red over-ripe fruits. Berries, raspberry, little ripe forest strawberries. Mouth coating, very, mouthcoating indeed, leaving behind some bitterness, but more important, some priceless black fruits as well. For me the black fruits are the holy grail of Whisky. Nice finish, but who cares, if the long aftertaste shows you all those black fruits, dark chocolate and some wood. Sure it isn’t able to shed all of the soapyness, but with fruits like these, I’m happy to forgive it it’s soapyness and the many other flaws it shows. Special stuff.

Some Whiskies like this, over-the-top, can be bad. This one has a lot wrong with it but it’s not bad, There is a lot of fun to be had, if you like the extreme ones, if you are able to deal with a Whisky like this. If you are a novice, steer clear, please. If you are an anorak, a whisky-geek with tendencies towards SM, please pick it up at an auction, because as I said, it is not a bad Whisky. Too much of a lot, but therein lies the fun. A guilty pleasure. Aficionados like it, that’s why this doesn’t pop up a lot at auctions. I’m sure that when I’m going to clean my glass, it will foam like crazy! (It did). For me a no-brainer if it shows up somewhere. Don’t bid against me please!

Points: 91

(Freshly opened, without breathing, the score would be 84, so you’d better let it breathe, long time!)

Ardmore 1996/2014 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, Refill Sherry Hogsheads)

Why review one Ardmore, when you can review two? Hidden far away in a wooden box, where I keep my odd-shaped sample bottles, I found this more recent Ardmore. All Ardmores I reviewed up ’till now, were somewhat older bottlings, and this one is more recent. 2014 is not that long ago isn’t it? Gordon & MacPhail released 1996 Ardmores in 2013 and 2014, and both are still available, so I guess they hold off a new release, untill both of these sell out. Where on one side we have official bottlings (OB’s), in this case the range released by Beam Suntory (the owners of Ardmore), on the other side we have independent bottlers (IB’s). Usually, firms that buy casks of Whisky and bottle them as a single cask (usually).

However, this particular Gordon & MacPhail bottling lies somewhere in between. This series is known as the licensed bottlings, but are also known as the distillery labels. This comes from the time the owners of certain distilleries allow Gordon & MacPhail to bottle a Whisky and market it as the “official” release, since back then the owners didn’t release an official bottling themselves, probably using the output from that distillery for blends.

Gordon & MacPhail do their own wood management (The wood makes the whisky). They bring in their own casks and fill them at a distillery. Sometimes they leave the cask to mature at the distillery, but more often they take it with them to their own warehouses.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and ice-cream, oh and Sherried as well. On top some smoke. Right from the start this is very well-balanced. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. Sherry casks from American oak. Very sweet, big and thick smelling. Nutty. Almonds, with hints of clay. Add to this a fruity cloying sweetness with an edge of perfect peat, with sometimes some burnt match-stick aroma’s, with only a tiny hint of the sulphur. The sulphur is a mere trace, and I don’t pick it up every time I try this. Next to this the Sherry gives off a funky note which should be an off-note, but here, it works well in the construct of the nose. Almost like artificial orange powder (Sinaspril). Fire-place in the middle of winter. Almost christmas. Lots of vanilla comes next and the smoky note stays. Works very nice together. As I said, very well-balanced indeed. Medium complexity though, and it shows its hand quite quickly. After that, not a lot of development is happening.

Taste: Ahhh, yes. Nice (simple) sweet, creamy, nutty and (red) fruity Sherry nose, mixed in with vanilla and big toffee. Cold black tea. It’s big on the Sherry, the almonds and the cream this is. Also a slightly bitter oaky edge. Peat, but it’s aroma is different from the nose. Stricter and more modern. The fruit evolves in acidity. Excellent smoky note. Come to think of it, where is the wood influence? The wood may have made this Whisky (imho, the Sherry did), but where is the wood itself? Sure it has a lot of vanilla and creamy notes, so American oak was used, I believe, this one would have been better in European oak. A similar thing happens as it did with the nose. Everything is there right from the start and hardly any evolution happens after that. Balanced, yes, sure, but not as much as the nose. Lacks even more complexity than the nose.

Right from the start I thought it was nice, and it is. The journey, however, I was about to take with this Ardmore didn’t happen. Alas. A good Whisky, but it is what it is. The start was promising, and it started with a nice statement from the nose. After that it all went a bit downhill and simple. The Ardmore I reviewed last, also has its flaws, and I can’t say this one is better, hence the similar score. Both are good, but I expected a bit more, especially since in this one, the Ardmore distillery character is obvious in the nose, but not on the palate.

Points: 85

Bowmore 18yo “Deep & Complex” (43%, OB, for Travel Retail, Oloroso & Pedro Ximénez Sherry Casks, 2017)

Lets start this review with a confession. I’m a faulty human, and I admit to having prejudices. I don’t know where they come from, I didn’t invite them into my mind, but still they are there and I am battling them. The prejudice I have is that I have a more than healthy suspicion towards travel retail bottlings. Compared to this, my feelings towards NAS-bottlings are pretty mild, since there are enough good NAS bottlings around. Bowmore travel retail bottlings are an excellent example why I have this prejudice. A few years back I wrote a review about the Bowmore “Black Rock“, and it is travel retail at its finest. First it comes in a big litre bottle and second, it was almost reduced to death by bottling it at 40% ABV. So to celebrate your trip you bring back a souvenir of a weak Whisky and a lot of it. When tasting bottles like this, I just knew I had to stay away from such bottles, and I still will steer clear of litre bottles bottled at 40% ABV.

In comes Nico. Nico is one of the founding fathers of the Whisky club I am a member of, and he invited me over to bathe in the excellence of one of the latest batches of The Balvenie “Doublewood“. Taking about ruining a perfectly good Whisky! Since we both are very keen on Whisky, obviously the evening didn’t end with several Balvenies. We had plenty more adventures in Whisky. Funny enough, the surprise of the evening (for me) was a Bowmore travel retail bottling! Nope not this 18yo Deep & Complex but the 17yo “White Sands” of the previous travel retail series.

In 2014, Bowmore released a trio called “Black Rock” (litre, 40% ABV), “Gold Reef” (litre, 40% ABV) and “White Sands” (70 cl, 43% ABV) and I should have known better. “White Sands” wasn’t a litre bottle, was the only one of the three with an age statement (17yo), and the ABV was slightly higher as well. Tell-tale signs that there was a possibility it would be a good one. Good? I loved it! I have met (the wonderful) Eddie MacAffer (voted Whisky distillery manager of the year at Whisky Magazine’s 2013 Icons of Whisky Awards) and “White Sands” is a favorite of his, so I definitely should have known better!

So why isn’t this review about “White Sands” then? Relax, I’ll get to that shortly. Probably in the next post. When I found out how good “White Sands” was, I ordered a few of those. At the same time, I got a pretty good deal on this “Deep & Complex” (What’s in a name), and knowing now that the top offering in Bowmore’s travel retail series might be quite good, I ordered it as well. So, let’s do this new one first and we’ll get to the old one later…

Color: Copper.

Nose: Sherry all right. I would say the PX is upfront. It smells sweet and dessert-like. Caramel. Cherries on syrup. Candied orange skins. Sweet alright. Raisins and dates (freshly dried). Fresh macadamia nuts. A nice typical smokiness (birch) I get from “White Sands”as well, although that is an entirely different bottling. Garden bonfire. Wood smoke. Lovely smoke aroma’s all over. Charred wood. Nice ripe black and red fruits and definitely more smoke than peat. Excellent balance. Vanilla and dust. Islay in the summer. Tar with hints of peppermint and menthol.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. Round, they call it. Half-sweet Cherries and only some wood and peat. It has an even deeper lying smoky bit, but again a nice smoky bit. A bit thinner (and fruitier) than expected. Burning newspaper. Nice warming quality though. Warm wet earth and the fresh macadamia’s are here as well. Not too bitter dark chocolate, wood and toffee. Tar and coal. Licorice. Surprisingly short to medium finish and not a lengthy aftertaste as well. What happened over those 18 years? I’m trying this before breakfast so I have a fresh and eager palate, but still the Whisky is too weak. It’s lovely, but too weak, so don’t drink this in small sips, it won’t work as well that way.

It is somehow suggested and assumed this was matured solely in Oloroso and PX-casks, but I do have my doubts. In a way it’s almost like a “White Sands” with a Oloroso and PX-finish. Wonderful stuff, but like the 40% ABV travel retail versions. It’s a bit too thin. Even at 43% ABV, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It has the potential of being a wonderful Malt (scoring in the lower 90’s). It is actually a wonderful malt as is, but it could do so much better if it had some more oomph, something more to carry it. Now its like (white) sand running through my fingers…

Points: 87

P.S. In a head to head (H2H) with the 1995 Lagavulin its easy to see what I mean. The Lagavulin has only 5% ABV more, but it does so much more for the Malt. It gives it power and length. It even brings out the aroma’s more. I’m not afraid to say that this Bowmore, if it was 46 or 48% ABV like the Lagavulin, would even be better than it. Now, the Lagavulin beats it (just). Nevertheless both are damn good drams and easily worth your money. I’m enjoying them both.