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

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

Color: Medium gold.

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

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

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

Points: 74

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points: 88

Benromach Peat Smoke 2010/2018 (59.9%, OB, Sherry Cask Matured, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, 34ppm, 22/11/2018)

Benromach is not new to these pages. This is in fact already the eighth review of Benromach on these pages, and before looking back, I wondered which of the Benromachs I reviewed, or didn’t review, I remembered the most. The one that popped up in my mind first was the old Benromach 18yo. I liked that one a lot right from the start, even though it was only bottled @ 40% ABV. It was time anyway to do a new Benromach review before the bottle I’m about to review was empty and done with. I did already start taking tasting notes for it, before I had a look at one of Ralfy’s reviews of Mortlach. Mortlach is a big name in the circles of Whisky aficionado’s, a sort of hidden secret, due to it’s austerity, meatiness and special distilling regime. Just look at the wonderful 16yo Flora & Fauna bottling.

Back to Ralfy. In this particular review he mentioned the similarities between Mortlach, Longrow and Benromach. Well if these are somewhat similar, I’m now even more than ever, interested in Benromach again. I love Springbank and the Springbank Distillery output is harder and harder to come by these days, which recently put me on the trail of Ledaig as a tasty alternative. Mortlach has always been on the radar and isn’t all that easy to get as well. Now that Ralfy also put Benromach in the grander scheme of things (for me), isn’t it now more than fortunate that I have here this Peated (and Sherried) Benromach? Planets aligned for sure!

Color: Copper brown, Bourbon.

Nose: Young, slightly milky, cold gravy, with lots of Sherry (smells of PX), and only then, very soft peat as well as some sharpish smoke. Dry oak. Very dry and dusty smelling. The alcohol is quite upfront as well. Lots of influence from (fresh) oak. Spicy, lots of vanilla and cinnamon, fruity and Sherried, this one seems to have it all. Creamy vanilla underneath, butter and pudding with some chocolate powder. Smoke from burning newspapers mixed with toffee aroma, like standing next to someone vaping a toffee scented liquid, and burning off old newspapers at the same time. Well why not, cigarette smoke as well, from very spicy tobacco. Hints of sulphur, but in a very warming and non-offensive way, like pre-lit matches. At times more flinty and closer to fireworks than rotting eggs or a liberating fart. Hints of burning plastic. All in good measure though, and the whole is quite appetizing. Modern, yes, maybe, but everything is in its right place. Smells fine, more than fine, to me.

Taste: Big! Prickly and hot. Sherried and dry, creamy (toffee again), sweet and sooty, like solid smoke. Rubber, ashes, tar and black coal. Industrial, yes very, but also lots and lots of red fruits, cocktail cherries, licorice, black and white powder and cinnamon, with steam and more black coal following up. Pencil shavings and a wee bit of motor oil. Dare I say it’s a bit meaty, now that Mortlach was mentioned above? Sure I do. This Benromach is meaty, there you have it. This one is big in many ways, and a good one as well, steam punk! Slightly minty in the aftertaste, which otherwise comprised of more of the above. After Bladnoch another type of extreme. Reminds me of aroma’s from a while back, when Whisky was different. So this one smells more modern, but it tastes less modern. Interesting. All aroma’s are big and upfront. It’s actually not very complex, nor does it show a lot of development. This Whisky wants to show it self and given the opportunity (an open glass), everything leaps out immediately, like an Olympic 100m dash. (By the way, Smoky P. Rubber, running in Lane 8 for Scotland, was the surprising winner).

This particular bottling seems to divide opinions a bit, just like Bladnoch does, and that is probably true for every “extreme” Whisky. Since I’m already an older guy, with some experience in Whisky and still a working memory, for me, this really shows (at times) a quality similar to Whiskies from another time. However, like was the case with Bladnoch 10yo, this might not be for you. If you are a novice and prefer OB’s or more middle of the road Whiskies, you might want to skip this one. If you really know your way around Whiskies you might think my score is too high, since it lacks development and distillery character might be pushed back a wee bit too much. However, I think this is very well balanced, big, and damn tasty. Add to that some aroma’s from a time long gone, so this is definitely for me. Amazing result for a Malt less than 10 years old. For me (again), time to look into Benromach some more (again), but it yet too early to say if it somehow comparable to Mortlach and Longrow. I really need to do a lot more testing/tasting for that!

Points: 89

P.S. The empty (covered up) glass the next day: big medicinal peat, wow!

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 13yo “Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon” (51.6%, OB, 10 years Bourbon Barrels & Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 years Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels, 9.000 bottles, 2020, 20/08)

Of all the Longrow Red’s that have been bottled, most follow some sort of recipe: first a long maturation in Bourbon casks, followed by a shorter term finish in casks that previously held a Red Wine. Only two deviate from this recipe: 2014’s Fresh Port, which had a full 11 years maturation in Port casks, the other one this 2020’s Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, where part of the initial maturation was carried out in Sherry casks. By the way, the Wine casks for this edition were sourced from Mont Gras’ Intriga Estate in Alto Maipo, Chile.

As mentioned in the introduction of the previous review for the 2019 Pinot Noir edition of Red, when I tasted this Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 edition, I really liked it, so I got half a bottle. Still not sure ‘eh Quill? Probably not. One simply doesn’t put an open bottle in storage, nope, open bottles belong on the lectern here in Master Quill’s castle, and should be enjoyed right away. When tasting through this half bottle, especially when it was still half full, the smell and taste had some great funky organic peat going on, which I really liked, so I even went further and finally bought myself a full bottle, and put it directly in storage, because there is no room for closed bottles on said lectern. Lectern’s aren’t all that big, you know. Nope, there is no need to have the same whisky open twice one right after the other. This shared bottle is now almost empty, usually the moment the distillate of the Springbank distillery is at its best, so time to write up this review…

Color: Bright orange gold. Radiant with a pink hue.

Nose: Warm and creamy peat and dusty. In a way, hints of Wine, but not so much a Cabernet Sauvignon (a Red Wine), but at times more like a fragrant Alsatian White Wine with a little bit of added bonfire smoke for good measure. Definitely more Winey than the 2019 Pinot Noir edition. On top, hints of citrus combined with some funky organics with hints of bad breath. Not actually sweet, but sweeter than the Pinot Noir. Some recognizable notes of Oloroso Sherry, as can be found in several Hazelburn offerings. Wood, pencil shavings, paper and peat with hints freshly crushed green grapes, acidic, as in not very ripe grapes. Aromatic, farmy and perfumy (vetiver?). Soft and fruity, (little forest strawberries?), peat and some sweet and soft smoke. Bonfire smoke again. It starts with fatty and creamy peat, but before you know it, the smoke quietly displaces the peat. Wee hints of vanilla. This vanilla bit seems to be integrated with the fruity notes, like a custard with fruit syrup poured over it. Creamy. Not hard to smell this is a Wine finish though, and once you smell it, it can’t be un-smelled. Toasted Wine infused oak and some more pencil shavings. Faint smell of unlit Cuban cigar. Soft fresh wood and in part resembling the cigar box itself. Sweet funky organic note emerges next, this overall funkiness works wonders in this Malt. Nutty with raisins and next, the smell of an old bar of soap, this particular smell from an old ladies closet. Winey and perfumy. Hints on incense, cold air at night, maybe with a wee puff of smoke, integrated with the air, from an odd fireplace. Now some fragrant and perfumy fresh oak. Definitely some fresh sawn oak, although it doesn’t remind me of virgin oak Whiskies. Red ripe fruits hovering above all the other aroma’s, and a slight hint of yellow fruits well in the body of this Malt. This fruit takes a while to show itself. At times, it smells a wee bit to sweet, if you ask me, but this is only a minor gripe. Nicely balanced and smells accessible. Quite complex and the wood works wonders in this one. The Pinot Noir is the more likeable nose, but this Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely more complex.

Taste: Diluted red fruit syrup, again somewhat sweeter than the Pinot Noir was. Red Wine right from the start, which is easy to spot, when you’ve had Deanston’s Bordeaux offering earlier. Peat and toasted oak only come next, with a short smoky sting from peat and smoke, all very upfront. Almonds, semolina pudding with red berry sauce. Coarse rural toffee. I don’t even know if it exists, but the sweetness tastes like rough and crumbly toffee, not the smooth and runny kind we all know. More aroma’s of (new) wood. Sweet underneath, but with smoke and to a lesser extent peat on top, this is balanced out a bit. Some tar and smoke and some rubber even. Macaroons, After the sweetness and the prickly and smoky bits a more dryer note comes forward, as well as some virgin oak bitterness, almost sappy, savvy? Clay. Without the peat this would be suitable for almost every Whisky drinker, like the aforementioned Deanston, but luckily this has peat and smoke, making it different and for some, more exciting.

In most cases the distillates of Springbank distillery, only get better over time. Gaining in balance and overall taste and smell. we say it has to breathe and needs some time to reach it’s full potential. Here this is not really the case. This is one of those rare “Springbanks” that lose a bit of balance towards the end. The top probably lies around the half full bottle mark, but after that it goes downhill a bit, it doesn’t get bad, but its “deterioration” is noticeable, it loses a bit. In the end this is still a good Whisky, and sometimes it happens that a Whisky somewhat oxidizes, that in itself is no fault. Personally I need to find out if the (Red) Wine finishing is something for me. Still, this one is good, and the Deanston I reviewed last was good as well. Maybe it’s growing on me?

Points: 87

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

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

Color: Light pale gold.

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

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

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

Points: 86

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

Bowmore 15yo 1996/2011 (57.3%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Sherry Finish, Butt # 960005)

I don’t know why, but every time I saw this bottle on a shelf, (when it was still readily available), I just wanted it. Which is quite strange. I’m not the world’s biggest Bowmore’s fan. Bowmores from yesteryear surely yes, but more modern Bowmore’s somewhat less so than other Islay distillates. Maybe this has something to do with Bowmore’s FWP*-problem from the eighties? Who knows. But why did I want this one? 15yo sounds nice, Bowmore, definitely not so bad, Sherry, yes, finished, what?… but why not? Wilson & Morgan and Sherried bottlings (Macallan, Mortlach, yes pretty damn good!) And last but for me certainly not least, I have always been a sucker for green glass bottles. Dark Whisky just looks fantastic to me through green glass. I even hosted a large Whisky tasting once, you guessed it, only with Whiskies bottled in green glass.

So, I always felt, more likely assumed, (the mother of all fuckups), but there is some educated guessing involved here, this would be a good one. Excuse me for this unnecessary complex sentence. Right after getting one of these Bowmores, I found another discounted one, so I snapped that one up as well, just in case. Better safe than sorry ‘eh? As most anoraks/aficionados/connoisseurs already know, Wilson & Morgan is an Italian private bottler, led by the über-Italian Fabio Rossi, who seems to prefer to focus more on bottling Rums lately, and doing a great job there as well. I already reviewed some Rums bottled by Fabio’s Rum brand; Rum Nation, as well as Whiskies from his Wilson & Morgan range. Ohhhh that Mortlach, nom, nom…

Color: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Perfect peat and smoke. Syrupy Sherry. Spicy chilli pepper powder. Vanilla and boiling vegetable water. Hot motor oil, licorice, tar and a faint whiff of plastic and latex paint, all adding to the complexity. Raspberry jam. What an amazing smelling Malt. The label states this as a Sherry Finish. Often Oloroso comes to mind, but in this case it reminds me more of PX, not claiming this really came from a PX cask though. Leafy, vegetal. Fresh air in between the peat and the smoke with some hidden vanilla underneath. Excellent wood spice, and fresh oak vanilla. Soft, creamy and lovely. Cigarette ashes from an ashtray. Licorice and some minty black and white powder. The Sherry finish brought a lot to this Malt without overpowering it. It is still an Islay Malt, with this added bonus to it. Wonderful work Fabio. I wonder how the original Malt was before it was finished to see what this finish exactly did. I guess we will never know. The smoky and ashy industrial feel wears off a bit over time, exposing some burnt newspaper, sinaspril and chlorine as well as the vanillin of American oak. Excellent balance throughout the nose. Dark cherries on syrup and a tiny whiff of the oil from orange skins and warm mineral oil as well. It’s just the orange skin oil, but it isn’t very orange-y. Some cigarette smoke as well as some more tar at this point. Black tea and leafy with hints of smoked kippers and some clay. Quite a complex Malt, changing directions several times, yet always well balanced. When Bowmore gets is right it can really hit it out of the ballpark.

Taste: Ahhh, wonderful, strong and prickly peated plastic and smoked rubber on entry. Gravy and lots of (tarry) red fruits. Black fruits and ripe strawberry. Sweetish at first, turning dry. Black coal, steam and tarry with rubbery cherry syrup. Bitter licorice. Laurel licorice. Unlit cigarette. It really does taste thick. Quite some wood but never really bitter, the wee bitter note here comes from the smoke. It’s dry and smoky throughout and quite fruity as well. Ashy. If this wasn’t peaty and smoky and spicy, it would have been a lemonade. I’m sure, part of the smoky notes come from the Sherry cask and not the Whisky alone. On the palate it may not be as wonderfully complex as the nose, but at this point, who cares, this is such an outstanding Malt. Wonderful. Quite a dry aftertaste, waxy and woody with the plastics and the peat, the medium waxy bitterness has the longest breath.

This one right after Tamdhu Dalbeally No. 3 is simply stunning, Dalbeally brings out the best out of this one, coal, machines etc. Man, when Bowmore is great it is truly stunning. Never thought a Bowmore from the nineties could be so great. If I had tasted this blind, I would have guessed this was an older Bowmore, probably from the seventies costing a lot more than this one did me.

Points: 92

*French Whore Perfume

Amrut Kadhambam (50%, OB, Batch No. 6, Bourbon matured, Rum, Sherry & Brandy Finish, 2017)

If you read my reviews back about Indian Malts, you know they are quite to my liking. However, the last review I did was way back in 2019, remember those pre-Corona days? How different life was back then? So it is about time to review a few more. Today I’m having a look at another Amrut. This time Kadhambam, which is the Tamil word for mixture. Well, what they have concocted here is a mixture of different finishes. The Amrut standard Single Malt (Bourbon matured) has been further matured in casks that previously held Rum, Sherry and Brandy. Those casks are then married together to form this Single Malt.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Malty, somewhat less Indian spices than expected but there is still a lot here, in part masked by a lot of other aroma’s. Dusty and sweet. Toffee with nice organics. Fruity, jam-like sweetness and almonds. Vanilla and powdered orange candy. The base Bourbon matured Malt is easily discernable, so the finishes didn’t overpower the Malt. It is also definitely noticeable, that a lot of different casks were used. The Brandy bit is recognizable from my earlier experiences with Port Charlotte CC:01 which was Cognac cask matured. When I smell this with a low flow rate, let’s say 5 seconds worth of snorting (which is quite long, just try if for yourself), lots aroma’s pass by. It is soft and spicy at the same time, very fruity and appetizing. Quite late in the mix the woody bits come forward. Licorice, pencil shavings and the familiar toasted oak. Cold sweet black tea, more licorice and a slight hint of tar. This might seem like a Whisky where just a lot was thrown together, yet still it manages to reach such a high level of balance. Amazing. This turned out very nicely.

The aroma’s of this Malt are transported well. 50% ABV is a very good strength for this. 40% ABV is rather weak for a Modern Malt and 60% ABV can be quite overpowering for some. Old Malts were made differently from different barley varieties, maybe different yeast strains and the cask may have been different. Old Malt’s could be easily diluted to 40% ABV. Just look at G&M’s Longmorn from 1971. Not everything was working At 40% ABV, but a lot did, and today that percentage would be lower. I don’t think Douglas Laing bottled their Old Malt Cask Whiskies at 50% ABV by accident, although I do suspect some economics were applied as well. If you reduce Whisky (a bit), you end up with more bottles to sell. But hey, Whisky is also a business, even though for some of us it feels like a charity. So nothing wrong with the business of it all. Luckily for us aficionado’s, Douglas Laing stopped diluting at 50% ABV. A heartfelt thanks for that!

Taste: Starts sweet and fruity, but thinking back to Port Charlotte CC:01, I don’t really remember that cask giving off this kind of sweetness. Toffee, runny warm caramel, fruit syrup and jam. The perfect sweetness takes a while to move over. Indian spices, almonds and licorice, toasted oak, sweet ripe red fruits and green banana. Let it breathe, it may be a bit closed at first (especially when you’re dealing with a freshly opened bottle). Wood in the back, as well as some cold ashes from the fireplace. There is a lot happening in this Malt, so all this stuff needs a while to break free. Very well balanced with a fruity and nutty aftertaste. Tasty! The longer this stands the nuttier the taste becomes. Amazing balance. Another cracker!

The price is gradually rising over the past few years, but at today’s price-point it is still very recommended. I guess the score reflects that.

Points: 88

Tamdhu 15yo (46%, OB, 24.000 bottles, 2019)

In 2011 Tamdhu was let go by the Edrington Group (The Macallan, Highland Park) and it got snapped up by Ian McLeod (Glengoyne). Since then, “Ian” came up with a new bottle design, which actually looks like something Edrington might have done. It certainly looks different from most other bottles. Its tall and very heavy, fits my hand perfectly and pours nicely. I have yet to spill a drop. I hear, not everybody likes the look of it. Personally, I rather like it. Earlier, I reviewed the first batch of the cask strength version, the rest of my reviews are solely about independent bottlings of Tamdhu. Tamdhu has always been associated with Sherry, just like The Macallan and Glendronach were, although I’m not really sure anymore about Macallan though. I don’t really know with what it’s associated with these days. Fine leather ladies’ handbags maybe? Collections of photo’s? Crystal? The bottle I’m about to review next, is also a Sherried bottling. This 15yo was first released in 2019 and the release has been matured solely in American and European oak Oloroso Sherry casks.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Nutty and dusty Sherry. Smells like something sugary. Lots of fresh oak as well. One side of this Tamdhu is nutty and thick, the other fresh (fresh air, salty ocean spray), fruity and slightly acidic. Hints of toasted wood and red fruits. Dusty and some old motor oil. Refined, and slightly tarry. Quite meaty as well. Earwax and yet also this whiff of fresh air, quite a lot of aroma emerges from my glass. There is a lot happening in this one. Quite complex. Hints of exhaust fumes, yeah, why not?. Sweetish, with enough wood and chocolate to balance the sweetness out. Chocolate chip cookies and vanilla powder. Sometimes tiny whiffs of sulphur. It carries some resemblance to some batches of Aberlour A’Bunadh, the more I smell this though, the less obvious that is. Also a fresher, more citrussy note making this Tamdhu less heavy and cloying in comparison to other Oloroso Sherry Whiskies. This acidity also makes this Whisky more fresh and youthful. Hard to believe this has been lying around for 15 years. 15 years is a loooong time. Wonderful nose, but it does need your attention. This is not one to smell casually.

Taste: Big, with light Sherry and more nuts than a squirrel can store. Thick yet not syrupy. It’s thick but not cloying. However this does seem to have some hidden sweetness to it. Just hidden away nicely by the wood that is present (enough). Mocha, milk chocolate and dusty Sherry notes. Spicy and prickly. Fresh menthol (complete with hints of toothpaste). Half sweet now and definitely some toffee notes emerge. Tarry cigarette ashes. This is nice. Instant gratification. The taste is simpler than the complex nose, and therefore doesn’t need the level of attention the nose needed. The taste is well balanced, nutty and likeable.

Even though this is in every way a decent Tamdhu, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed at first. Somehow I expected something more of it. This does have a lot of Sherry influence, but in no way is it a Sherry monster. I should have known better, since this isn’t all that dark to boot. I guess other Tamdhu OB’s will fill that Monster spot soon. In comes time. Over time I shed the idea of Sherry monster expectations. Tamdhu had a reputation you know? I got used to what this 15yo actually is, which is a likeable, lighter Sherry style with a complex nose. Refined, elegant and laid back. Quite good. Recommended

Points: 86